FLASH by Anja Herrmann (Oak Park and River Forest High School)

My palms are shaking as I drag my sneakered foot across the disgusting public school floor. I reach the podium and grip it tightly, locking eyes with my teacher, who’s sitting at the back of the classroom. She turns her head, and I use my clammy hands to push the hairout of my face, taking a deep breath.

“Hi. I’m Stella, but of course, youalready know that. For the teen domestic violence prevention project, I wrote a short story”, See, Stella, that wasn’t so bad! Now, all you have to do is actually read it! I think to myself, as I begin to read, the nerves slowly fading away, as I do

“You never think it’ll be you. You are too smart for this. You know not to go looking for trouble. Trouble is, trouble usually finds you. That’s what makes it dangerous right, the feeling of not being in any danger at all.” I look up, and the entire class is hooked, the room eerily quiet. I look back down at my story, getting sucked back into that fateful night.

I jog up the steps to the house party, my kitten heels scraping on the concrete, as I reach for the already ajar door. I step inside- and immediately wish I hadn’t.  There are people everywhere, red Solo cups in hand. Some are trying to dance, and are managing as well as one can in a den as dark as a bat cave where the only light is  coming from the huge speaker on top of the television, emitting a neon pink glow.  Just as I set my purse down on the back of a dinner chair, the speaker suddenly blares a new song, and the stampede to the dance floor begins, a gaggle of girls screaming about how “this is THEIR song”. I feel a sharp pain on my foot, and turn around, as a girl grabs onto my arm, bobbing uneasily on her stilettos

“SORRY”, she shouts, pushing past me to join the Conga line, as the singer raves about how girls run the world. I grab a cup of water, raising it to my lips, as my phone pings, telling me that my boyfriend is around the block in his car. I text him back that I’m on my way, crush my cup and run back down the concrete steps, the warm August air kissing my skin. I walk down the block, finding his car in the alley off of Main Street, knocking on the door, until he unlocks it and I hop in, kissing him hello.

“Hey stranger” I say, once I buckle in

“Hey yourself. Burger?” he asks, offering me a takeout container.

“Yes please! But, wait... why are we sitting in here? Hasn’t the party started? At least, that’s what it looked like in there, but it was honestly just chaos”

“Yeah. Ethan texted me that we shouldn’t go in for a while, since it’s super crowded. That’s not a problem right?”

“No. Not at all, I say,” taking a bite of my burger, as we chat about everything andnothing, from the upcoming Earth Science test (my idea) to his current football statistics (his). Adam is halfway through explaining exactly why a field goal is important, when a shadow approaches the car, knocking on the window. Adamrolls it down, and the lopsided grin of Ethan Greene, Allen County running backand Adam’s best friend, stares down at the two of us. The boys do their secret handshake, as I look on, hiding my grin behind my hand.

“Yo! Get inside! We’re missing the kickoff! I texted you earlier, man!”
“Huh. I must have missed it.” Adam says, tapping on his phone, as he opens the car door. “Wait... the Park Crest versus Ridgeview one?”

“Yeah! Are you coming or not?” Ethan asks as he backs up from the car, turning to goinside.

“I’ll be there in a second”, Adam promises, beckoning me to exit he car. As he leansover to grab his car keys out of the ignition, I tell him that I have aheadache, and don’t want to go back inside. He turns to face me, and I suck in a breath of air, as I see his eyes go hard and steely. Well, this isn’t good, I think to myself. Strangely, he isn’t saying anything, just staring straight out the window, until he sees Ethan go inside. Then, Adam turns to me and says “We’re going Stella. Don’t embarrass me. End of discussion.”

I start to protest, but then Ethan’s face appears in the window, framed by twoblackout curtains. Adam puts his smile back on, and squeezes the inside of my wrist, hard, until I almost yelp from the pain. He lets it go, and Iimmediately try to massage it, as he looks on in horror.

“Stella, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I swear, it was an accident. You know I wouldn’t do this on purpose! Can we go inside please?”

“Sure”, I say, my voice shaking as I put my heeled foot on the sidewalk curb, leaving my purse on the

The rest of the night passes in a blur, as I spend the entire football game trying to inconspicuously tend to my now swollen wrist, as the jersey clad boys yell and cheer with every play. In what feels like both an instant and an eternity, the game is over, and the crowded den is starting to empty out. Adam pulls me upward, wrapping his arm around my shoulder, as we use our free hands to wave goodbye, and cross the lawn, going down the alley. I look behind me, making sure we are alone, before I separate from Adam’s grip.

“We need to talk. Now.” I say, my voice hard. \

“Stella-what’s going on?” Adam asks

“Look at what you did”, I yell, showing him my discolored wrist.

Adam looks around, in a panic and then says “Stella, please, keep your voice down! And, I already apologized for accidentally hurting you! Honestly, you should be apologizing to me, after embarrassing me in front of Ethan. As my girlfriend, you should know better. You know how important the team is to me!

“Oh,I have to apologize to you? I’m sorry, did you miss the memo about the century we’re in? For god’s sake, I’m not a puppet, I’m a person!”

Just then, Adam turns when he hears his name. “I have to go. We can talk about this later?”

“You know what? I drove here, so I’m just going to grab my purse and then head home.” I say, as Adam crosses the lawn again. I turn down the alley, opening up the car door, and reach for my purse when- it falls. I reach under the seat, bending down, my skirt flipped up, as I search. I grab the strap, and straighten up, but not before I see a glaring white flash. It’s probably just a street light, I think as I pull my skirt down and walk to my car. I drive home, cautious at the one busy intersection like always, but I can’t seem to get that mysterious flash out of my head.

The next day, I walk out of my Earth Science classroom, after staying behind toreview the difference between geologic forms, and head to the cafeteria. The chatter of students dies down when I walk in, and I make a beeline for my lunchtable, where I sit and let the hour pass, listening to music. There are snickers as I go past each table, but I pay them no mind, thinking they’re justlaughing about some TikTok dance. I sit down, jamming my earbuds in, searchingfor a playlist, when an Instagram notification catches my attention. I log into the app, and almost drop my phone when I see what was posted: a picture of me, my skirt up, exposed, on the floor of Adam’s car- posted by... Adam. I run fromthe cafeteria, it occurs to me that this is my community, the children I’ve known since kindergarten are now becoming my demons. I can’t think about that know, as I find Adam. He tries to apologize, something about how he was “so sorry, babe” and how he “was dared to do it by” and he “didn’t mean it”. Through it all, I just run, past the library, past the church, past everythingthat I once knew. I ran past the taunts, past the insults until I ended uphere, three states away from that night.

The class gasps, pencils clattering to the floor, as I continue “So, speak up when you hear something, see something, feel something. You could be the light in someone’s darkness.  I was one of the lucky ones. I’m here, talking to you now, but, not all of us are that lucky,some succumb to the power of the flash.