So much for my anonymous good deed...
You probably wouldn't have believed it had you not seen it yourself, but most everyone in the world did see it, so you already know it's true and you already know what happened. I suppose the greater reason I'm telling this story is so that you might understand why I reacted the way I did.
First and foremost, you have to understand that the last thing I wanted was to become a national hero. I was never one of those people who publicly proclaimed my virtue. I had always been the girl who sits in the back of the classroom and has all the answers but waits for someone else to give them. I had always been the girl who slips a few extra dimes into expiring parking meters. I had always been the girl who sneaks cheerful notes into random lockers. I loved doing little things for people when they least expected it. And look, I'm not a saint or anything — I mostly did all that stuff because I liked the feeling of sneaking around and doing things in secret and since I was never creative enough for pranks and I would have felt guilty if someone had gotten hurt anyway, I stuck mostly to good deeds.
So when a little girl stepped out into the street in the middle of a presidential motorcade, I figured I'd hold her back and make sure she didn't get run over. Then when the parade was over, I'd hand her to the nearest cop. Anonymous good deed for the day done.
What I hadn't banked on was that the little girl would be a squirmer.
"Let me go!" she shouted.
I clamped my hands more tightly around her arms the more she tried to escape me. "Sorry, I can't let you go yet," I answered. "There's a parade going through. You might get run over."
"I don't care!" she shouted. She struggled harder, requiring that I make a greater effort to keep her still. The little girl didn't look like much, but there was a lot of energy packed in her tiny limbs. "Let me go!"
"No." I barely got the word out from panting. I was beginning to think this good deed was going to require more effort than I was willing to put forth.
"Let me go or I'll scream!"
Given that she was already screaming, I didn't think much of this threat — that is, until she dropped her jaw and let forth the most wretched howl on the face of the planet. Its decibel level rivaled that of the two hundred-piece marching band that was passing in that exact moment.
Reactively I clamped my hands over my ears and in the split second I let her go, she launched herself into the street.
"Shit," I muttered to myself. Though the energy required to keep the child from certain death had already far surpassed the cost-benefit ratio of this random act of kindness, I had already committed to the good deed. Not to mention, I might have had nightmares for the rest of my life if something had happened to her because I had been foolish enough to let go.
So without thinking it through, I darted from behind the caution tape that held the parade crowds back and ran out into the street to catch the girl. Just in time, too, because after the marching band passed, a motorcycle carrying a man trailing an American flag was headed straight for her.
The next part you've already seen, I'm sure, which is quite helpful for me because I'm still a little fuzzy on the details myself. The whole thing happened so quickly, you see. All I can concretely remember is chasing after the girl, then in the blink of an eye lying on the concrete and bleeding all over the place with her caged in my arms. I can't even remember what it felt like when the motorcycle hit me. I mean, I saw it replayed enough times on television to know that it happened and all the injuries I sustained after the incident were proof enough, but for some reason I didn't feel a thing during the actual incident. It's almost like that part of the story had just been wiped away from my memory.
There was a deafening ringing in my ears and the rare winter sunlight shined right in my eyes, so I had to squint to see the little girl properly. I could feel her shaking in my arms. I tried to be a little more reassuring by wrapping myself more tightly around her.
"Are you okay?" I asked in a thin whisper. She didn't respond immediately, which freaked me out. So I cleared my throat and attempted to raise my voice over the deafening chaos happening all around us, but it was no use. It felt like there was something stuck in my esophagus and no matter how hard I tried to shake it free and force it down, it wanted to escape. When I couldn't hold my mouth closed any longer, my lungs contracted and I coughed up a liquid I later identified as my blood.
I was vaguely aware that the screams around me had intensified. I turned my head so that my blood wouldn't get on the little girl.
"ALANA!" a hysterical scream rose above the crowd. "ALANA!"
The girl stirred at the sound of the cry. She murmured something in my arm, something I couldn't hear over the ringing in my ears. Seconds later, the source of the screams revealed itself in the form of a guy, about my age, dressed in a suit and a red, white and blue striped tie. He had sunglasses to shield his eyes, but I had no doubt that the expression in them was one of horror.
"Alana!" I heard him sob. He threw himself onto his knees beside us and he gently plucked the little girl from my arms. "Alana, oh my God. Please tell me you're all right, please tell me you're all right."
The girl let forth a groan and I noticed that her eyes were closed. It took a while for them to flutter open and register where she was.
"Johnny?" she whispered.
"Oh thank God!" the boy sobbed in relief. Then he pulled her close to him and held her tightly. "Thank God you're alive! Are you hurt? Are you bleeding anywhere?"
I shared his relief that she was alive and that she seemed to be relatively unaffected, but as the relief washed over me, so did the pain. I became more and more aware of the extensive damage and my vision started to get a little blurry.
"SOMEONE HELP HER!" The shouts came from someone right beside me, but I couldn't tell whom it was. "SHE'S BLEEDING! CALL AN AMBULANCE!"
You've seen what happens after that. The ambulance comes to get me while I'm heroically unconscious on the pavement. The girl escaped the incident without so much as a scratch, which was doubly important, considering she was the president's daughter and all.
That was the part that caused the most trouble. I can sort of understand why the incident warranted all that media attention, but quite honestly, everything else that ensued after I woke up in the hospital the next day was just plain unnecessary.
For example: 24-hour updates as to my medical condition? Completely unnecessary. The rest of the world knew about the five-hour surgery and the wounds I sustained before I did.
And don't even get me started on the flowers. Granted, the American populace who had mistaken my act of stupidity as an act of heroism couldn't have known that I was allergic, but it made an already unpleasant hospital experience five times worse. And even if lilies didn't make me sneeze out my internal organs, I find the whole idea of giving cut flowers a little ridiculous. It's like giving someone a terminally ill hamster and saying, "Here, watch this die."
But anyway. President's daughter. Hospital. Me. And that doesn't even compare to the shenanigans that ensued afterwards.
"Miri? Miri, sweetie?"
I turned my bleary-eyed gaze toward my mother. Those damn flowers made it impossible to do anything, including breathing and seeing. And worse — they kept coming. Even after I begged the nurses to stop bringing them in, even after my mother requested that people stop sending them, lilies, roses, carnations, daffodils, sunflowers and daisies came by the bucketful everyday. Good Lord, people, I'm supposed to be recovering! I don't know if you've ever tried to heal from two broken ribs and a collapsed lung, but sneezing every six seconds doesn't help.
"Yes, Mommy?" I asked, my voice hoarse and my throat and nasal passages clogged with unattractive balls of mucus. I sniffed to try and clear it out, but to no avail.
Mommy watched me with sad eyes and I knew what she was thinking. Poor Miriam…she just can't seem to catch a break.
"You've got visitors."
"They didn't bring another bouquet did they?" I asked. "Because there's no need to let them in if they did."
She chuckled. "They did, but I'm afraid you'll have to see them anyway." Mommy turned her head out the door and gestured for the visitors to come in.
I glanced at the doorway and noticed a vaguely familiar figure walking into the room with a bouquet of lilies. Ugh, more flowers. I greeted them with a grimace before sneezing again.
"I'm sorry," a smooth, tenor voice said in a sheepish tone. "If I had known you were allergic, I wouldn't have brought them."
"It's fine," I said resignedly as I pulled another tissue from the table at my bedside. When my nose was as clear as I could make it, I examined my visitor a little more closely. I felt like I should have known him; there was something very familiar about his broad-shouldered build and his handsome features. And his wide, clear blue eyes shined with some sort of sincere emotion. Apologetic, perhaps?
"I'm Johnny," he introduced himself. "I'm—"
He didn't get to finish telling me what he was, because he was interrupted by a miniature hurricane in the form of a tiny girl.
"Johnny, I want to see her!" she shouted as she ran into the room. I turned my gaze and recognized her as the girl from the parade. Or the president's daughter, as everyone else seemed to know her.
"Be patient, Alana," he said. "I'm just introducing us."
Alana, however, didn't seem to care much for patience because she pulled away from Johnny and approached my bedside. "Hello," she said solemnly, much to my bemusement. "I am Alana Hammond. Thank you for saving my life."
I couldn't help but smile. The kid was weird, but she was adorable. "Well you're very welcome."
Alana dropped her serious demeanor in an instant and grinned widely, displaying the gaps in her mouth. Then she put her arms on my bed and jumped on.
"Alana!" Johnny shouted. The girl just ignored him again.
"My mommy and daddy are going to invite you to dinner. You have to come."
I raised her eyebrows. "I do?"
"Yes," she said imperiously. "My daddy's the president. That means you have to do whatever he says."
I felt myself grin again. This kid sure was something else.
"Oh yeah? Or else what?" I teased.
"Or else he'll put you in jail!" she shouted. "You don't want to go to jail! Bad people go to jail!"
"All right, that's enough," Johnny said firmly. He easily grabbed the little girl under her arms and lifted her off the bed until she was eye-level with him. "Go outside and wait with Tyrone."
Alana protested. "But—"
"No buts," he said firmly. "Remember our conversation."
It was not a question and Alana seemed to sense that. With a jerky nod and a ridiculous pout, she consented and Johnny set her back down on the ground. The minute he let go of her she stomped her pretty white shoes all over the ground, making sure to create as much commotion as possible as she left.
When she was gone, Johnny turned his attention back to me with a half-exasperated, half-apologetic expression. "I'm sorry," he said and I had a feeling that he was apologizing for more than just Alana's behavior. "As you can already tell, she's kind of stubborn and she rarely listens to any of us."
"It's okay," I chuckled. "She's cute."
"And she knows it," Johnny smiled. "It's how she gets away with everything. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you so much for saving Alana's life. If it hadn't been for you, I don't know what would have happened."
I shrugged. "Anyone else would have done the same."
He didn't look so sure, but said nothing. "Anyway, Alana's right. The president is going to invite you to dinner the moment you feel better. And you're not obliged to accept, at all."
I felt immediately uncomfortable and Mommy seemed to notice me squirming. "Well why don't we wait until the invitation is officially issued to decide?" she interceded.
Johnny nodded. "That's sensible. Anyway, it was very nice to meet you. Thank you again."
I smiled feebly in response.
He turned to leave and my eyes landed on the bouquet that he left on the couch when he made a grab for Alana. A brief, inner battle immediately ensued; should I make him take them back? Would it be considered rude? I didn't want him to think I was ungrateful or anything, especially if he was visiting me on behalf of the first family. Besides, what's one more bouquet when I practically had an entire florist's shop in my room?
But then I sneezed again, and I finally decided that enough was enough.
He paused in the doorway and turned around, his expression expectant.
"I don't mean to be rude or anything," I said a little sheepishly, "but do you mind taking the lilies back with you?"
"Oh!" He nodded and grabbed the bouquet from off the couch. "Of course. Sorry about that."
"No problem," I said with relief. "Give them to your girlfriend or something. Or your boyfriend, if you're into guys."
Johnny chuckled. "Goodbye, Miss Porter. Mrs. Porter." He nodded his regards and left.
When he was gone, Mommy closed the door behind him and took a seat in the chair beside my bed. "So what do you think?" she asked.
I squirmed uncomfortably. "I should go, shouldn't I?"
She shrugged. "It's up to you, sweetheart. But for what it's worth, if someone had saved your life I'd sure like to have her over for dinner to tell her how grateful I am."
"Fine," I said with a long-suffering sigh. So much for my anonymous good deed.
"What does someone wear to a dinner at the White House, anyway?" I mused aloud. Then a terrible thought came to mind as I pictured a sparkly red dress, like the kind Jessica Rabbit wore. "I don't have to dress formally, do I?"
"We'll play it by ear. In the meantime, you try and get some sleep and I'll see if I can't get rid of some of these flowers."
I grinned. This meant she was either going to sneak them into other people's rooms or leave them at the nurse's station with anonymous love notes. The last time she left a bouquet of red roses for Nurse Harper, the meanest nurse on the floor and signed it with Dr. Lucas' name. She lost her head with excitement over it while the other nurses, my mother and I laughed hysterically for a week.
Later that day, my best friends Drew and Laney came to visit me. Laney was sprawled across my bed, lying on her stomach and flipping through the channels on TV while Drew was sitting in the chair closest to the window with his feet propped up on my bedrail. He was eating the Jell-O from the dinner I hadn't touched.
"So they're calling tomorrow Miriam Porter Day at school in honor of you," Drew said through his mouthful of Jell-O.
Well that was alarming.
"Do you guys get the day off or something?" I asked.
"No. They're just putting a plaque in the awards hallway and your portrait next to all the notable alumni," Laney said.
I grimaced. "Let me guess: this was the Jorg's idea, wasn't it?"
Laney shot me a wide grin. "The one and only."
"Fantastic," I muttered.
"Aww, come on, it won't be that bad," Drew said. He had finished the Jell-O and threw the empty bowl and dirty spoon back onto the food tray. "You won't even be there for it."
"And on the bright side, they're going to play your favorite songs on the school radio," Laney added. "They asked Drew and me the other day for a CD they could use."
"What did you put on it?"
I glared at her. "There's a special place in hell for traitors like you."
She laughed. "We put a mix together. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Metric, Florence and the Machine, Dead Weather, The Kills, The 88, Coheed and Cambria with some Bedouin Soundclash mixed in."
"And N.W.A., for good measure," Drew added.
I grinned. "Do you think they'll actually play it?"
"Considering that we picked all songs with as many swear words as possible, probably not," he replied with a wicked twinkle in his eye.
I burst into giggles. "It was worth a shot."
"What about you?" Laney asked. "What happened to you today? Did the doctors give you a release date yet?"
I shook my head. "Not yet. But my side doesn't hurt as much as it used to and Dr. Lucas said if I continue improving I'll get to leave soon."
She nodded. "That's cool."
Eventually Drew got fed up with Laney's channel surfing and after a brief scuffle, he managed to wrestle the remote away from her. He settled on MSNBC, which only made Laney and me roll our eyes. Drew was something of a news junkie; the only television he ever watched was cable news, the only radio he listened to was NPR, and the homepage on his web browser at home was the Washington Post. While none of my friends or family had been there at the parade with me, he was the first to know about the incident because he was watching CNN at the time.
As we watched, the TV showed footage of the guy who had visited me earlier. He was walking out of an airplane with the president and first lady while holding Alana's hand. As he walked down the steps, he waved and smiled winningly at the cameras as the president and first lady did the same.
"Hey, who's that guy?" I asked.
Drew shot me a funny look. "You mean the president?"
I smacked the back of his head. "No, dummy. The other guy. The one holding the president's daughter."
"Oh, that's John Hammond Jr., the president's son. He's our age, I think. He's a senior at Gonzaga."
I knew I had seen him somewhere! The story was about the John Hammond Jr.'s college applications. So far he had been accepted to Columbia, Yale and Harvard, but he was waiting to hear back from all the schools he had applied to before making a decision.
"I bet he's a hot commodity at Gonzaga," Laney said dreamily. "I wouldn't mind having him in my classes. He sure is nice to look at."
She was right. He was gorgeous on the television with his cropped mahogany hair, high cheekbones and wide, brilliant blue eyes, but the TV cameras gave him no justice whatsoever. In person he was even more beautiful, but his smile and easy demeanor erased any uneasiness I might have felt when addressing someone as attractive as him.
"He came to visit me today," I told them as I continued to watch his image on the television. Seeing his model's perfection on the small screen actually made the whole experience seem a little surreal.
When I looked away I saw Drew and Laney staring at me with gaping eyes and even wider gaping mouths. "What?" Laney demanded.
"Yeah. He brought Alana with him." I smiled at the memory of the outspoken little girl. "She was adorable."
"Forget the brat!" Laney shouted. "What about him? Is he as cute in real life as he is on TV?"
"Cuter," I replied.
She fell back against the bed and fanned herself with her hand. "Oh good Lord," she sighed. "What I wouldn't give to meet him…"
"What happened?" Drew asked.
I recounted the whole scene for them. At the end of it, Drew was laughing and Laney was absolutely indignant. "You made him take his flowers back? Who the hell does that, Miri?"
"Give me a break, Laney. It's already like the freaking botanical gardens in here. I can hardly breathe without sneezing."
"So what's the deal then?" Drew asked. "Are you going or not?"
"I'm going. I don't think it'd be very polite to decline an invitation to the White House."
He let out a low whistle. "Wow, Miri. Your life sure has taken a turn for the crazy."
I grimaced at his spot-on assessment. "Don't I know it."