24. Mouth or Mouthful

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24. Mouth or Mouthful
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“Do you know what a narcissist is, Jacob?” Mr. Aschen asks.

“Someone who is obsessed with themselves, right?”

“Sort of. I mean it goes further than that. Narcissists do not understand the concept of other people. Through David’s eyes, he was the only real person living in the world.” Sometimes I would agree with that. “It means to David, you were all extensions of himself. If one of you let him down, it was like his own leg failing. On the other hand, he’d expect absolute devotion from each of you.

“And, narcissists cannot process shame or guilt. Any time a situation arises in which a narcissist could potentially be shamed, said narcissist will find some way around it. In this case, by taking it out on the rest of you. It’s classic behavior for, well, a cult leader: they need to feed off the egos of their followers to sustain themselves.”

“Maybe David had a lot to feel guilty about,” I say.

“Do you know about the fires, too?”

“I suspect. The detective told me.”

“I wasn’t going to bring this up,” Mr. Aschen says. “I should have known better than to try and pull one over on you. Look, it makes sense. If David felt some residual guilt over his earlier acts, it explains a lot of what happened later. For instance, when David trapped you in the detention hall in your freshman year—he tortured those poor people. And why? It’s simple, Jacob. He couldn’t handle feeling guilty about the houses he burned down—and whatever else he did we have no idea about—so he had to devalue human life. If David could make himself believe people didn’t really matter, then he wouldn’t have to feel guilty about what he did.”

I shake my head, as though my ears can dodge the words if I direct them away. “But, Steven was there pushing buttons—like he always does. If Steven hadn’t made such a big deal…” My hands lift into the air helplessly. “Just…listen.”

*

Senior Year, February

That night we sat and watched David’s trailer burn like an effigy to our collective childhoods. Kent still stood at the edge of the clearing, unwilling to rejoin the group. Cameron was with him, murmuring into his ear occasionally, rubbing his shoulder—generally looking comforting. As the inferno subsided into smoldering plastic and the fumes became too much for me, I stood and began dreading my return trip. It was less than a mile to the trailer park, but I’d have to stumble through the woods once more.

As I walked past, Cameron spoke: “Wait.” I turned and looked; a brilliant white light flashed in her palm. “Want to walk with us? You’ll eat less spider webs.”

I nodded. “Sure, thanks.” The three of us began drifting the opposite direction, toward the road; a longer route, but like Cameron said—less spider webs in my face, and less chance of twisting an ankle on uneven ground.

Kent remained silent; after the night’s events, I needed to clear the awkward air. “Are you really mad at me about not tagging you?”

Kent shook his head: “I…it’s embarrassing.” The towering teen’s voice resounded at an octave lower than mine. “Why do I even have to beg in the first place?”

“Maybe David is just looking out for you, in his own way,” Cameron noted. “Maybe your head isn’t in the right place to be playing Eureka.”

“But that’s what you want me to do!” Kent exclaimed in frustration. I got the feeling this was a long-standing argument between them. “I just want you to be proud of me.” Kent lowered his voice when Cameron tugged at the black sleeve of his corny howling-wolves shirt.

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