Prom Night in Purgatory
Author:Amy Harmon

“His heart is racing!! It’s the middle of the night, and ya’ll are havin’ a tea party in here?” She looked at Maggie, stuck out her lips, and furrowed her thin black brow. “And what do you think you’re doin’ in here, Missy? Visitin’ hours are way past…and you belong a few doors down, if memory serves!”


“Please,” Jillian Bailey jumped into the fray, “Maggie has been asking to see Johnny for days, and everyone has denied her. He saved her life when the school burned down. She wanted to say thank you and make sure he was okay, right Maggie?”


Maggie nodded emphatically, keeping her eyes averted from Johnny’s face. It was all she could do not to run shrieking from the room.


“I found her in here, but I didn’t have the heart to turn her away. I’ll take her back to her room myself in just a minute. Please, Tima?” Jillian Bailey was in full appeal mode now.


Tima harrumphed and shook her head, making the loops at her ears jangle cheerfully. “Five minutes…you hear, Jillian? And don’t think I don’t know what you’re doin’ when you start going all ‘Please Tima’ on me…” She winked at Jillian to take the punch out of her words and marched out of the room, tossing a hand toward the three of them as if to say “go ahead, I’m through with you.” The door swooshed closed behind her.


“Fatima and I were friends in high school,” Jillian explained inanely, although no explanation had been requested. Johnny was frozen in stony silence, and Maggie was clinging to her composure with shaking fingers. “I tutored her through English, and she tutored me through math. She never let anyone call her Tima, as far as I know….except me.” Jillian smirked a little, and for a minute Maggie saw the resemblance between Johnny and his sister. It was fleeting, but it was there in the way she held her mouth.


Silence descended on the room again, and Maggie felt Johnny’s eyes on her like a physical weight. She turned to Jillian desperately.


“How did you know Johnny saved me from the fire?” Her words came out like an accusation, but it was meant more for the boy in the bed than the woman at her side.


“Gus,” Principal Bailey answered succinctly. “He told me that Johnny had found Shad and was carrying him on his shoulder when Gus went into the school. If not for Johnny, Shad would have most certainly died. No one would have found him in that locker.” She paused and looked at Johnny as if trying to impress what she was saying upon his memory. Then she looked at Maggie. “Gus said you told him that Johnny carried you out as well.” She waited for Maggie to pick up the telling of the story.


Maggie nodded briefly. The memory of being swept up in Johnny’s arms felt like a mirage, but she clung to it. “He did carry me out! You did!” She looked at Johnny fiercely then, daring him to disagree. “I didn’t want to leave you. I told you to let me stay with you. But you carried me out. I don’t know how, but you did.” Johnny was unfazed by his own heroics. He shook his head once, negating her words.


Maggie gagged on the emotion in her throat, and her eyes began to sting at the indignity of it all. Why did he keep shaking his head? If you truly loved someone, how could you forget?


“You don’t remember me? You don’t remember anything at all?” Her voice shook, and her stomach heaved in dread.


It was his turn to be fierce, and she could see he struggled to rein in his temper. “I remember everything just fine! I remember going to the new school looking for Roger Carlton. There was a bunch of kids all gathered to see a fight – but Roger Carlton didn’t want to fight fair. He set up a little ambush. He messed up my car. I remember Billy running down the hallway waving that damn gun. I remember Billy yelling out. I remember going over the balcony, falling. I remember Billy….” Johnny stopped then and ran his hands up into his hair. The familiarity of the gesture hit Maggie like a physical blow. She gripped her hands tightly in her lap to keep from reaching out to him, to keep from touching him. He wouldn’t welcome her touch.


“Billy’s dead, isn’t he?” Johnny choked out. “I need to tell my momma. She’s not gonna take this well.”


Maggie’s lips trembled, and the tears swam in her eyes. Oh, dear God! He was just realizing they were gone?! Oh, Johnny!” She hid her face in her hands, overcome with sympathy. This wasn’t happening.


“Johnny….” Jillian Bailey stood and touched his shoulder. “Momma already knows. All of that happened a long time ago.”


“What the hell are you talking about?” Johnny was yelling again, so loudly the entire hospital would be coming down around them. “None of this makes any sense! I don’t know you! I don’t know HER!” His eyes flew to Maggie, who had reached for him again, needing to comfort him, needing to touch him. “I don’t know where I am or what I am doing here!” Maggie dropped her hand and reached for the bars on Johnny’s bed. Her legs trembled and her heart bled.