The music stopped when the child screamed. It pierced the air, sounding over the thumping beat and the laughter. Someone lunged for the player, fingers jabbing at the button. For a moment, all we heard was silence. Then, tires screeched. Others raced for the door, myself among them. The first person there, a red-headed girl who usually seemed so calm and collected, threw open the door, barely letting it slow her. Two burly football players followed her, with me just behind them. Another dozen flew out behind us just in time to watch a car turn the corner at the end of the block and speed off.
"What the fuck?" Jack demanded.
Susan, the red-head, inhaled sharply and began moving. It wasn't until I saw her kneel on the road that I realized what caused her reaction.
"Someone call 911!" I yelled, hurrying towards her.
"Is that a kid?" someone asked behind me, their identity stolen with dark and another focus.
I slid to my knees on the other side of the kid from Susan. My breathing stopped at the sight, the body mangled, twisted unnaturally. But breathing. Around us, house lights flickered on, the neighbors woken from either the lack of noise, or the shouting. I didn't care which. What was Nicky doing out past dark? He should have been inside at this hour, in bed. Not outside where inconsiderate drivers could run him over and speed off into nowhere.
A shadow fell over us, obscuring the little I could make out.
"Go to 3224," I ordered, not bothering to look up. "A doctor lives there." Hopefully he was home.
I glanced up, seeing Jack. He stared down at the kid in horror. It was almost amusing coming from a guy who's claim to fame was shoving other people down.
"That way," I said, pointing down the street. "Three houses on the right. It's blue."
Jack nodded, sparing one more glance for the kid, whose eyes stared up at nothing. Breathing but not home. Jack ran down the street.
"There's blood," Susan said, hands going the kid's side.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I pull my shirt off in a solid motion, for once not caring about the lack of definition in my chest; or how slender I am; or the lack of chest hair. It was passed to Sarah, who bunched it up and pressed it to the wound. Pressure was supposed to help bleeding, right? That's what all the movies said. I didn't know what to do about anything else, but I didn't know what all was wrong. Was it dangerous to move him? Or was that something they just said in movies?
Near the door, someone was on the phone, talking to the police, and panicking. Hopefully, it meant help was on the way. Hopefully, it wasn't too late.
"Come on, Nicky," I told him, a hand on his head. "Help's coming. Just hold on."
I didn't know if he heard me. There was no reaction.
"Keep talking," Susan said. "Keep talking. Let him know someone's here, that he's not alone. God, no one should be alone like this."
Her voice trembled with her words. Her breathing was forcibly calm. The kind of breathing people did when trying to keep themselves from freaking out. The kind that supposed to keep you in control.
"What's going on out here?!" someone demanded.
"What did you kids do now?"
"Shouldn't even be up this late."
On and on. The adults pouring from their homes shook off the concerns of those talking to them. Susan and I kept out attention on Nicky: her putting pressure to the wound, me speaking softly.
Don't be afraid, Nicky. We're here. You're going to be okay. It's going to be okay. Help's coming. Just hold on.
The words were lost to me. I just said what came to mind, anything that came to mind. I was repeating myself, probably.
A strangled scream tore me from my reassurances. Glancing up, I saw Mrs. Kentley, Nicky's mother, staring at us, eyes wide. One hand rose to cover her mouth, but I didn't see recognition there. Perhaps she thought it was someone else's kid. Maybe her reaction was completely sympathetic towards whichever mother was about to learn her child was lying, broken, in the middle of the street with only two teenagers to look after him.
"Diana, what's wrong?" her husband asked. Mrs. Kentley just pointed with her free hand.
"Keep pressure on the wounds," I told Sarah. She nodded, not looking at me as I rose. Mr. Kentley turned as I approached, not wanting to tell them the truth, but no one else would be able to. I watched Mr. Kentley's eyes flicker from Nicky, to me, and back. Realization flickered into his eyes. His head shook slowly.
"No," he murmured as I stopped before them.
"It's Nicky," I said, my voice more level than I'd thought it would be. "An ambulance is on its way. I sent someone for Dr. Main."
Mr. Kentley fell to his knees. "No."
His wife shoved past me to get to her son. I let her go. There was nothing I could do. It wasn't my right to stop her. Nicky would probably feel better with his mother there than with me. I was just the guy he followed around when I let him. High School students aren't supposed to hang out with elementary students. It's just not cool.
Had he been coming to the party? I wondered. Was this my fault?
"Out of the way!"
Some of the tension flowed from my shoulders in a rush. I nearly fell in the relief. I managed to catch myself and turned around as Mr. Kentley struggled back to his feet.
Dr. Main placed a hand on Mrs. Kentley's shoulder, gently moving her aside before she knelt beside Nicky.
"What happened?" she demanded.
"A car hit him," I said.
"Where's the driver?"
"Ran off. We didn't even get a license plate.
Dr. Main nodded, beginning to check the body. "Has an ambulance been called?"
"How long ago?"
"Not long." I didn't think it was that long ago. How long had it been since we got out here? It seemed forever ago, but it couldn't have been, not if the doctor just showed up.
Dr. Main glanced up at me, eyes narrowing. "You doing alright, kid?"
I nodded slowly. Of course I was doing alright. I wasn't the one broken and bleeding. I wasn't the one having to watch their child like this either.
Nicky wheezed, cutting off her response.
The next few minutes passed in a blur. I was dimly aware of Dr. Main checking Nicky over. Sarah kept putting pressure on the wound, though she was still shaking. We heard sirens in the distance. And that's when Nicky went into cardiac arrest.
"You!" Dr. Main snapped, waving me closer. "Tilt his head back, gently, plug his nose, and breath when I tell you to. Understand?"
I nodded. The world moved slowly around me as I knelt beside Nicky and did as instructed. Beside me, Dr. Maine began chest compressions.
Plugging his nose, I leaned over, covering Nicky's mouth with mine, and breathed. She began again, counting out each compression as she made it.
I breathed again.
Nicky didn't start breathing again.
When the ambulance arrived, they tried to revive him, but they failed too. Nicky was DOA. Dead on Arrival. I watched them load Nicky into the ambulance anyway, the doctor and his parents going with him from my place seated on the sidewalk. Shock, they told me. I even had the blanket to prove it. The world seemed miles away. Everything moved too fast, or two slow, and I just sat outside of it all, watching as the little kid who idolized me was carted away.
Sarah sat next to me, wrapped in her own shock blanket. She stared out into nothing. I wondered what thoughts were going through her head, but couldn't bring the words into my mouth. Without the terror, and the adrenaline running through me, I couldn't bring myself to do much of anything.
Behind us, our classmates stood, talking, giving their statements. We were lucky it was still early, and no one had pulled out any alcohol, or we'd all likely be in trouble, despite the situation.
We still don't know why Nicky was out that night. There wasn't anything on him that gave anyone a clue, but I'm sure he'd been coming over to the party. He wanted to hang out with the big kids. No one saw the car that hit him. No on got a license plate for it, either. We don't know who killed Nicky and ran away like the coward they were. We might never know, and that's going to be a shadow that eats at Nicky's parents for the rest of their life.
I went to the funeral. I couldn't not. It was my fault he'd died. If only I'd given him more attention, maybe he wouldn't have come to the party. If I'd invited him earlier that day, maybe he'd still be alive, at home, pestering me.
His parents asked me to say a few words. I did. Nicky was a great kid, always curious, always wanting to be a big kid. He wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. He'd have made the best astronaut in all of NASA. Now ...
Now, he's just food for the worms.
My parents started me in therapy soon after. They said it would help with the trauma. I don't know if it will or not, but I'm doing it anyway. They want me to. I don't even know if I want to be cured. Something I haven't admitted to my therapist, and probably never will: I hope whoever killed Nicky suffers. He was a great kid, who deserved so much better.