One- In Which I Reminisce About Meeting My Best Friend While I Probably Lay Dying

"Eric! Oh my God, Eric, speak to me!"

Lily. Oh, poor, sweet Lily. I love you.

She was crying now. Her sobs echoed in the spacious gymnasium. Our ninth grade class was gathered around us. For once, their snide remarks were the one thing I didn't hear.

As I lay on the filthy hardwood floor, barely conscious, I couldn't help but think of third grade, when Lily and I had first met.

We'd been in a gym class then, too. Our gym class had been playing soccer. All my classmates had run around excitedly, trying to be the one to score the first goal. I, being the social outcast, had been made goalie, which everyone decided was the position for losers like me.

So there I was, standing in front of the goal while everyone else laughed and played around.

Story of my life.

I was bored out of my mind, so I pulled one of those plastic mazes out of my pocket. (When I was nine, that was the equivalent of an iPhone.) I was just starting to get the little ball in the middle when another, far bigger ball slammed me in the face.

The next thing I saw was her face, all concerned. Coming from a Christian household, I thought she was an angel. She sure looked like one.

"OHMYGOSH! I'M SOOOOOOO SORRY! PLEASE DON'T DIE! OHMYGOSH! OHMYGOSH! OHMYGOSH! SORRY!" She screamed. At that point, I recognized her: Lily Kruger. I couldn't believe she was talking to me, the grease spot all the popular kids worked deeper down into the school food chain.

I sat up, a bit dazed. I could see the other kids straining not to laugh at me in front of the teacher. I knew later their teasing would be worse than before.

But, hell, I didn't care. Lily Kruger talked to me.

I looked at her and smiled. My head throbbed painfully, but I said, "Oh, don't worry. I'm alright."

A big, beautiful grin cracked across her face. "Good!"

After that day, we were best friends. Inseparable. Many a time, the other kids would try to knock sense into her: "Lily, don't hang out with that guy! He's a loser!" or something like that. But Lily would always turn them away. She never gave in to their peer pressure.

She was, and still is, the best friend I ever had.

Come to think of it, she was the only friend I ever had.

Now we had made it into the same high school. She was still my beautiful best friend, I was still a loser, and everyone still keeps trying to save Beauty from the Beast. Not much has changed.

Except the fact that I was lying on the floor dying, of course.

Lily and I had just been playing soccer (ironically). Lily had kicked the ball way over my head to the other side of the gym. She'd laughed at me playfully. "Go fetch, Doggy Boy!"

I laughed in response. ("Doggy Boy" was our inside joke. If I don't die, I'll explain that one later.) I jogged over to grab the ball when a shocking pain in my head made me fall.

(And no, it wasn't a soccer ball this time.)

Think of being electrocuted, eaten alive, and shot at the same time.

Think about that times about five million, and you have my head right then, and now for that matter.

At first, I writhed on the floor, screaming in pain. Lily and the rest of our class rushed over; Lily probably worried out of her mind, the rest of the class probably to get pictures and put them in the school newspaper.

I could hardly see Lily kneeling beside me. "Oh my God, Eric! What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Do I… look… o-o-okay?" I managed.

"As a matter of fact, no," she murmured. Then she whipped around to face the class. "Well, what the hell are you guys standing there for? Get some help for Eric, dammit!"

Reluctantly, a few kids ran off to get a teacher. By now, I'd stopped screaming and moving. I was totally wiped. I could feel my consciousness slipping slowly away.

"Eric? Eric! Oh my god, Eric, speak to me!"

"Lily…" I whispered. "Lily, I… I lo-"

Then everything went black.