“You shouldn’t say shit like that,” I told Davy. Since kindergarten I had known him as Davy; even though he tried hard to rebrand himself as “Dave” in middle school, “Davy” had somehow managed to stick. “Someone is going to take you seriously and call the cops.”
He rolled his eyes at that and held his hand close to the Bunsen burner, inching it as close as he could to the flame. “It’s still a free country, isn’t it?”
I pulled down at his sleeve. “If you set yourself on fire and get us an F on this experiment I’ll get someone to shoot you.”
That made him laugh, a little. He put on his safety goggles and made a show of paying attention. How I got stuck with Davy as a lab partner I don’t even remember. There wasn’t anybody in advanced chem that I liked better, and I was pretty sure I could get Davy to do his share of the work, at least. He was a little weird but basically an okay guy. We both had the last name Jones so we always wound up in lines and on seating charts next to each other. As a kid he was a real sweetheart; he’d had those long eyelashes and towhead curls that the teachers all loved. I remember how he bonded to the class hamster, Nabisco, and how hard he’d cried the day he had to bring it back in from home for someone else to have a turn. “He loves me,” Davy had sobbed. “He’s never even been to your house!”
Now he was tall and skinny with pimples and a musty thrift store wardrobe. Whenever I ran across him, he seemed low-key pissed off, like he had an axe to grind with everyone. He had his friends, I was sure of that, but I didn’t know who they were or what they did together.
I watched Davy as he looked over at that good-looking kid Hank; he was leaning over his table to write something in his lab notebook. A look came over Davy’s face while he watched the kid, hard. A look like pieces of rebar had slid in behind his eyes. I guess he hated the guy for some reason; I didn’t know. I knew that look, though. I’d seen that look on my grandfather’s face when he was drinking. Usually that look was my mother’s cue to stand up and say it was getting late and we should be going and that casserole ought to make a good lunch for him if he wanted to reheat it the next day.
What did I know?
I poked Davy in the arm. “Hand me that test tube.” He did. He slid the safety goggles up on top of his head and looked around the room. “You’re like the only person in here who’s not a complete asshole,” he said critically.
“Including you?” I said, dipping the pipette into the petri dish.
Davy nodded emphatically, invigorated by the banter, proud to claim the label. “Definitely including me. I’m the biggest asshole of them all.”
After the bell rang we walked out into the hall together. Davy said he’d add his half of the lab report to what I’d done already and print it out so we could turn it in the next day. I mentioned something about dressing in school colors for the Friday pep rally and got another eye roll out of him.
“I’ll be so glad when I don’t have to pretend to care about any of this sheeple high school shit anymore,” he said as we walked up to his locker.
“I’ve never noticed you pretending to care about anything having to do with school,” I said dryly and he grinned. He wasn’t so bad, I thought to myself. If he got the chip off his shoulder and dressed halfway normal he’d actually be kind of cute.
I can still remember that I thought that. How could I know?
We stopped at a bank of lockers by the girls’ bathroom. I knew right away which one was Davy’s because it had a skull and crossbones painted on the grey metal door in Wite-Out. He paused to look at me as he turned the combination lock to the left. He didn’t lift up the handle.
“Do you mind?” he said.
“Mind what?” I said.
“Nobody looks in my locker but me,” he said gruffly, and I laughed.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “No one wants to see your gross porno or whatever you’re hiding in there.”
For a second I thought I saw that same hard look come through his eyes again but I smiled and it passed over. “See you tomorrow,” I said, and he nodded.
The next day was a Friday. I had homeroom, then English, then chem lab. Davy didn’t show up to class and I was furious. The teacher told me we could turn our stuff in by email by the end of the day but if she didn’t have it by 5 o’clock we’d have to take a zero.
After lunch the whole school was supposed to go to the pep rally, for the big homecoming game that weekend. I went to use the bathroom on my way to the gym and just as the pep band was starting their first number I realized I’d left my purse hanging off the hook in the stall. I left the gym and walked back out into the hall, down the stairs and around the corner past the science labs.
Davy’s locker was open. That was the first thing I noticed. The second thing I noticed was how quiet it was at this end of the building. You never ever felt that kind of quiet in school in the middle of the day. The next thing I noticed was Davy standing there in the hall, his back to me, looking towards the double doors that led out to the front steps of the school. I recognized the cowlick on the back of his head. It looked like he was thinking of just leaving, walking out and into the September sun like anyone might, on any day.
Then I noticed that he had an assault rifle hooked to his left shoulder with a black mesh strap.
I don’t know how long I stood there. I don’t remember deciding to do, or not do, anything. I don’t remember if I knew what to do. I didn’t know.
“Davy,” I finally said, softly. I said it not knowing if he would turn around, wanting him to. Not wanting him to. I was so afraid. But I said it. I thought about his little boy eyelashes, about the class hamster. I thought about the blue mats we all took naps on and the merry go rounds we all rode on and his picture and my picture side by side in the yearbook, forever linking our faces and our fates and our futures.
He turned around, startled. He raised up his gun but he didn’t point it at me. He just raised it up like it was an extension of his arm and hand, like it was nothing. It could have been the cardboard sword Brad Newlin waved around onstage as Little John in the 3rd grade play. It could have been the trumpet Roxanne Lange was playing in the school pep band. It could have been the wooden broom I dragged around the neighborhood dressed as a Halloween witch, holding my sweaty palm out for Davy Jones’s mom to drop a Tootsie Pop into it. “So scary!” she’d trilled, delightedly. “Take two, sweetheart. I don’t want to get stuck with all this candy.”
He stared at me. I didn’t see the hard look I’d seen in his eyes the day before. I didn’t see anything I recognized at all.
He walked towards me then and I shrank back, against Davy Jones’s locker, shutting my eyes tight against him. But he just walked by and left me standing there. When I opened my eyes again I was alone.
And then I ran. I ran as far and as fast as I could in the opposite direction from which he’d gone. I ran off the school grounds and through the park and I didn’t stop until I felt my lungs would burst. I wound up in the parking lot of a gas station called Nick’s, it was notorious for selling cigarettes to kids from school without checking ID. I went into the store and the woman behind the counter looked at me and smiled. “Whatcha need, baby?” she asked me.
In the distance I heard sirens. I sat down on the filthy floor and I waited. I was 17 years old.
The sirens kept going.
Believe me. Please, forgive me. I didn’t know.