Now That You’re Here: Life Moves On
WARNING: THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS SCHOOL VIOLENCE
Brian was starting to get antsy. He wasn’t sure how long they had been in the closet and he knew that eventually the kids were going to start asking more questions he didn’t have answers to. It was hard to know how long they had been there. Time seemed to stand still. He needed to go out and see if he could hear anything.
“Okay, listen up everybody,” He whispered as loudly as he could. “I’m going to slip out and see if I can hear anything. I need you all to stay here and be as quiet as you have been.”
“I know you’re all scared, but I need you to do as I ask. I’m not going to do anything to draw attention to myself. I just…I can’t sit here and wonder what’s going on out there. For all we know, whoever was in here is gone now, but it could take a while for someone to find us in here. I promise I’ll be careful.”
Once Brian was sure that the kids were okay, he quietly left the small space. The library was in the center of the school and he had shut the lights off and pulled down the blackout curtains before they went into the closet, so it was dark in there. The only light was the light coming off the exit signs. He made his way to the front set of doors and once again listened for sounds coming from the hallway. He didn’t hear anything. He wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not, but he decided to think positive. He knew he was taking a risk, but he slowly opened the door and peeked out. He didn’t see anyone so he started to venture out. From the left he could hear what sounded like a soft whimper. He walked down the hall and took a deep breath before peeking around the corner. He saw Mrs. Hagel lying on the floor, blood pooling by her side.
“Kathleen!” he exclaimed as quietly as he could. He was at her side immediately. “It’s me, Brian. Can you hear me?”
“Bri…an. Go. Get out of here. He could come back,” she said softly and then groaned. “Leave me here.”
Brian knew there was no way he was going to leave his co-worker and friend alone to possibly bleed out. He quickly took his blazer off and balled it up before placing it on her side where she had apparently been hit by a bullet. “I’m not leaving you alone. Now, how bad is it? Do you think you can stand up if I help you?”
“I…I think so. It hurts like hell…but I gave birth…twice. I think I can handle a little…bullet hole,” she teased through the pain. “But if that bastard…comes back, save yourself.”
“Let’s not worry about that now. I’m going to carefully lift you up. Let me know if you need me to stop.”
“I’m ready. Let’s get…out of this…hallway.”
Brian lifted the older woman up and helped her to stand, then guided her to the library. “Do you have a first aid kit around here? I need to see if I can stop the bleeding.”
Brian led her to the office behind the checkout desk and settled her in the chair. He shut the door and pulled down the blackout curtain before turning on the light. “Is it alright if I lift your blouse and see what we’re dealing with?”
“Such a gentleman,” she replied. “Do what…you gotta do.”
Brian lifted the garment and was thrilled to see that the bullet had just grazed her. “Okay, it’s not so bad. It looks like you are one lucky lady. Here, keep applying pressure while I get the kit and see what I can do. Where is it?”
Brian grabbed the first aid kit out of the closet and quickly got to work bandaging up the wound. She was going to need stitches, but his doctoring skills were good enough to keep her from leaving a blood trail behind her.
“So, what happened?” he asked as he finished up and then killed the lights. He didn’t know if the danger had been alleviated, so he didn’t want to draw attention to them if the shooter made their way into the library. “Did you see who shot you? Was there more than one?”
“Brian…it was Willie,” Kathleen said softly.
“Willie? You mean Willie, Willie?”
She nodded. “Yeah, Willie the shop teacher. Although, it didn’t look like him; not in his eyes.” Kathleen moaned softly as she got up off the desk she had been sitting on. “I never saw him like that.”
“Isn’t he on…like a leave of absence?”
“He is, but it wasn’t voluntary. His wife left him about six months ago and I guess he hasn’t been handling it too well. I know he’s been drinking a lot. I noticed it a few times during staff meetings. I could smell it. I guess Principal Johnson noticed and told him that he either had to go out on a leave of absence and work on getting better or he was going to lose his job. He chose to go on leave, of course…but I guess he didn’t get the help he needed. I could tell he was drunk when I ran into him in the hallway. He had these wild eyes. I don’t know. I don’t think his plan was to kill me. I was standing right in front of him. He could have sprayed me with bullets. All he said was to get out of his way. And when I asked him what he wanted, he took a shot and then said HE knows what I want. The bullet hurt like a son of a gun. I immediately went down. I think I passed out for a few. The next thing I remember is hearing footsteps. I thought he was coming back for me but thank God it was you.”
Brian was trying to wrap his head around what he was hearing. He didn’t know Willie that well. English teachers and Shop teachers didn’t really travel in the same circles in the school, but he was a co-worker who Brian had spoken to several times during the couple of years he had been employed there. He couldn’t believe Willie would come in with the intent to hurt someone…but to take a shot at Kathleen? If you Goggled Librarian, you would see a picture of Kathleen. She was older. Probably in her late 50’s, early 60’s and everyone loved her. Brian himself found her to be very caring and easy to talk to. He turned to her in the last couple of years more than his own mother, who he rarely spoke to despite their semi-reconciliation right after Chris’s cancer diagnosis. He didn’t have time to dwell on any of it though, not at that moment when there was man with a gun possibly still roaming the building.
“Alright, regardless of who Willie is looking for, I’m sure I don’t want to see him. My class is in the AV closet. Why don’t we make our way back there and hang out a little longer? I hate not knowing what’s going on…”
“But our training states that it’s our job to hide with our students and wait until someone comes and finds us. I know. Let’s go.”
Brian and Kathleen made their way to the closet, both hoping that Principal Johnson and everyone else in the building were okay.
Justin glanced at his phone again, wondering why time was moving so slowly. He had been standing at the police barricade for over twenty minutes and getting frustrated because he hadn’t heard anything new. He had hoped Matt would have updated him by that point, but his phone stayed silent. He knew he needed to reach out to Zander. He wanted to have more news before he made the call, but he didn’t want to wait any longer. He didn’t want him to find out what was happening on social media. He sighed as he placed the call.
“Hey buddy, what’s up?”
“Hey Zan, where are you right now? Are you at the center? I didn’t interrupt anything, did I?”
“No, I just finished up with a client and have the next couple hours free to catch up on some paperwork. Is everything alright? You sound kind of funny,” Zander replied.
“Um…I’m fine, but…I don’t know about Brian,” Justin stammered.
Zander jumped up from his chair and grabbed his keys and wallet out of his top drawer. “What happened? Where is he?”
“He’s…he’s in school. There’s an…active shooter. I don’t know much. Matt picked me up on his way here, but he didn’t know anything. I’ve been waiting to get an update, but…God Zan, he’s in there and I don’t know what’s happening.”
By the time Zander made it to Aiden’s office, Justin was on the verge of tears. “Where are you?”
“I’m at a police barricade which is one block over on 9th Ave.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in ten minutes. Call me if you hear anything. And take a couple deep breaths. I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”
Justin said goodbye and hung up the phone as his tears started silently running down his face. He hadn’t been able to take a deep breath since Matt told him what was going on. He had a tightening in his chest that he hadn’t felt since the night of the car accident seven years earlier. He was kicking himself for being such a brat to Brian since their conversation about marriage. How could he be mad at Brian for not considering his feelings when he didn’t make his feelings known?
He began pacing, as he watched the crowd begin to grow. From what he could hear, news had gotten out that the school was on lockdown and parents were starting to show up, their faces filled with fear. One of the faces stood out in the crowd. “Gina!”
“Oh Justin,” she cried as she made her way over and took Justin in her arms. “What’s going on? Have you heard anything?”
“No, nothing yet. Matt’s over there. He’s going to text me as soon as he has an update. I’ve tried calling Brian a bunch of times, but he’s not answering.”
“I tried Tony, but it goes right to voicemail. I always told him to turn his phone off when he got to school. Now I’m wishing it was on so he could answer…if he could answer…he’s with Brian.”
“Yeah, he has Brian for third period. Somehow knowing that Brian is with him makes me feel a little better, but God…this is terrifying. I’ve never felt so helpless before. If anything happens to my…”
“Nothing is going to happen,” Justin jumped in and stopped Gina from continuing. “Brian and Tony are fine and we’re going to be able to see them very soon.”
“You’re right,” Gina replied as she stood up straight and wipes the dampness from her eyes. “I don’t even want to put that out in the universe. They’re fine, both of them.”
“That’s better.” Justin wished he felt the confidence he was giving to Gina, but his mind kept going to a dark place. A place where Brian is injured or worse, and he can’t get to him. Then his phone dinged, alerting him to a text message. He was filled with dread as he read the message.
“All they know at this point is that they think the shooter is an employee. They are getting geared up to enter the school. No word yet on if anyone has been hurt, but several gunshots were heard.”
“Oh God,” Gina whispered as her tears began to flow. “They haven’t even entered the building yet? What is taking them so long? My baby is in there.”
“I know,” Just replied as he took Gina in his arms. “I know.”
Zander showed up a few minutes later looking as pale as a ghost. He pulled Justin into a tight hug. “Have you heard anything?”
“All we know is that think it’s an employee. Several gunshots were heard, and the cops were getting ready to enter the building. Matt just texted me a few minutes ago. Did you call Chris?”
“No, it’s just after nine there and he had a signing from 6-8. I figured I’d wait until we heard something or he called me after the signing was over and he was on his way back to the hotel. Whichever came first. No point in disrupting his event. It’s not like he could get here. I fucking hate that he’s so far away!” Zander exclaimed, before noticing they weren’t alone. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Gina replied. “I fucking hate that my son is in there!”
Justin jumped in. “Zan, this is Gina. Her and her son Tony are the people staying with us for a while. Gina, this is my cousin Zander.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I heard a lot about you and your son. And according to David, you’re the office angel.”
Gina blushed. “That’s the second time I’ve been called that. I’m not an angel, I’m just a woman who loves her job and takes pride in doing it well.”
“I take it Tony is inside?”
“Yes, he’s actually in Brian’s class right now.”
Zan smiled. “Well, good. I’m sure Brian is making sure Tony and the rest of the class is safe.”
“That’s what I’m hoping. That they are all safe.”
The three of them seemed to run out of things to say as they all got lost in thought. Being so far away from the building had them all wondering what was happening. Had the police entered the building? Was the shooter in custody? Was he still alive? Before they knew it, Zander’s phone rang, letting him know that Chris was done with the book signing.
“Hey babe, how did it go?”
“It went really well. We had a full house. They were turning people away at the door. It was crazy,” Chris replied, his voice full of excitement.
Zander hated to be the one to take that excitement away and considered not saying anything just yet. “Good for you. As much as I hate being away from you, I’m so glad you’re doing this. It’s a great experience.”
“Babe, what’s wrong?”
“Something’s wrong. I can hear it in your voice. What is it? Are you okay? Are the kids okay?”
“How can you tell something is wrong just by the sound of my voice?” Zander was stalling. He knew it and he knew Chris would know it, too.
“Sweetheart, we’ve been together over 15 years. I know you as well as I know myself. Now, please tell me what’s wrong. I’m starting to freak out over here.”
“It’s Brian…he’s fine. I mean, I think he’s fine,” Zander sighed as he tried to find a way to tell the love of his life that his little brother might be in danger. “The school is on lockdown. There’s an active shooter. That’s all we know.”
“Change of plans. I need to get to Frankfurt ASAP!” Chris called out to whom Zander could only assume was his driver. “I’m on my way to the airport. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Fuck!”
“Chris, I know this is hard, but relax for a few. We don’t know anything yet, but the police were getting ready to enter the building about fifteen minutes ago. This will probably be all over before you even make it to the airport.”
“Good, then I can relax on my flight, but I’m coming home. I checked out of my hotel this morning because we were heading to Berlin, but I’m going to have Todd reschedule. Other than those two days I took when you were here, I haven’t had more than one day off here and there in over a month. I’m taking a mini vacation and going home to see my family. Now, I love you. Please call me as soon as you hear anything. I need to make some calls and work out some details. Give Justin a kiss for me and reassure him that Brian is going to be fine. There’s no way my brother is going out like that. If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll call you when I have my flight information.”
“Okay, I love you too. I’ll talk to you soon.” Zan disconnected the call and smiled at Justin. “He’s on his way to the airport.”
“I’d expect nothing less. I’m sure Brian will be thrilled when he finds out that Chris is on his way home. I just hope…”
“Don’t do that. Brian is fine and once he’s out of there, he’s going to be thrilled to see his brother again.”
Justin nodded his head in agreement. Brian was going to be okay…because he had to be okay. Justin couldn’t live without him.
Dane was sitting at the kitchen table staring at his phone, unable to move. He had heard about so many school shootings in his life, but this one was different. This one was close to home. This one was in the next town over. This one was where his best friend worked. He reached for his phone and called Brian, but he got no answer. He tried again…and then again. He still got no answer.
Then he called Justin, and he answered.
“Please tell me it’s fake news.”
Justin sighed. “No, it’s not. Zander and I are standing here at the police barricade, waiting to hear something. Matt is there at the school. He’s going to let me know something as soon as he knows something.”
“I’m on my way.”
He didn’t wait for a reply. He disconnected the call and headed towards the front door, grabbing his keys as he went. He opened the door and came face to face with Eric.
“I was on my way to the restaurant when I heard the news. I turned around immediately. Do you know anything?”
“No…um…Justin is there. Not at the school…they have a barricade. The police. He and Zan are there…they’re waiting. I need to…”
“Come on, I’ll drive.”
A few moments later, Dane was in the passenger seat of Eric’s SUV, lost in thought. He didn’t know what to do. He felt so helpless, knowing his friend could be in danger and not knowing how to help. Whenever he heard of a school shooting, the families waiting for word…wondering if their friend, spouse, or child was okay. His heart always went out to them, but he never thought he would be on their end. Despite knowing that Brian was a teacher, working in a school, he never imagined being on their end. But of course, Brian was going to be okay. He had to be okay because there couldn’t be another option. He couldn’t lose him. He couldn’t lose his best friend. He was pulled from his thoughts when Eric took his hand.
“Babe, try and relax. We don’t know anything yet. I’m sure Brian is fine. He’s probably with his class, keeping them safe until the shooter is apprehended.”
“I can’t lose him,” Dane whispered tearfully. “He’s my best friend. I can’t imagine…”
Eric squeezed his hand. “You’re not going to lose him. Just keep thinking good thoughts. I’m sure everything is going to be fine.”
“I hope so.”
David was at his desk when he heard the news. He had given Gina the morning off to run some errands since she had been working so much to help put together the fundraiser. He expected her to be in the office by noon. It was almost 12:30 and she was never late. He checked his phone to see if there was a missed call or text, but for once, his phone was silent. He didn’t want to call her. If she was just running behind, he didn’t want to make her feel bad for not being there on time. He was just worried, so instead he decided to look online and see if there were any accidents that could have made her late. And that’s when he saw it. Lakeside Middle Schoolwas on lockdown due to an active shooter. His mind immediately went to Gina and her son. He was a student at the school. And Brian was a teacher there. As his brain started wrapping itself around the enormity of the situation, something told him that Matt was involved. There was no way that Brian could be involved and Matt wouldn’t be. With his heart in his chest, he grabbed his keys, locked up the office, and headed in the direction of the school.
As he drove across town, he couldn’t help but worry. He was worried about Tony, Gina’s son. He was worried about Brian. They had become close through the years due to Matt’s close friendship with Justin. But most importantly, he was worried about Matt. As much as he admired Matt for his dedication to the police force and the town of Sierra Vista, he hated that his fiancé put his life on the line more often than not to protect the citizens. He hated that he had to worry constantly about his partner’s safety. He hated not having control over the situations that Matt keeps finding himself in. It hadn’t even been six months since Matt stood in a room with a crazed man with a gun. They got lucky that day. Would they get lucky on this day, too? And what would happen when Matt’s luck ran out?
It didn’t take David long to find the police barricade. He knew he wouldn’t be able to drive up to the school. There were cars lining the streets and a huge crowd of people waiting behind the police tape, their faces filled with fear while they waited for word on their loved ones. David parked as close as he could and then traveled on foot to where the crowd was waiting. It didn’t take him long to find Gina, who was waiting anxiously with Justin and Zander. David made his way through.
“Hey guys, any news?”
“David, how did you find out? Did Matt text you?” Justin asked in confusion.
“No, when Gina didn’t show up at the office, I got worried so I went online to see if there was an accident stopping traffic or something. She’s never late. The shooting is all over the news. It didn’t take much to figure out why she hadn’t made it in,” David explained.
“I’m sorry. I should have called you. I just didn’t think. As soon as I heard the news, I came right here,” Gina said.
David shook his head. “No need to apologize. I completely understand. Your first priority will always be Tony.” He turned to Justin. “I’m guessing by your question that my intuition was correct and Matt is at the school?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. He and Collins had been on lunch when they heard the call come in so they picked me up on their way. I’m waiting for an update. I don’t know how you do this every day. Worry and wonder about Matt’s safety.”
“It’s one of the hardest things I ever had to do.”
Before anyone could respond, Dane and Eric appeared.
“Any updates?” Dane asked without so much as a hello.
“No, nothing yet,” Justin replied. “You okay?”
“Nope, not at all. You?”
“Absolutely not,” Justin laughed humorlessly.
“I called Steve on the way here,” Eric offered. “He’s alone at the store, but he was going to try calling someone in. If he couldn’t find anyone, he was just going to close up. He’ll probably be here soon.”
“Guys, there’s nothing that we can do from here. Why don’t you all go home and wait?Justin and I will let you know as soon as we hear anything,” Zander told them. “There’s no point in all of us standing around here.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Dane asked. “Do you honestly think we’re going to leave when Brian is a block away in a building with a lunatic?”
Eric stepped in when he heard the tone of Dane’s voice. He knew the anger he heard there wasn’t really for Zander, but unfortunately that was where it was aimed. “What Dane meant to say was that we appreciate your suggestion, but we would feel better waiting here with everyone.”
Dane hung his head. “Sorry Zan, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just freaking out.”
“It’s okay, buddy,” Zan replied as he placed a hand on Dane’s shoulder. “I understand. I’m freaking out a bit, too.”
It was only another ten minutes before Steve showed up, quickly followed by Zac and Jason. It had been a while since the whole gang was together, but it spoke volumes about their friendship that they all showed up when one of them was in trouble. The only person missing was Trent, who was out of town on business, but he was notified of the situation and was anxiously awaiting an update.
They waited about twenty more minutes before Justin’s phone rang. He saw Matt’s phone number and answered quickly. “Is he okay?”
“Hey Justin, it’s Collins. We haven’t actually laid eyes on Brian yet, but the shooter is in custody and the staff and students are going to be released, classroom by classroom. We’ll have a couple of officers start making their way to the barricade to help with the dismissals. As far as we know, from the ramblings of the shooter, everybody is fine. He only hit one person and according to him, it wasn’t life threating. We’re trying to locate her now.”
“Thank God! Where’s Matt?”
“Uh…he’s being loaded into an ambulance. He and the shooter had an altercation. I’m going to call David now.”
“Oh my God, is he okay?” Justin looked over at David and saw the fear in his eyes. “David is here with me. What hospital are they taking him to?”
Once Justin got the information he needed, he disconnected the phone and turned to the group. “The staff and students are going to be dismissed now. Officers are going to be coming over to help locate the children of everyone here. David, we need to get to Canyon Vista. There was an altercation between Matt and the shooter. Collins didn’t say much, just that he’s being loaded into an ambulance now,” Just explained. “Zan, can you wait here and let me know when you see Brian? I want to go to the hospital with David.”
“Of course,” Zan replied as he pulled Justin in for a hug. “I’ll wait here until I see or talk to him and then I’ll head to the hospital. Let me know when you hear something.”
“Dear God, what is happening today? Dane, why don’t you stay here with Zan and Steve. I know you’re not going to relax until you talk to Brian. I’ll head over to the hospital with David and Justin.”
“We’ll head to the hospital, too,” Jason chimed in. He wanted to keep an eye on Justin.
“I’m parked over there,” was all David said. He must have been in shock, because he was having a hard time reacting to what was happening. Once they got to his SUV, he reached for the driver’s side door, but felt a hand on his shoulder. “David, why don’t you let me drive? You seem kind of…lost.”
David wanted to refuse but figured it was probably a good idea. He handed over the keys and then walked around to the passenger side. Once he had settled in the car and they were on their way, he turned his attention to Justin. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”
“Doing what?” Justin asked in confusion.
“This…the constant waiting to find out of Matt is going to making home at night.”
“You’ve always said you couldn’t live without him. You guys are engaged.”
“I know, but…you have no idea how hard it is to say goodbye to him every day, not knowing if I’m going to see him again. Five months ago, he was standing next to a man with a gun, now this. It’s too much. I have suggested to him time and time again to consider doing something else. I know he likes helping people. There are so many other ways to help people that don’t involve constantly being in danger. I thought I could handle it, but now I’m not so sure. Not after this.”
Justin didn’t know how to respond. Matt was head over heels in love with David. The two of them were planning a wedding. What would Matt do if David gave him an ultimatum. Would he leave the police force? Give up the career he had been planning since he was a little boy? And if he did give it up, would he resent David for making him give it up? Or would he let David go? Stand his ground and lose the love of his life?
“Well, I don’t think any decisions need to be made right now,” he finally said. “Let’s just get to the hospital and find out what’s happening.” The rest of the ride was made in silence, both men lost in thought.
It felt like hours had passed before Brian heard voices in the library. Friendly voices calling out the all clear. He sighed in relief and instructed his class to carefully follow him out, no pushing and shoving. He led everyone towards the front of the library where they were met with Principal Johnson.
“Is everyone alright?”
“My students and I are okay, but Kathleen was hit by a bullet. It’s non-life threatening, but she definitely needs medical attention.”
“Alright, Kathleen come with me. There are paramedics waiting outside for anyone who might have been injured. Brian, can you please take your students to your classroom to get their things and then take them to the front hallway? We are trying to figure out the best way to dismiss everyone. There’s a group of parents a block away at the barricade who had heard about the lockdown on the news. We’re trying to figure out who they are so they can pick up their children. The rest will be sent home on their assigned buses. We have already sent out a robocall to everyone letting them know that the threat is over and everyone will be going home early. All classes have been cancelled for tomorrow, but we will have counselors here to discuss the events if anyone needs them. Once all the students have been dismissed, the staff will meet here to go over what happens next.”
“Okay, do you want me help with getting the parents to their kids? I’d rather keep busy right now while we wait for the staff meeting.”
“Sure, thanks Brian. Once you have everyone in the hallway, grab one of the officers and they will let you know what needs to be done.”
Brian nodded his head in agreement and then quickly went back to his classroom with his students. The first thing he did was get his phone and cringed when he saw more than twenty missed calls. Justin called him ten times. He also had a couple from Dane, a few from Zan, and two from Chirs. He had been hoping that no one heard the news. He looked up and saw that his class was still gathering their things. He called Justin.
“Oh Brian,” Justin cried when he answered the phone. “I’m so glad you called.”
“Sorry to freak you out, Sunshine,” Brian replied, surprised that he could hear himself getting choked up. “I’m fine. My students and I were safe the entire time.”
“Thank God,” Justin replied.
Brian needed to get off the phone and get his class moving, but then he heard a weird beeping in the background. “Where are you?”
“I’m at Canyon Vista. Matt had an altercation with the shooter and he was hurt. David, Eric, Jason, Zac and I were at the police barricade when Collins called with the news so we came here. Zan, Dane and Steve are still at the barricade waiting to see or hear from you.”
“Holy shit, is he alright?”
“We think so. David got to see him for a few minutes, but then they took him away to run a bunch of tests. From what Matt said, the shooter didn’t want to relinquish his gun. He was trying to take a shot at Johnson, so Matt tackled him and they fought before Matt was able to get the gun out of his hand. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. I’m so glad it’s all over and the shooter is in custody.”
“Babe, it was Willie,” Brian replied.
“Willie? Willie Jenkinson? The shop teacher?” Justin asked incredulously. Brian was hired to work at Lakeside right after graduating from ASU and during the last two years, Justin had accompanied him to two Christmas parties and a couple summer staff picnics. He didn’t know everyone on staff, of course, but he remembered Willie well. He was a large man with a large personality to match. He and Justin had bonded over art; Willie was not only a shop teacher, but he was also a small-time artist who sold his work at different fairs and craft shows. He couldn’t put the man he knew and the shooter together. It didn’t seem possible. “I can’t believe he would do something like that.”
“I know. That’s how I felt when Kathleen told me, but she talked to him. He shot her. She’s probably on her way over there now.”
“Willie shot Kathleen? How…that’s like shooting Mary Poppins!”
Brian chuckled. “I know. He barely grazed her. I don’t think he meant to hurt her. But anyway, we can talk more later when we’re home and in each other’s arms.”
“Bri, I’m so sorry I’ve been such a brat the last few days. I love you so much. When Matt told me what was happening, all I could think was how awful I’ve been and if you…”
“It’s okay. We’ll talk about that too. The most important thing is that I’m okay and I love you. Everything else will work out.”
“I love you, too. I’ll keep you posted on Matt.”
“Thanks. See you soon.”
Brian ended the call and then sent Zander a text. He told him he offered to help the parents find their kids and that he would be there as soon as he could. Zan replied and told him he would wait. That Chris would want physical confirmation that everything was okay and let him know that Gina was with them. Brian was glad she had someone to wait with.
It took another fifteen minutes before Brian made his way over to the barricade. He had Tony with him. He smiled as he watched Gina grab Tony and hug him tight. He himself went over and hugged everyone who was there for him before calling attention to all the parents. He had a clipboard with him and asked everyone to get in a line. He was going to look at everyone’s ID, confirm who their students were, and then call over to the school. Once it was confirmed that the child was located, the parent would be allowed to drive over and pick them up. The process took aboutforty minutes and then he was able to focus on Zander for a few minutes. Dane and Steve walked away from the crowd to make some phone calls and let everyone know that they had seen Brian and he was okay. Steve also needed to check in at the store.
“Your brother is already in the air. He was able to walk into the airport and get a seat on a flight that was just getting ready to board. It was sheer luck,” Zan told him.
“He didn’t have to come home. I’m fine. I was never in any danger.”
“I know, but this whole thing definitely scared the shit out of all of us. He wanted to come home and see everyone. He knows you’re safe. I messaged him right before takeoff. How are you doing? It had to be scary for you, not knowing what was happening.”
Brian laughed. “I was terrified! But I had to remain calm so the kids didn’t freak out. I doubt I’ll ever get the sound of that first gunshot out of my head, that’s for sure, but I’m okay. Once all the students have been dismissed, we’re having a staff meeting. And tomorrow we’re only going to be open for students to come in if they feel they need to speak with someone about what happened. I don’t know if I’ll be needed or not.”
“Well let me know if they need any help with anything. I’m sure Aiden, Grayson and I can help out if they need more hands. And I’m here for you, too if you need to talk about it.”
“Right now, all I want to do is get back and get this meeting over with, but maybe later tonight? What time will Chris get here?”
“He’s not landing until after midnight. He has one layover, but luckily it won’t be on the ground long. Why don’t you and Justin come over for dinner. We haven’t had time to catch up lately. In fact, why don’t we have a BBQ? Get everyone together. I know life has kept everyone very busy, but I think today reminded us all how important it is to stay in touch,” Zander said. “Hopefully we’ll have good news about Matt by then.”
“You know, he’s still mad at me. I’ve only seen him once or twice since he threatened me at Christmas and he barely acknowledged me. I don’t know if he’s ever going to forgive me. And I understand why he was mad, but if Justin has forgiven me, shouldn’t he?”
“He will, and who knows. Maybe what happened today will help with that. I know Justin said he was really worried about you being in the school. This might be the nudge he needs to put the past behind him and move on,” Zan pointed out.
“I hope so.” Before anything else could be said, Dane and Steve made their way back. “Guys, thanks for coming down here. It means a lot.”
“Hey, there was no way I could sit at home and wait to hear what was happening. I would’ve gone crazy.” Dane replied.
“Yeah, I couldn’t put a smile on my face and deal with customers when I didn’t know if you were okay. Especially if they came in and started talking about the lockdown. I know word got around on social media pretty quick. It was just easier to get someone to come in and cover for me. But now that I’ve seen you, I need to get back to the store. Dane, I can drop you off at home on my way. I just received a box of specialty books this morning and I need to separate them and then pack them up for shipping.”
“You really do love the store, don’t you. Your face is glowing just talking about a box of books,” Brian smiled.
“I really do love it there. And now that I’m graduating in a few weeks, I’ll be able to focus more time and attention on the store. I’m thinking of turning the coffee house into an actual restaurant. It’ll be small scale. We’ll only offer things like soups, sandwiches, and salads but we get a lot of people who come in wanting food with their coffee. I don’t know. It’s just something I’m thinking about.”
“I think that’s a great idea,” Brian replied.
“Me too,” Zan chimed in. “Listen, before you both go, Brian and I decided to have a BBQ tonight. See if we can get everyone together. Sadly, Chris won’t be home in time, but I’m pretty good on the grill myself.”
“Oh, that sounds like a great idea. I don’t know if Eric is free. He was on his way to the restaurant when he heard the news and came to get me. He might have to go in at some point, but the girls and I can make it,” Dane assured him.
“Charlie and I should be free as well but let me confirm with her and then I’ll text you and let you know,” Steve added. “What can we bring?”
“Just bring whatever you need for little Stevie. I will handle everything else.”
“Are you sure?” Brian asked. “We’re not a bunch of teenagers anymore. We can all bring something to add to the table.”
“Next time we’ll make it a potluck, but with everything that went on today, I could use the distraction of getting everything ready. Just be at the house by 6:00.”
Once everyone agreed to meet at six, they all went their separate ways, leaving Zander alone. He made his way back to his car and fastened his seatbelt before the events of the day hit him and he was overcome with emotions. He sat behind the wheel and cried for a good five minutes before pulling himself together and calling Aiden.
“Hey, I was so happy to get your text. I’m glad Brian’s okay. You’re not planning on coming back, are you?We have your afternoon covered and there aren’t any evening appointments tonight. You might as well take the day.”
“No, I’m not coming back,” Zan replied. “I just…I was having a little bit of a meltdown and Chris is currently in the air on his way home. I just needed someone to talk to.”
“You know you’ve always got that. What’s going on? Did everything finally hit you?”
“How did you know?”
“I know because I’m a psychologist working on my doctorate, and it’s my job to know. You were too put together when you came into my office and told me what was going on. I figured you went into survivor mode so you could be strong for everyone and that once the threat was gone, it would hit you. Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. It was so scary and I felt like everyone was looking to me for guidance. In our group, Chis and I were always the adults and they were the kids. I guess it’s hard to remember that we’re all adults now, you know? And with Chris being so far away…he’s on his way home as we speak, but I don’t even know how long he’s going to be here and then he’s going to be gone again…I just hate it.”
“I know you do. But he’s not doing anymore long tours after this, right?” Aiden waited for confirmation.
“No, this is his one and only. But he has four more months on this one. And I hate that he’s going to be gone again. And I hate that Brian works in a school where people with guns show up. And I just hate life in general,” Zan chuckled. “Okay, I’m back to me again. I guess I just needed to say those things and have someone to listen. I’ve been holding in a lot lately. I don’t want to tell Chris how I’m feeling right now. He would feel so helpless and want to cancel the tour. And as much as I want him home, I’m glad he decided to do it. This is such a great experience for him. When he called me earlier, he had just finished up a signing and he sounded so happy. He couldn’t believe that there was a line out the door and they had to turn people away. I don’t think he really understands how good he is or how many fans he has, because up until recently, he rarely left Arizona. I want him to be there. I want him to do this, especially since he isn’t going to do it again. If I told him how unhappy I am right now, how miserable I am without him, he’d give it all up and I don’t want that. So, I put on a happy face and cry myself to sleep every night.”
“Oh Zan, why didn’t you say something to me sooner? I knew you were upset that he was leaving, but you don’t mention it much these days so I just assumed that you had worked it out in your head and were okay with him being gone.”
“I am okay with him being gone,” Zan insisted. “I’m just not happy about it. I’ll be okay, though. I can manage four more months alone.”
“I’m sure you can but remember that you don’t have to do it alone. I will listen whenever you need a shoulder to cry on. Day or night. Besides, I’m going to be a dad soon and who do you think I’m going to run to with every single question I have?”
Zan laughed. “Um, remember…Sophia didn’t come to us until she was nine and the boys were teenagers. I don’t have a lot of experience with babies. You can come to me with questions, but I can’t promise I’ll have an answer.”
“Yeah, but you’re a natural. I’m not worried.” Aiden assured him.
“Okay, then I’ll be there. Listen, we’re having a BBQ at the house tonight. Are you and Derek free? Most of the gang should be there. You can invite Grayson and Jennifer, too. The more the merrier.”
“Ah, keeping busy so you don’t have to think about what happened today. You should be ashamed of yourself. You know better than that,” Aiden teased.
“Is that a yes?”
“I will be there, but Derek has to work. I will check in with Grayson and extend the invite. I’ll text you in a bit with a head count.”
“Great, thanks. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Once Zan put down his phone, he started the car and headed to the grocery store. Aiden was right. He planned the BBQ to keep his mind occupied. Who could think when they were about to have up to 20 guests over for a BBQ. “What the hell was I thinking?” Zan said to himself with a smile as he headed into town. He couldn’t wait to have everyone over.
End of part 14
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