Five: Chill

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Inverasdale High was three quarters of a mile from the Anselms' modest garrison colonial on Ayershire Circle, which wasn't the most stylish part of town—nothing like the Palatine neighborhood to the north of the golf club, with its secretive streets named for Roman emperors and low-numbered estates that hung back behind great buffers of "grounds"—but made up for it with convenience. Mr. and Mrs. Anselm had snapped the house up during a rare buyer's market the year Jake was born, imagining that he might walk to school when he got older. He could've even taken the woods abutting the back yard, which would've spat him out somewhere on the margin of the school's soccer pitch without his ever so much as crossing a street.

But with the addition of Ely, the Anselms knew neither of their boys would be attending the public schools when the time came, not with Courtland Country Day Academy now within their means. Yes, it was a twenty-five-minute drive versus a twelve-minute walk, and they would have to wear uniforms and pretend to be vaguely Episcopalian, but when it came to all those stats colleges found important—GPAs and test scores and, more qualitatively, clout—there was no contest. Once they were old enough, Mrs. Anselm was more than happy to surrender her Prius to their daily commute, bicycling the short distance into downtown Inverasdale to hit up the holistic market for such staples as bee pollen and beta-carotene before stopping by the yoga studio for some mid-morning vinyasa. It was an easy trade.

Rarely did Ely ever think of that other school on the far side of the trees, whose pep rallies they could hear in swooning echoes on windless days. Even on the coldest, darkest winter mornings he didn't begrudge his early alarm and the crawling commute to the next town over (each boy drove M-W-F and T-Th alternate weeks). Only during their boyhood summers, when he and Jake finally sickened of air conditioning and luminescent screens, would Ely find himself peering into the foliage with a sort of thrilling suspicion, bare toes digging into the dense crop of his lawn as though to root himself, safely, against the thrall of whatever parallel world beckoned from the other side. In his imagination, the school ran continuously in a closed loop outside of time, and in it there was a boy who had a handful of good friends and a penchant for pineapple on pizza, but no brother. A boy who looked an awful lot like him.

It'd been several years at least since he'd last had those thoughts, but they returned to Ely as he scowled on the front stoop that Monday in February, awaiting Marco's G-wagon in a low simmer of rage. He'd used to feel a strange cocktail of yearning and fear at the thought of passing through the trees with the liquid ease of stepping into a magic mirror, merging with his reflection, and ceasing to exist; now he would've traipsed right into that alternate universe just to sock his blissfully single lookalike on the nose.

"So he just left? Without you?" Marco yawned. Ely climbed into the front passenger seat and shoved his backpack between his knees.

"Yup."

"You two fighting?" Marco pressed with casual incredulity, rounding the cul-de-sac and turning onto the main road.

"No. We just had a miscommunication." Ely checked the time on his phone. "You could've made that light."

"Chill. We're barely late," Marco yawned again, adding, "Technically, all fights are a form of miscommunication."

"No offense, dude, but I'm too tired to get psychoanalyzed right now."

"Who're you calling psycho?"

They both laughed at the lame joke. They spoke little for the rest of the drive; nothing newsworthy had happened since their sleepover the night before last, when Ely and Jake had snuck out as boys and returned men (albeit men who later woke sprawled across Marco's California king like a litter of milk-drunk puppies). But Marco was never quiet for long.

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