Disclaimer: See first chapter

Rating: PG-15

Epilogue

The weather was warm and embracing and the sun smiling down on them affectionately when, four days later, Blake Holsey High, cleared and scrubbed clean of the terrors of the day that no student in the school would ever forget, closed down for the day and all the students, faculty, and staff gathered on the front lawn all in black. Seated in rows of folding chairs and before a podium on a stage erected for the occasion, every member of the school was present to witness the assembly. Marshall Wheeler had been released for the day, with strict orders from his doctor to return immediately following the memorial to honor his fallen classmates. He had begrudgingly obliged, already bored with the hospital, and dismayed to learn he wouldn't be fully released for another three days.

He sat now, dressed in a suit his brother had brought him, in a wheelchair amidst the crowd. On one side sat Grant Wheeler and the nurse that Dr. Corben had sent along with Marshall to make sure that he came back immediately following the memorial. On the other side, Josie Trent and Lucas Randall were seated, Josie holding Marshall's hand for moral support. They exchanged a smile and Josie gave her friend a light kiss on the cheek, "I'm glad you could come." She told him.

"Me too."

On the stage, in front of the hundreds of students and faculty members, there were some more chairs. Principal Durst sat in one, Victor Pearson in another, Professor Zachary in a third, and Corrine Baxter in the fourth. One was empty, its former occupant having vacated. Standing before the podium, Vaughn Pearson addressed his classmates. The whole memorial was beautiful, Vaughn noted, tears stinging his eyes. Never had he seen so many flowers in one place, or so few dry eyes. He'd been approached by Principal Durst herself, at the request of Professor Zachary, to give a speech for his fallen classmates, and he had requested a friend's presence, more for his own support than for anything else, Vaughn admitted to himself. Corrine was more than willing to stand with him to honor their lost friends.

Vaughn stepped up to the podium, adjusting the microphone and looking down at the speech he had prepared before returning his gaze to the silent crowd. He felt afraid, placed before the crowd, singled out as he was, but then his eyes met with his friends – Marshall, Josie, and Lucas in the front row, Tina Gedrick and Tyler Henson in another place – and he felt confident once more. It helped to know that behind him, his father watched him, believed in him, and that was all the support Vaughn needed to continue.

"Thank you all, uh, for coming here today. I'm glad everyone could be here to remember... our friends, even if it means having to relive that day. I'm sure no one here predicted that the events of Monday, March 8th, 2004 would occur, not at Blake Holsey High, not to anyone we ever knew. The truth is that no one can ever predict these things, and that no matter how much you want to blame yourself for them, they're not your fault. I learned this the hard way. I still feel guilty for what happened, even though I had no control over anyone's actions but my own. It's easy to blame yourself, to think 'maybe if I had paid attention more,' or 'maybe if I'd been nicer to people, noticed them more, none of this would have happened.'

"I've felt the same things over and over, but I'm learning. I'm learning to move on and to not blame myself for the actions of another person, to move on and accept the things I cannot change.

"I also do not blame Chris Ghent for what happened. It is easy to blame other people without looking at the facts when one's emotions are at stake. Chris Ghent was a troubled person. He felt that no one was watching, and he was probably right. What he did was not right, but he's gone now, and cannot be blamed. Charging him with his crimes would amount to nothing now, and would not contribute to moving on.

"I've learned something else these past few days, and I want to share it with you all. Though I know now that I cannot change the past, I can re- charter my course for the future, and I will start by acknowledging my friends. It is easy to overlook people. Everyone's got problems of their own, but no one should be neglected. If you spent just a little time looking past your own problems and helping someone else out, even if it's just to smile at them, or wave, or say 'hello', it's enough to change a person's life. It may seem ridiculous, but it's true. Everyone deserves to be noticed, and no person should ever be taken for granted.

"Take a look around you and look at who is here, don't forget who is not and learn to live again so that you may help others to do the same."

Vaughn stepped back and seated himself in his chair, allowing Corrine to take the podium. Quietly adjusting the mike, she spoke into it softly, "The sheet next to the stage is covering a statue that will act as a reminder of a day that should not be forgotten. It was erected yesterday in memory of those who lost their lives on March 8th, 2004. We will never forget them: Janette Arnosky, Hillary Clark, Robert Corte, Madison Flynn, Benjamin Hughes, Professor Franklin Jacobs, Kenneth Johnson, Gina Locke, Britney Nelson, Professor Mary Rhom, Terrence Roman, Jamie Shields, Julie Skiezsa, Colin Summerlee, Gary Trask, Harold Voorhies, and Victoria Welles." Corrine stepped back as the sheet was pulled away to reveal an oblong-shaped statue with the date and the names of each victim etched into it.

Vaughn moved toward the podium once more, giving Corrine an encouraging smile as she swiped at the corner of her eye. She returned the gesture, taking her seat and smoothing her skirt out over her knees. Vaughn took a deep breath and faced the crowd once more. "Again, I'd like to thank you all for coming to be a part of this ceremony. Last Monday was a terrible tragedy, but we cannot go away from this terrible experience without having learned anything. I beg you not to forget my advice to pay more attention to the people around you, and more than that, don't ever forget the people who died that day. They can no longer be with us in body, but their spirits will always live on, in our memories and in our hearts. Thank you." Vaughn exited from the stage to the applause of the entire student and staff population, stealing a glance at his father and Professor Zachary before he did so. He joined together with his friends and the five teenagers watched as students filed past the memorial, admiring it in contemplative silence. He and the others were heading back to the hospital now to be with Marshall so the teen wouldn't be lonely. There was a lunch after the ceremony that they were skipping, which Principal Durst had felt Vaughn should be present at, but he assumed she understood when he announced he'd rather spend the afternoon with his friend.

Josie moved next to Vaughn when he reached them, clasping his hand in her own and Vaughn smiled, looking at each of his friends in turn. The nurse from Mercy approached them after a minute and told Marshall it was time to go back to the hospital.

"Aww, do I have to? Can't I stay just another hour?" He asked her innocently, receiving a stern look in reply.

"I think it's time we went back, Marshall." Lucas said, taking control of the wheelchair.

"Fine... mom..." Marshall grumbled under his breath. Vaughn smiled and stole one final glance at the towering Blake Holsey High before following his friends to the car.