Trevor finishes his lunch in record time, picking off the burger bun, scarfing the patty in three bites, apple in his hoodie pocket, milk in his hand, garbage in the trash, tray on the conveyer belt and out the door.
He leaves without looking at me. Good. I don’t want any of this—of what’s going to happen—to touch him. Any more than it already has.
The smell of deep-fryer grease mixing with student sweat and garbage cans is starting to make me nauseous. I’m sure that’s what’s making me nauseous. I feel in my shoulder bag—safety’s on. Thankfulness flashes through me, for Grampa and the day he made me take all our guns apart and put them back together again blindfolded, over and over until I could keep track of all the parts, check the magazine and the safety and know the gun was safe and ready. At first I couldn’t remember where I set the magazine and the bullets kept rolling on the picnic table and I jammed a big splinter under my thumbnail from sliding my hands around trying to find them. I got cranky and pulled off the blindfold and asked why I had to do this because it was dumb and I wanted to go do failure drills like we were here for. In case you ever have to do it in the dark, Aurora Dawn. I asked why we didn’t just do it in the dark, then. How’m I supposed to see if you’re doing it right? Made sense. If someone’s floundering in the dark, you need someone else who can see what they’re doing, guide their hand when they’re reaching for something that isn’t there. Someone who won’t let them drown in the dark, still reaching.
Grampa gently pushed my wrist in the right direction until I got better at remembering where I put things and putting them in the same place every time, finding the space between the table slats and using that as a trough to hold the bullets. Eventually I got it. Eventually we went inside and did failure drills, which is when you shoot twice at chest height, fast pause, then once at head height. The pause is to check for failure—that is, you didn’t stop the target, it’s still coming at you.
Even though we’re still using the targets shaped like milk bottles and not like torsos—or, God forbid, the ones shaped like guys in turbans and face covers—failure drills make me feel like a gun nut. Like one of those people driving a truck with a Confederate flag, yelling yee-haw out the window on a Saturday night. Because failure drills are where you have to face it—no matter how much fun it is to line up the sights and operate the weapon correctly and overlap your bullet holes—failure drills are about shooting people. Humans. Twice to the chest, check, once to the head.
I only have six bullets. Five targets. No room for failure.
Then again, I’m not expecting the targets to keep approaching.
Be the bigger person, Aurora. I don't know if it's Trevor or Grampa in my head, but at least one of the two most important men in my life is urging me to give it one more try. Everyone deserves a second chance. Even me.
I re-settle the flap on my bag and stand up. Supplicant, Aurora Dawn, now making her way to the Fundraiser Table. Past AV Club, through the ranks of Not Important But Without Them Who Would We Sell Things To, weaving slightly among the tables of Clubs Who Are Also Friends, ignoring the disbelieving looks of Cheerleaders and Non-Nerd Honor Students, who do I think I am?
In front of the Fundraiser table, the sunlight is on me from the windows, but not high enough to blind me. Sorry, ladies.
Logan coughs, "Eyedropper," and he and Cody punch each other. Hannah rolls her eyes. Jessica says "Guys," in her boys, what-can-I-do voice. Ashley doesn't know whether to follow Jessica or Hannah, so she compromises with an exasperated sigh.
I reach into my purse and pull out a wad of bills. Forty-five dollars, from the last time Grampa unloaded some Precious Moments at the VFW Trash-N-Treasure Sale. "I would like to buy a Christmas Tree please."
Hannah looks at Ashley, who startles and then starts scanning the list in front of her. Hannah looks at me and makes me wait. Then, "Douglas Fir or Blue Spruce?"
In my plan, they don't even talk. "Um, Douglas Fir?"
Ashley is on board. "Ohhhh, sorry--we just sold the last one."
"OK, Blue Spruce."
Hannah twists out half a smile and shakes her head. "I don't think we have that in your size, Aurora."
"You have a lot full of trees." I gesture out the window, at the lot full of trees.
I have to give her credit, Hannah doesn't let her face slide into a smirk. She looks genuinely concerned. "Sales have been brisk--I'm afraid we're pretty much sold out."
"You have a lot full of trees. I can see them."
"Well, most of those are reserved." Hannah looks at Jessica, waiting for her contribution.
Jessica doesn't look at me. "We're just waiting for people to come pick them up after school."
Ashley butts in with her sheaf of paper. "There's not anything left in your price range."
I reach into my bag again. I pull out a hundred-dollar bill. Grampa's last birthday gift, you could get some clothes, Aurora, but I'd keep it in case of an emergency. As long as I don't spend it, I know nothing is really an emergency.
Hannah's smile slides for a moment. She lifts the cashbox lid, then looks at me with pity. "I'm sorry, we're out of change. I can't break a hundred. Maybe try the lunch line."
Even Dickensian orphans get Christmas trees, brought to the workhouse by rich benefactors soothing their own consciences. Please sir, I want some more. Some more popularity. Some more friends. Some more compassion as a fellow human being. I know your life can't be as perfect as it looks, do you have to stay on top by stepping on the people underneath? I know you're afraid too, can't you just admit for once that we all are?
Definitely asking for too much there.
I put the money back in my bag--emergency over--and shrug. "Thanks anyway. Guess it'll be a tough Christmas at the Crenshaws."
Jessica is staring hard at her half-eaten salad. Ashley doesn't know what expression she's supposed to make next, so she's stuck in accountant mode. Hannah, of course, always has an answer. Even sweeter, even nicer.
"Well, Rojans adopts a family every year from among the less-fortunate, but I think that might be a little embarrassing for you. Maybe get in touch with the Salvation Army?"
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