“Oh, Fran! Guess what?” Dusty talks so fast I could hardly guess what she is saying. “We’ve been asked to give our presentation at the All Schools Festival Saturday!”
I am just as caught up in her excitement. “Dusty, that is like hundreds of people!”
“I know! This is so awesome!”
I instant message Annie. She IMs back she knows about it: Brian, Collin, Justin, and Timothy will be the featured first act.
Back to Dusty, I say, “Are we going to take a bus to the university?” I just cannot picture us in our togas on the bus, targets for the badgers.
Annie texts me: cn’t b thr mall rats. Which means she is going shopping.
Dusty has slowed her speech down to normal. “No, parents can come, too. Tho, I think my Mom may not be able to stay for the whole thing. Do you think your Mom can pick us after the reception?”
I put my celly down and holler, “Mom!”
She doesn’t answer me. “I’ll call you back, Dusty. Bye.”
Mom is right next door to my room in the computer room. I stare at her for a whole minute. “Mo-m! Can you take me and Dusty to the university for the festival?”
She ignores me. “Mom? Anybody there?”
She finishes typing and turns to me. “I am not going to respond to you yelling at me, Fran. Show a little respect.”
Sheesh, what a frumpy grump. I go to her and tickle her ear. “Dusty and I have been invited next Saturday to the All Schools Festival to do our little toga thing.”
“Well,” she laughs and slaps my hand away, “I guess I could.”
So it is arranged. “Dusty, we won’t have to be on the bus with the badgers.”
Dusty and I squeeze in a rehearsal during the week, making Dean sit through it and critique us. Mrs. Connor offered some advice, too, about speaking to the audience and making eye contact.
“I have math and science finals. Boy, I’ll be glad to have this week done!”
Dean and I simultaneously turn to wave good-bye to Dusty.
“Yeah, me too. M-m-my Dad says he’ll take me to Montana for a fishing and camping trip if I get good grades.”
“No-brainer! You and Dusty have straight A’s!”
“One B. But it sure helped to ace Mrs. Hammershaw’s class!” We stop before we get to my front door. “See you at lunch.”
That adorable half-smile of his. “Bye.”
The week was frantic with cramming for science and English, but it helped to sit with Dean and Dusty and study during lunch, and review some during our walks home.
Saturday of the festival, the sun broke out in the blue sky, making me feel like God smiled on us. Our presentation went smoothly, lots of applause, but Brian and his badgers wowed the audience. Even I had to hand it to them they were extraordinary. They even looked good in their suits and ties.
Dusty and I changed into jeans and tees after the reception and met Dean outside. He walked between me and Dusty where we were to meet my mother, a block from the bus stop where Brian, Collin, Justin and Timothy were horsing around as the bus pulled to a stop. People poured from the metro, spilling around the guys. Justin craned his neck, caught sight of me and hollered, “Hi! Fran! Hey!”
I gave a little half wave, hoping that would be enough for him. Please, let that be their bus, I prayed silently. I turned my back to them and asked Dean how he thought we looked on stage.
“V—ve-very good. Course, I knew it by heart, so probably am not the best judge.”
“Can’t you just give a compliment, Dean?” Dusty playfully punched his shoulder. “We were awesome and you know it.”
Then profanity interrupted our conversation. Brian and the badgers were arguing with some unfriendly guys about something.
“Uh-oh, looks like it’s getting ugly,” Dusty pointed to the one mean looking dude with a skateboard yelling obscenities.
“I think porker met his match,” I had hoped that someone, some day, would come along and teach Brian a lesson, and maybe today was just that day.
In a flash, a skateboard whacked Collin upside his head. He slumped to the ground as the assailants fled. I gasped, holding my breath. I could not move a muscle. In the weirdest way, it seemed everyone had disappeared but Brian, Timothy, Justin, me, Dean and Dusty.
Dean ran. Dusty and I sort of grabbed each other and ran, too. Dean was kneeling beside Collin. Blood oozed down the side of his head, pooling around his ear.
“He’s not breathing!” Dean loosened Collin’s tie, then began CPR.
“Call 911!” he barked.
“They’re coming!” I yelled back.
I watched a thin red line of blood trickle out of Collin’s nose, edging around his upper lip, down his chin.
The operator kept saying, “Miss? Miss? Could you tell me your name?”
The insistent voice of the operator got my attention. I answered all her inane questions. I wondered if she could hear me, my heart beat so loudly. Finally, the police and ambulance and my mother showed up all at the same time. Or it seemed that way.
Brian, Timothy and Justin were talking with the police as the medics rushed to where Collin lay. I heard one of the medics tell Dean that he had done the right thing, probably saving Collin’s life.
Dusty and I gave lame descriptions of the assailants. The only thing I could remember about the one who had the skate board is that he wore a dark blue or black watchman’s hat. Other than that, I hadn’t seen his face for his scraggly hair.
We were pretty quiet on the ride home. Even my Mom had the good sense not ask how the presentation had gone.
“My backpack! I left it on the sidewalk!” I wailed.
“I did, too!” Dusty and I both looked back, like we might see our backpack with legs running after us.
“I got them,” my mother said. “Yours, too, Dean.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Reed.” Dean sort of melted back into the car seat and closed his eyes.
“Are you going to be sick?” whispered Dusty.
Dean shook his head ‘no’. Both Dusty and I sat in silence until we got home.
“What do you think is going to happen with Collin?” Dusty asked, to no one in particular.
My mother scanned us. “I’ll try to find out and let you know. Say a prayer for him.”
I gave Dean his backpack, then Dusty hers. “See you later.”
Before either one moved, I added, “Unless you want to go for a walk with me and the dogs.”
The Three Musketeers must have sensed what mood we were in, for they all were toned down about three octaves. The three of us each had one of them and we walked without talking.
I took Porthos’ leash from Dusty when got to her house. “Bye!”
She turned before going inside. “Fran, in spite of what happened today, I think we were great! And, Dean, nice move on the CPR.”
“Th-thanks. We should all take a class.”
“Yeah, good idea!” I said, and Dusty chimed in with her approval.
Dean and I walked back to the Wessenfeld’s discussing only what the dogs were doing, not doing, should be doing and of course, did.
“You know what was weird?” I opened the gate and let the dogs in as Dean followed and latched the gate. He helped unleash the dogs.
“The only thing I could hear was the slap-slap of my sandals as I was running. That’s all I can remember until the phone call to 911.”
Dean brushed his hand across my arm. “I’m going home now. Bye.”
“Bye.” Porthos torpedoed me just then and I had a moment of complete terror of knocking Dean down, but he caught me and steadied me.
For some reason, we both cracked up and couldn’t stop laughing. Finally, Dean let go of me, darn it! and gave me a sweet half-smile as he left.
When I got home, I checked my email. Nothing from Annie and she hadn’t texted me or answered her cell. I wanted to talk with her and tell her what had happened, wanted her to know what I know. Well, I hope that she’s having fun. I gave up and practiced the trumpet until dinner.
Nothing from Annie Sunday. Mom talked with Collin’s aunt at church and found out that he was in a coma. I felt like I was in limbo.
Monday morning I got to school early for music practice. Outside by the main doors, I saw Marcy and her fan club. I had just about gotten past Marcy without her noticing me, but she looked up with a twisted smirk. “Hey, Fran! Heard about Annie?”
My stomach cinched and it hurt to breath. I was so afraid to hear what she was going to say.
“She got busted for shoplifting.”
A thousand thoughts raced through my head. All I could do was hard stare Marcy. I had the presence of mind to walk away.
I didn’t see Annie at school for the next three days. Friday morning was our last day of finals and I had only my trumpet solo. Dean and Dusty and I walked together to school. We didn’t speak about the incident, except to tell what we knew about Collin’s condition, which hadn’t changed. I didn’t say anything about Annie, but of course, everyone knew.
Annie always came to school with Ursala and Sue to hook up with Marcy at least fifteen minutes before first bell. I thought it odd when I saw Annie climb out of her mother’s car.
Gad, she’d been shorn of all her hair! It was short. And it made her look like a little girl.
She bounded up the stairs to join the group. Marcy turned to her, with one scan and sniped, “Well, if it isn’t Saint Ann.” Then Marcy turned her back on Annie.
Poor Annie! Her shoulders slumped and she stared fixedly at the ground as she turned away.
“Annie!” I called out to her. “Come over here!”
She hesitated before she joined us. “You heard? I couldn’t call you, my Dad threw my celly in the trash. No computer, except for homework.” She wouldn’t look at me.
“Are you all right?” Dusty asked her, and I was surprised because I suspected Dusty didn’t like her much.
Annie didn’t say anything.
“Sit with us at lunch, Annie. We’ll talk about this.” I reached over and took her hand. “We’re your friends.”
It was a long morning until lunch. Annie stood at the end of the food line, staring over at Marcy and her mimes, before coming to our table. Dean scooted away from the middle, leaving a space for her to sit next to me.
She pushed around the mac-and-cheese with a fork. “Well, you might as well hear the whole story. I got busted in Target. A bottle of wine. Cops came. Called my mom and dad. They came. Had to go to the police station. See a counselor.” She speared a noodle and twisted it, over and over, without eating it. “It’s called the Diversion Program. I have to do community service and restitution. And community service hours for the school.” A tear slipped down her cheek. “My life is pretty much over.”
Dusty didn’t say anything right away but watched Annie for a minute. “Your life isn’t over, Annie. It seems to me you’re lucky to have gotten a second chance.”
“I can’t ever go back into any Target store, anywhere until I’m eighteen and my record is erased! Like, what is the big deal?! They’re like one of the biggest corporations in the world. It’s not like I hurt anyone. Oh, so lucky am I!”
Dean made a funny face. “Well, maybe you are lucky! Collin isn’t so.”
“You’re so not funny!” Annie throws her fork down. “What do you know, anyway?”
“Annie, please,” I grab her hand and hold it, “don’t get mad at us. We’re trying to lighten things up. It’s not the end of your life.” I’m thinking that it could have easily been the end of her life if she hadn’t thrown up the booze and pills. “How many hours of community service?”
“From today until the start of school. All summer. Every day, even Sundays, something with the church. No exceptions. No vacation.” She swallows hard. “My dad asked them to put one of those ankle monitors on me, you know, for alcohol. They wouldn’t do it.”
Dean doesn’t know anything about Annie’s family life. “Maybe he’s just trying to keep you sober.”
“Shut up!” Annie hisses.
I don’t know if I’m mad at him for saying that or not, but in a strange way, he’s right. “Annie, listen to me. Maybe this is your second chance, you know, to be someone you’d like to be. You know?”
“Et tu, Frantu?” She glares at me.
The bell clangs, ending our conversation. We all exchange quick glances before collecting our backpack. As Annie stands up, Marcy passes by, catches Annie’s attention, and makes an ‘L’ with her fingers on her forehead. Dusty picked up Annie’s lunch tray and took it away. Annie stood for an eternity with her hands dangling by her side before she finally snatched her backpack and hurried to class.
Dean walked beside me to my locker to get my trumpet. “Are you mad that I said that to Annie?”
I shrug. Then consider it. “No, friends tell each other the truth. Annie needs to hear the truth. Only,” I look at him for a long moment, “her dad isn’t the nicest guy in town.”
I’m next to the last one to present my piece. I’ve been thinking of Annie the whole time and my heart is heavy with mixed feelings of concern and dread. I play Call Me When You’re Sober with Annie in mind. I play the piece. I really play it.
The band instructor is impressed. How ironic. Let me use all this pain for an A, thank you, God.
Collin died the morning of the last day of school. The announcement was made at the awards assembly. His funeral is Saturday morning.