Big news in a small town spreads quickly. That goes double when the McKrakens’ house disappears and their son’s car explodes.
Jay’s excitement had quickly faded into dread, and he had a pit in his stomach as he drove his new Miata. That explosion had been real; more real than the twelve trillion dollars on his bank receipt. And no matter where he drove, he couldn’t escape the plume of smoke billowing from the A-Court parking lot. That was real. This new Miata was real. The town’s reaction was real. He tried to smile and enjoy spinning around corners and accelerating down backroads. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he might have made a mistake.
Everywhere he went, the town was in a flurry. On main street, the town’s single fire engine blew past him, heading for A-Court. He wound down side streets, stalling. He thought he’d be ecstatic to have a new car, but now when he thought of all the conversations ahead—his parents, Colin, Liz—he didn’t relish any of them. Especially Liz.
As the light drifted out of the evening sky, lights flashed on in the homes. Through windows, he could see families, agitated, on their phones. People came out, gathering in the street, staring up at the plume of smoke. When they glanced at Jay rolling past, he saw their surprise at the Miata. Dunam had only one Miata: Jeremy’s. Sick of delaying the inevitable, Jay drove home.
His parents stood outside in a halo of porchlight, talking to their neighbors, the Maganas. They stopped as Jay pulled up, to stare at his new car. His mom was crying, and his dad looked pale and drawn.
“Whose car is that?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Is that Jeremy’s?”
“Yeah. I mean, his house burned down and his car blew up. But I think he’s fine.”
“Is that his car?”
“No. His is red.
“Is Jeremy okay? Have you heard?”
“Jeremy’s fine, mom. Why do you all of the sudden care so much about the McKrakens?”
Jay’s dad folded his arms. “They’re my employer, for one.”
“We heard from Martha Kline that the McKrakens are completely broke. Do you know what this means? Your father could lose his job, Jay. Everyone would be out of a job, if the McKraken mill goes bankrupt.”
Jay felt sicker and sicker. If this was the game, he wasn’t sure he wanted to play after all. His parents turned back to the Maganas. Jay pushed past them, moving off the porch and into the house. The inside of the house was blissfully quiet. He trudged into the kitchen, opened the fridge, pulled out a purple Squeeze-it, twisted off the top and chugged. The house was blissfully quiet. He leaned against the cupboards, wondering if he should skip Liz and just go to bed. He didn’t feel like doing anything. There was a heaviness over his heart that not even a new Miata could cure.
Then the phone rang. One. Twice. Three times. Whoever it was, Jay didn’t feel like talking.
“Mommmm. The phone’s ringing.”
He heard the answering machine click on, and he listened to his dad’s robotic greeting on the tape. There was a beep, and then the silent hiss of static, followed by heavy breathing. Then:
Jay leapt over and picked up the phone. It was Colin.
We walked around the kitchen counter and clicked “stop” on the answering machine, so their conversation wouldn’t be recorded. There was no one Jay would rather talk to at the moment. He’d never been happier to hear from his friend.
“I assume the big news finally travelled all the way up Snowden?”
“I heard the McKrakens lost their house, their money, and Jeremy’s car.”
“Look, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it was me. I made an executive decision to use the disk. But hear me out. I talked to Liz. I figured a lot of stuff out. We’re in the middle of a game, between Liz and Jeremy. I know that sounds crazy, but—”
“Jay… there’s something I need to tell you.” Colin’s voice was quiet. He sounded scared.
“What? What is it buddy?”
“That day we drove to Liz’s house… I saw someone out in the road.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“You asked me if I recognized the person. I did. I didn’t say anything, because it didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t. But it was you. You were standing out in the road, watching us drive away. And I think, when got out of the woods… that was you, too.”
Jay shook his head. “That’s crazy.”
“I don’t think you should make any more changes.”
Jay ran back through his mind. What had Liz said? There are two players. She had recognized him from the very first moment, just as he had recognized her. What had she said at their very first meeting? You’re not him.
“I’ve got to go.”
Jay slammed the phone down and ran down the steps to his Miata. He had to find Liz.