I heard the shots coming from the principal's office. I hurried down the hallway and ordered all the teachers and students to get into a classroom and lock the door. Before I got to mine I saw that the special education teacher was having trouble getting her students into her room. I had to chase one down and drag him back.

The shooter saw me before I got to my classroom door and fired at me. I didn't have time to close the door before he got there so I grabbed my fire extinguisher and sprayed him in the face with the foam and as he staggered back I clobbered him over the head with it.

I saw him go down and I ordered my students to bring me my duct tape so I could tape his hands and feet.

Then everything got fuzzy. I saw one of my boy's kick his guns away as another secured him with the tape. Then I saw two girls looking at me with horror. No, they were not looking at me; they were looking at my shirt.

It was covered with blood, my blood.

"Well damn, he shot me," I thought. "That explains why I'm sliding to the floor with my back against the wall.

Well, I did my job so it's OK to die."

I have no idea how much time had passed but I was suddenly awake with a pretty Latina lady hovering over me. Her focus and intensity made me smile even though I felt like she had just yelled at me and slapped me around.

"I take it I'm not dead yet."

"No and if I have anything to say about it you wont be anytime soon."

I suddenly felt a needle go into my arm.

"Hey, I have a current shot record."

"You needed a booster. We are going to put you in a gurney. It might hurt but try not to move."

"Can I cuss?"

"No, all your students are around us."

I tried to focus to see them but all I got was a blurry image. I did see medics working on someone on the floor just before I was lifted. I managed to grit my teeth through the pain then I was being hurried to the ambulance. There were a lot of ambulances and police out there on that gloomy day. All those lights looked like Christmas had come ten days early. I smiled.

Things became fuzzy and I apparently lost consciousness at times. I somehow got the impression that she put an oxygen mask on me to shut me up. The next thing I knew for sure was being rushed through a hospital corridor. The pretty woman was running right alongside me holding an IV bag. I started to say something to her but could not; I still had the oxygen mask on.

I was being examined when I heard the woman tell somebody I was a hero. I started to laugh but apparently passed out again.

A nurse came in and I said "Good morning."

She was startled then ran out of the room.

"I still got it," I thought with a small laugh.

I was not a good-looking guy, I was the kind of guy everyone wanted in the picture because I made everyone feel better about their own looks.

I was already plain looking when an improvised exploding device did its thing as I peered around a vehicle to see how far it was from me. I was tending to an injured marine and had just learned that a second explosive had not detonated.

I never saw it until it went off and I was sprayed with sand and debris and many small bits lodged in my face. I was wearing prescription goggles since contacts don't work well in a desert for long. Everyone around me though that was silly but the goggles saved my eyes. As it turned out I had been far away enough. Where I was my wounds were thought of as minor and I was back on duty as a medic in a week.

I was already considering leaving the marines when my commitment was up but that did not happen soon enough to avoid another roadside bomb. I was in the vehicle behind the one that had triggered the bomb but still ended up with a piece of metal stuck to the top of my shoulder. I pulled it out and rushed to help the guys in the first vehicle.

All were alive when the helicopters picked them up. However the ones that would survive had extensive wounds they would have to cope with for the rest of their lives.

I did not like feeling helpless.

I left the marines.

I returned to college and got my teaching degree.

My appearance bothered some at first but my students got past it quickly and most had ceased to be aware of it after a semester.

Women did not hang around long enough to allow that to happen.

All my sex had come from monetary transactions and merciful women.

Two nurses and a doctor rushed in and again I said "Good morning."

The doctor said, "Good to see you awake and apparently feeling well. Lets check you out and make sure of that."

All hovered around me poking and counting and the nurses wrote everything down then left as lab technicians came in and sucked all the blood out of me.

The doctor tested my reflexes and eyes and we talked for a while and I guessed he was waiting for someone but he was in fact checking my brain function. He had a nurse bring me a cup of ice which was when I noticed I was very thirsty.

When he checked my wound I saw that I had a good size scar on my chest and apparently one on my back. I assumed the bullet had gone through me, the bastard had big guns. I was surprised to learn I had been shot twice.

I was also surprised to note that the scars had mostly healed and I saw no stitches.

Soon one of the nurses returned and handed the doctor a paper that made both smile.

"You are one though dude," the doctor said. Everything says you are fine. Tell me, what day is today?"

"December fifteenth, Christmas break begins Friday."

"What is the last thing you remember?"

"The pretty medic running beside me carrying an IV bag. That would have been yesterday."

"That was Norma running next to you. That was also twenty-nine days ago, you missed Christmas break," the nurse called Rina said.

Doctor Pierce added, " One bullet nicked your aorta and the other perforated a lung. We had to induce a coma to help them heal.

We have been waiting eight days for you to come out of it.

The good news is that your wounds are mostly healed and you have until after spring break before getting back to work. We are going to keep you for a few days as we check your progress and begin physical therapy. You should be able to go home before the end of January."

"Oh man I just thought of something. My fish are dead. I doubt they could have survived that long without food."

Rina said, "They are fine, you asked Norma to check on them and she has. You owe her money for your light bill though."

The doctor shook his head with a smile. Apparently there was a story behind my light bill.

He said, "You have a long list of people wanting to visit with you but I am going to hold them off for a few more days except for the cops, I will allow them to interview you tomorrow."

"Is my wallet here?"

"Yes, in your nightstand drawer."

"Let Norma come in so I can pay her back please."

"Rina called her, she is on the way now."

I smiled then drifted off to sleep. I awoke when somebody squeezed my hand.

It was Norma. She said, "Hi, everyone told me you were fine. Have you been caught up with the news?"

"No, but hold off telling me what happened at school for a couple of days. I am not ready for that."

"OK, but nobody died that day and no kids were shot. Everyone credits you for that."

"I heard shots from the office."

"Yes, two of the principals and one of the secretaries were shot but the principal and the school secretary are back at work, the assistant principal is at home but will be back at work next week. The asshole is in jail but you may have scrambled his brains, he remembers little of his shooting spree."

"His brains were already scrambled. Who is my sub?"

"Mr. C., the guy whose place you took when he retired."

"Good, good. I like him and the kids do too. How much was my electric bill?"

"Ninety one dollars."

"Hand me my wallet please, it's in the drawer."

"OK but you have no cash in it, the nurse looked."

"Yeah, I never carry any money but I do have a debit card. I am assuming there is an ATM near the cafeteria or gift shop. Withdraw a hundred for yourself. My pin is one, two, three, three."

"That is an odd set of numbers."

"The last four of my service serial number. You look gorgeous by the way. Thanks for saving my life."

"I did not save your life, the doctors and nurses here did."

"And you got me here alive, so you saved my life. Tell me what you would like as a reward that a schoolteacher could afford."

She seemed to be debating with herself then softly said, "A date."

I was stunned but not so much to hesitate in saying, "Deal. Being with me will make you look even more gorgeous but some may question your poor vision."

She laughed then stood and left the room with my card as the doctor's nurse came in. I saw their hands caress as they went past each other.

Rina said, "Norma checked on you every time she was at the hospital. She even set up a little Christmas tree for you right there. She has had a tough life recently so please treat her with courtesy, and please don't shave. We like your beard."

"I have a beard?"

"Yes. Oh, the doctors discovered some stuff under your skin and dug them out; you have fewer bumps on your face now. They decided not to shave you for risk of infection and your beard is now gorgeous."

"Wow, I have a beard."

"Do you think you can handle chicken soup? You have not eaten since that day."

"Yes, now that you mention it, I'm hungry."

"I will have it for you soon. All your vitals are fine and this afternoon we will have the physical therapist help you stand up. As soon as you can go to the bathroom by yourself we will bring you solid food."

"Sounds good to me."

"I am going to lift the head of your bed up a little. You may feel a bit dizzy but your heart will adjust and send more blood into your brain. Ready?"

I nodded and felt fine until she stopped then I wondered why the ceiling kept on moving for a few moments. By the time Norma returned I had regained my bearings. It was then that I noticed the resemblance between the two."

"Yes, we are sisters," Norma said.

"Oh," I said.

Rina presented her cheek for her sister to kiss and after that was bestowed she left the room.

"Rina is an unusual name."

"It isn't her name and she blames me for it. Her name is Caterina but I could not say it when I was young so I called her Rina. Soon everyone was calling her Rina and she hated it until she had a favorite teacher that could not say her name right so she asked to be called Rina. You may have noted she is my hero."

"Yes, although I thought I was."

"There is a difference, you are a hero to the whole country, she is a hero only to me."

"OK. Wait. I am a hero to the whole country?"

"Yes, about a hundred reporters check on you every day, some from Europe and Asia."

"No, no, no. I'm not a hero. I just did what had to be done."

"You will never convince anybody of that," the doctor said as he came in the room with Rina behind him. He wrote on my chart as Rina added something to my IV and adjusted the flow of something.

Rina told him I handled the head lift well.

He said his news conference would be at five but would try to keep all visitors away for a week.

"I don't want to talk to reporters."

"OK, not a problem. I will also announce that because of your condition you will not be allowed visitors except for family."

"Thank you, maybe no one will check and discover I have no family.

If you will excuse me I apparently need a nap."

"Please do. We will talk later," the doctor said as I dozed off.

I thought I felt someone kiss me before I sank into the dark.

The physical therapist was there when I awoke. He had me sit up at the edge of the bed for a while then put a harness on me and helped me stand. I got very dizzy but he kept me from falling.

He asked me how my head, my back and my legs felt and I answered dizzy, fine, wobbly.

It felt like I had been standing at attention for hours but it had been just a minute before he had me sit again.

I was pleased by how quickly I recovered and after five minutes he had me stand again. I answered, fine, fine, wobbly to the questions then. I stood perhaps a minute and a half before I was allowed to sit.

I asked him if the local team had made it to the playoffs and he said they had won one playoff game but had again lost the next game. He then paused a moment then told me today was Wednesday. The league championship games were next Sunday.

We talked sports as I stood and sat at least five more times the last two of which I was fine across the board. He had me take four steps, the limit of my IV and catheter, and I was fine until I turned to get back in bed and got a bit dizzy.

He helped me back in bed and told me I did much better than expected and gave credit to my excellent physical condition before my wounding. I spent a lot of time in the gym and running, I did not have a social life.

He added, "After a coma of over a week most people take days just to do what you did today. You may be able to walk to the bathroom tomorrow or by this weekend for sure."

"Thanks. I hope you are right."

I apparently fell asleep as soon as I got in bed. When I woke up Rina was sitting in a chair next to me with a mug of amazing smelling chicken soup. It was its aroma that woke me up.

"My sister Carmen brought this for you. It is a secret recipe that she does not know herself but everyone feels better when they drink it."

After a sip I said, "Wow, best soup I have ever tasted, have you tried it?"


"Here, take a sip."

"Wow is right. Carmen will have to bring me some. Here drink all of it and I will lick the cup."

We laughed and I drank while she left the room then came back with a biscuit in her hand. I left a little of the soup in the mug and she scrubbed the insides with the biscuit and ate it.

"Where is this place?" I asked after reading the town name on the mug.

"About an hours drive from here on the coast."

"And Carmen drove here and back just for that?"

"Yes, but she brought enough for you to have another cup tomorrow and some more the day after that.

Norma likes you and all of us are happy she likes anyone.

She had an abusive boyfriend for years that nearly beat her to death once. She ended up at the women's shelter in that town but was slow to recover from the beating until a friend that volunteers at the shelter gave her the soup.

My sisters and me took care of her but the psychological damage has been very hard to overcome. For a while she was terrified of all men.

We think the soup and the distraction of studying for her medic license got her back to normal. Having to treat injured men got her past that phobia. Knowing she can now fight off most men has helped; she now has a black belt in judo.

Knowing her boyfriend is back in jail helped too although he has no idea where she is. He apparently thinks she is still somewhere in Brooklyn. His world does not extend beyond that."

"She has gone well past her duties for me. Do you know why?"

"Yes, even though you just knew you were going to die you flirted with her. You even made her laugh as she tended to you. You asked for a kiss and she kissed you.

Then you said, 'Well then I better not die.'

You apparently looked at her as if you adored her."

"I may have even though she slapped me around to keep me conscious. I remember the focus, the fierceness she had as she worked on me. I knew she would not allow me to die.

I'm sorry she had to kiss an ugly man."

Rina kissed my lips and said, "There are five sisters that think you are a most beautiful man."

She left me a bit confused by the last statement. I know that beautiful is last thing I am.

I slept through the night comfortably. In the morning I raised the head of my bed myself and called for the nurse.

"Good morning. I was wondering if I could have some oatmeal for breakfast and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar."

"I will need to check with your doctor first. I will let you know."

Ten minutes later I had my oatmeal and coffee and ten minutes after that the doctor came in.

"Feel good I see. No dizziness?'

"No, I am ready to go home."

"You need to be able to walk to the bathroom and have a bowel movement first. The oatmeal will tell us that.

Going home may be a bit problematic, there are news crews starting to stake out your apartment. After my press conference every TV station led their news programs with the story that you are awake and feeling fine, even the national feeds. Everyone was very happy to hear that.

Our cities most popular news lady cried and could not continue with the news. Her news desk partner took over then revealed she had two kids in your school, one a special needs student, the kid you led back into his classroom.

Your friends and admirers have doubled in this town.

You may need to hide in a hotel for a while."

"Not really," Rina said as she came in. "He would need to have someone available and I know just the place with a medic on site."

"You don't work today."

"True, I am here visiting a friend," she said and kissed me.

The detectives came in; one was a very pretty woman from the FBI. I was asked if I would be able to identify the guy that shot me and I said yes. They showed me five pictures and I pointed the guy out to them.

I found it to be odd; he was a handsome guy, the kind that usually just sails through life.

They asked if I had seen him before the shooting and I said no.

They asked if I had seen him shoot anyone and I said yes, me.

Both praised my actions that day and told me that if there was a trial I would probably not need to testify, the cameras in my school building had caught everything.

I may have fallen asleep before they left.

Rina brought me chicken soup before I had another round of physical therapy that afternoon.

The therapist seemed to be astonished by what I could do.

I slept well that night and felt someone kiss me on the lips late that evening. I decided my sleepy brain was giving me what I wanted.

I again greeted the duty nurse and asked for coffee and oatmeal.

My oatmeal had slices of banana, strawberries and blueberries in it. It was delicious.

The doctor came to see me and Rina did too. She was not working that day either,

He said to her, "Call the physical therapist and have him come up at his first convenience please."

Rina kissed both our lips and walked outside the room.

It was not my first kiss from her but I was a bit taken aback by the kiss she gave the doctor.

Doctor Pierce gave me a thorough exam and had the duty nurse remove my catheter and my IV. I turned sideways on my bed, took a deep breath and stood. The doctor shadowed me as I shuffled to the bathroom, took a leak, and then went back to my bed.

Rina had just walked back into the room and the doctor told her to call back the therapist and tell him not to bother, "He has just walked to the bathroom and back."

He walked out my door then returned to say, "Walk around the nurses station when you feel up to it. Do it as often as you can without pushing it. I will be back after five to see how you are doing."

The duty nurse came in bringing a glass of juice I soon learned was cranberry.

"Drink up, the doctor ordered."

I did and every three hours of the day I had another glass of cranberry juice and shortly after each I had to go piss. By my third piss there was no longer any cloudiness in my urine.

Once I had to sit thanks to the oatmeal. I called the duty nurse and showed her before I flushed.

Under Norma's supervision I made three circuits around the nurse station that afternoon.

Rina brought me a third mug of chicken soup after I had finished my laps as Norma told me how miraculous the stuff was. That dose was smaller than the first two and apparently it was the right dosage because I did not want any more when I finished it.

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