He took a few steps and sank down to his knees, mostly because his legs simply gave out from underneath them, and pretended that this was intentional, that he wanted to check out the two bodies at the other end of the room. He was vaguely aware of the shooter being pushed out of the locker room by the other officer, to a waiting cruiser downstairs. He didn't turn to watch the kid go; instead he focused on the body directly in front of him.
A boy, dressed in a hockey jersey. There was a puddle of blood underneath his side, and a gunshot wound through his forehead. Patrick reached out for a baseball cap that had fallen a few feet away, with the words STERLING HOCKEY embroidered across it. He turned the brim around in his hands, an imperfect circle.
The girl lying next to him was facedown, blood spreading from beneath her temple. She was barefoot, and on her toenails was bright pink polish -- just like the stuff Tara had put on Patrick. It made his heart catch. This girl, just like his goddaughter and her brother and a million other kids in this country, had gotten up today and gone to school never imagining she would be in danger. She trusted all the grown-ups and teachers and principals to keep her safe. It was why these schools, post-9/11, had teachers wearing ID all the time and doors locked during the day -- the enemy was always supposed to be an outsider, not the kid who was sitting right next to you.
Suddenly, the girl shifted. "Help...me..."
Patrick knelt beside her. "I'm here," he said, his touch gentle as he assessed her condition. "Everything's all right." He turned her enough to see that the blood was coming from a cut on her scalp, not a gunshot wound, as he'd assumed. He ran his hands over her limbs. He kept murmuring to her, words that did not always make sense, but that let her know that she wasn't alone anymore. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
"Josie..." The girl started to thrash, trying to sit up. Patrick put the bulk of his body strategically between her and the boy's -- she'd be in shock already; he didn't need her to go over the edge. She touched her hand to her forehead, and when it came away oily with blood, she panicked. "What...happened?"
He should have stayed there and waited for the medics to come get her. He should have radioed for help. But should hardly seemed to apply anymore, and so Patrick lifted Josie into his arms. He carried her out of the locker room where she'd nearly been killed, hurried down the stairs, and pushed through the front door of the school, as if he might be able to save them both.
Copyright © Jodi Picoult, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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