28. The End of Eureka

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28. The End of Eureka
Now

“I’m going to say something, Jacob, and I want you to pay close attention,” Mr. Aschen says. There is a pregnant pause, which he then fills by saying the following word with extreme emphasis: “No.”

“Yes?” I ask. “What about it?”

“Jacob, your whole life, you’ve been letting these kids take advantage of you. And you always tell me the same thing—‘how could I say no?’ Well, that’s how you say ‘no.’ Simple. I want you to remember this.”

“I’m aware,” I say.

“I don’t know if you are. I think you find a kind of comfort in doing whatever the people around you say—maybe it’s a self-esteem issue. Maybe it’s just David. What is it that makes you think you can’t deny these people? Are you so eager to make connections?”

“I can say ‘no.’ In fact, I tried to for the first time about a month ago. Would you like to know how that went?” I ask.

“Very much so,” he says.

*

Senior Year, about a month ago

I returned to school on Tuesday, and life was still a blur.

I was surprised by my own guilty feelings. As events unfolded, I hadn’t considered my role, but now that I stood and stared at the rubble, I wondered what could have been done to prevent Geoff’s death and Kent’s breakdown.

It wasn’t such a leap to figure that Steven planted the drugs in Kent’s locker. Kent was straight-laced, and I probably would have known if he’d smoked. Having been a stoner myself, the signs would’ve been evident.

I didn’t have as long as I’d wanted to muse. I left school still stuck in my head and was approached by Cameron.

“David wants us all to get together,” she said. “We’re having a meeting tonight.”

“We are?” I asked. I hated the way everyone seemed to use ‘we’ to exclude me.

“Same time, same place.”

“Can I get a ride?”

“Nope,” she replied, turning away from me.

“Cameron!” I called to her.

“Yeah?”

“Are you okay? What’s going on?”

“I’m fine,” she answered. “David’s been helping me through it.”

The way Cameron spoke, it was clear things weren’t fine—but she left before I got to ask another question.

This time, I brought a thick metal flashlight to guide my way through the woods to David’s trailer. I moved past sentinel trees with menacing branches, and through the narrow beam of my light, it seemed as though the forest marched across the ground toward me in a bouncing rhythm to match my own. I slipped through the bark army undetected, though, and found my four friends seated around a campfire, waiting for me.

“Hey,” I said to Emily. She waved, grinning. The simple act sent my mind spinning into visions of her panting, moaning, sweating—the way it always did when I was around her. I forced my attention elsewhere. The last thing I needed was Emily haunting me.

Instead I turned to Steven, searching hisface for any clue he might’ve known what would happen with Kent. He looked—to quote the Bard—smug as fuck. He'd warned me about his plan. I should’ve listened.

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