The back exit of the high school opens like a vault door into one of the steep hills surrounding town. The moist air hits your skin like a cold facial. Perhaps the town’s forefathers hadn’t expected the place to grow until it pressed into the hillside, or perhaps they intended on claustrophobia to keep everyone in check, as if the dampness wouldn’t do the trick. The town endures endless drenching downpours. Brooks overflow roadways. Streams cut deep ravines into rocky cliffs. Torrents cascade through storm drains. Running water’s like a sound track in your life. Water gushes and floods everywhere, as if the town needed regular cleansing.

Rain must’ve fallen the entire school day, so you have to jump puddles as you walk up the hill toward Cole Singer’s house. You’ve been dating Cole for a few weeks. Well, not dating, he never takes you out or anything. You just hang together here and there, which is infinitely better than going home. On your way, you pass the Pine Tavern, where you and Cole met. The tavern’s one of those roadside bars with narrow windows, thick walls, and linoleum flooring. The lighting inside is weak, as if the wiring’s about to give out. Every interior surface—bar, stools, chairs, tables, booths, walls, and woodwork—is scarred, carved, initialed, and marked. The place’s populated by people who drink every day and bartenders who never ask for ID. No one’s cared what goes on inside the tavern for generations. It’s one of those places people stopped even noticing long ago.

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