Saving Mr. Carter
The night he died, I was sitting on the tracks of Ole South, listening to Mr. Brightside through one half-broken earphone and the chirping of cicadas through the other. The whole north side of Oakes Falls—the good side, the side with perfect nuclear families and kids with futures and lawyers who drove Mercedes—was lit up beneath my feet. From up here, it looked like the sky was leaking, like the twinkling lights of Main Street had all been shooting stars once upon a time who took a detour and fell in love and never looked back. Because it was easy, you know, to fall in love with a place like Oakes Falls.
I had once.
It wasn’t the kind of podunk town people grew up dreaming of leaving. People gave their whole lives to this place, and Oakes Falls soaked them up, every last second of them. That’s what Mom used to tell me, before it took all of hers. That’s why you could smell the magic in the breeze, the scent of gingerbread in the middle of summer, fresh rain on a cloudless day, roses in a field of poppies. That’s why you could hear the laughter of children long gone, their trills and hiccups as they doubled over in the grassy Indiana hills, their footsteps echoing and leaving nothing, not even a print, in their wake. That’s why sometimes, you could see the stars shining in the middle of the falls, the blue birds that turned red on rainy days, the shadow of a friend you thought you lost tapping rhythmic memories onto your window. This town was life—magic—because that’s what it stole from the people who lived here.
That’s what it had stolen from me.
And the second I got out, I’d never let it take any more.
That’s what I was thinking about as I sang my heart out to The Killers’ on the tracks overlooking the city—coming out of my own cage. Now that I look back on it, it was ironic, really, that I thought I was so confined in Oakes Falls, when it was about to get so much worse.
But that’s a story for another time.
That night was about Andrew Copeland.
Cope was a Townie, born and raised on the north side of Ole South. He was the kind of kid I only ever saw because there was only one high school in Oakes Falls, and we were both forced to go to it. I knew very few things about Cope before that night, and I could list them all on one well-manicured hand.
1. Cope was a starter on the basketball team. He was shit, but we had slim-pickings and he was a big guy.
2. Cope was no good at calculus.
3. Cope had a rich grandfather in California who unknowingly funded his drug habit.
4. Cope had a drug habit.
You’d think, for a Slick like me, drug habits would be as common as fried food at the state fair. And, to be fair, they were. I just didn’t want anything to do with them.
The only problem was that nobody believed me. Not Cope, who asked me to hook him up. Not his girlfriend, who threatened me if I got too close. Not my father, who told me that the next time I wanted to deal, I had to go through him. And not the cops, who knew where I came from and needed no other proof.
The only one who knew—the only one who really knew—was Carter. But he couldn’t say a word. Because the truth, the real truth, was so much worse.