AN: I have a feeling this title will evolve… any suggestions are welcome!
I hope you enjoy.
I glance up at the clock perched just behind Ms. Bray's left shoulder. 11:35, fifteen minutes till class lets out. Posters of the human skeleton and muscular system take center stage on the wall to my left while the windows to my right are edged in diagrams of the reproductive system and STD warnings. My foot starts bouncing under the desk that’s too small for my mile-long legs. I sneak my phone out of the front pouch of my oversized Jackson High hoodie and peek at the screen as it lights up. 11:35 stares back at me from the digital screen before ticking to 11:36. Fourteen minutes. Fourteen minutes before I can plug my headphones in and shut out the world.
“Yes!" l jerk up from my phone, fumbling to get it back onto my packet.
"I see that phone one more to me and I'm confiscating it," Ms. Bray warns.
"No phone here ma'am," I say lifting my hands as if I were under arrest. A couple snickers leak from my fellow inmates and a grin tugs my lips up into what I'm sure looks like an arrogant smirk to our uptight health and science teacher.
She points her blue expo marker at me menacingly as if it’s a dagger and she could kill me with it. I grin at her, try it, I dare you. She sucks in a breath, face contorting, before turning back to the board and continuing her lecture on sexually transmitted diseases, like any of us care. My phone vibrates against my stomach and I reach in and pull it out into my lap. A text from Matt stares up at me from the small screen. I glance back to my right, where he sits one row back and one seat over. I wiggle my brows and he snickers near silently. Turning back to my phone 11:37 states up at me. God, when will this class ever end?! I swipe the text notification open ignoring my inner angel warnings that phone use in class is prohibited.
I watch as Tyler ignores Ms. Bray’s warning and beings to text, his phone tucked under his desk. Once upon a time I would have been the person on the other end. My chest squeezes for a second, a flicker of jealousy, before numbing again. I turn to look out the window to my left, ignoring Tyler, Ms. Bray, everything. While I’m sure I should be listening intently to this lecture, I also don’t really care. I glance down at my notebook. It’s full of doodles, evidence of my daydreams. I get by on grades despite my lack of notes. They’re not great but they don’t suck either. I guess you’d say I’m average.
I return my gaze to the window and watch as a snowflake lazily glides by. The first snow. Guess I'll need to wear the scarf I know mom stuffed in my bag before we left the house. She always doing that. Adding things to my bag, trying to get me to eat more, trying to get me to show interest. I guess its natural. She’s not my real mom after all. Really she’s my mom’s best friend. Mom died in a car crash. They say I was more lively before the crash that killed both my parents. That I used to smile more. Laugh more. And I do remember that. I remember having energy and laughing with my parents. But when I remember it's like watching a silent black and white movie. I don’t feel the emotions of my former self. I don’t even really understand why I'm so happy. It's unnerving, so I avoid remembering that movie, starring other people from a different life.
More snowflakes drift down, a light dust is forming over the parking lot outside. It's beautiful in a silent macabre sort of way. Like God, or whoever, has decided to put us all to sleep, covering us in a white sheet that could suffocate us or preserve us. Ms. Bray's voice is distant in the background as I stare at the falling snow, letting my mind wander. I faintly register an announcement coming over the intercom as I continue staring. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Maybe I'll just stay here. Frozen like the snow.
I feel for Ms. Bray having to deal with these pricks. I mean really we only have ten minutes of class left. Why can't they just sit still and listen for once in their lives. But I shouldn’t expect anything less. After all, Tyler is my brother and I do know all of his friends personally. Even though I’m a year and a half younger than Tyler, we’re in the same grade because I skipped a grade in elementary school. So, I know all his buddies. I just wish they would show everyone else what they show me when we're at home. They’re good people; funny, silly, and of course arrogant. But it can be charming, in an annoying way.
Trying to ignore Tyler’s soft snorts behind me, I turn my attention back to Ms. Bray and the board. She writing something on the board about condoms and their lifespan. She warned us at the beginning of class that this material would definitely make an appearance on the next exam, so I jot down some notes. I stare at my notebook in smug satisfaction. I really love my note taking, clean and precise, perfect. I lean over my notebook to write again when Jackson pokes me in the shoulder, causing my pen to flick off course on the page. A fire ignites in my gut as I see the permanent scar on my beautiful notes. He pokes me again and I whip around.
“What?!” I seeth through clenched teeth.
“Woah sis, chill,” he says with a lazy smirk.
“You just messed up my notes and your telling me to chill?!” My voice starts to go shrill, rising in volume. I close my eyes and breath in, breath out.
“Look, I was trying to pass you a note.” He says mischievously.
I look down at the note sandwiched between his index and middle finger. I hesitate momentarily before snatching it and turning back to the front. I'll read it after class. We only have five minutes left and I have already wasted one of those because of my brother. I need to refocus and try to catch up on the notes Ms. Bray has already added to the board. As my pen touched the page, I feel another poke watching as if in slow motion as my pen leaves another irreversible scar on my beautiful paper. My hand shoots up in the air as Ms. Bray turns around to address the class.
“Yes, Kitty,” a small wave of satisfaction pulsing through me at the thought of what I'm about to do.
“Ms. Bray,” I begin, “Tyler’s still using his phone.” I watch as her eyes grow murderous. She walks down our aisle and sticks out a hand towards Tyler.
He glares at me, promising payback later, before looking up to Ms. Bray, his best I don’t know what you want look in place.
“Now,” Ms. Bray says. The innocent look stays in place for ten more seconds before it drops and he sneers. He drops his phone in her hand and crosses his arms. A sudden squeal erupts from the loudspeaker making me jump out of my skin, setting my heart racing and nerves on edge. The crackle of a throat clearing emerges from the speaker above the whiteboard, trying to gain the attention of all the students taking advantage of our distracted teacher. “Attention all students and staff, we have a code black.” At this, all chatter ceases, as we all hold our breath, waiting for the principal’s next words. “I repeat, code black. This is not a drill. I repeat, code black.”
The click of the loudspeaker being turned off fills the class for a long moment. Did I hear correctly? Did Mr. Damaclies really say code black? My earlier anger over Tyler’s misbehavior evaporates and I stand there. My eyes shoot to the laminated paper next to the door. There is an identical one posted next to every classroom door in the building. Code black is first on the list, our worst fear. One or more active assailants, with guns. Shit, I don’t want to die. Why did this have to happen now. I should have taken that vacation to Hawaii. The room suddenly erupts with hushed whispers, anxiety leaking from every pore in the room. I turn back to Tyler, who’s face has gone pale, his eyes locked on the silent loudspeaker.
“Here” I say holding out his phone, he takes it, still dazed.
I give the class a quick once over, taking in all the faces of my precious students, even those that annoy the crap out of me. They wear masks of fear and confusion. I clap my hands once, gaining all of their attention immediately. If only they were this attentive during class.
“Alright. leave all your belonging where they are and make your way into the supply closet,” I say pointing to the door in the back corner of the classroom. Immediately they start standing, shuffling almost like zombies towards the closet. They with more fervor.
“No pushing!” I say.
“Jackson, Julie, Robby, close the blinds closest to you. Kitty,” I say turning to my straight A student, “make sure everyone gets into the closet,” I finish, handing a red key out to her. She takes it and makes her way to the clustering students, some are jerking at the closet door handle in vain as the anxiety of the room builds. Kitty begins ordering the others to calm down. I knew I could count on her. She is a natural leader. I swivel back to the classroom door, keys in hand. As I approach I see a shadow on the wall opposite the door through the slit window. My feet speed up as I dash for the door, fumbling to get the key into the lock. Finally, it slips in and clicks locked. I flick the lights off next, drawing gasps from the students in the back.
“Shh!” I hiss. “Quiet,” I say in a hushed tone as I crouch down under the door's window. I watch as the students who can see me, those still not in the closet, eyes’ go wide. I wave for them to get into the closet, faster, faster, faster I think to myself. I sweep my eyes over the classroom, trying to gather my thoughts. Did I cover everything? We’ve drilled for this before so I should know this, but my mind is racing and I can’t remember if there is anything else I'm missing. Then I see him. Jackson. Still in his seat, still staring out the window, the window he was supposed to cover with blinds. Shit.
The world has gone quiet, all sounds muffled as if I’m beneath the blanket of snow coating everything in sight. It's so peaceful, like a photograph. Empty and frozen for all time. Then a movement to the left catches my eye. It takes too much effort to slowly drag my gaze to the black hooded figure. My vision keeps going in and out of focus. The black hooded figure is holding something that I can’t quite identify as he moves with exaggerated slowness, as if someone pressed slow-mo. I squint trying to identify the figures belongings. Suddenly it smooths out and becomes clear. I blink slowly as the figure lifts it. A gun. A big gun. For a second I feel fear bubble up but it pops just as quickly. I'm ready for this reaper to take me. I'm done trying.
“Jackson,” Kitty whisper-shouts, trying to get that idiots attention. He just sits there staring out the window. I can see a sliver of his profile as his eyes widen at whatever he sees outside. Movement to my right draws my attention as Ms. Bray starts to scramble crawl toward Jackson. Her eyes are wide too, her movements frantic.
“Shit,” Kitty breaths as she crouches too, ready to go out there and get that suicidal idiot. But I won’t let her. Hell if I’m gonna let my little sister risk her life over a retard like Jackson. Ever since his parents died he’s been a wreck.
“Hey!” I grab her shoulder and jerk her back making Kitty land hard on her butt. She squeaks the glares up at me. She so cute when she pouts like that and I can’t help but smirk down at her.
“What do you think you're doing you jerk!?” she growls
“Keeping you safe,” I say in the best cocky voice I can manage while whispering, winking down at her. Without another word I pull her across the floor and into the closet.
“Hey!” her voice is getting too loud. I press my hand over her mouth as I press a finger to my lips.
When she nods I let go of her mouth. She opens her mouth as if to say something and I point menacingly at her shushing her again. She scrunches up her nose in anger and I smirk before turning back to the classroom. Carefully I stand and make my way. Kitty grabs my pant leg, a look of worry pulling at her features. Stay here I silently mouth, pointing to the floor. She nods and reluctantly let's go. I glance up to see the rest of my classmates' faces. They are all terrified. And frankly so am I, but I pull my lips into what I hope is a shit-eating grin. A few people smile weakly back at me.
Sure that my litter sister is safe, I slip out of the closet to the nearest window and carefully peek through the blinds. A single gunman stands outside, pointing a gun right at Jackson. My gaze shoots to Jackson. His eyes are closed and he looks almost peaceful. That idiot!
I sprint thinking about nothing but getting to my childhood friend. The room stretches and it seems to take me forever to reach him, my limbs heavy as if trying to move through molasses. I try to push myself more, harder. Images of Jackson as a kid flash in my mind. Jackson at his eighth birthday, cake covering his face from the piece I just threw at him, Jackson running in the middle school track finals. He won that race. Jackson’s blushing cheeks as he kissed his mom goodbye on his first day of freshman year. Jackson’s blank eyes at his parents’ funeral. I'm almost there, I take one more agonizing step and launch myself for his back.
I watch as Tyler, the thorn in my side, takes a running leap for Jackson.
Someone screams, I don’t know if it's me or one of my students in the closet. Jackson and Tyler are skidding on the floor towards me, Tyler half on top of Jackson. Neither of them move after coming to a halt near me, and I hold my breath. Then Jackson moans and shifts, trying to lift himself up under the weight of Tyler. Tyler stirs too and I take a deep breath of relief. Thank God they're not dead. They may be trouble-makers, the both of them, but I didn’t want them dead. As Jackson sits up Tyler slips off his shoulder, landing with a limp thud on the floor. Jackson stares down at him blankly. Then recognition dawns and his face goes pale, he shakes Tyler but he still doesn’t move.
“Tyler?” He whispers voice shaking. “Tyler,” his voice is rising.
The crunch of snow catches my attention and I look up at the window to see a hood peak up over the window sill. Without thinking I leap to my feet, bolting for my students. Adrenaline and fear course through my veins like energy shots. I grab one of Tyler’s arms and shout at Jackson to do the same. He just sits there shaking Tyler, trying to wake him. Without thought, I slap Jackson. His eyes lock with mine for the first time in months and in their murky depth's I see fear and… light. I see light.
“Grab his other arm, now!” I order and he scrambles to do so.
Bang! I duck again but don’t let go of Tyler's arm.
“Pull!” I shout and then we're moving Tyler trailing behind us like a wet towel. We half run half pull Tyler to the closet straight ahead. As we reach the door, I let go, letting Jackson pull him the rest of the way in as I grab the door and slam it shut, sending the room plummeting into darkness.
“Light,” Ms. Bray softly commands and I scramble for the phone in my back pocket. A few other blue tinged screens blink on, followed by cell phone flashlights. My fingers suddenly feel fat, too big to work my phone, and I fumble, the phone becoming slippery and hard to hold. Calm down, calm down, calm down repeats in my head to the beat of my racing heart. Once my flashlight is on and my phone is gripped tightly in my hands, I pull myself across the floor to my brother’s still form, Jackson hovering over him.
“Tyler?” I whisper as I place a caution's hand on his shoulder. I shake him softly with no response. “Tyler,” My voice sounds squeaky even to my own ears. “Why isn’t he moving?! Why isn’t he waking!?” I plead for answers, but the only answer that comes is Ms. Bray reminding me to stay quiet. The quiet sound of my classmates breathing the occasional shift of limbs permeate the room. I bright light flares to life and I squint. Ms. Bray has lit a lantern and his rummaging through the emergency box.
“Why?” I hear a soft whisper. I turn to see Jackson, staring down at Tyler face twisted in confusion and fear. “Why did he do that?”
“Why isn’t he waking?!” I shove Jackson by the shoulders. He doesn’t move, just stares.
“Check for wounds,” Ms. Bray says bringing the lantern over, light spilling onto my brother. His face is peaceful as if he’s just sleeping. My eyes rove the planes of his face, limbs, clothes for anything. Then my hands follow trying to feel for anything out of the ordinary. As I run a hand over his left shoulder, Tyler winces and groans, my fingers come away hot and sticky.
“Here!” I say frantically.
“Tyler,” Ms. Bray starts, kneeling on the other side of my brother, next to Jackson. “Tyler,” she repeats and starts lightly slapping his face. He groans again and I let out a relieved sigh. Slowly he cracks his eyes.
“I'm awake, I'm awake. Stop hitting me,” he whines and I can’t help but laugh through my tight throat.
“You idiot,” I say throwing myself over him.
“Oophm!” He grunts as he slowly sits up. Tears are streaming down my face and sobs are bubbling from my chest but I can’t stop. I thought he was dead, I thought I’d lost him. He holds me tight with one arm, whispering into my hair.
“It's ok Kitty, it's ok. I'm ok.”
“Kitty, you gotta let go or your gonna squeeze all the blood outta me,” I tease. Immediately she pulls back, eyes wide and sincerely worried that she might kill me with a hug. I chuckle and ruffle her hair wincing as the movement reminds me of the bullet in my shoulder. Tears well up in her big brown eyes and spill over as she smiles as best she can with her face covered in snot and tears.
“Dude you look awful,” I pinch her cheek and watery chuckle escapes her lips. I smile briefly, glad she’s ok, before turning to Jackson.
“What the hell were you thinking!” I hiss and he flinches as if I struck him. We haven’t said more than three words to each other since he told me to ‘leave him the fuck alone’ a couple weeks after his parents’ funeral. He had said it so coldly and devoid of emotion that I had snapped, storming out of his room, out of his house, out of his life. Ever since, things have been tense and he’s made no effort to apologize.
“Why?” he whispers almost too quiet to hear, even in this almost silent doomsday closet.
“Why? Why did you do that?” He says, head still hung low. I can hear anger lacing his voice and it sets me on fire.
“Because you're my friend, you fucker!” I whisper-shout. At this, his head jerks up and I see the tears in his eyes, the fear and frustration. Good, He finally knows how I've felt this entire time, worrying about his sorry ass. “You're my friend,” I repeat quieter this time. He nods silently. Dropping his head again.
“Now patch me up, doc, before I bleed to death.” He looks up again uncertainty swimming in his eyes.
“No buts, we both know you’ll do a better job than Ms. Sex Ed, I mean Ms. Bray,” I say glancing over at our teacher who had a shit-eating grin that I never thought I'd see on her, plastered on her face.
“For that you get detention, Mr. Williams.”
“Wha…” I begin before the lunch bell interrupts my protests, startling us all. I hiss as the involuntary jerk of my body sends pain ricocheting through my shoulder. And then I laugh, a big belly laugh. Kitty slaps her hand over my mouth, giving me an admonishing glare. But it’s already too late, inexplicable amusement fills my chest, much to my shoulders discomfort as I try to contain my laughter.
The fifteen minutes I thought were going to be the longest, most boring minutes of my life, are done and over with. That time felt like forever and the blink of an eye all at once. I feel like I lived more in the last fifteen minutes than I had in the last three months. Within those minutes, my life was stripped away and gifted back to me. Sitting here in this doomsday closet, Kitty trying to fix her tear streaked make up and Jackson tending to Ms. Bray’s grazed forearm - a wound I hadn’t even realized she’d sustained - I realize that this right here is precious. This time, these people, our lives together. This moment of calm admits the chaos of the last fifteen minutes. And all it took was a code black, my idiot of a friend, and fifteen minutes on the clock. It’s funny how something as seemingly arbitrary as a single moment can change our whole world.