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Books and papers were sent crashing to the floor. “Oh, my bad; I didn’t see you there,” sneered the brawny teen through slightly bared teeth. The boisterous laughter of the other students echoed throughout the hallway. Without a word or hint of frustration, Billy Turner stooped down and collected his belongings. He knew there was no use in responding. No use in complaining to the teachers who too often were consumed in their own world, or the principal’s office for that matter. It would only serve to most assuredly make matters worse. Much worse. In fact, in some strange way Billy had grown accustomed to the daily routine of torture and abuse from the other students.
The football players were among the worst, however. They strutted around in their letterman jackets as though they owned the place. Billy wasn’t their only target among the student body, but he seemed to be the easiest and most frequent. His older brother Rusty was actually the team’s star running-back and had apparently inherited all the athleticism and natural good looks for the family, leaving Billy none whatsoever. He was the outsider, tall, but very lanky and had never excelled at any sport, though not for lack of trying.
His father’s disappointment was evident in the way he boasted and bragged on Rusty around town, yet considered Billy a colossal screw-up and failure at the same time. He was a former All-American quarterback for a two-time state championship team he’d remind Billy. Then he’d openly wonder aloud whether Billy was even his own son. All during his usual nightly binge of whiskey after work. His father was now a deputy at the local police department after blowing his knee out during his sophomore year at Texas A&M.
Billy’s mother had died three years earlier in a head-on collision on Highway 18 while driving home from work late one night. That left the two boys alone with their father. One talented football player following in his father’s footsteps, and one colossal screw-up. Billy sometimes wondered if his father’s resentment was due to the striking resemblance he shared with his now deceased mother.
So, the ridicule and lack of respect he felt at home hardened him to the bullying and abuse received at school. Billy had no friends, not one person to socialize with on a consistent basis. He ate lunch alone and usually walked to the football fields and sat atop the bleachers. It gave him a taste of the peaceful serenity he longed. Billy frequently wore a dark hooded sweater which granted the ability to block out the world and those around him. No one seemed to care that he was alone. That he hurt and felt so alone since his mother’s untimely death. For just one person to care and show even the most remote interest in him would mean the world. He could walk the halls as unnoticed as the Invisible Man, completely unseen and ignored by all. But, they would see. They would all see very soon. There would be no opportunity to ignore. He had a plan that would open their eyes to see. A plan he’d been formulating for months and was nearing fruition. No longer would they look on him as a social outcast and a failure. They would never forget his name.
The list had grown for some time now. Each act of cruelty, aggression and intimidation earned a spot on the list. And it wasn’t just reserved for students. There were teachers and other faculty that graced the list as well. For each blind eye turned, they were deserving too.
A date had been carefully selected for the special day. March 13th, his mother’s birthday. The microphone so that his voice could be heard had also been meticulously chosen. Billy’s father had an assortment of assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns to select from and accessing them had been fairly easy as he was rarely home. The combination to the safe was also simple enough: favorite son Rusty’s birthday. Target practice was conducted most days deep within the woods beyond the old sawmill. He would need to be quick and precise so rehearsal was essential. As the weeks grew closer he checked the list over and over again, careful not to overlook anyone. He kept it close and safe, in his pants pocket at all times.
One day, while busy analyzing the list during lunch, Billy was interrupted by the sweetest voice he’d ever heard.
“Excuse me,” the soft melodic voice called up to him from the bottom of the bleachers.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
Billy looked up and glanced around him, confused and surprised that a girl of her stature would be speaking to him. She was very beautiful with long silky blonde hair and deep blue enchanting eyes. Her skin was perfect in every way and she had the most succulent lips he’d ever seen aside from T.V. or in a magazine.
“Well?” she asked.
Billy realized he’d been staring at her for several moments without answering and finally managed a response.
‘Why would she want to sit out here with me?’ he wondered. She climbed the bleachers carefully and took a seat next to him.
“I’m Clara,” she said and extended a slender hand in greeting. Billy shook it clumsily, feeling the warmth radiate from her delicate skin, but said nothing in response.
“And you are?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Billy.”
“Nice to meet you Billy.” Clara looked out over the field and at their surroundings.
“It really is nice up here,” she marveled. “Seems you had the right idea coming up here to enjoy your lunch. I really hate being around so many people and a crowded cafeteria during lunch just isn’t my thing.”
“Mine either,” added Billy. He was still recovering from the shock of such a beautiful girl sitting next to him, not to mention engaging in full blown conversation.
“You really have kind eyes,” she remarked and pushed back his hood. Startled, Billy pulled back in response, at which Clara laughed playfully.
“Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”
“I’m not worried,” Billy countered.
“I just think you shouldn’t hide your face is all. I think you are very handsome.” Billy felt his cheeks warm and quickly looked away to conceal the uncontrollable reaction.
From then on, Billy and Clara met every day for lunch atop the bleachers near the football field. After school they would meet up and she would accompany him on the long walk home. They were completely inseparable. And as each day passed, Billy lost more and more of the bitter hatred inside him and the burning desire to activate the list. He never mentioned it to Clara, although he wanted to, but was unsure how she would react.
On the morning of March 13th, Billy sat solemnly at the edge of his bed for quite some time, deep in thought. Clara had given him a new outlook on life. Taught him to believe in himself. No longer did he walk around hating life, but had actually begun to live it. Billy pulled a large duffel bag from underneath the bed and walked into the dining room where his father’s safe was kept. After much internal deliberation he unzipped the duffel, entered the combination and returned the weapons he’d previously stashed. Surprisingly relieved, he left the house and made his way to school. As soon as he arrived he looked for Clara everywhere, but could not find her at all. At lunch, he waited patiently at their usual meeting spot, but she never showed. Concerned, Billy headed for the principal’s office.
“Is there something I can help you with Billy?” the secretary smiled and asked.
“Yes. I was wondering if you could tell me whether a student was marked absent this morning. Her name is Clara Wilson.”
“You know I’m not allowed to give you that information Billy. That is privileged information. I’m sorry.”
“Look, it’s very important that I get in touch with her. I just want to know that she’s ok.” The angst in his voice was evident to the secretary as she eyed him closely for a moment.
“You kids, I swear,” she muttered under her breath. “What’s the name again?”
“Clara Wilson,” Billy replied, a bit calmer now as she stroked the keys of her computer. After what seemed an eternity to Billy she finally looked up from the monitor and spoke.
“I’m sorry; it appears there is no one enrolled here by that name. Are you sure the name is correct?”
“What do you mean? I’ve seen her here and talked with her for weeks now. I know I got the name right. Are you sure you spelled it correctly? Can you check again?” Billy urged, panic creeping into his voice once more. The knuckles of his hands turned ghastly white as he gripped the edges of the desk.
Hesitant, and much less willing than before, the secretary placed her fingers upon the keyboard once more.
“Our records are accurate and up to date,” she replied after several moments. “There is no one enrolled at this school by the name of Clara Wilson.”
Suddenly, the vice principal that just happened to be passing by the front desk stopped short.
“Clara Wilson?” “Is this some sort of joke Billy?”
“No, sir. Why would you think I would joke about a thing like this?” Billy was baffled. “Because Billy,” he continued. “Clara Wilson is dead. Has been for almost 20 years now. She was a student here long ago that died in a horrific accident out near the old sawmill. Part of the reason why it was closed down. I know because I attended her funeral. But, you already knew that didn’t you? Now, if you think you can just prank Ms. Emerson and have yourself a good laugh, think again. So you best leave this office now or consider yourself in detention for the next week, mister.”
“I expect more from a member of your family. You disappoint me Billy,” the vice principal remarked as he departed for his office. Billy turned and walked out of the principal’s office, stunned and confused. A wave of different emotions engulfed him as he tried to make sense of what he’d just been told. Where did she go? There was no way the girl he saw and communicated with day after day was the same Clara the principal mentioned. Then, he remembered he had never actually seen her IN the school; they had always met near the bleachers or on the walk home. Billy realized he’d never walked HER home or thought to ask where she lived for that matter. He grappled with the fact that he didn’t know much about Clara at all and wondered if it had all been some sick part of his twisted mind. He always knew he had a weird and surreal imagination.
As Billy walked down the crowded hallway, he slowly raised the hood of his dark sweater and settled back once more into the welcome shadowy comfort. He ran a finger along his pants pocket and smiled refreshingly at the feel of the jagged outline there. The list was still there. Still safe and sound, waiting patiently, just where he’d always kept it.