I decided Duncan had to die when we were juniors, when he was announced as captain of the Highlands High hockey team, but I didn’t tell my boyfriend Mack that until the following year, at the beginning of hockey season. We’d been drinking in the parking lot after I picked him up from hockey practice one night, and I let it slip that Duncan was a total douchebag meathead who could barely skate, let alone lead the team to the state championship. Mack looked at me like I just told him I thought it would be easier to play hockey without the ice.
“Duncan’s fine,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “He’s fine. He’s bad on assists and takes way to many wild shots, but he’s fine. Dumb as a bag of rocks, but fine. But Highland High isn’t just a fine hockey team. I just think it’s gonna be kind of sad when he can’t take you guys to championships for your senior year. I mean, it’s your last chance, right?”
He took a sip of Grain Belt. “I guess.”
"I mean, you do what you can, I guess. The guys really look up to you. But you can only do so much with Duncan as captain, you know?”
Another sip. “I guess he does fuck around a lot during practice. And he doesn’t know any of the JV guys, and they’re gonna be the ones who take over eventually.”
“And you are always looking out for those guys. I just…” I sigh like this is something that’s hard for me to say and has been building up for a while. “I just don’t know why they didn’t make you captain instead.”
We threw some bottles at the back of the hockey rink to watch them explode, and I noticed Mack was throwing them a little harder than usual. He chucked the last bottle against the cement and I cheered when it shattered into a dozen shining pieces.
He was killing it in the next few games—seven goals, twelve assists, and skating like he was being chased by the devil. In the stands, the other girls eyed me with a combination of respect and jealousy, which made me happier than if I’d gotten those goals myself.
I met Mack outside the locker room after the game against Lakeville and threw my arms around him, even though he still smelled like sweat and ammonia. “You did great, baby!”
“Dude.” Duncan came out of the locker room and slapped Mack on the shoulder. “You are on fire! We are so gonna crush the Penguins next week.” He turned back to the locker room. “Some frosh, get my bag and bring it to my car!” Of course, a couple of freshman players immediately ran back into the locker room to find it.
“Great game, Duncan,” I said, all smiles.
“Thanks, Betsy. Let me tell you, between me and your boy Mack, we’re gonna go all the way. We’re gonna take the championship back from Bloomfield.” He hit Mack in the shoulder and backed away to the exit, where a freshman was standing with his gear bag. “You know it, muthafucker! See you guys at Trish’s for the afterparty?”
Mack shrugged, which Duncan took to mean yes. We could hear Duncan peal out of the parking lot in his fucking new Land Rover. None of the cops ever pulled him over because they knew he was the captain of the Highlanders and have of them used to be Highlanders. Duncan also never got carded at the liquor store, even when he was wearing his fucking letterman jacket, and he never had to turn in homework and got free shit all the time. It wasn’t that I hated Duncan personally, but his dad was a fucking orthodontist, so why did he get all this shit for free? He was probably going to get a free ride to college, too, even while people like me had to bust their asses to get perfect grades (or at least bust their asses to cheat off the right people and steal old tests) so we could maybe get the fuck out of this nowhere town.
But I didn’t tell Mack that. Instead I said “To Trish’s!” like the enthusiastic hockey girlfriend people thought I was.
In the parking lot, the Berg sisters were standing around Mack’s car. They weren’t all the same age, but the way they all dressed in the same fake goth-y clothes and dye their hair black made it hard to remember which one was which. They were all looking at Mack.
“Good game, captain,” one said.
“Good job, captain,” said another.
“Way to go, captain,” said the third.
Mack paled a little. I looked between him and the sisters, expecting to see some charge of electricity flowing between them. Usually I don’t like other girls talking to my boyfriend like they have a secret, but I knew something was happening here and I wanted to hear more.
“4-0, right?” the first one asked.
“Aye aye, captain,” the last one said and they all laughed.
“Move along, you weirdos,” I snarled, and they walked toward the edge of the parking lot, still laughing.
In the car, Mack’s hands were shaking over the steering wheel and before I even asked he said, “They told me we were going to win. Yesterday, when I was leaving the cafeteria after lunch, they were in the hall and told me.”
“Of course you were going to win,” I said. “You’re on fire.”
“They knew the score, and that I’d get three goals and one assist, and that Duncan would miss a shot in the first period and not get to take another for the rest of the game. They said they’d done some Ouija-whatever and seen it. At first I thought they were just high or whatever, but they were right.”
I felt a charge run through my body, like I was a live wire and waiting for someone reach out. “I’ll drive,” I said.
We didn’t go to Trish’s party. Instead we went back to my place and raided my dad’s liquor cabinet. He was either working the night shift at the factory or with some drunk-ass buddies at a bar, so I knew we wouldn’t be interrupted. I made us each a rum and coke, Mack’s favorite drink even though he pretends he’s all into whiskey.
“How could they know?” He took a swig of his drink. “That was way too accurate to just fucking know.”
“Don’t freak out,” I said.
“They called me captain.”
I took a sip. “I know. The Berg sisters are weird, baby, but maybe they’re onto something. I’ve always said you should totally be captain. You deserve to be captain.”
“Yeah, but Duncan’s captain.”
I shrugged. “What if he wasn’t captain?”
Mack raised an eyebrow at me. “Babe, if he wasn’t captain he wouldn’t be captain and I’d probably be captain.”
“See?” I said. “Without him, you’d be captain. And hockey’s a tough sport. Guys work hard, play hard. Accidents happen all the time.”
I could practically hear all the gears in his head clicking as he put it together. “Are you saying—”
“I’m saying no one would be all that surprised if Duncan had an accident. Before the next game.” I held his gaze hard so he knew this wasn’t us just fucking around or throwing bottles against the side of the hockey rink. This was us and this was for real and this was forever. “If you get a sports scholarship and I’m at the top of our class, we get into college and we get the fuck out of here and we get to live it up for the rest of our senior year. People would be falling over each other just to give you stuff—booze, gifts, money. You’d never have to do homework again. Why should Duncan have any of that instead of us?”
He stared into his rum and coke like it was some magic cauldron that would give him all the answers and everything he wanted.
“Tell me you don’t want this,” I said.
He held up his glance. “Let’s do it.”
We clinked glasses. “Fuck yes,” I said. We drank heartily, jumped on my bed whooping and cheering and daring anyone to mess with us. Life was about to get great. Mack was on fire and I was burning.
The next post-game party was at my house. It wasn’t even hard to arrange; all I had to say was ‘my dad’s barely ever home’ and everyone was instantly getting kegs and setting up a beer pong table. Duncan talked about how wasted he was going to get after the game. It was perfect. It would look like an accident.
The only problem was that Mack was getting nervous. He cornered me in my bedroom just as cars were starting to pull into the driveway.
“Seriously, Bets, I don’t know what we were thinking,” he told me. “Let’s just forget it.”
He must have expected me to smile and nod and say, yes, babe, you are so right, what a great joke that was, let’s go do a keg stand, go Highlanders! I was done with that.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I said. “You’re backing out now? Just when everything is working out perfectly and we could everything we’ve ever wanted?”
“No,” I said. “Don’t give me that shit. You don’t go out there and win the game and then come tell me no I’m scared. Don’t be a fucking pussy, Mack. Not with me.”
He looked around my room like he might find something to help him, but it was all mine. “If we get caught—”
“We’re not going to get caught.” I held his gaze. “You do what I tell you, and no one’s going to know anything.”
He nodded and I smiled and we kissed and finally it was all about to happen.
Duncan was true to his word and got completely shit-faced at the party. He shotgunned two beers at once and then made a couple of freshman try to do the same, laughing with his mouth wide open when they were gagging and coughing on it. When he tried to lead everyone in the Highland High school song, he jumped up on my coffee table and it collapsed underneath him.
“Whoa, sorry about that, Betsy,” he said once he got up. “Shoddy Walmart craftsmanship.”
“Right,” I said.
“Hey.” His face came really close to mine. I could see the sweat at his temples, how acne spread across his forehead. He tugged on a lock of my hair. “Do the curtains match the drapes?”
I thought about stabbing him with a bottle opener right then and there, but even I couldn’t disguise that as an accident. “Oh Duncan,” I laughed, “you’re hilarious. A bunch of us are gonna climb up on the roof. You can climb up from the back porch. You should come.”
“Yeah, cool,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“I’ve just gotta grab Mack.”
Which I did. I pulled Mack into my bedroom like we were going to go hook up, but he could climb through my window and onto the roof, where two JV players were already passed out. I heard thumping footsteps on the roof and a whoop and the shattering of a beer bottle on the cement patio below.
“Showtime,” I said.
He swung through my bedroom window and onto the room. We’d done it together before, when we were freshman and it was the last days of summer and we starred at the stars and felt like anything was possible. Now I knew that anything was only possible if you make it that way.
More thumping footsteps overhead. Hushed voices. More footsteps. A dull cry and the thud of a body hitting the pavement below, skull first. Voices from inside the house going out onto the patio, wondering what happened.
Mack swung back through my window. “It’s done,” he said. “He fell.”
“You pushed him,” I said.
He nodded. “I pushed him.”
In the yard, people were standing over Duncan’s body and shouting “Call an ambulance!” and “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I put on my best concerned face so we could join them.
I answered all of the police’s questions—was he drinking, where did you get the alcohol, who else was with him, etc. They knew what hockey parties were like because they’d been to a bunch when they were our age, so they weren’t surprised about the drinking and looked at me sympathetically when I said I didn’t know how the party got so out of control, I’d only invited a few people over to hang out. I cried. I was always good at crying.
The news called it an accident. There were reports about binge drinking, about how the hockey team was grieving but would go on playing in Duncan’s name. “He would have wanted us to keep going, to win,” Mack, who was named captain at the next practice, told one of the local reporters.
Things were different now, just like I told Mack they would be. People offered to let us copy their homework. They moved out of our way in the hall, didn’t say anything when we skipped class, gave us the good table in the cafeteria. Gifts showed up in Mack’s locker and on his doorstep. People were being supportive because of what we went through, because of what Mack was now. He was a leader and he had to have the support of the community behind him. It had all worked out like we planned.
Except I saw Duncan’s parents at the memorial service. I remembered them from games, but it was different to see them crying and holding each other like they might break apart otherwise. Once during the service, Duncan’s mom looked across the room and her eyes rested on me and she looked so sad and hateful all at once, I was sure she knew what happened.
She looked away but I kept feeling her eyes on me. Even later, even days after, I still felt it.
Mack started seeing ghosts. Or at least that’s what he said. “I couldn’t sleep so I snuck into the rink to get some early ice time. I saw him in the stands.”
“You’re tired,” I told him. “This is what your brain does when it’s tired.”
“It’s not the first time. It’s like he’s always in the corner of my eye and when I turn he’s gone.”
“Better ghosts than regrets,” I said. “Stop freaking out. In a couple of months you’ll win championships and forget any of this ever happened.”
But he started missing shots, losing the puck, looking lost on the ice. People felt bad for him, thought they understood. “He’s up against a lot,” they said. “Poor kid.”
After the Highlanders lost their first game, I went to meet Mack outside of the locker room and ended up running into Mack’s mom. For a second I thought it was one of Mack’s ghosts but I remembered she wasn’t dead; it was just that I’d felt her eyes following me for days.
“Excuse me,” I said and rushed by before she could say anything. She watched me go, I knew it.
It was an accident. Her son was drunk and on a roof. Accidents happened all the time. What did she expect from me?
But there was still a blood stain on our cement patio. My dad and I washed and washed and washed it but the shadow of it was still there. It was like she saw the stain on me.
This wasn’t what I’d planned. I had to do something.
I had to see the weird Berg sisters.
I found them smoking behind the library, staying out of the sun to maintain their pale goth pallor. They didn’t seem surprised to see me.
“How did you know?”
“Know what?” one said.
“What should we know?” said another.
“We’re just a bunch of weird bitch sisters,” said the last.
They blowed their smoke at my face and for a second I saw it all again—Duncan falling, the blood seeping into the patio, the red-and-blue flash of police cars, Duncan’s mom’s face staring at me over and over and over again.
Even if I got out of this town, I’d never escape that.
I started getting up in the middle of the night to wash the stain on the back patio. Every night I scrubbed and scrubbed until my hands were raw and red and bleeding. But the stain kept getting bigger. It had leached through the cement and the grass below it and the earth below that.
One night my dad found me. “Betsy,” he said, “Come on. You gotta come inside.”
I kept scrubbing. “I need to clean it just a little more. It’s almost gone. I need it gone.”
His hand rested on my back and I nearly jumped at the touch. “We’ll replace the cement. Come on, just try to get some sleep. It’s gonna be okay.”
Even if we replaced the cement tile, the blood would still be soaked through underneath and have spread through the earth and no matter where I went it would always be there, waiting for me, I could never leave it behind.
“It’s okay,” he said, and I didn’t tell him how wrong he was.