This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another piece that I wrote towards the end of my junior year of high school. It was for the Enemy Contest on Figment, which I had the humungous honor of winning. Later on, I also used it as part of my senior writing portfolio for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which received an honorable mention. (Basically, I have a thousand and one reasons to love this short story.)
I didn’t always know Will Orson. In fact, we didn’t even meet until the fifth grade, and even then we were only classmates, not friends. But it felt natural, like we had always been close, always been that close, when, without a word, he slid into the booth beside me at lunch that day in the middle of February of freshman year.
Sarah and Kimberly, on the other side of the booth, stared at him. Will Orson wasn’t popular—I won’t go as far as to say that—but he definitely was not of our social type. There was a reason we were the only three at our table.
“Um, hi?” Sarah squinted at him through her mile-thick glasses.
“Hey.” Will smiled easily at her. “Do you like tuna fish?” He dropped a brown paper bag on the table in front of him and took out a sandwich.
I scrunched up my nose and, without thinking, said, “How’s this. I buy you a slice of pizza and you take that thing as far away from here as humanly possible.”
And, just like that, Will Orson became my best friend.
It’s funny to think about that now, how companionship came so easily between us, as I stare at him through the holes in my masquerade mask, eyes wide and hands raised as far as they will go in a gesture of defeat. The frown on his face, reaching all the way to his forehead, where his skin puckers into solid creases of wear and anger, seems so unlike him. I know he doesn’t recognize me. If he did, he would put the gun down.
I didn’t know it would be him, or I never would have accepted this assignment. Ms. Bradson said it was an easy counterintelligence mission. All I had to do was attend the Lincoln Masquerade Ball and make sure nobody took a shot at any of our delegates. She could’ve sent me to scout out the jewel heist in Alaska instead, so I should be thankful. At least this way I got to stay in the city and I didn’t have to miss any school.
My mind continues to whirl as Will and I stare at each other, unblinking. If only his mask hadn’t slipped off during the tango, I never would have realized it was him.
He still doesn’t know it’s me.
My face is hidden behind a cardboard mask and I have a chocolate brown wig on. It’s the same color as his hair. I remember thinking about that when I picked the wig out this afternoon, because I love Will’s hair. It’s probably his best feature. Either that or his eyes.
I still can’t believe I missed it before now. That Will Orson works for Cambridge. I should’ve known. And he should’ve known that I was with the government.
Taking a threatening step towards me, he switches the safety off on his gun.
I don’t know what makes me say it, but I do, and he stops. His eyes widen and his mouth drops. I can hear the party continuing, just on the other side of the ballroom door, and it’s so strange to think that it all might be over in a second. The moment they hear the gunshot, the secret service will surely escort everyone to safety. But it’ll be too late for me.
“How do you know my name? Who’s your source?”
I don’t respond right away, biting my lip instead to keep back the tears. Suddenly that jewel heist assignment is looking better and better.
With a yell, he crosses the space between us and puts his hand to my throat. I feel the air leave my lungs and I struggle for breath. Red hot needles of pain shoot across my neck as his nails dig deeper into my skin. My hands drop to my sides. I can feel my pulse beating haphazardly and after a moment spots appear before my eyes.
I never knew Will was capable of doing things like this. Of having rage, and power, and being dangerous. He was the cute boy on the soccer team. He was the closet geek who chose me, out of everyone at Ridgeview High, to sit with at lunch that day in February. He was my best friend.
“Will…” I struggle to say again. I don’t fight back. Every nerve in my body tells me to, to kick out or punch him in the face or something, but I refuse to. He’s bigger, stronger than I am. And I could never hurt him, even if it means sacrificing myself in the process.
“Tell me your source!”
“Will, please…” I finally can’t help it, and reach up, trying to pry his fingers from my throat. “You’re Will Orson. You’re a senior at Ridgeview High School in upper Manhattan and you’re the captain of the varsity soccer team.”
Instead of his grip loosening like I hope it will, he tightens his hold on my throat and my larynx feels like it’s going to explode.
I can barely see or feel anything, there’s so little oxygen in my body, but I notice that he’s no longer angry. Instead, he’s scared.
“How much do you know about me?” His voice shakes.
“Please, Will…” I try to say, but I can’t get out any sound. I mouth the words, “Charlotte Tyler,” and his hold tightens even further. I can hear choking sounds escaping from my mouth, but I’m not aware of making them.
“You know about Charlotte?! Don’t you dare hurt her!” he screeches, moving so that his face is inches from mine.
My mind is growing fuzzy, but I still manage to form one last sentence, “Why do you work for Cambridge?”
“Why?” he laughs. “So I don’t have to put up with creeps like you.”
It’s at that point that, with my last ounce of energy, I reach up and, against my better judgment, pull off the mask. He doesn’t recognize me for a second, in the lowlight of the hallway and with my wig still on, but then his hand disappears from my throat and he stumbles backwards in one solid movement.
“No…” he whispers, and then yells it, “No!”
I’m choking. Gagging. On my knees, trying desperately to swallow down air. The music stops on the other side of the door. They’ve heard us. They know, finally, that something is going on.
“Charlotte, why? Why do you work for the government?” he stutters out. Repeating back my question, only changed. Different, somehow.
“I thought it was to save people like you,” I manage. “But I guess I was wrong.”
All I can think about is that day in the cafeteria. The way he smiled at me. He doesn’t look like the Will Orson I know, now. He looks scared; like a rabid dog.
“It’s corrupt!” he shouts.
“Funny to hear that coming from a terrorist.”
“Charlotte.” For a second, he looks like maybe he’ll kiss me, but instead he picks up the gun from where he dropped it, hands shaking, and takes aim.
I didn’t always know Will Orson. Maybe I never really knew him at all.
PS. I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep at all for the next week and a half, between last minute projects and studying for my finals. Somebody please save me.