He hadn't actually been driving drunk. Hadn't actually crashed the car. True, she was in an ambulance, but when the monitor started to flatline she wasn't actually dying. She tried to handle it professionally, but she knew it was much closer to reality than it may have seemed.
A/N: Every Fifteen Minutes is a dramatic program aimed at high school students, meant to show them the effects of drunk driving in a very personal way. I was introduced to it in a story by Laila Amira ( u/474905/), also called Every Fifteen Minutes. It's a fantastic story by an actual participant, and I greatly recommend it.
Rereading it for about the fourth time last year, I started to wonder... what if someone taking part in the program had some emotional baggage that changed the way they saw it?
"All right, guys, are you ready for this?" Mrs. Roth's smile as she said it was a little too tight, which only made sense. Most things a teacher would ask if her students were ready for would be a lot more normal.
Most of the time, when a teacher asked her students if they were ready for something, the students would not be dressed in torn-up clothes, covered in fake blood with even a few fake protruding bones, standing there with deadly serious faces.
In fact, in some cases, 'deadly' was pretty appropriate, Amber thought. They just didn't know which cases yet.
Mrs. Roth looked at her watch. "We have about twenty minutes to get you guys set up. I'm going to have Officer Farrow take you outside, and the other officers will meet you out there and get you arranged properly, all right?"
"Sounds good," said Jack. Amber gave him another sideways look. Judging from his glaring lack of major injuries, he was probably not one of the cases that would be dead. Herself she wasn't so sure about, but she could tell it would be pretty serious. The 'bone' poking out of her arm was one hint. Paralyzed, maybe?
Mrs. Roth walked to the door and pulled it open, and a pretty blond woman in a police uniform walked through. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, her face about serious enough to match theirs. Slowly a smile appeared. "Wow," she said, walking over to them. "You guys certainly look wonderful."
"Real healthy, right?" said Jack, earning a little laughter from everyone except Haley. Haley had been looking especially shaky.
By then Officer Farrow had reached the group. She studied them for a minute and then half-asked, "You guys have already done the beginning of your film?"
"Right," said Christian.
"We did our interviews about each other, and we did the party scene, the three of us and a bunch of the kids who were going to be taken by the Grim Reaper." 'The three of us' was Riley, who was talking, and Christian and Jack. The three girls, according to the storyline, had not been drinking. "And we did Lindsey and Haley's car scene the other day, and our car scene."
"And you know what you're doing?"
"Yes," said Lindsey, Jack and Christian.
"No," said Amber, Riley and Haley.
Officer Farrow looked slightly amused and slightly confused. "Which is it?"
"Well," said Jack, electing himself spokesman, "we know what we're doing- that we're doing the Every Fifteen Minutes program, and that we're in a simulated car crash, and that we're going to go out and get in position now. And we know what we're doing- some of us are going to be taken to the hospital and some of us are going to be dead on arrival and one of us is going to be the drunk driver and get arrested. But we don't know what we're doing, as in we don't know who is what."
"Ah." Officer Farrow, smiling just slightly at the way he'd explained it and then returning to her previous demeanor, brisk and businesslike. "Well, we'll see if we can clear that up when we get outside. Let's go, by the way. We need to get you people in place before the rest of the students are brought out."
She headed for the door that led straight outside, and they followed her. Haley and Lindsey stuck close to each other, whispering about something. Christian and Riley each walked alone, Christian looking a slightly more confident but also like he was trying a little harder to look that way.
Amber drifted closer to Jack. "Hey, ugly," she said, lightly teasing.
"Who are you callin' ugly?" Jack tossed back, equally light. He must have seen something in her face, because his smile faded into a serious expression, even as he said, "Hey, just kidding. Lighten up, Am."
"I'm good," said Amber, and she really thought she was. It would help to know whether she was dead or alive, though. So to speak.
Two more policemen met them at the door. Officer Farrow introduced them as Officer Sean Morelli- the short and kind of scrawny guy with thick brown hair- and Officer Tanya Haine- the sharp-featured dark woman.
Officer Morelli looked them over and then told Officer Farrow, "We'll need just a little more work before we're ready for these guys. Come give us a hand?"
"All right," said Officer Farrow, also casting a glance over them. Amber noticed the slight cringe and felt like wincing herself. If a police officer thought they looked ugly enough for that reaction...
"Go stand under those trees," Officer Morelli told them, pointing across the driveway. "The less chance of someone noticing you from a look out the window, the better the surprise."
"Surprise is one word for it," Jack joked, but the three policemen were already walking away.
The six stared after them. Amber's gaze must have hit what the officers were moving toward about the same time as everyone else's. Nobody said a thing for a very, very long minute.
"Wow," Jack finally said, very quietly.
"I second that," said Riley, moving up to stand next to him but still staring straight ahead.
"Well, what do you know?" Lindsey said in her best tension-breaking voice. "They look just like us!"
The two cars in the middle of the school driveway looked nothing like the ones that the six of them had used filming their driving scenes. The lesser reason for that was that they were different makes, and models, and neither of those cars had been black, while both of these were. The reason that had all of them staring was that those cars had looked like the average car you would see on the road- they were in one piece. These cars were destroyed.
"Ugly, you mean?" Jack said to Lindsey, looking at her past Amber.
Officers were still roaming around the cars, adjusting things, scattering broken glass, and pouring what looked like blood all over the place. One was concentrating a large pool on the hood of one car, right under a hole in the windshield.
Amber pointed. "That's going to be one of us, right there."
"You or Haley," said Christian. "You guys are the front passengers. And whoever it is is dead."
"Watch it. You may end up dead." Then Jack obviously caught his own double meaning, and started chuckling loudly to make sure everyone else got the joke too.
Christian ended that with a firm "Nope." He said it so firmly that Amber finally looked away from the mess in the driveway to face him. Around her, she could see that everyone else was too. "I said I didn't want to be the dead guy," Christian explained. "The idea of being in a body bag just..." He shuddered and didn't finish. "Besides, I bet I'm paralyzed. They like to do that to the sports player."
"I'm probably the dead guy," said Haley. "That's all I said I wanted to be."
Haley ducked her head, and Amber tried to think of a way to change the subject, but Haley was already saying, "I didn't want to do a lot of acting like I was hurt. I could handle it. I think. I just don't think I'd be good at it."
Christian shook his head. "No, I'm just amazed about the body bag thing. Pretty impressive. I couldn't do that."
"Well, we know I'm the driver," said Jack, without the least bit of hesitation. "So whatever happens to you guys, you can blame it all on me."
Amber's head snapped around to him before she could catch herself or even slow it down. She couldn't argue with that, because of course that was how they had filmed it, but...
"I wonder how they picked you for that one?" said Riley- the thing Amber would have liked to say, but hadn't dared.
"Yeah," Haley said seriously. "That's a good question."
"Oh, I know," said Jack, still nice and calm, and Amber stared at him in disbelief. Was he really going to say it? No, he didn't say what she had expected him to say. "I said I only wanted to be that."
"Oh. Because you didn't want to die?" Lindsey asked, sounding as if she could relate.
"Nah, I just wanted to be the driver. I figure I can handle a night in jail, plus it sounds like the most interesting part. Everyone else just has to act hurt and- I mean, no offense to you guys. I just think it'll be more fun to go to the police station and go to court and all that kind of thing."
Christian gave him an even more amazed look than he had given Haley. "You know they get really intense sometimes in court?"
"Well, I guess-"
The amazement was already gone- now Christian spoke with authority. "I've watched the videos. The parents pull out pictures of us as kids, and the moms start sobbing so hard they can't talk, and the dads are going to yell at you-" Amber wondered if Jack had missed the change there, from talking in general to 'you'. She hadn't. "-about how they don't care what happens to you because you murdered their baby by being stupid."
"Oh, is that all?" Jack was still trying to sound not a bit worried, but he was getting nervous. Maybe the rest of them couldn't tell. Amber could. "Piece of cake," Jack added.
"Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum," Riley said, looking quite pleased with himself.
"No rum for you, young man. You're messed up badly enough as it is." Officer Haine had reached them in time to hear the smart remark if nothing else.
"Now do we find out what happened to us?" asked Haley. Amber was glad- much as she wanted to know, she didn't want to be the one to ask.
Officer Morelli and Officer Farrow walked up then. "Yeah, boss," said Officer Morelli, studying the victims. "What have we here?"
Officer Farrow pointed them out as she spoke. "Car one, we've got our offender-" this was Jack of course "-and our front passenger, not intoxicated, semi-conscious-" Amber. Now that she knew what she was, she'd have an easier time listening to the rest of it. "In the back we've got these two, he'll be critically injured but responsive, and he'll be only slightly injured but trapped and panicked. That work all right for you guys?" she asked Christian and Riley.
As Riley nodded, Christian spoke up. "I wasn't supposed to have had too much to drink. These guys talked me into it."
"That fits," said Officer Morelli. "Those who are more intoxicated tend to have less serious injuries, unfair as that is." He apparently noticed the confused faces since he launched into an explanation of alcohol relaxing the body, allowing it to 'give' more when it collided with something. Amber meant to listen, but too much of her brain was focused on something else.
After filling out the forms, after being told she'd been chosen, after the explanations and the interviews and the filming for the beginning of the video, with Jack and Riley and Christian definitely acting drunk, it had finally started to sink in.
Jack was the drunk driver. She was severely injured, semi-conscious in the front seat next to him. This would have been hard enough if someone else had been playing the driver, but Jack was. It would have been hard if it been six months or so ago, but no, it was now, and she had a really excellent reason that was going to make it triply hard, but she was going to have to keep that to herself.
"Well, if you guys are ready," said Officer Farrow, and Amber realized she had completely missed what had happened to Lindsey and Haley. She made sure she looked like she was paying rapt attention, just in case she hadn't looked like it for the last couple of minutes, and when she realized Officer Farrow was waiting for nods from all of them before she went on, she gave a nice sharp one. Officer Farrow went on. "We're going to start getting you guys in position. Riley, you're going to be trapped pretty well, so we'll take you first, and Lindsey, since we'd rather have you in place when we start working on Haley."
Amber waited until they were out of earshot, since she didn't want to let anyone know she hadn't been paying attention, and then turned to Haley. "Why's that?"
"They want her before me? Probably it'll take longer to get her in than to have me lay down."
"Oh, that's you?"
"That's me on the hood. You weren't listening."
Amber shook her head guiltily, but there was no time for an apology because just then Officer Morelli pulled her aside.
"Yes?" she said, and then decided a 'sir' would be a good idea and tacked one on.
Officer Morelli smiled a little at that, but quickly became serious again. "We didn't tell you in front of the others because we'd like the impact on Jack to be as real as possible."
It was pretty obvious what that meant. "I die," said Amber.
Officer Morelli nodded. "We're going to have you flatline on the way to the hospital."
"Okay. Okay." And after a minute to get used to it, she was okay. "Can you tell me what happens to Haley- no, Haley's dead." This sounded really strange. "Lindsey and, um, Christian."
"Christian I believe is paralyzed, and Lindsey dies a little later," Officer Morelli said, quite matter-of-factly, and followed by, "Your parents will meet us at the hospital. We've got officers on standby to notify them."
Amber had to take a deep breath before she could answer. She started to say 'wow' and caught herself. She knew she should say something, at least, but couldn't come up with anything that wasn't a 'wow', or something equally immature.
"Hey, Sean, get over here and give me a hand?" called Officer Haine. Officer Morelli gave Amber a part-sympathetic, part-encouraging look and started over to the cars.
Jack came up beside her. "Nervous?"
"Duh..." Amber hoped her voice was relatively even. It wouldn't be quite as bad to somewhat fall apart in front of Jack, but still. He was the one who had the hardest job here, and he seemed to be holding up fine.
Jack seemed to catch on at least a little. He shrugged easily. "I just assumed that's what he was talking to you about."
"Nah. Last-minute instructions." True, just not totally.
Jack didn't get to answer that, because the officers were calling her and Christian now, and she was waiting while they eased him into the crushed backseat, and then having herself carefully arranged in front, her head lolling as if she was asleep or... well, let's not think that word, in fact.
She couldn't see through the windshield, not with the glass shattered and the car crumpled as it was, so she jumped a little when Jack landed himself in the seat next to her- his side of the car was much less crushed, so his door actually opened. He was handed a bottle of beer, which she should have guessed was coming because he'd had one next to him in the video. He set it in the cupholder next to him, and then looked up at her to say something. Nothing came out of his mouth. He just shook his head, and while he didn't actually look away, Amber could tell he wanted to.
Horrible as the timing was, the secret came to mind. Amber shoved it away.
"I'm good," she said, trying to keep it light, and then added, "even if I don't look too good."
"I already told you, you're ugly," said Jack, just slightly strained.
"Don't remind me."
"I'll take some of the blame, if you want," said Riley from the backseat.
"I don't want to hear it," said Christian from next to him. "You guys get off easy."
"Pardon me?" Jack tried to turn around to look at him. "You just spent five minutes telling me how-"
"All right, let's keep it down," Officer Farrow said loudly from somewhere outside. "The other students will be out in the next few minutes, and from there we'll take the whole thing in character."
"Sorry," called Jack. Just above a whisper, he added, "And this is where the fun begins..."
"Ssh," Amber said reflexively, and the next few minutes were silent. She tried to get the secret out of her head, and get fully into character. 'Character' should have been easy, because it was just herself, but... Well, what she was really getting into was the situation.
The situation. Jack had just picked her up from a nighttime end-of-the-year chorus party. She could tell something was off about him, and she asked him for the keys but he said no, he had to drive. They started to pull out of the parking lot, and then, well, she couldn't remember exactly what happened, but she saw the car, and Christian yelled, and Riley lunged forward as if he was going to be able to reach the wheel and save them, and then...
It would have been perfect if they had started acting right then, but as far as she could tell nothing was happening yet. She shifted just a little- her leg was starting to go to sleep. That made her think of Christian, who was going to lose his legs, and she mentally started into the scenario again. How bad would it be to ruin the video because of something she did? To watch it tomorrow with the rest of the school and notice with everyone else how fake she looked when she was supposedly dying...
"All right," said a voice. Officer Morelli was leaning close to Jack's window. "Let's get this going."
"Oh my God!" Jack yelled, and Amber jumped before she realized that he was in character now, and she should do something too. Um...
"Ow! What the-" That sounded like Lindsey's voice from the car behind.
"What is- Man, I told you not to- What are we gonna-"
A moan, also from the car behind. Haley was supposed to be dead, what was she doing?
"Get me out of here! Will somebody get over here and-"
"Haley? Haley! Haley, can you hear me?"
"Oh, God, oh, God... I can't- My legs won't- Oh..."
"Haley, can you move...? Something...?"
Well, she was supposed to be semi-conscious. How conscious was that? Amber thought fast and settled for some catchy breathing, a moan every so often, and jerking around a little, as if she knew she was trapped but couldn't quite figure out how, or how she had gotten that way, or what to do about it.
"Guys, I- Oh, God..." Jack took another look at the car, yanked his door open, and pulled himself out. He ran around to Amber's door, and although her head was turned the other way, she could hear him trying to get it open. Eventually he gave up, and now she could hear him tugging on Riley's door. "Come on, man, let's go. Let's- Can we just- Can't you at least just get out of there, because-"
Amber let out another moan and jerked herself forward. She wished she had a seatbelt on to struggle against, but it was stuck flat against the seat as a result of whatever had really destroyed this car.
She almost started to wonder what that had been, but suddenly she was clenching her teeth at the piercing scream from outside.
Judging by the horror in Diana's voice, she was doing some excellent acting. "Oh God... What is... How..." and then, "Hi- there's- I'm calling- No, but there's a huge accident right in the school parking lot! It's- 10 Roberts Lane. Yes. Yes. I think- Well, one guy's walking, but the rest of them look really really bad. Can you please- Yes. Please, please hurry."
There was a long, long pause then. Jack continued his banging around, his screams becoming more and more frantic and nonsensical. Several times he called her name, yelled at her to get up, to wake up, yelled at her that he didn't mean for this to happen, yelled that he was sorry. The moans of pain, desperate calls for help, and panicked yelling from Riley and Christian continued. Amber left her head slumped to the side now, breathing weakly, eyes just cracked open. She could hear the noise level outside starting to build. It would be pretty obvious to everyone that this wasn't real- a real crash wouldn't have multiple cameramen roaming around, microphones, wires, or most of the other film-related things surrounding the cars- but none of them had known this was coming. The element of surprise was a major part of the plan.
The babble built slowly up to about cafeteria level, then died almost instantly at the sound of sirens.
Jack was suddenly silent, too. With her head turned the other way, Amber couldn't see what he was doing, and she couldn't move now. She put the catch back in her breathing and waited.
The sirens stopped. Doors opened. "Sir!" a voice yelled. "I need you to step away from the vehicle."
"Get them out of there!" Jack yelled, as if he hadn't heard that or been able to make sense of it. "Get them out!"
"Sir, have you been drinking tonight?" The voice- it sounded like Officer Haine- was almost right outside her door; she must be close enough to smell the supposed alcohol on his breath.
"Those are my friends in there! Get them out of there!"
"How much have you had to drink?" Officer Haine went on, refusing to be distracted.
"I... God, I don't know. I don't know. I didn't mean it. Are they going to be okay? Tell me if they're going to be okay!"
We're not. Unexpectedly Amber felt like crying, but she couldn't because now more people were moving around outside and voices were talking about who was where with what injuries and saying things about 'triage tags' and 'fatal' and Riley behind was screaming, "I want out of here! Let me get out of here!" alternated with muttering, "This isn't happening, this isn't happening, this isn't happening."
"Can you hear me, honey?" asked a voice just outside the door. Amber moaned and shifted a little in response. "We're here to help you. It'll be a little noisy here for awhile, but we'll get you out of there. You just hold still."
It didn't occur to her that it was a bad idea until it was too late. What slipped out of her mouth, probably caught by the microphones, was, "Jack?..."
Maybe no one heard it, though, because no one reacted to it. She kept her eyes almost shut and concentrated on her breathing. There was a lot of racket, as promised, and then she could hear and feel the door pulled open, and she was being oh-so-carefully shifted and laid flat on something, her head locked in place. "All right, let's get moving," said a different voice, and what she was lying on was moving, smoothly and swiftly. Almost reflexively she cracked her eyes open, to see what was going on. That was a bad idea- she found herself looking at Jack, who was looking back at her, just a few feet away. The reason he was looking so broken was probably not what she wanted to be the reason.
She closed her eyes again. A moment later she felt herself being lifted up. More voices, some clicks, and then she and whatever she was lying on were still for a moment until sirens started up again and she could feel that the room she was in was moving forward.
The ambulance. The scene of her death. Why did her mind insist on supplying these dramatic phrases?
There was a lot of movement around her. Things were shifted, things were pressed against her chest, things were taped to her right arm. Voices said very serious sounding medical things. When they touched her left arm, the ugly one that was supposed to be broken, she gasped and jumped, as much as she could, at the imaginary pain.
"Response to pain stimuli," said a voice. Someone asked her name.
Probably meant to figure out how conscious she was. It was an easy enough question; the answer was automatic. She could probably manage it even if she was half-unconscious and dying slowly. There was the self-produced drama again. "Amber," she whispered.
"Do you understand what happened to you?"
"We crashed into-" Gasp for breath. "-someone. My mom..." There she trailed off and started coughing. They see that as wanting her mom, or knowing her mom would be worried, or knowing her mom would kill her if she found out she hadn't taken the keys, or knowing that her mom wasn't going to get a chance to 'kill her' because...
"Ssh. That's all right. We're on our way to the hospital and we'll be there real soon, just hang on."
Another voice. "Can you relax your arm a little? We're going to take care of that for you. We'll try to be gentle."
She moaned as someone touched her arm and then something tight was fastened to it. More taping and adjusting. Now that they knew she was semi-conscious, they were trying to explain things slightly as they did them, which blended with the chatter amongst themselves. Someone would say something about IV, then she'd hear something that sounded like a medicine, then she would hear something about blood pressure. She was starting to hear a lot about pressure, in fact... That and pulse...
Right about as she realized that, the steady beeping she had almost tuned out sped up and then rapidly became unsteady.
"Pulse is dropping!" barked a voice, and then some blood pressure numbers, and Amber didn't need to know anything about blood pressure to figure out that they weren't good.
Something was slammed over her mouth. Opening her eyes just to a tight squint and applying what little medical knowledge she had, she thought it was an oxygen mask. They were squeezing it whenever she breathed, so it was obviously supposed to be giving her air somehow. Noise around her. Motion. Voices yelled numbers and commands and more numbers.
Now it felt real. Or...it felt unreal, but not as if it was being acted. Now it felt unreal in the way it would have if it had been real.
She lay dead still (okay, stop it!) on the table. The beeping blurred into a high-pitched, terrifying whine, and they forced air into her lungs, and they pressed hard on her chest, and honestly it didn't feel real physically, and probably nowhere near emotionally either, but it felt as real as she ever wanted it to. And she wondered...but no, she couldn't, because she had to focus. No thinking about that. She could think in another minute or so when this was all over.
The flatline tone was still whining in the background. "Still no response," said a crisp female voice. "I think we've done all we can do. I'm going to call it, time of death... 10:28 pm."
Voices said things about her parents meeting them at the hospital. A female voice that may or may not have been the one to pronounce her dead mentioned that someone would have to notify a chaplain. There was another, much slower and quieter flurry of activity as some of the things attached to her were removed. Someone very quietly made a derisive comment about 'the driver', another nearby snorted a little, and she realized they meant Jack.
She was dead, and on her way to the hospital, where her parents, who didn't know she was dead yet, were going to find out. Jack, who was responsible for her being dead, was on his way to the police station, where he was going to have to stand trial and then face her parents.
And the thing was that it wasn't real, but it could be real. It could be real.
Well, she wasn't going to be thinking the rest of the way to the hospital. Corpses don't cry.