Fifteen Minutes (Revised 12/13/18)
AN: Any and all constructive criticism is welcome! This is still in the revision process. Thank you for reading :)
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.
“Wha?" l jerk up from my phone, fumbling to get it back into my pocket.
"I see that phone one more time 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, 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 texting, 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 was stuffed in my bag before we left the house. She’s 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 rewatching 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 no. That would be asking too much. God they’re annoying.
Trying to ignore Tyler’s poorly concealed snorts behind me, I turn my attention to Ms. Bray. She’s 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 swiftly 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. Rage ignites in my gut as I see the permanent scar on my previously beautiful notes. He pokes me again and I whip around.
“What?!” I seethe through clenched teeth.
“Woah sis, chill,” he whispers 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, breath in, breath out.
“Look, I was just trying to pass you a note,” his lips twitch mischievously.
I look down at the note sandwiched between his index and middle finger. I glance back up and he gestures behind him. I lean a bit to the left to see Matt Hannigan grinning lecherously at me. I’m not really into the whole blonde, blue eyed princely thing he’s got going on. He thinks he’s all that. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but seeing as I’m his latest target, he really pisses me off. I’ve told him ‘no’ a bajillion times, but he just keeps coming.
“You know what that says, right?”
“No, why?” Tyler asks, looking genuinely puzzled.
I roll my eyes, “He’s trying to get me to go out with him.”
“So?! I’ve told him a million times, no! And he still won’t back off. You’re my brother, aren’t you supposed to chase him off or beat him up or something?”
He gives me this seriously? look, his eyebrows raised and his hazel eyes hooded unconcernedly.
“God, you’re just like them!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” his cheeks are getting pink and I can feel my own growing hot too.
“Whatever,” I mutter under my breath, snatching the note from his outstretched hand and turning back to the front. I'll toss it in the trash on my way out of class. I glance at the clock to see we only have five minutes left. Crap, I need to refocus and try to catch up on the notes Ms. Bray has already added to the board before class lets out. As my pen touches the page, I feel another more aggressive poke in back, 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 pulses 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 azure eyes darken murderously. She walks down our aisle and sticks out a hand towards Tyler.
He glares at me, promising payback later, before looking up at 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 a few more seconds before it drops and he sneers. He drops his phone in her hand and crosses his arms. He glowers at me and I know I’m going to regret this when we get home, but right now I really don’t care. I smirk back, sticking my tongue out at him as an afterthought.
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 and we hold our breath, waiting for our 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 echoes through the classroom for a long moment. Did I hear correctly? Did Mr. Damaclies really say Code Black? My earlier anger over Tyler’s impudent misbehavior evaporates as I stand there. My eyes shoot to the laminated code card 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, why did this have to happen now. I should have taken that vacation to Hawaii. I should have bucked up and taken my sister or Ann. Who cares that it was supposed to be my anniversary vacation with my ex. Fuck him! I should have gone anyway!
The room suddenly erupts with hushed whispers, anxiety leaking from every pore in the room. Trying to push thoughts of my ex to the back of my mind before the anger and hurt can crowd my chest, I turn back to Tyler. His 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 belongings where they are and make your way to 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. Then with more fervor.
“No pushing!” I shout as they begin to rush.
“Jackson, Julie, Robby, close the blinds closest to you. Kitty,” I say turning to my wonderfully reliable straight-A-student, “make sure everyone gets into the closet,” I finish, handing a red key 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 silted security window. 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 startled 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. 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, like a camera finally focusing. 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 idiot’s 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, ready to go out there and get that suicidal jerk. But I won’t let her. Hell if I’m gonna let my little sister risk her life over an idiot like Jackson. Ever since his parents died he’s been an ass.
“Hey!” I grab her shoulder and jerk her back, making Kitty land hard on her butt. She squeaks and glares up at me. She’s 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 whisper cooly, winking down at her. Without another word, I grab her under her armpits and pull her further 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.
The fire in her eyes tells me she doesn’t want to be silent. We stare each other down for a moment before I slowly remove my hand. When she opens her mouth to say something, I slap my hand back over her mouth, clasping the back of her head with my other hand. She scrunches up her nose in anger before I feel something wet slime over my palm.
“Ew!” I hiss quickly withdrawing my hand from her face. I stare at my palm torn between disgust and amusement. She hasn’t done that in years. When I turn back to her she’s smirking like a fiend. Before she can react, I wipe off my palm on her pink jeans leaving a wet smear behind. Her grin slips from her face in horror. Her face starts to turn red and I smirk. I point at her once more and she lightly slaps my hand away. A chuckle threatens to bubble from my chest when I hear a clank and agitated shuffling. Turning back to the classroom I stand and cautiously step towards the closet door. 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 lets 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 back weakly.
Sure that my 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 big ass gun right at Jackson. My gaze shoots to Jackson, panic squeezing my ribs tight to my lungs and heart. His eyes are closed and he looks almost peaceful. That idiot!!
I sprint, thinking about nothing except 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, a crazed look in his eyes as he picked up another piece, taking aim. Jackson running in the middle school track finals, racing like his life depended on it. He won that race, a blue ribbon, a victory ride on the track and field club’s shoulders. Jackson’s blushing cheeks as he kissed his mom goodbye on his first day of freshman year. He told me later he wished she wouldn’t make him do that. Jackson’s blank eyes at his parents’ funeral. So empty, as if nothing was ever there.
I'm almost there, I take one more agonizing step and launch myself at his back.
I watch as Tyler — the thorn in my side, never listens, annoying little shit of a student —takes a running leap for Jackson.
I jump out of my skin as the lunch bell rings, my heart leaping in my throat.
Someone screams, I don’t know if it's me or one of my students in the closet. My heart skips a beat as Jackson and Tyler skid across the floor towards me, Tyler half on top of Jackson. They slide to a stop and neither of them move. I can’t breathe as I wait. Then Jackson moans and shifts, trying to lift himself up under the weight of Tyler. Tyler stirs too and my body begins to tremor 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 struggles to sit up Tyler slips off of him, 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 doesn’t move.
“Tyler?” He whispers voice shaking. “Tyler,” his voice is rising, “Tyler!”
The crunch of snow catches my attention and I look up at the window to see a black 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. I pull, trying to drag Tyler to safety, but he’s too heavy and Jackson isn’t helping. He just sits there shaking Tyler, trying to wake him. Without thought, I slap Jackson hard across the face. His wide eyes snap to mine for the first time in months and in their murky green 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, instinctively flinching, 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. The BANG, BANG, BANG of more gunshots follows us as 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 us 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 in my shaking hands. Calm down, calm down, calm down plays on repeat in my head to the frantic beat of my racing heart. Once my flashlight is on and my phone is gripped tightly between my quaking fingers, I pull myself across the floor to my brother’s still form, Jackson hovering over him.
“Tyler?” I whisper as I place a cautious hand on his shoulder. I shake him gently but 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 reply is Ms. Bray reminding me to stay quiet. The soft sound of my classmates’ breathing and the occasional shift of limbs permeate the room. A bright light flares to life and I squint. Ms. Bray has lit a lantern and is 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 acknowledge me, just stares down at Tyler.
“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.
“H-here!” I stutter 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, turning his face away in an effort to avoid Ms. Bray’s hand. I let out a small cry of relief as he slowly 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 cry throwing myself over him.
“Oophm!” He grunts before slowly sitting us both up. Tears stream down my face and sobs bubble from my chest but I can’t stop. I thought he was going to die, 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 hazel 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 a 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.
“Why?” he whispers almost too quiet to hear, even in this almost silent doomsday closet.
“Why? Why did you do that?” he says, head hung low. I can hear anger lacing his voice and it sets me on fire.
“Because you're my best 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 has a shit-eating grin I never thought I'd see plastered on her face.
“For that you get detention, Mr. Williams,” she comments snuggly.
“I’ll have you know I studied nursing.”
“Oh really?” I taunt, unbelieving. “Then why are you a teacher?”
“…Because I can’t stand the sight of gore,” she says, her eyes sliding closed as she shudders visibly.
I chuckle and turn back to Jackson. “See,” I gesture to Ms. Bray and then wince. “Patch me up, doc, please,” I beg, popping my bottom lip out into a fabulous pout. He rolls his eyes at the nick name I gave him when he first declared he’d be a doctor at age six and I smile at the first sign of my old friend returning.
My heart leaps into my throat and I squeeze tight onto Kitty’s hand, which I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. The room holds its breath as we wait for something, anything beyond that god awful hall bell.
“Just the passing period bell, everyone, calm down,” Ms. Bray says and we release a collective breath. Jackson shuffles through the first aid kit and I loosen my grip on Kitty. Man I hate that bell. Then it hits me. All I wanted before this whole thing went down, was to get out of class, for lunch to start, to get out of my seat and out the door. I begin to snicker. And then I can’t stop myself. 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. My laughter slips between her fingertips, muffled but uncontained.
The fifteen minutes I thought were going to be the longest, most boring minutes of my life, are done and over with. In fact, it’s been over fifteen minutes! My laughter must be contagious because Kitty starts to giggle and then I can hear others. I look around to see my classmates, friends, rivals, acquaintances, all smiling and laughing quietly. Some have tears streaming down their faces, but all appear relieved.
Ms. Bray admonishes us but she’s been laughing too, and we all know it. Our laughter subsides anyway and a pleasant quiet blankets us all. Fear still lingers in the corners of the room, but for now we are as safe as we can be, and that’s all any of us can ask for.
I lived more in the last fifteen minutes than I had in the last three months. I think we all have. Sitting here in this doomsday closet, Kitty hopelessly trying to manage 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 moment is precious. Time is precious; this time, these people, our lives together. Because anything can happen in no time at all.