Chapter 4: Choose

After crying my way through several hours of Powerpuff Girls, I begin to watch Friends reruns. I began to watch the reruns back when I was in tenth grade, back when I thought my life was over. My heart would ache. My real friends were gone and for thirty minutes I could smile. I could feel less alone. I was always sad when an episode would end. I got to be happy for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes of happiness meant so much in the dark that was my life. I watch, hoping they will have that same effect. They will make me smile as they had back then. That for a half hour, I can actually feel like me again, but it’s failing. Friends is failing worse than the Powerpuff Girls. Every joke brings me to tears. These characters have no clue as they sit in their pretty, perfect, everything wrapped up in a neat little package stories. They don’t have a clue. Friends die. Real friends die. They die in a hail of bullets and end up being a name on a list. A name with a description of what they could have been. I want them back, I want Zoey and Brittany back.

After Friends, I end up watching the news all day long. I barely speak to my parents when they get back from work or to my brother who mostly stayed in his room. Matt calls a few times but I don’t want to speak to him. Jennie keeps getting interviewed and then the shooter is revealed. His face appears on the screen and my breath stops. Jerrod Rodgers. Jerrod Rodgers? I pause the television and stand up. I walk over to the window and look at the house right across the street. The Rodgers family. They live next door. I remember Valerie Allerod and her husband talking and pointing to the Rodgers home. I focus on the Rodgers family picket fence, each post painted a different color of the rainbow. There are peace signs painted on the fence too. I am going to throw up.

I turn back and walk towards the television and unpause it only to pause it again when his face appears on the screen. They are showing Jerrod’s black-and-white yearbook photo against the background of the school. Jerrod has dark hair and is giving the camera this eager smile, like he’s desperate to please and he was. He was always eager to please. He had been my only friend during those days of tenth grade. When the Friends reruns were no longer doing it for me, I’d go to his house and we’d drink and smoke pot but then I turned everything around. I needed my life back and I dumped him. When Matt and I got back together, when my friends accepted me back, I dropped him. He was so hurt when I did that. Is that why he killed Zoey? And Brittany? Did he kill them to get back at me for dumping him as his friend?

I unpause the television and feel sick. Then the reporters mention Brittany. She’s not a victim, but my feelings of momentary joy are quickly dashed. She had run out of the school as the shooting began. She was a person of interest. Why? The reporters say she had dinner with Jerrod the night before the shooting. I can’t breathe. The police interviewed her. She never called me to say she was okay. She never told me any of this. She let me go twenty-four hours thinking she was dead. That’s unacceptable and since when had she been friends with Jerrod? I get up, this time not pausing the television. I hear the reporters talking about Brittany and her connection to Jerrod and I open the door to the bathroom. I fall down to the floor and throw up. I begin crying. I can’t stop. This is too much. It’s too much. I can’t do this. I look down and notice Lola beside me again, licking my hand. I pick her up and hold her, burying my face into her fur, the tears don’t stop. I want a drink but I can’t. I can’t. Why did Jerrod do this? Why did he have to bring a gun to school? What did Brittany know? Too many questions as I look down at Lola staring up at me with those dark brown eyes. She moves her head forward to lick me again. If only that would make everything okay.

Holding Lola, I make my way back to the couch but I can’t watch the news. I can’t handle anymore information. I can’t handle listening to stories about Brittany or my neighbor killing people. I sit on the couch and switch to the DVD player and load in a Friends DVD. One by one, starting with the first episode and silently daring them to make me laugh. Make me happy. Do your jobs. It’s not working. I remain there all day. I have not felt this way since tenth grade. No this greater than anything that had happened to me in tenth grade. I taunt those six fictional characters. Make me laugh, bitches. I dare you.

I do not move from the couch except to change DVDs and somehow get talked into going to a candlelight vigil in the park to remember the victims. My parents think it will be good. My brother is going. I can’t sit and watch television for twenty-four hours. It’s not healthy. How do they know? Have they ever tried? It’s perfectly healthy. Nothing will happen to me if I watch television for twenty-four hours. My best friend won’t die. My other best friend won’t be a person of interest and my neighbor won’t kill people for sport. On television, everything is nice and neat and funny, but because my parents won’t leave me alone and I can’t muster up the energy to continue refusing, I go.

I turn off the television and walk back upstairs to my room. I look around and grab a pair of jeans off the floor, giving them a quick sniff before okaying them. They’re clean. I put them on and then turn to go look for another sweatshirt. I look through my drawers before pulling out my Bayat Buffaloes sweatshirt and pull on a pair of sneakers. I walk into the bathroom and open the drawers, pulling out make up. I put on some concealer, blush, lip gloss, and eyeshadow and decide to pull my hair back into a ponytail. A ponytail is really the only hairstyle that matches the jeans and sweatshirt ensemble. As I reach for a hair band in my make-up drawer, I feel a small, jagged piece of metal. I pull it out and stare at it. In fourth grade, Zoey, Brittany, and I had gotten those Best Friends necklaces. We got the ones split in threes. We would be Best Friends Forever. That was our motto. I clutch it so tightly, I can feel the little jagged points poking me. Tears start falling again. This isn’t fair. This is so not fair. I am a good person. I did nothing to deserve this. I veered off course two years ago. I’m fine. I worked so hard to turn everything around. What did I do wrong? This just….it’s not fair. I hear my mom calling from downstairs. I have to stop crying. I wipe the tears away and put on the necklace. That matches. I grab a hair band from the drawer and pull my hair back before going downstairs.

My street is deathly quiet. As I walk out of the house and toward the car, I look at the Rodgers’ house. Their lights are on. I wonder for a moment if Brittany is there. I wonder what they’re talking about? I shake my head as I get in and my father backs out of the driveway and drives toward the park. The first stop sign is right at the corner of my street and Clementine Road. I let out a gasp. Zoey lived on Clementine. So many times I ran down my street and turned the corner on to hers. Every time we’d pass it, we’d sing that old camp song, “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’…Clementine. You were lost and gone forever. Oh my darlin’, Clementine.” I guess I don’t need to turn on that street anymore.
Everything feels so dark as my dad drives to the park. My mom and dad in the front seat, my brother and I in back. The sounds of the Eagles are coming from the radio… “living it up at the Hotel California…do, do, do…” My dad loves the Eagles. They’re fine, I guess. Right now, I find them annoying. I find the song annoying too. I keep staring out the window at the street lights lining Main Street. Everything seems to be closed. The Eagles are the only ones breaking the silence of the car, “It’s a lovely place, such a lovely place…”

“We were planning a prank,” Adam says. I shake my head as I look at him. My dad turns the Eagles off as my mom looks back toward Adam.

My dad turns the Eagles off as my mom looks back toward Adam.
“What?” I ask.
“Will and I. Mom dropped me off and I saw Will. I told him that you refused to take me to school yesterday and were eating at McDonalds with your friends. We went into the library ‘cause we were gonna to play a prank on you. We were debating between taping up the inside of your locker so you would have to take out all this tape before you could put books in or take ’em out. The second one was we were gonna to take rolls of toilet paper from the bathroom and stuff them in your locker. We weren’t sure what and then the guns went off and we thought they were paintball guns. We thought it was so awesome that you could play paintball in high school. Then someone ran in and said we had to hide because someone had a gun. Then this guy came in with a mask on and just started shooting and got Will. He just slumped over. His head went on to the keyboard and there was blood. I’ve never seen that much blood, real blood. I wondered where Allie was, I hoped she was with her friends or late ‘cause Shane probably didn’t take her to school either.”
“He didn’t,” I say.

Adam takes a deep breath and turns to look out the window. The silence fills the car again. I look toward my parents. My dad quickly lifts his hand up to his cheek and wipes a tear away. I’ve never seen my dad cry and I don’t like that he’s crying. Dads aren’t supposed to be crying. They’re supposed to be strong and brave and tell us there are no monsters and we’ll always be safe. They’re supposed to be the ones that guide us and protect us. They tell dumb jokes and make cinnamon toast and convince us they have magical powers that change red lights to green just by telling the lights to change. They teach us how to change tires and tell us who to root for during sports games, but they’re not supposed to cry and besides he’s been through this before. His sister, my aunt Heather, died in a car accident twenty years ago. She was killed by a drunk driver. He should know exactly what to say, but instead, he’s silent. He reaches down for the radio again and turns it on. Once again, the Eagles fill the car and this time they’re singing about something else. I don’t listen.

After finding a place to park, we walk toward the large group of people gathered together holding white candles in Styrofoam cups. There’s some lady whom I don’t know releasing doves into the air and there are cameras. Of course. In the front of them is Jennie. She is standing tall, all five feet four inches of her with white blonde hair and saucer-like crystal blue eyes. She’s become our spokesperson. Really? She barely lives here. I have never seen the park this packed.
Kelly races toward me. She’s smiling. She’s always smiling, always dripping with sweetness. She never has a bad word to say about anyone. She radiates sunshine, puppies, ponies, and rainbows. I really don’t like her sometimes. When she reaches me, she throws her arms around me and I feel sunburned. I’m severely sunburned and she’s hugging me. I want to tell her to stop but you can’t get mad at a puppy. They’re only puppies.
“Hey, Kelly,” I say.
“You know, I tried calling you today.”
“I’m sorry. I just…I wasn’t in the mood to talk.”
“I get it. Believe me, I get it,” she says before looking around me and at my parents. “Um, Mister and Missus Donovan, can I steal your daughter?”
“Yeah,” my mom says, smiling at me. My dad gently squeezes my shoulder.
“Kelly, have you seen Allie?” Adam asks.
“Yeah, I have…she’s somewhere. I saw her with Shane and…you want me to take you too?” Kelly asks.
Adam looks at Kelly and then back at my parents, who simply just nod at him to go. The three of us begin to walk toward the crowds of people. I keep looking at the faces of the people standing together, singing songs, swaying, crying. There are way too many people here. I know everyone in this town. There are people clearly not from here. The people wearing board shorts and t-shirts, clearly from San Diego. The people wearing skinny jeans with designer purses looking like they’re stepping out of the pages of Vogue, they’re from Los Angeles. They’re infiltrating us from both sides. I’m willing to bet that until yesterday, people from. L.A. and San Diego had no clue we existed, but now all attention is focused on us. Disgusting. They don’t live here. They’ve never been interested in us before and now suddenly we’re a tourist destination. Seriously? We’ve become that. A freak show tourist destination. Come one, come all…come to the town where people die. Remember to bring a camera and some sunscreen. I want to kick them.
“Who are all these people?” I ask.
“People who want to support us and help us in our time of need,” Kelly says.
“They’re sick. Do they get some sort of kick out of people’s misery?”
“They mean well.”
“They can go fuck themselves.”

Kelly gives me a little smirk and grabs my hand. She begins to pull me through the crowds of people, all swaying and staring at their candles. Zoey would laugh at this. She would’ve said something like everyone looks like they’re about two steps away from joining a cult.
Allie Bianco, Shane’s little sister, is standing with a couple friends of hers that I don’t recognize. She’s definitely getting tall and pretty, long white blonde hair, sky blue eyes that perfectly match her big brother’s. Adam calls Allie’s name. She turns and immediately runs to him, throwing her arms around him before turning to me and Kelly.
“Why did this happen?” Allie asks.

She looks at me with a similar look to the one she had when she was in second grade and was sobbing on our doorstep when her and Shane’s beloved puppy ran away from home. She had even asked the same question. I look over at Kelly, who merely shrugs.
“I don’t know,” Kelly says.
“They said on the news it was because Jerrod was bullied,” Allie says.
“He wasn’t bullied. Jerrod was the one that brought the guns to school. He killed innocent people who did nothing. Don’t start with the bullying theory. You want to know what bullying feels like, I’ll show you what bullying feels like,” I say.

A few people turn, Adam and Allie just stare at me, blank looks on their faces. I bite my bottom lip and take a deep breath. Kelly grabs my hand.
“We should go,” Kelly says.

She pulls me off as we continue walking, when she suddenly stops and looks at me. “But Nick…you can’t be so angry.”
I glare at her and take a deep breath. She has no right to tell me how to feel. I will be angry. I will yell and scream and tell people to go eff themselves if I want too. It is my right.
“Your best friend got shot in the face too, so tell me why I shouldn’t be angry?”

Kelly shuts her eyes and looks up as if she’s thinking deeply about something. I contemplate asking her what she’s thinking about, but then quickly decide I don’t want to know. She opens her eyes again and we walk until we reach our friends. Shane, Lexie, Chris, Matt, and Brittany. Brittany makes me want to throw up again. She caused this. This was her fault. She ran. She vanished, letting me think she had died too.
“Brit…saw you on the news today. Shocked the cops let you come. I figure you’d be rotting in a prison cell somewhere,” I say.
“Good one,” Rachel says, which makes me jump. I hadn’t even noticed Rachel standing there. She hasn’t hung out with us since ninth grade. Since I started becoming more popular than her. But I kinda like having Rachel near me right now.
“Excuse me?” Brittany asks.
“Nick…” Matt says.
“She had dinner with Jerrod,” I say. “You knew this was gonna happen.”
“How the fuck would I know? We talked about music, not about killing people,” Brittany says.
“You could have stopped this.”
“I didn’t know—”
“You ran away, Brittany. I thought you were dead. You made this happen. Why couldn’t you have stopped this?”
“Guys,” Kelly says.
“I didn’t do anything,” Brittany says.
“Then where the hell were you?” I ask.
“Probably getting more ammunition, right?” Rachel asks.
“Probably,” I say.

My heart starts pounding. There are very few times in my life where I really want to just be one of those Mean Girls. Rachel is a Mean Girl. We used to be the best of friends until I beat her for Freshman Princess and then suddenly she no longer wanted to be my friend. I feel encouraged with Rachel standing there. I want to fight back.
“Come on you two. We can talk about this later. Right now, we just need to be together,” Kelly says.
Sometimes I wish Kelly with stop with all her sunshiney, let’s hold hands and sing happy songs crap. “The only place Brittany needs to be is in a prison cell.”
“Weren’t you friends with Jerrod?” Brittany asks.
“In tenth grade. We didn’t plot to kill anyone,” I say.
“Nick, is this necessary?” Matt asks.
“So, guys….the media is driving me crazy with all their interview requests,” Jennie says as she walks toward us with this bright smile on her face and a look in her eye like she’s thoroughly enjoying all of this. I roll my eyes.
“You make me sick, Jen,” I say.
“Nicole,” Matt says.
“Wait, what?” Jennie asks.
“You don’t live here, Jennie. You come here for three months at a time to prove to people you’re normal. It’s ridiculous. You don’t know anything. If anyone should be talking to the reporters, it should be Brittany. She was best friends with the killer,” I say.
“I was not their best friend.. That was you,” Brittany says.
“They requested interviews with me. I didn’t seek them out,” Jennie says.
“Bullshit, Jen…you—”
“We need to talk,” Matt says.
He cuts me off and grabs my arm. He pulls me off to the side, turns me around, and places his hands on my shoulders. He stares at me, looking at me in the eyes, a look that always makes me nervous ’cause I know he sees right through me. I look off to the side and then back at him.
“Nick, I know you’re angry—“
“I’m not angry.”
“Alright, yeah….you need to stop. You can’t jump down Jennie and Brittany’s throats. Jen’s an actress and you know her parents probably played a huge role in getting those interviews, and Brittany, you really think she’d be behind something like that?”
“I don’t know. She’s friends with a lot of people.”
“She’s also a waitress at Mike’s. They were at Mike’s. Maybe it’s as simple as her shift was over and she decided to eat with him?”
I close my eyes, trying not to cry again. I look at him.
“We knew him. We all knew him. Why didn’t anyone know this? Why couldn’t anyone have stopped this? Jerrod lived next door to me. I know we were only friends for three months but…I dumped him. When things became good for me again, I dumped him. Why…why couldn’t I have stopped this? He took my best friend…and…and…why didn’t you try to save Zoey. She was sitting right next to you. You didn’t try hard enough to save her. But why did they want to kill her? She didn’t do anything wrong.”

Tears fall fast, shooting like bullets down my face. I want to go home. I want to sit in my bedroom and stare at the ceiling. I want to get away from all of this. Matt takes me in his arms as I shake. As I close my eyes, I see Zoey’s bloodied face in my head and my cries become louder. Why….can someone please tell me….why.
“Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me….”
That voice stops me. It always stops me. I recognize it anywhere. I lift my head off Matt’s chest and turn toward Lexie. Her beautiful chilling voice cuts through the darkness and sadness of the night. No one joins in to sing with her, just letting her voice speak for everyone standing there. I can feel goose bumps as she hits those same notes that managed to silence a room full of seventh and eighth graders during the Winter Concert all those years ago. That voice is now silencing an entire park. Everyone standing there in a trance listening to one girl singing “Amazing Grace” and hitting high notes that I can never remember the names of and when she hits that one note that always reminds me of a whistle, I can almost detect gasps from the crowd. I look up and wonder if Zoey is listening. I bet she’s smiling if she is. She probably is. She was the one who was always telling us that Lexie was going to be a huge super star singer one day and after years of listening to her, I believe it.
Matt grabs my hand and pulls me toward our friends. Kelly puts her arm around me and hugs me. We all stand together, the only sound is that of Lexie singing. The sky looks so dark and the weather is still a little warm. I feel a slight breeze and as I look up at the sky, I see lights from a plane zooming across . . . going somewhere. I wonder about the people on the plane, so oblivious to what they’re flying over. They’re sitting there, eating their bags of nuts, watching movies or reading books. They’re going on vacations or to visit family. The lights of the plane soon vanish. The people from Los Angeles and San Diego will soon vanish as well. They’ll go back to their lives, to their homes. They’ll feel sorry for us but they’ll rest easy, they’ll post sad statuses on Facebook and then go to sleep watching late night talk shows. Much like the people on the plane, they get to leave. This is temporary for them. A temporary stop. This is my home. Soon Lexie’s voice vanishes and the song is over and the silence covers us again. I stand, wishing I could somehow vanish as well.






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