Summary: Sometimes ten seconds is all it takes to change your world. Originally appeared in Sentry Duty 8.
Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Pet Fly and Paramount.
It all happened so fast...
That's what everyone says. It just happened so fast. It sounds like one of those tired sayings you always hear after a tragedy. The car came out of nowhere...the tornado hit with no warning...the guy just pulled out a gun...every eyewitness will begin their statement with, 'It all happened so fast.' The truth is, it really did happen fast. Some events take minutes to evolve and reach their end. Some take hours. Some days. Others entire years. For me though, it only took ten seconds. Did you know it only takes ten seconds to end a life? I never thought about it before. Well, before today, that is. But really, that's all it takes. Ten whole seconds.
In ten seconds my office is painted red. Bathed in it. Splattered in it. I'm thinking so many inane things. Insane things. There are little red dots all over my student's papers. I can't give them back to them like that. I have a meeting with my advisor in ten minutes. I still need to pick up noodles for the lasagna I'm making tonight. I need to stop at the bank. I should call for help. Yeah, I should really call for help. I feel like an old man staggering back as though I were riddled with arthritis. The phone. I need to pick up the phone. My hand is shaking so bad. I accidentally push the stack of papers off my desk. They sail down like falling leaves, the red dots making them heavy. I find the phone by feel because I can't take my eyes off of HIM. More papers go on the floor. I'll have to clean them up. Phone first.
I find the phone, but I can't make my fingers hold it. I try again and again, but still it only falls from my grasp. I think I hear footsteps. Running. Pounding. The phone. I need the damn phone. Finally my hands shake so violently that the receiver falls from them, crashing to the floor. I feel tears coursing down my cheeks. It's too much. Too much. I have to make dinner tonight. I promised Jim lasagna. I can't...It was only ten seconds. That's all. I have to meet my advisor. I need my books, but I have to get help. Help. God, somebody please. Please help me! Help me!
"It's alright buddy. I got you. It's okay. God, kid. Come on, you gotta help me out. Come on, lay down, just lay down. It's alright. I got you. That's right. Lay down."
That's Jim. Jim's here. He came for lunch. It's lunchtime. Can't eat though. Too much to do.
"J-Jim?" Is that my voice?
"Yeah, kid. I'm here. I'm here now. Just hang on. Just hang on. The ambulance will be here soon."
But HE'S dead. I know. He shot himself. He just walked in and shot himself.
"He did- didn't say anything."
"Don't talk. You're going to be okay. Just lay still."
Jim is bending over me. I'm on the floor. I'm lying on my papers. The papers with all the little red dots. I'll have to get rid of this shirt later. It'll have little red dots all over it.
"Blair? Blair, come on buddy. Come back to me. Look at me Blair. Blair, look at me!"
He's getting mad. I feel a tear rush from my eye. I don't know why he's yelling at me. I don't know what I did. It was Jarod. Jarod was the one who shot- who shot himself. But first he shot...he shot-
"Blair! Blair! Damnitt! Don't you do this! Don't you dare do this!" Jim's voice is so very far away now. Though, even at this distance I can hear the agony within it. Was Jim hurt? I try to see. I try to look at him, but a strange darkness is crowding the sides of my vision. There are other voices now. Jim's is still the loudest. He's still telling me to hold on. Telling me not to go. Go where? What's happening to me? Jarod shot himself. Jarod was the one who failed my class. Jarod was the one who told me two days ago he couldn't go home to his dad with a failing grade. Jarod was the one who.. Jim? Jim, are you still there? I can't hear him. Why can't I hear... Jarod shot himself. Jarod pointed the gun at his head. I told him to stop. I told him to. I thought he was listening to me. He started to lower the gun. No, no that's not...he didn't put it down. Jim! Jim, please. Jarod shot himself, I try to say, just as the darkness fills my vision.
Jarod shot himself.
Right after he shot me.
And all of it only took ten seconds.
"It was so close."
"Thank God you were there. EMT's said you saved his life. Kept him stable till they arrived."
I hear voices. Above me. Am I still on the floor?
"Wait a minute, Simon. I think he's waking up."
I am? When did I sleep?
"Hey bright eyes. How about opening them baby blues? Come on kid. Come back now."
I don't know what Jim's talking about. I never went anywhere. But I'm trying to open my eyes and finally I tear my eyes open, despite the gunk that has gummed my eyelashes together.
They're just blurry shapes above me for a minute. But when my vision clears, it clears to see Jim and Simon leaning over me, both grinning like idiots. I don't know why they're so happy. For that matter, I suddenly realize I'm not in my office. I glance down at myself, at the gown I'm in. There are no little red dots. With that small realization, there are tears in my eyes. God, how embarrassing. Simon excuses himself to get the doctor, but I know it's more for my privacy than anything. I close my eyes.
And open them again when I feel a warm hand cover my own very cold one. Jim is sitting hunched over in the bedside chair, his face turned to the floor.
He pulls in a deep, ragged breath as he lifts his head up, eyes straying to the ceiling as though the higher he can raise his head, the better he can keep the tears from falling. But I see them. I see them and don't understand.
"Jim? What's going on? How long have I been here? Was I...I mean, Jarod, he...didn't he?" I don't know what I'm asking. I don't know if I want the answer. Jim looks back to me now. He roughly brushes the tears away.
"We almost lost you Blair. We did, actually." I don't recognize his voice. It's old and frail.
"Jarod Stillman shot you before turning the gun on himself. Do you remember that?"
I nod my head, but the action feels jerky to me. I can't talk. I remember. I don't want to. I couldn't help Jarod. I couldn't help myself.
"It all happened so fast." I didn't mean to say that out loud. Really, I didn't. Jim squeezes my hand.
"He had problems Blair. Kid's had psychiatric problems for years. Don't go blaming yourself for any of this."
"Doesn't help much. But thanks."
He smiles in a wry way as though he already knew as much, but he had to lay it out on the table anyway so I know where he stands.
"What about me? What happened?"
Jim sighs and I see a shudder run through him.
"The bullet hit you in the left side. It missed your major organs, but you were bleeding out pretty bad. They lost you once in the ambulance and again in the OR." He pauses a moment before blurting out, "I couldn't stop the blood." There is so much he's not saying. So much pain he won't share because he can't. It's alright. I know. I know what he won't- what he can't- say.
Suddenly I flash on the papers that littered my desk.
"Little red dots." I mutter with sudden clarity. They weren't Jarod's. They were mine.
Jim's looking at me in an odd way, but he lets it go.
"You've been here four days. The doctors decided to taper off the sedatives today so you could wake up on your own. You're going to be fine. Just need lots of rest, because when you're better, I expect your world famous lasagna to be gracing our table."
I smile. Not because it was funny. But because Jim needs to know I'm okay. Because jokes are how he deals. And because I know he hasn't left this room for more than a few hours in the last four days. It's nice to be loved that much.
He smiles too and pats me on the head before going out to see the doctor who has finally arrived.
I turn my head to the window, to the beautiful blue sky and puffy clouds. It's all so normal. Like nothing had ever happened. Like no one's lives had been rent and torn. The world moved on as though Jarod Stillman was still moving about the earth. As though he had never entered my office. It went on as though I were simply lying in my own bed at home, feeling particularly lazy. The world outside moves on.
So why then do I feel as though time will never move on from that one moment? Even now, lying in this hospital bed, all I feel are the crumbled pages and the hard floor beneath me.
Nothing will ever feel the same.
I close my eyes. I'm going to sleep now. Jim will handle the doctor. It's okay, because Jim will be here when I wake again. Then I can ask him. I can ask him if he knows. If he carries the terrible burden of knowledge too.
I'll ask him if he knows it only takes ten seconds to change the world.
Somehow, I don't think his answer will surprise me.