Read an Excerpt
The seat was empty.
Unbelievably empty. Heartbreakingly empty. Shockingly empty.
Just one more example of cold, hard proof. Beyond the media coverage, the tears, and the funeral. Proof that a young life had been violently snuffed out before its time.
Bijou Ross approached the podium. She looked out at the audience assembled in the auditorium of the Miami Academy for Creative and Performing Arts.
The audience gazed back at her.
Bijou could feel their anticipation rising, and as the expectant silence boomed, her heartbeat accelerated, pumping hard, leaping around in her chest. The look on her face said she was worried about what words to use.
Here she was -- valedictorian, class of 2006. They were waiting for her to communicate. They wanted a speech. They needed some insight. From the girl who'd gotten a literary agent and a book deal months before her cap and gown. Hopes were pinned on her to provide some verbal balm for their souls, to make sense of the insensible. Yet Bijou, the one billed in the yearbook as "most likely to win a Pulitzer," just stood there with writer's block. The irony seemed lost on no one.
It was still morning-after-the-hurricane. The murder so fresh in their minds that ears were still ringing from the gun-shot. To throw out platitudes for the future would only be wasted breath. They'd all been to the same party, witnessed the same unbelievable act, seen the same pool of blood, heard the same dying declarations. From someone just like them. Young, blessed with talent, and with everything to live for.
Bijou knew this much: The trauma would stay with them. Years from now the pain would linger in dark places, and even as adults, they'd never be quite free of it. Because one of their own had stopped breathing in front of their eyes. And the memory of that would cling forever.
Peering down from the lectern, Bijou found them. Somewhere in the vast crowd. For a moment, her mind plunged into a happier place. The image was technicolor vivid. A Saturday on South Beach. So early that the morning light was crystal white. Bijou had been there to bask in the solitude, to walk on the caramel sand, to think through a plot puzzle for her book.
And they'd been there, too. Vanity, Dante, Max, Pippa, and Christina. Strolling along the edge of the surf, drinking thimblefuls of Cuban coffee from David's Café, their minds lost in iPod sounds. Oh, yes. The school's Fabulous Five.
A mist began to build in Bijou's eyes. There was no way she could continue looking at them and still maintain her composure. As she averted her gaze, a decision was made. That would be the picture seared into her brain to remember them by. The snapshot of all five.
But now there were only four.
Anxiety began to build. Bijou could feel the tension. The mournful silence had stretched on too long. Attention was gridlocked onto her. And she had to get on with it now. From somewhere she would have to dig up the phrases. To find the words that possessed the virtue of both simplicity and sincerity.
Finally, Bijou began to speak, and miraculously, the voice she heard was full of vibrant reassurance. "My fellow graduates, it is a sad day for all of us..."
Copyright © 2006 by Jon Salem