Winters paused for a moment. “What?”
“Something happened with Meehan,” Nix repeated, his words rushing out like a waterfall.
Moving his shopping cart over out of the way before continuing, Winters wondered what exactly had occurred. “What?” he asked again.
“Check the news!”
Winters looked around. Unless Target had implemented some sort of news station within all its stores, he couldn’t. “Nix, I can’t,” he told him. “I’m in the middle of Target right now.”
“Why are you in–” Nix began, before cutting himself off. He sighed. “Never mind, I’ll ask later.”
“I appreciate it.”
Nix asked, “You know how Meehan said he was going to go skydiving?”
“Yeah?” Then it hit Winters. His eyes widened and he could have sworn his heart skipped a beat. “Oh no.”
Nix let out a breath, finally glad to get it off his chest and passing the burden of knowledge on. “Yeah” was all he could say.
Winters struggled for a moment to regain his composure, which he had to, and quickly. Target is a great place, but it’s not necessarily a place where you want to get the news that something bad happened to someone you knew and break down completely. Hell, is anywhere?
“What happened?” he finally brought himself to choke out.
“Well, he didn’t die, luckily,” Nix responded. “His parachute malfunctioned and he went to the ground faster than he needed, but uh, it deployed at least.”
Winters huffed. “I’ll ask again. What happened?”
“He landed hard, like, super hard, as one does falling from a plane. But he knocked out immediately. He’s in a coma right now.”
“Meehan survived?” Winters exclaimed, forgetting where he was for a moment. “I’m at a loss for words.”
Nix said, “Me too.” There was some silence on both ends for a few moments before Nix decided to speak up again. “So what do you think’s gonna happen with his dogs?”
Winters took on a stern tone. “Lewis.” If a friendship is based on last names or nicknames, you know it’s some serious shit when a first name gets brought into the mix. That’s what happened with Winters and Nix, and most times it was jokingly, even though this occurred on a near weekly basis.
“Sorry,” Nix apologized. “Humor to cope is how I do things.”
Winters sighed. “I know.” He said, “We have the best theater teacher for only a week, and now he’s in a coma.”
“I don’t think someone up there likes us.”
“Do the others know yet?”
Nix replied, “Not yet. I just saw it because I happened to be channel surfing.”
“Are you going to go tell them now?” Winters asked. “In the group chat?”
“I have to,” Nix confessed. “They’d be pissed if they found out I knew and never told them. Besides…” he said, letting his sentence trail off, “I have to live up to my reputation of gossip queen.”
“King,” Winters corrected.
“No, queen,” Nix said. “Let me be a bad bitch, Dick. It’s the least you can do.”
Winters smiled. “No, the least I could do is nothing.”
“That’s true,” Nix admitted.
“Well, let’s go tell them,” Winters said.
“In Target?” Nix reminded him. “Shouldn’t you get out of Target first?”
Winters sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right.” He said, “I’ll hurry up here and let you know when I’m home.”
that could have gone better I feel
Nix, that entire chat was a mess, and we couldn’t even scroll up to read other messages because new messages kept coming in so fast.
I guess that’s what happens when you have 19 people in a group chat.
For lack of a better word, yes.
But I’m not saying it.
well one of us has to be the good kid here
We aren’t kids anymore, Nix.
Well, I won’t be in two months.
You have to wait until next year.
just because you’re older doesn’t mean you have to rub it in my face
remind me why we’re friends again
Because no one else will let you cheat off of their tests.
Anyway, what do you think we need to do now?
well the school knows
they published something on the website already n the county website will too shortly
How long do you think he’ll be out for?
well it’s a miracle the man survived in the first place so I’m just gonna say “a long time”
but that’s more of a question for Gene than for me man
just because I took Anatomy doesn’t mean I passed
Nix, you were the only one that failed.
And there was a kid that never showed up to class. THEY passed.
that’s my point
wait how do you know that I failed
Well, aside from what you just said, I was in that class, too.
You do tend to miss things when you sleep through an entire class.
idk how I failed b/c I was cheating off you the whole semester
I deliberately put the wrong answers down and changed them after you turned your test in.
you coldhearted son of a bitch
I guess there’s a reason your the top of the class
Hey, Gene, are you busy?
I just finished my Anatomy homework so I have some free time.
You hear about Meehan?
Yeah I heard it from Babe, and it sucks.
Not the group chat?
I was about to check it when my phone was buzzing off the hook and then he called me.
If you weren’t aware, his accent is thicker when he’s freaking out.
If I wasn’t aware of that at this point, I’d have to be deaf.
So what did you want to talk about? About Meehan?
How long do you think he’ll be in a coma for?
And you’re asking me because I’m going into a medical career.
You’re the only one in our group that is.
The only one that has taken more than Anatomy and plans to make a career from it.
How rude of you to assume I’d be the only one with an answer. That’s not very kind of you, Dick; you’ve changed.
Yeah okay, here’s what I know.
So there was this flight attendant from what is now the Czech Republic and she was on this plane in the early ‘70s, and the plane exploded. She fell 33,333 feet which looks odd when converted from metric, but she had no parachute or anything. She survived somehow and woke up in a coma about 27 days later.
How was she afterwards?
Traumatized would be my first guess because she’s the only one that survived.
But medically she was in the hospital for roughly 16 months afterwards because of all the broken bones. She healed fine though from what I read.
So Meehan could?
Well the circumstances are different. He jumped from a plane voluntarily, she just survived an accident. She was pinned to the tail of the plane and that’s how she survived. Meehan had a defective parachute. It’s hard to say.
Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.
It’s fine, Gene. Get to bed soon; it’s late.
I’ll go to sleep as soon as I’m done with my work here.
And it better be soon.
Yes, dad. Of course, dad.
See you tomorrow, Gene.
I don’t know.
you struck out? you don’t know for once????
call the presses while I mark this date down on my calendar
It’s possible Meehan will be fine, it’s going to be a long while before we see.
One month, give or take.
so what’ll we do in the meantime?
“Jesus, you see this place? They’re acting like he’s dead or something!” Nix exclaimed upon getting out of Winters’ car. It was something similar to a funeral: all black, flowers in front of a makeshift memorial, chalk writings on the pavement outside of the school. It was depressing, and very wrong, because Meehan wasn’t dead.
“I mean, half-dead,” Welsh said, walking up with Lipton and Speirs. They joined Nix as they looked at the spectacle; Winters got out and joined them as well. “He’s in a coma.”
Lipton said, “How positive of you,” while he shook his head.
“What’s quarter-dead?” Speirs asked, smirking.
“Sleeping,” Nix replied.
Winters huffed in frustration, something he seemed to be doing a lot these days. If anyone had asked if he got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, they’d be one-hundred percent correct – he had.
“You wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” Welsh joked, tapping his coffee cup against Winters’ arm. Winters, being the taller man here, looked down out of the corner of his eyes at Welsh, and he got the message; he wiped the grin right off of his face. Aside from the stern look, the bags under Winters’ eyes were mildly intimidating.
“Meehan was only here for what, a week?” Winters asked. “And the whole school is mourning. Half these people don’t even know him.” He raised his voice and all but shouted, “He’s not even dead, for crying out loud!”
Speirs cocked his head to the side. “I didn’t take you to be that kind of person, Winters.” The kind of person in question was one that complained about how other people felt, as Winters was a highly considerate guy.
Though Speirs only recently started hanging out with this little band of brothers, he knew what kind of guy he was. They’d been in classes together sporadically throughout high school; always in the right places but always at the wrong time. The tech class is where the wrong time became the right time, and so the friendship began.
Winters sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to get all the sleep out from his eyes. “I’m not normally.” He said, “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
When it comes to school, a month is never long in the grand scheme of things when all you do is wake up; get ready; go to school; work if you had a job, or train if you played a sport; go home; eat dinner; and go to bed. It’s a cycle that lasts all of ten months and goes by so fast. So for Winters, when he knew that he’d get his college decision results back in a month, he was flat-out panicking.
He couldn’t sleep while this was on his mind, nor could he focus properly like he knows he can. In his dreams, he turned in his college applications too late, or his scholarship applications too late. Winters dreamt he was late to class, that he didn’t know where his class was or what class he had. He would dream about not graduating, not being valedictorian, failing at everything he set his mind and heart to.
Winters wouldn’t openly admit it to anyone, but his biggest fear was failure. And so the next step of his life was constantly looming over him, and his dreams a constant reminder of what could happen. But it’s Winters: top of every class, of his graduating class, one of the nicest guys.
So he wouldn’t fail, he couldn’t.
The school that morning and for the days following it was rife with people who wanted to talk about Meehan, and talked about him in the past tense. Who was he? What was he like? Was he a nice guy? Winters didn’t like it one bit.
Others wanted to talk about how fleeting life is, and how easy it is to be there one moment and gone the next. Nix would admit that yeah, it’s true, but don’t talk about it at school and have the existential crises at home that make sleep impossible for ages like everyone else, thank you very much.
Meehan hadn’t died, not to Winters’ knowledge, and hopefully he wouldn’t for a very long time, not until after he made his Broadway dreams come true. Until then, Winters would just have to focus on two things: college, and making the musical perfect.
It was about a week later at lunch when Nix brought the subject of college up to him.
“You get all your college applications in on time,” Nix said, “like a good little Ivy League boy?”
Winters rolled his eyes. “Yes, Nix, I did.” He leaned in and asked, “Did you?”
“I only sent one: to Yale,” Nix said confidently.
“What happens if you don’t get in?”
Nix smirked. “I will.”
Like the week before, Welsh slid in with Speirs and Lipton again. Somehow they got this lunch block together; it was a mystery to them, but a blessing in disguise is what Welsh would call it.
“And this is why you applied to every single Ivy League school, right?” Welsh asked Winters.
Winters nodded, chewing his food like a good Ivy League boy before responding. “It’s best to be prepared,” he finally said.
“What happens in the off chance that you don’t get into any?” Speirs interjected. “Did you apply to anywhere in-state?”
Winters waved the question off with his hand “I don’t even want to think about what happens if I don’t get in.” He shook his head and said, “I have stress dreams about it plenty.”
Nix laughed. “You and Carwood here are the only two people in this cafeteria, in graduating class…” he trailed off, taking a bite of his lunch. “Hell, in this entire damn school that’s having stress dreams about school and college.”
“And you,” Winters began pointedly, “are the only person that still has dreams about being naked in school.”
“I’m telling you, someone spiked the punch at prom last year!” Nix exclaimed.
Speirs pointed his fork at him. “Now that is a story I have not heard yet.”
It was your standard “make prom fun this year” kind of shenanigans that led people to spike the drinks in the first place. For some, being drunk is fun but that’s because, like Nix and Welsh, they had a high tolerance for it. Others, namely Winters and other people that respected the law in its entirety, didn’t have a tolerance for it at all, and got drunk fast.
Speirs hadn’t gone to prom last year – he had his wisdom teeth removed and his mouth became infected afterwards – but he had heard about what happened.
“It’s simple,” Welsh said, mouth full and not caring who saw it. “I was the one that did it.”
Nix shifted his gaze over to his close friend and underage drinking buddy. “Harry, that was you?”
Welsh tried not to smile as he reached across the table, grabbed Nix’s hands, and held them. “I’m so sorry, Nix. Truly, deeply from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “Can you forgive me?”
“Can I tell you a secret?” Nix said, leaning in. Everyone else did as well.
“Of course, darling,” Harry replied.
Nix smiled. “It was the best night of my life.”
“Wait, I thought that was when we met,” Winters interrupted, putting his hands on theirs. Harry looked over at him as if he was a woman in an old noir movie just meeting her husband’s mistress for the first time. Winters was thankful for the distraction from his racing thoughts and fears about what was coming up in the next month.
“I’m sorry, Dick,” Nix said, removing Winters’ hand, “but you’ve been pushed back to second best night.”
Welsh laughed at what he was about to say, barely containing his laughter and ultimately failing. “And to think,” he was able to get out between laughs, “that night you meant, that’s when you lost your virginity him!”
“Okay, okay!” Winters said with a small grin on his face, as did everyone else. Welsh kept laughing, struggling to find air to breathe. “Enough joking. We don’t have much longer left for lunch.”
Lip shook his head. “I’m glad we got that resolved. I thought Harry was about to kill himself.”
“He will if Kitty doesn’t go to the same college as him,” Speirs pointed out.
Welsh directed it onto Winters. “And Dick will if he doesn’t go to an Ivy League college.”
“I will not,” Winters denied.
“Why do you hate it when we try and make you more dramatic?” Harry asked. “Let us have some fun with you, you…” He trailed off, trying to think of a good insult or nickname, and finally rested on, “Let us have some fun with you, you vanilla bean.”
Nix paused his side conversation with Speirs about math. “What in the fuck,” he said, “is that supposed to mean?”
“You know,” Welsh said, “vanilla. Plain. Clean cut and not likely to engage in BDSM or hardcore drugs like salvia.” He shrugged. “Vanilla, you know?”
Nix widened his eyes. “Harry, there are times I wonder what exactly is happening in that tiny little brain of yours.” He let out a breath and shook his head. “Today, right now, in this moment? This is not one of those times,” he said.
He focused his attention back on Dick as Harry checked his phone for new texts from Kitty. God help the man, he’s hopelessly in love with a girl all the way across the county. The guys didn’t want to admit it, sickly-sweet and disgusting as the overheard phone calls could be, but they made a cute couple. They couldn’t wait for the day that, for at least a time, they wouldn’t have to see Harry go all doe-eyed while he texted Kitty and sighed happily after each conversation. Be it senioritis, the single life, or being cynical, they didn’t want to hear it. They did hope that everything worked out for them in the end.
“So,” Nix said to Winters, “entertain the notion for a bit. What’ll happen if you don’t go Ivy League?”
Winters shook his head. “I told you, I’m not going to entertain that notion. It gives me stress dreams,” he said.
“We know,” Nix replied.
After a moment paused and some eating was done, Lipton spoke up. “So Meehan,” he said. “What now?”
“Same as what’s happening right now,” Welsh said. “Probably get a few different subs over the coming weeks until the school finds a replacement on such short notice.”
“This close to Christmas?” Nix joked. “The holiday season is ruined!”
“I know what I said.”
Speirs said, “Someone that can learn a musical quickly.” He added on, “Hopefully” under his breath.
“Otherwise we’re fucked,” Welsh said.
Winters raised his water bottle as if he was making a toast. “Here’s hoping we’re not.”
Even the brief distractions at lunch couldn’t keep Winters’ mind focused on something that wasn’t those college acceptance letters he hoped to be getting mid-December. That time would be stressful enough, because mid-December is when the musical opens.
One month to get a new teacher and show them the ropes.
One month until the show opens.
One month until early action and early decision college acceptance letters arrive.
But Winters was the top of the class, and he’d remind himself of that, trying not to fuel his ego at the same time. He was here and had plenty of extracurriculars. He did well on his AP tests – 3’s and 4’s, a 5. He went into every class with confidence he’d succeed, and succeed he did. That happened with everything he did.
But he was feeling so incredibly on edge regardless. No amount of positive reminders could make him feel otherwise. In actuality, Winters had nothing to worry about.