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What Dylan Taught Me
“Good afternoon, Winona! John Matthews reporting in the studio on this beautiful evening! Our first story tonight is an update on Minnesota’s own heroine; Michaela Peters has been discharged from the Community Memorial Hospital this morning—” I immediately grabbed for the remote and turned the television off; I shook my head, why couldn’t everyone just leave it alone? I was sick of every news station in the country broadcasting my name, I was tired of reporters constantly barging in on me and demanding to interview me. But most of all, I was exhausted of hearing my name be associated with words like ‘fearless’, ‘strong’ and—worst of all—‘hero’.
Sure I ran into a burning building, risking my life to try to find my friend, and ended up saving the lives of two toddlers in the process. Sure I almost ran back in again after returning the boys to safety to attempt to save my best friend. Sure I did something undoubtedly headline-worthy. But that didn’t make me better or braver than anyone else. That made me a good person. Not a hero.
I shifted my weight and moved my broken leg into a more comfortable position on the couch. I didn’t even know if doing so even made me a good person. I didn’t try saving her solely because I didn’t want her to die, or because I didn’t want her family to suffer. I tried saving her because I didn’t want to live with the heavy reality it would dump upon my shoulders. I tried because I didn’t wake up every morning knowing that she wasn’t going to be at the lunch table. I tried saving her for myself and I failed. And the news was portraying me a saint for it. Nothing about that even made me a good person, much less a hero.
I only grunted in response to the solid ring of the doorbell as its sound penetrated throughout the house. Why couldn’t Dylan just let himself in? I sighed as I waited the click of the door being unlocked heard the door close softly behind him. Now I had to leave my thoughts, and drop everything that I wasn’t doing to talk to someone.
“Hey, Mick!” I could only whimper in response to the neighbor boy’s greeting. I forced myself to take a deep breath as I regarded Dylan enter the kitchen, carelessly dump his backpack on a chair, and make a beeline for the living room, where I’d been laying for the past eight hours. “I brought your homework. How’re you feeling today?”
I more groaned than actually replied.
“Nice to see you using that AP English vocabulary,” Dylan remarked as took my hand in his, examining the burns on it. “Do they still hurt?”
“Like heck,” I said sullenly.
“Poor Mickey,” he replied, smoothing back a few misplaced bronze curls on my head. “At least things should start slowing down now, no more news reporters coming around.”
I laughed dryly, “I wish,” I reached for my crutches only to realize they’d been placed just out of reach, I rolled my eyes, “Can you hand me my crutches?”
“What’s the magic word?” Dylan challenged, a crooked smile began to play across his sun-kissed face.
I raised my eyebrows, “Give-me-the-crutches-or-I’ll-kill-you,” I replied.
“Close, but no,” Dylan replied brightly, “C’mon, just one little word and they’re yours!”
I sighed heavily “Please,” I huffed.
“There you go!” He smiled as he held one of the aluminum crutches out to me. “Need help?” he asked, though he’d already grabbed for my good hand before I could answer, he held me gently by the waist as I found my balance on the crutch.
“Thanks,” I replied grudgingly as I accepted the other crutch and steadied myself.
“Yup,” he replied, “What did you need, anyway?”
“Food,” I replied bluntly, slowly hobbling towards the kitchen.
Dylan chuckled, before following me out of the room, there was a pause before he continued the conversation, “So how does it feel?” he asked.
“To what?” I replied, handing him one of the crutches and opening the pantry door.
“To be who you are now,” he said, reaching for a bag of Fritos.
I only frowned at him in return.
“You know,” he whispered as he leaned closer to me, “being a hero.”
I could have slapped Dylan. Of course he would ask that. Of course he would point out the wretched label everyone’s associated with my name. Of course he knew exactly what to say to set my teeth on edge. “You know how much I hate labels, Dylan,” I remarked sourly.
Dylan only chuckled, shaking his head to get a few strands of dirty-blond hair away from his eyes.
To this, I couldn’t hold back anymore, “How can you laugh at that?!” I exclaimed, I felt my cheeks beginning to turn crimson, but this did little to stop me, “How can you laugh at the fact that I have to get up every day and listen to people I don’t even know talking about me as if I’m some kind of saint when the one person I tried to save is dead?! Do you know how hard it is having friends visit you and have them ask questions like ‘why couldn’t you save Joy when you could save yourself?’ Do you know what it’s like, waking up every day, knowing that your best friend is dead because of you?! Do you even get what that’s like?!”
Dylan only bit his lip and turned away.
I hesitated, “Dylan—” I desperately reached for his hand, “Dylan please—”
Dylan held up a hand, “Listen, Michaela,” he said softly, “I know life isn’t easy for you right now. But just because you’re hurting doesn’t mean you can make life miserable for everyone else.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but Dylan shook his head and continued.
“You couldn’t save Joy, but think about what you did do,” he whispered as he turned back around, “Think about the boys you did save, think about the families you did help, think about Max, Mick.”
To this, I could only look into Dylan Burke’s hazel eyes. The eyes that were so familiar to me, the eyes that had lit up for me even on my most stormy days, the eyes that I’d seen on the day of the fire. The eyes he shared with Max Burke.
He reached for my hands and squeezed them gently, “I’m sorry about Joy, I really am, but there’s nothing we can do for her now,” he said as I fought back the tears spearing at my eyes, “Spending your life mourning over her isn’t making anything better. Just because Joy’s not here anymore doesn’t mean you should give up on happiness; she wouldn’t want that.” He raised a hand to my cheek and tenderly wiped a tear away with his thumb. “You couldn’t be Joy’s hero, but you were mine,” he whispered, “Please, Mick, please try to at least be happy with that.”
I could only stare at Dylan for a moment, before I tearfully nodded and walked into the arms he’d outstretched for me.