It was a glorious spring day. As active, energetic teenagers, we were going a little stir crazy after being cooped up in stuffy classrooms most of the winter. We needed fresh air. From my 18-year-old perspective, it would be healthy – not to mention fun – to go outside for a while.
Which happened to be me.
As far as I was concerned, it was just a prank – the impulsive act of a senioritis-crazed adolescent. But the school administration didn’t see it that way.
“I want to know who set off the fire alarm, and I want to know now!” Principal Perkins growled at Mr. Mangus, his assistant principal, as we started filing back into the school. “Whoever did this is going to be in serious trouble!”
I wanted to ask him exactly how serious serious trouble would be, but I didn’t dare. It was a little more than a month until graduation. College scholarships were at stake. I didn’t need trouble – serious or otherwise.
I tried to look inconspicuous as Mr. Mangus roamed the halls, asking questions. I was pretty sure no one had seen me pull the alarm … until I heard a voice behind me.
“I saw what you did.”
I turned slowly to face John, a 20-year-old senior (OK, so he had a little trouble with 5th grade – twice) who spent more time in the parking lot than in the classroom. And he was smiling.
“Nice job, man!” he said, punching me playfully in the shoulder. “Nobody will ever guess it was you! It was, like, the perfect crime!”
“Not quite perfect if you saw me,” I whispered.
Mr. Mangus was storming toward me, and he wasn’t smiling.
“Mr. Walker, I’ve talked to several students who say they saw you near where the fire alarm was pulled,” he said sharply. “Did you see anything?”
“Well,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “I . . . you know . . . I saw . . . um . . . regular stuff . . . but not . . . you know . . . anyone close to the alarm . . . specifically . . .”
Mr. Mangus had spent a lifetime dealing with high school students. He knew fudging when he heard it. “So if you didn’t see anyone,” he said, “perhaps you were involved?”
Before I could stammer a response I heard that voice behind me. Again.
“Do you really think Walker would do something like that?”
“I don’t know, John,” Mr. Mangus said. “I wouldn’t have thought so, but . . .”
“Gimme a break,” John said. “He’s gutless.”
I didn’t know whether to be grateful or insulted.
“Well, then who did it, John?” Mr. Mangus asked. Then he pressed: “Was it you?”
John didn’t hesitate. “So what if I did?” he asked. “What are you gonna do about it?”
“It isn’t what I’m going to do,” Mr. Mangus said as he took John firmly by the arm and led him down the hall. “It’s what Principal Perkins is going to do. I’m just going to watch. And I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”
I would like to say that I jumped to John’s defense and admitted my guilt. Really – I would. But I can’t, because I didn’t. John was willing – even anxious – to take the blame. And I was willing to let him – guilty though I was. I never did find out what serious trouble John got into, but it turns out he had already enlisted in the military. I heard he won some medals for courage under fire, and it didn’t surprise me in the least.
I think about John every year about this time – not because of spring, but because of Easter. Because there are other things in my life of which I’ve been guilty.
And because Someone was willing to take the blame.