"Today is going to be a good day." That's what Riley thought to himself as he woke up that Thursday morning.
As he sat up in bed, he stretched, a subtle smile on his lips. This facial expression was quite peculiar for Riley, a normally downtrodden boy.
After his parents’ divorce and an admittedly bitter custody battle, his childhood happiness left him along with his father.
Today, however, that smile remained on his face as he ate breakfast, got dressed, brushed his teeth, and walked out of his front door.
As his mother drove him to school, she seemed to notice Riley's cheerful disposition, did a quick double-take, and smiled.
"Hey, honey. Why are you so cheerful today?" Riley's mother questioned. "I haven't seen you this happy in a long time."
Riley turned to his mother and replied, "Oh, nothing, really. We're watching a movie in English Lit class. That's about it." His smile faltered slightly.
"Ah. What movie?" his mother asked, curious.
"'The Road'," Riley replied. "It stars Viggo Mortenson, and it revolves around the relationship and the trials of a father and his son as they traverse through a post-apocalyptic world."
"Hmm. Doesn't sound like a happy movie to me."
"I know. It isn't. I've just been wanting to see it for years. The book was incredible."
"Hmm," his mother nodded in understanding, returning her attention to the road.
The rest of the car ride was spent in silence. All the while, Riley's peculiar smile remained plastered on his face.
Pulling up to the school, Riley gazed out of the car window, noticing a plethora of kids, most of whom he knew well.
As he observed his classmates from the car, Riley felt the car suddenly halt; it was time to get out.
After a quick trade of "I love you"s and "see you later"s, Riley turned and began walking. He noticed a certain, very special group of kids as he made his way to the entrance.
The popular kids. His smile grew ever so slightly.
He couldn't wait to talk to the popular kids during lunch hour. He was sure they would hear him out.
First, second and third period went by like usual: boring. Fourth-period English Lit was a little more interesting.
While watching "The Road", Riley began thinking about the popular group again, their names racing through his mind as his stomach fluttered.
Robert McReedy, Coraline Jones, Michael Anderson, Mary Richards, and, last but not least, Trent Halloway. Meadow High School's elite. The Meadow High Five. The best of the best.
The ones everyone longed for. The ones everyone wanted to be friends with. The ones everyone wanted to be.
Riley shivered as he thought of Meadow High School's royalty. Anticipation coursed through him, fermenting in his bones.
Fourth period ended with the conclusion of the movie. The credits and tears simultaneously rolled down the screen and Riley’s pale, thin face, respectively.
He rubbed his puffy, tear-ravaged eyes with his jacket sleeve just as the bell rang.
"Beautiful . . .," he whispered, making his way out of the classroom. Slowly, the tears evaporated as he found his next destination: the bathroom.
Looking at himself in the mirror, his eyes lingered on his face. He had straight, dark-brown hair with short, straight bangs. His eyes were a vibrant green--sea-foam green, to be exact.
As he looked at himself, he noticed for the first time that he wasn't a bad-looking kid. He was tall and thin--but not too thin. He wore glasses, which gave him an astute look. Freckles splotched his cheeks, giving him a boyish charm.
Then, his eyes fell on the scars. The bruises. The healing black eye. He felt around his ribs, wincing from the pain. Then, he felt his chest. Riley's smile grew as he exited the bathroom.
Walking down the hallway leading to the cafeteria, his mind raced. Robert. Mary. Coraline. Michael.
Punches. Kicks. Leers. Rejection. Jabs. Insults. Pain . . . Pain. Tears. Laughter.
Them . . .
Pushing open the cafeteria doors, the smell of mediocre food inundated Riley's nose. The sound of asinine conversation flooded his ears.
They filled his field of vision.
The sound of the doors locking behind him made Riley grin more. Once the lunch staff felt that kids had had enough time to enter the cafeteria, they would lock the doors from the inside.
This kept students from causing any trouble in the school while no adults were around. The school's security protocol had always been rather... lacking.
"Pathetic," Riley muttered under his breath.
Riley began walking over to the group, each of his movements seemingly in slow-motion. Waltzing. Swaggering. Sashaying. Thoughts continued to bang around his head.
Scars. Bruises. Pain. Laughter. Rejection. Taunts. Punches. Shoves. Kicks. Tears.
Inching closer to them, they didn’t even notice him.
Thoughts began to melt into one another, becoming singular, compound thoughts. Robert . . . Kicks. Mary . . . Taunts. Rejection. Coraline . . . Leers. Rejection. Michael . . .
Punches and shoves. Pain . . . Hatred.
Riley's hand raised, grazing his chest, near the inner pocket.
Closer. He was getting closer.
Pain. Tears. Help me. Cries.
Them . . . Them . . . Them . . .
His conscience began speaking to him.
"Them . . . They're the ones. They did this to me. They made me suffer. This pain . . . I'd never felt this kind of pain before I met them. Why? Why me?"
The torture was endless. The abuse was never-ending.
Them them them.
Trent . . .
Riley's smile grew. His finger began to slide down the zipper of his jacket. It kept getting stuck.
Robert. Kicks. Mary. Taunts. Rejection.
The zipper got stuck.
Riley grasped his chest.
Michael. Punches. Shoves. Coraline. Leers. Rejection.
Sweat glided down Riley's body, getting trapped within the fabric of his underwear.
Trent . . . Hatred.
Hate! Hate! Hate!
Finally, Riley was there, standing right behind Trent.
Michael, finally noticing Riley, sneered, opening his mouth to make an insult. He stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes widening.
Riley—his jacket fully unzipped—reached into his jacket, clutching a lump in the inner pocket.
It was cold.
Riley tapped on Trent's shoulder—tap tap tap—then removed his hand from his jacket, extending his arm toward Trent.
Confused, Trent pivoted his body, coming face-to-face with a cold piece of metal, his eyes level with the hole in the middle.
Looking up at Riley, Trent witnessed something much more horrifying: Riley's smile widened, his face contorting into a Cheshire grin. His eyes were wide . . . Crazed.
Mary and Coraline screamed. The sound caused Riley to harden noticeably. He didn't mind at all.
A low, purring chuckle escaped his throat.
Trent opened his mouth to say something, but words failed him.
The look of horror on the group members' faces admittedly exhilarated Riley.
However, Trent's petrified expression is what hurtled Riley over the edge, sending a shiver of gratification down his spine that then proliferated across his entire body.
A wet stain appeared on the front of his pants as he visibly quivered, a clear sign of his delight. His eyes rolled backward, breathing out a small moan before regaining his composure.
"Beautiful," he whispered. His finger squeezed the trigger five times, one bullet for each of the Meadow High Five.
Today is going to be a good day . . . Yes. A good day, indeed.