I didn’t have any friends. I was always alone. I didn’t sit with anyone unless I had to, didn’t talk to anyone unless it was for a grade, and I didn’t waste time with social events. I did volunteer service for my transcript, sure, but I didn’t spend time with my classmates after school. Everything I did, I did for my grades. Every move I made, I made for my future. So, when my mother asked if I was going to Homecoming, I nearly snorted in reply.
“Uh, no. Of course not. I probably have to work, anyway.”
My mother frowned, peering at me with disapproval behind wire-frame glasses. “I’m sure you don’t have to work all night. Besides, it’s your senior year.”
I didn’t reply, knowing it would only lead to a pointless argument. I leaned forward over my bowl and brought a spoonful of mom’s tomato noodle soup to my lips. Mom said that my dad always hated it, but Dad left us when I was a baby and I didn’t mind the odd combination of boiled tomatoes and thick noodles. The hot food tasted nice, especially as it was the beginning of September and the air had gotten colder.
I thought my mother had given up, but after a bit of silence, she picked right back up again.
“I just don’t understand why you have to be so serious. You’ll regret not doing more in school when you’re old.”
“When I’m old, I’ll be rich, and I’ll thank myself for not messing around in school.” I smirked to myself at my own remark. Mom shook her head.
My philosophy was that one should do all they can to secure their own future. Do what you must now, relax later. I had to stay on course. I had my life planned out, and intended to follow that plan. Except for one thing. Layne Kolton was not part of that plan.
Layne Kolton was my age. I had no idea what middle school she had come from, but I had heard she lived in Crossroads all her life, just like me. I also knew that she didn’t have a dad either, and I wouldn’t have known that if Layne hadn’t been the hot topic at our school freshman year. Layne had lost her right leg in 9th grade. Despite the questions fired at her from reporters and fellow students, Layne never specified the cause of the injury, and neither did her mother. Rumors flew wildly throughout the school and even nearby schools, but no one really knew what had happened. She was out of school for most of the year, and she returned in a wheelchair. Cue another salvo of inquiries and news reports. By now, the stories had died down a bit and Layne managed to live somewhat quietly amongst us all. She had eventually acquired a prosthetic and blended in pretty well from her thighs up.
Although she was missing a leg, Layne was still pretty. She had shiny amber hair that was wavy only at the bottom, where her hair lay just below her shoulders. Her skin was tanned and her limbs were long and graceful, what limbs she had. She was taller than me by a few inches and always held her head up. Her nose was slightly upturned and her brown eyes were narrow, so some people said she looked like a rat, but I thought she was pretty and she seemed to think the same. Layne had enough confidence to make you forget about her missing leg. Her nasally voice, off-putting at first, had a strange air of purpose to it. People listened when she talked.
After the rumors of her began to die down, I sort of forgot about Layne. I didn’t have many classes with her, so I only saw her in the halls or sometimes when our homerooms would merge for group activities. This year, I was an office aid, so I saw her occasionally when delivering a note to another class. Once, at the beginning of my eleventh year, I had delivered a note to a class and caught Layne watching me as I left the class. I had looked away immediately after the accidental eye contact, but she didn’t. Her eyes continued watching me as I briskly exited the room. The incident had bothered me the rest of the day, but that was only the beginning.
After school that day, I helped my teacher clean up after class and headed into the halls to go wait outside for my mother to pick me up. Upon opening the door, however, I turned only to face those same light brown eyes staring back at me. It almost appeared as though they were smiling.
Layne smiled politely at me and uncrossed her arms. She didn’t carry a backpack or a purse.
I looked at her for a second, wondering what she could possibly want. “That’s my name,” I replied suspiciously.
“You headed home?” Something like a smirk played on her lips.
“Let me walk with you,” she offered and stood aside to let me pass.
“Why?’ I repeated.
Something nearly threatening flashed in her eye, but Layne didn’t waver. “You leave out the east entrance. I’m headed the same way.”
I felt a pang of guilt at my suspicion. However, I couldn’t let go of the thought that she had stood there waiting for me to leave, that she knew my last period, and that she knew which way I left every day. No matter how odd she was acting though, I had a feeling she wasn’t just going to let me walk free. I looked her over once more before marching on.
As we started down the hallway, I found that Layne was surprisingly capable of keeping up with me. She had to use a wheelchair when she first came back to school. Now, she occasionally would carry a cane, but today she did not. I couldn’t help but look at her feet and the way the joint of her prosthetic bent as she took each step. When I looked back up, Layne was watching me watching her, and she gave me a quick closed-mouth smile. I looked away and felt my face flush in embarrassment. I’m sure she was used to people staring at her leg.
“You’re an office aid, right?” Layne asked finally.
“Yes,” I answered, observing the ground.
“You have easy access to the computers?”
I stopped and narrowed my eyes at her. “I don’t know the passwords. And I’m not going to do anything illegal—” Layne interrupted me with a thick envelope shoved into my hand. I glanced down at it and then back up at her. “What is this?” I asked.
“An envelope.” She remarked sarcastically and continued walking.
I tried to catch up with her. “Okay, yes, but what’s in it?”
“A lot of things. The passwords to the computers, the name of the client and—”
“Client?!” I exclaimed. Layne rolled her eyes.
“…And his schedule, with the changes you need to make in red pen.”
“I don’t want to do this. I don’t want this. I’m not breaking into the computers, are you crazy?! I could get caught. You’re crazy, I don’t want this.” I thrust the envelope back in her direction. Layne waved my hand away.
“The staff won’t be a problem. Just use Edna’s computer when she goes on lunch break.”
I stepped forward, arm still extended towards her with the envelope in my hand. “You don’t get it. I’m not doing this.”
Layne acted as if my arm weren’t there. We had reached the exit, and she was headed down the other hall, evidence that she had been fibbing earlier. “Take it home and look at what’s in there. If you still don’t want to do it, just forget we ever talked.” I watched her sashay down the empty hall, the sound of her voice and clicking of her heels echoing in my ears.
She must have been crazy. The envelope was still in my hand. I let my arms drop to my side. The envelope was still suspiciously thick for only having what she had stated. I held it up to the light and inspected it. My eyes widened as the light came through and showed me the faint symbols of a $100 bill.
When I opened the envelope at home, I found three more. $400 dollars to change someone’s schedule.
That’s how it began.