Blue and red kept swirling round and round, splashing over the front yard, up the side of the house, through the window, bombarding eyes glued to the scene. It hurt, but he couldn’t move. He was numb all over, and he hurt all over. Strange. Mortifying. Reality and unreality; belief and beyond belief clashed and twirled around with the lights in his mind, and none of it made any sense, but none of it was complicated, but he didn’t understand. Time froze … like his heart, his soul, his body. And another teardrop fell to the floor.
Images kept racing through his mind. Mostly good images, fun images, beautiful images, but they all made him sick. Everything turned ugly in the flash of the second she fell… He still kept hearing the sounds … the cheery “hello,” his brother’s feet running down the hall, the laughter, his own breathing and the beat of his heart, the trees dancing in the wind … the loud crack and short scream… She fell… She fell face forward, to the ground. Another teardrop fell to the floor.
Rue had never been more terrified in his life. Rue had never seen more lights at night in his life, or at least that’s the way it felt. Rue had never been to a carnival; maybe a carnival had more lights … but this was no carnival. There were lights – colored lights, two colors, red and blue – and there were rides, plenty of people, plenty of activity … but no fun, no laughter, no amusement, no entertainment. No, it was not a carnival… He felt cold, and he was sweating. And another teardrop fell to the floor.
Rue had been scared before. Rue had lived his life in fear. This was different somehow. He was numb; his blood ran cold; his clothes were drenched from sweat; he was crying … slowly, painfully. Everything he had hoped for since his mother had taken them out of his father’s house – his father’s insane and abusive house – had slipped away, like fine china from the hand, and lay shattered where she had fallen. One bullet in the back had taken it all away. One bullet in the back had rocked his world to the core. One bullet in the back had frozen time.
He’d had an awesome day yesterday. He’d had a great night’s sleep. He’d had an excellent day at school, his new school. Rue and his brother, Bane, had played for a couple of hours that afternoon. They’d hardly ever had an opportunity to… There was a light knock on his bedroom door. The door slowly opened and the voice floated serenely through the air, so peaceful, so reassuring, in just five words. It could have been the voice of an angel … in just five words.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Moxie carefully stepped into the room. She probably knew Bane and Rue as well as any older sister knows her little brothers. Being an only child, Moxie had claimed them as her siblings after about the third or fourth time watching them. But she was in totally unfamiliar territory now; besides which, she felt like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. Moxie couldn’t believe what had happened… She still didn’t know if she believed it. Everything seemed so surreal, like she’d stepped into the Twilight Zone.
“Able’s with Bane in the living room…” Her throat suddenly caught. Living? A living room and a dying person? No. Moxie knew she had to reign in her thoughts. “… in the other room. You wanna come in, or would you just like to stay back here?” It was a lame, dim-witted question really. He would want to be alone and with people; in a larger, well-lighted room and a smaller, darker room; to talk and freely cry, and be quiet and hold back the tears … all of this and more, and all at the same time, and so how would he answer? How would a little boy even know how to answer right now?
“I don’t know,” Rue answered barely above a whisper. “Can you hold me?” The question smacked Moxie so abruptly, she almost lost her footing… Not that she hadn’t held the boys before … kind of, sort of. Moxie certainly didn’t mind. Of course, she didn’t mind; in fact, she realized she wanted to, now that Rue had asked. Holding him would be just as comforting for her as it would be for Rue. Able had held her earlier. He’d held her tightly. She’d cried. He had cried, too. Right now, though, Moxie wanted to pull one of her little brothers onto her lap, wrap her arms around him, rock him – there was no rocking chair, though – and comfort and maybe even cry with him.
As soon as he was nestled in Moxie’s lap with her arms tightly around him, his head resting on her shoulder, he noticed what was gone… No more lights. No more red and blue coloring the yard, the side of the house, the window. No more uniformed men and women… They were gone, just like she was gone. Rue was glad they were gone; he was heartbroken that she was gone … and scared. And even Moxie could not make the fear go away. She had fallen that night. Someone had pulled the trigger and she had fallen.
Joy Brighterday had fallen.
And another teardrop fell to the floor.