A Different Blue
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“I don't know which tribe your mother belonged to.”
“But I'm still Pawnee?” I persisted. “Because you're Pawnee?”
Jimmy grunted. I hadn't recognized his discomfort for what it was. I hadn't realized what he wasn't telling me.
Jimmy sighed. “Go to sleep, Blue.”
When I heard the first shot I thought of the fireworks that had cracked and sizzled throughout the neighborhood on New Years Eve. It startled me, but it didn't occur to me to be scared. The parking lot around my apartment complex had been lit up for the last two days with residents setting off bottle rockets and spinners and kids running around with sparklers, and I was almost used to the sound. I slammed my locker shut and headed toward my seventh hour class as another shot rang out.
And then kids were screaming and people were yelling that someone had a gun. I rounded the corner on the way to Mr. Wilson's room and saw Manny, his arm raised like the Statue of Liberty, a gun clutched torchlike in his hand. He was shooting at the ceiling and striding toward Wilson's door demanding to know where Brandon Bates was. Horror slammed into me like a runaway train. Brandon was in my seventh-hour, European History class in Mr. Wilson's room. I dropped my books and raced after Manny, screaming.
“Manny! Manny, stop!” I shrieked. Manny didn't even turn his head. He kept walking and shooting. Three shots and then four. He walked into Wilson's classroom and shut the door behind him. A shot rang out once more. I flew through the door seconds later, expecting the worst. Mr. Wilson stood in front of Manny, one hand stretched out toward him. Manny had the gun pointed at Wilson's forehead and was demanding to know where Brandon was. Kids were crying and huddling together underneath their desks. I saw no blood, no bodies, and no sign of Brandon Bates. My relief gave me courage. I was behind Manny, facing Wilson, and though Wilson's eyes never left Manny's face or the gun pointed at his forehead, his hand motioned me away. I moved toward Wilson, giving Manny a wide berth so I wouldn't spook him, speaking softly as I did.
“Manny. You don't want to hurt Wilson. You like him, remember? You said he's the best teacher you've ever had.” Manny's eyes swung wildly to me and then zeroed in on Wilson once more. He was breathing hard and sweating profusely, and his hands were shaking violently. I was afraid he would accidentally pull the trigger. At that distance he wouldn't miss Wilson.
“Stay away, Blue! He's protecting Brandon! Everybody get down!” Manny screeched, waving the gun in every direction. “I'll b-blow his head off, I promise,” he stuttered, the words so at odds with his young voice that I almost laughed. But it wasnt funny. None of it was funny.
I kept walking, and Wilson shook his head furiously, willing me to stay put. But I kept moving. My legs felt like they weighed four hundred pounds, and I couldn't feel my hands. I was completely numb with fear. But I wasn't afraid of Manny. I was terribly afraid for him.
“Manny. Give me the gun, sweetie. None of us are protecting Brandon.” I looked around at the cowering students, praying Brandon wasn't in the room. Several students lifted their heads, looking for Brandon too, but nobody spoke.
“He's not here, Manny,” Wilson offered, his voice as calm as if he were just giving another lecture. “I'm not protecting him. I'm protecting you, do you understand that? Your sister needs you, and if you shoot Brandon or anyone else, you will go to jail for a very long time.”
“But she's only fourteen! And he sent the pictures to everyone! She thought he liked her. He told her to send him some pictures and then he sent them to everyone! She tried to kill herself, and now I'm going to kill him!” Manny cried, bending down to look underneath the desks, certain we were hiding Brandon.
“And he's going to have to answer for that, Manny,” I soothed, now within an arm's length of him. Wilson reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me toward him. He tried to push me around his back but I shrugged out of his grasp, keeping myself between him and Manny. I knew Manny wouldn't shoot me. Manny had resumed pointing the gun toward Wilson, but I now stood in the way.
“There are picture of you too, Blue! Did you know that? Gabby showed me this morning. The whole fr-freaking sch-school has seen y-you!” Manny stuttered, his face a shattered mask.
I reassured myself that it couldn't be true, even as stunned humiliation clogged my throat and spread through my limbs like snake venom. I kept my arm outstretched, hoping Manny would relent and hand me the gun.
“If that's the case, then shouldn't Blue be the one with the gun?” Wilson countered mildly. Manny's eyes shot to Wilson, a shocked look on his face. Then he looked at me, and I wiggled my fingers, indicating he should hand it over. He seemed to consider what Wilson said.
Then Manny laughed. It was just a slight hiccup, but the sound ricocheted around the room like another shot. I wanted to cover my head, but the hiccup became a chortle, and the chortle a full rolling laugh that turned into wracking sobs.
All at once, Manny seemed to lose his conviction, and his arm went slack, the gun hanging loosely from his fingers. He buried his chin in his chest and let the sobs overtake him. Wilson stepped around me and took Manny in his arms, pulling him close as my hands closed around the gun. Manny let me take it without protest, and I retreated gingerly, one step at a time, as I watched Manny sob into Wilson's chest. But once I had the weapon, I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't want to set it down, and I couldn't give it to Wilson. His arms were wrapped around an inconsolable Manny, more to keep him contained, I think, then to offer comfort, though Manny didn't need to know that.