Sunday, June 5, 2011
This wasn't good. Not from any angle.
An ambulance and a police car huddled nose to nose, like they were
sharing secrets as they sat together in the otherwise vacant parking
lot. Both pitched blue and cherry lights that mingled with the early
morning sunshine and bounced over the glass-fronted swimming complex
facing the lot.
I caught the scene as I rolled down the street. I had come to school
extra early to snag a computer at the library, since mine had bricked
out two days ago.
I should have ducked into that shopping complex with the gourmet coffee
place and all those little consignment shops, then doubled back and
returned home. Instead, I coasted forward, maybe gunned it a little,
although I couldn't tell you why. Maybe I was like one of those
migrating birds that couldn't figure out how to change their map.
Soon enough, the distance between me and the school parking lot had
I halted a few yards away, off to one side. A plain of asphalt spread
out before me. The only things interrupting the smoothness were me, the
squad car, and the ambulance. Three spots of color. But even without the
benefit of working strobe lights, my vehicle was the loudest. The dusty
pink, retro styling of my motor scooter (a fortunate gift from my
grandma made unfortunate by its color palette) seemed even more
ridiculous than usual.
I don't know how long I sat there, waiting. At first, it was just cold
enough for my breathing to come out in little clouds. But by the time
the doors to the swimming complex swung open, I couldn't see my breath
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.
Later, I would find out that the lump was my classmate, a goth girl
named Anna Levine, and the oil slick was her skirt--the one that had
caught in a pool drain and sucked her to the bottom to drown.
But in the chilly quiet of the morning, all I knew was that something
had happened and someone was dead.
I should be screaming, I thought. Yelling my head off and making a scene.
Anything but sitting there on my bike and just watching, like this was
something happening on TV instead of a real corpse.
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.
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 left a
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.
Anna Levine died early Thursday morning. From what I could tell from the
news, it had happened not too long before I had arrived. An hour, maybe
two. If I did the math for too long, my chest started to ache.
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.
As usual, first-period Journalism was pretty low-key. You tended to get
that in crowds where most people had known each other since nursery
school. We kicked things off in the usual way: a round-table meeting
with Samantha Curtis, the student editor--and my best friend, up until
the trouble last semester.
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
"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.
I didn't bother to ask her to call me Mallory. My plan to ditch my old,
boring name for something a little more presentable 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
Lauren turned to me, 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.
Before this, Samantha had me on the entertainment beat. Not exactly
hard-hitting journalism, but the free movie passes were nice. These
days, that cushy position was property of Lauren King, who had the
unfair advantage of not having ruined Samantha's life a few months ago.
As Samantha handed Lauren another set of free movie passes, I resisted
the urge to pull one of Lauren's curls and watch it bounce like a Slinky.
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