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  • If You Knew Then What I Know Now
  • Ryan Van Meter (bio)

In your sixth grade social studies class, fourth hour, when Mrs. Perry assigns the group project on European world capitals, don't look at Mark. Don't look at Jared. See if there's another group you can get into. The quiet girl who sits in front of you needs someone to work with, too. If you could avoid working on this project with those two boys, you could avoid all of this.

If you do end up in a group with Mark and Jared you should insist that you meet at the library. If you could meet at the library then they couldn't do what they are planning to do. If you do agree to meet with them at Mark's house then I don't know what to tell you. If you meet there it's probably all going to happen the way it's going to happen.

You will show up at Mark's. His sister will answer the door. Your backpack will weigh down on your back, and his Dad will be watching football in the living room, but you don't see him, you only hear the dull roar of the TV crowd. His sister will point you down the hallway, "first room on the right" she will say, "across from the bathroom." You'll knock on the closed door. You'll think it's odd that the door is closed. They know you're coming over. They know it's the day before the project is due. They know all of this. You will hear whispering on the other side of door, and then it's swung open, and Mark stands there, smiling. Jared is flung across the bed reading a magazine. The television glows in the corner. A video game is on, but the action is paused, a figure with winged shoes and a bow and arrow frozen in the middle of the arc of his jump. You've played this game before. You're good at it.

You'll let your backpack slump to the floor, unzip it, and pull out your books. You'll balance them in your lap, split open folders and pull out the assignment worksheet. "OK," you will say. You read over the assignment, [End Page 27] the social studies project you're supposed to be working on, and you won't notice that they aren't listening to you. You won't notice they are mouthing words to each other. You won't know their plan is about to take shape.

And you won't know when they ask you to grab the box of Hostess cupcakes on the kitchen counter that they really don't care about the cupcakes. They just need you out of the room for a second. Of course you'll do it. You'll hop up and head to the kitchen. You're so excited to be over at Mark's house, hanging out with other boys. It's what your mother has been telling you to do for years: "You need to spend more time with boys. You should do more things that boys like to do. Why are you always just hanging around girls?" That's why what you see when you walk back in the room will be so confusing. You'll think, "this isn't what boys do, this isn't what I thought we were supposed to do."

The door will be shut when you return from the kitchen, though you'll know you certainly didn't shut it as you left. The rest of the house will be quiet, but you can still hear the football game from the living room. You will twist the knob and push open the door, and you will see them, on the bed. Jared will be under Mark, and they are turned so you can't see their faces, not the front of their faces anyway, and they are pretending to kiss. Mark's thick forearms will be stiffly curled around Jared, Jared's glasses will be folded, shoved in the corner of the windowsill. Both of...