"Great day for football, eh, gentlemen?" Coach Spalding questioned the team. He tossed a football to Tommy Oliver.
"You bet, coach," Adam Park replied. He grinned behind his football helmet. Man,what a great week it had been. Well, Adam thought, Homecoming week is always great. Dress up days, shortened classes, and then of course, there was football. Tonight's game meant a lot for the Angel Grove Tigers. Their victory or defeat tonight was not only for hometown pride and all that-- it would also be the game that decided whether or not the Tigers would go on to the Conference Championships. Both the Tigers and the team they would face off against were undefeated, and whoever won tonight's game would advance to the championships.
"All right, then." Coach's voice brought Adam's thoughts back to earth. "Now remember-- it's not whether you win or lose its--"
"How you play the game," the team finished in unison.
"Right." There was a slight hesitation before Spalding continued, "But please win..."
The guys laughed a little before getting up and beginning their warm-ups.
"Hey, Tommy, lookin' good out there," Kat Hillard called from the sidelines.
"Thanks," Tommy answered. He threw the football in his hand back across the field to Jason Scott.
Kat continued down the sidelines and found a place in the bleachers. Soon, she wasjoined by her friend and fellow ranger, Tanya Sloan.
"Man, Adam's looking good tonight," Kat observed as she watched the team continue their warm-ups.
"You can say that again," Tanya replied, looking dreamily out onto the field, watching Adam's every move.
Kat grinned. Tanya and Adam seemed so perfect for each other. He liked her and she liked him... now if only he would realize she liked him back, and vice versa.
About a half hour passed, and finally, the game began. Tanya and Kat settled into their seats in the bleachers after the National Anthem and cheered on the guys. It was a good game... no, a GREAT game, and the Tigers played their hearts out. Tanya had to admit that Adam wasn't the greatest football player on the field... but he was good, and he was important in the game that night. In the end, the game came down to the final touchdown, scored in the final ten seconds of the game. Tanya could hardly believe that although Adam did not actually score the winning touchdown, the game could not have been won without him, for it was his outstanding throw, after one of his teammates fumbled the ball, that got the ball into the Tigers' endzone.
Kat and Tanya were on their feet and cheering as the game came to a close. They left the bleachers and ran down to the field. Tanya hugged Adam and Kat hugged (and kissed) Tommy. They gave their congratulations to the rest of the team before Kat asked, "Hey, you guys want to come with us for a little celebration?"
"I think coach is taking the team out for pizza," Tommy replied. "But you girls are welcome to come if you want."
The two female rangers exchanged a glance. "No thanks," Kat told her boyfriend. "A bunch of guys with big egos sitting around eating pizza, drinking soda, and belching isn't exactly my cup of tea. We'll see you guys tomorrow."
Kat and Tanya left the football field and were joined in the street by Emily, Jason's girlfriend.
"Hey, guys," she greeted them. "Great game, huh?"
"I'll say," Kat replied. "Well, I've gotta get home. Mom's counting on me to baby-sit the rugrats tomorrow while she goes to a baby shower... see you guys tomorrow."
"See ya," Emily and Tanya replied.
Not much later, Kat, Emily, and Tanya each arrived at their respective homes. None of them had ever thought for a second that on that very night, they would lose one of their very dearest friends.
"Awesome game, guys," Tommy announced as he grabbed a piece of pizza and sat down across from Rocky. "Awesome." He turned to Adam. "That was a great throw," he told him in congratulations.
"Thanks," Adam replied in a semi-soft voice. He was popular, he knew, and the girls were crazy about him, but he didn't really like to be the center of attention, especially in a big crowd. He was more quiet and withdrawn than any of his friends, and unlike the other male rangers, he liked poetry and soft music as upposed to loud rock and roll or heavy metal. Sure, he could live with Tommy's or Rocky's way of life... he tolerated it. It just wasn't his way.
The party continued, and at one point, some members of the team got so loud they almost got all the Tigers thrown out of the pizza parlor. "I don't care how high and mighty you may think you are now," Tony, the owner of the parlor, lectured the boys, "But you're my customers here, and I decide what is loud and rowdy and what is not. Now I understand the need for celebration... but tone it down. Okay?"
"Yeah, okay," the team replied solemnly. After a few seconds of silence, the party resumed.
Finally, about quarter to midnight, the team wrapped things up. Well, not completely... but they left the pizza parlor anyway. There was still one thing they felt the need to do. "Let's go tee-pee coach's house!"
No one was sure, exactly, where the idea came from, but it was a unanimous decision that this one little thing needed to be done before the evening was complete. They piled into five different cars and hit the road.
Adam and Tommy got into the back of Nathan James's car. Nathan was a senior and one of the best running backs Angel Grove High had ever seen. He was also a notorious wild driver.
Rocky was about to join Adam and Tommy in the car when a hand landed on his arm. Rocky turned around to find himself facing Jessica Peterson. The two of them had gone out several times, but there had never really been anything too serious between them. "Hey, Rocky," she greeted him.
"Hey Jessica," he replied with a smile. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you." She smiled, too. Before Rocky knew it, he had forgotten about his teammates and had joined Jessica in the front seat of her father's pickup. Little did he know what a wise decision that was...
While Jessica and Rocky were driving back through Angel Grove, Nathan James and his three passangers (Micheal Mead was seated on the passenger side in the front seat) were taking a "shortcut" down a windy, bumpy country road to their coach's house.
From his place in the backseat, Tommy glanced over Nathan's shoulder and took a look at the spedometer. "Nate, don't you think you should slow down, man?"
"You worry too much, Oliver," came the reply. "Relax. Nothing is going to happen."
Tommy didn't say anything, but he was not convinced. They were going seventy now, and Nate refused to take his foot off the gas. They were approaching eighty at a steady speed.
About the time they hit eighty five or so, Adam spoke up. "I think Tommy's right, Nate. This is a dangerous road in the first place and you're going too fast."
"Hey, don't tell me how to drive, Park," Nate called into the back seat. He was joking around, Adam knew, but he shut up. Instead, he focused on the road, on the objects flying past the window...
"Woohooo!" Nate exclaimed. He rolled down his window, sending a rush of cold air into the backseat. "Now THIS is the way to live!"
It was funny, but almost as soon as he said that, there came a loud noise. None of them knew exactly what it was, but it was enough to take Nate's mind off the road for just a fraction of a second. And when a car is going at around a hundred miles an hour, a fraction of a second is all it takes to change the lives of those inside forever.
Tommy would later write in a journal entry that it felt as if it were all a dream. Things seemed to slow down, and for a moment, it was as if time had stopped. Oh my God oh my God oh my God, Tommy thought to himself. His heart was pounding in his chest as the car rolled over into the woods... seven times? eight? He wasn't sure. It seemed more like a hundred. But when the car finally stopped rolling and came to rest on it's side, Tommy found himself in the air, and hurting, but all in one piece.
Once he established his own well-being, he remembered the others in the car. "Guys?" he called out tentatively. "Guys! Somebody! Answer me!"
"Tommy?" The voice came from Nate. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, but I'm worried about Adam." Tommy could reach his friend's hand, and it was cold and limp. Someone had to go for help, and they had to do it soon.
It took them about five minutes, but Tommy and Nate finally worked their way out of the car. They looked back at it only once before disreguarding their own hurting bodies and taking off to find help.
Kat was awakened by her phone, which was on its third ring before she was awake enough to reach over and grab it. Who the hell could this be? she wondered. It's 1:30 in the morning, for goodness sakes. "Hello?"
"Kat? It's Tommy."
Kat sat up in bed. Tommy would never call her at this time of the night unless something was terribly, terribly wrong. "Tommy, what's wrong?" she asked.
"There's been an accident."
Within an hour, Kat, Tanya, Jason, Rocky, their parents, the rest of the Angel Grove Tigers, coach Spalding, and the parents of the four boys who had been in the car had gathered at Angel Grove General Hospital. The rangers stood in a group off to the side, secluded from everyone else, waiting in a fit of worry for news.
When news finally came, the small group that had gathered was reduced to tears. Tommy and Nathan would be released, the doctor said. Micheal had sustained some injuries to the head and his brain had swelled, and so he was being flown to a different hospital in a nearby town that was better equiped to handle his situation, but he was expected to eventually make a full recovery. And then there was Adam.
His parents were the first to know. One of the ER doctors took them into a small room, away from the crowd, and broke the news to them as gently as he could. "I'm very sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Park," he added, his voice cracking. "We did everything we could."
The news soon made its way to the waiting room and to those who had gathered there. "A river could've easily been filled by our tears," Kat would later write. "Adam was the kind of person that, I guess, we all thought would live forever."
Tanya found some solice in the arms of her mother, but she could not come to terms with what she had just been told. Adam was much to kind, much to caring to die like this... it was not the way it was supposed to happen. No!, a voice inside her head exclaimed. It's not true! He can't be dead! They're all wrong...
Jason's eyes met Rocky's and then he exchanged glances with the other members of the football team. Their faces were lit with looks of sadness, looks of regret, of fear, of confusion... it was much the way Jason was feeling inside and, he supposed, the same emotions his own face was displaying. And the weirdest part of the whole situation was that as much as he wanted to cry to release all those feelings, he couldn't. He just couldn't... it was like he had been told so many times that real men didn't cry that now, even though he wanted to, his mind and body refused.
"Come on, son." Jason's father had risen to his feet and was looking down at his son. "We might as well go home. We'll come back later today, I promise."
Jason agreed silently. Maybe if he was at home, alone, then maybe he could cry. He stood and followed his father out of the hospital.
The weekend passed and on Monday, all of the rangers except Tommy returned to school. Why stay home? they reasoned. At least at school, there will be things to do, and other people around.
Monday was the hardest day of their lives thusfar. Angel Grove High was suddenly not the happy place they had known when they had left it the Friday before. The student body and even the teachers were a mournful mass of tears.
As Kat and Tanya walked down the hallway to their first period class, people looked at them and stared. Others whispered to each other. The pink and yellow rangers didn't need to eavesdrop to know what the students were talking about. They knew they were looking at them and saying, "Those are two of HIS friends."
All of the first period teachers had been given the responsibility to read to his or her students a statement about the accident that occured. "This is mainly to explain to you all exactly what happened, save for the gory details, and to um, stop any rumors that might start," Mrs. Erickson explained. She proceeded to read the statement... "Early Saturday morning we received the awful news that one of our students--" she stopped suddenly and began to sob. Tanya and Kat had already begun to cry, and when the teacher broke down, so did several other students. Mrs. Erickson completed the rest of the statement between sobs: "That one of our students, Adam Park, had died in a car accident shortly before midnight on Friday. Adam was a member of the junior class. As the family has requested that the funeral be private, a memorial will be held in the Angel Grove High School gym on Tuesday afternoon. The media center will be open throughout the day for counceling for students." She stopped and looked around the room. Tears glistened in her eyes as she glanced at the empty desk in the back of the room, near the window, where Adam had been sitting just three days before-- but where he would never sit again.
Adam's friends had known about the memorial service. In fact, they were doing everything they could to help Mr. and Mrs. Park organize it. Still, they knew, it would be hard to attend, even though they knew they had to be there.
"I don't know if I can do it, guys," Kat said to her friends at noon as the five of them, plus Emily, sat together, picking at their food. "I don't know if I can get up there and sing..."
Tanya put a hand on her friend's arm. "You won't be alone, Kat," she reminded her. "I'll be there. The entire choir will be there."
Kat swallowed hard, fighting back the tears. "I still don't know," she replied, looking around at the others. She glanced at the empty chair. It was the chair between Tommy and Tanya, where Adam always sat. Now, though, it was profoundly empty. "But... I have to. For Adam."
"For Adam," Tanya agreed.
Monday passed slowly. Nothing really happened, and no teachers had the heart to assign homework, with the exception of Mr. Billard, the old grouch who taught chemistry and was said to have a heart made of stone anyway.
Tuesday arrived. The morning was as uneventful as the day before, and the tears continued. Adam's absence was still as profound as snow in July, and something told the Rangers that that would never change.
By Tuesday afternoon, the gymnasium at Angel Grove High looked more like a funeral home. A podium had been set up, and around it, flowers and wreaths had been laid. Several bullitin boards had been set up and were filled with pictures of Adam, taken from the day he was born to just a few hours before he died. The plaque that would soon be hanging in the front of school in Adam's honor was set up for the students to see. Adam's fellow rangers had actually set up those pictures. They felt it was a nice touch.
Pastor Hughs, who was the minister at the Park family's church, directed the service. "For everything there is a season," he began. "A time to live, and a time to die..." he continued, but Kat had already dissolved into tears and didn't hear much more until she realized she had to get up soon and sing with the choir.
The hymn that the Parks had asked the choir to sing was "Amazing Grace", and it was easy enough. Only once Kat caught a lump rising in her throat, and she managed to swallow it until the song was over and she was seated back in the bleachers beside Tanya. Then both of them broke down and cried.
Kat didn't pay much attention to the rest of the service until she heard Pastor Hughs say, "This poem was actually brought to my attention by a young couple a few years back when their two year old daughter was killed in a drunk driving accident. They brought it to me and asked if I would please read it at her funeral, and I agreed. Since then, whenever I find myself presiding over a memorial service for a person so young, I bring it to the attention of the parents, and as many have, Mr. and Mrs. Park have requested that it be read to you." And Kat sat back and listened, hanging intently on the words, pondering their truth...
A CHILD LOANED
I'll lend to you for a little while a child of mine God said,
for you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he's dead.
It may be five or twenty years or only two or three.
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me?
He will bring his charm to gladden you and should his stay be brief,
you'll have his lovely memories as a comfort for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay, since all from the earth return,
but there are lessons taught down there I want this child to learn.
I've looked this wide world over in my search for teachers true,
and from the crowds that walk life's lanes, I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love and not think the labor vain,
Nor hate me when I come to call to take him back again?
I fancy that I heard him say, 'Dear Lord Thy will be done,
for all the joy Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we'll run.
We'll shelter him with tenderness, we'll love him while we may,
and for the happiness we've known, forever grateful stay.
And should the angels call for him much sooner than we planned,
We'll bear the bitter grief that comes... and try to understand.'
It sounds right, Kat thought, even though she was crying by the time Pastor Hughs had finished. It fits. Yeah. Adam would have liked it.
The days continued to roll by. Even though it was a difficult thing to do, Adam was replaced as a Ranger. Well, Tommy supposed, not replaced, exactly. Carlos was no Adam. He simply filled the position. And one day, when it was just Tanya, Kat, Tommy, Rocky, and Jason, they were able to talk for the first time, together, about their friend's death.
"Sometimes I get so angry," Tommy admitted. "And I think to myself, why Adam? Why now? There was so much good in his heart, and he had so much love to give, why did God take him now?"
After a moment of silence, Rocky replied, "My grandfather died when I was eight, and my mother told me something to help me understand that I will never forget. She said that God sends each of us to earth to be born in order to do a certain duty, to carry out some task, and that when we have completed what God sent us to do, then he calls us back to him."
"I gotta hand it to your mother, Rocky, that sounds kind of comforting," Tanya said, as she looked around.
Rocky nodded. "Since he died, I've been trying to think just exactly what Adam's job was... he did so much good that it's hard to say that just one thing is what God sent him to do. I mean, maybe he was sent here to be a Ranger, but... maybe that just came along. Maybe he was sent to help score that touchdown last night and get Angel Grove High into the Conference Championships. Maybe..."
"Maybe he was sent here to do a lot of things," Kat reasoned. "God made him such a kind and caring person... maybe he intended for Adam to come to Earth to do more than one thing."
"You know what I thought right after they told us he was dead?" Tommy asked. "I thought, you know, it's funny. Adam was so sweet and caring and concerned for others that I bet if God had been there that night and had said to us that one of us had to die... that Adam would have been the first to volunteer."
Rocky nodded. "Not because he didn't love living. No one loved life more than Adam. But he cared so much for others, I bet you're right. He would've gladly given up his life if it meant that the rest of you could live."
A thoughtful silence fell over the group. Jason broke it by saying, "Do you ever wonder if maybe he's up there in heaven watching over us now? Do you think he's listening to us talk about him, and smiling...? Do you think maybe he wishes he was still here with us?"
"I'm sure he's watching over us," Tommy answered. "I think he's been watching over us since the moment he died. Maybe he guided Nate and me to that farmhouse the night of the accident to call for help. It's possible, I think."
The others nodded their silent agreement.
Before the day was over, the five teens walked to the Angel's Rest Cemetary and made their way through the headstones to Adam's newly dug and newly filled grave. Tanya got down on her knees beside it and ran her fingers across the writing on the headstone:
ADAM DANIAL PARK
1980 - 1997
Beloved son, brother, and friend
Rest in Peace
Each ranger laid a single flower at the headstone, one at a time, silently until Tommy took his turn. He stared at the headstone for a brief moment before turning to his friends. "You guys go on a head," he said. "I'll catch up in a second."
They agreed. When Tommy was alone, he finally allowed himself to cry. "We miss you, buddy," he said, sobbing quietly. "You were the greatest ranger Angel Grove ever knew, and I just want to let you know that you will never be forgotten. You were the best friend I ever had, and no one will ever replace you. But I know you're up there in heaven now... and you probably want me and the others to move on with our lives... and even though it will be hard, I promise you we will... Rest in peace, Adam." And with that, Tommy stood, and hurried to join his friends.
CHAPTER SEVEN (for Kris)
We all know that the original song "Candle in the Wind" was written by Elton John and rewritten by the same man when Princess Diana died. However, very few outside of the city of Ripon know that after my classmate was killed that night, his father rewrote the words again, and the new version was sung by the RHS choir at Kris's memorial service. Since it didn't feel right to change the words in order to fit a fictional character, I left them as written by David Greening and printed them here so you all could see just how great a person Kristopher was. Every word in this song about him is true, and I want you all to know that.
You will always be in our hearts
You were the grace that placed itself
Where classmates needed help.
You reached out to your community
And you whispered to those in pain
Now you belong in heaven and the stars spell out your name.
(REFRAIN) And it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind,
Never fading with the sunset when the rain set in.
And your footsteps will always fall here along Ripon's classrom halls,
Your candle burned out long before your ledgend ever will.
Loveliness we've lost-- Empty days without your smile
This torch we'll always carry
For Ripon's golden child.
And even though we try-- The truth brings us to tears
All our words cannot express
The joy you've brought us through the years.
You were always in our hearts
You were the grace that placed itself
Where classmates needed help
From a community lost without your soul
We'll miss the wings of your compassion
More than you will ever know.
Your candle burned out long before
Your ledgend ever will.