The early winter sun that rose in the sky burned off the morning fog that clung to the buildings like candy floss. At 10:12, on the fourteenth floor of the Northern View Tower, Marcel waited impatiently for fresh coffee to brew for his self-appointed morning break. Technically, his workday started at eight, but he had arrived at the office less than half an hour ago. It paid to be the boss, even if nepotism worked in his favour. In all fairness, he’d been attending board meetings since he was in diapers.
The only other occupant of the polished breakroom was a greying executive – his senior in age, but junior in business – seated on a leather couch watching the ten o’clock news. Marcel hated the fourteenth-floor breakroom. The decor reminded him of a gentleman’s cigar bar, without the smoke, where the coffee counter replaced a bar stocked with Scotch and Brandy. Marcel preferred the staff room on the tenth floor with the grey plastic chairs and foosball table, or the quaint, pricy cafe on the main floor where Lyric, his boyfriend of nearly nine years, worked sporadically throughout the week when he did not have classes.
Construction and decor of the newest addition to the growing technological empire had been beyond his grasp. Marcel’s father built the tower and arbitrarily shipped him nearly four thousand kilometres across the country to head the newest branch in Vancouver. At least, gloomy winter under an oppressive grey blanket proved more tolerable than minus thirty-degree weather and five feet of snow back home in Montréal.
Stifling a yawn, Marcel pulled his phone out of the pocket of his pressed suit pants and swiped his thumb across the screen. No new messages. He frowned. By now, Lyric would have sent him a torrent of texts from his Friday morning History class professing his undying boredom and demanding entertainment – the spoiled brat.
As he leaned against the counter by the sink with his suit jacket riding up in the back, Marcel shoved the phone back into his pocket and crossed his arms over his chest. If only Lyric agreed to play hooky with him, but the ever-studious university student insisted on attending class, leaving Marcel alone in bed at 6:30. At the same time, Lyric had straightened the bangs of his inky dyed hair in the mirror and stuck his tongue out at Marcel’s reflection
The coffeemaker beeped, startling Marcel out of his daydream of devouring maple syrup and bacon off a porcelain-skinned plate. He poured the fresh coffee into his favourite mug, the one Lyric bought for his 25th birthday two years ago. It read ‘Princess’ with a little crown over the I. Marcel tried to protest. His primary defence had been that Lyric was clearly the prettier of the two of them. Still, he loved the mug. His secretary got a kick out of it.
While he stirred in his cream and sugar, his attention drifted from the majestic Rockies to the muted LCD TV across the room. The images that flashed across the screen caught his attention. His heart stopped.
SHOOTING TERROR AT LOCAL UNIVERSITY LIVE
Marcel’s mug shattered on the linoleum floor, and steaming coffee splashed his polished Italian shoes. Cheap ceramic crunched underfoot. Leaping over the back of the couch, Marcel ripped the remote out of the executive’s hands and cranked the volume. His heart thudded painfully in his chest.
“… entered the school at 9:47 this morning and began firing. The school is on lockdown. Many students have fled, but dozens remain trapped. No deaths have been confirmed, but several eyewitnesses stated at least two students have been shot. No names have been released at this time. Police are…”
Speed dial two. With each long ring, his chest constricted further.
Marcel silenced the man to his right with a wave of his hand. “Come on. Répond. Répond au putain de téléphone, Lyric!”
The line clicked.
“Hi, you’ve reached Lyric, I-”
“He can’t come to the phone right now because I’m busy fu-”
“Marcel! What if my parents call?”
“When have they ever called?”
“Put me down! No! No, we’re not-”
“Calice, Lyric! Dis-moi que tu n’es pas à l’école!” Marcel hung up and redialled.
“Hi, you’ve reached-”
Marcel’s foot collided with the mahogany coffee table, and it skidded across the polished floor. Marcel nearly threw his phone across the room, but halted. His phone held the only promise of communication to Lyric.
To Petit Minou: Answer your phone!
To Petit Minou: Damn it, Lyric. Now isn’t the time to
To Petit Minou: Are you on the train?
To Petit Minou: Lyric, please answer me.
From Petit Minou: Stop calling
From Petit Minou: I need to be quiet
To Petit Minou: Please tell me you’re not at school.
From Petit Minou: im sry
To Petit Minou: Where are you?
From Petit Minou: supply closet in the science wing
From Petit Minou: it locked from the inside
To Petit Minou: Are you okay?
To Petit Minou: Lyric.
To Petit Minou: Lyric?
To Petit Minou: Answer me, baby.
The morning news, while following the story live from the scene, gave Marcel no new information other than what police planned to do. No action had been taken. Jabbing the down button for the express elevator in rapid succession, he impatiently drummed his fingers against his cellphone in his left pants pocket – still, no messages.
Typically, when in the office reading documents and signing reports, Marcel’s phone remained on silent. He checked it every half an hour for missed calls from business associates, clients, and, most importantly, texts from Lyric. Occasionally he received an entertaining message from Morgan, Lyric’s older brother. They bonded years ago over gorgeous beaches and the perfect wave. Lyric preferred hiding under a large umbrella with a book or whatever the latest handheld Nintendo console was.
Marcel would forever be grateful to Morgan for not shutting Lyric out of his life five years ago, like the rest of his family. Morgan fulfilled the duties of an older brother with pride, and despite the nine-year age difference between the two siblings, brothers had never been so close. As an only child, Marcel held a skosh of envy towards them. He could take or leave Lyrics other siblings; his damn twin included.
After an eternity, the elevator dinged. Marcel leapt in, swiped his security pass, and hit the round button for parking level 3. Alone, he pressed his forehead to the cool panelled wall and clutched the thick metallic bar while the lift descended. His knuckles turned white.
His phone chimed, volume set at max, and vibrated against his thigh.
From Petit Minou: im here, sry
From Petit Minou: one of the girls started crying
To Petit Minou: She okay?
From Petit Minou: she’s fine
To Petit Minou: Are you okay?
From Petit Minou: i will b
To Petit Minou: Are you crying, sweetheart?
From Petit Minou: no
To Petit Minou: You’re lying, aren’t you?
From Petit Minou: mb
Attention glued to his Samsung Galaxy, Marcel nearly walked into a cement pillar on his way to his car parked in his reserved spot at the far end of the garage. Lyric liked to call his Samsung the phone for old people because of the giant screen. Each time, Marcel threatened to buy him a new phone so he could chuck the ancient Sony Ericsson flip phone his boyfriend carried around until he finally snapped less than a month ago and bought him an early Christmas present.
Fishing out his keys, Marcel unlocked and disarmed his car with the push of a button. The dark blue Mercedes-Benz SLK Roadster beeped. Keys safely stowed back in his pocket, he opened the door to slide into the beige leather seat behind the wheel.
Connecting his phone to the BlueTooth, he activated voice commands to continue his conversation with Lyric handsfree and started the car with the keyless ignition. Swiftly backing up, narrowly missing the same pillar from moments earlier, he roared through the parking garage and pulled out onto the busy city street.
To Petit Minou: I’m on my way. Already in the car.
From Petit Minou: wut r u gonna do?
To Petit Minou: Hound every officer in sight until I get
To Petit Minou: I’ll be outside waiting for you.
From Petit Minou: did u feed the cat?
To Petit Minou: I think there are more pressing
matters than if I fed the cat before work.
From Petit Minou: i need this. distract me.
To Petit Minou: She had a bit of food. She’ll just be a
From Petit Minou: r u busy this wkd?
To Petit Minou: You know I hate text speech. My
phone can’t read it out.
From Petit Minou: sry
From Petit Minou: are you busy this weekend?
To Petit Minou: No. Just need to pick up some wax
for my board.
From Petit Minou: 😀 ur all mine then
From Petit Minou: where r u?
To Petit Minou: Just about to pass the apartment.
From Petit Minou: FEED NARA!
To Petit Minou: You can’t be serious.
From Petit Minou: plz
From Petit Minou: ease my mind
Their apartment rose on the horizon, only four stops by train from Lyric’s school. It was an impromptu decision, but Marcel swerved over two lanes – the tissue box on the dash tumbled to the passenger seat – and pulled a giant U-turn to park in the only available space six spots down from the front door to the building.
That damn cat. Sometimes Marcel swore Lyric loved that cat more than him. Ridiculous, yes, but maybe he wanted a belly rub and to be called a good boy too.
“…to reach him have failed, but three buildings have been cleared, as confirmed by police. Students are encouraged to check-in at one of several available tents so…”
Marcel stilled the chibi Boba Fett that dangled from the rearview mirror and clicked off the radio. Phone in hand, he kicked open the door.
Halfway to the building, Marcel locked the car over his shoulder. The Mercedes honked. He took the stairs two at a time and swiped his key FOB. The door buzzed. When he passed the concierge desk, he barely acknowledged the cheerful greeting called out to him.
On approach, the elevator doors slid open to allow an elderly couple to exit. Marcel zipped past them. His phone chimed and vibrated. The suddenness made him jump, and he fumbled with the device in his hand.
From Petit Minou: remember when we went hawaii
To Petit Minou: Ahh… sex on the beach, and sand in
places I don’t know the name of. Someone stole our clothes.
From Petit Minou: we snuck bak 2 the hotel behind
From Petit Minou: and u woke up w/ giant scratch
marks down ur back from when u tripped
To Petit Minou: Your memory is incomplete.
To Petit Minou: You tripped, not me. I sacrificed my
body to save you
From Petit Minou: the entire time, ur little soldier
of love stood proud
From Petit Minou: so f’n funny
A few familiar items from home would help comfort Lyric when he finally walked out of the school. Marcel stuffed his bright red McGill hoodie in Lyric’s Death the Kid messenger bag. On lazy winter days, Lyric liked to curl up on the couch in Marcel’s hoodie. He practically swam in the excess material that hung off his body like folds on a Shar-Pei puppy.
When Marcel had been in his third year of the McGill business program, Lyric started his first year of university. He dropped out of his second semester. After Lyric’s parents kicked him out, he couldn’t afford to pay tuition, so he took the small percentage of a refund he could reclaim, and joined the workforce. Marcel offered to front the cost of tuition, but Lyric adamantly declined.
To Petit Minou: Did you just call my dick a soldier of
From Petit Minou: :p
To Petit Minou: You’re such a dork. My cute little emo
From Petit Minou: I’m not emo.
To Petit Minou: You just have emo tendencies.
Marcel attached proof to his text – one of the tamer selfies Lyric sent him during one of his longer business trips last August. Kneeling shirtless on their bed, his blue eyes lit up by the flash, Lyric pouted at the camera while his silver nipple rings and brand new snake bites glimmered in their bedroom’s low light. A sharp contrast to his own dirty blond curls and hazel eyes packaged in a tailored suit. Marcel had not been consulted about the new additions, but he admitted they were sexy.
From Petit Minou: I broke ur fertility statue and let
Nara take the blame
To Petit Minou: I know.
Flicking off the bedroom light, Marcel located the small baby blue microfleece over the back of the couch and shoved it into the bag along with the hoodie. In the middle of the living room, he glanced around the apartment for any last items. His gaze drifted to the little wood carving, now missing the excessively large phallus that snapped off in the fall from the shelf. He acquired the statue in Botswana four years ago – a year after Lyric moved in with him – though he suspected the souvenir to be a forgery. A useless trinket sold to eager tourists.
From Petit Minou: wut? u knew? y didnt u say ne’thing
To Petit Minou: You looked so guilty.
To Petit Minou: It’s just a fertility statue.
To Petit Minou: Not doing us any good.
Keys in hand, Marcel headed to the front door, ready to lock up. He spun back around and ducked into the kitchen where a little empty food bowl sat on the polished floor next to a self-refilling water dish that looked like a mini watercooler. The sound of the scoop in the dry food sent a signal through the apartment.
A little bell jingled from the far endo fo the living room, steadily growing closer until a tiny black cat pranced around the corner and rubbed affectionately against Marcel’s legs, demanding attention. She purred as Marcel scratched behind her ears.
“Hey, Nara. You hungry, petite minette?”
Nara arched her back into Marcel’s hand and meowed. It came out a high pitched mew.
“Spoiled little brat. Just like a certain someone we both know.” Marcel scooped her up. He buried his nose in her soft fur, and just for a moment, everything was fine. When she squirmed, he dropped her back to the floor and cracked open a can of Tuna Feast paté. “Your daddy begged me to feed you.”
Nara pranced around Marcel’s feet and meowed in her tiny squeaky voice. Her eyes tracked the can of wet food, and she pounced as soon as the metal hit the floor.
From Petit Minou: XD
From Petit Minou: guess it only took imminent death
to clear my conscience
To Petit Minou: You’re not going to die, baby. Three
buildings have already been cleared.
From Petit Minou: lucy’s crying again
To Petit Minou: Who’s lucy?
From Petit Minou: a gurl hiding w/ me
From Petit Minou: there r 4 of us
From Petit Minou: she doesnt kno where her bf is
From Petit Minou: dont b jealous, but she’s sitting in
To Petit Minou: You mean someone is actually smaller
From Petit Minou: ass 😥
From Petit Minou: i showed her ur pic
From Petit Minou: she says ur smexy
To Petit Minou: Smexy?
From Petit Minou: fangirl thing?
A wall of red and blue lights greeted Marcel when he finally turned onto University Way. Bright orange barricades had been erected, and officers redirected the traffic jam of concerned parents. Three blocks past the school, he veered down a side street.
Left. Left. Right. Left. Right.
Cars lined the streets. Waves of people poured towards the school. Minus the stricken expressions and general unease, the sight reminded Marcel of parking around Cite des Jeunes in Vaudreuil during the St. Jean Baptiste celebrations he attended with Lyric during his years in college and university. He passed parents and grandparents bundled in winter jackets, scarves, and toques, all wearing the same lost expression he saw reflected in his own rearview mirror.
Even private driveways were clogged with vehicles that clearly did not belong to the owner of the house. Marcel pulled into the first driveway with available space behind a little white Mazda with a baby on board sticker. He left the engine running to bolt out of the car and up the front walk. He knocked. Then, he waited.
Just as Marcel lost hope and turned back to his idling car, the door cracked open. A young woman, maybe only a few years older than him with a baby on her hip, studied him.
Before she could even open her mouth, Marcel whipped out his wallet and offered her a twenty-dollar bill. “Let me park in your driveway. I’ll be gone in a few hours,” he said in a rush. His attention drifted towards the end of the street, where the mass exodus turned.
When his focus returned to the young woman, Marcel noted her softened expression as she plucked the bill from his fingertips.
“Take your time.”
From Petit Minou: i saw it
From Petit Minou: class was on break
From Petit Minou: i saw them get shot
To Petit Minou: You’re okay. I’m here.
From Petit Minou: I was 10 feet away
From Petit Minou: wut if he had turned forty five
From Petit Minou: i would have been on the other
end of the gun not them
To Petit Minou: Lyric, baby, calm down.
Pushed forward by the crowd, Marcel squeezed through a narrow gap between a mother and her daughter and pair of older men clutching each other’s hand. The school loomed in the distance. Taking shelter under one of the maple trees that dotted the University grounds, he directed his attention to reassuring Lyric the best he could. His hands trembled.
From Petit Minou: u dont understand
From Petit Minou: he shot them
From Petit Minou: bcuz they said no
From Petit Minou: like they have no right
From Petit Minou: like we have no right
To Petit Minou: I know nothing I can say will make this
better. It’s a scary situation, and I’m
sorry you’re stuck in there, baby, but I
can promise you that when you walk
To Petit Minou: out those doors, I’ll be right there.
We can have that cheesy movie
moment where we scream each
other’s names and run into each
To Petit Minou: other’s arms. We matter. Okay? We
From Petit Minou: u promise?
To Petit Minou: Scouts honour.
From Petit Minou: u quit scouts
To Petit Minou: Probably for the best. They don’t
approve of my “lifestyle choice.”
From Petit Minou: u mean ur adDICKtion :p
To Petit Minou: Damn straight, baby.
To Petit Minou: I can’t figure out how to make a kissy
From Petit Minou: lol
From Petit Minou: :’*
To Petit Minou: I feel old.
The campus loomed. From the handful of times he dropped off and picked up Lyric from classes, he knew the three buildings directly across the sprawling lawn were the gymnasium, the bookstore, and the main building that contained the large lecture halls. The detached building off to the right looked as if it could be a library. If Lyric was in the science wing, Marcel hadn’t the faintest where that was located.
So far, Marcel had distracted Lyric adequately and soothed his moments of panic and fear, but no one stood at his side to hold his hand and smooth away his worry. Spotting an officer, Marcel pushed through the crowd.
“Lyric. My boyfriend’s name is Lyric. He’s a student here-”
“Tents have been set up for relatives to find their family members. The closest is just behind the medical tent.” The officer, whose name badge read Const. Jones gestured in the direction of the massive red and white tent erected just off school property. A perimeter had been set around the school. No entry permitted unless authorized.
“No, you don’t understand. He’s in the school,” Marcel said, waving his phone in the officer’s face. “The Science wing. There are…” He scrolled through his text conversation. “Four. There are four of them – Lyric, Lucy, and two others – all hiding in a locked closet.”
The radio strapped to the officer’s shoulder crackled to life, and Marcel listened closely as his message was relayed, and an answer came through. Marcel couldn’t understand a word of the static garbled message he assumed was in English.
From Petit Minou: u r old :p
To Petit Minou: I’m outside waiting for you with Mr.
From Petit Minou: u brought my blanket?
From Petit Minou: and stop calling it that
To Petit Minou: Course, baby.
To Petit Minou: What are you wearing?
From Petit Minou: Seriously?
To Petit Minou: Come on, baby. You asked for a
distraction, plus, you left before I got
From Petit Minou: whose fault’s that?
To Petit Minou: ❤
From Petit Minou: black skinnies w/ the dark red
converse u bought me for christmas, a white t-shirt, my grey cardigan, and a grey and red scarf that matches my shoes
To Petit Minou: I don’t think you understand how
this game works
From Petit Minou: u 4got 2 do laundry
To Petit Minou: … let’s go back to Kealakekua Bay.
Marcel rubbed his arms for warmth. His suit jacket was not thick enough to chase away the chill. News on Lyric and his merry band had been a bust, but he had submitted his own information – name, cell number, home number, office number, fax number, and email – to contact if suddenly he lost his connection with Lyric. The frazzled woman behind the folding table kindly explained one number would suffice.
His phone vibrated against his leg, but he could not hear the chime over the deafening roar of the crowd.
From Petit Minou: dont change the subject
To Petit Minou: But I don’t wanna do laundry
To Petit Minou: Lyric?
To Petit Minou: Baby? Where’s the nagging?
To Petit Minou: Answer me!
From Petit Minou: someone tried to get in the door
From Petit Minou: marcel, i’m scared
To Petit Minou: I know, baby. I know.
To Petit Minou: Just breathe.
To Petit Minou: How’s Lucy doing?
From Petit Minou: she’s still cryin’. gray’s tryin 2 calm
The ground shook as an explosion ripped through the unnerving chatter. Marcel stumbled and caught a grandmother that lost her cane before she tumbled to the ground. She never thanked him, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. Men and women around him screamed, but his own thoughts drowned the cries of terror and shock.
One of the buildings he identified as possibly a library, behind the police barricade smouldered. Thick black smoke filled the air, choking him. His eyes stung from the pungent smoke as he tried to read the screen of his phone – no new messages.
To Petit Minou: Lyric?
To Petit Minou: Where are you?
To Petit Minou: Answer me, baby!
To Petit Minou: Please.
From Petit Minou: im here. was that an explosion?
From Petit Minou: wuts going on out there?
Marcel retreated blindly until he backed into the sturdy trunk of one of the Maple trees and slid down to sit on the cold frozen ground. The rough bark ripped at his suit jacket. Knees bent and parted with his feet flat on the ground, he clutched his phone to his chest and struggled to suck down deep breaths.
“Move! Move! Move!”
Armoured men carrying assault rifles swarmed the school. They crept around corners, used secret hand signals, and snuck in through windows and doors. Sirens screeched in the distance.
Marcel’s vision blurred. When he looked down at his phone to answer Lyric, a single drop landed on the screen. He glanced up at the sky. No rain.
To Petit Minou: I’m not sure. When I know, you’ll
To Petit Minou: Tonight, we’ll curl up on the couch
and watch Pride and Prejudice.
From Petit Minou: u hate that movie
To Petit Minou: But I love you.
From Petit Minou: i love you too
From Petit Minou: if i dont get out of here, i just
want you to know, i’m so thankful for everything you’ve done for me.
To Petit Minou: You’re not going to die. I promise.
You’re going to walk out that door
with your head held high because you’re a survivor. You always have been.
From Petit Minou: Don’t say that
To Petit Minou: It’s true. You’re stronger than anyone
I know, and I’m proud of you.
From Petit Minou: i hear something
To Petit Minou: What’s going on?
From Petit Minou: I dont kno
From Petit Minou: sum1’s turning the knob
From Petit Minou: they r trying to get in
To Petit Minou: Who?
To Petit Minou: Who’s trying?
To Petit Minou: Lyric?
Incoming call from Petit Minou