Saturday, June 25, 2011
This wasn't good. Not from any angle.
An ambulance and a police car huddled nose to nose, like they were sharing secrets. They sat together in the otherwise vacant parking lot, both pitching blue and cherry lights that bounced over the glass-fronted swimming complex facing the lot.
I caught the scene as I rolled down the street. My laptop had bricked out two days ago and I'd come to school early to snag a computer at the library.
The multi-colored lights shined a warning as clear as the morning sunshine, but I kept moving forward, like a mosquito drawn into the cool sizzle of a bug zapper.
Soon enough, the distance between me and the school parking lot had disappeared, and I was rolling to a stop just inside the main entrance.
I don't know how long I waited, holding my breath and hoping this was all just a false alarm.
When the doors to the swimming complex swung open, the dread that had knotted inside my chest turned sharp. Two paramedics stepped out of the swimming complex wheeling a lumpy, sheet-covered gurney. Something black and lacy dribbled out from one side, like an oil slick.
I should be crying, I thought.
It felt wrong to sit here, dry-eyed and quiet, like this was something happening on TV instead of a real corpse in front of me. Maybe my hysteria would show up later, after I persuaded my throat to unclench and my lungs to pull in more than a gasp of fresh air.
Another thought flickered into my mind… I should get up and help.
But with what?
I was pondering the very limited possibilities when I registered a dark uniform and the shiny wink of a badge--Officer Ryan, still looking almost too young to be sporting a holstered weapon. He was an old friend, of sorts, from some trouble last semester.
I noticed him at the same time he noticed me.
The greeting we exchanged was a quick lock of our eyes. Not like I expected more. For some reason, though, the brevity of it doubled the coldness gnawing at my insides.
The paramedics loaded up the gurney, huffing as they lifted its bulk into their ambulance. Even though I was expecting it, the sounds of their slamming doors made me jump.
Officer Ryan and I watched them drive away. When the ambulance had disappeared around the corner, he turned to me.
Go home, said his expression. I could imagine the sentiment in buzzing blue neon, the same color as his eyes. He didn't need to open his mouth.
I had revved up my scooter to do just that, when something caught my eye.
Someone stood just inside the still-open doors to the pool complex. After a moment of squinting, I recognized Coach Laughlin.
I shivered as I imagined him driving to work, sipping some coffee and humming along with the radio.
Parking his car.
Then walking into school and finding someone dead.
If I stared at the coach for a second longer, I'd be able to make out his expression. And if I did that, maybe something really would come crashing down inside me.
So I gunned my engine and zipped away, like a scared bunny who'd been paralyzed with fear, but had finally gotten her speed back.
The district gave us Friday off, and the weekend rolled in after that. The whole thing was kind of like an unexpected snow holiday, but with less sledding and more tearful memorials. When Monday came around, Augustine High was back in session.
I came in late. Not on purpose, as far as I know, although so far my track record with coming into school early didn't bode well.
In first-period Journalism, we kicked things off in the usual way: a round-table meeting with Samantha Curtis, the student editor.
Today, Samantha looked neatly pressed as always, her blonde hair as sleek and straight as a ruler, but her voice was missing its usual crisp cadence.
"So, we don't have a new edition for this week. You know, obviously." She sighed. "I'm going to try to get the memorial edition out soon. For now, I guess we're supposed to keep working on things and..." She frowned at her PDA. "Ian says he's got the flu and he can't cover the girls' basketball game tonight. Any takers?"
No thanks. Suddenly, I felt a surge of concern for the state of my cuticles. I could live without a two-hour bus ride and, from the hush in the room, it looked like everyone else could, too.
Samantha sighed. "Come on, guys. Anybody? Bueller?"
"Why don't you just give it to Prudence?" said Lauren King.
“Mallory,” I corrected. My plan to ditch my old, boring name for my more-presentable last name had been about as successful as my mother's advice to ‘just be yourself.’ Even after a year in Augustine, I still hadn't convinced anyone to call me by my last name.
“Yeah, whatever.” Lauren shrugged, her curly hair bobbing. "I mean, you've got like, one article this week. No offense or anything."
"None taken," I said. It was no secret that, these days, most of the staff thought I was a roving reporter who didn't rove very far.
To my surprise, Samantha rescued me. "Chris can do it. I've got Prudence on another project this week." She caught my eye for a slip of a second before looking back at her phone.
A few months ago, Samantha had given me the job as Dear Audrey, the paper's anonymous advice columnist, for two reasons: first, because she was too swamped to do it herself anymore; and, second, because it was the most thankless job on staff.
I also liked to think that my air of gravitas had something to do with it.
I spent the rest of the period transcribing quotes from my voice recorder about last week's bake sale for Haiti. My Dear Audrey inbox was filled to the brim, but that was strictly an off-hours job.
A little while later, the bell rang early so everyone could pile into the practice gym for a special assembly. Something about "school safety" and "coming together." At least that's what they'd told us in the email.
According to the news, Anna Levine had drowned early last Thursday morning when her old-fashioned goth skirt sucked her down to the bottom of the pool. My guess was she had died not too long before I had arrived. An hour, maybe two. If I thought about it for too long, my stomach started to ache.
But I could handle an assembly--they were formal and impersonal, a bunch of adults talking at you over a loudspeaker. However, I had skipped last week's on-campus, candle-lit vigil, opting to stay at home and pretend like I didn't feel guilty about it. That was easier than barging into a memorial for a girl I had barely known, like I was actually a part of Augustine, in whatever limited way. The big freeze-out from Samantha and pretty much everybody else at school made it clear that I wasn't.
Still, as I followed the rest of the newspaper staff out of the room, a little knot tightened in my chest. Maybe I should have gone to the vigil with Mom. She told me it was beautiful. Flowers, candles, crying.
I hadn't been friends with Anna, but I had known her in a roundabout fashion. A few times, I had seen her in the library during lunch, both of us dining at tables for one.
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