“Drake?” Someone was tapping on his window. Startled, Drake turned to see Kristen Howell looking in at him. The wind was blowing through her long brown hair. “Drake? Are you alright?”
What was she doing at his house? And why was she asking him if he was alright? He looked through his windshield. The surprises were building. Instead of his house being there, he was staring at Brophy Hall. He rolled down his window.
“How long have I been sitting here?” he asked turning to Kristen. Her normally calm hazel eyes looked worried.
“I don’t know. I was just on my way to class and you were just sitting there. Hands on the steering wheel like you were going somewhere. But your car is off, and you were staring off into space.”
“But I…” his voice trailed off. He couldn’t remember driving anywhere. He couldn’t even remember getting into his car. How had he managed to drive halfway across town and park in the busiest lot on campus without knowing it, never mind getting into an accident?
“Are you feeling okay?”
Drake shook his head trying to shake off this feeling. “Yeah, just a little spacey, I guess.” He didn’t want to worry her. She was his first interest since starting school at Western Illinois University three years prior. The last thing he wanted was her thinking he was some kind of nut who had managed to unconsciously drive to campus.
“If you say so. I mean, if you are sure you are okay. You could go home if you wanted to get some rest. I will catch all the notes for you.” How worried she looked. He just wanted to get out of his car and give her a hug or something to reassure her that it was all going to be okay. But that really wouldn’t help the her not thinking he was a nut theory.
“No, no. I will be fine. Just been a long morning. Didn’t sleep well last night.” He opened the door slowly making sure she had enough time to move. “Shall we make our way to class?”
“Sure.” She seemed to be getting over his spell. But there was still a glint of worry in her eyes.
The late November air had disappeared in the last week or so and the walk across the lot wasn’t too bad. Earlier in the week, it had mysteriously begun to warm up. Today it was already a nice sixty degrees. Meteorologists had been confounded by the entire thing. Some people blamed global warming. But Drake thought of it more as a blessing. Unlike Kristen who was a devout Christian, Drake had never possessed a great yearning towards a relationship with the higher power or powers. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in it, he just felt that as long as he lived his life in the fullest and did his best to live his life in a rightful manner while feeling remorse for the times he faltered, whoever was in charge, if there was anyone, would be pleased. Both his parents had been atheists and his little brother had decided at the age of fifteen that he was going to get into Buddhism. Drake hadn’t really held it against any of them, as long as they were content. Kristen had invited him to her church one weekend and he had went along. He spent the entire time thinking of how beautiful her smile was while she had listened to the pastor give his sermon. He was even distracted while they prayed, marveling how her hair seem to fall like perfect rain when she bowed her head.
“Earth to Drake.” Kristen was looking at him again, although her worry had been replaced with amusement by this point.
“Huh?” They had approached Stipes Hall. “How much time do we have before class?”
“Not enough for you to daydream over one of your blessed cancer sticks.” He had indeed instinctively grabbed for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. “Let’s go, space case, you can intake cancer to your lungs content after class.”
He reached out and opened the door for her. She walked through and he followed. They made their way down the hall to their class. Again, Drake opened the door for Kristen.
“Oh? A space case and a gentleman? Drake Taylor, man of many faces.” She laughed softly and Drake smiled. To him her laugh was like a choir of angels.
“Ahh, Miss Howell, Mr. Taylor, nice of you to join us right on time,” the young professor called as they entered the classroom. “I thought you may have decided to skip today’s lesson for more time worthy ventures. But, alas, I see you only spared the moments before class to get here.”
Drake and Kristen said nothing as they took seats near the back of the classroom as Mr. Looman began his lesson.
“Now onto today’s lesson. If you would be so kind to take out your notebooks and textbooks and open to chapter seven. Today is an exciting trip back to the fall of Rome, stock full of vocabulary and important dates.” There was a shuffle as people got out their books. Drake reached down and unzipped his bag. He reached in and pulled out his book placing it on his desk. He reached back down and grabbed his notebook but his hand had brushed against something hard. He released the notebook and reached further in to the object. It’s cold metal shape with the flat cool smooth front made his head spin. Before he pulled it out, he knew it was the picture from his dresser. But how had it gotten into his bag? He thought back to the morning as he pulled it out. There wasn’t any way he could have knocked it off into his bag since his bag had been in the car the entire time. The last time he could remember actually seeing it was this morning when it had fallen on the floor. He put the picture behind his text book and looked down at it. Instantly, tears came to his eyes. The memories came flying back like all fourteen years had happened just this morning. How clear everything was. Further and further back he fell. All the way back to the beginning of what became an inseparable friendship. The day their bond had been made.
* * *
Drake waited silently. He watched Matt move around the house trying to be quiet. From his spot between the bushes, he couldn’t get a clear shot at him, but he could be patient. Matt disappeared around the corner of the house, only to reappear seconds later retracing his steps, looking for whatever hiding place he had missed but Drake had found. He drew closer to Drake. Drake leveled his plastic pistol at Matt and pulled the trigger. The little pellet flew through the air and pelted Matt’s coat harmlessly.
“I got you!” Drake yelled.
Matt, still shocked, just looked towards the sound of his friend’s voice.
“Aww, no you didn’t. You missed.” But Matt hadn’t really put a lot of energy into this argument, and shrugged it off as Drake jogged up next to him. “I saw you there the whole time I was just looking for a better way to sneak up on you.”
Drake emerged from the bushes, racing towards Matt. “Nuh-uh. I watched you walk around the house forever.” Their game had only lasted about five minutes, but to a six year old sitting perfectly still, it had seemed like an eternity.
“I was just tricking you.”
“Yeah, okay. Hey, I am really thirsty, your mom still have that lemonade? Matt?”
Matt was peering over Drake’s shoulder. Drake froze. A shadow loomed over him. Someone was standing right behind him.
“Get outta here, Jeremy,” Matt said boldly.
“Why?” a deep voice behind him. Jeremy Wheeler was a big kid. Standing at five and a half feet at the age of eight, he shadowed both Drake and Matt. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to pummel them both into the ground and not think twice.
“Get outta here, Jeremy,” Matt repeated. Drake looked at Matt. Matt looked back. Their eyes met. Very suddenly the world changed. The light seemed to bend around him, and the shadows had gotten darker. It was like someone had juiced up the contrast of the world. Fear took hold of Drake as he found himself seeing everything in such a strong crisp way. But it wasn’t exactly seeing. It was more like he could sense the world around him. He could “see” Jeremy standing behind him, and Matt standing in front of him.
“Why’d you runts close your eyes? Don’t want to see the pain coming?” Jeremy’s voice seemed even more horrible than normal. Jeremy reached for Drake’s shoulder, but it was moving slowly.
I’ll go for his right eye.
I’ll go for his left.
Matt’s voice floated through Drake’s head. And Drake had responded. Had it really happened? But as Drake watched himself raise his plastic air pistol over his shoulder, he knew Matt had heard him. At the same time, Matt pointed his straight ahead. Drake used his new perspective to take aim. At first he thought he could see Matt’s muscles begin to tense, but that wasn’t quite right, he could feel them. He could feel his muscles tensing in unison.
“Oh, are your little kiddie guns gonna get me?” Jeremy mocked. With that, both guns fired in unison with a satisfying pop. Jeremy grabbed his face and fell to the ground screaming.
Drake turned to face Jeremy and as he did, reality settled back to the way it should be. Jeremy continued to roll around on the grass, crying like a baby. It made Drake feel a little sorry for the bully, because he hadn’t stood a chance.
Drake and Matt walked around the front of the house as Matt’s mom came running out.
“Who is screaming?” she asked without pausing to look at them. She disappeared around the house and they could vaguely hear her trying to console Jeremy. Matt entered the house and returned quickly with two full glasses of lemonade.
The day began to die down as they watched Jeremy’s father pull up and take him home. But not before the bully cast one last terrified glance at the duo. Matt’s mom had done some yelling and took their pistols away but it didn’t really phase the boys.
They never really talked about what had happened between them. They wouldn’t know how if they tried. The strangest thing, though was as unusual as the event had been, neither of them felt like anything was wrong. The whole thing felt natural to them. Almost as natural as breathing.
Drake’s mom pulled into the driveway just as the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the trees. She looked furious, but Drake just smiled. He got up to head to the car, but stopped short and turned around.
“We rock, bro.”
Then, without opening his mouth or making a sound Matt replied.
Yeah we do!
* * *
A harsh ringing snapped Drake out of his daydream. Class was over. Drake had missed the entire thing. He looked around as people started shuffling and putting their stuff away. A couple of them gave Drake wary looks. Had he actually fallen asleep? He didn’t think so. Silently he replaced the picture in his bookbag and started heading for the door.
“Great participation today, Mr. Taylor.” Drake turned to look at Mr. Looman who had his back to him shuffling through papers.
Drake turned back to the door. “Patronizing bastard,” he muttered under his breath. So he must have fallen asleep after all. Oh well, Kristen would have the notes for him.
He walked out of the classroom and standing there as if summoned by the thought of her was Kristen. She looked at him curiously.
“What?” He asked. He slid past her not wanting to make eye contact. He liked her, but he really didn’t want to hear about how he shouldn’t sleep in class.
“I thought you hated history.”
“I do.” This time he did turn to her and it was his turn to look confused.
She stopped and just looked at him. Drake stopped and returned her gaze. “So you just happen to have taken a special interest in the fall of a major empire?”
“What are you talking about?” Maybe he hadn’t fallen asleep after all and had just looked greatly interested.
“You just stalled an entire class period arguing with Looman about who actually decided to kill Caesar. I for one had never heard the suicide strategy, but your argument about how it was to actually frame Brutus was rather compelling. You even left Looman speechless a couple of times.”
What was she saying? She seemed to think that he had somehow led a debate against common history, all while daydreaming about his old best friend.
He wanted to argue with her, but decided against it. “Yeah, well, I am not feeling so hot after all. Can you catch the biology notes for me?”
“Yes, I can and will. I am not sure what is wrong with you, Drake Taylor, but it is a little bit scary. Go home. Get some rest.”
“I can do that.” And he would. But he was suddenly struck with an idea that would delay his rest for a bit. He started to walk away from her.
“Seriously, Drake, take care of yourself. Get over whatever flu bug you seem to have caught.” Kristen called behind him.
Drake left her standing there and hurried to his car. As he made his way through the parking lot, the questions started overtaking his mind. How had he made it to class this morning? How did the picture of him and Matt get into his bookbag? Why did Kristen think he had led a debate about a subject he barely knew? What was happening to him?
He threw his bookbag into the back seat and shut the door. He climbed into the driver seat and debated just skipping the next portion of his day. But something told him he needed to do this. As he pulled out of his parking spot, the thought that he might space out again and wind up in another state crossed his mind. He pushed it away and pulled out of the parking lot, heading east instead of west towards his home.
He tried to focus on the road, not letting his mind wander. The further he drove, the more difficult it became. It was like his imagination was pushing him out of his own head. He started counting the dashed lines in the road.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally made it to his destination. He pulled into the parking lot across the street and got out of his car. He started across the lot and got about halfway when he thought again and went back, retrieving the picture from his bag.
His pace went from a hurried walk to a light jog as he crossed. When he reached the street, he stopped. Across it was a large iron gate. The arch above it, declaring the name in rusted iron letters.