Chapter Eleven

Cullen Jones is Black and can swim. Julian Jackson is not Cullen Jones.

“What are you thinking about?” Julian whispered to Sophia as the two cuddled in his twin bed after his roommate left for the library.

“Do you swim?”

“I’m Black,” Julian said.

“Okay?”

“No.”

“Well, I had an analogy, but now I’m not sure you’ll get it.”

“Try.”

“Say you’re in the middle of a lake, in sight of the docks on either shore but still quite a ways from either.  You’re tired of swimming, so you’re treading water.  If you’re with someone, treading water, no matter how you feel about each other, whoever tires first will cling to the other to try to stay afloat, pulling both underwater.”

“God, Sophia, is this what you were thinking about?  I was lying here trying to remember which dining halls were open.”

“If you swam I wouldn’t have had to set up my analogy, so just listen.  Now, if you’re swimming, being with a partner is great, actually it’s the most responsible way to swim.  But if you’re treading water, having a partner is a liability, not just to you, but also to the person you care about.”

“Good, I can’t swim, and it’s too cold to go to the beach now anyway.”

“You know what I mean,” Sophia said.  “I’ve been treading water since my sister got sick.  At first I enrolled at Hanscom to be closer to my family, but I became obsessed with finding out who dealt the drugs that put her in a coma.  Anyway, I’m getting tired.  I thought Jason was Stella’s dealer, so I’ve been creeping around The Den, trying to figure things out, and doing things I don’t respect myself for in the process.  I stole from Jason’s room to try to prove it, but nothing I took meant anything.  And I wanted to return them and just be done with it, but now I can’t find them.  I think I’m losing it.”

“What are you saying?”

“We should break up, you should find someone whose not insane to date, and I need to find something else to occupy my time.”

Sophia moved from Julian’s spoon, adjusted her skirt, and walked out the door.

Julian lay in bed, not moving and speechless.

* * * * *

Candace found him in bed there the next day, his roommate finally answering his phone to tell her where he was.

Julian hadn’t taken my calls either, and his roommate suggested Candace be the one to visit because her actions hadn’t been the catalyst for Sophia’s existential crisis — not that Julian blamed me, completely, for their breakup.

Anyway, Candace was better at this kind of stuff.  Julian had allowed himself to wallow for 24 hours, and he needed someone to light a fire in his belly.

Still, her first two tactics, denial (“You only dated for a few weeks, get over it!”) and anger (“You can’t go out and fuck the first person you see lying in bed.”) didn’t work, so she tried another tack:

“She says she’s obsessed with Stella being in a coma and finding out how it happened.  You can’t do anything about her sister’s catatonia, but you can help her figure out how she ended up in the hospital.”

For the first time Julian turned away from the wall and looked at Candace.

“Sophia was right, Jason was dealing to the high schoolers at New Briar, at least according to Ethan Mecklenberg’s drug dealer, Snag.  She doesn’t have all the information and resources we do, so I understand her being overwhelmed, hopeless, and finding any reason to give up, but Grover,” she hesitated saying my name, “and I have some leads, and Snag is on board, trying to figure out who Jason Baxter’s supplier was.  And when we figure out what happened, Sophia will get closure, and you’ll get Sophia.”

Julian sat up, “What do you need me to do?”

His stomach rumbled.

“Shower.  Then eat something while I tell you about operation New Briar Rabbit.”

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