By Vivian Drury, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: The names of the people in this story have been changed to protect their identities.
A small tar pebble pierced the space between Joie York’s big toe and toe ring. She winced with pain, but she continued to sprint, her feet pounding against the rocky street. Her strappy sandals dangled from her polished fingertips. She couldn’t waste precious seconds putting them on.
Lights flashed and sirens blared behind her as she made her way down a suburban side street in Hinsdale, Illinois.
Her scarlet bikini and bleeding cuts blurred together in the darkness as she dashed into some trees. When she was far enough away, Joie rested her elbows against the back of a house, the brick’s surprisingly chilly touch sending a shiver down her spine in the sticky August air.
She could hear the voices from earlier that night play over and over in her head:
“Dude, we have to take him to a hospital or call the cops or something,” one of the players said.
“Are you fucking kidding me, man?” said another. “We’ll all be screwed if cops show up. We would be attending the funeral of our futures, you fuckhead.”
The rest of the high school players and girls huddled in agony. They had only seconds to decide what was more important: their futures as athletes or this boy’s life.
The night started out as a celebration. The high school rugby team had won the Illinois state championship a few weeks earlier. Joie’s boyfriend, Mike, was the team captain and promised to throw the boys and their girlfriends a party at his aunt’s house, which had an indoor pool.
Joie reluctantly attended, the fear of Mike breaking up with her pushing her into the situation.
Joie stood in the corner with a Budweiser Straw-Ber-Rita in her hands. She clasped the ice-cold can, tracing circles in the condensation with her thumbs. Her eyes wandered. Every person held a drink, a terminal cancer to their hopes of being collegiate athletes if any coach, parent or scout knew they were here.
Joie swallowed hard.
In one corner, a boy sat alone. His name was Tim Daniels, yet in school, he was known as the Hulk or the Monster. Few people knew his real name.
He was the biggest kid on the team at 6 feet 7 inches and 250 pounds. He usually stood like a mountain, rigid and stiff, unable to be shaken by anyone or anything.
But tonight was different.
Tim’s head hung low. He occasionally released a heavy groan, yet the chatter and beat of the pop music tuned him out. He was the only one sitting. He was also the only one without a girlfriend at the party.
Mike strutted over to Joie, drunkenly swinging his arm over her shoulder.
“Want to go check out one of the bedrooms, babe?” Mike said, pulling Joie close. His breath reeked of beer and his skin of chlorine. He winked at her, his cheeks rosy and eyes droopy.
Joie slid out from beneath his arm.
“I think you should look at Tim,” Joie said.
“Babe, he’s fine. He’s just had a little too much.”
“Mike, I’m serious. He’s beyond drunk. I’m worried.” Joie attempted to meet Mike’s gaze, but his eyes wandered.
“Fine, whatever. God, you can be such a prude little bitch sometimes.” Mike rolled his eyes and walked over to Tim.
“Hey Hulky, c’mon, get up.”
Tim didn’t move.
“Dude, come on. I’m serious. Are you ok?” Tim slumped over and onto the ground, his head smacking against the tile. Each girl gasped as the sound rang through the room.
“Oh shit. Guys come here, now,” Mike said.
As whispers traveled about calling 911, girls and younger players began to slither out into the darkness, leaving just Joie, Tim, Mike and two other guys.
Joie shook. She shouldn’t be here. She couldn’t be here. But looking at the vomit that now dripped down Tim’s chin and his fluttering eyes, she couldn’t leave him.
The roaring of sirens shattered her thoughts. Her worried gaze met Mike’s.
“You have to leave, now,” Mike said. “Save yourself.”
This time, his eyes locked into hers. He grabbed her quivering palm and rushed her to a back window. He jammed his white knuckles to the glass, sending shards into his hand and scattering across the frame.
“I felt nothing,” Joie said. “I didn’t have time to react or actually process what was going on. I was selfish and knew had to save myself.”
Joie squeezed herself through the jagged opening and tumbled onto the outside lawn, bleeding profusely from colliding with the glass. She heaved herself to her feet, getting caught in the corner of the police car’s headlight as she stood up.
Joie took one last look at Tim through the shattered window, said a prayer and bolted forward.