When the Sky Fell on Splendor(2)

That the town was called Splendor also seemed like a running joke—one that had long outlived whoever named our plot of dead-brown fields and rangy forest and the single Taco Bell between the high school and the tractor warehouse.

“Don’t care if I ever see it again,” Arthur agreed, though it took me a few seconds to translate because he had a hand-rolled cigarette tucked between his lips and was using both his hands to try to light it.

Remy tugged on his wool collar and glanced in the rearview mirror. “Could you not smoke in my car?”

“No,” Arthur mumbled around the cigarette. “I’m addicted, Remy. That’s the point.”

Levi spun in the passenger seat, training his video camera onto me. “And, Franny, how does it feel to watch your older brother fight the uphill battle of being addicted to novelty cigarettes?”

“I mean, it’s terrifying,” I said, twisting so my face was smashed against the roof of the car. “One second you’re carefree youths, riding bikes and throwing Frisbees, and the next, your brother’s under a bridge, wearing fingerless gloves and playing bad Dylan covers just to feed his habit.”

“And you, Nicholas Raymond Colasanti Jr.?” Levi turned. “I understand you’re as close with Frances and Arthur Schmidt as a goth can be with anyone?”

Nick’s skeletal face scrunched up, and he palmed the camera. “I’m metal, not goth. Now get that thing out of my face, dude.” His Southern-skewing accent thickened, like it always did when the camera was on. “I’m doing my pre-shoot meditation!”

“Maybe we should buy ads,” Arthur said suddenly, like he was part of an entirely different conversation. He leaned over Nick and flicked his cigarette ash out of the car.

“Ads?” Sofía said. “For . . . ?”

“The Ordinary!” Arthur snapped, like it should have been obvious. Like we had all just been sitting in a circle around him, hands extended, absorbing his thoughts.

“We should totally do ads,” Levi said, immediately excited.

Levi was often immediately excited. His optimism wasn’t reserved for bad jokes about flatulence and boldly colored fedoras. It was more wide reaching than that, with a special surplus set aside for The Ordinary.

Sofía’s brow furrowed. “You want to buy ads for our failing YouTube channel?”

“For our mockumentary webisodes,” Levi corrected.

“With what money, Spielberg?” Nick said.

“You’ve got to stay positive,” Levi said, and put on a Talking Heads song.

“Ads. Now that’s a good idea,” Arthur mumbled around his cigarette. As usual he seemed only dimly aware of what was going on with the rest of us. My brother had a kind of laser focus that kept us moving whenever we were working on The Ordinary.

Our YouTube mockumentary series was Levi’s baby, but when it came to actually filming, he seemed just as content to have us over for movie nights and elaborately themed “parties” (only the six members of The Ordinary were ever present, be it for the Quentin Tarantino–themed birthday, the Spielberg birthday, the Wes Anderson birthday, etc.).

When we managed to finish episodes it was usually because they fit nicely with whatever lofty aspiration Arthur was fixated on at the time.

We’d made our “Kite Chasers” episode back when he’d thought he wanted to be an actor (it turned out he was no better at emoting on film than in real life), the “Rock Gods” episode when he decided we should form a band (none of us played instruments), and “The Recluse,” our episode about a J. D. Salinger–esque author living in the woods with a bunch of blow-up dolls he believed to be his relatives, when Art was casually toying with the idea of being the next great American novelist (how this was going to prepare him for that career path remains unclear).

What my brother really wanted, I thought, was to be a superhero. But for his last summer before he left for the lone liberal arts college that had accepted him, he’d settled for World’s Best Special Effects Creator, and thus the “Ghost Hunters” episode we were on our way to film had been born.

Arthur let out another puff of smoke. “We could get some investors.”

Remy smirked at me in the rearview mirror.

We could absolutely not get investors.

Remy pulled onto the narrow bridge that ran over the train tracks, and Nick gasped so loud I hit my head on the car roof twisting to see him.

“Guys,” he said, voice low and panicky. He was turned to the window on his side of the back seat, his tattooed fingers braced against the glass. “Did you see that? There was something hanging from the bridge . . .”

I tugged at my nautilus shell necklace, like it was a talisman handcrafted to ward off bridge ghosts.

“Stop it, Nick,” Sofía said.

“I swear to Gah,” Nick said, laughing. He was always swearing to Gah. Allegedly his mom got on him for Using the Lord’s Name in Vain, but Nick had a tendency to exaggerate (sometimes called “a lying problem”), and it was possible he felt guilty swearing to the veracity of something he knew was ludicrous. Still, he forged on: “Something’s out there!”

“Oh yeah?” I said. I was ninety-nine percent sure he was messing with me, but that last one percent was tightening around my chest. “Like how you swore to Gah Katelyn Marsh’s mom chased you out an upstairs window onto the roof?”

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