Sixteen years ago, the boy Abe Cooper had a crush on disappeared. He wasn’t abducted or anything, but one day he was in school, the next he was gone. And Abe knows it was something he did that made the boy vanish.
Jonas Raghnall lives a good life, he has great friends and a job he loves, but it all comes tumbling down one day when he goes to the grocery store and runs into Abe Cooper. The Abe Cooper. The football star of their high school, the guy who had more girlfriends than anyone could keep track of, the guy who smiled at Jonas when no one else was looking. The guy who made his mom pack up everything they owned and have them move.
Abe Cooper tried to swallow, but his mouth had gone dry. How many times had he wondered what had happened to Crazy Joe? Jonas. That day, he’d had a horrible feeling, and he’d spent many years trying to shake it, but every time Crazy Joe had popped up in his mind it was followed by unease.
Something terrible had happened, and he wasn’t sure, but maybe he was part of it. Joe—Jonas—had been a year below him in school, but everyone knew who he was. Crazy Joe—swishy Joe with glitter stains on his jeans who’d argue his opinion in every matter. He’d been brilliant, though. Abe had always been in awe of the way he expressed himself. In retrospect, Abe had realized how smart he was, and how much he must’ve read to know what he did back then. Sure, he’d argued conspiracy theories left and right and always had a rather grim view of society, but they’d been teens—a certain amount of fuck-the-world and know-it-all attitude was to be expected.
Abe had had it in spades.
Many believed Joe was crazy for real, but Abe was sure it was just a case of being different. High school wasn’t the most forgiving environment. He sighed, wished he’d done things differently, but he hadn’t been very brave back then.
“Well, it was nice seeing you, Abe. Take care.” Joe turned, and before Abe had time to blink, he was several steps away. Panic rose in his chest.
“Wait! Joe…nas.” Abe didn’t stop to see if Jonas would wait, he jogged to catch up with him. “That day—”
“Forget about it.” The smile Jonas gave him was haunted and an invisible fist punched him in the gut.
Not only had Abe played a part in what had happened, Jonas knew it.
“I… can’t. I-I… what happened? I need to know.” There had been so many rumors. Crazy Joe beaten to death, sold into trafficking, gone into rehab, kidnapped. The kidnapped theory had the biggest following since Jonas never came back to school after the weekend. But Abe had seen him on the Sunday, so he was sure he hadn’t been abducted. And he’d heard his mom tell one of the neighborhood women about how perhaps it was for the better to move a boy like that to a different school.
A boy like that.
Jonas’ grin was too bright, the shrug too careless to be believable. “I don’t remember.”
Given a little time, Abe could remember the outline of the bruises on his face. The sun had been shining and at first glance, Abe had thought it was some strange shadow falling over Jonas where he’d stood behind the ice cream stand where he used to work on the weekends, talking to an older man Abe had assumed was the owner. His lip had been split and swollen, he’d had a Band-Aid behind his left ear and a butterfly strip over a cut on his cheek. Someone had shaved off part of Jonas’ thick, wild hair.
Abe shook his head, not wanting to remember the stark fear in Jonas’ eyes when Abe had walked closer to him. They hadn’t talked. A jolt had shot through Abe when he’d met Jonas’ gaze and he’d… walked away.
Coward, he’d been such a coward.
“Are you… erm…” He rubbed his neck. “You wanted to work with theater, right?” Abe remembered he’d had a part in some school play, though he couldn’t say which one, he’d been too busy making out with Stephanie Samuelsen to know what it was about. He shuddered at the memory of her sticky-sweet perfume mixed with the bubblegum she always chewed.
Jonas tilted his head, a lock of his brown not-quite-curly-but-not-entirely-straight hair fell into his eyes. “No, I never wanted to perform.”
He hadn’t? He’d always hung around the art kids, and he’d never hesitated to speak up if he wanted to say something, had never feared attention. He’d held presentations in front of the entire school, had debated one thing after the other. Abe recalled him being in the school orchestra for a short time, and he definitely remembered him being part of arranging an art show in favor of some charity.
They’d had an away game that night so Abe hadn’t gone—probably wouldn’t have if he’d been home either. He wasn’t ‘a boy like that’… except, in a way, he was. Not artsy, not openly passionate about stuff, not fighting to right some injustice. But, no matter how hard he’d tried to hide it, he’d been a boy like that… even back then. “O-okay.”
Abe Cooper is starting over. For fifteen years he’s lived the life that was expected of him, but not anymore. He’s packed up his things, bought himself a cabin in Northfield, and managed to secure a job at the local high school teaching gym and coaching the football team. But his new beginning didn’t include running into Crazy Joe on his first trip to the grocery store.
Jonas Raghnall has everything he needs—good friends and a job he loves. He’s worked hard to get over what happened sixteen years ago, but one run-in with his past and all the memories come flooding back. Seeing Abe Cooper, The Abe Cooper, sets everything out of balance.
Abe had pictured a fresh start with no ties to his past, but now that Jonas is there, he wants nothing more than to be close to the man who had butterflies filling his belly when he was in high school. Jonas doesn’t want to come face to face with his past, but if he sees Abe every day, it’s not really meeting up with your past, is it? It’s more like a date with your future.