Chapter no 28

If Only I Had Told Her

Apparently, the final thing I must do to prove to my parents that I’m going to be okay is go out with “my friends” before I leave for college. This doesn’t seem like the time to point out that I am questioning whether I have friends outside of Finn. I’m starting to see how superficial my other relationships have been. It almost makes me wish I hadn’t given Sylvie such a hard time about everything. I suppose it wouldn’t help to reach out and tell her that she might have been right, that maybe I never knew what friendship was until it was taken from me.

But then Kyle texts me that there’s a party in St. Charles tonight, and even though it’s the first time anyone from our class has reached out to me since the funeral, part of me melts a little. Part of me wonders if it would feel normal. It’s not like Finn was at every party with me. Half the time, Finn was off making sure Sylvie wasn’t giving herself alcohol poisoning on a dare anyway.

The way my parents light up when I say there’s a party across the river that a bunch of the team will be at and I figure I’ll stop by and say some goodbyes? That almost makes it worth the effort. If I can fool my parents that I’m okay, maybe I’ll be able to fool myself eventually.


As I drive over the bridge, I think about how whenever we went to St. Charles, Finn would say something about the airport expansion and white flight, and I’d be like, “Yeah, people suck. What are you going to do about it?” If Sylvie was in the car, she would talk to him about it, and I’d zone out or make out with Alexis if she was there. It’s not that what Finn was talking about didn’t seem important, but I figured we were kids. What kind of impact could we make?

I guess I don’t think that way anymore, but I also don’t have anyone to explain that stuff to me.

I could ask Sylvie, but there’s a chance she’s not speaking to me given our last text exchange.

Once I arrive at the address, I recognize the house. I’ve been here before. It had been a small party where everyone else knew each other. Finn, Sylvie, Alexis, and I were only there because an upperclassman from the team knew the host and invited us along with him. For a small party, there was a surprising amount of alcohol. At some point, late in the night, a dude said that the cop who lived next door would be coming home from his shift soon, and wouldn’t it be funny if one of the girls flashed him?

Despite the number of people, including the host, who pointed out the obvious reason this was a bad idea, Sylvie volunteered for the job. It didn’t matter that most people at the house were sober enough to not let the superdrunk girl antagonize the cop, Sylvie and Finn once again argued about whether Finn was trying to control Sylvie by stopping her from doing something stupid. Worse still, they had their argument in the front seat of Finn’s little red car while Alexis and I were squeezed in the back seat and she was mad at me about some mysterious thing.

Whenever they had this fight in front of me, I always wanted to point out that sober Sylvie agreed whatever it was had been a bad idea about 90 percent of the time. I also wanted to tell Finn that he should know better than to force Sylvie to see logic when she was drunk.

Fuck, Finn, just let her sleep it off, I would think. And sometimes I would think, You can’t argue her into being Autumn, dude. But I never said either of those things, and I’m not sure now whether I should have.


At least there won’t be any happy memories plaguing me at this party.

This party is thankfully much bigger than the last one. I can tell from the cars outside. I wonder if the cop still lives next door because it’s pretty crowded on the street and the people in the backyard are not keeping their voices down, even if it’s only nine.

My goal is to have conversations with at least three people whose names my parents have heard me say before, and then I’m going home. Tomorrow, when my parents ask, I’ll say it was great seeing this person and saying goodbye to that guy, and then I’ll say I’m going to my room to pack, and I’ll take a nap.

I hop up the front steps and open the door without knocking, because it’s already that kind of party. I don’t see anyone I know, but the kitchen is at the end of the hall with a line for a keg, and I figure that’s a good place to start.

Right away, I notice Trevor Jones at the end of the line. Perfect.

“Hey,” I say as I approach, careful to stand back so that it’s obvious I’m not trying to cut in line for the keg. Maybe he’s in his own head, but Trevor blanches for a moment.

“Hey, Murphy,” he says. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” he says, like I’m a teacher or a cop. “You good?” “I’m okay,” I say. “Who all is here?”

“You know, the guys and stuff.”

“Right,” I say to this nonanswer. Did Trevor always hate me and I never noticed? “Ricky here?”

“Yeah? Probably?”

The line shifts forward.

“Well, I’ll let you get your drink, and I’ll go say hi to some other people.”

“Cool!” He sounds way too relieved. He faces forward, and I wander


Everyone loved Finn. Even the people who Finn didn’t really like loved

him because he treated everyone the same. Did people only like me because I was attached to Finn? Was having me around the cost of having Finn there too?

That doesn’t feel right, at least not quite, and I’m not going to let Trevor acting weird ruin my night.

There’s an alcove off the hallway where some girls are gathered, and I see one of them pointing to me and whispering to her friends. Chloe dated Seth from the team for over a year, and they broke up after Finn gave Chloe a ride home one night when Seth refused to leave the party. Nothing happened, obviously. It was an act of kindness, driving her home when her own boyfriend wouldn’t. But it seemed to kill her feelings for Seth. Seth acted like he wanted to blame Finn, but he could never find a way to do it.

That’s the kind of high school memory I want to live in tonight, so even though I have no idea what Chloe was saying about me to her friend, I head over. A few of the girls rush off, but one of her friends stays.

“Heeeeeeeeeeey!” both girls say simultaneously at the same high pitch. “Hi?” In their short black dresses and matching silvery makeup, they’re

suddenly giving off vibes like horror movie twins.

“How are you?” Chloe asks, as her friend—Sara?—nods in tandem to her words.

“Nothing much,” I say, which isn’t the right response, but neither notices. The way they’re looking at me is too intense.

“Yeah?” they say together, both nodding. “Leaving for school later this week,” I offer.

Thankfully, only Sara cocks her head to the side as they both give me pitying looks.

“Yeah,” I say to the question that they aren’t asking. “Looking forward to it though.”

“Of course,” Chloe says. “It’ll be a fresh start for you.” Sara nods.

“I don’t need a fresh start,” I say. “It’s not like I killed someone.”

After the words are out of my mouth, I try to turn them into a joke with a laugh, but that makes it worse. Chloe’s and her friend’s faces go through a strobe light sequence of reactions before settling back to pity.

“A change of scenery then?” Chloe asks. Her friend, who I remember is actually named Steph, doesn’t nod this time.

“We heard about the practice,” Steph-not-Sara says. “The what?”

They wince in unison, and I’m starting to think they practice their creepy twin act in the mirror.

“You know? How you showed up at soccer practice like that?” Chloe touches my arm in a way that I used to think meant a girl was flirting, but now I’m not so sure.

“Yeah, I—” I start, but I don’t want to explain to them why I was there. They haven’t earned that from me. “You know,” I say, “you’re probably right about me needing a change of scenery.”

They nod enthusiastically.

“So, uh, I think I’ll go say hi to some other people.” I’m surprised how their faces fall, but I don’t care. “Nice catching up,” I say as I turn away.

There’s a lot of shouting going on in the next room, which should at least be interesting.

It turns out that’s where most of the team is, Ricky and Jamal and the rest. A couple of new upperclassmen who joined the team from JV are there. Everyone is focused on Bunny and the video game he’s playing.

I have no idea what Bunny’s actual name is, something like Robert or John probably, but his last name is Bunnell, and he has gone by Bunny for as long as I’ve known him. I don’t know whether I admire him for it or not.

I stand at the edge of the crowd and wish I had a drink in my hand or at least a soda to sip.

“Come on, come on,” Seth is saying over and over as Bunny tries to hit the boss on its vulnerable spot. The character does not hit the monster and is immolated.

“Noooooo!” Seth says over everyone else’s groans. “Is this personal for you, Seth?” I laugh.

Everyone turns to me. The millisecond of silence cuts like glass.

“Oh, hey, Murphy,” Ricky says, sounding exactly like at practice. “Long time no see.”

Someone in the group finds that funny. Someone else shushes them.

“Kyle told me about the party,” I say. Kyle is a graduate, like me. “Have you seen him?”

“Uh, maybe?” Ricky’s holding hands with Jasmine, who never would have looked at him if Finn hadn’t died. Jasmine is staring at me the same way as Chloe and her friend. The guys from the team all seem nervous, glancing away and talking quietly to one another. The video game is forgotten, and the group that had been sitting on the floor is standing and stretching. A few leave the room.

“Hey, Murphy, didn’t think you’d come,” Kyle booms behind me. He’s holding two cups of beer. He hands one to one of the girls sitting on the couch.

“I wasn’t sure either. Thanks for inviting me.” I’m trying to figure out why Ricky claimed to not know that Kyle was here.

“You not playing anymore?” Kyle asks Jamal.

Jamal shrugs and restarts the level, but most of the room has cleared. There’s Ricky, Jasmine, Kyle, and the girl he got the beer for, plus Jamal

and Seth, all on the couch. There isn’t room for me, so I stand.

I’m nearly certain that people liked me for me. Of course, everyone liked Finn more, but that’s expected of the nicest guy ever. Ricky, Jamal, Seth, we were always cool. Not close, but we got along fine.

So I’m not sure what this is.

Jasmine leans forward. “So,” she says, “how are you, Jack?” in a tone that is eerily familiar.

“I’m okay!” I respond with perhaps too much enthusiasm, “I’m looking forward to college, change of scenery and all that.”

“That will be so good for you,” she says, nodding. We’ve only spoken a couple of times before, but she seems to have solid opinions on what I need. “A fresh start.”

I’m about to say, “It’s not like I killed someone,” this time on purpose, when I realize they’re afraid they’ll die too if they hang out with me. Death by association.

Ricky is studying the fingernails on his free hand as if he were the sort of dude to worry about a hangnail. Jamal is playing the game again, this time on autopilot, barely reacting to anything that happens. Even Seth is quiet.

“I guess,” I say, and Jasmine nods again. “You are so brave,” she says.

Kyle, who’s sitting on the other side of her, glances over at her and then at me.

“Hey, why isn’t anyone calling me brave? I’m moving to California.

Murphy is going to southern Missouri,” he says.

The girl on the other side of Kyle, the girl he’d gotten the beer for, laughs and starts to answer, but Jasmine interrupts, leaning across Kyle.

“That’s the guy whose best friend—” And I’m done.


I think my dad calls it an Irish goodbye when you don’t tell anyone you are leaving, and that’s what I’m trying to do, but halfway to my car, I hear Kyle call my name. I turn, and he jogs up to me.

“Hey, um, sorry about that. I didn’t think those dudes would be so weird.”

“It wasn’t just the guys,” I say. “Maybe I’m off tonight.” “Yeah, I heard Chloe tried to flirt with you.”

My mind races. So she was flirting, and somehow, it’s already a story twenty minutes later?

“Look. Finn? He was a great guy, and he deserved better. Like, I keep thinking about that night, you know, when he wouldn’t drive home until I put on my seat belt? Shit.” He shrugs. “Like, what I’m trying to say is, everyone feels freaked. ’Cause if something like that could happen to Finn, it could happen to any of us.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It could.”

Kyle winces. “No one wants to think about that. So…”

“Nobody wants the best friend of the dead kid harshing the vibe?” I venture.

“I’m not saying that.” Kyle looks me in the eyes when he says it, but it doesn’t make me believe him. He clears his throat. “I didn’t want you to think no one liked you or something. Everybody knows you’re cool, Jack. It’s just…” He’s already tried to say that he’s not saying what he’s definitely saying.

“It’s okay, Kyle.” Because it kind of is. I’m glad that no one hates me, but I’m also glad that the guys on the team aren’t friends I should be concerned about losing. I clap Kyle on the shoulder. “Thanks for the invite. Good luck in Cali.”

He looks relieved when I climb in my car.


The next morning, I tell my parents about catching up with Kyle and the guys on the team, how it was nice to see everyone but how I’m starting to get more excited about college.

I think a fresh start will be good for me.

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