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Crush (Part 2)
“Ryan! Ryan! Wait up! Whew,” Harmony said, wiping pretend sweat from her brow, “I thought I’d never catch up with you. Why do you walk so fast?” I was thrilled she’d chosen to catch up to me but tried to fight my smile of triumph.
“Dunno. Always have. So, how’s your day been so far?” I asked, hopefully, nonchalantly.
“Pretty good. I think I just aced my Spanish test so I’m excited. What about you?” she asked grinning the whole time.
“Alright. That Biology homework was ridiculous last night. Did you get it?” I asked, remembering the hour I’d spent trying to figure out how exactly cellular respiration worked.
“Um, I dunno, it was okay,” she asked blushing again.
“What? Why are you blushing again?” I asked.
“I dunno. Bad habit. Gotta go, that’s my hallway. Bye!” she waved above the crowd. I smiled and shook my head to myself.
The next day in Bio, I found out exactly why Harmony had blushed. After many unanswered questions about the homework sheet that no one had seemed to understand, Mr. Evans seemed exasperated and upset that no one had figured it out. He seemed to give up as he turned to Harmony.
“Alright, Harmony, what did you have?” he asked, expectantly. I thought it was rather rude of him to randomly call on her and sound so pompous about it.
“The Krebs cycle produces 2 ATP and electron carriers, NADH and FADH, for the electron transport chain,” Harmony answered quietly but surely. I felt my mouth hang open. The blush and eye-rolling made sense now. She understood Biology perfectly. I saw her glance at me nervously and I shut my jaw hurriedly. But she’d seen.
Once the bell had rung, I hurried to Harmony’s desk. “What in the world was that?” I asked, in awe. She’d answered the whole packet for the class without one mistake. Mr. Evans informed us that while he was proud of Harmony, he was ashamed of the rest of us.
“I like science. It makes sense,” she said, ducking her head, covering her face with her hair as she reached for her books.
“Hey, I’ve got nothing wrong with that. I wish I could figure out science that easily,” I said, making sure she didn’t think that I thought she was a freak.
“Yeah, but it’d be better if Mr. Evans didn’t go to all his other classes and talk about Harmony Parker being a scientist someday,” she said, blushing again but showing her face.
“I think it’s cool,” I said with a smile just for her. She flashed an embarrassed grin my way as we made our way down the band hallway together.
In band, Jenna, Harmony, and I were discussing whether Mr. Tate’s hair was real or a wig when the fire alarm went off. Harmony jumped a mile into the air and Mr. Sanders started to usher us towards the lunchroom where the nearest exit was. We all moved sluggishly, knowing it was either a drill or some idiot pulling the alarm. That is, until we saw flames blocking our way to the lunchroom. Everyone was screaming around us but I was only searching for Harmony. I found her smashed against the wall, her eyes wheeling around until they fell on mine.
Mr. Sanders’ voice boomed above the chaos as I tried to reach Harmony. “Everyone go back to the band room and we’ll wait until the fire department puts out the fire. Everyone go back!” Everyone slowly made their way back to the band room, and I finally caught up with Harmony. We didn’t speak, but I was relieved just to have her safely beside me. We all stood there for ten minutes until the roof started to fall in. The fire was eating away at the ceiling above us and was now falling in. Would the horrible luck never end?
Everyone scrambled around and I lost sight of Harmony. When I finally saw her, I was relieved at first but what I saw made me want to scream. The ceiling directly above her was crumbling. I shouted her name but she just looked around, not up. So I raced towards her, and she didn’t see me. I barreled into her, pushing us both to the ground just as the biggest pieces of plaster began to fall. We both lay there, panting and eyes wide.
“Harmony, are you alright?” I asked slowly and carefully. She glanced at the pile of rubble next to us that she was nearly buried beneath.
“Yes,” she whispered. Her eyes were staring into mine like those of an innocent doe into the forest. Searching. I helped her up and we tried to clump together with everyone else underneath a section of ceiling that seemed to be holding up. We all stood that way, staring at the ceiling, waiting for it to fall in. In the mean time, whole band room was turning to rubble before our eyes I was just realizing how much damage must be tearing through the school when someone shouted.
“The ceiling’s falling!” Everyone started to run every which way but I held tight to Harmony’s hand this time. Part of me had butterflies at the thought of holding her hand but most of me just wanted to keep her from getting killed. We were running through all the burning piles of already fallen plaster over and over, just hoping the fire department put out the fire before all of it fell. But I was noticing something. Most of the edges of the ceiling were being burnt away. If the fire continued to eat that way, the center would all fall at once and crush us entirely.
“Harmony! We need to get people to the edges! The middle of the ceiling is going to collapse!” I shouted through coughs. The smoke was getting intolerable. She nodded and slid her hand out of mine and ran away from me to the nearest people to tell them what was going on. I took her lead and started rushing people to the edges while keeping an eye on the ceiling. I had just corralled a group to the edge when I heard a thunderous groan. Then I saw everything. The fire eating away at the last bits of plaster keeping the ceiling suspended. Everyone crowded around the edges. Except. Harmony was in the middle of the room with a frightened freshman and running with her towards the edge. I also saw that they weren’t going to make it. Harmony had the freshman’s hand and was full-scale sprinting towards the edge, practically dragging the girl behind her. Then she shoved the girl into the people at the edge as chunks of plaster rained down on us like car-sized hail. The smoke was everywhere immediately. The fallen ceiling was still flaming and havoc was everywhere. I ran through the rubble and flames to where Harmony was. I found the young girl Harmony had dragged pulling at pieces of flaming ceiling and throwing it away.
“Is she under there?” I asked. The girl nodded through tears and I joined her in digging. At the edge of the pile, a hand was sticking out. I reached for it and squeezed, feeling my world officially crash and burn when I got no response. After long hard work through the growing flames, our efforts finally revealed an unrecognizable Harmony. She was covered in ash, had angry, red, shiny spots covering everything and she wasn’t moving an inch. I felt for a pulse at her wrist. A faint little push resisted the pressure I was applying and I nearly wept with relief. At just that moment, firemen broke down the wall of the burning band room. The girl looked at me, asking my permission to leave me with those terrified eyes.
“Go on, bring help,” I instructed. She ran and brought back a fireman who quickly saw what had happened.
“The ceiling fell on her?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. She’s got a pulse though. It’s not very strong,” I added, worriedly.
“You’ve done a good job. Let’s get you all out of here,” he said, leading us out. As they loaded Harmony onto a stretcher, they fixed me up too, cleaning out my burns and wrapping up my cuts. I thought about what the firefighter had said. ‘A good job’, that’s what he said. It made me proud. My dad had died on the job as a firefighter. I’d always wanted to be a fireman after that. Now I felt like maybe I actually could. My mom showed up in hysterics and I spent the rest of my day calming her down and sitting in a hospital room being repaired. I had nothing to do but worry about Harmony while they made sure nothing was seriously wrong with me for my mom’s sake. I went home after the doctors delivered the consensus that I was fine. After we’d all gone to bed, my door creaked open and Julia walked in.
“Ryan?” she whispered. I sat up with a sigh.
“Yes?” I felt her sit on the edge of my bed as my eyes slowly adjusted.
“I just…I just wanted to say…who’s the girl?” There was a very pregnant pause as I considered how to answer.
“Her name’s Harmony,” I said, willing my voice not to break. “She’s…amazing.” My voice broke anyway as I thought of how she saved someone she didn’t even know. She would make a brilliant firefighter if… No. I would NOT think about that.
“She’s really pretty,” Julia said quietly. This would’ve made me snort if I’d been at all in the mood for joking. She’d been covered in ash and burnt beyond belief when Julia had seen her. Instead, I smiled and agreed.
“What, Julia?” I asked, a little exasperated. Spit it out, kid.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” she cried with an unexpected hug. With her face close to my ear, I clearly heard her whisper. “I couldn’t have lost you just like Dad,” she said and I felt a tear fall on my cheek. Whether it was hers or mine, I don’t know.
When I woke up, I almost forgot about everything. With a jolt, I remembered I was supposed to be worrying about Harmony. I crept down the stairs, listening to my mom on the phone, sounding upset.
“…don’t know her name, I’ve told you a thousand times. I just know she was rushed from the school straight to a hospital. Yes, she was badly burned and the ceiling fell on her. I’m sure that’s her, I believe she was the only one who’d been buried,” she said with a pause. Then I heard her gasp loudly and she made some kind of choking sound. “No. That’s not possible,” she said firmly. But she was starting to make more odd choking sounds. I came down the stairs the rest of the way and saw her standing in our kitchen, clutching the counter with tears beginning to spill over. I didn’t want to make sense of what had been said, so I waited until my mom had gotten off the phone. By that time, the tears were in full flow and I was struggling to keep myself from understanding.
“Ryan, it’s Harmony. She didn’t…make it,” she said through tears. I let my mom hug me because it was what she wanted to do. Then I turned away and walked out the front door. I don’t know when I started running but I finally collapsed, crying and gasping, without a clue as to where I was. I didn’t know I was being watched until I felt an arm wrap around me.
“You heard?” a high-pitched, familiar voice asked. I looked up into the puffy, red eyes of Jenna Hutchins. She leaned her head against my shoulder and sighed. Then she jumped up and screamed. “It’s not FAIR!” She ran up to a tree in her front yard, ripped off a considerably sized branch, and threw it away in disgust. Sobbing loudly, she threw herself down beside me and kept screaming. “Why her? We were all there, any of us could’ve died. But no! It had to be her! She’s so stupid…” Jenna continued, wiping away another tear. “Getting herself crushed. That idiot.” She was quieter now. “Why were you so stinking noble?” She said it like it was a vice worthy of severe punishment. “It wasn’t enough for her to tear me apart, either. She had to drag you into it, didn’t she? She wrapped you around her little finger so now you’re broken too. That jerk,” she said, slamming a fist into the ground. I let her blame Harmony because I knew that’s just how much she was hurting. I wanted to blame her too. I’d told her what was happening. She should’ve been paying more attention. But even as I thought that I knew it wasn’t true. She knew exactly when that ceiling would fall but she also knew that the frightened freshman would never make it without her help. Thinking of how good she was only made me hurt more so I got mad too. I let out a primal roar of rage. How dare she?! How could she leave me? The tears were flowing thick and fast now and I kept screaming as I sobbed because it helped a little. Beside me, Jenna was clutching my arm as she screamed, just as raw and torn as I was, if not more. I knew what Jenna and Harmony were to each other. One without the other was unthinkable.
So we let it out. We spent hours screaming and sobbing until several doors and windows peeked open to stare at us. We ignored them and eventually they went away. I lost track of time and was surprised when I saw the sunset. The rays warmed my face a little and I realized how incredibly frozen I was. It was January. Right. It all just seemed so insignificant. The rays started to shimmer and peek through the branches of far off trees in that special magical way that always reminded me of my dad. Now I knew these rays were from Harmony.
“Go away. Can’t you tell we’re mad at you?” Jenna said sarcastically, apparently thinking the same thing I was. Then we laughed. I didn’t know I had any more tears left in me but I cried with laughter this time. I don’t know if we were both just at our breaking points or if this perfect moment of hysteria was a gift from our best friend but it was wonderful. I was not fine, I was not okay. I wouldn’t be for a long time. But this was Harmony’s way of helping me get over my crush. Helping me move on. So move on I would. It would just take a little longer than she’d hoped. The day I got married was the next time I saw those perfect rays peeking from behind distant trees. I can’t tell you how glad I was that she could make it.