Billy Poundstone swipes the nameplate, Mr. Austin Bordeaux, and tests its granite heft against his palm. An all-female line has formed ahead of him in advance of school shutting down for the weekend, their last shot at Casanova for sixty-five flippin' hours. Ever so intently Billy stares at the barely covered behind of Ally Erskin and wonders if she planned this outfit for their history teacher's benefit while soaping her golden thatch this morning. As if reading his mind, she turns and glares. Erskin and his older sister Connie are on-again enemies. Billy grips the nameplate at his side.
He imagines doing Ally Erskin on her bedroom floor while her uppity parents sleep. He has to cover her mouth to contain the screams. This goes on for a good ninety minutes until she convulses in ecstasy and ultimately passes out. Sixteen-year-old Billy Poundstone, no surprise, is a virgin.
Focus, thinks Billy.
Ally is leaning in and giving Casanova some cockamamie story about not grasping the material. Billy occupies himself with trying to identify the outline of her thong. Not only is Ally Erskin one of the hottest juniors in school, she maintains a four-point. The Industrial Revolution? Please.
Bordeaux plays along, employing his crooked-smile charm. Erskin giggles in, like, all the right spots. The prospect of tutoring is raised. Casanova may have some time on Wednesdays or Thursdays during lunch period, perhaps down in the old art room where they can study in relative peace. Both days, chirps Erskin, and when she turns to leave Billy changes his mind: She's the nastiest beast in high school. He imagines her thatch, golden or not, peppered with warts.
Finally, Billy's turn. He reaches down to tie his shoe, giving Erskin time to clear out. The last of the females gone, Bordeaux begins filling his designer backpack. It's safe to say the Y-chromosomes fail to garner his undivided attention. Billy stands and comes around the desk, touching the framed photo of Casanova's wife and infant daughter along the way.
Without looking up, Bordeaux says, "What can I do for you, Mr. Poundstone?" Billy wonders how his blond hair can look messy and stylish at the same time. How he stayed naturally tan through the long, shitty winter. How he can pull off a leather flippin' bracelet. Billy sets his jaw and slides the heavy nameplate from his back pocket. Lifts it high above his head. Never has he done anything like this, for Billy's a cross country runner, lanky and pale and introspective, not some juiced-up linebacker hardwired to maim, so maybe he hesitates a bit before starting the downward arc. Either way Casanova looks up just in time to catch Billy's wrist three inches from his temple, the nameplate clattering bloodlessly to the floor.
Bordeaux releases Billy's arm perhaps too gently under the circumstances. Gives him a slight nod, pursed lips and all, as if he understands his student's angst perfectly. Truth is they share an unspoken secret, a secret consuming Billy to the point of altering his DNA.
"Teaching moment," says Bordeaux. "You'll get only so many second chances in life. This is one of them. Go home, Billy."
As he talks Billy stares into Casanova's much-loved dimple and thinks, for perhaps the hundredth time, how it's overrated. It's a flippin' chin hole, for crying out loud. A breeding ground for fungus at that. And his teeth. How can a thirty-some man achieve such whiteness without chemical assistance ...
Bordeaux rises from his chair and two-fingers Billy in the bony chest, sending him back a step. Billy rubs the spot absently and looks into Casanova's eyes, the color of Cocoa Puffs before the milk has had its way with them ...
"Billy," barks Bordeaux. "Go. The fuck. Home."
Billy backs out of the room slowly, holding Casanova's chocolaty gaze. Teachers shouldn't be allowed to wear jeans, even on dress-down Fridays, he thinks. Then: Muscles or not, I've got at least two inches on him. Finally, as he's flashing Bordeaux a one-finger salute: That was easier than I thought; I'm gonna get the bastard yet.
Billy doesn't realize how bad he's shaking as he passes the janitor and exits the school. He lives three miles south, in the Evergreens trailer park, but he's not going home. Instead he turns right and jogs north along the maple-lined neighborhoods surrounding campus. It's a warm spring day, the sky a stunning blue, and Billy hates this flippin' town, this northern Michigan tourist trap full of fudge shops and silver-spoon cliques. Billy's mother moved him and his sister here several years ago to make manhole covers, yet another nine-buck job she shit away in no time flat. At the present she's on the back of some bearded man's Harley screaming down I-75 on their way to enjoy a long weekend. Which, Billy knows, means down to Detroit to fill their veins.
He jogs down the wide street, nerves settling with each passing block of Victorian homes, barking spaniels, sunflower gardens. Billy could run forever. He placed fourth at districts and coach said he's got a decent shot at a scholarship if he stays the course. Up ahead to the right is Casanova's house. Billy takes a sidelong glance but spots no movement inside or out. Bordeaux's wife is full-waddle pregnant with their second child but even so remains, in Billy's eyes, the most beautiful woman in the universe. She substituted in his English class last year and he still gets dizzy at the thought of her.
He dreams of taking Patrice Bordeaux away from this small-minded shithole, kids and all. If she only knew of the ache in his heart, of the resolve in his veins, their age difference, he's convinced, would become meaningless.
His destination is just up ahead and Billy speeds up, kicking the last quarter-mile. He walks through the sliding doors only slightly winded, nodding at a woman pushing a cart full of towels, and climbs the staircase to the third floor. As nervous as Billy was ten minutes ago, his heart beats even faster now, fingernails biting into palms, and without knowing it he walks into his sister's hospital room holding his breath.
Connie is sitting upright with her laptop opened before her. The gleam in her green eyes indicates she's having a rare lucid day. She looks up and gives him something of a smile, pats the bed with as much energy as she can muster. "Has the old man been by?" Billy asks as he climbs up next to her. It's a running joke between them, their father serving a life sentence in Jackson.
"Did you spy on Lady Bordeaux on the way here?"
Billy snorts and places his hand gently atop her bald head, lets it rest there. His sister actually likes Patrice; how could she not? She's as classy as her spouse is slimy. Connie leans her frail body into him and Billy is struck by how fast she's deteriorated. Thirteen months ago she was the best player on the volleyball team, a ferocious, black-haired hitter who was the dream of every schoolboy and the envy of every Ally Erskin in town.
They spend some time listening to the beeping and whirring of the machines. And then, because they share everything, Billy opens his mouth and tells her about his attempt on Bordeaux's life. How he made sure to be last in line. How he used the nameplate right off his desk so it wouldn't appear premeditated. He admits to the hesitation in his swing and says maybe that's not a bad thing, maybe he's not like the old man after all. Though they both have their doubts.
Connie sighs weakly. "You little shit. You think I want to go to Stanford alone?" His sister: the eternal optimist.
"That slimeball fucker," says Billy, "is gonna pay for what he did." Austin Bordeaux was his sister's driver education instructor in the weeks before she fell ill. She admitted to crushing on him, to flirting him up, but never did she agree to what he did to her in the backseat one gloomy afternoon.
"He'll pay," says Connie. She taps a key and brings up a diagram of the brake lines of an Audi Q5, which Bordeaux happens to drive. "We just need to be a little more subtle, little brother. Capiche?"
When he doesn't respond, she sticks out her pinky finger and says, "Remember, you promised. Partners in crime. Forever."
Billy holds out for a few beats, then shakes his head and pinky-shakes. "PIC. Right."
"Okay then. Let's just ..."
She's fading fast, as she's wont to do these past few weeks, and he closes the laptop as she slumps against him. Billy Poundstone's father is a convict, his mother a heroin addict and his only sibling, the doctors say, will be dead by summer. He closes his eyes and spends several terrible moments identifying her shallow breathing. This diseased girl is his best friend, his only remaining connection to the world, and when she's gone he can't imagine a purpose in life.
Copyright © 2014 Andy Henion.
His stories have been anthologized in BEAT to a PULP: Round 1, Chamber Four, Thieves Jargon and Shotgun Honey’s Reloaded. He’s been shortlisted for a Derringer and nominated for a Pushcart. Born the day before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Andy is happily married and has a 10-year-old daughter. He’s spent most of his life in Michigan where he waits patiently for the Detroit Lions to win it all.
Andy Henion’s fiction has appeared in many print and online publications, from Ray Gun Revival to Spork, from Plots with Guns to Word Riot.