It was an afternoon of waiting.
The day had been as bright as pearls so far, with the December mist hanging in the air. All of it was cement-colored bricks underneath slate skies. All of it looked like the same old, same old. Except that the spinning red and blue sirens now sang outside instead of the birds.
It seemed like every student, parent, and neighbor was out there to watch and listen. Meanwhile, Brian had been in the principal’s office ever since the high school had rung a release for its students one hour ago.
One whole hour. That big, circular white clock on the wall continued to sweep the minutes.
He closed his eyes.
A pair of pumps were clicking hard, back and forth, against the laminate floors out in the hall.
He covered his ears.
The ambulance and police cars were still wailing through his defenses. How was anyone able to stand outside the school’s entrance when Brian could barely muffle all that sound?The longer he was sitting, the more violent his stomach felt. It was a cold boil, a silent scream. Was someone coming for him yet?
Brian knew what the faculty would see when they returned to deal with him: A borderline delinquent with more broken pairs of glasses than his family had been initially prepared to purchase for him, sitting perched on his knees in the sturdy plastic-metal chair.
God, he was going to try convincing his mom of homeschool again once he was home. The moment he thought so, the pacing outside his door stopped. Someone had once told Brian that when Hollywood directors filmed scenes which required audible whispering, they’d have the cast say the word “rhubarb” in a repetitious string. And now, sitting next to the closed office door, he could hear a similar sound: Rhubarb, rhubarb.
Ruling out Spielberg and his army of camera men being out in the hallway meant one possibility for Brian: His mother had arrived. It took only a few moments for his ears to pick up on the voice through the door, but the comforting notes of a Northeastern buttered cod was definitely in the accent. The ringing in Brian’s ears was beginning to fade; a realization then struck him that he could hear again. The ambulance…it was gone.
As if there had never been a need for its big red ass to darken the school’s doorstep in the first place.
He could hear his mother clearly now, weaponized with a burning argument against the school secretary. “You can’t say nothing happened to trigger this. No, don’t tell me he needs therapy. You lost that right when a student in your care died. Maybe what my kid saw was obvious. Maybe you should’ve listened to him!”
An aching beat in Brian’s chest, having been present this whole time, intensified with every pointed word delivered to her opponent. Both earth and firestorm…Tucker. He’d been the one to describe Brian’s mother by those words.
Within a week of transferring schools, the newest kid in class had hit it off with Brian. That in itself was an uncommon occurrence, for while friendships were sacred to him, gaining the confidence and affection of another person was a harder challenge than any level his XBox could offer. Also a rarity, Tucker was a self-described warlock. But he’d been easy to befriend, if not entirely forthcoming. Everything’s water. Everything’s air, he’d say to cause uneasy laughs. Then he’d pretend to float away.
Brian started to rock back and forth, clenching, whimpering as the ghosts squeezed in.
You must like thinking about death, don’t you? EvilsDeath...Principal Schumann had asked Brian upon his no-bars-held sprint to the office.
Azul, had been his exhausted response. EvilsDeathAzul. It’s my screenname. And if we had a fucking Spanish teacher in here, I wouldn’t have to explain that azul is the word for a color, not a demon.
Schumann’s eyebrows had skyrocketed to his hairline. Can you explain why you think Tucker Marshall wants to kill himself? Other than that, by your account, he was going to steal his father’s credit card so you could order a pizza? Did he say anything to you about a plan to commit suicide?
He didn’t say a single thing. I just knew something was wrong.
Brian had bit his lip back, feeling his eyes burn with tears. “Just…find him. Please.”
Brian recalled this exchange with subtle horror, an unprecedented dread that reminded him of black roses and gravestones. It had come about as factual, the answer to a math problem he’d known without solving.
Tucker was found dead before the pizza had arrived, bearing a receipt taped to the box that read, This one’s on me. When questioned about it upon being called back to the school, the delivery driver had simply shrugged, explaining the order had included the written message.
Why Tucker Marshall had thrown himself off a stairwell, no one would care to figure out. His father, the only family he had, was about as aware of his son’s depression as he was about where his wife had run off to.
How Brian had known of the danger would be the talk of students and faculty alike in the coming weeks. He would wait for a moment like that to drop again like a bad shoe, but it would never happen. He’d wait for someone to ask how he was doing now that his best friend was in the ground, but that would never happen either. He would hear later that someone had left black roses at Tucker’s grave. No one could confirm if this was true. The one thing he knew for sure, even when his mother came in with the secretary that day, was that he was alone again. Even so, he raced into her arms, sobbed for eternity in a single minute, and nodded with relief upon her saying once he was finished, “It’s seagull weather. Let’s go home before it rains.”
At home, after his bedtime prayers, Brian wished he would die before having another day like that one. He also half-wished he could have magic like Tucker had claimed to possess, to stop the worst from happening. But he wasn’t like Tucker. Brian’s magic was real.