The clock was set precisely at 6:00am. The motion of schedules set him free from the rotation of his father’s girlfriends and their monotonous bicker.
6:10am his bed was made and his room roughly cleaned. 20 minutes later, he had taken a shower and was dressed. 6:40am he had made his father and temporary stepmother their lunches, the pair too busy swapping compliments for insults, frowns for smiles.
There was something Ryan had forgotten.
But, it must not be important.
Ryan kept his face blank until he had emerged from the gray apartment building. His family was a hurricane, and he was glad to leave it.
“Good morning, Ry!” Tina waved.
“Good morning!” Ryan grinned, watching Tina’s green eyes as they disappeared behind a stack of college papers.
The sun toasted his dark brown skin like bacon on a grill. The opened windows of the public bus provided little escape from the heat. The sweet, slightly salty flavor of the coming summer days was apparent, despite the layers of winter people refused to shed. Ryan still wore his favorite army green peacoat, not wanting to acknowledge the void months of June and July. His middle school years had passed by too rapidly.
He was grateful when he spotted Octa boarding the bus. She walked hurriedly, and then collapsed besides him on the rubbery, blue seats. Her presence filled the space his wandering, anxious thoughts had attempted to penetrate.
There was something Ryan was forgetting.
“The bus is earlier than usual.”
“Mhm..” Ryan nodded.
The conversation sat at a standstill.
“So…” She paused. “How do you feel about the exam?” She sighed, eyes wide from pulling another all nighter.
“Math or science?”
“Science. Math is Monday. It’s Friday, remember?”
That must have been what he had forgotten…right?
“I can’t believe this is our final full week. I still haven’t even gotten over leaving Tyson Elementary.”
“It wasn’t that great,” She mumbled, eyes averted.
“I thought it was. So is Rosewood.”
“Well, hopefully high school will be good.” Octa fiddled with her red hair.
“Still not use to your pixie cut?”
“Nope,” She laughed.
They spent the rest of the ride in silence. Octa was flipping desperately through the pages of her science textbook, reciting the words under her breath, while Ryan worked vigorously on his short film script. The movie would be his submission to the theater academy at his high school. Freshman rarely made the cut, but Ryan hoped he would be an exception.
Eventually, his mind wandered from the brightly lit screen. His gaze was beckoned towards the smears of colors rushing past the window. He observed their gradual descent into tangible objects as the bus braked.
He wished his abstract worry would materialize in his mind.
What could it be?
Ryan slung his black bag on one shoulder, helping Octa with her rolly backpack. Octa checked her watch, and her eyes widened.
“What?” Ryan said.
“It’s 8:15am!” Octa shouted.
Ryan looked up at the bus as it sped away in a haze of red and white. He shook his head, laughing like an idiot.
“Oh,” He said. “We took the wrong bus. Our bus has an extra stripe.”
“Well,” Octa took a deep breath in. “We better run.”
A twenty minute walk was shortened to a fifteen minute, half jog/half stop and pant in sheer exhaustion. Octa was cursing up a storm, while Ryan was struggling to put one foot in front of the other. He regretted lying about taking soccer to opt out of gym.
“That’s enough exercise for today,” Ryan panted.
Octa giggled, flicking off the sweat from her forehead. “I wish I hadn’t gotten these bangs”
“Maybe my buzzcut isn’t so bad after all.”
The two laughed for as long as their deflated lungs would allow. Together, they slowly winded down the hallways of the open campus, mindlessly following their usual path to home room. Once they had made their final turn, they looked up from their phones and realized something was wrong.
“Why are the hallways so empty?”
“Because we’re late, silly,” Octa replied, turning the knob of a door labeled “Room 42”.
“Wait,” She turned the doorknob, pulling more forcefully. “Um,” Her breathing became rapid as she tried for the door again.
“The door must be jammed. I’ll fix it.” Ryan said, but he knew better.
They were both out of shape, but he was by far the weaker one, even though he was one of the tallest kids his age.
He tried the door knob, and, as expected, it did not budge.
Ryan clenched his fist and poised it over the metal surface, about to knock.
“Wait!” Octa screamed.
There was a flicked of darkness, as if the sun had been cracked like a light bulb. His vision adjusted quickly, and he decided to take no notice of the sudden blackout.
“R…Ryan?” Octa’s voice drifted from behind.
“Ya?” Ryan tentatively turned around.
Something about Octa’s voice…it put him on edge. Her expression did not help his unease. She looked, no, not looked, but stared at him. Her eyes bulged like saucer plates creased in heavy shadows, lips quivering uncontrollably in the same jagged curves as a sound wave.
Suddenly, her body convulsed, bending inwards as several things shot through her chest. He turned around, and saw a familiar face holding a small handgun.
“Brice?” Ryan asked.
Brice, or whoever it was, did not seem to hear him, or see him at all. He dashed away, tennis shoes thumping against the concrete. The rhythm of his steps was soon replaced by the heavy downfall of rain. His clothes did not soak through, and neither did Octa’s, as she slowly stood up.
“What the hell happened?” Ryan screamed against a crack of thunder.
“I think,” Octa whispered. “I think we’re dead”
Ryan remembered. His self inflicted amnesia faded as soon as he saw that gun.
It had been Brice. He was certain of it.
Brice was a quiet kid with no distinguishable features. He fit in a crowd like a tree in a forest. No one ever thought Brice had an edge for violence. He did not flaunt weapons or talk nonstop about first person shooting games.
Actually, when Ryan first met Brice, he had thought they were quiet similar. Sure, Brice was rather bland on the surface, but Ryan saw a spark underneath his introversion. Ryan had hoped to help Brice get out of his shell, to reveal to the world the powerful heartbeat that lied in his fragile rib cage.
Ryan regretted the innocent deed.
He stuck with Brice even after what he knew, what he knew of Brice’s intentions. He had known of this day. Well, maybe not consciously, but within the archives of his brain lied that date. May 29. Wear red and pink stripes.
This is a test you’ll pass, Brice had said, laughing. I’ll still need you alive if I’m going to fulfill my promise. And you know me~I never leave a good friend hanging.
Ryan whimpered. He remembered the promise they made.
“We’ll deal with your father. Together.” Brice’s voice cackled, overpowering the thunder, overpowering all logic as Ryan ran towards the cacophony of nature and man, desperate to escape the echoing sounds of his guilt.