“I mean, we kind of always knew he was a predator, right?”
Jenna sits across from me, drinking her third double IPA. I’m wearing no makeup and she’s in all black.
“Well. Did we?” We’re on the patio of a bar located halfway between our apartments. We both Lyfted here, certain we were going to get drunk. “We knew he was a dick. But we didn’t know he, like, groomed teens.”
She tilts her head up, looking at the string lights. Four of the bulbs are out. “Their first album did have that song about fucking a drunk girl at a college party.”
Right. I loved that one.
“That looks pretty bad now, huh,” I say.
The neck of her beer stays close to her mouth. “I mean, it was always bad. We were just, like, fifteen, so we didn’t think about it.”
What we did think about when we were fifteen:
- making enough babysitting cash to see Begin Again live
- keyboard smashing on message boards after the release of their fourth music video, the one where Jacob Everett runs his hands down the length of his flat stomach
- Photoshopping the words “I CAME” onto pictures of him with his mouth open
- the sound of him catching his breath during YouTube performances we ripped and downloaded to our iPod Nanos
“Remember when we looked up Jacob’s criminal record?” Jenna contorts her face as if to look horrified, but then laughs for the first time all night.
“And all he had was a speeding ticket.” There’s probably a crust of red wine on my lips. “We thought it was such a scandal.”
Begin Again never had a real hit. They played Late Night shows a few times and had one single reach number twenty-two on the Alternative Songs charts in 2006. Their fanbase, mostly boys, were feral for them anyway. They took pride in their proclamations that they’d totally go gay for Jacob, cradled in the safety of his heterosexuality. I, in turn, took pride in loving a band that was affirmed cool by men, so unlike the other music I loved.
“Fuck, I can’t believe the show is next week.” Jenna’s looking down at the table, in the space between our drinks. “We can’t go, by the way. Obviously.”
That morning, I’d cried in my bed scrolling through a Twitter thread. A former sixteen-year-old, a die-hard fan, said she met Jacob at a record store. He bought her a Built to Spill album, wrote his screen name on the receipt. They chatted online, then moved things to video. He bought her the Blue Album and lingerie. He asked for her pictures late at night.
“The tickets were kind of expensive,” I say.
Jenna’s eyes are so brown that they look black. “Sorry for your sacrifice. I guess he should have thought about you before he molested someone.”
I want to say, “He didn’t molest anyone,” but I don’t.
My Twitter feed has forgotten about him by the time I leave the bar, but I need more. I search r/beginagn, then r/beignagan, then r/beginagain while sitting on my toilet. The top post, Jacob Responds., has 587 comments.
I pull my sweatpants up without wiping and walk to my bed, staring at my phone. The post links to a notes app screenshot from Jacob’s Twitter. He writes that he acted regrettably many years ago. He apologizes to his wife and bandmates. He doesn’t mention the girl.
Absolutely fucked that he even made a statement tbh. This allegation came from a tweet. Now anyone can tweet anything they want and the pitchforks come out (no pun intended lol)? We just believe her with ZERO evidence? The world’s fucked dude
| yeah he shouldn’t have to say anything. If she’s saying he was 27, then this allegedly happened like twelve years ago. People change. We’ve all made mistakes
| bro if the “allegations” are true, kinda hard to feel sympathy for this chick. She’s saying she was sixteen and he asked for nudes? She could have, oh idk, not sent the pictures if she didn’t want to.
Several thumb swipes down the endless scroll later, I discover a dissenting comment:
holy shit dudes a fuckin creep. Begin Again album-burning party at my house whose coming
I plug my phone in its charger and click off the lamp on my nightstand. My eyes adjust to the dark as I stare at the ceiling. I pretend I’m sixteen. I imagine him on stage, his eyes landing on mine. Him finding me outside the venue, sweaty and high from the show, asking for my pictures. I imagine spending birthday money on a push-up bra, posing with my mouth closed to hide my braces. I think about how badly I would have wanted him. How little I would understand his capacity to pulverize me. I try to sleep but I keep seeing it: me posing, him looking.
“I’m pretty sure I actually loved him,” I slur. I’m at the bar patio again, this time with Theo. He’s drinking sparkling water and DD’ing. A table over, two people silently stare at each other while sipping their beers. I think they’re listening to us and gossiping with their eyes. I think I want them to hear me.
“He was so smart. And sensitive. And hot, but that’s, like…” I wave the air. Theo nods politely. “I really thought he was a genius. Maybe I still do.” Ice clinks when I swirl my cocktail on the table, gazing off into the distance. Theo nods again, starting to look vaguely dissociated.
“Maybe I could do a separate-the-art-from-the-artist thing,” I go on. “Maybe I could be like, ‘I still love the music, but I don’t condone the behavior.’”
Theo shrugs his shoulders in slow-mo. “I mean,” he says, carefully. “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Still love the music?”
I blink, startled. Of course I do. I’ve been telling people I love Begin Again since I was fifteen. It’s my shorthand way of announcing myself as thoughtful, deep. It’s me saying I like songs about depression and anger and self-hatred because I’ve “been through” shit. I need people to know that I’ve been through shit. The shit is my history. The shit is essential to my being.
“I haven’t checked a mirror to make sure my eyes are still blue,” I respond. “I loved him.”
“I mean. You loved an idea of him.”
“You didn’t actually know him,” he adds.
“Got it,” I say, grabbing my purse and unzipping it, rearranging its contents as if I’m looking for something.
“Are you mad?” He leans forward. “I’m not trying to be harsh. I just think, like, maybe this isn’t really about him.”
“Then who is it about?”
Theo doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to.
The couple next to us stand up to leave, the man looking at me as he pushes in his chair. I pull a tube of Burt’s Bees out of my bag and spread the slick wax across my lips. The sting of peppermint moves from my mouth to the corners of my eyes. I’ve been buying this lip balm since high school. It burns.
In twelfth grade, I saw a picture of Jacob’s dick. It was a grainy Sidekick photo he’d taken of himself, after he’d propped the phone up on a table or something so his hand, dick, and face could all be in frame. His hairless forearm was stretched across his torso; his mouth was open and his eyes were closed.
The photo was leaked to a website that posted naked bodies of people with tattoos and swooping haircuts. Someone uploaded the picture in a thread labeled NSFW on the Begin Again message boards. An admin took it down. They wrote, His lawyers are trying to get this off the internet. Post it again and you’ll be banned.
I saw the picture before the admin took it down. I saved it.
Why is ~mrs. everett~ posting about fucking home decor? I text Jenna. She’s still said nothing about the allegations.
I’m turned away from Theo in our bed, scrolling through Jacob’s wife’s Instagram. I follow her because I want to know what kind of girl makes him hard. She has thin black hair and crushable bones. She is stunning. Her last post is a picture of a wildflower arrangement inside a pink seashell vase. Her comments are turned off.
Ikr? Jenna writes. And she says she’s a feminist.
Like ok bitch, I text back.
She responds, Disgusting. So glad we decided not to go to the show.
I place my phone screen-down on my nightstand. Theo snores next to me. I shake him.
“Charlotte still hasn’t said anything.”
He talks out of one side of his mouth when he’s half asleep. “Who?”
“Charlotte,” I whisper. “Jacob’s wife. The Feminist. It’s been days and she’s said nothing.”
Theo’s eyes are closed and his cheek is smushed against his pillow. “So?”
I pause. “What?”
“Why would she have to say something?”
I sit up and stare at him. His eyes are still closed. He’s maybe already asleep again. I’m quiet for a long time.
“Fuck off, dude.”
Jacob is on stage, his buzzed hair graying at the ears. My hair is tied up, my neck sweating. He has a long beard that covers his lips. I sing along with him, my tongue familiar with the shape of the sounds. His open mouth is a black hole. I’m wearing skinny jeans and black eyeliner. He wears navy blue pants and a flannel buttoned all the way to the collar. His body looks the same as I remembered it. He’s beautiful.
Before I left, I told Theo I was going to Jenna’s. I texted Jenna that I was staying in. Now I’m surrounded by strangers in Converse and wet t-shirts. There’s a twisted Aquafina water bottle full of vodka in the bottom of my bag, for old times’ sake. I take a swig and watch the stage sway.
The song ends and Jacob speaks for the first time. His eyes are closed. He shares his gratitude for support “during this difficult chapter of my life.” Someone behind me yells we love you and everyone cheers, but Jacob doesn’t smile. A faraway voice yells again — we love you — and then a man to my left, too: we love you. The words ripple through the pit. Jacob’s eyes are still closed as he steps away from the microphone, listening. Clouds of fog spill from the side of the stage, grazing past his body like he is the moon.
The band plays the first notes of my favorite song and I scream. Everyone starts jumping. The man in front of me lands on my foot and I say fuck. Jacob sings the first line, a curse for an ex-girlfriend who let him go and a promise that she will regret it. I sing along with him but in my mind I hear Jenna’s tone, I see Theo turning away. I pour burning vodka down my throat to empty my brain. I put my arms in the air.
Near the front of the stage, I see a flash of platinum hair in the crowd. It’s a girl with wispy bangs and round cheeks. She is singing with her eyebrows drawn together. Her arms are in the air like mine, but her hands have Xs on them. She’s looking up at him. I think I’m going to throw up. She’s looking up at him and singing. Jacob’s eyes are open now and he is looking down, watching her.
The men around me nod to the music, singing the song. I mouth the words, but nothing comes out.
Lindsey Peters Berg lives in Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in Hobart and is forthcoming in The Daily Drunk’s pop punk anthology. Currently, she’s at work on her first novel. Follow her on Twitter and IG @lindspetersberg.
image: MM Kaufman