It is too bad that his live-in doppelganger, Bart O’Kavanaugh, was not. But perhaps that was the only way things could have been. Brett was so complete in his purity that he once healed a junior’s hangover with merely a touch of his hand. On the single occasion he attended a party, Brett turned the keg to water and gave everyone fish-and-loaf snacks.
Bart, meanwhile, seemed possessed of a more than human strength. There were certain odd facets to him that his friends tried not to call notice to: He only had a shadow sometimes. No one had ever seen his feet. When the class dove was confided to his care, it died immediately. Sometimes you would be startled to find him in the locker room, because the echoes of his voice there did not carry.
Bart was on the football team and the basketball team. It was nice having a doppelganger, because that way Bart could play football on Brett’s behalf and Brett did not have to worry about getting head injuries. It had been a good idea to summon him. Only having a shadow sometimes was a small price to pay.
Bart was well liked by his peers, especially Mark Judge. Although Brett knew better than to question the judgment of someone who literally had “judge” in his last name, he could not help but worry that Bart might say or do something that would have consequences for both of them down the line. Sometimes he tried to bring this up with his doppelganger, without much success.
“Excited for my wholesome weekend,” he said timidly, watching as Bart tied his shoes and belched noisily. “I hope you stay safe out there, Bart. Remember, you only have one brain, and I have a pamphlet here that shows you what that brain becomes on drugs.”
Bart snorted and crumpled the pamphlet. Bart never said much. He mainly communicated by downing kegs. One keg meant yes; three kegs could mean anything. Brett was half in awe and half terrified of him.
Bart was tan and half an inch taller. Sometimes, when Bart was indulged to an even greater degree, Brett thought he could feel himself shrinking, his voice growing softer, his skin more translucent, but he dispensed with the thought. It would do no good to be paranoid.
Bart was never paranoid. Bart was not afraid of anything, least of all consequences. (Bart never went to church, although Brett always invited him to go, saying he would be happy to attend an earlier or later service.)
“Have An Extra Respectful Weekend!” Brett wrote on his calendar. He was already dreading the moment he would have to go out with the car and pour Bart into the back seat, give him water and Tylenol, and put him to bed, as happened most weekends. Boys will be boys, he reminded himself.
They seldom argued, though. Mostly Brett did not have the nerve. The only exception to this was once when Brett had returned from one of his platonic visits to a respected female friend. He noticed Bart at their desk scrawling on their shared yearbook page.
“I, ah,” Brett stammered, adjusting his uniform collar. Bart squinted up at him. “I, ah, must have misunderstood, I guess, but I kind of — ha-ha — thought I would get to write the yearbook page?”
Bart shook his head. Brett tiptoed over to see what the page said. There was a lot about kegs, which could not be helped. The page also included the phrase, “Have you boofed yet?”
“Have you boofed yet?” Brett asked, timidly. “What is ‘boofed’? Is this something we’d definitely like to have on the page?”
Brett kept reading. “Renate Alumnius?” Renate was the name of one of his 65 respected female friends. “See here, Bart,” he said, then cleared his throat, which had gone suddenly dry. “See here, uh, that’s not, I don’t think that’s. Uh. A nice. Uh. Implication.”
“Renate’s going to be real upset if she sees this,” Brett said. He clenched one hand, denting the calendar he always carried in case it needed updating. “Golly, gee whiz, Bart! Golly, gee whiz!”
Bart grunted menacingly at him, and Brett decided to leave well enough alone.
That night in their bedroom (Bart slept in the bed, Brett shunted himself underneath), he began to wonder about the rest of their shared life. Was Yale going to be like this, too? Probably Bart would join some sort of frat immediately and leave Brett to do their homework and get them ready for law school.
Then, life? Brett had a plan: He would become a clerk, then work in a White House, then become a judge someday with clerks of his own — female clerks he could show respect to, as had been his hobby for so long — then maybe someday join the Supreme Court. There were calendars upon calendars, all planned out to the day. But if Bart continued to carry on as he had, what would become of them?
Most people did not even know he had a doppelganger, he thought. If Bart suffered an accident …
No. It would not be right to harm his doppelganger. Gallant would frown on such immorality. They were the kinds of thoughts Bart would think.
Bart, atop the covers, shifted. The thought began to congeal in the back of his mind that Brett was no fun anymore. He tried to remember whether Brett had ever been fun. Thinking and remembering were great efforts; the room was lurching back and forth the way it usually did between his third and fourth keg stands. Brett never drank, and he had not even been to Beach Week a single time. Brett was dead weight. He breathed too loudly under the bed and was always pestering him about his brain. Why did he bother dragging Brett around with him?
He dropped down off the bed.
It is not clear what happened that evening. Some think that only one of them made it out of that room. But which one?
I do not know what happened. I am not sure what I believe.
Maybe they are still together, yoked by their shared ambition, and one of them still lives with his collection of calendars under the stairs of a well-appointed house and emerges only to squint into bright lights and face questioning, then be shoved back inside. Or maybe one of them was a thing that happened at Georgetown Prep, and stayed at Georgetown Prep.
All I know is that all these things I hear these days cannot be true at once. Not if there is only one man. I think, rather, there must be two. Or have been two. Or if there is only one man, I would like to know which one it is.
Read more from Alexandra Petri: