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Gasp 1




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  For the Midwest, with love

  One

  It’s been a week since the shooting, and we’re back on the University of Chicago campus. Ben Galang’s eyes light up when he sees us, and he opens his dorm room door wider to let us in. Sawyer and I step inside and stand awkwardly in the crowded space while Trey eases in after us, taking care not to bump his injured arm on the skateboard that hangs from the ceiling next to the doorway.

  Ben and Trey exchange greetings, and Trey’s face floods with color.

  “I didn’t know you were coming with them,” Ben says to Trey. He sounds genuinely happy to see him.

  “Jules talked me into it,” Trey says.

  Right. Like I had to. I try not to laugh. “Yeah, I made him. He needed to get out of the apartment and get some fresh air. Thanks for getting up early on a Sunday.”

  “Thanks for saving my life, guys,” Ben says.

  “Okay,” Sawyer butts in, “dude, you gotta stop with that.”

  “Sawyer is a rather uncomfortable hero,” Trey explains.

  “Sorry, man—I won’t mention it again.” Ben grins and points to our seating options.

  Trey steps around a pile of laundry to a love seat and carefully picks up a bra from the seat cushion. He glances at Ben, eyebrow raised.

  “Roommate’s girlfriend spent the night. It’s awesome,” he says, sounding like it’s totally not awesome. He snatches the bra from Trey’s hand and tosses it on the bottom bunk bed. “They’re slobs. You guys met my roommate—Vernon. He was with me at the hospital. Have a seat. How’s the arm?” He perches on the armrest opposite Trey as Sawyer and I sit in the two desk chairs.

  Trey shrugs with his good shoulder. “Eh,” he says. “It’s all right.”

  Ben presses his lips together but says nothing more.

  “So,” I say, glancing around the room. Bunk beds, two desks, the love seat, a small TV balancing precariously on milk crates. One desk is fairly neat, and there’s a map of the Philippines on the wall above it. “Um,” I start again, turning my gaze back to Ben, “you’re probably wondering why I wanted to talk to you.”

  He’s wearing different funky glasses, I notice, and I remember that his got broken in the shooting. He smiles. “Kind of. What’s up?”

  I stare at the carpet, knowing that even though I practiced what I was going to say, this is going to sound so ridiculous. I lift my head and catch Sawyer’s eye. He nods, giving me encouragement. My boys are on my side. I’m not alone. But it’s still insanity, and I have to be careful. I turn my head toward Ben, who waits, puzzled.

  And then I just blurt it out. “Any chance you’ve started seeing visions recently?”

  Two

  I expect Ben to laugh, but he doesn’t. He studies me a moment. “No,” he says slowly.

  “Oh,” I say. “Um, okay.” I peer more closely at him. “You’re sure?”

  He frowns and looks at Trey. “I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here.”

  “Sorry,” Trey mutters. “Yeah, it’s a weird question, but she’s not insane, I swear.”

  Sawyer nods in agreement.

  “See,” Trey continues, “Jules, well, see, it all started . . .” He falters and looks at me.

  “A few months ago,” I say. “I got this vision of a truck hitting a building and exploding, and I kept seeing it, and it got more and more frequent, interfering with my life, and I kind of felt like I had to do something to, you know, stop the thing from happening, or whatever. And it turned out that the building was actually Sawyer’s family’s restaurant, and the truck was a snowplow with a dead driver—”

  “Not like ghost dead—he had a heart attack while driving,” Trey adds.

  “Right,” I say. “We’re not that nuts. So in the vision the snowplow crashes into Sawyer’s family’s restaurant, and there’s a huge explosion and nine body bags in the snow—”

  “Including me in one of those body bags,” Sawyer interrupts. “And Jules tried to warn me, but I wouldn’t believe her. But she, and Trey, of course,” he adds, “ended up stopping the truck from hitting the gas line, so our restaurant didn’t explode, but that’s how Jules broke her arm . . .”

  “And then I thought the whole vision nightmare thing was over and we could just go back to normal, but apparently I, like, gave it to Sawyer, and then he—”

  “And then I,” Sawyer continues, “started seeing a vision too, of . . . of . . .”

  The room is suddenly silent and we three glance at each other, and then at Ben, who is looking like a cornered feral cat right about now, wondering if there’s a way out of this room, and probably willing to use force if necessary to achieve it.

  Trey clears his throat and says quietly, “Then Sawyer started seeing a vision of a mass shooting. At a school.”

  Ben’s eyebrows twitch.

  “For the past few weeks,” Trey continues, “Sawyer heard eleven gunshots in his head. And reflected in windows, on billboards, on TV screens and other places, he saw the music room on the fourth floor of that building, and he saw . . . bodies. Piles of bodies. And so that’s why two high school sophomores were hanging around here last weekend, when the University of Chicago wasn’t even officially in session. They weren’t checking out the school. They were here to stop a mass murder—or at least keep it from being as horrible as it was in the vision.” Trey smiles grimly. “That’s why, Ben.”

  Ben’s face is strained. He looks from one of us to the next. “This isn’t funny,” he says. “It’s not funny.”

  “It’s not a joke,” I say. “I promise we wouldn’t do that to you. I promise.”

  Ben glances at Trey again, like he trusts him more than us.

  Trey nods.

  Ben turns to Sawyer and studies him for a moment more. “Piles of bodies?”

  Sawyer meets his gaze. “Yes.”

  Ben stands up and paces in the tiny space. He stops. “Me?” he asks, stabbing his thumb into his chest. “My body?” His voice wavers.

  Sawyer drops his gaze to the floor. He doesn’t answer.

  Three

  Trey interrupts the silence. “So you’re not having any visions, then?”

  At first Ben doesn’t appear to hear him, but then, after a moment, he looks at Trey and shakes his head. “What? No. I’m sorry.”

  Trey leans back and lets out a sigh of relief. “Don’t be sorry. This is a good thing.”

  I catch Sawyer’s eye. He looks relieved, but I’m even more stressed, because if it’s not Ben, that means we have to keep looking. “Ben,” I say, “here’s the thing. Just like I passed the vision to Sawyer, I’m worried that Sawyer might have passed the—the curse of the vision on to somebody else.” I frown, thinking “curse” sounds too whackjob, but I can’t think of a better word. “Like, maybe somebody else who was in that room is now infected, or whatever, and they’re seeing a vision of something else—the next tragedy. So . . . um . . . I need to find out. So we can help them.”

  “We need to find out,” Sawyer says.

  Ben looks at us like we’re speaking a foreign language.

  “So,” I continue, “can you remember everyone who was in the room at the time of the shooting? Do you know them all?”

  Ben’s face clears slightly, like he’s beginning to understand what I’m asking. “I—I know most of them,” he murmurs. “Some just by face—it was a combined event with the Motet
Choir.”

  “Can you, like, I don’t know—find out everyone’s names?” Ugh. I hate this.

  Ben bristles. “Okay, this is really getting weird. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I mean, it’s pretty strange, what you’re asking.”

  “I know.”

  “And even the people who haven’t left school over it are still pretty shaken up, you know. It’s only been a week.”

  “Totally, totally—so are we,” Sawyer says, nodding emphatically. “And, well, if one of them is having a vision of the next disaster waiting to happen, they will definitely stay shaken up, because the visions are—well, they’re just horrible, Ben. So yeah, anybody with the vision will stay very shaken up, until either they go insane or they die trying to save the next victims.” Sawyer adjusts his jacket like he’s getting defensive, ready to argue. Just the other night he said he wasn’t going to help me with this. Now he’s totally invested. I heart that guy.

  Ben leans back and sighs. He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “This is so insane.”

  I give Trey a pleading look.

  Trey sits up. “Please,” he says, his voice soft and earnest. “We all know how weird this sounds. We just—we don’t really have any other choice, you know? We feel like we can’t let somebody struggle with this thing alone.”

  Ben absently starts to clean his glasses with his shirt. “Why don’t you call the police or something?”

  Trey, Sawyer, and I all wilt. We’ve been over this before, having vetted this option time and time again. “Because,” I begin, but Ben stops me.

  “No, it’s okay,” he says. “I get it. They’d think you’re nuts.” He frowns as if he’s still considering that point himself, and puts his glasses back on.

  I close my lips and press them into a defeated half smile, and just look at him, waiting.

  Finally he shakes his head. “All right. Fine.”

  I breathe a sigh of relief as Ben gets up and goes to the clean desk, muttering, “This is so weird,” and pulls a few newspaper articles from the desk drawer. He brings them back to us. “We can start here.”

  Four

  From the newspaper articles we glean nine names of students who were actually in the room at the time of the shooting. Ben jots down several more, and then he stops. “This is crazy,” he mutters, and looks up. “How do you plan to explain this vision thing to everybody without looking totally nutballs?”

  “Very carefully,” I say. I actually haven’t figured it out yet. “I mean, I know I can’t go around asking them all if they’re having visions. But I was thinking . . .” I pause as an idea forms. Blindly, I go with it. “I was thinking that maybe we could call a sort of support group meeting for the victims to all get together and talk. And see if anything comes out of it.” I glance sideways at Sawyer, who nods.

  Ben tilts his head. “That’s not a bad idea. We did a candlelight vigil thing outside the building a few nights ago for the whole campus, and there have been counselors around all week, but maybe I should organize a group with just the victims . . .” He looks at his phone, checking the time. “Actually, tonight would be good, since it’s been a week. Kind of like a bad anniversary.” He taps his finger to his lips. “I can get contact info for everybody. Can you guys be here at eight?”

  “Yeah, no problem,” Sawyer says. “The sooner the better.”

  I glance at Trey. “I think I can get Rowan to switch shifts with me.”

  “She will. We’ll be here,” Trey says. He looks at Ben. “I can stay through and help you make phone calls if you like.”

  Ben smiles. “That would be great.” The two hastily look elsewhere, like they’re sixth graders crushing on each other, and my heart pinches a bit—could my brother finally have found a nice boy to like?

  “Thanks, Ben,” I say. “I mean it. You’re amazing for . . . well, pretty much everything.” I stand up, and Sawyer stands up with me. “I’ve got to get back if I’m going to take the lunch shift for Rowan. Let us know what’s up. We’ll see you around eight.”

  Sawyer and I walk out of Ben’s dorm and across the ominous quad that haunted Sawyer’s waking hours up until a week ago. Now it only haunts his dreams. I look over the familiar grounds, thinking about last Sunday when we stopped a couple of gun-carrying gay haters from killing eleven people. “I hope they plead guilty,” I say in a low voice.

  Sawyer nods. “Yeah. I don’t exactly want to testify.”

  My stomach hurts like hell at the thought.

  • • •

  Five things I hate about my life:

  1. Apparently there’s no end to this insanity

  2. The tension at home is probably giving me an ulcer

  3. Spring break is over and it pretty much sucked balls

  4. I just realized it’s my birthday tomorrow. Tomorrow. Who forgets important shit like that?

  5. It’s like things aren’t funny anymore

  • • •

  My lunch shift is boring and slow, and Rowan, under slightly heavier surveillance after her little escapade to New York, hangs out in the dining room doing her spring break homework that she wisely waited until the last minute to do. With everything that has happened lately, I’m surprised our parents haven’t locked either of us up or gotten suspicious, but they have their own problems, and my dad mumbled something about bad things coming in threes, so I guess with that attitude, he was sort of expecting Rowan’s delinquency.

  The lull gives me time to fill Rowan in, which makes her even madder than usual that she’s missing out on something. I tell her for the millionth time that this isn’t something she wants to be in on. She disagrees, and we leave it at that. At five thirty we switch out, and I sneak outside to the alley and find Sawyer waiting for me. We stop for dinner and we’re off to UC once again.

  We find Ben and Trey in Ben’s room a little before eight, Ben at his desk and Trey leaning over Ben’s shoulder as he types on his computer.

  I knock on the open door and poke my head in. “How many?” I ask.

  “We spoke directly to twelve and left messages for the others,” Ben says.

  “And you didn’t forget anyone?”

  “I don’t think so. Though we didn’t bother Tori. She’s still in the hospital.”

  Trey pipes up. “We asked each person we called if they could remember who else was there that night. We’re all meeting in the green room in two minutes.” He and Ben get up, lock the room, and head in that direction. Sawyer and I follow.

  There’s a handful of students in the green room already. The guy who was shot in the foot walks in on crutches, and I grab him a chair to put his leg on. A girl sits in a corner of a love seat, clutching her backpack. Ben’s roommate, Vernon, is there, sans braless girlfriend. More people straggle in over the next quiet minutes. “We should have brought refreshments,” I say under my breath.

  “It’s not exactly a party,” Sawyer whispers back.

  A few people look expectantly at Ben, who glances at his phone and then stands up. “It’s been a week,” he says with a small smile and a heavy sigh. “And I thought it would be a good idea to just check in with each other, you know?”

  A few heads nod.

  Ben asks us all to go around the room, introducing ourselves. Trey checks people off his list. I catch his eye and smile, and he smiles back.

  Then Ben explains that we don’t really have a format; we’re just here to talk without any counselors or reporters around to analyze us or judge us or whatever, and I can see people relaxing. I wonder what it’s been like here.

  Ben looks at the guy with crutches. “Schurman, how’s your foot?”

  Schurman shakes his head and looks at the floor. “Not great.”

  “What did your coach say?”

  “He’s being cool, but obviously I can’t play anymore this year. I don’t know if, you know, if I’ll ever be able to run the same again. I might not be able to play.” His voice contains no emotion, like he’s become a robot. Like his dreams
for the future are over and he’s pretending to accept it. I wonder what sport he plays, but I don’t ask.

  Ben presses his lips together. “I’m sorry, bro.”

  Schurman shrugs and looks at the floor.

  Ben turns to the girl in the love seat. “Sydney? How’s it going?”

  Sydney’s face is strained. “It’s going,” she says.

  “Are your parents . . . handling things?”

  “They let me come back here,” Sydney says with a shrug. “It’s weird. I didn’t think . . . you know. That seeing the building, and all that yellow tape . . .”

  Someone else nods. “Yeah, I don’t ever want to go back in there.”

  More chime in now, and I sit quietly, watching, feeling the same things they’re all feeling, yet somehow I must keep myself distant from those things and stay focused. I know Sawyer is watching too. Looking for signs. Is anybody distracted? Looking out the window, watching a vision play out? It might be too early in the cycle—it’s only been a week.

  When things quiet, Sawyer says, “I keep having weird nightmares . . . only . . .”

  I look at him. So does everybody else.

  “Only . . . what?” Trey asks.

  “Only, they’re not about the shooting. And I’m not . . . actually . . . asleep.”

  I hear a little shuffling in the room, but I keep my gaze fixed on Sawyer. When no one says anything, Ben says, “You mean like a daydream, only it’s scary?”

  Sawyer looks at the floor. “I guess. But . . .” He shakes his head. “Never mind. It’s not exactly normal. Just . . . trauma, or something.”

  “What happened to us isn’t exactly normal,” a girl says. “I guess we can expect weird shit to happen.”

  I look at her, then back at Sawyer. “What’s your . . . daymare . . . about? You said it’s not a shooting?” I think I know where he’s going with this, and I hope I’m helping.

  “No. Something completely different. It’s a . . . a truck. Crashing into a building. An explosion,” he says. “It’s, like . . .” He runs a hand over his eyes. “It’s, like, not a dream at all. It’s like . . .”

 
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