This is something I had wanted to get off my chest ever since I first watched the movie American Gun and saw just how devastated David was at the end. I felt there was so much more to the Janet/David storyline that they never showed in the movie. The two of them have such a powerful connection going.
Of course it helped that I love Chris Marquette and I just love how he has all that agony radiating off the screen. So powerful. So torturous. So here's some more of that.
Big thanks go out to Sisterdebmac, who helped me greatly with this one. I probably love it as much as you do now, Deb.
These characters and settings are not mine, nor am I claiming they are. They are property of Steven Bagatourian, Aric Avelino, IFC Films, Participant Productions, Spirit Dance Entertainment or whoever else they might belong to. I'm not making any money out of this, although I wish I was.
Something was wrong, something was definitely out of whack. David could tell, even though he'd only gone to Ridgeline for a few days. As he entered the hallway before first period, students were clustered in groups in front of the lockers, looking sad or shocked, speaking in whispers, some of them crying.
His pace quickened as he approached the one girl he saw that he knew. Guess he might even call her a friend. Everyone called her Mouse, but he knew her real name was Brittany.
"Mouse. Mouse, what's going on?" he asked when he stepped close, a certain urgency to his voice. It was only then he realized she was crying too.
His questioning gaze met the two girls' faces who stood next to Mouse, who looked equally devastated. They just stared at him apologetically, like they didn't know what to say.
"Will someone just tell me what's wrong?" he demanded again.
Mouse finally lifted her head and looked at him. "You haven't heard?" she whispered, her voice thick from crying.
Tally's dead. What did she say? Tally's dead? What? How? It took him a few seconds to process those two simple words.
"No," he said, shaking his head. Everything inside of him screamed that this could not be true, this could not be happening. "No, she can't be, I talked to her last night. On the phone."
Mouse just looked at him through tearful eyes. "David," she said, "she's dead."
"No!" he yelled. "She not dead."
"David," Mouse tried again, taking him by the upper arms. "David, listen to me. She was shot. Last night, at the store."
Shot. At the store. She said she was going to stop by the store before she came over. She never showed. Now he knew why.
He took a step back, separating his physical connection with her. He took another step back and another, colliding with someone. But he didn't care. He just turned around and walked out as fast as he could. Walked out into the quad and finally collapsed on a wooden bench.
His mind was reeling. He was seeing all these disturbing images. Tally, beautiful and innocent Tally, with a gun pointed at her. He could hear the gunshot reverberate through his head, he flinched at the imaginary sound, at the impact when it hit her, when it penetrated her clothes and her soft skin. He could see the blood seeping out, her sliding to the floor. And it just about killed him too.
All he wanted to do was scream. Scream until his voice failed him. But he couldn't.
He didn't know how long he had been sitting there when he felt someone approaching him. Mouse sat down next to him. "Are you okay?" she asked carefully.
Sheesh. What a dumb question. He shook his head, not saying anything.
They sat in silence for another minute, because what was there to say?
"How did it happen?" he finally asked, his voice low and quiet.
"They said it was a robbery. Some guy walked in and shot the cashier, then Tally, grabbed the money and took off. She didn't even do anything, he just shot her." It sounded so matter-of-fact, so demure. So final.
"Did they catch him?"
"Yeah," Mouse answered. "Some off-duty cop happened by and chased him down. I saw him on the news this morning."
"Why—" David began, "Why would the guy shoot her? Just like that, without a reason?"
Mouse took a long look at him, searched his eyes for tears, but found none. "David, I don't know. No one knows."
He clenched his jaw, drew in a long breath. "She was on her way to my house. We... I called her on the phone, asked her to come over. She said she was gonna run by the store first..."
Mouse touched his arm and found that he had goose bumps.
"What if she...? I mean, what if... what if I hadn't—"
He was thinking out loud now, and Mouse knew what he was trying to say. "No. No, you can't think like that. This is not your fault. If she'd left the house a little earlier, or if she'd stopped at different store. Too many ifs. You can't blame yourself," she told him.
David didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to think. His whole world was spinning, it felt like the rug was pulled out from under him. And it felt familiar, way too familiar. He still remembered when the police came to their house after Robbie had gone berserk. He remembered how they had asked if his mother was home and he had told them she was working. He remembered the exact words out of the officer's mouth when he explained how his brother had killed first all those innocent students and then himself. And all too vividly, he remembered how his mother had broken down, how it had taken her weeks to even function again. How his father had completely fallen apart, and then withdrawn, until he eventually just disappeared from his family's life altogether.
What had he ever done to deserve this? David couldn't fathom it. Why was all this shit dumped on him constantly? How could everything change on a dime like that, just because somebody's so full of rage they think the only solution is to blow people away? His shoulders sagged, he felt his strength draining from him as he heard Mouse's compassionate and quiet voice.
"Hey, will you be okay?"
He met her gaze, confusion all over his face. "I... I don't know," he stammered.
"David," she started, "I... I know. About your brother. And I know how... how much this must suck for you."
No, you really have no idea, he thought sarcastically. "Can we not talk about that?" he pleaded.
"Does Ike know about Tally yet?" he asked.
Mouse looked at him as if she hadn't even considered calling David's best friend. "I don't know. Not from me."
He nodded, then got up and dug his cell phone out of his backpack. "I'll call him," he said in a low voice.
Mouse watched David walk away with his phone to his ear, the sick feeling in her stomach still intensifying. If she had thought this was a hard message to bear for her, she could only imagine what it was doing to David. And she swore she would try to keep an eye on him and do the best she could to help him through this.
He couldn't stay inside the house that night. He was too antsy. He didn't know how he made it through the school day, but Mouse had been there, and a couple of other girls that he didn't really know. Ike had joined them later that afternoon. Everyone was shocked, no one said much. Everyone felt equally helpless and overwhelmed and paralyzed.
His mom wasn't home when he got back to the house. She was working so hard to earn the kind of money they would need to move to a new place, he doubted she had heard about the shooting at the store.
He really wished she was home. The quiet in the house was just too much to bear. In his room, everything seemed to remind him of Tally. The pair of sneakers she had written her phone number on. The History notes she had given him so he could catch up with what they had studied that semester. The backpack he had carelessly thrown into the corner that would remind him he'd go to school the next day and not enjoy watching her silent beauty out of the corner of his eye in class.
Trying to avoid looking at these things of his, he found himself staring at Robbie's things. They reminded him of the vile stench of violence that seemed to hover all around the room. He wanted to get rid of them all and everything they reminded him of. After Ike had been over and they talked about it, he had decided to do just that. To change the room, make it his own. But his mother had busted his ass for it. He still flinched at how they had shouted at each other, the things he said to her. How close he came to pushing her off when she wouldn't get out of his face. And he also remembered how he had found her that night, passed out on the couch with a bottle of whiskey on the table. And those pills.
The curb in front of the house was where he ended up sitting. At least he had the crickets for company, so that it wasn't completely silent. The only other sound was him crunching the Cheetos he was absent-mindedly stuffing into his mouth. They served as a mild distraction, but he still couldn't get it out of his head. He just couldn't shake the image of a dark red blood stain spreading and spreading over Tally's clothes, growing bigger and bigger as the life drained out of her by the second. He just hoped she hadn't felt death coming, that she hadn't felt any pain.
And finally, for the first time, the tears came. He wiped at them until the sleeves of his shirt were wet, trying to stifle them by popping more Cheetos into his mouth.
He heard their car coming down the road even before he saw it. He wasn't sure he wanted to face his mom right now, like this, but he also didn't have the strength to do anything to avoid her.
Janet knew there was something wrong as soon as she saw him. She set the two bags of groceries on the pavement and crouched down in front of her son. "Honey, what's wrong?"
He said the exact same words Mouse had said to him, "Tally's dead."
His mother sat down next to him, wrapping one arm around his shoulders, holding him. "David... I don't know what to say."
"Nothing to say. Some guy shot her at the store last night when she stopped on her way here."
Janet squeezed her son's shoulder a little tighter yet, her heart reaching out to him. "Oh my God," she whispered. My poor, poor boy, how is he gonna live through this? How is he gonna take another blow like this?
"Why, mom?" He sniffed at his tears, trying to stop them and failing. "Why?"
"I don't know, baby. I don't know anything anymore." She leaned her head against his and let him cry for a minute. "Were you two going out?" she quietly asked.
"No," he whispered. "Maybe. I don't know. Not really."
"But you really liked her," Janet concluded.
His eyes filled with tears again. "Yeah," he forced out in a hoarse voice. "A lot."
"David," Janet soothed him, "I'm sorry." She stroked his upper arm. "I am so, so sorry," she sighed heavily.
They sat like that for a while until Janet removed her arm from her son. "I gotta go inside. Do you wanna come?"
Did he? He didn't know.
She sensed his hesitation. "It's late, you should come inside," she gently prodded.
David lifted his head to look at her and just nodded, following his mother into the house wordlessly.
The knock on his door was quiet and hesitant and he didn't want to answer it. He didn't want to face his mother's worried look again, the concern written all over her face. It had been a long, harsh, heartbreaking day. God knew, they had both been through enough.
"David?" he heard her gently call.
When he didn't answer, she opened the door a little, seeing him lying in bed on his back with his eyes open.
"Can I come in?" she asked carefully.
He just nodded and watched her come closer, sitting down on his bed beside him.
He looked so worn, so fragile all of a sudden. "You should go to sleep, honey," she softly told him.
It was one of those ridiculous motherly clichés, but he didn't mind. He knew it only meant that she cared. After a few moments' silence, he asked, "Mom?"
"There's something I need... I look at this room, and Robbie's things are still all over the place, like he's still here. But he's not. He's gone. And... and I really need a change. If you wanna keep his stuff, I understand. But I'm sixteen years old and I've got all this... shit coming at me and I need a room of my own. I need someplace where I can be myself and... all this, his stuff... it just reminds me of what he did. Of how I can't even think of my brother as my brother anymore. Because now he's just this murderer and all anyone can think is how he killed all these innocent kids. Like somebody killed Tally."
She swallowed hard when she suddenly saw that he desperately needed to get rid of the very memories she was trying so hard to hold on to. He would never get through this if she didn't let him clear all this death and depression out of his life. If she continued to force David to live with all of those precious reminders of what Robbie could've become that somehow soothed her, she would lose him too.
"I understand," she said. "And I'm sorry I went off on you the other day. It's just..." she trailed off.
"You don't want to let go," David added.
She nodded. He understood her side too. Maybe they could work this out. "I know it's irrational, after all these years. You'd think I'd be over that by now."
"Are you afraid you'll forget him if you can't see his stuff laying around everyday?"
David's candor surprised her. When had her son become so mature? "No. I don't know. Maybe I am."
David's voice was almost a whisper. "You don't need all this," he gestured at Robbie's junk, "to remember him."
There were suddenly tears in her eyes. David was right, she didn't need any of it to remember her eldest son. He was with her all the time. All these things were doing was suffocating her other son, the one who was still alive and smart and loving and who had just lost another person in his life that he cared about. It was just that simple, if she wanted to hold on to David, she would have to let go of Robbie.
"You know, you're right," she told him. "I'll get some boxes... We'll pack up his stuff. What do you say?" She tried to give him an encouraging smile.
He nodded slowly. "Yeah, that'd be cool."
Silence fell and David's thoughts wandered back to his brother as he thought of this room, empty of his stuff. He remembered how he told Tally that Robbie was a fucking idiot. Tally. Dammit. He fought the stab of pain in his stomach and tried to concentrate hard on seeing Robbie's face in his head. It had become harder and harder with time. That was what his mom was afraid of, that she'd eventually be unable to remember what the Robbie they knew was really like.
He wasn't really a fucking idiot. He was OK most of the time. But he was also moody and even scary sometimes. But still, David wondered what could possibly be so bad that it would make Robbie kill people. What kind of rage did someone have to have inside of them to resort to that?
He looked at his mother before he spoke. "Did you know what Robbie was gonna do? Did you suspect anything?"
"What? No," she vehemently responded. "If I had known, don't you think I would have done something?"
"Did you know he had a gun?"
"No, I didn't know. Of course I didn't know. I would never have allowed a gun in my house. Or anywhere near either of you."
"Then how did he get it? Where the hell did he get a gun, Mom?"
"David, unfortunately, it's way too easy to get one of those things. Robbie was... he started running with those no-good kids. I saw it happening, I watched it all. I... I probably should have done something. But I just thought... you know, I thought it was harmless rebellion. It would pass. He would grow up and realize that he was better than that, that life had more to offer than that. I never would have thought—"
"That he'd shoot up his school," David finished the sentence for her and it made her look her youngest son squarely in the eyes.
Her tone was determined. "He was a good kid. I raised my son well, to the best of my ability."
"I know you did. I never thought you were a bad mother or anything."
No, she didn't think she was either. But where had she gone wrong with Robbie, where had she messed up and let him turn into a mass murderer?
"Mom, I'm not like him. I would never even touch a gun," he suddenly said, and it was like he was reading her mind.
Janet nodded slowly in response. "I know," she whispered, gently putting a strand of his long hair near his temple in back into place. "I know. I never thought differently, not for one second."
"How do you live with it?"
"With what he did? With the way people look at you, blame you for what happened," David explained.
She shrugged her shoulders a little. "It gets easier with time. You grow a thick skin, you pretend it doesn't get to you." In her mind she added, But it does.
"It's just not right."
"No, honey, it's not," she said. "But a lot of things in this world aren't right. And a lot of these things we can't change. It's important what we do with our life, it's important that we try to give our best. When you do that, somehow you get through it."
"I guess, he sighed, and his voice sounded so tired.
She stroked another strand of hair from his brow. "You should try to catch some sleep."
"Yeah," he mumbled again.
Janet gave him a kiss on the forehead and said, "Good night," as she left the room.
He uttered a soft, "Good night," of his own before she left. And the jumble of emotions in him began to quiet down a little as exhaustion set in. He drifted off to that place between wakefulness and sleep. The last thought he had before falling asleep was that he wished he could be as strong as his mother. If she could somehow get through losing Robbie, then he just might be able to get through losing Tally.