Coming in to freshman year the thing we were told about Mr. Lesnick—Homeroom, Science—is that there’d been an Instagram account a few years back called “Mr. Lesnick is a pedophile.” Supposedly, a Grade Eleven did it, this kid Matt. He was expelled, obviously. We never saw the account, it got taken down like right away. But we all heard about it and knew exactly why someone would do it.
Like the fact that Mr. Lesnick always wears shorts, even in winter. Or how he jams his thumb between our shoulder blades on our way out of class and says, “Stand up straight!” or “Heads up!” or “Wimp!” There’s also his licence plate: “L. Nick.” And once during Track and Field Mr. Lesnick picked up Jake Grey and threw him over his shoulder, like he was roughhousing, just one of the boys. Except the whole time Jake Grey, from where he was bobbing in mid-air, was mouthing, “What the whaaaa?” and all the other Grade Nine boys’ jaws hit the floor.
And there’s his name: Lance Lesnick.
But he is a super easy marker. And at the end of term, with all our assignments done, he let us go into the woodshop—this tiny room at the back of his class with a band saw, scroll saw, sander, and drill press and do what he thinks is the funnest project, for no marks: mouse-trap race cars.
It is pretty fun, actually.
The problem is, even though some of us are sort of into it, some of us aren’t. Jacqueline, who’s supposed to be in our group, is just sitting on the desks at the back of the class with Sara Wu and Cheyenne—their own group—talking about a selfie Sara Wu got from this boy “Cute Kyle” she met on March Break in Niagara Falls. Which we’d already talked about all day yesterday. And it isn’t really fair that we’re doing everything and Jacqueline’s doing nothing. And Yasmin—who’s the kind of a person who’s like boom boom boom, wants to get stuff done (she’s a highland dancer), she keeps sending us over to be like, “Uh, Jacqueline?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” Jacqueline says. “I just need to get my shoes from my locker.”
This is her excuse: she can’t wear her flip-flops into the woodshop. But, really, she just wants to keep talking about “Cute Kyle,” and it takes us going back three times before she finally actually goes to her locker. And when she finally does Cheyenne comes over and says, “You know, you should maybe go easy on Jacqueline. She’s kind of going through some stuff?”
“What does that mean?” we say.
“I can’t tell you. It’s not my place,” Cheyenne says.
It’s so a Cheyenne thing to do. Why bother saying anything? But Cheyenne likes having it over us. She’s always dying to know something we don’t so she can brush us off like, “It’s not my place.” It’s why she’s so big on inside jokes—like this time she and Destiny ambushed Paige. Cheyenne doesn’t like Paige for some reason. There’s this thing Paige does where someone says a word and she right off starts singing a song that has that word in it? So Cheyenne and Destiny kept sort of casually saying the word “uptown” until Paige started in with the “Uptown Funk” and then the two of them laughed their faces off, while the rest of us were going, “Okay, what?”
It’s not one hundred percent Cheyenne’s fault. She has OCD. She’s like actually on medication for OCD. And her family’s weird. Her dad’s super creepy. Like L. Nick level creepy. He’s this short guy with a buzz cut and he loves hunting. He has these guns. One time we were in Cheyenne’s basement and he came downstairs and he was literally carrying a bunch of guns. We were like, “Oh my God, this is where we get shot.” There’s a cubby under the stairs where he keeps the guns; the door’s locked, but there’s this other, mini door that you could get into, if you really wanted to.
Plus her mom has this weird monotone voice.
So, you know, she doesn’t have it great or anything.
But even if that explains it, we were still irritated when Cheyenne said what she said about Jacqueline “going through stuff.” So we go back into the woodshop and tell Yasmin. And Yasmin’s like, “Yeeeaaah, okay.” Cause the thing is Yasmin and Jacqueline used to be close, but aren’t anymore. Jacqueline would get in these moods and, at lunch, Yasmin would hurry her off to the bathroom, and they’d come back acting all mysterious, and never talk about it. It seemed like they really understood each other; but lately Jacqueline was pretty much talking to everyone, and making Yasmin feel like chopped liver. So Yasmin says, “Yeeaaah, okay, I guess she’s writing her notes, again.”
And then, all skeptical, she says that Jacqueline’s been writing these suicide notes.
We weren’t shocked, or anything. Jacqueline’s a pretty insecure person. She has body image issues, for sure. She’s been dress-coded for tube tops and cut-offs cut to the back pockets and she always jokes about how fat she is. All of us do, but you can tell Jacqueline really thinks she is fat. But she isn’t.
So when Jacqueline finally gets back with her shoes, Yasmin acts huffy, but the rest of us say nothing. We let her stand there looking at our mouse-trap race car going, “What do you even want me to do?”
Then Mr. Lesnick shuts his laptop and says, “Okay, let’s see what you got.” He comes over and has us test our cars on the floor. Ours goes halfway across the room. “Okay, okay,” he says, in his nasally voice. Yasmin stands there slouching, sort of proud but not wanting to make a thing of it. And Mr. Lesnick sticks his thumb in her back and says, “Get that chin up!”
Period two is gym, with Mrs. Janetti. Mrs. Janetti’s this tiny blonde lady who always has her hair in pixie-dos. She’s the kind of teacher parents think is “good for us,” cause she talks sweet and won’t let us stand around. But she has a dark side. The day after her husband dumped her she turned up to school in stained jeans (she should’ve been dress-coded) and when the Grade Eleven boys started setting up the volleyball nets on their half of the gym, she made a gun with her hand and picked off Mr. Van Schubert and his student teacher, who we called “Mr. Handsome.”
Plus she never gets tired. She has us do laps, burpees, squats, and bends, and does them with us every time, and chirps us after. Once, just to prove she could, she did the whole warmup again, by herself, in double time, and, after, chirped us again, not even short of breath. Usually, though, if we’re looking droopy she makes us do the warmup again. Which is why so many of us get our parents to write us sick notes.
In the change room we always talk about how much we hate Mrs. Janetti. Except on Fridays, when Mrs. Janetti lets us choose between basketball and dodgeball, and we talk instead—sort of lobby each other—about which to do. It gets pretty ugly.
Today, Sara Wu and Cheyenne are trying to get everyone to pick dodgeball cause then they’ll get knocked out and just stand against the wall, cause they’re exhausted. (Plus, you can’t fail dodgeball.) And all this time Jacqueline just sits on the floor by herself, staring at her phone, letting out these sighs. We look over but ignore her. She sticks her phone in the rip in her jeans and lets out this even-more-dramatic sigh, and we ignore her even harder. So she says, “Maybe I’ll write another note.”
Sara Wu, trying play it off like a joke, says, “Same.”
But the rest of us are uncomfortable cause Jacqueline’s notes aren’t just a joke. Kids make that joke all the time, like when they say something stupid or drop their phone. “Oh my God, I’m going to kill myself.” Then there’s the girls who say it for attention; but at least some of these girls say it for attention cause they’re sad. And then, obviously, some mean it. Jacqueline’s probably somewhere between just wanting attention and wanting attention cause she’s sad. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to know what to do about it.
So after Sara Wu says, “Same,” some of us ask if Jacqueline’s okay and all she says is, “Who told you? Was it Yasmin?” And because we insist no, she assumes it must have been Cheyenne and turns and gave Cheyenne this die-stare
Cheyenne says, “No…I told them it wasn’t my place.”
But already Jacqueline’s up and out into the hall.
We vote for dodgeball. After warmup we all try to get hit so we can stand at the wall and talk about Jacqueline and Cheyenne. (Cheyenne keeps hissing from down the line, “What are you guys saying?”) We are so “lame” that Mrs. Janetti pairs us with the Grade Eleven boys and does boys vs. girls. The boys are like joyful about it. Scrambling around, all sweat-shiny and b.o.-smelling in the pinnies they’d been wearing for floor hockey, snatching up the dodge balls. At one point that kid Ryota has so many he has to hold one in his teeth. And some of them—like Sam Couvrette and Jordan Kloostra—are taking these huge run-ups before they launch them at us. And, yes, we want to get hit but not pelted in the bare legs. Or to have to listen to Sam Couvrette and Jordan Kloostra’s hyena laughter. A couple of us try to fight back—Destiny tells Sam Couvrette to quit being a “dickhead”—but this just riles the boys up more, gets them strategizing “Come on, girls!” Mrs. Janetti shrieks. “You going to let these dummies win?”
“Who’s the dummy?” yells Jake Grey.
“You are,” Sara Wu says, from the wall (cause they used to be wheeling but weren’t now).
And even though she’s out, Jake Grey crosses the line and throws his ball at her. It comes in on the bounce and she has to do a little tap step to avoid it.
By lunch, Jacqueline has already posted an unflattering pic of Cheyenne on Instagram that says, “Thanks a lot, FOUR BY FOUR,” referring to Cheyenne’s kind of chubby thighs, which she’s super sensitive about. We fill Paige in on the way to the caf, and Paige—who’s a big girl, and fun, but also very temperamental—says, “I’m so sick of that bitch.” And even though Cheyenne hadn’t really done anything wrong this time, it did feel like a last straw. So we come up with this plan. At our table, beneath the mural of PM Diefenbaker (that makes him look like an old cat), we space ourselves out just enough that it seems like there’s no room for anyone else to sit, and wait for Cheyenne. (Sara Wu says she went to find Jacqueline and apologize, but Destiny saw her in the upstairs bathroom talking to Sara Zilinski.) There is room. Any of us could squeeze a little closer to let Cheyenne in. But when she gets there we don’t budge. She goes around to the other side of the table and Paige makes a face at us like, “Don’t any of you let her,” and says, “There’s no room. You’ll have to sit over there.” Cheyenne checks her phone for a sec, like delaying, like maybe there’s been a mix-up; and some of us start making faces like, “This is mean, let’s let her sit.” But still no one budges so Cheyenne has to go sit with Sara Zilinski and the purple-haired manga-reading girl, Emma Raskob.
It’s the most drama we’ve had in a while. But, since Cheyenne isn’t sitting with us, there’s no drama at all for the rest of lunch, which is nice. Even though that can get kind of boring.
Third period, speaking of drama, is Drama with Mrs. Lahay-Hopkins.
This is when it happened.
If it had to happen, we were glad at least to be with Mrs. L-H when it did. She’s basically our favourite teacher. She’s rounder than Paige and kind of crazy. She’d make a very embarrassing mom. But she cares about us. Not in a fake way so our parents think she cares, like Mrs. Janetti. And not in Mr. Lesnick’s bully way. Mrs. L-H may not know what our elementary schools were or how many siblings we have or what our parents do for work. But she makes us do scenes that sort of pull out our feelings. Most of the boys want to turn it all into a joke and Mrs. L-H knows how to give them some rope on this. She can laugh her face off with the best of them—she has one of those bouncy, silent laughs that turns into wheezes when it slows down. But she also got Jake Grey doing a scene about his dead labradoodle and got Sam Couvrette so fired up he admitted in front of the class he wished he was back at his old school in Windsor, where his dad lives. She also, almost every class, makes us lie on the floor of the stage and then does this thing where we imagine a blue light coursing through our bodies, healing us, making us beautiful and powerful, which gets us so relaxed we almost fall asleep, but not quite.
The only thing about Mrs. L-H is she’s a tree-hugger. Which is fine, except sometimes she gets sidetracked into these mini-lectures, like, “You realize the mess the world’s in is really your problem, don’t you? We’ll all be gone and you’ll have to deal with all the hurricanes and Florida being underwater” and blah blah. Which can be a huge downer. During mime, she wants us to “bring the beauty of nature to life.” During tableau, she keeps suggesting we create waterfalls or rainforests or, like, the Painted Desert. So, just to kind of get her going, we did a tableau of an iPhone. It was brilliant, really.
When the lockdown announcement starts we’re doing monologues so we’re on different parts of the stage and there’s a lot of random scurrying out from behind curtains, Mrs. L-H meeting each of us with her mom-eyes to keep us calm and thinking it’s probably just another drill.
That’s what it feels like, at first, squeezing in the costume room—which is windowless and smells like dried glue and dust—another drill. Twenty-four of us, huddled in there, the ballroom dresses and pirate cloaks tickling our necks. Twenty-four, plus Mrs. L-H, plus a Grade Twelve who’d been hanging up his paintings in the hall outside the theatre (for Art Night that night), plus his parents. Mrs. L-H whistles at us to shut up, but it’s awkward being cramped in there in the dark, so close together, breathing on each other. It makes us giggly and claustrophobic and eerie-feeling. Everybody’s face blue from their phones. The secretary Mrs. Martell’s voice repeating the lockdown chant over the PA: “Emergency, emergency, initiate lockdown.”
It doesn’t feel real. It’s like our fourth lockdown of the term. It feels no worse than the time Mr. Shackleburg—English—moved us into the middle of the front row where anyone could see if we were making spelling mistakes. It feels no worse than that.
So some of us are trying on hats from the hat bin. And Jake Grey and Ryota, who are sitting at the back near the swords, are staring at their phones and laughing. A joke goes around that if this is a long one we’ll die of carbon dioxide poisoning (if there’s even such a thing), or b.o. Even twenty minutes in—way too long for a drill—we’re all, more than anything, just annoyed. We’re used to being annoyed at school. Or stomach-pain-hungry. Or so bored we’re like dead. Tests that are freaking simple. Lame assignments we’ve already done before. Having to ask permission to go to the bathroom—and, if Jake Grey or Sara Wu or whoever’s already gone to the bathroom, having to wait. Even if we have an actual emergency, with our tampon.
Then, on top of all of that, now we’re in a closet in the stuffy dark with Jordan Kloostra’s farts. That Ryota kid’s weird soy sauce breath (not supposed to say it). Legs all rubbery from standing. Mouth dry, back itchy. Running out of stuff to look at on our phones. A text from Yasmin, who’s not in Drama and is on the second floor in Math: Why is it taking so long? From Emma Raskob: Hear anything? And kids whispering and wondering the same stuff. What’s happening out there?
So it’s kind of a relief when Yasmin texts she heard someone attempted suicide in one of the portables.
Some kid tried to kill himself. Portable 7.
Who was it?
Heard it might be Chris Sneyd.
I hate that guy.
A relief, even though we feel bad about it.
But the lockdown chant keeps going.
And a few minutes later Sara Wu sees a Tweet that says there’s a gun on the property. Or at least a knife. Then we all see this, except Jake Grey and Ryota.
Mrs. L-H shushes them.
We text Yasmin: Hear anything about a weapon?
Sara Z says air rifle.
Some of us know an air rifle’s different from a real rifle and tell the ones who don’t and calm them down. It’s just an air rifle. It’s just a suicide.
Then—all of us calm again, annoyed again—someone sends a screen shot of cops in SWAT gear walking by what looks like the smoking area near the portables.
Sara Wu shows the picture to Destiny.
Cheyenne shows it to Jacqueline.
Somehow Cheyenne and Jacqueline have ended up squished together. They seem sort of in a truce. Maybe cause it’s the only way to be right now. Maybe cause Mrs. L-H’s “shut ups” have gotten actually angry and the “Emergency, emergency” is starting to claw into our brains. Maybe all the suicide talk.
“What’s SWAT doing here?”
“Cause of the gun.”
“I thought it was a suicide.”
“They’d come for that, too.”
“I just got a text that says it happened in the football field.”
“Then why were the cops by the portables?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe they came around that way.”
The Grade Twelve, says, “Quiet.”
His parents—a badgery-looking man with a beard and a pretty woman with a shaved head—seem confused. Like thinking this can’t be happening and if it is this can’t be the best way to deal with it.
Paige leans close—her chin all fuzzy the way the light from her phone’s shining—and shows us texts that say:
A woman cop yelled ANOTHER ONE IS RUNNING BACK IN THE BUILDING.
Not a lie.
My friend heard it.
“Shit,” says Sara Wu.
“What does it mean?” says Paige.
And then all of us are thinking maybe it isn’t just a suicide attempt.
Maybe it’s more than that.
And wondering how sturdy the costume room door is. And worrying—but also super thankful—that Mrs. L-H’s big body is leaning against it.
And thinking about our moms, our little brothers.
Thinking about crashing out of there, running out the side doors.
“What’s it mean?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Jesus, shut up!” the Grade Twelve says.
Mrs. L-H muscles into the middle of us knocking Jordan Kloostra into the Grease rack. “All right, everyone, we’re going to try to keep quiet,” she says, in that voice that makes us drop our guards during improv. And we do quiet down.
For a minute there’s just the chant and the hard-to-breathe air and our phones.
Then Cheyenne whispers, “Uh, guys?”
“It says shooters,” we whisper.
“There’s no shooters,” says Mrs. L-H. “We don’t know that.”
But the texts and Tweets say: Five shooters.
“That can’t be right,” Mrs. L-H says, staring at her own phone.
“Shit, guys, we’re on the news.”
“What are they saying?”
“Nothing. ‘Diefenbaker in lockdown.’”
“God, I can’t get through to my mom.”
“No, phone calls right now, Cheyenne.”
“Oh my God, Ray Jon is tweeting about us. The rapper.”
Stay strong, Diefenbaker, his Tweet says, help is on the way.
Instead of making it sort of cool, though, this just makes it way more real.
“Oh my God,” Jacqueline says, but she doesn’t say why.
But soon we all read it: Shots in the guidance office.
Then, from Sara Zilinski upstairs: Someone says a math teacher was shot.
“Oh my God,” Jacqueline says again.
That’s when the chant stops. The silence is horrible. This horrible not-silence.
“Is it over?” says Jake Grey.
“Shut up!” says the Grade Twelve.
“It’s not over,” says Mrs. L-H. “It’s on a loop. It must have stopped on its own.”
“Unless someone stopped it,” says Sara Wu.
“Like who?” says Paige.
“I thought it was a suicide,” says Cheyenne.
Without the chant, we can hear things. Noises through the vents, bodies shoved against the costume racks, voices leaking from phones. We listen for someone coming.
“Jesus,” says Jacqueline.
Paige says, “Do you hear that? Do you hear that?”
There are other sounds muffled by the door. Faint poppings, scattery footsteps.
“Let me out of here,” says Sara Wu, maybe not sure she wants it.
Destiny cries, “Let us out!”
“Just quiet!” barks Mrs. L-H, all her cool gone. “Quiet now!”
Other sounds: wild thrown voices, slapping steps approaching fast, a crazy rattle like someone’s working the theatre door.
“Now, now!” cries Destiny, meaning we don’t know what. And Paige staggers to the back of the room and Jake Grey whines, “When’s it going to be over?”
The chant starts up, ten times louder.
Jake Grey asks again, raising his voice over it.
From the back, where she’d fallen into and sunk right down in the hat bin, Paige hisses at him, “FUCKING SHUT UP!”
She looks insane. She’s wriggling to climb out of the hat bin, face flushed like a bawling baby’s. She gets to her feet finally and shushes us all like a freak. “Shush, shhhhh, shush-shush-shush, shhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
We all shift to one side of the room, away from her.
“What?” she hisses. “What? What what?”
And then, so quiet it’s almost a mime: “ARE YOU FILMING ME?”
Things might have got weird then. Weirder. We might have broken out into who knows what. We might have shoved each other against the door like shields.
But the chant stops again. We listen, like holding our breaths. It’s one of those times when you’re fully, truly, you know, there. Like wide awake. The principal, Mr. Hardwick, speaks into the P.A. saying it’s over this time for real. Still no one moves.
Then we’re sort of laughing and shoving hard against each other to get out.
“Be safe,” Mrs. L-H says as we pass into the cool air of the theatre, “be safe.”
We burst into the hall, all of us as one. Cheyenne, too. The school pouring out around us, gathering in groups, sharing theories.
Later, we get another version: some kid—maybe that Chris Sneyd—shoplifted from the convenience store across the street, got caught, and ran back into the school. That’s it.
But when we come out from the dark we don’t know any of that. We’re getting it wrong, and sort of guess it, and stop talking. We go looking for friends, call our parents. We’d been stuck in the costume room so long we’d missed Fourth Period altogether and the home bell’s gone and some of us run to get our buses. But some of us just walk, to nowhere really, maybe wondering what it would have been like.
This is how it is. Near Guidance we see Owen Mawbey and ask how he’s doing. We don’t know Owen Mawbey that well, we’ve never really given much thought to him being happy or sad or anything. But we stop when we see him standing there by the water fountain cause he looks sort of dazed, and say, “Hey, Owen, you okay?”
He looks up like he doesn’t recognize us and then shakes his head. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “I’m okay, I’m good. But that was crazy. I heard one of them had a glock.”