My heart pounding in my throat, I pulled the fire alarm. Its blasting siren filled my ears almost as quickly as terror washed over me. With tremulous breath and body, I slipped into the chaotic crowd of students and teachers that were hurrying towards the exits. My brain swam and I hardly recognized the hands that patted me on the back as I walked.
"Way to go, Ben!" The owners of those hands said.
"I didn't do it for you," I breathed, shakily. "I didn't do it for you."
A teacher caught my eye and I quickly jogged deeper into the mob. Finally, I reached the concrete wall where we would line up and peered around me; there were no adults in sight. Just as foreboding, another cluster of beaming, troublemaking boys started towards me and I had to dive behind a redwood tree to escape. A choking sensation spread through me and I breathed heavily in and out, in and out, in and out. Amongst the commotion, I had forgotten to breathe. I pushed my glasses up my sweating nose and pulled off my soaked sweater fest. My tiny, middle school body was not made for stunts like this.
"Ben? What are you doing over here?"
I started at hearing her voice and dropped the glasses I was cleaning off. Mrs- Mrs. Valley. I- It's just that it's so crazy out there."
"Are you okay, Ben?"
I felt guilty at hearing nary an ounce of skepticism in her face- only concern and kindness.
"I'm claustrophobic," I breathed.
"That's okay, Ben. But you know you need to stay where I can see you."
"Yes, Mrs. Valley."
I got up, dust clinging to my trembling form. I tried to look less guilty, but it was no use. Mrs. Valley said some comforting things, but it sounded like I was underwater. The boys were still grinning and the girls looked annoyed. The hook nosed teacher that had seen me earlier was still staring at me. He whispered something to another teacher and I hid behind Mrs. Valley. She was always kind to me and I was glad it was her who found me. Mrs. Valley gestured for me to file into line.
"You really did it, didn't you?" A girl said, Mary.
"That's what they're saying?"
She nodded. "Did you?" She saw my worried face "I won't tell."
Mary was sharp, but in a different way than me. Her blond hair and rosy cheeks spoke to the cheerleader she was. Despite the twitty blonde stereotype, her street smarts were far above mine. I respected that. I wanted to trust her. Despite that, I couldn't make my lips move to confess. Mary seemed to understand.
"You do it for her?"
"Good for you."
She skipped away towards a gaggle of peppy girls. Somehow I knew that my secret was safe. Sadly, I couldn’t say the same for those boys. My only hope was that they lived by some kind of “bro code” or something; I hardly qualified as a “bro” though.
It seemed like we were out there for days; one hour for each pounding heartbeat. I thought it would get better once we were all called inside and the chaos was over- I was wrong. At 11:30 am we filed back into lines and marched into the school like an army of Stormtroopers. The teachers walked up and down the lines, calling out names for roll call. When Mrs. Valley was about to get to mine, I practically froze, waiting to hear if her tone had changed; It didn’t. I wished the hook-nosed teacher would tell her it was me, and she would yell at me. I wished Mrs. Valley would lecture me on how she hated me. Anything would be better than the undeserved trust she had with me. I didn’t deserve it.
“Hey! If it isn’t our little rule breaker!” a football player yelled, ruffling my hair.
We were in the cafeteria now, and there was still no sign of Emma.
“Props for going through with that dare. John over here bet $20 you didn’t have the guts to do it! Boy was he wrong!”
I didn’t turn to look at them.
“Well, a deal is a deal. Here ya go, Benny.”
The boys had overheard my conversation with Emma this morning, and dared me to pull the alarm. That was where I got the idea in the first place.
He thrust a 20 dollar bill into my hand and patted me so hard on the back it made me squish my sandwich in between my chest and the table.
“Opps.”I don’t want you money,” I said, trying to steady my voice.
“You’re a weirdo Benny.”
I was glad to see them leave, but not so happy to feel the jelly and peanut butter dripping down my vest. I asked Mrs. Valley for permission to go wash it off in the bathroom. She wanted me to tell her which boys had done it, but I wouldn’t snitch to her. I thought that maybe it would reset my karma or something. I forgot what Mary called it.
Guilt still turned in my stomach and I was glad to see that the hook-nosed teacher wasn’t there. Otherwise, I think I would have thrown up all over his black suit.
None of the other students seemed to have minded the impromptu fire drill. They just kept smiling and laughing away. The only thing to disprove my hopeful theory that I didn’t actually break one of the biggest rules in the school was the sound of a girl crying in the restroom. She must have been standing pretty close to the fore since I could hear her as I walked past.
I knocked on the door, “Everything okay in there?”
“Yes,” the voice responded.
I wouldn’t have dared enter the girls' bathroom if I hadn’t recognized the voice.
“Emma, I’m coming in.”
She seemed to be alone. Her long brown hair fell perfectly around her shoulders. Her big chestnut eyes shone brightly with tears. A wave of serene calm fell over me.
“Ben?” those beautiful eyes turned towards me.
“Did you get it?” I asked.
“I can’t believe you did that,” she breathed.
“Neither can I, but you would have gotten in serious trouble if they found that note.”
“I know. I just want you to know that I am so grateful I just-”
Emma didn’t get to finish her sentence. Frankly, I wasn’t sorry. That was the first hug I had ever gotten from a girl. Emma’s “friends” had written this horrible letter and signed Emma’s name at the bottom. They hid the note on one of her teacher's desks. Emma wouldn’t tell me exactly what was in it, but she was hyperventilating at the time so it must have been pretty awful. I guess the other girls were mad she hadn’t shown up to something or other. When I saw how scared she was that the teacher would find it, I didn’t know what else to do. So, I pulled the alarm.
“You didn’t have to do that, you know,” Emma said when we broke apart.
“I know, but I did it for you.”
She smiled a big smile. Suddenly, it felt worth it.
“This is sweet,” Mary jested from the doorway. “You got the paper, Em?”
“Give it here, I’ll flush it down the toilet.”
“Alls well it ends well I guess,” Mary saidout that teacher? He knows I did it.”
“The one that looks like a moulting Severus Snape?”
“I took care of it.”
“What did you do?” Emma asked sternly.
“Nothing! Sheesh! I just eavesdropped on his convo with Mrs. Valley.”
“Don’t worry, Ben. He thinks it was me. Only reason he kept staring at you was that he just naturally hates you. Don’t look at me like that, Em! He can’t prove anything against me and Ben’s still gettin’ an A in his class!”
“You’re crazy, Mary,” Emma said.
“It’s not crazy if it works.