| Fate has led to this very day. It’s funny to think that once I was a shy kid with a passion for helping those around him. I’m still that same kid, but a kid about to walk across the stage. High school graduation, an important milestone in life for any person. For me though, it’s a day I've been dreading for months. You know the famous speech that a Valedictorian gives? The one where they say words of encouragement as they address their fellow classmates? The one that’s a pretty big deal? Yeah, that responsibility is mine. Had I known I would have to undergo something so embarrassing, I think I might have slacked off a bit. Then I wouldn’t be in this situation. Four years I've worked hard after leaving behind friends and family alike. Yet all that I have worked towards is now coming back to bite me in butt.
“Theo! I know I look beautiful, but now is not the time to daydream.” a snappy voice stops my thoughts.
My face heats up like I'm sitting in a sauna. “I-I wasn’t thinking about anything like that! It’s just that stage. I don’t know if I can handle it.”
I have a very common and simple problem, and that’s being an introvert. It’s not that I hate people or anything like that. Instead, my heart gets to fluttering and all I can think about is running away. Most people just grit their teeth and bear with it. I don’t have the same courage to do so. Amy has stopped doing her bubblegum hair, and is now giving me “the look”. Those sky-blue eyes can manage to pierce the soul of even the toughest of men. She puts her hands on her hips and I immediately know a storm is brewing.
“We’ve gone over this! You know what you have do, it ain’t that bad.” She starts back brushing her hair out.
I honestly can’t believe Amy said that. Normally she’s on my side but on this she will not budge. What good will come from the entire crowd seeing the Valedictorian break down on stage? See? Nothing at all except a stain on an otherwise festive occasion.
“It ain’t bad? Of course, to you it ain’t bad. You love being the center of attention. You also are the Salutatorian. I don’t know why you won’t just give the speech. This kind of thing was made for you Amy.”
“Made for me? Ha! Apparently not as you finished first. And that’s an honor given to the top student. Look I’ll make you a deal.”
Oh boy; when she says that I know I'm in deep trouble. The last time I took one of her deals I ended up parading around town with her stuck to me glue. We went from shop to shop, the most girly places you can think of. The entire city thought we were a couple! That’s a misunderstanding I don’t want to deal with again.
She spins around after putting on lipstick. “I’ll speak the speech but in turn you have to take me to that new spa!”
“Ugh fine, but please don’t go overboard. Mrs. Johnson from down the street still tells me “Say hi to your girlfriend for me!” every time I pass her.”
“Aw, what's wrong with a little misunderstanding?” Amy winks and proceeds to climb onto the bed next to me.
Her flamboyant shirt is still unbuttoned at the top, and I get a peek of something that causes a natural excitement. Amy may be a bit big in some people's eyes, but that doesn’t mean she’s not attractive.
She jumps up, quickly buttoning her top and straightening her colorful outfit.
“You looked, didn’t you? Perv!” a book nearly knocks the wind out of me.
To avoid any more “accidents” I glance around her room. The color scheme is bright, almost blinding. Neon pink, blue and yellow are scattered across the walls. The carpet is pink with blue squares designed into it. She even has posters of random people plastered on the walls. I’ve asked her who they are but even she doesn’t know. It fits her aesthetic so she hung them anyways.
“Theo, come here for a sec.”
I do as I'm told and proceed cautiously to her. Just then Amy grabs my hand and I'm feeling the warmth of her cheek. Taken back by this, I manage to stumble out some words.
“Wha-what are you doing? We are way too close; this feels weird!”
“Stop acting like a little boy.” Amy scolds. “Now move your hand. I want to see if my foundation is holding up.”
I look down and there isn’t anything on my hand. “Good!” she expresses.
She leans even closer to me, and I completely feel her embrace. “Theo…you do know that after today we are pretty much adults.” Amy says with a grin.
After feeling a sensation on my chest that’s borderline heavenly, my face heats up once more. I don’t know how much more of this I can take! It feels like time has slowed down around me but I manage to snap back to reality.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, whatever you want it to mean...” she winks and shoves me away. Damn this girl, she knows I can’t handle stuff like this. This is yet another one of her famous teasing sessions.
Her smug smile changes quickly. “No matter what Theo, I’ll always have your back.”
"And I’ll always have yours, bubblegum.”
“Don't call me that!” a rain of various items pelts my chest.
After grabbing colored lens glasses, Amy finishes her routine. She gets so lost in herself that she always would be late for school. I used to wait on her, but I wasn’t letting her drag me down. It’s a wonder to me how she even qualified to graduate, let alone finish as the second top student. We slide through the kitchen, grabbing breakfast from Amy’s mom, Mrs. Debonair.
“Oh, I'm just so proud of you two! My top two babies.” She crushes us with a hug right as we finish eating. No matter the time, day or the place Mrs. Debonair is always cheerful.
“Ok, ok mom seriously let me go! My clothes are going to get wrinkled.” Amy manages to choke out.
Mrs. Debonair releases us from her bear hug. “I’m sorry, but you don’t understand how happy I am. My precious baby is graduating! Walking across that stage. And Theo, for the last four years I've gotten to know you very well. A fine young man grew up before my very eyes!” Her pink hair bounces as she jumps with joy.
"Thank you, Mrs. Debonair.”
“You will always be a member of this family, no matter what.”
That’s makes me feel at peace, hearing those words from her. It's not that I don’t have a family of my own but things are well, complicated. Dad is always busy at the museum and mom is still living in Brooklyn taking care of grandma. So, I often just spend the night here with the Debonairs. You’d think an introvert with crippling anxiety would love staying at home by himself. It just feels too lonely and reminds me that I can’t always see my family. I’d much rather always be with people who make me feel warm, even if I have to deal with Amy’s constant teasing.
We head outside and begin walking down the street. Stride by stride Amy matches my pace with her bright yellow kicks. Mrs. Johnson waves at us through her window as we pass. I really have to clear up that misunderstanding properly. At the corner of street, the liveliness of D.C. comes into view. Cars honking at one another, the smell of exhaust fills the air, bikes weaving in and out of traffic, pedestrians looking both ways and still almost managing to get hit. I look over at Amy and she has her earphones in, typing rapidly on her phone. I put on my headphones and queue up some of my favorite raps. Before I know it, I'm bouncing along to the infectious beats.
The immersion doesn’t last long. A scream cuts through the rap. A woman is pointing frantically and a man is running the opposite way.
“Somebody, help! He pickpocketed me!” she rapidly points as the thief makes his getaway.
Oh no he doesn’t, he isn’t getting away with this! My legs do all of the thinking. He weaves in and out of the crowd but I manage to keep track. Suddenly he cuts through an alley way, looking behind to see if I'm still following. Unfortunately for him, that leads to a dead end. He is cornered completely. Spectators have slowly filled in the alleyway. The thief's scratchy voice stops the silence.
“Come on, it's just a simple pickpocket. You just had to make a big scene out of this did you?”
“You can’t go around stealing stuff from people, now hand over what you stole.”
All eyes are on me. I can’t back down now. Time to gulp down this anxiety.
Suddenly he pulls out a pistol from his coat. He cocks it, aiming it at my chest. “Or what kid? Don’t make me use this thing!”
Ok maybe it is time to back down. The sweat drips from my forehead as I stare down the barrel. My hands are trembling, telling me I should run but my legs don’t move. If I run, what’s stopping him from shooting anyways? Out the corner of my eye to the left I spot a bag of old flour. That’s right, this is the alley next to the Debonair’s bakery. Just then, I catch a glimpse of pink on the other side of the fence. Now that she’s here, my nerves are beginning to calm down.
“Theo! Why did you run off? What are you-oh my god!” The realization of the situation hits her like a truck.
“Amy, stay on that side. Go get help!” She starts moving, but stops suddenly. Her eyes are filled with worry.
“No, I won’t leave you!” She latches onto the fence, climbing it hastily.
The gun wielding thief spins around, alerted by the rustling sound of the metal fence. The crowd’s chatter mixes in with the tension. His hand is shaking; his eyes dart back and forth between Amy and I. The rustling noise of metal continues. Now is my chance. I dash toward the bag of flour, kicking it toward him. A mist of white soon clouds the air.
“Ah what the-” He staggers around, trying to clear his vision.
Without thinking I lunge at the thief, knocking him to the ground. I grasp the cold pistol, wrestling with him back and forth. I put my weight on his arm, managing to gain momentum in the struggle. Just as I gain the upper hand, my finger slips and he manages grab ahold once more. I’m knocked to the side.
“You shouldn’t have done that!” the scratchy voice seeps through the struggle.
Before I can fully recover; he does the very thing I tried to prevent. BANG! The shot silences the crowd behind us. They quickly disperse, leaving behind an air of fear. My heart is beating so fast I can’t feel a thing. I pat down my chest and that confirms it. No bullet wound or blood. Then I hear a weak voice on the other side of the fence.
“Theo... I don’t think I can do that speech anymore.”
Amy slides down the fence holding her side. She slumps up against the fence, going limp. Blood begins trickling, staining her colorful clothes.
“No! Oh God Amy!”
They always say to be a hero you have to stand in the face of adversity, willingly put yourself in the most unfavorable circumstances. Perseverance to the very core in the name of justice. Like a firefighter saving a child from a burning building or a soldier shielding his allies from a grenade. I gave it my all, and yet Amy is laying on the ground, slowly coughing up bits of blood. Just the sight has made me collapse next to the thief. He is staring in disbelief, frozen at the act he committed.
That bullet was meant for me. I am the one who chased him. I am the one who wrestled with him. I am the one that should be down on that ground. Why is it her? Why isn’t it me damn it? Why? As I kneel, she reaches out and grabs my hand through the fence. I hold onto her tightly, as it’s all I can do. The sounds of sirens blaring draw near, signaling the arrival of the real heroes. The ones who have earned that status. Not just some wannabe who just got his friend shot.
Before I know it, cops are dragging me away from her. Desperately I reach out to her, but to no avail. There are three cops dealing with the thief while I’m escorted out of the alleyway. They have already rolled out the Police tape, barricading the area like a murder scene. Paramedics hastily roll Amy toward an ambulance. She’s completely unconscious due to blood loss. Mr. Debonair, who had been preparing to open the bakery, rushes past the cops questioning him. The burly man bulldozes his way to Amy's side. After a quick conversation, Mr. Debonair hops inside the ambulance along with his daughter. I’m still stunned by all of this; time has slowed down around me. Why didn’t she just run when I told her? If I'm doing something stupid let me go down alone. I didn’t want to drag her into this mess for a reason.
An officer soon approaches me, distracting my thoughts with his words.
“We are going to need you to come down to the station.”
All I can do is nod and follow him to the squad car. Everything around me doesn’t feel real anymore. People have gathered outside their town homes to witness the spectacle. They stare at me like I’m the one who pulled that trigger. In their eyes, I'm just as revolting as the thief. My stomach begins turning at the revelation.
The motion of the car stopping knocks me back to reality. I am escorted into a drab room. The gray and lifeless walls fit my current mood. On the table there is a box with an assortment of donuts. I have no appetite whatsoever. Just then the door swings open; a red-haired man walks through. He takes off his coat, grabs a donut and bites into it. Now he has specs of icing through his beard.
“Sorry for that, had to skip breakfast when I got the call.” he begins speaking after wiping his mouth.
“So kid, do you want to run down everything from start to finish? How did you even end up in that alleyway?”
It’s painful to recollect what took place. From hearing the lady scream, to confronting the thief, to the image of blood spilling from my poor Amy. After speaking, the man begins to ponder.
“So, you chased him and after a struggle, the suspect discharged the gun. I commend you for the bravery but that was highly dangerous.”
“I know it was, but for some reason I couldn’t stop myself. In my mind I was doing the right thing.”
He writes some notes on a pad. “I understand but kid, you’re young. This report here says you are supposed to graduate today. You should be focused on your future.”
His words carry weight, impacting like a train. He’s right, through this whole event I forgot what Amy and I started off the day to do. To graduate, begin the next phase of our lives. The worried voice continues on.
“Kid, do you value others more than yourself? It’s ok to want to help people but you have to still take precaution. You don’t have to be so selfless.”
That is a question Amy has asked before. Why am I so selfless all the time? Well to be completely honest I just enjoy the feeling. Being met with praise and having people lean on you. It’s a great feeling, better than looking out for myself. In a world full of bad people, it is nice to be one who isn’t. Someone who upholds right instead of wrong. But in the case, it seems like wrong prevailed over right. I try and speak back to him, but I can’t muster up any words. The whole gravity of the situation rests on my mind. I don’t want to speak with anyone right now except Amy.
“Do you care whether you live or die?” His seriousness sparks a reaction.
“I don’t know, I don’t think about that stuff.”
After that statement and a few more questions about the scene, the interrogation is over. I won’t be charged for anything because I didn’t break any laws. For now, I’m free to go. Yet it is an empty feeling, as none of this should have happened. If my finger didn’t slip, Amy and I would be walking across the stage right about now.
As I exit the interrogation room, Dad waves me down. He is a sharply dressed man. His shoes click as he strides toward me. In his embrace I smell his signature cologne, the same he's used my entire life.
“Son, I am glad you are safe. I came as soon as I caught wind of what happened.”
“You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had dad.”
Next thing I know, I’m pouring out all of my feelings. It feels great to see him, even on a bad occasion.
After listening for a while dad rubs his chin. “Wow, yeah that is a lot. I do not understand why you would do something so reckless. But that is my son I suppose. Always putting himself before others.”
“This time, I think I may have gone too far.” We begin walking toward the exit.
“Yeah, you did but let's not worry about that now. I have to swing by the museum quickly but afterwards I will head to the hospital. Unless you want to wait, you can go ahead and take the bus.”
The sunlight pierces my eyes as we walk outside. It is around noon now, and the city has mellowed out a bit. I walk toward the bus stop and board it. As I’m sitting down, the person next to me is watching the news on their phone.
“Alexandria Academy was supposed to have its graduation ceremony today, but a shocking event occurred early this morning. Two students were involved in a shooting, with one of them hospitalized. The police have the suspect in custody, and are in the process of releasing an official statement. The academy has decided to postpone its graduation ceremony until further notice.” The news anchor says throughout the video.
The cancelation makes sense. Like hell anybody would want to walk across the stage. Not after what happened. I’d applaud anyone would still would stand up on that stage after seeing their friend get shot. I’m not that kind of person, far from it. Soon I arrive at the hospital, check in at the front desk. Amy is in room 86, so it shouldn’t take long to find her.
As I walk down this shallow hallway, I remember back when I volunteered here. Well it was't that I wanted to at first. It was Dad's bright idea in order to get me out of the house more.That summer was hectic. Going to summer school, coming here for a few hours, then going over to the museum to help dad. I barely got any rest but it didn’t matter so long as I was helping somebody. That is when Amy began her worries; wanting me to take care of my myself more. Funny thing is that she never teased me about any of it, and I was too blind at the time to see why. Now everything is crystal clear, and the realization makes me feel even worse.
After rounding the corner, I recognize Mr. Debonair standing in the hallway. The large man is fidgeting with his apron, perhaps trying to get a stain out of it. He spots me and begins to lumber over here.
“Theo, I’ve been waiting on you. How are you feeling? Still shaken up?”
“I’m doing better.” BANG! Flashes of Amy play through my mind. I wish I could just forget about what happened, but these visions keep coming back.
“Don’t worry, we know this wasn’t your fault. You were trying to do something good. That’s all that matters.”
Hearing that from Mr. Debonair puts me at ease. His daughter is lying in a hospital bed, yet he’s worried about me.
“How is she?” the dreaded question comes out.
“Well, they stabilized the internal bleeding. The bullet barely missed an artery and went straight out. She will make a full recovery, although she’ll probably be here a few weeks. She may be asleep, but feel free to go see her. I know she wants to see you badly.”
I nod and proceed into the room. The light beeping of the medical equipment is the first thing I hear, next is the snoring of Mrs. Debonair on the couch. Poor woman must have worried herself out of energy. I approach the pink haired girl as she lays still. I grab her hand, attempting to avoid messing with the IV. Her blue eyes open with a disoriented stare.
“T-Theo?” she manages to get out.
“Don’t worry, I’m here. How do you feel?”
Amy’s eyes quickly scan the room. “Like this place needs some color. And this hospital gown is the ugliest thing I've ever worn.” she coughs a bit.
Yeah, she is going to be ok if she’s saying stuff like that. It's when she’s not talking like that I truly worry. But I didn’t come here to hear her complain about fashion.
“Look, I have to know. Why did you stay? I told you to leave but you tried to help me. I should have taken that bullet not you.”
Amy forces a smile through the pain. “I told you I'd always have your back, didn’t I?”
“I get that but it still doesn’t make any sense.”
She reaches her hand up, shaking but puts it on my face. “Because every hero needs a sidekick.”
This girl, she is so stubborn but sometimes it gets to me. Tears roll down my cheeks. I don’t deserve her. If I really was a hero, I would have stopped that guy. She shouldn’t be lying in this bed suffering. I spin around away from her, shaking my head in disappointment.
“Come on don’t do that. It's so unattractive to see a man cry.” she teases.
I can’t bring myself to face her anymore, my legs begin to weaken. Flashes of blood splatter turns my mind an eerie red. BANG! BANG! BANG! Gasps come out from the crowd. The gun falls downward in a pool of blood. Amy is slumped on the fence once again. Then I hear the man’s question once more.
“Do you care whether you live or die?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think about that stuff.”
With that the room fades away, my vision becomes blurry. Everything turns into a pitch-black void.