These three pieces of writing by sophomore students were written and revised in segments, one installment each week, during a summer school session which lasted six weeks. They are compelling examples of what young writers can accomplish when they are given the opportunity to work on self-chosen topics over an extended period of time.
Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks! Nothing gets better than that. Hi, my name is Cheryl, but my friends and everyone else at school call me CK — which stands for Cereal Killer. And you can guess that it’s because I single-handedly wipe out the world’s cereal supply by the day. If that is your guess than you’re wrong, however it is a long-term goal. I consume about two and a half regular sized boxes of my choice of cereal per day. I don’t understand how one can just eat it in the morning. If people actually have taste, they would eat it for not only breakfast, but lunch, dinner, and dessert, as well. I mean, how can they have such self-control that they can stop themselves from devouring the entire cereal cabinet? I could never do that. My theory is that cereal can bring people together — make peace, spread love, and end hunger. People just have to give it a chance.
My friends say my addiction to cereal is weird and abnormal. Kind of like the same way I think their addiction to pink glitter nail polish is weird. But of course, they’re like all the other haters in my life who have a negative attitude towards everything, even Reese’s Puffs! “Wow, cereal again for lunch. What a surprise,” my friend Alexis says while I bring out my handy dandy box of Corn Pops.
“Seriously Cheryl, I think you have a problem,” Tessa comments.
“Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t blame you if it was something actually yummy. But c’mon, cereal?!” Scarlet adds.
“Guys, we’ve gone through this conversation every day for the past week. I’m sorry but it’s a lifestyle that I can’t live without. If you’ll just realize how delicious this truly is, we can make the world better place,” I say as I stuff a handful into my mouth.
“Do you hear yourself right now Cheryl. You sound like a crazy person. We can’t change the world, especially not with cereal!” Tessa pronounces.
“Look Cher, I say this as a concerned friend. You really should take a break from all this cereal. It’s not healthy for you, physically and mentally. You need to eat real food,” Alexis says with a worried face.
“I agree,” both Scarlet and Tessa say.
I take in a deep breath, and exhale loudly and heavily. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve had talks with my parents, my doctors, myself even. But my belief is that you only live once, so live the best life you can. And to me, a life without cereal is no life at all.
On the ride home, I ponder a world without cereal. All I can imagine is an apocalypse breaking out, and people with face paint chanting “We want cereal! We want cereal!” I’ll spare the details because the rest doesn’t exactly play out well. As I get out of the car, with a seven-eighths-eaten box of Corn Pops in my hands, I manage to drag myself through the front door, past the kitchen, beyond the living room, inside my bedroom, and on top of my bed. I lie there. I stay there, still as a dead cockroach on its back. Should I run? Should I go find people who support me and accept me for who I am? Or is everyone right? Cereal isn’t making me go crazy, right? I don’t know what to think. As time passes by, I eventually pass out.The following day, I wake up and go through my daily routine: Use the restroom, brush my teeth, wash my face, and finally, change my clothes. After about half an hour or so, I go to the kitchen to eat my morning cereal. I take out a bowl and a spoon, then door by door, open the cereal cabinet above the stove. Empty. Completely incomplete. Never have I ever seen this specific cabinet totally and utterly naked. Who knew that the back of it was painted black? I’ve always imagined it was white. I start panicking. My heart pounding, my forehead and armpits begin to sweat. But maybe I’m worrying for nothing. Maybe my mom just switched cereal cabinets. Maybe this is all a dream. “MOOOOOM!” I yell not caring if she’s still asleep or not.
“What?! What?! Are you okay?! What happened?!” she asks with a broomstick in her hands as if she is about to whack someone or something.
“No, I’m not okay! Where is all the cereal?!” I say getting more and more anxious.
“Oh right. Sorry sweetie, I forgot to tell you but I’m restricting your cereal privileges until—”
“WHAT?! YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME! THIS IS MY LIFE, STOP TRYING TO CONTROL IT!” I cry as my face heats up.
“Cheryl, relax. It’s only until after we talk to Dr. Sheldon about this eating habit of yours. You can eat oatmeal. We leave for the doctor’s in an hour.” My mom says this as if this isn’t a big deal.
“No! I’m not going to see that annoying, stubby man who tells me everything that’s wrong about my health! And you cannot tell me what or what not to eat! I hate oatmeal and you know that!”
“Cheryl Morgan Benedict! You listen to me! I spent nine painful months carrying you around! You do not have the authority to talk back to me and certainly not to tell me how to be your mother! This is not a question. You are going to see Dr. Sheldon in an hour, you hear me?!”
At this point, I was scared to say no. The look on her face is the worst part. Her eyes pop, jaws tighten, face turns a light red, and nose twitches. That’s when you know you’re in deep trouble. “Okay, okay. I’ll eat oatmeal,” I softly say as I walk towards the fridge. She doesn’t respond. Instead she just silently walks into the bathroom and closes the door. After that disgusting, mushy meal, I wash my mouth and check what used to be the cereal cabinet one last time. And sure enough, it is still empty. I go to my room and stare at the clock for forty-five long minutes before heading to the doctor’s.
As soon as we get to Dr. Sheldon’s office, my hands fidget. I always get nervous for these appointments because I know for a fact that every time I don’t take his advice about helping my health (every single time), he wants to give me a stern talking to. He ends up just holding it in because it wouldn’t be good for his reputation and business title. But one day, all that disappointment and anger will fill up, and he’ll explode into a million pieces.
Walking in the office is a fat punch to the face. The aroma of other kids’ stool samples and baby powder hits you hard, making you want to tear up. I’m positive that I’m the oldest patient Dr. Sheldon has. The nurse directs my mom and me to the empty little room with a spinny chair and mini-bed with paper on top. I hop on the bed while my mom reads posters about different diseases.
“Good morning, Benedicts!” Dr. Sheldon says as he walks into the room.
“Morning, doctor,” mom says, turning her attention away from the posters.
“Hi,” I say.
“So, how’re you doing Cheryl? Still cuckoo for cocoa puffs?”
There’s an awkward silence before my mom breaks out a fake chuckle.
“I’m good. And yeah,” I say forcing a small smile on my face.
“Ahhh okay. Have you been restricting yourself to eating cereal only once a day, like I asked you last time?” he asks. His eyebrows are raised up high and his chin is pointing down.
“Ummm… not really. But it’s getting better.”
“Oh okay. Well, how’s school? Lincoln, right?”
“It’s alright, not too hard. But actually, I go to Stevenson.”
He takes the heart listening instrument off his neck. “Oh, sorry. Silly me… Trix are for kids!” he says trying to redeem himself from the cereal joke from before. Another silence fills the room, until he instructs me to do that whole breathing exercise. As soon as he finishes and wraps the instrument back around his neck, my mom quickly asks a question.
“So doctor, is there a way to find out whether cereal is affecting her in a negative way or not?”
“Of course. There are a variety of tests we can use for that matter. Would you or Cheryl be interested?”
“Yes. Are there any tests you would suggest for her?” my mom asks.
I’m more annoyed with her than ever. How can she do this to me? She did not once consult me if I wanted to be tested or not. As she and Dr. Sheldon talk, I shout in my head what I’m feeling at that very moment. What I say about my mom would have given me at least a month’s worth of grounding and chores.
“Okay, so I’ll have the nurse give Cheryl the random blood sugar test. The results should be back in a couple hours or so. We’ll give you a call when they show up.” He reaches for the door.
“Thank you so much doctor,” she says, and we walk out of the room.
Of course, the blood test is a pain. It doesn’t hurt or anything, it’s just huge waste of time. Not only for me, but for everyone else who’s making a big deal out of nothing. Like my mom who thinks she knows better than everyone just because she’s old, or in her words “has a lot of experience.”
An hour and a half after the test, the results show up. Dr. Sheldon calls us into his office with a look on his face I’ve never seen before. It’s serious. His face is paler than usual, his lips are tucked inside his mouth, and his eyes are lifeless.
“What’s the deal, doctor?” my mom asks.
“Your daughter came up with a random blood sugar level of 220 milligrams per deciliter.”
“And what does that mean?” My mom sounding more worried. And to be honest, I am too, considering the expression on Dr. Sheldon’s face.
He looks at me, then back at my mom. “It suggests diabetes.”
That split second something happens. Something in my body. I can’t move, even if I try. It’s as if I’m paralyzed. I feel my heart pounding faster and faster. I feel a ball of saliva building up in my throat. I feel my palms getting wet, resting on my thighs, under the desk. I feel my brain turn off and on—it can’t decide on what to say or think. I feel my stomach drop and my mouth water. And in that instant, I forget the taste of cereal.
“Listen Cheryl, this isn’t a guarantee. There is always a possibility that something went wrong during testing or the results came out incorrectly.” The whole time he gives us this news, he’s clicking his pen. It’s like he’s trying to distract us from his words by doing what an annoying high school student would do.
“Cher.” My mom grabs my hand and gently touches my right cheek. Her eyes are shining from holding in all the tears. “Don’t worry. You’ll be okay.” When she blinks, the tears roll down her cheek. “We’ll find a way. Okay? We’ll find a way to work around this. Everything will be fine. Please, everything will be okay.” Her hands still clenched onto mine, she cries louder and harder. She takes one of her hands to wipe her face and make sure her mascara isn’t running. Just by watching her, I start to do the same. Small tears trickle down my face. And before you know it, Dr. Sheldon grabs out a handkerchief from his coat pocket and wipes his eyes and blows his nose.
“I’m so sorry. It’s nothing to worry about now. You’ll be experiencing very minor symptoms such as an excessive thirst for water, leading to an increase in urination. There will also be days when you feel a great deal of fatigue. Another common symptom is—”
My mom cuts him off with her clamorous crying. She lets out what I hope is her last big sob. By now her face is drenched, with mascara running down her cheeks. It’s as if thin black lines were painted on them.
“We don’t have to discuss details right now. But please come in whenever the both of you are ready,” Dr. Sheldon says.
“We will,” my mom says after calming down a bit. “Let’s go sweetie.”
In the car, my mom checks the sun visor mirror and uses a tissue to dab the corners of her eyes. Not to my surprise, she is still sniffling at a fairly fast pace. I sit there in silence the entire ride back.
We get home and I go straight to my bedroom without acknowledging my mom. I lock the door, pull out my laptop, and google diabetes.
“Holy shoot.” I whisper to my myself while reading bits and pieces of different websites about this group of diseases. I guess eating only cereal can affect my health and well-being. Who would’ve known? Oh yeah. My doctor, my mom, my friends, and basically everyone else who has common sense. Oh no… my friends. If they find out about this, they’ll have permission to say “I told you so” to my face for the rest of my life—which I’m not even sure how long that will be anymore. I can’t tell them. I won’t tell them. I’ll just have to keep this whole diabetes thing on the down-low. No one can find out.
“Hey sweetie. Can I come in?” my mom says already coming in.
“Sure.” I shut my laptop.
“Look. I know this is very hard for you. Which is why I told your friends.”
“Are you serious right now mom? You really had to get them involved? Why don’t you ever ask me anything before you do something? I hate when you do that, it’s so annoying!”
“Oh. Cher, I’m sorry. I just thought you could use a few friends to get you through this tough time. I never meant for this to upset you.”
“Well it does! Mom, I didn’t want them to know about it. I can handle it just fine on my own. I just wish you can trust me.”
“Sweetie, I do trust you. I’m sorry if you think I don’t. I’m just worried about you. I can’t lose you too. I’ll call your friends back and let them know you’re not feeling well.”
“No, don’t do that. What’s the point? They already know. When are they coming over?” I glance over my mom’s shoulder at the clock.
“A quarter till one. Are you hungry? Do you want lunch?”
The only thing I’m in the mood for is cereal. But I’m gonna take a hunch and say that I’m banned from eating it till the end of human existence. “No thanks,” I reply.
At 12:37 they arrive.
“Hey Cheryl. How’re you doing? We’re really sorry,” Tessa says.
“For what? This is my fault. If anything you guys should be saying ‘We told you so.’ Because I hate to say it, but y’all were right.”
“But if we were better friends, we should have physically stopped you from eating cereal,” Alexis adds on.
A funny scene sparks in my brain. I laugh. “Like how? Slap the cereal box out my hands every lunch break, making me turn into a hungry, furious monster? Then pin me down to the cafeteria floor because I’m that out of control? Look, I love you guys but if you ever took away my cereal, something bad would have happened. Like my inner hulk would have came out kind of bad.”
They laugh. It’s nice to talk to them. I’ve missed talking to them. I guess my mom was right, again.
“But seriously, you really didn’t see this coming? Like all that cereal and what—your health improves and you end up getting a model’s body?” Scarlet says.
“Hey. I don’t exactly recall writing down ‘Get diabetes’ on my bucket list. And besides, if cereal isn’t so good, I wouldn’t be in this situation. So if you think about it, it’s mostly the cereal’s fault,” I say.
“Haha. But really Cheryl. I feel like there’s something else you’re not telling us. Cereal isn’t that great. Why are you so attached to it?” Scarlet asks.
“Yeah. You know you can tell us anything,” Alexis says.
I take a breath. In then out, replicating the exercise I did with Dr. Sheldon. “Right, sorry. Actually, there is something I didn’t tell you guys before.”
They huddle in closer. Their eyes fill with anticipation. It’s as if they’re in the very front of the line after waiting for five and a half hours to ride the fastest rollercoaster in the world.
“The reason I, um, can’t get over cereal is because of, um, my dad,” I say.
“What do you mean?” Alexis asks. Scarlet and Tessa nod their heads to show that they have the same question in mind.
“Every day for as long as I can remember, he and I used to eat cereal together. He’d wake me up in the mornings, always starting my day off with the same question: ‘What’ll it be today?’ I’d answer with whatever cereal I would be craving at that moment. By the time I’d get out of bed, the cereal would already be waiting for me outside, on our porch. On most days, we’d stare at the clouds. Making shapes out of them, figuring out what each one looked like before they’d eventually deform. He’d often see things out of the clouds that didn’t even make sense. It was funny. And when we were three boxes away from being out of cereal, we’d go to the market and pick out different kinds. I’d sit in the cart while he pushed me down the aisles. I was too big and old for that, I know, but I didn’t care. Anyway, I feel like cereal was our special father-daughter connection. I guess eating it just brings back those memories. It’s like he’s not really gone, ya know? But he’s there with me.” I’m on the verge of shedding a tear. I don’t know why. My dad passed away six months ago from cancer. I’ve got over crying and sulking a month after his death. Maybe finally opening up about it made me realize how much I miss him.
“Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry,” Scarlet says.
“Yeah. I’m so sorry for judging you during lunch. You have every right to be hung up on cereal,” Alexis says.
“If I were you I’d most likely be in the same situation. The only difference would be that I’d be a hot mess. But you’re taking this extremely well. And if I didn’t already say this, I’ll say it now. Cheryl Benedict, I am proud to call you my friend,” Tessa proclaims.
“Ditto,” Scarlet and Alexis say simultaneously.
“Thanks. And you know what. I’m proud to call you guys my friends, too.” We do a group hug, like girls do after an emotional talk, then go on to play Old maid.
At approximately 3 o’clock, they go home. My mom walks into my room expecting me to have yet another talk about my dilemma. I roll out my neck, stretch my legs, and crack my knuckles, fingers and toes, to get comfortable, knowing that this will take a while.
“Hey sweetie. How’re you doing?” She plops herself on the edge of the bed, sitting up right next to me.
“That’s good.” She looks around my room. Mostly at the walls filled with framed certificates displaying my academic achievements, cut out photos of me and my friends clipped up on a wooden board, a calendar I’ve stopped keeping track of half way through the year, and faint black smudges from disobediently juggling a soccer ball. “So, um, would you like to talk about anything? Maybe something in particular?”
“Mom, you’re not subtle at all. I know you’ll make me talk about it eventually, so I might as well get it over with.”
“Thanks Cher. So, when do you think you’ll be ready to go back to Dr. Sheldon’s?”
“I don’t know. When do you think you’ll be ready?” That memory of this morning is still alive and vivid in my mind.
“Whenever you are sweetie. But you do know what all of this means, right?”
“Yeah, I do.” And I do know. It means giving up the one thing that always seems to make each day brighter. The one thing that I never ever get sick of. The one thing that connects me to my dad.
“Okay, well. Are you hungry? We can have an early dinner. You can pick any restaurant you’d like.” She looks at me and smiles. Although I can still see the worry and concern in her eyes. She places her hand on my knee.
“No thanks. I’m not that hungry,” I say as my stomach softly grumbles. Luckily, it was quiet enough for mom not to hear it. I haven’t eaten cereal for the past 22 hours. That sure beats my last record of 15 hours.
She gets up with the help of both her hands. “Okay. If you change your mind, I’ll be in the kitchen.” She walks out the door.
I sigh as I let myself fall back on my bed.
She pops her head back in. “Oh! And don’t forget, you can’t eat cereal. Love you, sweetie.”
“Right.” I get up and close the door from any other unwanted remarks. I open my safe; located in the second to the last drawer in my closet. In it, of course, holds a variety of miniature emergency cereal boxes. I pull out a Raisin Bran and snap the lock back into place. I crack that sucker open, being careful not to make the slightest sound. I slowly, but surely, rip the package inside the box at a quarter of a mile per hour pace. Finally making a hole large enough to fit four of my fingers in, I scoop up a handful of heaven. I stuff it all in my watery mouth. Instantly, I feel that minute of relief and satisfaction—that same exact feeling you have when you’ve just released the urine you’ve been holding for two hours. Taking one crunch at a time, I finish, then move on to the next handful. I must’ve been caught up in my own cereal world because I did not notice reality strike. I didn’t see or hear my mom walk into my room.
“Cheryl! What’re you doing?! I can’t believe you!”
I drop the box, causing what’s left in it to spill on my carpeted floor. My face still half stuffed with Raisin Bran, I don’t know whether to keep chewing or spit it out.
“And after I had just told you not to do it! But you just go ahead and do it anyway! Were you not at the doctor’s today?! Or does this just not bother you?! Seriously Cheryl, what’s wrong with you?!” Her face forms into that angry mom look. I hate that look.
My cheeks and jaws now starting to ache, I motion my top and bottom rows of teeth towards each other.
“Stop! Go spit that out right now! Gosh! Can you please care about your life!”
I run to the bathroom, shut the door, and turn on the sink. The cereal already being soft in my mouth, I pretty much swallow it down. My plan is to stay here, where it’s safe, and pretend to cry until my mom feels sorry enough to let the whole thing go—the fact that she caught me eating the one thing I can’t eat, and if I’m lucky, the fact that I was even diagnosed with diabetes. Then I hear these excessive loud knocks on the door. There goes my plan. I turn off the sink and open the door.
“Cheryl, look. You have to trust me and Dr. Sheldon,” my mom says. She kneels down in front of me and puts both her hands on my cheeks, like I’m in kindergarten. I can already predict she’ll tear up sometime in this little scolding and or lecture. “I know you love your cereal, but in this case, it does not love you back. In fact, it’s hurting you. By eating it, you’re putting your life in danger. I can’t let you do that.”
“I know. I, uh, just, um. It’s hard.”
“What is, sweetie?”
“I don’t know. Okay, I don’t know.”
“C’mon, is something bothering you? Let me help you.”
My eyes concentrate on the white tile floor. I’m going to do it. I going to tell her what I told my friends. She should know, as my mom and everything. “It’s dad,” I say. As soon as I say that, her eyes grow with confusion and curiosity.
“What do mean sweetie?”
I tell her what I mean. I tell her about the good old days when me and dad used to talk, laugh, and eat cereal. And as I’m saying all of this, the highlight of my childhood, the waterworks come, as I predicted. She lets her tears drip to the floor while her hands are still cupped around my face. I finish what I had to say, but nonetheless, we stay in that position for another minute. I let her get her tears out. She takes her hands away from my cheeks, and wraps them around my body. I bend down to return the hug. We stay there, in the bathroom entry, for another three minutes.
“I’m sorry,” my mom says.
“It’s okay.” I pause. “Mom, I don’t care what Dr. Sheldon says. I don’t care what you say.”
“But, sweetie, your health—”
“I don’t care about it. I really don’t. I’m fine with eating cereal for the rest of the days I have left. You and everybody else just has to accept that.”
“Oh, Cher. I know now how much it means to you, what it meant to your father. But sweetie, it’s not the cereal that lets you remember him. It’s the memories you’ve made. All of the moments you two shared together. And sure, it may have included cereal, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. The thing that will always stay constant, is that special bond between you and him, which can last for eternity, of you let it. Because cereal, well, that may wipe out by tomorrow for all we know.”
I guess what they say is true: the older you are, the more wisdom you have. Taken that I’m not that old, one may see where I was coming from, say, 45 seconds ago. I leap into my mom’s arms once more, realizing that everything she had just said is true. I close my eyes. My dad and I would often go by the lake a few blocks from our house. The water being so brown and murky, the brightest light of day was unable to pass through its corrupted transparency—all of which occupied the fairly sized, yet lopsided dent in the land—the home of many ducks. My dad would bring out a box of his least favorite cereal to feed them: Cheerios. I, on the other hand, am more of a Cheerio, especially Honey Nut fanatic, if you will. I would sneak a few scoops in my mouth here and there as we would attempt to tame the ducks by giving some to them. I would hold a Cheerio in between my thumb and index finger, letting the duck, in whom I named Donald, take it from me. This, of course, would never work because my silly imagination would take over: Donald would bite my finger off. My dad would be too caught up in his own laughter to even bother to tell me to drop the Cheerios that were still in my hands as I was being chased by finger eating ducks. I laugh in my mom’s arms. I open my eyes.
My stomach speaking for me, I unconsciously say “Can I have something to eat?”
“Sure.” Her face, now covered with dry tears, lights up.
We go to the kitchen, and what a shocker: she prepares oatmeal for me. I wait at the dinner table, seeing stains, scratches, and marks on it that I haven’t noticed before. My mom brings out the almighty bowl of Quaker Oats. I shovel out a spoon-full, then softly blow on its contents. I motion it towards my mouth. All at once, I eat it, exploring its taste and texture.
Generic Love Story
The station was empty. There were no trains, no distant rumbling of the engines pounding down the tracks, their distinct monotonous ringing whenever they approached the station. The moonlight shone through the open roof, illuminating the tracks and turning the metallic rails silver, casting the rest of the station into complete darkness. The only light was from a cell phone, acting like a lonesome star in the depths of space. The cell phone shone onto its user’s face, turning it pale and turning his glasses white. It appeared that there was a disembodied pale-white head floating in the darkness. Several moments passed, then an automated female voice spoke out of the darkness.
Train expecting to arrive at Akiogahara Station in two minutes.
The phone turned off, seemingly on its own. The disembodied head disappeared from view, and shuffling sounds could be heard as the owner of the head stood up. A sigh of apprehension as the phone illuminated for a second time, then switched off just as quickly. The sound of shoes stepping on concrete could be heard as he walked to the sides of the track and prepared to board.
Train expecting to arrive at Akiogahara Station in thirty seconds
He could hear the distant rumbling now, the beginning of the horn. He shut his eyes in anticipation just as lights flickered on, lighting up the entire station. As he slowly opened his eyes, a sudden gust of wind flowed throughout the station, moving the sleeves of his jacket, ruffling his hair. The rumbling grew louder, until the train arrived. Its blaring horn stopping abruptly, replaced by the sound of brakes scraping against metal farther down the station towards the front car. The doors opened automatically, smoothly sliding from a divide between them into the walls of the car to reveal an opening. The doors aligned perfectly with where he was standing, he was no stranger to this type of travel at this particular time. As he walked in, a young stewardess greeted him.
“Anyone else here tonight, Kaito?” She smiled, offering him a cup of water from the cart of drinks she was pushing. Her small, mousy stature was disproportionate to the sizable cart.
“Nope just me… And no thanks on that water, Akio.” Kaito smiled back respectfully and walked to a seat next to the door linking two compartments and carefully sat down, pushing what looked like a bag under his seat, so as to not obscure Aiko’s path. She had walked to the door he had just entered, and was speaking into an intercom that echoed out into the depths of the station.
“Last call for the 10:30 Train, leaving the station in one minute.” She hollered into the mic. For someone that size, she sure has a voice thought Kaito. Everything was silent for a moment. But just as Aiko turned to close the door, a distant voice shouted from the darkness.
Akio turned to see another young lady running across the platform, her shoes making a clacking sound against the pavement. The train suddenly blew its horn again. She squeaked and ran faster, dark brown hair flailing like a bunch of ribbons behind her. Kaito stood up as she crossed the threshold. Aiko closed the door behind her. The newcomer clutched her knees, panting, and Aiko offered her a glass of water, which she took gladly. She was taller than Aiko, even with her hands on her knees.
“Well, that was certainly something!” Aiko murmured, putting her hand on the young lady’s shoulder, tippy-toeing to just reach it. Kaito suppressed the urge to chuckle.
“Th…Thanks.” She was still out of breath. “I fell asleep on the bench while I waited.” She gave another squeak as the train abruptly lurched forward and started moving, some of the water from her cup splashing on the floor. She staggered towards a seat, and quickly sat down, looking guiltily at the puddle of water now growing bigger as the movement of the train spread it across the floor of the car.
Kaito watched as the station quickly sped away from him, and was replaced by the dark outlines of trees. He checked his watch, which now read 10:43. My stop is a long way away. Better get some sleep. Kaito closed his eyes, and reclined his chair to get comfortable. He chuckled softly as he heard Aiko gasp at the sight of the puddle, while the other lady apologized profusely.
His eyes suddenly shot open.
“Hey, what’s your name?” He immediately wished he could take it back. It probably sounded rude. Both of them turned their heads towards him. Aiko rolled her eyes.
“Me?” the lady didn’t sound offended. “Mirai Nayakame. What’s yours?”
Kaito hesitated, and tried to un-recline his chair, but he heard Aiko speak for him.
“His name is Kaito. Don’t mind his rudeness, he’s just trying to be cool.”
Dammit Aiko. He wasn’t trying to be cool. Kaito stood up, giving up on the chair. Weary to step around the now-bigger puddle, he walked towards Mirai and Aiko, the train had sudden turbulence. The world slowed to a snail’s pace as Mirai’s drink cup tilted out of her hand, and water slithered out into an arc, fanning out slowly. As the lights inside the car flickered, Mirai and Aiko’s expressions slowly slid into a state of horror. As the cup clattered to the floor, time resumed its regular pace. Kaito shut his eyes as water drenched his face and shoulders. He stuck out his hand towards Mirai anyway.
“I’m Kaito” He smiled nervously, and knew that he looked like an idiot. He could hear Aiko snickering in the background.
“I’m really sorry!” Mirai gripped his hand and shook it profusely. “I meant, nice to meet you, Kaito” Mirai looked away, embarrassed. Aiko handed Kaito some napkins, still snickering. Kaito shivered as little droplets of water slid down his short black hair and onto his neck. As he patted himself down with the napkins, Aiko turned to Mirai.
“He’s really not the cool type.” Aiko gave Kaito a sly grin.
Kaito glared back at her, rubbing a napkin against his wet hair.
“He’s always being an idiot.”
Mirai gave him a sympathetic look, then peered at the now-bigger puddle with apprehension. She awkwardly half-raised her hand, like a student with a question, but then realized Aiko was looking in the other direction.
“He’s always falling asleep on the-“
“Sh-should we worry about that?” Mirai cut Aiko off, now lifting her feet off the ground as the water slid down past her. Aiko and Kaito both followed the water down the corridor with their eyes. If anyone were to come through the far door… Kaito thought. Aiko walked over to the other side of the car, and fished a broom out of a top compartment. Kaito snickered. Aiko had to stand on a seat to reach it.
“Do you need some help?” Kaito’s arms felt heavy, likely because of lack of sleep, but he wanted to redeem himself from earlier. Mirai looked at him in surprise.
“No thank you Kaito, you should get some sleep.” She grinned at him. “I was only teasing earlier about-“
“Let me help, please.”
Mirai slid her hand down her jacket pocket. Pulling out a rubber band, she tied her hair back into a ponytail in one quick motion. She looked solemnly at Aiko.
“I caused this mess, so please let me help you clean it.”
Wow, that’s new. Kaito was surprised by Mirai’s sudden change of tone. She marched over to Aiko and took another mop from the top compartment.
“Oh, that’s okay Mirai, you don’t have to- “
Mirai aggressively pushed the mop through the puddle accumulating by the door to the next compartment, only making it spread further. I can’t just sit around being lazy thought Kaito. He stood up, and walked over to Mirai. Carefully stepping around her, he easily reached the top compartment, and pulled out yet another broom.
“Oh no, not you too.” Aiko looked guiltily at Mirai and Kaito as they worked. “Guys… This is my job. I get paid to do this”
Kaito tilted his head back, and stared up at the ceiling of the compartment. The experience of cleaning the puddle of water he had was fresh in his memory, even if it had happened an hour previous. Aiko had announced after they were done that she needed to check in with other compartments. Kaito said his goodbye to her. She walked away with her cart of beverages, leaving both Kaito and Mirai there alone at other sides of the compartment. Kaito had been replaying everything that had happened over and over in his head.
“Anything interesting up there?”
Kaito jumped. He quickly adjusted his position to sit upright, almost self-consciously.
“No, not really.” Kaito didn’t exactly know how to respond. He turned, and realized that Mirai had moved to sit two seats away from him, and was staring at the piece of ceiling right above him. She chuckled softly.
“You must have been thinking about something important.” She smiled. “You were staring up there for about twenty minutes or so.”
Kaito stared straight ahead. A blur of orange and black flickered in the windows, like an elegant moving painting.
“Yeah.” he said awkwardly. “I get lost in thought sometimes. A bad habit of mine.” He exhaled deeply and continued to gaze out into the blur. As he continued to stare, his reflection briefly revealed itself while the train passed under a bridge.“I should probably get some rest.” He tilted his head back again, and slouched in his seat until the bottom of his shoes found grip on the concrete floor. Still a bit slippery. Kaito made a mental note to wipe down the floor one more time before he left. A shuffling noise beside him kept his eyes open for a moment.
“Me too I guess.” Mirai had slumped sideways so she lay horizontally on the chairs. Her head was in the seat next to Kaito, while her torso and legs took up two more seats, with her feet just hanging off at the end.
“Am I allowed to do this, Kaito?”
Kaito turned his head and awkwardly looked down at her upside-down head. She had undone the rubber band in her hair, making it expand around her head like a lion’s. Her green eyes stared back up at him, like two emeralds. Not wanting to make things awkward, he nodded slowly.
“Are you sure Aiko wouldn’t get mad?” Kaito shrugged off the slight indignation and tiredness he felt.“I don’t think so,” He murmured. He turned away from her, and closed his eyes. “I think you’ll be fine for the most part.”
He didn’t even bother to open his eyes. “Mhm?”
“Thanks for… for not getting mad at me when I spilled water on you.”
He smiled, but realized that she was probably waiting for an answer.
“No… problem...?” It sounded weird just saying it. He chuckled to himself, and Mirai joined in. Kaito flexed his spine, and slid even lower in his seat. A beep from his watch meant that it was now midnight. Only an hour more.
“Hurry up!” Aiko clenched Kaito by the shoulders. “Wake up you idiot.”
Kaito groaned, and Aiko shook him vigorously. Kaito frantically reached over her outstretched arms to keep his glasses from slipping off. He opened his eyes, and immediately squinted, not used to the light in the car. The lights are blurry Kaito thought. He didn’t know whether they were that way because of grogginess, or because Aiko won’t stop shaking me.
“That’s enough” Kaito stood up to get his shoulders out of range from Aiko. She stretched, but couldn’t quite reach them, even with high heels on.
“To think I have to do this for you every day. How embarrassing.” Aiko yawned, and pointed out of the door. “You’d better hurry. Train leaves this stop in a minute or so.”
Kaito shivered, and realized he forgot his jacket. He turned, and pulled it off the seat next to him. Something else was missing.
“Hey, where’s Mirai?” Kaito stared around the full compartment, as if expecting to catch her hiding under a seat.
“She left a long time ago.” Aiko was staring out of the window, the black outlines of trees against the starry sky bordering her face like a background of a picture. “Before she left, Mirai asked if… you were going to be okay.” She trailed off into silence.
Kaito felt the pit drop from the bottom of his stomach. He searched for something to say, but couldn’t find the words. Why do I feel this way? Turmoil and dread filled him, and the trepidation of a sleepless night filled his mind. Tiredness ached throughout his limbs.
“You gonna just stand there staring at the outside?” Aiko tapped her foot impatiently. “You gotta get off, Kaito. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She half pushed, half guided him to the door, and stood just inside to watch him go. Kaito stepped down with visible effort, and shook his head strenuously, as if trying to rattle his mind for something.
“Yeah I’ll…” He faltered. “I’ll catch you later, Aiko.”
He had missed his opportunity. Kaito dug his hands into his pockets and clenched his eyes shut as the train rumbled away from the station, leaving a gust of wind in its wake. From inside his pockets, a beep indicated to him that it was now one in the morning. Why? Why didn’t I ask her? Kaito cursed, the looming unavoidable fact loomed over him like a cloud. I’ll never see her again. He cried out in frustration and anguish, knowing that no one would be around to hear him at this hour. Kaito clenched his teeth, and buried his face into his jacket. The jacket that she slept on. I should have asked! The last part echoed in his mind, and he shook his head almost in denial.
A crinkle of paper. Kaito stopped, and reached into his jacket pocket, not knowing what he would find, but clinging onto last hope. His heart sank as he pulled out his train ticket. He tore it in half in anger and frustration. As he let the two halves go to float away in the night wind, Kaito spotted a light scribble of words dotting the back. He frantically snatched the first half as it spiraled away from him. The second half caught a sudden gust of wind, and was lifted upwards like a ribbon. Kaito dashed after it, and leaped onto a nearby bench. He stretched as if trying to touch the moon, but the ticket half drifted slightly out of his reach. He jumped forward. Nothing else matters but this. He snatched the ticket in his hand and fell into a shoulder-roll onto the train platform, inches from the tracks.
Sitting up, he held the two halves together. Kaito squinted to read the message on the back. He smiled, and the fire re-kindled back into his soul, making him feel wide awake. In slanted cursive, a short note was written:
I’m sorry, I forgot to say goodbye.
When Kaito got home, it was already three in the morning. He felt around in his pockets, and pulled out a singular silver key. Squinting to see in the dark, Kaito dragged the key along the surface where he thought that the lock was. When his key caught on a surface, he jammed it into the keyhole.
Kaito’s house was dark and quiet. As he stepped inside, the sound of rain starting to pour outside made him shut the door quickly. He slumped into the spotless kitchen and with great effort, slid out of his jacket. As he hung it on one of the chairs surrounding the coffee table, Kaito spotted movement at the corner of his eye. As he turned, a pillow collided with his face. It didn’t hurt, but Kaito immediately took off his glasses to make sure they weren’t damaged. A small figure stood in the entrance of the hallway.
“What the hell, sis?” Kaito whispered angrily.
The girl moved into view. She was pouting, and holding a second pillow in her left hand. Her stature rivaled Aiko’s, but she was a bit taller than her, even if she was only thirteen. She brandished her other pillow, and Kaito was forced to retreat back behind the countertop.
“Please don’t do that again, Nina.”
“You’re an ass.” Nina threw the pillow to the ground instead, and turned away from Kaito, still pouting. She muttered something he couldn’t quite catch.
“Nina.” Kaito sighed. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”
“Who cares? Everyone else at school says it anyway.”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point, then? Smartass.”
Kaito bit back a nasty retort. He cautiously slid out from his hiding place.
“Never mind. Why am I being an ass?”
“You were supposed to help me study tonight.” She bit her lip, and turn back towards him. “I was waiting for you all night.” Her eyes welled up, but she didn’t break down.
Kaito instantly felt guilty. He walked over to her and bent down on one knee. She closed her eyes and pouted some more, but didn’t stop his hand as he put it softly on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, sis.”
Nina quivered, but opened her eyes and looked at him. She shared his brown hair, and was wearing a t-shirt to bed today. She always wore blue and white socks whenever she was in the house. Kaito had gotten them for her last Christmas.
“Why are you back so late, Kaito?” She hugged him and stared at the damp spot on his dress shirt. Kaito thought she would ask about it, but she didn’t.
“The train was a bit late today, Nina” Kaito could smell the mint on her breath. She always ate mints before she went to bed, so she could fall asleep with the cold feeling in her mouth as she breathed. Kaito didn’t have the heart to tell her that it might ruin her teeth.
“Did you do alright by yourself at home?” Kaito stood up and lightly patted her head.
“I was okay, I guess.” Nina poked her pointer fingers together, like she was pondering something. She bent down and picked up the pillow that she so aggressively threw to the floor.
“You and I need to get some sleep.”
Nina nodded and timidly carried her pillow with her as Kaito escorted her to her room. She smiled and thanked him as he closed her door slowly. He wasn’t going to sleep. Not after all that had happened last night.
Kaito actually did get some sleep. He quickly realized that staying up all night pondering whether or not to try and call Mirai was tiresome. He ended up slumping over onto his desk, slightly angry at himself for his cowardice, and fell asleep to the sound of his ticking clock.
An hour later, Kaito dragged himself to the kitchen. Secretly wishing for his mother’s acquired taste for coffee, he waited half an hour to wake up his sister, and squinted to read the words on the paper. Were they supposed to be moving? As the clock read “5:30 AM,” Kaito stood up and stumbled down to Nina’s room.
“Go away.” Nina mumbled as he poked her cheek. She curled up into a ball and took shelter under the covers. Kaito observed that she had foolishly left one foot exposed at the edge of her bed. She still had her socks on. He tugged on it, and felt Nina hastily grapple at the other end to try and prevent his devious plot.
“Nina, I know you’re awake.”
“Because of you, asshole.”
She was fully awake now. Kaito could easily overpower her if he wanted, but thought better of it. He let go of her sock, and heard a muffled struggling noise from under the sheets. She sat up, her hair was a tangle of brown, and the t-shirt was wrinkled in some places. She probably needed coffee more than Kaito did at that moment.
“What is so important at…” Nina snarled, flustered. She glared at her digital clock on her dresser. “… 5:35 in the morning, Kaito?!” She clenched a pillow, ready to resume her assault from a couple hours previous. Kaito retreated a couple paces.
“I thought…” Kaito said quickly, sticking his hands in front of his face as she brandished the pillow. “I thought I could help you study this morning.” He trailed off awkwardly, but was relieved to see Nina’s face soften.
“I… Okay.” Nina stuttered, a bit embarrassed. She stared at the pillow in her hands and dropped it back onto her bed.
Kaito watched as she walked over to her backpack, yawning and stretching like a cat. Bending down gracefully, she pulled out a thick textbook. As Kaito glanced over, he saw that her bag was organized in such a way so that her book slid right out. Kaito grimaced at her bag’s second pocket when he saw it. A mass of crumpled papers, one of which he could just make out a bright red “C” on the corner. It hurt him to imagine Nina crumpling them up in self-anger and frustration when she got them back. Kaito made a mental note not to bring it up.
Kaito turned to see Nina staring horrified from him to her bag. She quickly rushed over to it and zipped up the second pocket. She clutched the textbook to her chest.
“Don’t tell mom, Please!” Nina begged. She suddenly looked so fragile. She stared up at him, and Kaito quickly realized that if he refused, she’d cry.
It was a bit too early to get into an emotional argument with his sister. He beckoned her with his hand. When she hesitated, he walked over to stand in front of her, pressing her head into his chest. “Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again, right?”
Nina sniffled, and nodded into his t-shirt. Kaito patted her head, and guided her to her desk chair. She handed him her book. Upon closer inspection, Kaito realized it was an algebra textbook.
“Algebra Adventures” He emphasized “Adventures”, prompting a giggle from Nina. “Sounds soooo interesting.”
He opened the book to the table of contents.
“All right, so where do we start?”
It didn’t take Nina very long to understand everything, and by 6:30 she was pushing Kaito out of the house, reassuring him that she didn’t need to go over Linear Equations for a fourth time.
“You’re gonna be late, Kaito.” She was following him as he journeyed around the house collecting his school things. She stood in the doorway to his room and stared at him as he loaded his backpack with his things strewn across his desk.
As Kaito swung the bag onto his back, Nina hugged the wall, inviting him to go first. He passed her and she followed him like lost puppy.
“I’ll be fine, Nina.” Kaito dropped his backpack on the kitchen table, and looked around for his jacket. It wasn’t where he left it.
“Here.” Nina walked over to the sofa and quickly pulled a neat, folded jacket from the arm or the chair. “I washed it for you while you slept.”
“That’s not very healthy, Nina” Kaito glared at her, but still put on the jacket. “You need to get your sleep.”
Kaito headed towards the door. He had a weird feeling, like he’d forgotten something. An ocean churned inside him, a conflict that he couldn’t quite pin down. Standing at the foot of the doorway, Kaito tried to pinpoint this feeling. Nina gazed at him; tired and impatient. She eventually walked over to stand next to him.
“Forget something?” She gazed up at him with her big brown eyes.
“No… I don’t think–“ Kaito’s blood turned to ice, and the ocean that was his stomach had somehow dropped. He turned to face Nina, and she retreated backwards, taken aback after seeing his expression.
“You washed my jacket?” Kaito said in a voice that wasn’t his. It was barely audible and eerily calm sounding. He immediately thrusted his hands into his pockets, and turned them inside out. To his horror, he couldn’t find the ticket. He started to pat himself down, but already he knew that he had no other pockets. He felt cold, and yet beads of sweat lined his forehead. He felt angry, at Nina.
“Yeah. I did.” Nina murmured. She looked concerned, forgetting her intentions of pushing him out moments before. “Did I do something wrong?” She crossed her feet and looked at the floor.
“No, you didn’t.” Kaito couldn’t get mad at Nina. She obviously had done this out of kindness, and yelling at her would make her cry. God forbid she gets mad again. He tried to ignore the feeling of his heart slowly ebbing to a stop, and smiled at her. She grimaced at the emotional; mess that he was at the moment, and he could tell she wasn’t buying it.
“Did I… Umm… Rip it?” She asked timidly, almost fearfully. “I–I’ll buy you another one.” She reached out to grab the jacket, but Kaito stepped out of her range. He was having a meltdown, but was determined not to show it in front of Nina. It wasn’t her fault. He kept repeating it in his head. I need to get out of here.
“What did I do?” Nina whimpered, reaching out her hand, stepping towards Kaito again.
“But I did do something, Kaito”
“No, you didn’t, Nina. It’s fine”
“Drop it, dammit!” Kaito shook his head, and kicked the sofa, which sent a shooting pain up his left leg. She didn’t get it. If she just minded her own business, this wouldn’t have happened. Nina’s expression slid from concern to contempt.
“You know what?” Nina spat, glaring at him. “I was only trying to help.”
She turned her back to him, and made to storm out of the room. Kaito knew that he had messed up, but also knew that it was too late for apologies. Sighing and dreading talking to her later, he turned to the door.
“Oh, and one more thing.”
Kaito turned back to see Nina holding a plastic bag. She made to throw it at him, but the bag drifted pathetically to the ground as soon as she let it go. Cursing, she stormed down the hall, and slammed her door that shook the foundation. He heard her muttering about something ungrateful. He waited for a few moments until he was sure that his angry little sister didn’t come barreling back out of her room, and rushed over to the plastic bag still lying on the floor. As he picked it up, a warm smile crossed his face. Inside the bag, she had saved his ticket, and even taped it together.
Kaito made it through the day slowly. He trudged through his classes, with the weight of his schoolbooks and his guilt towards Nina. Kaito dreaded the moment he would have to face her, and apologize. It was foolish to infer that she’d just forgive him by any stretch of the imagination. Nina most certainly won’t wait for me tonight.
As the bell rang to signal the end of school for the day, Kaito didn’t bother to follow everyone out of his classroom. His teacher gave him a weird look, and he assured her that he was fine, and she flicked off the lights and closed the door without a second look. Kaito then realized how much his sister meant to him, and it dawned on him how much Nina actually cared about him. As the thought occurred to him, he wished he had wished her luck before they fought. Kaito then thought about calling her, and asking how the test went, but realized that if Nina didn’t feel too confident about how she did, he would be the last person she’d want to talk to.
Nina was only thirteen, and yet, she was always left alone after school while her mother went to work, and Kaito stayed at his school and studied. It wouldn’t hurt to come home early and spend time with her once in a while. However, the prospect of returning home and spending time with a perfectly content sister was out of the question.
His teacher had come back to check on him. She stood in the doorway, staring at him. Kaito had no idea how long she had been doing so.
“Oh, I– Sorry.” Kaito got up from his seat and hurried to the door. He knew that his teacher was obligated to stay at school to lock her classroom, but couldn’t as long as he stayed inside and moped. Kaito really liked her, as teachers at his school went. She genuinely cared about her students, like she was demonstrating right now.
“Are you okay, Kaito?” She wasn’t looking at him, but at some elementary students chasing each other around the schoolyard, laughing. Kaito envied their carefree nature.
“Yes, Mrs. Ran, thank you for your concern.”
She smiled, and shut the door behind him. “Be sure to study over the weekend, Kaito,” she murmured, jamming the key into the door and turning it slowly. “Wouldn’t want to ruin that perfect A, right?”
Kaito chuckled respectfully, and waved her goodbye. He wondered how she stayed so content all the time, and how she could find the time to be nice to everyone. He stuck his hands into his jacket pockets, and felt the crinkle of the plastic bag containing his ticket. Nina is a polar opposite of Mrs. Ran. She was easily irritated, and emotionally unpredictable, while Mrs. Ran always smiled, and could find the good in anyone she spent time with. He pondered this, and came to the rightful conclusion that it was an unfair comparison. No one can be as nice as Mrs. Ran. It suddenly dawned on him.
“Hold on.” Kaito said it out loud, making the elementary students he was passing turn to stare at the no one he was talking to. He quickened his pace, and took out his phone. He reached into his pocket with his other hand, and pulled out the plastic bag like a handkerchief. Straightening his glasses and glaring at the ticket, he punched in the number written in the neat, thin cursive that was Mirai’s handwriting.
I can’t do this. In his head, Kaito envisioned himself talking to Mirai, and telling her about his sister, and she’d respond with advice and compliment him for being so close to her. He’d tell her about his school, and if she asked, his grades and hobbies. I can’t do this. He was a nervous wreck, and didn’t know why. Maybe it was the prospect of not having experience having any private conversations with girls outside of his sister and his mother. Before he could convince himself that he wouldn’t do it, Kaito pressed the “call” button and watched –as if he had doomed himself by a heinous act– the phone vibrating with the text “Calling 241-4673…”. His hand shook as if it was cold, but yet again beads of sweat dripped down the back of his neck. With each ring, he grew more and more apprehensive. Is she away? Maybe she’s busy… Did she give me the wrong number? His stomach churned at the thought, and was just about to hang up when…
“Huh? I mean, yes, that’s her, I mean, me!” She faltered off into silence. After a short, awkward pause, she plucked up the courage to speak again.
“Who is this?”
He hesitated, and hoped that she couldn’t hear his fast breathing, or the rapid beating of his heart in his chest. It’s now or never.
He heard a gasp from the other end, and the call ended. Kaito looked at his screen, confused. She had hung up on him. Did I do something wrong? As he began to panic, and relay every interaction he had had with her the night previous, his phone vibrated, and a message appeared on screen.
Hey, sorry for hanging up on you like that, Kaito. I’m a bit busy right now, but we could talk about some stuff later if you want to. I’d like to get to know more about you.
Kaito couldn’t help but laugh out loud in relief. He didn’t care if those stupid elementary schoolers heard him either. He felt like his happiness could rival Mrs. Ran. His worries about Nina had exited his mind rather quickly in the moment, and he put his concerns into his next message. As he typed back, Kaito said each word aloud to make sure there was no spelling or grammatical errors.
Sounds good. I do have some things to ask you about. Advice, I guess. Whenever you are ready or free.
She responded almost immediately.
Sounds good Kaito, I look forward to it.
Kaito spent the hour before his train arrived studying for his upcoming test, and thinking about what he would do to get Nina to talk to him again. After trying fruitlessly to study, he eventually shut his book in frustration. Kaito knew that he couldn’t study, not with Nina on his mind. When he would come home, she would probably be asleep, or at least pretend to be. Kaito knew that she wouldn’t confront him, and that he would somehow have to pluck up the courage. In fact, the only time Nina would ever talk to him first was if she was in the wrong, and she still apologized sheepishly or reluctantly, and got rather angry if he gave her any trouble while doing so. However, Nina was a very sweet kid, who –and Kaito always smiled at this when she reminded him– always looked up to him, and saw him as her best friend. Of course, now that she was a little older, Kaito would stop hearing her say things like that, and bringing it up would result in Nina turning bright red, followed by either pillow-assault, or a punch in the shoulder. Kaito liked to think that she was the still the fragile, sweet sister, and was just moody due to becoming a teenager, but he knew that both he and his mother didn’t spend as much time as they should have with her, and she was left alone quite a lot for her age. As he checked his watch, Kaito realized that time was going excruciatingly slowly. He figured that calling Nina, and resolving the guilty feeling that had been hovering over him all day might leave him some time to study before the train comes with a clean conscious.
There was no answer from the other side, but Kaito knew she picked up due to her soft, steady breathing from the other side.
“Nina, I know you’re there.”
“W-what the hell do you want?” Nina sniffed. Kaito realized that she was crying. “A-are you gonna yell at me again, because I d-don’t wanna–” She went silent.
“Please don’t cry, sis.”
Kaito knew that asking her wouldn’t be enough, and if he didn’t act fast, she would either hang up, or start bawling her eyes out. That was another thing that he sort-of liked about her. Not quite the fact that she was about to cry, but because she was a very emotional person. She started to whimper incomprehensibly to herself, the word “ungrateful” came up again, but Kaito didn’t know if it was within the same context as earlier.
“Nina…” He trailed off to make sure that she didn’t start crying before he spoke next. “I’m very sorry.”
“No… You’re not.” Nina whispered, and Kaito knew she was seconds from flooding the house with her tears. “If you were sorry, you’d have called me right after it happened.”
“I figured we both needed time to cool off.”
“Are you calling me–?”
“No.” Kaito cut her off, but was unsure what she would have said. “You’re not.”
There was a silence for a long time, but Kaito knew once again from Nina’s sniffing that she was still there. However, something else had caught his attention.
“So… You’re not mad at me..?” Nina followed this by a sneeze.
“Bless you, Nina.” Kaito said distractedly. “Say, could you hold on one moment? I’ll call you back.” Kaito heard a small “sure, but–“ but cut her off.
Across the station, directly across with him, he could see someone…familiar. From a distance, he could just make out her brown hair, draping down her shoulders. She was reading what seemed like a book, and had some earphones in her ears, her free hand tapping the ground to the rhythm of whatever she was listening to when she wasn’t turning a page. Could it be? Kaito stuffed his textbook back into his backpack, and took a long route around the outside of the station. He entered the doorway, and leaned against one of the many pillars supporting the station, choosing the one almost directly next to her. Kaito made to rush up to her and greet her, but he still wasn’t one hundred percent sure, and saying hi to the wrong person could be very embarrassing.
He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket, and tested his speculation.
Hey Mirai, how you doing?
The girl flinched. She closed her book, and looked at her phone. She squinted at it, shrugged her shoulders, and put her phone back next to her, picking up her book. Did she just ignore me? Out of the corner of his eye, Kaito saw another guy walking over to her. Before he could do anything, the guy sat down next to her. She noticed him too, and immediately closed her book shut, and embraced him in a hug. Kaito’s ears burned. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but jealousy coursed through his veins, and –to his surprise and horror– a hatred for the man now kissing Mirai. As Kaito tried his best not to rush over to the man and punch him in his smug face, his phone vibrated in his clenched hand. He scowled, squinting at it.
Hey Kaito, I’m doing great. Why are you at the station?
Kaito stared at his phone, then back to the kissing couple. So, she knew, and she’s mocking me. Trying his best not to cry, he squinted his eyes shut, and clenched his teeth, trying to ignore the couple a couple of paces away. His phone vibrated again, but he ignored it. Mirai turned out to be a jerk. But is she though? I mean, for all she knows we are just friends. I can’t blame her for being in second place. He thought of the couple trying to hold in their laughter while texting him, and a singular tear of defeat rolled down his blushing face.
Kaito didn’t open his eyes. He refused to talk to her. Suddenly he felt two arms wrap around him. Taken aback, he opened his eyes in surprise.
“M-Mirai?” Kaito stared down, and found Mirai hugging him, her hair tied up in a bun, her green eyes staring straight back up at him.
“Pleasure seeing you here.” She smiled back up at him, unclasping out of the hug and standing straight. He stared into her emerald green eyes that so encaptivated him the day before. Kaito then remembered that he was supposed to be angry at her. He turned away from Mirai, and turned to see if the guy was still there, waiting for her. He’s probably laughing at us. Or maybe a bit jealous, we are friends after all. He grinned, hoping for the later, but as he turned to look, the man was still with his girlfriend. They were sitting next to each other, listening to music on the girl’s phone with one earbud each. He stared into the girl’s hazel-brown eyes, and blinked stupidly. He turned back to Mirai. She looked at the couple too, confused. Kaito realized she was waiting for a reply.
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”
The clock struck 7:00, and Kaito, giddy with relief, was surprised when Mirai took both of his hands in hers. She let out an exited breath, and smiled at him.
“Shall we get going? We don’t want to miss the train.”
He nodded, and, holding her hand, they both walked towards the gate.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King Jr
Dock Street was especially quiet that evening, with only the occasional sputtering of a
stray automobile fracturing the silence that lay upon the tiled houses lining the gravel road. Many were unlit, soundless structures standing like pale wordless giants in the dark. Others evidenced a warm glow from their wooden windows. One stood lit at the very end of Dock Street, where the Brown family lived.
It was a typical Wednesday night. Mr. Brown had just returned from the firm, Hood Law Firm LLC, and sat slouched on their worn leather sofa. A bowl of half-eaten boiled peanuts rested on his lap as he watched the 9:30 P.M Fox News. Mrs. Brown listened half-heartedly to the newscaster's deep voice as she scrubbed the dishes in the kitchen.
Rosie Brown lounged at the dinner table, having just finished her 7th grade English homework. She was swiping at the fruit in the game on her iPhone screen when her father's voice suddenly cut through the air.
"Barbara, quick, come over. There's been a shooting at that church a couple streets down from here." Curious, Rosie leaned over and flinched at the 'clang' of plates as they fell from her mother's hands. She watched her mother run over to her father's side, wide blue eyes rapidly scanning the TV screen.
"At 9:05 P.M today, a gunman began shooting members of a bible study group at Emanuel Episcopal Church in Charleston," announced a grim-faced newscaster. "Seven have been confirmed dead: three male and four female. All were of African American descent…"
Annoyed, Rosie returned her focus back to the device in her hands. She didn't understand why shootings like this continued to happen. It felt like every month, there was a new shooting or death of a black person, and a whole lot of unnecessary fuss would always follow it. Rosie swiped angrily at the frenzy of fruits. Why couldn't shooters just stop killing everyone? Then everybody would stop dying.
Her parents were huddled in the opposite corner of the couch, whispering to each other as they leaned in close. The bowl of peanuts lay forgotten, soggy shells strewn across the living room floor.
"Ted, do you think that some of them were our friends? I know Felecia goes to that church every so often for Bible study."
"God, I hope not. Do you have any of their numbers, Barbs? We could try calling them to see if they need any help —"
"Hey mom. Dad." Her parents spun their heads around.
"What's the big deal about this stuff anyways," questioned Rosie. She continued on when her inquiry was met with silence. "I mean, it happens like, every month. It's gonna happen again next month, or the month after anyways. Why bother to freak out every time?"
"Rosie!" exclaimed her mother as she marched over to where Rosie sat. Several golden strands escaped from her mother's messy bun. "That is no way to speak about something like this. People lost their lives tonight. Do you understand?"
Rosie crossed her arms while staring hard at the carpeted floor and toed a fallen peanut. The soft shell caved in as her toe dug in and a clear liquid leaked onto the carpet fibers. Of course she understood that people died! The newsman had made it very clear.
Her father sighed deeply from the sofa, running his fingers through his hair. "This problem runs deeper than you think, Rosie. It's an issue that has been in our country since even before your mother and I were born." He lifted the half moon frames off his face and rubbed his eyes. "Your mother and I need to discuss a few things before bed tonight. You have school tomorrow and it's getting late. Get showered and go to sleep, okay Rosie?" He offered a weak smile that didn't reach the worn crinkles around his eyes. Her mother sat heavily next to him. Her parents suddenly looked much older than their forty years.
"But I thought my bedtime was at 11—"
"Just go, Rosie."
Rosie trudged up the stairs. She went to brush her teeth and casually prodded at a new red spot appearing on her pale, freckled skin. Why had her parents become so mad at her? Her Social Studies class had included a brief segment on the Civil Rights Movement, so she understood why so many people were mad. That happened practically almost a whole century ago though! Why did it matter so much now, anyway? Deciding to forget about it, Rosie washed out her mouth and walked back to bed.
She pulled her thick floral blanket up to her chin and stared absent-mindedly at the One Direction poster taped on the wall opposite of her. Each member in the five-person boy band wore an open smile revealing gleaming white teeth, and an arm slung around the next member. It made her smile. A wave of fatigue hit her and she drifted off, imagining herself staring into Harry Styles' bright emerald eyes.
"Rosaline, time to wake up!"
Rosie startled awake at the loud yell and winced in pain when a sharp table corner smacked into her arm.
"Ow! God dang it," cried Rosie. She curled into tight ball while clutching the throbbing flesh.
"If you nap for any longer, we're going to miss tonight's Wednesday church service!"
She uncurled and stretched out the offending arm in pain. It sure smarted like hell.
"Alright ma, I'm comin' down now! I just accidently banged my arm —" wait, church service? Rosie rubbed at her eyes then stared down in disbelief at the sight of smooth chocolate brown fingers stretching out in front of her. The post-sleep haziness vanished instantly and Rosie took in the unfamiliar room. Instead of beige walls, the smooth paint was a crimson red that contrasted starkly with the gentle, light strokes of numerous watercolor pieces hanging from the walls. The floor consisted of long strips of mahogany wood, the markings of the bark creating uneven tapering waves of sepia and ochre down each rectangular tile. On the wall opposite was a large black-and-white poster of a wrinkly shirtless man looking down his spectacles at a pile of open books on his lap. A small rainbow apple encompassed the upper left corner with the words, "Think Different", under it. Rosie noticed a scrawl of white letters near the poster's bottom and she stepped closer to observe it. Written in a white paint pen, it said, "Be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi." Reaching out to touch the words, Rosie was reminded of a more immediate problem at the sight of her hands. She was not in her own body.
"What did you bang? And honey, remember your ma is up at a meeting in Columbia. This is grandma's house sweetie."
Now awake, Rosie realized the voice coming from below was not the high, airy tone of her mother's, but instead an unfamiliar rich, honey-like one.
"Uhh, nothin' ma— I mean grandma! I just need to get ready. Give me ten minutes," yelled Rosie as she stumbled toward the doorway. A noise of affirmation sounded from below.
Rosie peeked around the entrance, her heart thumping so loudly she was afraid the entire house could hear. A single door was open near a set of stairs that curved down into an unseen room. She shuffled towards it.
"Oh, thank god," muttered Rosie when it turned out to be a bathroom. She fumbled around the dark for a switch and flipped it once her fingers met its hard edges. Rosie blinked momentarily from the sudden light. She scrubbed at her eyes. A scream caught in her throat when an expanse of copper-toned skin greeted her instead of the expected freckled alabaster.
A foreign hand reached to touch the bouncy ringlets of umber hair that lay in soft curls on her narrow tan shoulders. Rosie raised a shaky finger to poke at the dark eyelashes framing her new charcoal eyes. She shook her head in disbelief. It wasn't possible. This wasn't real. It was just a dream. Rosie squeezed her eyes shut, and then smacked her heels together three times. It worked in the movie, didn't it? Now, she needed to just wish to return home. In a moment, she'd wake up to her plain white walls and Harry Styles' face smiling down at her from —
"Rosaline, are you ready yet? We have to eat dinner before the service."
At the sound of her grandma's voice, Rosie felt something suddenly slip from the tight grasps of her mind: something very important. She tried to dig in the recesses of her thoughts to remember it, but the last memory available was of waking up in her room that morning and feeling strangely scared.
Rosie shook out her curls and turned around to return to her room and change into her church clothes. It must've been a bad dream.
Although she was still shaken up about the strange feeling she had after her afternoon nap, Rosie felt normal again when the aroma of Grandma Sander's home cooked shrimp and grits reached her. Dinner was normally a rowdy affair at Grandma Sander's house, but tonight it was quieter, as it only consisted of Grandma Sanders, Uncle Ty, and Rosie.
"How's the fish and grits farin' for you Rosaline? I know they're your favorite"
Rosie grinned and widened her mouth, revealing the whitish yellow glop of baked fish in her mouth.
"Rosie!" scolded her grandmother, "You better not be bringin' those manners to church to night, you hear me?" The creases around her weathered eyes however gave away her laughter.
"Do we have to go tonight, ma?" asked Ty as he shoved another spoonful of grits in his mouth. He winked at Rosie. "Why don't we just stay in tonight 'n' watch a movie or something?"
Ty shot another grin at Rosie, but all she could concentrate on was the abrupt flash of fear that shot through her. A sense of wrongness tugged harshly at her mind. Suddenly, Rosie saw a glimpse of another life, where tonight's bible study ended in gunfire and death and a cold-faced murderer slaughtering life after life after life.
"Wait grandma," cried Rosie as she pushed her chair back with a screech and stood up. "Grandma we can't go to church today because – because…" She trailed off when the tugging in her mind ceased and once again, the wisps of a memory lay at the tip of her tongue but she couldn't quite grasp it. Her grandma and Ty stared in shock at her sudden outburst. The dining room fell silent for several, long moments.
In a dream like trance, Rosie pulled back her chair and sat down. Like the bathroom incident earlier, it felt like she had forgotten something crucial. No matter how hard she tried, Rosie couldn't remember why she stood up in the first place.
"Sorry, never mind. I just thought of something real quick but forgot it." She smiled thinly at them. "I'm not really hungry anymore. Can we go now?"
Her grandma nodded, her dark framed eyes narrowing suspiciously at Rosie's. She obviously did not believe her excuse, but let her go anyway. They began clearing the dishes away and Grandma Sanders shooed the two upstairs to wash up before they left.
As they reached the end of the drive, the high, castle-like structures of the Emanuel Episcopal Church came into view. The other two chatted occasionally on the ride there, but Rosie kept silent in fear of revealing the sense of trepidation she had the closer they came to the church.
"I heard Pastor Pinckney was preachin' today," noted grandma. She twisted her body and looked around the leather seats to face Rosie.
"He's a absolutely wonderful Rosie. It'll cheer you right up." Grandma Sanders smiled, but there was still a crease between eyebrows.
She began turning her body back when a thump hit the hood of their old Camry. Rosie's stomach jolted nauseously at the steep stop that followed.
A mumbled "Oh shit" came from the passenger's side. "What was that grandma?" asked Ty, leaning toward the front window to find what they had hit. Instead of berating Ty for cursing, her grandma ignored him and stepped hurriedly outside of the car. She gasped softly.
Rosie clicked open the door and followed the gaze of her grandma to a spot on the road a few feet back. A raven lay splayed on the ground, body the same hue as paved road beneath it. Its ebony wings were still stretched out in mid-flight and crimson blood leaked from a laceration at its stomach, looking dark purple against its midnight feathers. The raven's proud chest rose ever slow slightly. It was still alive.
"It's just a raven isn't it?" offered Ty, attempting to lighten the mood. He grinned at Rosie but his coffee-brown eyes did not reflect his lightness. "Ravens are always messin' up our trash bags in the bin more than those nice, white pigeons in our area. It's probably better if there's one less anyways."
Ty fell silent at her grandma's unusually harsh tone.
Grandma Sanders walked to its body and lowered to her knees. She placed a gentle hand against the raven's head and stroked it softly. Then, she began to pray.
"Dear father in heaven, forgive us from stealing from this bird the precious life you have given it." The bird gave a soft coo and one of its bloodied wings twitched. "Let this bird's soul find peace after it departs and let its life and demise not be forgotten. Forgive us for the sins we have made. In Jesus' name we pray, amen."
The raven's breast rose once more in a shuddering breath before going still.
Not a single word was spoken on the rest of the ride.
Rosie watched the raven's body become smaller and smaller as the car rove away. The blood pooling around the raven already thickened, like spilled wax. If they hadn't hit the bird themselves, she suspected they wouldn't have even seen the black raven if it had been hit by another car, gasping its last breaths on the gravel.
Worship began at 6:30 P.M sharp with a combined prayer to the lord. Rosie opened one eye to examine the rows of bowed heads filling the numerous pews. Most heads blended into a mix of brown and blacks and the few that stood out were too far to be seen. Rosie sighed. It would be a long hour and a half.
"As you can see, it is stated in John 3:16 that God so loved the world he gave his one an only son…" Pastor Pinckney stood on stage and let his rich, bass voice echo off the church's tall arched ceiling and narrow ridged columns.
Rosie started nodding off near the end of the service. Her eyes just began to flutter close when a loud creak surprised her and she lurched awake. A portion of the congregation turned around to observe the new visitor entering the doorway.
In walked a young man with smooth sand-blonde hair that framed his pallid face in a sharp bowl cut. His hands were tucked in his grey hoodie and a fanny pack was fastened securely around the waist of his loose, frayed jeans. His steel blue eyes roamed the room, pausing momentarily on Pastor Pinckney's clean form. An uneasy tension clenched Rosie's stomach.
Once he sat down at the edge of a far pew, everyone but Rosie eventually turned back around.
"Rosie," whispered Ty into her ear. "Stop staring, it's rude."
Rosie muttered back, "Fine," and was about to turn around when the gaze of the foreign man caught hers. His lifeless orbs dug deep into hers and an eerie smile bent his lips. She felt the urge to throw up.
Rosie turned and never looked back once for the rest of the service.
After the sermon finished, everyone but members of the bible study group left the church. Rosie stayed because Grandma Sanders and Ty were members. She sat off at a table to the side and doodled onto the pieces of scrap paper she was given.
"All right folks," began Pastor Pinckney. "Today we will begin with Luke chapter nineteen verse one. As you can see here —"
"Sorry," interrupted a flat voice. Pastor Pinckney looked up from the opened Bible held in his hands. The same sandy blonde man from earlier stood in the shadows of a column behind the group. His angular face looked skeletal in the dark. "May I join your group for an evening?"
For a beat, Rosie held on to the hope that the Pastor would find some plausible reason to reject him. However, it was Rosie's grandma who spoke up.
"That would be absolutely fine, honey." She grinned and the rest of the group shared their consent as well.
Nervously, Rosie watched the man saunter over to the circle of chairs. Old Susie Jackson scooted back and pulled a chair next to her before beckoning him over.
"Susie Jackson, how do you do," introduced Susie, offering a wrinkled hand and a smile.
"Dylann." His lips stretched in an odd attempt at a grin. The corners of his mouth tilted upwards, but not a single muscle near his eyes twitched. Dylann reached out a pasty hand to grasp Susie's. There were spots of red on his fingernails where he had bitten them down to the flesh. He then proceeded to shake the hands of every member of the congregation.
Rosie swiftly wiped her clammy hands against her cotton dress when she noticed Dylann approaching. Her hand rose automatically to meet his. A shiver raced up her spine when his sweat soaked-hand touched hers. She looked down at her scuffed Mary Janes. She needed to buy some new ones.
He retrieved his hand and sat back down besides Susie and Rosie's school librarian, Mrs. Cynthia Hurd. The bible study resorted back after to its previous state and continued discussing the significance behind the verse, John 3:16.
Rosie began doodling again in an attempt to distract herself. Perhaps all the strange incidents that occurred were all in her head. The ballpoint pen dug deeper into the lined paper as Rosie's drawing evolved into simple circles, looping repetitively over and over again. Maybe the bad dream from her nap earlier had unsettled her. Her fingers clutched the fleshy grip near the pen's head tighter. A subtle scraping noise began coming from the back and forth of the ink tip as Rosie's hand pushed harder. Who knows? Was Rosie going crazy? For all she knew, Dylann could've been a lost soul seeking salvation who happened to arrive at this church.
A click resounded in the space behind her.
At that moment, everything in and around Emmanuel Episcopal Church went silent. The wind quieted its howl; the low hum of chatter that normally filled the every crevice and space ceased; old Ethel Leelance still had her jaws lowered in mid-speech. Every eye in that room was focused on Dylann and the cold black pistol gripped in his palm, aimed towards the wrinkled forehead of Susie Jackson.
For an instant, time stood still. Every seated member in the room wore wide, grinning faces, their stretched smiles still frozen in the moment before it twisted in horror. Eyes were still open with the golden shine of the church's high hanging lights reflecting from their irises. There was still blood rushing to their hearts, fueling the thoughts in their brain, keeping them alive.
Then time restarted with the voice of Tywanza Sanders.
Rosie watched with heavily limbs, unable to move, as Ty slowly stood up and edged over to Susie. Her weathered face was grey and still, eyes pinpointed to the muzzle only a few inches from her face.
"Hey, Dylann, you don't have to do this you know." Ty gave a stiff encouraging smile. You can still put that gun down." There was a pressure squeezing the air from Rosie's lungs. She held her breath. Dylann stood unmoving. "Why are you doing this?
He lowered his arm slightly and Rosie let out a shaky breath. A quick laugh escaped his lips: it was a high cracking rattle that bounced around the vast room.
"I have to do it," he stated factually, like it was the answer to a scientific inquiry. "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go." He lifted the gun up again.
A deafening wall of sound rushed across the room, reverberating off the church walls like cracks of thunder. Rosie flinched back as the noise ripped through her ears, causing her to go momentarily deaf in her left ear.
Rosie blinked. The next thing she knew, she was face down on the ground, a heavy weight on her back crushing the air from her lungs. The back of her head throbbed.
A scream pierced the church hall. Another bang. A thud hit something solid.
Something wet dripped onto the back of Rosie's neck. She looked up.
Splayed across the table above, Tywanza looked almost ethereal, like a broken bird pinned down through its heart, its wings splayed out in mid-flight. The crimson splatters trickling from the gaping gash at his brow looked indigo against his dark skin. A drop slid down the indent at his temple and landed in the corner of Rosie's eye. A finger twitched. His eyes fluttered open and looked up towards the heavens above and he struggled to lift his head from the way it hung backwards off the table edge. His eyes snapped down and traced the outline of Rosie's face before they drifted to something unseen behind her.
"Ma, ma," Ty slurred. His head swung slightly from its suspended position like a broken pendulum. "'Think I—'think I was shot in the head, ma." His chest rose in a shuddered gasp.
An ear-splitting crack whipped throughout the room. His body jerked as a bullet tore through his throat and burrowed into the ground beside Rosie. Warm scarlet blood hit the panes of her face.
She blinked once, eyelashes sticking together in a dark red clump, and then opened her mouth to free the screams trapped inside, tearing apart the flesh of her throat to be let out.
A hand shoved itself violently on her mouth and another yanked her back into a warm shaking embrace.
"I've got y-you. I've got you. It's going to be all right. We just g-gotta play dead a little while okay little Rosie?" Grandma Sander's voice trembled while she smeared the blood of Ty onto herself and Rosie to try masquerading them as dead corpses. She tucked them further into the table under Ty's lifeless body.
Another click severed the momentary silence.
"Ya'll want something to pray about?" There was a manic quality to the question, in the way his words would crack and break, like a damaged instrument. "I'll give you something to pray about."
A new voice rose from stillness. "Dylann, I know you're going through some hard times right now," insisted a woman who sounded like Mrs. Sharon, a pastor, and if Rosie could remember correctly, a therapist. A flutter of hope bloomed in Rosie's chest and she clenched Grandma Sander's hand tighter in her fist. "You can still stop now, Dylann. If you want, you can put down – oh."
Her soft "oh" was lost in the concussive force of the bullets that tore through air at once.
Rosie expected to feel sorrow; to feel deep sobs wrack through her body. Nothing happened. There was only numbness when a chorus of thumps were heard as bodies smacked against the ground.
"Oh God. Sharon. Sharon! Oh dear God she's not moving."
"There's blood everywhere! Pastor Pinckney, can you hear me?"
Someone whimpered faintly. Then, "You goddamn cowards! Ya'll niggers are fucking pieces of shit," screamed Dylann, his footsteps loud and distinct in the night.
Rosie watched a pool of blood creep closer to the table. A tuft of grey hair laid soaked scarlet in the middle like a pile of red string. Her grandma shuddered quiet, heaving sobs into the crook of Rosie's shoulder. Rosie just sat and stared at the approaching blood.
"Wait please, you have done enough! Leave us at peace now. What more do you – "
The air rang once more with the crash of bullets sinking deep into skin, ripping through flesh and slaughtering life.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Footsteps came closer to their hiding place.
A pair of legs appeared in front of the table. Rosie's grandma shoved her down into a drying pool of blood. The clump of gray hair pressed wetly against her cheek.
The legs kneeled down and a pale, sunken face appeared from the side sporting a deranged smile. Rosie felt her grandma stiffen.
"Did I shoot you," asked Dylann nonchalantly, like there wasn't a gun loaded in his hands.
"No," replied Grandma Sanders, head held high. Rosie watched the scene from a cracked eyelid.
If possible, his face distorted even further when his smile widened. "Good, 'cause we need someone to survive, because I'm gonna shoot myself, and you'll be the only survivor."
He raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
For the first time that night, Dylann looked lost and confused. He pulled it again. The glock clicked but nothing came out. He stood like a lost eight-year-old child, bewildered why his new toy wasn't working.
"Shit. Shit! Fuck this. Fuck all you niggers!" He yelled out in frustration and flung the gun at the altar on the stage. He sprinted towards the exit. Dylann stopped momentarily at the crumpled body of Pastor Pinkney, and spat on his corpse.
The two large doors slid opened with a creak and slammed shut.
Grandma Sander carefully stood up and pulled Rosie up into her arms. Her grandma frantically dug through her pockets and pulled out a small grey Nokia. Her fingers wouldn't stop quivering, so Rosie reached over to help punch in the numbers.
"911, how can we help you?"
Rosie looked around the room. There were crumpled bodies scattered throughout the room resting on the dark church pews, a few lying splayed out like Ty was; an odd image of fallen, boiled peanuts scattered across a carpet floor randomly came to Rosie's mind. If not for the blood saturating their trim church clothes and the maroon gashes littering their bodies, they could've passed as being asleep.
"Please, there's been a shooting at Emanuel Ep-Episcopal church! A white male by the name of Dylann came earlier, pulled out a gun, and started shooting. Please, please come. I don't know how many have been killed."
A peculiar sensation bloomed in Rosie's chest. It was one of calmness that desensitized her whole being. She felt no despair when her eyes rested upon frightened face of Pastor Daniel, still frozen from the moments before his death as he begged for mercy. Old Ethel was bowed over one of the pews, a dark stain coloring the back of her pink flower print dress.
"Ma'am, please stay calm. We are dispatching our people now. Just hold on, okay ma'am?
An unexpected ripple of fatigue washed through Rosie. She lifted one hand to rub at her eyes. It came back blemished with Ty's crusted blood.
Eventually, the police and paramedics stormed the wooden doors of the church. Rosie felt a blanket wrap around her shoulders while a soothing reassurance was whispered in her ear.
She closed her eyes and breathed.
That night Rosie lay in bed staring up at her crimson ceiling and thought of the ocean of blood staining the church's pristine floors. A glaring red 3:00 A.M stared from the digital clock at her bedside table. For an inexplicable reason, Rosie suddenly felt very, very tired. Her eyelids drooped down and the world disappeared into shadowed, sleepy haze.
The room slowly blurred into focus as Rosie escaped the last tendrils of sleep. Her eyes were once again met with the sight of a familiar white walled room. A weak dusty light leaked in through a crack between the creased folds of the thick magenta curtain covering her window. The poster across the room was gently illuminated. The smiles of the five boys suddenly looked fake and plastic in the morning light. Rosie rubbed her eyes and took in the sight of her pale freckled arms and bare fingernails, untainted by blood.
Then, she cried. Heavy, ugly sobs shook her whole body as she curled into a ball under her thick blanket. She cried for Grandma Sanders and the son she would never hold again in her arms, for lives lost that day in the golden glow of the Episcopal church, pools of blood drying on the marble floors surrounding corpses once filled with life. Most of all, she cried because of the feeling of uselessness wracking through her body at the realization that it wasn't the first or last time that something like this would happen, and there was nothing she could do to change it.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- Martin Luther King Jr.