“Today is going to be an amazing day.” I announce as I strut down the stairs into the kitchen.
“I see you’re ready for your presentation today, dressed up all nice.” My mom comments with a smile.
“Last big project of the year.” I say while grabbing a box of cereal from the cabinet.
I always get excited about the last project of the year, the workload consistently waning afterwards. Perhaps I’m less excited about the project and more excited for it to be over, but who could blame me? It’s a sign of the oncoming summertime.
I shove a handful of cereal into my mouth and return the box to the cupboard. I the wave to my mom, pick up my backpack, and rush outside and wait for the bus. When I get it some people are already fully awake, yelling and talking over each other, while others are asleep. I find a seat and try to keep quiet, feeling bad for all the kids that just want to sleep.
First period flies by, my English presentation going flawlessly. Not a single person was paying attention, just how it should be. Now I just have to get through the rest of the day and the next two weeks, then I’ll be free until September.
Second period is physics, not my best class but not my worst. The kid next to me pokes me, and then does it again when I ignore him.
“Natalie,” He whispers, “Did you understand problem 6 in the homework?”
“Shh.” I respond coldly.
Anthony Geller has always struck me as a little weird, too geek-y for my taste. I’ve talked to him maybe twice in the past three years of high school, and I don’t plan to add too much to that number now or next year. I mostly know about him from my friend’s stories. I think he’s part of the chess club or something.
“Natalie, c’mon.” He pleads.
“I didn’t do the homework.” I admit. “I wrote a bunch of numbers so it looks like I did some work, it’s not like she pays any attention to it.”
At this, Anthony stops pestering me. Sure enough, when Mrs. Lane walks around the room to check that everyone did their homework, she glances over mine for a second and moves on, not hesitating to give me full marks for it. Just as she’s finishing walking around the room, a blaring sound fills the room.
A fire drill? I reach in my bag to grab my phone while people begin to line up to go outside. I notice Anthony falling over in my peripheral, and turn to see that someone tripped him. He may not be the coolest, but still that was unnecessary. I offer my hand to help him up, and notice some students have already left the room, including Mrs. Lane. That’s weird, isn’t she supposed to make sure all the students are out first?
“Thanks.” Anthony mumbles.
“No problem.” I respond, distracted.
I look at my phone and decide to text Talia, my best friend, before I leave. It’s not like a teacher is in here to tell me to put my phone away.
-I low-key love fire drills. It’s always fun to get out of class for a couple minutes.-
I click send, before a concerning smell fills my nose. I turn to Anthony.
“You don’t think…?” I begin, but smoke is already pouring into the room.
“We have to get out.” He says as he grabs my hand and starts to run towards the door.
The few other students in the room surround us, also trying to get out. The moment we’re out of the room, the smoke becomes suffocating. Two students rush into it, trying to find the exit, but Anthony runs back into the physics classroom, dragging me with him. The three other students left with us follow, and once everyone is inside he releases me and slams the door shut.
Everyone’s coughing, including myself.
“Why would you take me back in here?!” I scream, my throat stinging as the words escape.
“We’re not gonna make it out that way, we have a better chance making it through the windows in here.” He explains, his voice already becoming raspy.
My phone is buzzing, a lot. I hear my classmates’ doing the same. I look down at it and see panicked texts from Talia.
-Natalie this isn’t a drill!-
-Natalie where are you????-
-I can’t find you!-
I respond saying that I’m still inside, in the physics room. The room has gotten hotter, and the two other girls in the room are crying. The guy is trying to help Anthony open a window, and I go to help, but it’s painted shut. This can’t be happening. This isn’t real.
“Anthony what are we going to do?” I ask, feeling tears begin to drip down my face.
He looks at me, fear filling his eyes. “I don’t know.”
“We aren’t going to make it out of this, are we?”
“Don’t… don’t…” He coughs from the smoke. “Don’t think like that. We’ll be fine.”
“THE DOOR’S ON FIRE.” The taller crying girl yells.
I look at Anthony. “Let’s look through the backpacks to fins something to cut the paint away.”
He nods, and runs to check the backpacks towards the back of the room, and I start checking the ones in the front. I hear a thud and see the other boy laying on the ground. He must have collapsed from the smoke, or maybe fear.
The fifth backpack I check contains a small pocketknife, the blade less than two inches. I wave it to show Anthony and we go back to the window. The fire has started to spread into the room, and the other girls are yelling at us to hurry up. We cut through the paint and both try to push up the window. It budges, just barely, and we continue to push until it’s just open enough to fit a person through.
Luckily this room is on the first floor. The girls crawl out first, before we could even try to help the guy. Anthony and I lift him and push him out, and hear a thud as he hits the grass below. He offers for me to go next, and I crawl out, grateful for the fresh air. I offer him my hand to help him balance while he leaves.
I text Talia to let her know we’re out, and we rush to where the other students are. I spot a firefighter and we go to tell him where the guy who passed out is, knowing neither of us would’ve had the strength to carry him all the way over here. It was difficult enough getting him out of the building.
We all head home, and are notified school is over for the year. I’m supposed to meet up with Talia today, we’re getting lunch. I find Anthony’s number in my phone, I asked him to put it in following the previous day’s events, and text him, asking if he’d like to join us. He agree’s and I send him the time and location.
He and I are both a few minutes early, and I give him a hug.
“You truly are a lifesaver you know.” I joke.
“Couldn’t have done it without you.” He responds, matching my tone.
Talia enters the cafe, and looks back and forth between us for a moment, her eyes settling on me while she gestures towards him. “Why is he here?”
“I invited him.” I answer in the kindest voice I can muster.
“He can’t hang out with us.”
“And why not?”
She lowers her voice to a whisper. “Because he’s weird.”
“I can hear you.” He cuts in.
“Listen,” I begin, “If you hate him so much, you can leave, but personally I don’t care what you or anyone else thinks of him. He’s my friend, and he’s staying.”