The second time I woke up, it was twilight outside, the sky a muted purple through the window. The room was quiet. I could see the back of my mother, standing in the doorway talking to someone.
I lay there on my back and stared up at the ceiling. There’d been a shooting at my school. So many had died. I’d seen it happen. And somehow the two shooters had gotten away. That was so wrong. It couldn’t be true.
It was too much. The pain inside was too much. I didn’t know how to live with it.
Then I remembered looking up into someone’s face. Landon Hughes. I’d said hi to Landon only a handful of times before, nothing more. But he’d stayed with me. He’d held my hand, pressed my wound, and kept me from bleeding to death. He’d saved my life.
I could see his face like he was still with me. The expression he had, so earnest and determined. Like he cared about me. He’d been so… so kind. I’d looked into his eyes and it was like we were seeing each other so clearly, so truly.
Scalding hot liquid seeped from the corners of my eyes. It was good that there were people in the world like Landon. It was a tiny defense against the horror that people were capable of. But maybe… maybe that tiny bit was enough. A light in the darkness.
Cops, ambulances, fire department—they’re gonna be here in just a minute. You’ll make it out of here, Brian. I swear.
I wished Landon was there right now. Because it felt like part of me was still bleeding out and maybe he could hold me together.
My mom sat down in the chair next to the bed, a tense smile on her face. “You’re awake.”
“Yeah.” My voice croaked, an octave deeper than usual.
“How are you feeling?” She took my hand, watching me warily.
Her smile got braver. “I’m sure you are. But so far there’re no signs of infection, so that’s great news. That’s the major danger with a stomach wound, the doctor says. A few more days and you’ll be in the clear.”
Great. So I was still in danger. That was nice.
I tried to sit up, but my mom stopped me. “Let me. Don’t try to do it yourself, Brian. You’ll tear something.”
She raised me up a little with the remote, then handed it to me.
“Listen, there’s someone here from the police. They want to talk to you, but if you’re not up for it—”
“Okay,” I said.
Mom looked worried. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. If they had information on the shooting, I wanted to hear it.
She went out and brought back a man. He was wearing an old brown suit jacket and tie, not a cop’s uniform. He was maybe in his thirties with dark hair and a tough but weary face.
“Hi, Brian. I’m Detective Mike Flannagan. But everyone calls me Detective Mike.”
He held out a hand, and I shook it, my grip weak.
“Hi. So have you caught the guys?” I asked.
His mouth drew into a line. “Not yet. Feel up to answering some questions?”
He took out his phone. “I’m just gonna record this so I don’t forget anything. Can you tell me exactly what happened? Everything you can remember.”
I swallowed, my stomach fluttering. I told him, using as few words as possible. From deciding to go to Lunch A, to the alarm, to finding the hole in my stomach. Mom hovered in the background at first, but she soon left the room, like she couldn’t listen to any more.
“Did you get a look at the shooters?” he asked me.
“No. I was behind the water fountain.”
“Um-hmm. Um-hmm.” He pursed his lips. “What about in the window, like a reflection. Did you see them there?”
“I—” I stopped, thinking about it. It never occurred to me that I might have seen their reflection. Had I? “I don’t remember seeing that.”
A wave of nausea rolled my stomach at the idea, at the memories brought up when I tried to picture it. My fists clenched in the sheets.
“Okay.” Detective Mike nodded calmly. “And what did you hear?”
“Nothing. Gunfire.” I swallowed hard.
“They never said anything? To each other or to the room? Maybe before or after they started firing?”
I couldn’t remember anything like that either. My back suddenly felt hot and sweaty against the bed.
“Okay.” Detective Mike smiled. “That’s fine. One last thing. Can you do me a favor and give me the names of anyone you saw in the cafeteria? Perhaps when you first entered or were in line getting your food? We’re trying to get a lock on where everyone was that day. Any names you can give me would be a big help.”
My throat was dry. There was a glass of water on the bedside table, and I drank a few sips. My stomach ached and throbbed.
I named everyone I remembered seeing. The guys I’d bumped fists with. People who I exchanged nods or smiles with. Everyone I could think of.
“Can you wrap it up, please?” That was my mom, standing in the doorway. “He’s obviously in pain.”
“Sure,” Detective Mike said easily. He took out a card. “I’m going to leave this with you, Brian. If anything occurs to you later on, you can call or text me. My email’s on there too. Sometimes the subconscious mind takes in details we don’t remember until later. Okay?”
He put the card on the table and turned to go.
“How many?” I asked, my voice thin.
“Honey, I don’t think—” My mom started.
“It’s okay,” I said quietly. “I’m not gonna freak out again. But I need to know. Please.”
Detective Mike looked at my mom, then at me. “Forty-two were killed. There are a dozen still in the hospital, like you.”
Forty-two. I stared at the ceiling again. God, so many. Who were they? Were they my friends? My teachers? Guys I ran drills with at football practice?
“What about Landon Hughes?” I asked.
I felt along the bed and found the remote. I pressed it, bringing the head of the bed up farther. This was important. “Landon Hughes. He kept me from bleeding out. He held—he stayed with me. Is he all right?”
I had no memory of the ambulance or how I’d gotten out of the cafeteria. So I wasn’t sure if Landon had been safe in the end.
My mom stepped forward, her expression soft. “The boy who helped you? Yes, he’s okay, honey. In fact, I saw him on the news this morning.”
“What about Jake? Cameron? Gordo? Jennifer?”
“Brian, I’m gonna let you talk to your mom,” Detective Mike said. “Unfortunately, I can’t discuss the investigation, and not all the names have been released. But thanks again for talking to me. You’ve been a big help. Speedy recovery.”
He left the room. But I wasn’t about to let my questions go.
“Mom? What about my friends?”
Her expression wavered—a flicker of grief, like she was trying to hide it. She hesitated. “Jennifer’s fine. And Cameron and Gordo too.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. The pressure on my chest threatened to crush me. “Jake’s dead?”
“I’m so sorry, honey.” Mom smoothed back my hair, her voice wobbly. “I know you’ve been through an ordeal, and it’s so, so hard. But I promise you God won’t give us any more than we’re able to bear. Everything will be all right.”
She was wrong. I already had more than I could bear.