Jeremy Heere did not have a hero complex. He did not run into danger. And he definitely didn't go looking for it.
His second main goal for high school was to stay in the background where the bullies couldn't see him and the teachers would ignore him. (Obviously, his first goal was to pass high school.)
When Rich would walk toward him, he stared at his shoes. When his teachers asked him questions he tried to speak as quietly as possible. Standing out in any way, shape, or form was his worst nightmare.
So when a crazy guy with a gun climbed onto his school bus on the way back from the Natural History Museum, he hid behind the seat in front of him. But to put his cowardice in perspective, everyone else did too.
Maybe we should start at the beginning.
Jeremy Heere was in his junior year in highschool, and like every class before him, February was the time for the Natural History Museum field trip. The trip fell in the middle of their Biology unit during their mandatory Junior year science credit. And going on a trip to the Museum counted as a test grade. Well, more specifically, the fill-in-the-blank worksheet was a test grade. Everyone in Mr. Reyes’ science class needed all the easy A's they could get, so everyone went on the field trip.
Because it was hard to manage two hundred sixteen year olds, the students had to arrive at the school at an ungodly hour, in order to board the busses and make it to the Museum on time. And, as you would expect, Thursday morning was a disaster.
The only rooms big enough to contain the entire junior class were the gym and the cafeteria, but the day before someone had seen off a stink bomb in the lunchroom, so they packed onto the basketball courts. The principal was standing on the stage trying to announce the groups.
Parent volunteers were yelling, kids were trading groups, girls were getting on the wrong bus, and teachers were already planning on what to drink later that night.
Jeremy and his best friend, Michael, were trying to stay as far away from the chaos as possible. That meant watching shit go down from the fire extinguisher on the far wall.
They had miraculously been put into the same group, even though their last names were Heere and Mell. The other members of their group were Rich and Jake, some of the most popular kids in school. That was not a good thing for Jeremy's anxiety. He needed to fill out his worksheet, not worry about having something he said end up on Twitter.
“Do you remember what bus we're on?” Michael asked, pulling his headphones down around his neck. “I know Mr. Reyes told us yesterday, but I didn't get enough sleep last night.”
Jeremy sighed. His best friend was amazing and his favorite person in the world, but sometimes he could be an airhead. “It's number twenty-four. Maybe you should write it on your arm,” he joked.
“What's the stoner writing on his arm?” Rich asked, butting into their conversation.
Jeremy immediately hunched his shoulders and took a step toward Michael. “Nothing.”
“Yeah,” Michael said swiftly. “Just our bus number.”
“Oh.” Rich looked disappointed that it wasn't anything juicer. “So what is our bus number.”
“Twenty-four,” Jeremy said weakly.
“I wasn't asking you, tall-ass.” Rich took a threatening step forward, like he was going to pound Jeremy into the wall just for answering his question. He could hear Michael holding his breath.
Jeremy figured Rich must have decided hitting Jeremy wasn't worth taking a failing grade on the worksheet, because he stopped suddenly. Then he noticed that Jake had put his hand on Rich's shoulder.
“Hey, man. Come on. We need to get the back of the bus.”
Rich seemed to contemplate this, and then decided he did want the last seat. “Yeah, ok.”
Jeremy gave Jake a small, grateful glance, and Jake returned a nod that said, 'no problem.’ Ok, maybe not all the popular kids were complete morons. Jake turned to follow Rich out to busses currently lined up in front of the school, even though they hadn't been dismissed.
“Hey, maybe we should get going. We don't want to have to sit in different seats,” Michael suggested.
Now that he was paying attention, Jeremy could see that the general direction of the students was the gym exits. He felt the familiar pang of nerves in his gut, and agreed with Michael. “Yeah, let's go.”
Luckily, their bus was parked right in front of the school. They had a short walk in the crisp, cold air outside, before they boarded.
He let Michael get on first, because he knew that having a window seat made him feel better. He slid into a seat about halfway down the bus, and Jeremy followed in after him.
Rich and Jake had managed to get one of the farthest seats. He didn't know if they had actually made it to the bus early enough, or they had bullied some poor kid into giving up his seat. Jeremy supposed it didn't matter now, anyway.
Jeremy and Michael sat quietly until the first bus in the line-up started its engine and three cheerleaders ran past his window to catch it before it left.
Michael pressed his knee against Jeremy's. “It's going to be fun, ok? We'll ditch Jake and Rich, and then go find the exhibits with animals.”
Jeremy had to agree that it did sound like a solid plan. Except that he really needed to up his grade in Bio. “But what about the worksheet?”
“That's all good, man. I lifted the answer key from my cousin who went last year. They've been using the same questions for ten years.”
When the bus pulled into the highway, he was feeling better already. He could copy the worksheet, and that would free up hours of valuable Museum exploring time. He and Michael could see the animals, and maybe even spend some time at the food court.
There was a rumor going around last year of an arcade, but Jeremy knew that was unlikely. Every year the Junior class made up crazy stories about this field trip to tell the underclassmen. It was tradition. During their last sleepover Jeremy and Michael came up with some great ideas for new rumors. It was unfortunate that they had no friends to prank with them, though.
For the rest of the thirty minute bus ride, Michael and Jeremy made a list of all the things they could possibly do in five hours in a Natural History Museum. Most of them involved having to get rid of Rich and Jake, but Jeremy didn't think they’d mind. They'd probably be in some private corner working on an addition for their 'weird places we've had sex's list.'
The entire school knew that Jake and Rich were hooking up, but everyone was too scared to confront them about it. It didn't matter, anyway. No one cared they were gay. Jeremy found it weirdly comforting how accepting his school was about the LGBTQ community. Even though he was straight, Michael was gay, and it made Jeremy feel better that no one disliked his best friend because of his sexual orientation. They just disliked him because he was a loser.
When they got to the Museum, all of the other busses had already arrived. The other students were already inside and walking around. Michael followed him off the bus, and they waited for Rich and Jake on the sidewalk.
“So, I say we walk in together, go into some sort of exhibit, and then split up,” Jake offered as soon as the huge glass doors came into view.
Michael replied, “Sounds good,” and that was that.
They followed Jake's plan. Mr. Reyes gave them their day passes, said stick together, and pointed out the food court as soon as they walked inside. Jake pushed all four of their tickets across the counter to the cashier, and they were in. Michael pointed out that the dinosaur fossil exhibit had a lot of different hidden paths to take, so no one would see them split up, so that's where they were headed. Once hidden by the walls, their group split into two. Rich and Jake went to find a supply closet, and Michael pulled out the list he and Jeremy had made on the bus.
“So we could do the fossils first. And then the live animals,” Jeremy suggested. “And then lunch?”
“Sounds good. Wanna fill out the worksheet now?”
Jeremy nodded and unslung his backpack from his shoulder. They sat down underneath a wall of different Dino footprints and got to work. Occasionally, Michael would rearrange the sentences, and Jeremy would misspell a word to make it more believable.
Twenty minutes later (it was a really long worksheet), they were packing up their bags, and getting ready to look at the dinosaurs.
They walked through crowds of elementary school kids and then elderly clubs on their way to the T-Rex. It wasn't as big as Jeremy thought it was going to be. He could tell Michael was a bit disappointed as well.
The dinosaurs took longer to look at than they had expected, but by the time they were done with them both Jeremy and Michael were starving. They decided to go to the food court closest to them, even though it was packed with small kids eating in soccer uniforms.
Jeremy got a corn dog. Michael got a piece of pizza with “dinosaur meat” on it. He picked it off while they sat in a booth.
After eating, it was time for the live animals. The live animals were both of their favorite parts. Mostly because they had ‘petting hours’ where anyone could go and hold almost any type of critter that was around in the dinosaur's time. It was ninety percent fish.
It was a long walk to the animals from the food court, and when they went there, it was time to ‘hold the critters.’ Lucky for them, the lines were small. Elementary kids didn't normally want to hold bugs and snakes.
They got in line for the giant, yellow, boa constrictor.When it was their turn, they wrapped Betsy around their shoulders and had the handler take a picture with Michael's phone.
The next line over was for the mice, but it was long. Michael sighed and suggested coming back to that one later. Jeremy agreed that was probably the best course of action, so they skipped over to the bugs. Thankfully, the lines were minimal.
Jeremy got in line to hold a large spider. There was only one more boy in front of him, so it was only a moment before the spider was passed to him.
The spider was mostly blue with red speckles on its legs and a red splotch on its back. It scurried over his hands, and Jeremy had to make sure it didn't climb up his sleeves.
Someone stepped into the line behind him, and he turned around to hand the spider off. When he quickly reached his hand out to the girl, he felt a sharp stung on the back of his hand.
Michael looked over from where he was holding a praying mantis. “Dude, are you ok? Did it bite you?”
The girl took the spider off of his arm, and he walked over to Michael. “Yeah, I think so. It hurt. Look. There's marks!”
There were marks, and he held out his hand to show off the tiny red dots on.the back of his hand.
“Maybe you should get that checked out,” Michael suggested. He gave his bug back to the handler, and grabbed Jeremy's arm, pulling him away. “Let’s rinse it in the bathroom.”
“I think it's better now. It doesn't sting anymore,” Jeremy said. And it was true. His hand really was feeling better. The bite was starting to fade, and it made him think that maybe he imagined the whole thing.
“You should still rinse it.” Michael shoved him toward the bathroom door. “Go. I'll be here.”
He sighed and pulled the door open with his uninjured hand. In the bathroom he ran his hand under cold.water in the sink, and then dried it off with some paper towels. When he was done, it was like the bite had never happened. There were still dots where the fangs had pierced him, but the redness was gone.
Next, Michael took him to the ancient plant exhibit, and they looked at more fossils. The leaf fossils were even less exciting than the footprints.
It was when they started to look at the living plants that Jeremy started to get a headache. He didn't think anything of it. He got headaches all the time, especially when he had been around people or day, or his anxiety was abnormally high. Michael gave him some ibuprofen.
When they met back up with Rich and Jake, he realized his stomach was turning, but he figured it was just the corn dog. Food court food always seemed to make him sick.
They boarded the bus, and Jeremy started to feel lightheaded. When they pulled out of the lot and onto the road, he leaned his head on Michael's shoulder. Why did everything have to be so loud? The bus got onto an old, empty highway, and drove for half a mile.
And then the bus started to slow down. Kids looked up from their phones to see if they were at the school.They weren't. A large, navy blue van was blocking the road and a man was waving his arms. They couldn't go around.
Jeremy watched as the man walked to the bus doors, and knocked on the glass. He looked normal enough. Pudgey, dark brown hair, baggy jeans, and a puffy coat and hood pulled over his face. Typical for a middle aged man living in the North East in mid February.
The driver opened the door, and the man climbed the stairs. And then he reached into his coat and pulled out a handgun and aimed it at the driver. She screamed. And the entire bus panicked. Kids were yelling and grabbing their friends. Most ducked behind the seats and got low to the ground. Jeremy followed suit.
“Quiet! Shut up or I'll shoot! Driver, open the back door.” The driver didn't move. “Now!”
With a shaking hand, the bus driver pressed a button on the dashboard, and a buzzer sounded in the back of the bus. The door swung open and another man, this in heavy duty black boots and long black pants climbed in.
Jeremy heard a girl start to sob behind him. From what he could see, both men had at least one gun. Michael grabbed his hand.
“Everyone get on the seats and show me your hands. Now!” The first man yelled.
Slowly, kids started sitting up. Jeremy had to pull Michael with him.
“Elbows on the tops of the seats!” Jeremy could now see the second man, and could tell he was the leader. He was obviously bigger, stronger, and had a pale scar on his right eyebrow. He was also not wearing a mask, and his head was clean shaven. Jeremy almost laughed at how stereotypical he looked for a criminal.
He stopped a few feet away from his and Michael's seat. And then Mr. Criminal pointed his gun at Jeremy's head. He suddenly realized that he had laughed, and Mr. Criminal heard it.
“If something funny?” he asked, glowering. “What are you laughing at, boy?”
Jeremy knew he was going to throw up approximately three seconds before he did. His mouth filled with saliva and his tongue stopped working. And when his stomach lurched, he was still holding eye contact with Mr. Criminal.
He decided he was mad at all the movies with teen protagonists that can fight people in real life. In video games Jeremy could chop off heads and get shot at and shoot back no problem.
But in real life when someone a hundred pounds heavier than he was pointed a gun at his chest, he projectile vomited all over the bad guy's lower abdomen.
And, from the sheer shock of having a sixteen year old shrimp throw up pop tart and corn dog on his chest, Mr. Criminal dropped his gun.
As a refresher for all you people still interested in this story, Jeremy Heere did not have a hero complex. But when he doubled over from the vomit and fell onto his knees right next to Mr. Criminal's gun, he lunged for it.
Later, when Michael said, “Jeremy what the absolute fuck were you thinking, you idiot,” Jeremy didn't have a good answer. Maybe it was being scared out of his wits, or just because he was feeling sick to his stomach. He'd blame it on all the action movies he'd seen.
He grabbed the gun a mili-second before Mr. Criminal's fingers brushed the floor of the bus. Jeremy had never held a gun before in real life, but from video games and lengthy Criminal Minds marathons, he clumsily knew where to put his fingers.
Mr. Criminal froze, as anyone would (besides Jeremy), when they had a gun pointed at them. His partner, still at the front of the vehicle, trained his own handgun at Jeremy's chest, but didn't shoot. Jeremy's thoughts weren't very fluent, but he knew, even though he didn't know how, that the men were not prepared to actually kill the teenagers. They probably just wanted the ransom money.
The only sounds in the bus were Jeremy's heavy breathing and some restrained whimpering coming from the back. Michael hissed something from the ground behind him, but Jeremy didn't hear it. The blood pounding in his ears was too loud.
“Put it down, kid,” the man with the gun growled. “Nice and easy.”
Mr. Stereotypical Criminal put up his hands in a 'hold your horses’ motion. “Put the gun down,” he repeated.
And finally, he heard the sirens of law enforcement. He threw the gun through the open window behind him and into the ditch.
The teens watched as the men started to panic. They didn't bother to hush their voices so the students could hear.
“Well what do we do now? The police are almost here!” the one with the gun yelled.
“Grab one of them!” Jeremy was even more certain that the man whom he had stolen the gun from was the leader.
The man with the gun grabbed the kid sitting in the front seat, who was one of the most popular girls in school. Jenna Rolan. He yanked her up and set an arm across the front of her shoulders, so she couldn't break free.
Mr. Criminal moved to stand behind his friend. The baddies were ready when the bus was surrounded by cops in bulletproof vests, all holding firearms.
One of the officers yelled, “Put your hands where we can see them, and exit the vehicle!”
“We'll kill her!”
Jenna looked more enraged than terrified, but her eyes were glistening.
This was definitely the weirdest thing this part of the junior class had ever been through. The tension leaked out the windows, and Jeremy could smell the anxiety radiating off of Michael.
“Put down the guns!” The cops tried again. They couldn't take out the man holding Jenna Rolan hostage without risking the lives of the students.
Jeremy's brain started working again, and his knees buckled. He crouched down on the floor and pressed his back into Michael's knees. It was probably the safest place to be. Michael tried to comfort him, but his shaking hands betrayed him. He was even more terrified than Jeremy, and was probably having an anxiety attack.
As scared as he was, Jeremy felt a surge of appreciation rush through his veins for this wonderful human he got to call his best friend. Even though Michael was barely functional, he was trying to help comfort Jeremy.
Mr. Criminal yelled, “You have to let us go if you want the girl to live!”
The policeman, now out of their parked cars, replied, “We have the bus surrounded. There's no way out. Let the girl go.”
The leader jabbed his gun against the side of Jenna's head, and she started shaking and sputtering words that Jeremy couldn't make out.
The men started to whisper to each other. Jeremy could only make out part of their conversion, but it went something like…
Gun dude: “..what?”
Baldy: “Take out as many...boss..”
Gun dude: “I don't want to go to jail, I…”
Gun dude: All five stages of grief within two seconds.
The leader called out the police, “If we give ourselves up and let the girl live, I get to talk to the cameras. I want to talk on the TV.” His accomplice was grimacing.
The policeman shouted back, “Just let the girl go and exit the vehicle with your hand in the air.”
Mr. Criminal gave a nod to his minion, and the man with the gun shoved Jenna Rolan, hard, into the seat. She had tears on her cheeks the Jeremy hadn't noticed before. Brooke, another one of the popular girls, wrapped her in an embrace.
The man with the gun pointed it to the ceiling, and put his other hand in the air as well. He started to walk toward the exit, and his leader followed. Mr. Criminal had a frown on his face, but there was a glint in his eye that said he was plotting something evil.
They managed to take two steps away from the bus before both of the men were disarmed (there was a knife in Mr. Criminal's pocket) and handcuffed.
“Wait,” Baldy protested, “what about the camera? I get to talk on the TV. Hey!” He started to pull against the officer holding him, and another cop had to help hold him back. The police shoved him into the back of the car while he was still yelling. The other man was already in another car, having not put up a fight at all.
All of the kids on the bus watched the entire show go down from the floor of the bus. Jeremy figured they were still either too shaky to get up, or had forgotten about it. Anyway, it didn't matter. The bad men were off the bus, no one was dead, and Jeremy had possibly saved his (popular) classmates from kidnappers. Maybe they wouldn't think he was so weird now. Who was he kidding. He'd just thrown up in front of everyone.
Jeremy's mouth tasted like vomit. He desperately wished he had some water or juice with him. And a toothbrush.
Kids started to get off the bus. Jeremy and Michael stayed in the back of the group. When they had to stand next to Rich and Jake, his bully didn't even call him a name.
The police told the kids that another bus from the school was called to come pick them up. The driver was to shooken up to take them anywhere. The cops stayed with them, but when the bus got there they headed back to the station. He got a slight ‘talking to’ for picking up a loaded weapon, but the policemen decided there were more important to deal with than more paperwork. They told him not to do it again, and gave him a small pat on the back.
No one spoke until they were on the road, headed for the school. Then kids started to share their feelings and stories and thoughts with all of the friends. Everybody was suddenly brave enough to speak up. Jeremy called his dad.
Michael and Jeremy didn't say a word to each other, but that was fine. They didn't need words. Jeremy didn't know when they had grabbed hands, but he was glad Michael didn't let go until the bus pulled into the school parking lot.
The parking lot was full with worried parents huddled in groups and on their cell phones. Some were waiting by their cars, but Jeremy could see his dad and Michael's moms leaning on the wall by the entrance to the school.
They rushed over when Jeremy and Michael stepped down from the bus.
For the first time in a very long time, Jeremy wasn't afraid to hug his dad in public.
After Michael's moms hugged both of the boys, Jeremy's dad said, “They said we can take you home for the rest of the week. You don't have to come to school at all. Trauma or something. Apparently mental health is very important now that the school can see it physically.”
No school for the rest of the week? Jeremy and Michael looked at each other, and without exchanging any words, they knew that this week was going to be awesome.