March, 2010: 6 o’ clock a.m.
The obnoxious ringing of my alarm clock woke me atrociously early for another normal weekday. From a single look out the window, it was obvious that today would be cloudy and disgusting, the rain had already begun coming down in buckets. However begrudgingly, I forced myself into a sitting position and got out of bed. A single fist silenced the irritating buzz, replacing it with a creaky moan. It also broke the clock. Note to self: Get a new one, preferably one with a less annoying wakeup call!
Marshall would be picking me up in less than an hour. He had picked me up every day since the beginning of junior year. While I was getting ready, I heard his arrival being signaled by the five-part methodical honks on the horn, sending me running out the door; not the best idea in skinny jeans and three-inch stilettos, but I made it happen nevertheless, having to pick myself up off the grass only twice, dragging my shoulder bag along with me. Leaning over the passenger’s seat, he threw open the door and pulled me in by my arm for a kiss. When he pulled away, it was to breathlessly murmur, “Hey, Ace.”
Marshall was very good-looking and tall, standing at 6’2. His hair was cropped short, blonde. Football practice in the fall had left him brawny, feared by the underclassmen he harassed. His eyes were a beautiful frozen blue.
“Hey, baby,” I giggled girlishly. His arms encircled my body for only a second before he turned back to the wheel. The tires of the sleek, expensive car rolled silently into the near-empty road.
“So are we doing lunch today?” he inquired sweetly.
“Nah, not today. Poppy said she had to talk to us,” I added. He nodded, turning into the high school parking lot.
In the far corner of the lot sat an idle, silver pickup truck. The back was open, and two familiar girls were seated on the edge with their legs dangling over the blacktop. On each side of them, looking very intimidating, stood two men, nearly as large as Marshall. The girls were my best friends, Poppy Todd and Brianna Connors. While they were friends as well, they were also polar opposites.
Poppy was short and mischievous. Her hair was light brown, shoulder length and poker straight Set into her pale face was a set of chocolate brown eyes. We had been friends since infancy, and, since then, I have gathered that Poppy is always planning trouble, getting into trouble, in trouble, or suffering from the consequences of said trouble.
Brianna was of average height and looked to me more like an heiress than a normal teenage girl. Her hair was long, wispy, and blonde around a spray-tanned face. Her eyes were golden brown. Though she was a good friend of mine, I harbored not-so-friendly feelings toward her. Brianna was a ditz and somewhat of a slut. I tried to put as much distance between us as I possibly could, but she continued to come back.
The boys standing off to the side were their boyfriends, Clark and Joel.
Clark was Poppy’s current infatuation and he adored her all the same. He was slightly leaner than Marshall but a few inches taller. His hair was jet black and chin-length, neatly disheveled over one hazel eye. He was laughing animatedly at whatever it was that Poppy was saying.
Joel was the only one Brianna could find in the school that wasn’t hopelessly devoted to a girlfriend and met her high standards. He was the thinnest, and also the shortest, of the three boys. His ash brown hair was arranged in disorderly spikes, like it would be if he had just gotten out of bed. His teal eyes were focused hopefully on Brianna, though she was too falsely engrossed in conversation with Poppy to notice.
Marshall pulled into the spot beside the truck and we got out to join them.
“Hey!” Brianna near-shrieked when I came into her line of sight, jumping down to hug me. I hugged her back, simply out of politeness, and pulled myself up onto the truck bed beside Poppy so that she was between us.
“Hey,” she smiled in a more subdued way. She didn’t put her feelings on display for everyone to see like Brianna did, and she certainly wasn’t one to be in any kind of good mood this early in the morning.
“Hi,” I countered. The boys delved into talk of their own interests and left us to ours.
“Did you guys hear about the text Chief Verra got last night?” Poppy asked. Chief Verra was the police chief, and her uncle.
“No,” I rejoined, shaking my head. “What happened? What’d it say?”
“It was another one of those threats. Some kind of Columbine shit.”
“Oh,” I exhaled, rolling my eyes dramatically. It wasn’t the first time we had heard of threats of this nature, and they all lacked follow-through.
“Ya, they’re not worried. I think they’re planning on scheduling an evacuation drill, but that’s it.”
“That’s it?” Brianna repeated in her nasally voice. “We could die and they wouldn’t even care.”
“Oh, please,” I rolled my eyes a second time, wishing bad things on her in the back of my mind. She just wanted school to be cancelled so she could spend the day with Joel. “Everyone knows whoever sent it doesn’t have the balls to do…”
“Look who it is,” Marshall whispered, nudging Clark with his elbow and gesturing toward the sidewalk behind us. It was Cody Rimida, the underclassmen most frequently subjected to torment, riding his bike toward the rack behind us. He was only 5’8 with a ginger Jew-fro and acne covering every exposed inch of his face and body; his limbs were gangly and awkward looking.
“What’s up, Rimmy?” Joel sneered, using the nickname awarded Cody when the boys had first met him. It was well know to the rest of us that Joel had a Napoleon complex. It was for this reason that he was always the first to make fun of Cody; it made him feel like a big man, something he never got to feel.
Cody looked up from the lock he used for his bike and shrank into himself. “H…hi, Joel. Clark.” He looked pointedly down at his feet in fear. His small chest rose and fell more quickly now. “Marshall.”
“Nice bike,” Marshall mocked. Now, looking back, laughing at him was not a good idea. Unfortunately, at the time, we didn’t care that we were cruel. Brianna giggled first, followed by me and Poppy. Cody’s wasted face whipped up and his red-rimmed, bruised, black eyes scowled up at us.
As he trudged away, head hung, dragging his feet, he muttered, “Bitches,” hoarsely under his breath.
It was more of a shock than an insult. Nevertheless, Marshall froze. “What did you say?” he snapped, taking a menacing step toward him.
Cody matched his step backward. “N…nothing.”
“Take it back, Rimmy!” he ordered.
He staggered back once more. He puffed out his chest to make it look bigger. In a stroke of boldness, he refused.
Marshall exhaled loudly. “Take it back and I won’t shove your nose into your brain, you douchebag!”
Cody opened his mouth to refuse again; Marshall’s arm flew out faster than I had ever seen, his fingers curling around his neck. Rimmy yelped out a few girly shrieks before he finally bawled, “I take it back! I take it back!”
“Marshall,” I frowned in disapproval. “Please let him go.”
He smiled at me and released Cody. He held his neck and coughed theatrically, like he had nearly had the life choked out of him. He glanced at me gratefully, until Marshall’s right hook broke his nose, spraying blood everywhere. I winced. Cody’s body made a sickening thwack upon impact with the harsh pavement. Clark helped Poppy and I down from the truck, Joel took Brianna, and led us away from the gore.
Glimpsing back, I could see Marshall picking up the unconscious boy by his shirt, dragging him toward the school. Cody’s face was streaked with red. I looked away. Marshall called my name remorsefully, but I ignored him.
“So I’ll see you guys in lunch?” I squeaked, my voice having given out halfway through.
“Ya, I’ve gotta tell you guys about my birthday,” she enthused, bouncing on the balls of her feet, grabbing Clark’s wrist and dragging him away. “See you then!” she announced over her shoulder.
I was left alone.
While the idea of going to class on my own didn’t sound appealing, I journeyed to the History hall. Marshall was supposed to be in class with me, but he never showed. My resolve to apologize to Cody in second period solidified with each passing second of Marshall’s absence. Cody had been nice enough to tutor me in Calculus in September. Marshall had met him during one of our sessions. I should have just failed; I had put that kid through so much.
The bell for second period brought with it the absence of Cody as well. A foreboding settled over me. There had been a lot of blood. Shaking the thought away, I tried to focus on whatever was being said. It proved difficult.
The ticking of my watch was painfully loud in my ears, but no one else could hear it. There was one more class before lunch, another hour of being without anyone to talk to. The bell to third period rang, and I reluctantly headed to another lonely room. Sure enough, when I got there Marshall was not.
“Good morning, Ms. Taylor, how are you this morning?” the friendly, elderly Mr. Boss addressed me. Sighing, I strained a smile.
“I’m great, Mr. B, how ‘bout you?”
“Wonderful,” was all he said, checking my name off on the attendance sheet.
I flopped clumsily into my chair, arms crossed, head hung, and muttered inaudibly about Marshall being a stupid, selfish bastard. I didn’t notice until it was too late that Marshall could hear a pin drop from a mile away.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he protested, making me jump out of my seat. “It’s not nice to say things like that about people. Especially me!”
He was leaning over me with his hands on the front of the desk. He was smiling, but it seemed kind of creepy.
“Don’t scare me like that,” I demanded, slapping his shoulder playfully.
“Sorry, it was too good to pass up,” he chuckled. The silenced stretched on between us.
“What happened to Cody?” I whispered.
A look of sympathy passed over his face, but it disappeared even faster than it had arrived. “I hit him a little harder than I meant to, I swear! His nose is broken, so his mom came to bring him to the hospital. He was still kinda out of it, but I apologized anyway. He called me a few names, but he was awake enough to try to take a few swings at me, then he left with his mommy. He’ll be fine.”
“For your sake, he better be,” I warned.
His face fell. “What do you care? He called you a bitch.”
“We were laughing at him, it was our fault. That kid hasn’t done anything to deserve the way you treat him, so, from now on, just leave him alone. I mean it Marsh, so help me God if I see another mark on his face.”
He looked skeptical, but slowly bobbed his head. “Okay,” he grated loathingly.
“Whatever you say,” he insisted, sitting down in his place beside me. “You never did tell me what it is that Poppy needed to explain.”
“Her eighteenth birthday party, she wanted to tell us her plans.”
We didn’t get any more time for discussion, the class started. The monotony of this class left me to dwell on the crappy feelings I concealed. Ten minutes into the class, Marshall took my hand in his. The action was meant to be comforting, but, if possible, it just made me feel worse. While my fingers were curling around his, my stomach was curling into knots.
The bell for lunch relieved my frayed nerves for even the shortest of seconds. Marshall pulled me out the door, never releasing my hand, and we started toward the cafeteria. Poppy and Clark were waiting for us at our table in the back of the room. Poppy was picking fries off of Clark’s tray while he tried jokingly to cover them. Marshall and I separated upon arrival. He went up to line to buy us food, and I went to the table.
“Paige!” Poppy laughed when I was sitting.
“Poppy!” I countered. “Having fun?”
“Very much,” she nodded, pushing Clark. He made a show of falling over, holding his arm in feigned hurt. She took a fry off his tray but otherwise ignored him. Their relationship was an odd one, but I knew they loved each other more than I could fathom. Clark had told me of his plans to propose after graduation; after all, they had been friends almost as long as Poppy and me, and had been dating for years.
“So what were you thinking about doing for your birthday? It better be big for the big one eight.”
“It will be,” she grinned. “I’m gonna be taking you guys to my grandpa’s lake house over Spring Break. It’s really quiet up there so we can drink as much as we want, as long as you guys don’t do anything stupid. It’s easy to get lost up there in the woods.”
“Of course not,” I lied. If there was one thing my friends knew about me, it was how bad of a drinker I am. I rarely drink, but when I do, it’s never good. They gave me a knowing look, most likely sharing my thoughts. Attempting to distract them from the subject of me, I asked, “Are you gonna invite Joel and Brianna?”
“Do you see them here?” she inquired sarcastically.
They must have gone out to eat. That’s what they usually did. Being that Joel was of the impression that having money made him big, he splurged on Brianna at every chance he could get, and Brianna, being the high maintenance, self-centered girlfriend she was, took whatever he could give, no questions asked.
My eyes searched thoughtlessly for Marshall on the lunch line. Poppy, being the powerful observer she is, of course, noticed. “What’s up with you and Marshall? You seemed really…distant this morning.”
“I just don’t like what he did to Cody. It seemed like overkill.”
She made a face and opened her mouth to speak, but the slamming of the door in the front of the cafeteria interrupted her. Clark saw whatever the intrusion was before we did, pushing us to the floor. Someone screamed.
The cold ground rushed up to my face. My ribs protested to the collision, my breath left me in a long, harsh wheeze. I almost got up to voice my objections, but Clark held me and Poppy to the ground. My forehead was flat to the floor. This had to be bad, but I fought to see what was going on, because I would be the stupid damsel in distress. Eventually, he let go of me and settled for wrapping his arms around Poppy. Lifting my head up the slightest bit from the ground, I searched for him.
“Where are they?” a familiar voice bellowed. I looked up through the space between the table and the chairs that went with it and found that everyone was on the ground like we were. In the center of the room stood a tall figure in a gray sweatshirt and jeans with his back to me. The hood of the sweatshirt was pulled up, disguising most of his head. In his one hand, he held a gun, a really big gun.
“Where are they?!” he repeated loudly. A girl at the table in front of ours started crying, loudly. The man turned and shot her, casting a red vapor into the air around the table. We couldn’t see the body, but we could smell the stench of blood in the air. Even more disturbing, his face was masqueraded by a sinister clown mask. The face was bone-white with a big red nose, but the teeth were sharp and the green hair only covered the back half of its skull. The eyes were made up in blue diamonds.
Another uproar of screaming began, which triggered another round of bullets to go flying. Clark pulled Poppy toward the door directly behind us and I followed. The shooter didn’t notice our departure until it was too late. He didn’t pursue us. I worried for a moment of where he could be, until I heard Marshall’s ‘distraction.’
The gun went off a few more times. I stifled a scream in my fist, and dove for the art room. There were plenty of places to hide there. The room was empty, but the door didn’t lock. I just hoped that if I was to be chased that the man would think I was smart enough to choose a room with a working lock.
I ducked under one of the many tables, flattening myself against the ground. Even that way, I couldn’t see the door from there. The door opened again, and closed. I covered my mouth with the palm of my hand and crawled backward to eliminate any possible glimpse of my body. My foot brushed something behind me, and I sucked in a breath to scream. Fingers encircled my ankle, pulling me backward. The loud scream I had been preparing myself for came out as only a squeak.
Whoever it was pulled me into their lap, covering my mouth with their hand. The arms around me were very familiar, and I knew instantly that it was Marshall. The sound of the door opening again made me jump, because there was no possible way that it wouldn’t be the killer this time. I may not have been able to see the door, but I could see the polished, black combat boots stalking around the room. The tip of the barrel of the gun shown anew what was at stake if I made any noise.
“Oh, Marshall,” Cody’s voice sang.
“I know you’re in here,” he continued in the same sing-songy tone.
My heart was beating so hard I thought that he had to be able to hear it, and my breaths grew so labored I knew I would suffocate. But I didn’t. He moved to the other corner of the room, where he couldn’t hear us if we whispered. The acoustics in the room were very bad, it wouldn’t echo.
“Call the police,” Marshall instructed, knowing I always had my cell phone on me. His arms dropped from around me so I could reach my phone.
When it was against my ear, the other end was louder than I thought. I fumbled with the volume while Cody did another circuit around our area of the room. I kept my voice down while Marshall tried to block the movement of the sound by putting his body in front of mine.
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?” the woman’s voice asked.
“There’s a guy in the high school,” I hissed. “He’s got a gun.”
“Is anyone hurt?”
“Yes, he killed at least one person. He’s in the room, please hurry!”
“What is your name?”
“Paige Taylor. I’m a senior.”
“Do you know the shooter?”
“His name is Cody Rimida, he’s a sophomore in the high school.”
“The police are on their way.” I hung up.
“Marshall?” he crooned.
I bit my lip and closed my eyes tightly. Marshall pulled himself closer to me. The sound of Cody’s boots against the ground was loud. He sounded like an army all by himself. The police could not appear fast enough.
“Come out, come out wherever you are.”
“Marshall,” I murmured almost silently.
“If we die today…”
“We’re not,” he disrupted angrily.
“But if we do, I want you to know, that I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he countered. There was a short interval filled by more of Cody’s droning. “And I hate lifetime movies.”
I laughed internally, “You son of a bitch.”
“Marco?” he mocked. The seconds ticked on of no response to my call, until Cody stopped pacing the room. The soles of his shoes squeaked against the tile when he halted. He pulled the gun up into his arms and started running. The door hit the wall and didn’t shut.
“What happened?” Marshall gasped.
The flash of strobe blue and red lights fell down onto the floor through the window. Shouting could be heard easily from outside. “Team One, go through the office door, Team Two, the back! Team Three, Exit number nine!”
I exhaled for what seemed like the first time in hours.
The art room’s door to outside burst open. A group of men in blue uniforms, helmets, and riot shields flooded in, several looked around, but when they found no Cody, they continued moving. Marshall pulled himself out from under the table first, hauling me along behind him. I picked myself up off the floor and hugged Marshall as hard as my arms would allow. “We’re alive!” I yelled.
“Really?” the cold voice hummed behind us. I turned first.
When I looked into the eyes of that thing, I knew it had to be him. I had never seen someone with eyes as black as that. The barrel of the gun was pressed into Marshall’s chest. It seemed hard to believe that it separated life or death for him.
“Found you,” he chuckled darkly.
His finger put a slight amount of pressure on the trigger. Without thinking, I kicked one stiletto-clad foot out at his stomach. He huffed out a gasp of pain and doubled over. A small dot of blood surfaced on his otherwise dusty sweatshirt. Marshall ran, trying to pull me with him. I watched Cody cautiously.
When he straightened, he didn’t look vengeful or raging at all. He looked sad, and glanced after me longingly. Marshall slammed the door between us and him, and we sprinted until we were forced to a stop by an officer outside.
“He’s in the art room!” Marshall informed them.
The officer signaled another team to go through the art room’s door. As we waited, I was pulled to an ambulance with a blanket to get a band-aid put on what looked like a paper cut. I didn’t understand why the attention was needed.
The group of men emerged moments later, looking downward. The look they gave me was something I feared. A look of failure.
“He’s gone!” he announced, holding the hideous clown mask in his hand.