Maria McGreal

“The Last Day”

 

Megan Brenner, age 17, was shot and killed February 23rd, 2014 at 11:17 a.m in the Hamilton High School library. The shooter’s name was Terence Briemon, age 18.

 

On the day of her death, Megan Brenner was pulled from her sleep by an insistent beeping coming two feet from her face. She rubbed her eyes, released a yawn, and reached for her alarm to silence it. Her overeager hand knocked it onto the floor. She grumbled incoherently and rolled over. Megan slept ten minutes longer in the silence.

After pulling herself out of bed, Megan searched her closet for something to wear to school. She settled on her favorite rugby t-shirt, brightly striped with green and yellow. It was a souvenir from a business trip her father had taken her on to Jamaica the previous year. That trip was one of Megan’s favorite memories. She often felt that her father was the only person in the world with whom she had anything in common. Megan’s mother had died of stage four ovarian cancer. Megan was seven years old at the time. Since then, her mother’s life insurance had provided a standard of living for them that others found difficult to relate to. Megan would have rather had her mother than the money.

When Megan emerged from her room dressed and ready, the housekeeper pushed a bagel and a glass of orange juice into her hand.

“You’re so pretty, Meg. You know that?” Megan’s father, Mr. Brenner, emerged and gave his daughter a quick kiss on the forehead.

“Yes, Dad. You say that every day.”

“Well it’s true. And I like your shirt.” He gave her a wink, and towing a mug of coffee in hand, he slung Megan’s backpack over his shoulder and walked her out the door to the car. The car took a moment to start because of the cold. It rolled over three times, the engine finally catching on the third as it hummed to life.

“Might be time to get ourselves a new car, eh?” Megan’s father laughed. They both knew he would never get rid of the car. It had been her mother’s.

“Let’s go with a Ferrari this time.”

“Oh, good choice. Practical. Inexpensive.” Megan’s father laughed again as he pulled out of the drive.

If the car hadn’t started, Megan might not have made it to school that day. She might still be alive.

On the way to drop Megan off at school, Mr. Brenner and Megan sang along to their favorite CD, Journey’s Greatest Hits. Their best duet was an energetic rendition of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”. After that day, Mr. Brenner was never able to bring himself to listen to that CD again.

Megan got to school at 8:15 a.m. and made her way to her locker. Several people greeted her and complimented her on various parts of her outfit. She smiled politely and said nothing. She didn’t know most of their names but wanted to be nice. Megan threw open her locker and hung her backpack on the rung. She inspected her appearance in her little mirror. There was a red pimple on her chin. It was fading, but not quickly enough. Megan stared at it, willing it to go away. Sighing, she gave up. She was just bending down to pull her Pre-Calculus book from the stack when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

Megan stood, turned, and looked her killer in the eyes.

He stood there, tall and lanky with greasy black hair that fell just above his shoulders. His face was peppered with shiny red pimples and his forehead was lined with beads of sweat.

“Hey.” His words pushed out in a heavy exhale. His breath was bad. Really bad.

“What?” Megan’s face contorted into a grimace. She resisted the impulse to plug her nose with her fingers.

“Uh,” he took another deep breath. “I wanted to ask you something.”

Megan and the boy looked each other for a moment in awkward silence.

“Okay? What is it?”

“Do you want to hang out sometime? You know, like, go to a movie or get food or something. I’ll pay and everything.” He looked down at his shoes the entire time he spoke. There was a hole in the toe where his dirty sock poked through.

Megan raised her eyebrows.

“Oh, no. I mean, I don’t know. I’m kind of seeing someone.” The lie didn’t sound believable, even to Megan.

The boy looked up at her. The bright hallway lights were making his forehead look shiny.

“That’s not true. You’re lying.” He spoke quietly. He looked into her eyes, making her uncomfortable.

Megan didn’t know what to say. Of course she was lying. But wasn’t it nicer to lie than tell him the truth? That she wasn’t going to go out with him because he was weird and gross?

“Yea, listen. I’m just not really interested in dating anyone right now.” Jesus. That was a cliché if there’s ever been one.

“Oh, I understand.” He was looking down at his ratty shoes again.

“Yea,” Megan breathed, relieved.

“Well,” he paused. Oh Jesus, Megan thought, he’s not done. “Are you going to prom? Maybe you and I could –“

“No,” Megan cut him off before he could finish. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think so. And listen, I’ve got to go.” She turned, grabbed the rest of her books, and shut the locker door. She walked away without saying another word, leaving him standing there, staring at his shoes.

She shouldn’t have said no.

If she had just said yes, Megan would still be alive.

Megan spent first and second period passing notes with her almost-always-but-sometimes-not best friend Claire, who was in a fight with her boyfriend. Megan’s killer was swept from her mind as she spent the first few hours of the day giving Claire dating advice and discussing the inaptitude of the male gender. When third period came, the two made plans to meet after school before Megan made her way to the library for free period, alone. She considered skipping class and going to the coffee shop a few blocks away, but her father’s dream of seeing her enrolled at Cornell prompted her to put off the coffee and head to the library.

If only she had skipped.

It was 11:00 a.m. when Megan found her usual table in the back. She had five minutes of normality. Five minutes of reading her magazine, sneaking texts under the table, and procrastinating doing homework. There was no warning when it began.

Megan heard the first gunshot when she was halfway through her favorite celebrity magazine. The college applications lay forgotten next to her on the table. Snapping her head up from an article on the latest hairstyle trends, Megan gazed around the library. Everyone was looking around curiously. Some of the students had stood up. The librarian, Ms. Catherway, jumped up from her seat.

“Everyone, please stay put. Someone must have set off some of those firecrackers again.” With a nonchalant wave of her hand, she hurried off to investigate the hallway. Megan heard another bang, louder this time. Ms. Catherway didn’t come back.

Panic rising in her chest, she couldn’t decide if she should stay and hide, or run for it.

She should have run.

The door of the library swung open, and a boy walked in. The boy. The door closed behind him, the sound of the latch cutting through the silence. He stood for a brief moment, looking around the room.

“Dude,” a kid in the back of the library said suddenly, “what’s going on out there? We heard noises.” The boy turned to him. A smirk played at the corners of his mouth. He eyed the speaker, head tilted to one side.

“No idea.” He turned slowly, one hand reaching out and turning the lock on the door.

The lock clicked. Megan watched, breathless, as the boy pulled a handgun from the back waistband of his pants. He turned it slowly in his hands. Screams erupted from the mouths of students who ran with nowhere to go. The only exit was the one that had just been locked. The boy stood between them. Some students hid, but Megan could see that their attempts were futile. The tables did little to conceal their shaking bodies. The boy waited and watched, soaking in the terror of the room like fuel.

Megan stood frozen. She recognized him but didn’t know his name. It wouldn’t matter, in the long run. The boy locked eyes with her. He grinned. The nervousness he had previously reeked off had evaporated.

There was one large window on the north side of the library. In her panic, Megan did not consider it as a possible means of escape. The last opportunity for survival slipped away.

The boy raised his gun. She didn’t move. He aimed. Still frozen. At the last moment he shifted his aim and the bullet made contact with the side of a girl’s face who stood near the front, paralyzed with fear. She slumped to the floor. The room echoed with a new chorus of screams. He was done waiting now. Megan watched the boy make his way through the library. It was a game. Like tag, or hide and seek. She watched him win. He creeped his way through aisles of bookshelves, jumping out at students cowering in corners. Bang. Dead. She still stood frozen. He sought out each individual student. He looked as if he was having fun. Some pretended to have been shot already. Megan didn’t. She knew it wouldn’t work. He was making sure. The ones that tried to run for the door were shot twice. Megan watched as he reloaded his gun. He took his time. He did not appear to be in any rush.

When the game was over and the only breaths in the room were coming from Megan and her killer, he made his way again around the room. He kept his gun pointed at her as he eyed the bodies lain slumped on the floor thoughtfully, turning them over, looking into their faces. He was making sure all of their eyelids were closed.

Megan heard him whisper at them not to look. He said he wanted some privacy.

Finally, he went to Megan.

“Please,” she was crying. “Please don’t. Please.” She was shaking. Her whole body trembled.

“I’m not going to hurt you. I just wanted to get your attention. I did this for you. Don’t you want to be with me now?”

She continued to sob, her nose beginning to run. He made a face at her.

“Megan, cmon. Stop crying. Your nose is running. It’s gross.”

Megan refused to meet his eyes. She allowed the mucus to run slowly down from her nose, over her lips, down her chin. She did not wipe it away. Her arm stayed limp at her side. Still sobbing heavily, Megan shifted her stance slightly. The light overhead glinted suddenly off of something at her side. Her phone. He noticed.

“What is that?” He spoke low and quick. Megan turned back sharply, her hand behind her. She looked at him, her eyes wide and red. “Give it to me, Megan.” She didn’t move. “Give it to me, goddamnit!”

Slowly, she handed her phone to him. The caller ID said “Dad”.

“Meg? You there?” A muffled voice flowed out from the phone’s speaker, barely audible. The boy quickly ended the call and slammed her phone down.

“Why did you do that? Now I can’t trust you, Megan.” He shook his head. “Sit down. We need to talk.” Shaking, she obeyed.

“You said no to hanging out, but I think you should have said yes to going to prom together. Would have been fun. You and I’d make a good looking couple.” The boy reached out and placed his hand on the side of her face. Megan flinched, but did not pull away. She wanted to say so many things, but she couldn’t get her voice to work.

“You should have just said yes.” He shook his head quietly, running his fingers through her hair. Still, Megan said nothing.

The boy leaned forward and kissed her mouth.  Her lips trembled. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” As he spoke, he reached down and smoothed Megan’s shirt. It had crumpled when she sat. She felt his hands linger. He seemed to enjoy touching her. Megan’s body shook beneath his fingers.

After a moment, he straightened in his seat and withdrew his hands, lacing his fingers together slowly. He looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath, as though trying to gather the courage to turn his final thoughts into words.

“I’m sorry, Megan. This is how it’s got to be.”

Megan watched him raise the gun. She felt him place the cold end of the barrel against the soft side of her face. She sat frozen, shaking her head frantically and sobbing in great gasps. Her brain told her to fight back. She could not.

He leaned in and looked into her eyes. They were blue. He sighed.

“You’re very pretty, you know that?”

He looked away sharply as he pulled the trigger. Her voice, finally working, erupted into a scream. It cut through the air in one quick slice before disappearing.

He didn’t see, but rather heard and felt the bullet find her and pull her to the ground.

In a split second, Megan’s body lay slumped on the floor. Her hair had fallen over her face. Her arms and legs laid unnaturally, an unused string puppet. The boy stood over her. He bent down and pushed the hair away from her face and frowned.

“You should have just said yes.”

——-

When the officials finally made it into the school library, they found the boy with the gun in his hand laying on the ground. He was dead, the gun on his temple. Megan Brenner’s body laid next to him on the floor.

Mr. Brenner came to the school later to identify the body. He didn’t need the police officer to turn Megan’s body over to see her face. He knew it was her by the bright green and yellow striped t-shirt. Before the police officers could stop him, Mr. Brenner placed his hand on the side of his daughter’s face, touching each hardened and discolored curl. He cried.

The officers placed restraining hands on his shoulders, but still Mr. Brenner bent over his daughter’s body. He whispered in her ear and kissed her forehead. Mr. Brenner grasped his dead daughter’s hand and straightened up.

“You’re so pretty, Meg. You know that?”

 

Maria McGreal is currently a junior at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Maria is studying English Literature and Creative Writing, with a minor in Editing and Publishing, and she is a member of the Loras College Honors Program. This will be her first publication.

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