Dean Walker turns back to his books and shakes his head.
Today differed from any other day that Dean could remember since the seventh grade.
She’s sitting by herself today during the lunch period. Gabrielle Ryan never sits by herself. She’s not usually in the library during lunch either. The only reason Dean is in the library is because he has to help Jake with an upcoming geometry test.
Dean chances a glance again and frowns. They only have four more months of school, and when they graduate, and he’d never see Gabrielle Ryan again.
God, he is such an idiot. The girl he’s been in love with since middle school doesn’t even know he exists.
Every time—every single time he comes into contact with Gabrielle Ryan, his heart flutters, his throat closes, and his palms sweat. He can’t have a normal conversation with her and always walks away—no—he runs away. He’ll sit down at a later time, cursing his own stupidity, and wondering why he can’t talk to her.
It’s not that Dean is low on the totem pole of the school per se. He is captain of the varsity baseball team this year. The school’s prized catcher with a batting average well above most other kids in the state, but for a certain girl, he’s useless.
His friends never let him forget that either.
It’s not that he is shy around other girls; it’s just that every time he thought he’d grown some balls to ask Gabrielle out, he falls hard on his ass.
Gabrielle Ryan, the stunning blonde only a table diagonal behind him.
She looks up from her book to say hello to a passing student.
It doesn’t get past Dean that her smile is subdued today, and she is acting like she is studying, but her facial expressions keep changing, and none of them are happy ones.
Did she break up with her boyfriend? She was dating Scott Schmidt for a while, but Dean noticed they weren’t hanging around together in the hallways anymore.
Gabrielle wasn’t the head cheerleader type or anything like that, but she was popular among the school with her charm and kind personality. She was heavily involved in drama, and the debate team, and helped design their last yearbook.
Yeah, she said hello to Dean many times, and hell, they’d seen each other at parties, but he never could find the courage to talk to her.
He chanced another glance and then freezes as Gabrielle looks up.
Their eyes meet. Dean almost turns away, but this time, he forces his head to stay turned. He needs to be brave. He wants her to notice him for the first time in their life.
Smile dumbass, he thinks. Girls like it when you smile at them.
Gabrielle’s look changes and the obvious stress leaves her face. She smiles at him and Dean wonders if this is his chance.
She keeps her smile, and Dean realizes it’s a shy smile, her face flushed. He never took Gabrielle Ryan as the shy type.
Did she move her books? Was that an invitation for him?
Where the hell was Jake?
Dean scolded himself. Who the fuck cared where Jake was? He got an open invitation from the girl of his dreams. Jake was on his own.
Dean went to stand up when Gabrielle turned away, and once again her facial expressions showed anxiety. Her body stiffened, and her mouth turning down in disapproval.
Dean planted himself back in his seat when Margo Ryan sat opposite of her sister.
Dean cursed his bad luck. Another failed attempt, but lunchtime wasn’t over yet. They still had about a half an hour, and Dean wished that Margo would disappear—off the face of the Earth—like now.
Dean can’t help himself; he turns away from the sisters but looks back again.
Margo is nothing like her sister. Where Gabrielle seems pulled together all the time, her sister looks like she would fall into pieces and scatter on the floor any second. Her sister is a sophomore and already known for her heavy partying and drug use.
He remembered in Margo’s freshman year she was more like Gabrielle, but something changed her over the past year, and the two sisters were clearly opposites now.
Dean strained his ears, even though he knew eavesdropping on their conversation was wrong.
Although their voices were no louder than a whisper, Dean could tell their discussion was becoming heated.
Margo’s blonde hair was nothing more than a mess in a bun sitting limply on top of her head; her clothes comprised a rumpled black T-shirt, sweatpants, and a jacket hanging off one shoulder. No book bag or handbag in sight.
“Where have you been?” Gabrielle’s voice broke from a whisper.
Margo answered, but Dean didn’t hear it.
The two sisters were arguing in whispers, and Dean wondered if talking to Gabrielle was a good idea today.
Disappointment coursed through him, and he was about to leave to give the sisters some privacy when Jake made an appearance.
“What’s up?” Jake asks, setting his books down loudly on the desk.
“Dude, seriously? Thanks for ruining my lunch,” Dean answers looking at the clock.
Jake plopped down in the seat and grinned. “Abby was accusing me of cheating on her, and I had to deal with it.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Are you?”
Jake’s grin grew even bigger. “There was that cute freshman… “
Dean rolled his eyes. “Did she dump you?”
“Hell no! She loves me,” Jake said, taking out his Geometry book from his book bag.
“Someday she will find out,” Dean said. He looked back to see the sisters whispering to each other. “Or maybe come to her senses about what an asshole you are,” Dean finished over his shoulder.
Jake followed Dean’s gaze and said, “You’re bitching about lunch, and here you are sitting near her, and I’d bet a million dollars you haven’t said a damn word to her.”
Dean rubbed his eyes. “I was about to, and then her sister showed up.”
Jake crinkled his face, but the stupid grin never left. “Sure. I believe that.”
“I was!” Dean didn’t know if he was trying to convince himself or Jake. “She looked like she moved her books for me.”
Jake shook his head. “Right.”
Dean wanted to change the subject. “Are we going to do this or what?”
Jake leaned in closer, clearly annoyed with his friend. “Dude, we only have a few more months. Are you going to regret it the rest of your life?”
A body and a whoosh of air breezed by him before he could answer. He heard curse words and thought he heard a sniffle on top of that. He turned up to see Margo rush out of the library with the sloppy bun on top of her head bouncing as she stormed out.
Jake watched Margo exit the library, and said, “Here’s your chance.”
Dean heard a loud sigh behind him, and Gabrielle sat there with her head in her hands leaning over the desk.
“Looks like they had a little argument. Maybe you should go over there and comfort her,” Jake suggested.
“Maybe I should mind my own fucking business,” Dean shot back.
Jake sat back in disbelief at Dean. “Margo’s been a very bad girl. I know, I’ve talked to her.” Jake laughed at his own joke, and Dean shook his head.
“Like I said, that’s none of my business,” Dean said.
Jake nodded his head towards Gabrielle. “She looks like she might be crying.”
Dean frowned again and turned around. He caught Gabrielle wiping her eyes and covering her face with her hands. Was she trembling? She looked like she was. Dean could see she was embarrassed by whatever conversation took place, and how it was affecting her in the middle of the library.
Dean felt the urge to give her a hug but fought it with every ounce of his willpower.
He turned away again.
Jake’s face looked serious. “Stop acting like a coward. Go.”
Dean sighed. Was this his only chance? Did Gabrielle need a shoulder to cry on about her sister? Would she talk to him right now or would she tell him to piss off?
“I can’t,” Dean said.
Jake scoffed and looked over. He grinned again, and said, “She’s looking over here.”
Dean’s eyes widened. His head whipped around to see Gabrielle gazing over at them. Jake waved to her, and she smiled, albeit sadly.
“I think she needs a friend,” Jake urged.
Dean turned back to his best friend doubtfully. Jake wriggled his eyebrows, and sat back, taking a toothpick from his pocket, satisfied that Dean might finally have success.
Dean lowered his head and took a deep breath, closing his eyes for just a second.
Jake nodded and picked at his teeth, his books forgotten on the table.
Jake leaned in again, and said, “If you don’t, I’ll tell her you’ll be over in a minute.”
Dean found his courage right then. He needed to because he knew Jake’s threats were never empty ones.
Dean stood up and turned.
“I’ll call you tonight,” Jake said, grinning like the Cheshire cat.
Dean turned, and Gabrielle moved her books further down the table in invitation.
This time, she smiled a genuinely happy smile, and Dean almost melted right into the floor.
“Hi.” It was all he could stammer out.
Gabrielle cocked her head to the side, her golden hair flowing over her shoulder.
“Hi. Have a seat,” she said, gesturing to the empty chair.
“Score,” Dean thought he heard Jake say, and wanted to knock him on his ass.
Dean was never able to sit down.
He heard a popping sound behind him. He turned to look at Gabrielle. Her head shot up trying to figure what the sound was.
Gabrielle stood up when the screams pierced through the quiet library. Dean could only stand in place. He didn’t know what was going on. He stared at Gabrielle as her facial expressions turned from confusion to shock, then to sheer horror.
That’s when she screamed, and Dean felt something he couldn’t explain.
A burning sensation climbed up his leg, then it moved up his back, and into his arm.
He wanted to say something. He wanted to swat it away since his first thought something was biting him.
Dizziness swept through him. He felt something wet soaking his jeans and T-shirt.
He turned around to see Jake with his head back, and his eyes staring up at the ceiling. Part of Jake’s head was covered in blood.
The popping noise didn’t stop. Kids were running around everywhere, and Dean turned back to see Gabrielle frozen in place.
Then Dean felt the sudden urge to close his eyes. He just wanted to sleep. He knew sleep would be good.
Blackness overtook his sight, and he didn’t feel any pain. He just knew he needed to sleep.
He heard a voice. He wasn’t sure who was calling him.
Dean opened his eyes. Oh God, the pain. Most of it was concentrated in his shoulder. It was the kind of vomit inducing pain that Dean never experienced before, even when that kid in the ninth grade slid right into his ankle during a baseball game, and immediately swelled up like a balloon.
Why was he in so much pain? What happened to his shoulder?
He looked up to see blonde hair and blue eyes above him.
“Dean, stay with me,” she whispered.
Why does she have blood on her face? He thought, trying to focus. Why was she hysterically crying? What was wrong? What happened?
Dean never had those questions answered since the darkness overcame him once more.
At least the pain subsided.
He could hear sobbing. He tried to take a breath, but it hurt so badly to breathe. Where was he? What happened to him?
“Stop! Please!” That was Gabrielle. He recognized her voice. “Don’t do this!”
She was the one sobbing.
Dean opened his eyes to see the bottom of Gabrielle’s chin.
She was talking to someone, but he couldn’t make out the words. It was almost like he was trying to listen through a long tunnel from one end to another.
He could feel an arm at the back of his head, and a hand pressing down on his shoulder.
He wished Gabrielle would stop pressing down on his shoulder so hard. It hurt like hell.
“Why?” Gabrielle wailed. “Why did you do this?”
Something wet kept hitting his face. Tiny little droplets, making him question what was happening again.
Dean tried to reach up and touch her, to comfort her, but his arms were too heavy.
“Gab… Gabrie…?” He gasped.
She looked down at him in shock.
“Dean, you will be okay,” she reassured him. “I’m here, and I’m trying to stop the bleeding.” She inhaled a shaky breath. “Oh God, please hang in there.”
He heard another female voice speaking in the distance.
The darkness was coming on again. Dean tried to fight it; he tried to open his eyes.
He had one last moment when he heard another loud bang, a desperate scream, and then sobbing from the faraway place.
He felt the arm tighten around him, and wetness flooded his face.
“I’m sorry…” The voice echoed from far away.
“I’m so sorry.”
Those were the last words Dean heard before he fell into the abyss.