Authors: Michele G Miller
The presence of someone sitting on her bed wakes her. Jules is shocked to see her room has grown darker, the afternoon sun no longer shining in her window. A quick peek at the clock by her bed says it is after five o'clock. She has slept the day away.
"Hi sleepyhead," her mother's soft voice whispers as she stirs and rolls to face her. She sits on the edge of Jules’ bed, dressed in a black, flowing skirt and top with little black rosettes around the scoop neck. It is an outfit Jules picked out for her on one of their many mother/daughter shopping trips, and she looks young and pretty.
"Why are you all dressed up?" Jules asks as she stretches and sits up slowly.
"There's a candlelight vigil in Center Park tonight." Jules sucks in a breath at the thought. "You don't have to come, sweetie, but I'm going and I thought you might want to."
"What about Dad and Jase?"
She shakes her head and Jules understands. Jase can’t deal with all of these emotions yet.
"I can stay here and watch Jase so Dad can go with you?" she offers. She thinks about the types of vigils she's seen on television and isn’t sure she would be able to make it through something of that magnitude.
"I think you should go, honey. You can see some friends; grieve."
"What do you think I've been doing?"
"Grieve with your town, Jules. You're not alone in all of this. We are all sad and scared and trying to figure out what to do next, baby." She takes a deep breath and pats Jules’ leg under the covers. "Come on. Get a good shower, get dressed and come eat. We'll go together."
Two hours later they make their way to Center Park, which is exactly as the name suggests; a park in the center of the town. It isn’t in the
center of the downtown area, but in the center of the town boundaries itself; southwest of downtown by scarcely a few blocks. They have to park on the street because the parking lot is already full, and as they make their way towards the park, Jules is amazed at all of the commotion. There are television crews from both local and national news channels all around; their bright lights shining on reporters talking into cameras. Jules and her mother duck around one person giving an interview and find themselves standing at the edge of a sea of people.
They weave their way through the crowd and stop to hug or speak with various friends along the way. Jules feels overwhelmed with the support and the sadness. Recognizing Jeff Parker's head above the crowd, she tugs on her mother's arm; interrupting her conversation with two crying woman from Jason's school.
"I'm sorry, Mom, I see some friends…I'm going to go up front some. Is that all right?"
"Of course, honey.” She gives her a quick hug before returning to the other moms.
Jules tries to keep to herself as she winds through the groups of people talking and crying. She knows if she keeps her eyes down most people won’t approach her, so she tries her
best to look anonymous. When she finally breaks through a human wall of mourners, she finds herself at the front of the park, where a makeshift memorial has been made to the victims. Her eyes begin to overflow the moment they take in the sight. Spread out before her are flowers, teddy bears, shirts, pictures, burning candles and much more, all in honor of the forty-five people who were found dead.
Stepping around a family huddled and crying, she slowly makes her way around the circular memorial, looking at the pictures and trinkets that people left.
There are handwritten notes and pictures colored by small hands in scribbles; a Longhorns hat propped on a teddy bear holding a picture of a handsome, smiling man. She kneels down to take a closer look and her hands began to shake as she realizes she knows him. She used to see him
around town, although she didn't know his name. She looks at the next picture on the ground and recognizes her face too; a waitress at Remington's who waited on her family many times through the years.
Rising to her feet slowly, Jules steps back. Hugging herself, she really looks at all of the faces of the deceased laid out before her. Their faces are black and white, men, women and children, young and old. Death doesn’t discriminate.
She finally locates Jeff standing with some of their friends from school, and is on her way to them when a strange, tingling feeling rides up her spine. Rubbing her bare arms, she looks over her shoulder. Not seeing anyone, she brushes it off and allows two cheerleaders from her squad to embrace her as she meets up with them.
"Jules!" cry Alice and Rachel, who hug her tightly. "Katie told us what happened to you two. I can't believe this, can you?"
"Is she here?" she asks; pointedly ignoring their comments about Friday night. They haven’t spoken since finding out about Tanya. Her mom called Mrs. Luther this morning once their phone service was back up. She said Katie was doing pretty much the same thing as Jules; sleeping, crying and sitting huddled in Jeff's or her father’s arms.
Rachel turns Jules back towards the memorial and points to the ground, all the while chatting about the twister, but Jules tunes her out. Her eyes scan the crowd, finding Katie sitting on the ground in front of a pile of Hillsdale Mustang school gear. In front of her, Jules sees not only a mound of items for Tanya, but also for the other students from her school that died. Choking back a wave of emotion, she pushes past two guys and falls to the ground next to her best friend.
"Can we go back somehow? This is just a dream, right Jules?" Katie speaks in a hushed tone and leans her head on Jules' shoulder without looking her way.
"I wish it was."
"I was mad at her..."
Jules picks up an envelope that blew off the pile and places it closer to the other letters piled around the pictures of their friends.
Katie sniffs. "When Jeff and I reached her and Tommy, they'd already started crap with those Rossview guys. I told her to quit and she snapped at me. So I stomped away."
"K, that doesn't matter."
"Sure it does. She always loved it when all the attention was on
, and it made me angry for no reason. I shouldn't have gotten so angry with her."
Jules thinks about Katie and Tanya. In the past few weeks they had gone back and forth a lot, trying to one-up each other during practices. Tanya could be hard to hang out with sometimes; she knows that. Even
knew that. Katie wasn't always the easiest person to be with, either. They both wanted to be in the limelight. Jules remembers the way Katie hung out of the car window and waved at people when they first pulled into the Shack that night. She got a lot of whistles and catcalls for it. It didn't surprise her that not twenty minutes later, Tanya had two boys fighting over her. She wonders what happened between Tommy and Carter that night to start their fight. Did Tanya say something to start them in on each other?
Jules weaves her arm through Katie's and sighs. "That was
moment, K. Look at all of these people," she urges; tugging at her arm and knocking her shoulder with her own. "We are surrounded by people who lost someone. Look at this pile; look at those pictures."
"How is this real?"
Jules shrugs her shoulders. "This is our town now."
All around them, people start to pass around white candles with little cups around them. Jeff kneels behind them and hands them each one. They stay seated in front of the pile of Mustang items. A blue and white pompom is one of the many things there, and Jules reaches out and runs her fingers through the tassels.
Across the memorial pile, Jules watches as dozens of candles are lit. Slowly, the glow of fire spreads outward as more and more people light their candles. Jules notices there are others sitting on the ground around the circle; an older lady with two middle school-aged kids and an elderly man standing over them with his hand on the woman's shoulders.
Her gaze roams the crowd until she falls upon a pair of familiar brown eyes staring back at her. Almost directly across from her stands West. He watches her, his candle already lit, as he stands there in silence. Someone bumps into his side and Jules pulls her eyes to the guy next to him. Astonished, she recognizes his older brother, Austin, watching as he bends down to speak in West’s ear.
She can’t believe her eyes, seeing Austin Rutledge here. He was a junior football star when she was a J.V. cheerleader, but he’d always been nice to her at events. He’s a sophomore at A&M now, and must have driven home to check on his dad and brother.
"Jules?" She hears Jeff say her name and she looks up to see him trying to light her candle for her. Offering it to him, she decides to stand and goes to pull Katie up with her, only to note that she's already gotten up. She brushes the grass from her shorts and looks back towards West, but he is gone.
They stand in silent vigil, their candles glowing, for around thirty minutes before someone starts to give a speech somewhere in the crowd. Jules can hear the faint promises of ‘Rebuilding’, and 'Our spirits are strong' being touted as a politician at a political rally would do, except there is no clapping or cheering for this speech.
Deciding she should find her mother, she gives Katie a firm hug as they both hold back their tears and promise to call each other the next day.
She is still wandering through the crowd of people ten minutes later when a voice calls out to her.
"Excuse me, Jules Blacklin?"
"Yes?" she answers; looking over at the stranger standing before her.
"I'm Jackie Faye from Channel Ten news. I was hoping you would allow me to interview you about your ordeal Friday night."
Jules freezes in shock and wonders how this woman knows anything about her. She peers out across the crowd behind the reporter, seeing a group of friends loitering around.
"I'm sorry, I don't..."
"Just a quick interview right here." She waves her hand and a small light clicks on behind her as a cameraman pops up from nowhere. Jackie Faye sticks a microphone in her face with a huge, megawatt movie star smile and starts to ask questions.
"Can you describe your experience Friday night?"
Jules stands there, her hand automatically touching her face where she knows her cuts and bruises are showing, even through the make-up she used.
"I understand you were with four of the victims at The Ice Shack Friday, and that you were almost a victim as you took refuge in the old Grier house with other classmates of yours. Can you tell us about that?" she persists; her voice sickly upbeat for a woman asking about dead teenagers.
"No, I can't. I got a concussion and have very little memory."
"You've lost your memory?" Jackie Faye gasps; sounding as if she's won a prize. "You poor thing. So you don't remember the house falling on you? The hours you spent trapped by yourself?"
Jules wants to walk away, but somehow her brain isn’t connected to her legs and she stands there, mutely allowing this woman to continue asking rude questions. She shakes her head at the last one. "I wasn't alone," she mumbles and finally looks around for an exit strategy.
"Well, Ms. Blacklin, who else was with you that night? Maybe they would like to talk to the cameras."
An arm wraps around her shoulders and a voice speaks over her head. "She was with me, and no, I do
want to talk to the cameras. Excuse us," West practically growls; pulling Jules into his side and sweeping her out of the lights and the crowd that has gathered.
Behind her Jules hears others start talking about the events, and she glances over her shoulder to see the reporter already asking new questions. Without speaking, West guides her through the groups of people hugging and whispering. Many continue holding their almost burnt out candles before their faces.
Once they reach a small clearing he stops and drops his arm from her body, but remains close to her as he asks if she is okay.
"I'm fine; I was ambushed, that's all. How do the reporters know about the house?"
He shrugs and his arm brushes hers as they stand there. Jules’ candle, no longer lit, is dangling from her hand, and she lifts it, looking at how the wax is melted to one side.
"Do you think this helped?" she asks him and looks up into his warm eyes.
"Here." He takes the candle from her hand and turns away, tapping the shoulder of the closest person. The guy nods and Jules watches as West re-lights her candle and thanks the man before turning back to her.
"What’s it supposed to do for us? The whole lighting-a-candle thing?"
"I know there are a lot of religions that use candles to remember spirits of the dead, but I don't really know why. For me, I think it's a nice way to remember. I look at it as a metaphor of the light that a person once was. It kinda brings me strength."
She reaches out to take the candle from his hand. "I don't feel strong. I feel alone and empty, like I want to crawl into a dark space," she admits, and a tear rolls down her face.
"You're not alone," he offers. Their hands touch as she reaches across her body with her right hand and tries to take the candle from him. Instead of letting go, West wraps his fingers over hers, all the while keeping his gaze on the small flame. "I'll be your strength, Jules."