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Since Zoe lived two blocks from the post office, and her mom worked Monday nights, Justin picked her house to celebrate what Nora was calling "Harper's Ass-Kicking Party."

The stench of trash wafted through the door before it was opened. A pair of flies buzzed over something left in a bowl on the arm of a recliner.

Justin couldn't deal with the mess. He sunk to the sofa and started channel surfing while Richie and Nora picked through a bag of stale corn chips.

"You don't think Mr. Reid will connect the gym office with Dave Harper getting beat up, do you?" I asked.

"How?" Justin said. "Who's going to tell him?"

"If Mark or Dave talk, he might figure out that someone planted the letter."

"They won't," Justin said, as if he'd received the answer from his personal crystal ball. "Teammates support each other. Jock superglue. Dave won't rat on his defensive lineman, and Mark won't admit that he beat up the star quarterback."

It sounded reasonable. Nora, Richie, and Zoe nodded.

In her mom's bedroom, Zoe flattened down onto her stomach and shimmied under the bed, exiting out the other side with a Costco box full of liquor bottles.

Nora reached for the whiskey, raising it in the air. "I'd like to make a toast. To being wild, crazy, and free."

Zoe snatched it out of Nora's hand. "That's a six-dollar drugstore special. Here, try this." She handed Nora a skinny, square bottle. "It's the only one I'll touch."

Nora took a hearty swig. She reminded me of a fault line, shifting and straining all the time. "My favorite part was seeing Harper on his knees, begging Lawrence not to beat him to a pulp," she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

I sensed Zoe's eyes on me. I knew I was being too quiet, but images of Harper cowering on the cement kept playing through my head. Zoe leaned across Nora and offered the bottle to me. Was this a test? I raised it to my lips and swallowed. My eyes watered as the liquid burned a trail down my throat.

Zoe slapped me on the back. "Want some water?"

Justin scooped my foot into his lap. All my brainpower sunk into the pinkie toe he was massaging.

"This is where you hold your tension," he said.

"That tickles!" I giggled, drawing my feet under me.

He moved closer. "Hmm. This could be fun."

"Get a room," Nora snapped.

I looked to Justin for my defense, but he was lost in thought, stroking the stubble above his lip.

....

I'm a passenger in a helicopter, and we're flying over the rain forest. Justin, the pilot, throws me an easy smile over his shoulder.

All of a sudden, the craft lurches. Justin adjusts the controls, correcting the trajectory.

"Poor Ari. You have a problem with trust," he says as we soar above the treetops.

But then the chopper plunges into a downward spiral. I look at Justin. He doesn't seem at all concerned that we're about to crash. His gaze remains fixed on the windshield.

"Do you even know how to fly this thing?" I yell above the dying groans of the engine.

I look out the window and see the earth getting closer. I squeeze my eyes shut, seconds before the helicopter slams into the ground and splinters into hundreds of pieces.

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