With everyone out, Leo, Justin, Brian, and I are left to be at the hands of Gerald, the crazed gunman that's currently holding us all hostage in our cafeteria. There's a sudden buzzing from my pocket and I look to Gerald. "My phone's ringing," I say. "May I answer it?"
"Who is it?" he asks me.
I pull out my phone and see Mark's calling. "It's my friend Mark," I say. "He's probably wondering where we all are."
Gerald thinks about it for a second. "Go ahead, but try to make it quick. Put it on speaker so I know you aren't lying."
I slide my finger across the screen and tap the speaker button. "Hey Mark," I say.
"Josh! Thank God. Where are you? Danny, Shawn, an I can't find you Leo, Brian, and Justin anywhere."
"Um...Mark? We're still in the cafeteria. The gunman's in here with us."
"Oh fuck...does he know you're on the phone with me?"
"I do," says Gerald.
Mark sucks in a sharp breath at hearing Gerald talk to him. "I'm going to call your guys' parents," he tells us. "The police are everywhere out here and I think I heard the SWAT team was on their way."
"What about the rest of the students?" Leo asks.
"The only people out here are the ones from the cafeteria. The rest are still in the school's classrooms."
"Mark, was it?" Gerald interrupts.
"Y-You're the gunman?" Mark asks.
"I prefer Gerald. You can just tell the police and everyone out there that they can get all the other students out of here. I'm staying right here with these four boys."
I hear a shuffle from the other side of the phone and Mark faint voice calling out. "This is Don Branson, the chief of the police force," says a deep voice.
"Please get us out of here..." Brian quietly says.
"We're trying," Don says. "Gerald, why don't you let these kids go? They shouldn't have to be in this kind of situation."
"No can do sir," says Gerald. "If I let them go, I'm left without leverage. Then I get hauled off to jail and that bitch of an ex-wife of mine gets my son."
"I know you're angry right now Gerald," says Don. "But we shouldn't need to endanger the lives of young ones."
"I think that's for me to decide right now." Gerald looks at me. "I'm done talking to him. Hang up."
"B-But..." I start to protest.
Gerald holds up his right arm, in his hand the gun, the barrel pointed right at me. "I. Said. Hang. Up."
My finger can't press the end call button fast enough. I slide my phone back into my pocket and look at Gerald. "Now what?" I ask.
Gerald lowers the gun. "Like I said. That's for me to decide. We're probably going to be here for awhile, so go ahead and take a seat. At separate tables though."
I look to the guys, who all move to an individual table. I sit at a table next to Leo and look to Gerald. "So...are we just supposed to sit here?"
"Pretty much," he replies.
"Can we at least use our phones?" asks Brian.
"Fat chance. One of you texting means you could be talking to one of your friends, who could be talking to the cops. So, no phones. I prefer talking anyway."
"So, what do you want to talk about?" Justin asks.
"First off, I'm not like other gunmen. I'm not going to tell you to sit down and shudder in terror. I want to know who all of you are. Starting with you, with the built body and movie star face."
Gerald's looking at me. "Um...my name's Josh Rusden," I say. "I'm a senior here and I'm a football player, a running back. I'm hoping to play football in college."
"Interesting," Gerald says. He looks at Leo. "You're a good looking young man. You are?"
"Leo Trigon," Leo replies. "I'm what you'd call a gearhead. I love working on my motorcycle and...I'm in a loving relationship right now."
"Who's the girl?"
Leo glances at me. "Um...do you want me to be honest?" Leo asks Gerald.
"I like honest people. Go ahead."
"I'm in a loving relationship with a guy."
Gerald's eyebrows rise a bit. "A guy, huh? At least you're in a relationship where both of you are happy. I wish I could have one like that..."
"And I'm his boyfriend," I say.
Gerald looks between me and Leo. "Huh. Never thought strapping young men like you would be gay."
"I am too," says Brian. "My name's Brian Mosley, by the way. I'm a music kid here, but I also play drums in a band."
"I'm gay too," says Justin. "My name's Justin Robinson. I'm the captain for the school's basketball team and I write poetry on the side."
"Wow," Gerald says with wide eyes. "All of you are gay?"
"And I'm this guy's boyfriend," Brian says, pointing at Justin.
"Are you two happy?" Gerald asks them. "Are all of your parents happy with you being gay?"
"Mine are," I say. "My older brother's gay too and is currently engaged to his fiancé."
"So are mine," says Leo.
"Mine are too," Brian tells Gerald. "And I'm incredibly happy with Justin."
"I love being with Brian too. But um...my parents aren't," Justin grimly says.
Gerald looks at Justin and actually seems a little concerned. "What do you mean?"
"My parents kicked me out of the house because I'm gay," Justin tells Gerald. "My mom beat me senseless and my dad didn't seem to care. I've been living with Josh here for the last few weeks and I can say that living with him and his family for less than a month has been ten times better than living with my parents for the last seven years."
"I'm sorry to hear that," says Gerald.
"It's not your fault," Justin replies.
Gerald walks over to the other side of the cafeteria and glances out the window from behind a wall. He must know what he's doing. He's mindful of there being a sniper in place, ready to take him out. "Is there any way to close these?" Gerald asks.
"No," I say. "There aren't any blinds in here."
He looks back at me. "Josh was it?" I nod. "Move some tables in front of these windows so the cops can't see in here."
"By myself?" I ask.
"You're a strong guy. You look like you can move these tables by yourself."
I take a second to get up and walk to the other side of the cafeteria. I push a few of the round tables toward the wall. They're actually heavier than they look. I push one table in front of every window and lift them up and prop them against the wall, blocking the view from outside.
As I'm putting the tables in place, I look outside and see dozens of police officers standing in the parking lot. A lot of them are getting some of the students and faculty to safety, while a few are behind cars, guns drawn, pointing right at the cafeteria windows. Oh...fuck...
Even if the police wanted to shoot through the windows, their bullets wouldn't get through. I forgot that a lot of the windows at school have steel wire in them to reinforce them, making them almost bulletproof. If a bullet tried to get through, it wouldn't make it.
I push the last table up against the window and look to Gerald. "Nice work," he says. "Just sit back down."
I walk back to my table and start to get in my seat. Leo gives me a small nod and I nod back to him. "So Gerald," says Leo. "We've told you about us, now you tell us about you."
"What do you want to know?" he asks.
"Anything. Like why you're doing this?"
I see Gerald's grip on the gun handle get tighter for a second. "Even I don't know," he says. "All I wanted was to keep seeing my son, but when my ex-wife filed for divorce, she also asked for full custody. I...couldn't handle not being away from my son. So I...tried to take him."
"And your wife called the police?" asks Brian.
"Yeah. I texted my wife, saying I had Derek, my son. I wanted to take Derek out of state, but I couldn't go through with it. I was with Derek for five minutes before I dropped him off at my parents' house. Since then, I've been hiding. I guess the police found me, and I panicked. I drove here, ran in here without thinking, and now...here we are."
The room goes quiet for a minute. "By the way," Gerald continues, "is there any food in here? I haven't eaten since yesterday."
"Well, you're in a cafeteria," says Justin. "There's food everywhere in here."
"Oh right." Gerald actually smiles a little. "One of you get me some food. I'm starving."
"Any preference?" asks Leo, getting out of his seat. "The food here is crap, so there's only so much I can get you."
"I'm open to anything as long as I can eat it."
Leo walks over to the cafeteria line and comes back out a minute later with a sandwich and an apple. "You're in luck," he says. "The shitty food was gone. All that was left were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit."
Even from here, I can hear Gerald's stomach growl. "Go ahead and just place them next to me," he tells Leo.
Leo walks over to Gerald and sits the sandwich and apple next to him and walks back to his table. Gerald sets the handgun down next to him and grabs the sandwich, which he hungrily devours. He eats the apple in no time and tosses the core across the room, which lands right in the trash can. "Nice shot," I say.
"Thanks," he replies. Gerald gets up from the table and take a few steps around the table. "God this camo freaking sucks."
"Then why did you wear it?" Brian asks.
"Easy. My other clothes were dirty."
"And why the bandana?" Leo asks. "Don't you think it's a little stupid?"
"I have a rash from an allergic reaction on the top of my head. My doctor told me to keep it out of direct sunlight for a week and the rash would go away. I feel stupid wearing it though."
"Ever hear of a baseball hat?" I ask.
Gerald is about to respond, when he makes a face that screams 'I'm an idiot...' Even though we're in a situation like this, the guys and I laugh a bit. As does Gerald.
He walks back to his table and hops back on. But when he lands, I see the table rattle and the handgun fall from the table. It hits the floor and a blast rings out, causing all of us to jump. "What the hell just happened?" Leo asks.
"The gun discharged," Gerald tells us. "It can happen to an older gun that has some damage and falls when it's loaded. At least no one..."
All of a sudden, I see Gerald's face get pale and his eyes bulge. He's looking right behind me. I turn around and what I see horrifies me. Justin is pressing his hand to his stomach and his shirt is changing from white, to dark red. He falls to the floor and blood leaks between his fingers and spills onto the tile. "JUSTIN!!" Brian screams.
Brian jumps up from his table and rushes over to Justin's side, as do Leo and I. Justin looks to be in a state of shock. "Josh! Do something!" Brian yells at me.
"Justin," I say. "I need you to move your hand so I can see how bad this is."
"I...can't..." he chokes out. "It hurts...too much."
"I know it does," I tell him. "But if you don't move your hand, I can't see the bullet hole and can't do anything."
"Please Justin," Brian says, tears falling from his eyes. "Josh knows what he's doing. He can help you..."
Brian places his hand over Justin's arm and Justin relents. His arm relaxes and I move it away from the bloody stain, the palm of his hand covered in his blood. I lift up the base of Justin's shirt and see the dark red bullet hole, blood pouring out of it. From all the lessons Dad gave me, I remember the anatomy of the human body, including the organs. "Oh fuck..." I breathe out.
"What is it?" Leo asks.
"If I'm right, the bullet may have hit Justin's spleen or pancreas. That's not where you want to get shot..."
"Where is a good place to get shot then?" Justin says, actually making a joke while he's bleeding onto the floor.
I lower Justin's shirt. "Brian. Take off your jacket and use it to put pressure on the bullet hole and to slow down the bleeding."
Brian quickly slips off his jacket and presses it to Justin's stomach, who winces at the pressure. "Justin, you're going to be okay..." Brian tells Justin, his tears dripping onto Justin's blood soaked shirt.
I stand back up and look at Gerald, who hasn't moved an inch. "We need to get him out of here," I tell him. "If he doesn't get medical help right now, he'll die."
Gerald seems to come to and looks at me. "N-No..."
"What do you mean no?" I ask.
"No, you can't take him out of here. If the cops see Justin with a bullet hole in him, they'll think I shot him deliberately. So he's not going anywhere."
Gerald bends down and picks up the handgun. "Please!" Brian screams at him. "Please let him out! I love him so much. I can't see him die..."
"Brian..." Justin breathes out.
Gerald looks between Brian and Justin and makes a pained face. He looks at Leo. "You. Leo. Help Brian get Justin out of here. Go out through the front door of the cafeteria. Josh, you're staying here with me."
"Then I'm not leaving," Leo says, standing up next to me.
"Leo," I say looking at him. "You and I both know that Brian can't get Justin out of here by himself. Justin's too big and too heavy for Brian."
"I know but..."
I grip Leo by the shoulders. "Please Leo. I swear I'll be okay. You and Brian get Justin out of here. Make sure he gets help."
"Josh, I don't want to leave you here all alone." I see the bases of Leo's eyes getting wet. "Please...Josh..."
"Leo, I swear I'll be okay. Please get Justin to safety. We can't let him die..."
Leo's tears fall and I pull him into a hug. "I love you Josh," he whispers to me.
"I love you too," I whisper back. I give Leo a kiss and he wipes his eyes. I look to Brian and Justin. "Brian, you're going to need to grab Justin by his ankles. Justin, press Brian's jacket against your stomach to keep the bleeding slow. Leo's going to grab you by your armpits and he and Brian will carry you out. All of you got that?"
Brian shakily nods and Justin gives a bit of a grunt. Leo goes around Justin and Justin presses the jacket to the bullet wound. Brian grabs his ankles and Leo loops his arms under through Justin's. "Lift!"
Leo and Brian lift Justin up, Brian looking to have a bit of trouble lifting Justin up, but somehow finds the strength to hold him up. He and Leo carry Justin to the cafeteria door, Leo pushing the door open with the back of his foot, and make it out. The door closes and only Gerald and I are left.
The seconds turn into minutes, and the minutes turn into hours. In that entire time, Gerald hasn't said a word, and I haven't said much. Gerald just stares at the floor, right at the small pool of Justin's blood. I'm not mad at Gerald for what happened to Justin. He didn't fire the gun, just brought in here.
Gerald lets me use my phone to pass the time, but I choose to not have any phone calls. I constantly text Leo and the guys, who're all at the hospital. Justin made it out and is currently in surgery. Leo told me some time ago that the doctor said the bullet nicked Justin's spleen, but it isn't too bad. He's expected to survive, which I thank every God there is for.
It's now dark outside and while there have been numerous attempts at trying to talk to Gerald, he's not responding. I'm still texting Leo, when my screen suddenly goes black. "Well, it looks like my phone died," I say.
Gerald looks up at me and nods a bit. "Did you happen to see the time?" he asks, the first words he's spoken in hours.
"Yeah, it's about eight-thirty. We've been in here for almost nine hours."
"Um...do you know how Justin's doing?"
"The doctor's said he's expected to survive. There was a bit of blood loss and internal injuries, but it wasn't too much. He's getting his spleen removed though."
Gerald lowers his eyes. "I didn't mean for him to get hurt..."
"I know you didn't. Gerald, you didn't fire the gun. It accidently fired and Justin got hurt. You can't be charged for something you didn't intend to happen and couldn't control."
"But had I not taken my son in the first place, none of this would've happened. But that bitch wouldn't give him up..."
"Wait, what do you mean 'wouldn't give him up'?"
"Well, yesterday was my turn for me to have my son. While my ex-wife and I were going through the divorce, I was living with my parents until I could find a nice apartment that Derek and I could live in comfortably when I had him. But when I went to meet my ex-wife for her to give me Derek, she told me I couldn't have him.
"When she tried to drive away with Derek, I grabbed Derek and ran back to my car with him. I drove off and realized that my wife will call the police. So I took Derek to my parents' house, told him to play with my parents for a while, and I drove off. And now, I'm sitting in a high school cafeteria with you."
Mom's lawyer lessons come back to me. "Did you and your wife have set days for who would have Derek?"
"Yeah. She got Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and until two in the afternoon on Thursdays. I got Derek the rest of the time."
"Gerald, if your wife didn't hand Derek over to you at the set time, then you had every right to take Derek. Your wife was the one at fault keeping him for herself."
Gerald looks at me in disbelief. "Really?" he asks.
"Yeah. You didn't hurt your son in any way and didn't endanger him because you left him in the care of your parents. Are the guns yours?"
"Yeah, they're both registered under my name."
"Does the AK-47 fit California regulation?"
"The magazine is internal and only had ten rounds in it, so yeah it does. It's actually empty right now."
"So far, the only thing I can see you being charged for is hostage-taking and bringing a gun onto school grounds. But it depends on the charges that will be filed against you."
"Don't even think about it Gerald," I interrupt. "Your son wouldn't want to hear that his dad killed himself. He'll grow up without you..."
"He's going to grow up without me anyway!" Gerald gets up from the table he's sitting at and begins pacing. "When the police get me, I'm going to be locked up for years! I'll never see my son again! He's going to end up in a foster home or with my ex-wife!"
I stand up too as Gerald starts to cry. "Gerald, it's going to be okay. If everything goes well, you can get out in a few years and you'll be allowed to see your son when you're allowed visitors. From what I've heard, your ex-wife doesn't sound too emotionally stable to take care of your son and he'll probably live with your parents."
He looks at me with wet eyes. "D-Do you think I'd be able to get bail?"
"Hmmm. You may be held without bond for a week and the court will decide if you're going to get bail or not, and in a circumstance like this, your bail will be in the hundreds of thousands. It all depends on the severity of the crime and if you've committed a crime in the past."
"My record's clean. And...I can pay the bail."
"You can afford bail that would be hundreds of thousands of dollars?"
Gerald smiles a little and sniffs his nose. "I won the lottery about six years ago. My winnings were in the tens of millions and I still have a large chunk of it saved up."
"Well, if the court knows you'd be able to make bail and that you have no chance of fleeing, you would probably be able to get bail. But like I said, it depends on the court and the crime."
Gerald looks at the gun in his hand. "Gerald," I say. "Please put a stop to all this. Sooner or later, the police or SWAT team will come in here with their guns out, ready to shoot on sight. So...please?"
Gerald keeps staring at the gun for a second before wiping and chuckling a little. "You know, this thing has been with me since the early nineties, when I got it when I was your age. I knew it had a broken safety and was going to get it fixed tomorrow. Now, I guess I'm done with it."
He tosses the gun to the floor. And when it hits the floor, the blast comes back and echoes throughout the cafeteria. I feel a sudden searing pain and look down. My left arm is bleeding and I know the bullet got me.
I press my hand to my left bicep and a pained yell slips out of my mouth. Gerald rushes over to my side. "Fucking shit! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean for it to happen!"
"I know you didn't," I say. "Don't worry. I'm not going to have charges filed against you for this. Wow, this hurts like a motherfucker..."
Gerald reaches up and pulls the bandana off his head. "Let me tie your arm. It'll slow the bleeding."
I roll up my sleeve and see that there isn't a bullet hole, just a long laceration. "Oh thank God," I say. "The bullet only grazed me."
Gerald wraps his bandana around my upper arm and pulls it tight. "I think that'll hold," he says. Even though my arm's bleeding, I feel the sudden urge to laugh, so I do. Gerald looks at me like I've gone crazy. "Why're you laughing?!"
"You didn't learn from the first time the gun hit the floor?!" I ask him, still laughing. "Why'd you toss it?!"
Gerald gives me his first real smile and starts laughing too. "I don't know! It seemed like the right thing to do! I didn't think it would go off a second time!"
He and I laugh for a minute before we settle down. "C'mon Gerald," I say. "Let's get out of here."
Gerald and I walk across the cafeteria and out the door. As we walk through the hall, I see the chaos that must've come through here earlier. Papers and pencils are everywhere and a few backpacks are strewn across the hall. "Wow," Gerald says. "I caused all this..."
"Like I said, Gerald. Put it all behind you. It was a mistake and you feel horrible about it. It doesn't make you a bad person."
Gerald looks over at me and smiles a bit. "Thanks Josh. Maybe if I get out of prison, I'll buy you a meal."
I smile back at him. "I'd like that, Gerald."
He and I eventually make it to the front of the school and are staring at the front door. Through the glass, we can see the dozens of police officers and some SWAT officers. "Now Gerald," I say. "When we walk out, walk out through separate doors with your hands up and in full view."
"Got it," he says. "Thanks again, Josh."
Gerald and I hold are hands above our heads, my left arm screaming at me, and walk to the front door. He and I both slowly push open a door. "I'M COMING OUT!!" Gerald shouts. "DON'T SHOOT!! THERE'S A KID COMING OUT TOO!! I'M NOT ARMED!!"
He and I push open the doors fully and we're in full view of the police. Gerald keeps his hands above his head. "Gerald," I say to him over the roar of a helicopter, "get on the ground slowly. Keep your hands in view and lay on your stomach. When you're down, sprawl out your arms and legs and just wait for the police to get you."
He nods and looks at me, his eyes wet again. "Thanks Josh."
"Good luck Gerald."
Gerald slowly gets on his knees and then his stomach. He spreads his arms and legs apart and lets the police do the rest. I'm suddenly swarmed by two officers, who grab me and pull me away from Gerald. "Are you hurt?" one of them asks me.
"Just my left arm," I say. "A bullet grazed me. It isn't too bad."
The two officers get me to a waiting ambulance, where an EMT pulls me onto a gurney. She takes off the bandana and looks at the cut. "This needs a few stitches," she says. "You're lucky that psycho didn't do more."
I look out and see a few officers taking Gerald to a cop car and put him in the back seat. "He's not a psycho," I say. "He's just a guy that's made a few bad decisions."
The car door is slammed behind Gerald. He looks out the window and sees me. He gives me a small smile, and I give him one back. He'll be okay...I know he will...