I press the numbers on the tiny keypad: 1-0-2-3. My mother’s birthday—October 23rd. Dad uses it as a combination for everything. It makes it easy to get into the things I shouldn’t be getting into. The lockbox chirps and the latch releases; I lift the lid and examine my prize. I’ve seen it before, of course. Dad couldn’t help but show it off to me when he got it. And then he told me never to go near it.

If he were serious about gun safety, he’d have a better combination.

It’s sleek and black. It has a textured handle and a glossy finish on the barrel. I pick it up and it’s lighter than I expected; it looks like the whole thing is actually made of plastic. Maybe it is. It has the word Austria stamped on the side in plain block letters. It’s actually a very pretty thing, a slick and efficient tool, and I can’t wait to use it to blow my brains out all over the porcelain tiles of the school swimming pool.

I load it into my purse (slowly) making sure it’s pointed down at the floor. It doesn’t have an external safety (so says Dad) so I’m nervous about it accidentally going off. Dad says it won’t, because of some kind of trigger lock or something, but I’m not convinced. The last thing I want is for the gun to go off prematurely and ruin my plans. I gingerly put the purse strap over my shoulder as I stand, letting the bag slip down to waist level. I feel like I’m carrying a stick of dynamite that could go off at any time; it’s scary and exhilarating.

I start to walk out of the room, then look back at the open gun safe. If I leave it out like this, my father will know his gun is gone as soon as he comes home. I decide to leave it anyway. It’ll all be over by 2:15pm, and Dad never gets home before 7. Besides, I kind of want him to know.

The bus is early, but so am I. Today is too important to risk missing my ride to school. The animals are running wild in the aisles; the driver takes no notice. For once, I’m not afraid of them (the animals). The gun in my purse gives me power over them. I dare you, no I double dare you to make fun of me today.

Someone says something rude about my outfit. Damn it. They called my bluff. The illusion of power evaporates. I’m not going to shoot anyone but myself.

I slink to a seat at the back, self-conscious now about my old jeans and faded black t-shirt. It’s the same thing I always wear; I guess I could have spruced up a little for my last day on Earth. Oh well. If my boring clothing choices ever mattered (and I doubt they did), they certainly don’t matter now.

The animals leave me alone for the rest of the trip. They’re all too concerned with themselves to devote any serious time to bullying me. I’m just that burnout girl who used to be pretty cool, then became a loser overnight. Hardly worth the trouble to make fun of.

I imagine how they’ll feel when they find out what I’ve done. Will they feel bad for ostracizing me? Will they feel guilty about how they dropped me the second I wasn’t as much fun to be around? Or will they lie and tell the local newspaper how they were my best friends, how they are ‘absolutely crushed’ by what I did? I guess I don’t care. They don’t have to feel bad. They don’t have to understand. They never have to know that I did it for them.

The bus pulls up in front of the school, the brakes squealing and protesting. Everyone screams and puts their hands over their ears to drown out the horrible screeching as the bus finally grinds to a halt, as though they the same thing hasn’t happened every morning for the past three months.

The doors open with a hiss; the animals flee. I’m left alone in the back with a gun in my purse. I realize I forgot my schoolbag at home.

I see him as soon as I walk into the school. He is at his locker, his arm around some girl. She looks like she could be a cheerleader, and she probably is. He laughs. She laughs. His arm creeps down the small of her back. She is why I’m doing this. I don’t know her, I don’t owe her anything, but I’m going to save her, and all the others like her.

I could do it right now. I wonder if people will figure out, it’s not for myself that I’m doing this. It’s for them. For the cheerleaders. For the animals. For the 15-year-old girls who are at a party they shouldn’t be at, drinking things they shouldn’t be drinking. I’m doing it for the future victims that will never become victims because of what I show him today.

But not now. I have a plan. I have a timetable. I have a design. I’m not strong enough to deviate; I need to be ready. I’ll do it at 2:00, during swim class, like I planned from the beginning. I have all day to come to terms with what I’m going to do.

I walk past him and he doesn’t even notice me. Why would he?

I gather my things from my locker. I have a binder and some pens stored in there. All my textbooks are at home, but really, what’s the worst they can do to me? The magnetic mirror on the inside of the door reflects my image back to me, and it is pathetic. I can’t even stand to look at this girl. I can barely remember the person that I used to be. I’ve lost everything because I’ve lost myself, and now I’ve accepted that I’m never going to find myself again. But I won’t let this happen to anyone else. When I show him what he did to me, when I show him the pain he caused, it will change him. My final act will be to teach him a lesson that I couldn’t teach him any other way. I have no doubt that it will work, that my lesson will be taken to heart. After all, how much more persuasive could I be than this?

I take my seat in Mrs. Schumer’s history class. The animals straggle in, mostly after the bell rings. Mrs. Schumer isn’t particular about punctuality, and the animals take full advantage of her liberality. She writes down some dates on the board and I pretend to copy the notes. I questioned the usefulness of this class even before I only had five hours left to live, so I definitely fail to see its value now. Mrs. Schumer drones on about ancient Mesopotamia while I doodle in my binder. I scratch deep into the loose-leaf with my red pen, etching into the page like I’m creating a stone carving.

I draw a heart with wings and an arrow through it and it doesn’t mean what people will say it means. I scratch it out.

I lay my head down on my desk and I close my eyes. Mrs. Schumer’s voice is a monotone lullaby. Minutes pass before a crumpled up piece of paper bounces off my head and drops to the floor beside my desk. I look around; several students are laughing and I briefly imagine their surprise if I retaliated with a real bullet. Joke’s on you. Ha ha.

I’m sure there’s something written on the paper, some cruel, brilliant missive that would punish me for my plain appearance and my miserable demeanor. I choose to let the paper sit unread, its message lost forever to the annals of the janitor’s broom. I guess we’ll never know what vindictive eloquence lay within. I assume it was Meaghan Lindor that sent the ball of paper my way. She’s usually the perpetrator when I’m the victim. She’s laughing with the rest of the animals, but she looks kind of disappointed that I didn’t read it.

I shape my fingers into the form of a gun. I close one eye and I aim the gun at Meaghan’s head and I pull the imaginary trigger (bang). She keeps laughing, but now she looks uneasy. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat and turns her attention back to Mrs. Schumer. Maybe I have a little power after all.

Second period: Mr. Crosby’s Advanced Math. Mr. C has been attempting to convince us all year that algebra and trigonometry have real-life applications. He says once we’re out there in the adult world we’ll understand. I’ve never believed him, but I suppose I’ll never know for sure now. If adult life is something that entails using trig on a regular basis, I’m not sure I’d be that interested in experiencing it anyway. Mr. C is teaching his heart out at the front of the room, but his words can’t reach me. I’m in another place entirely.

I doodle a picture of me with a gun pointed at my head. I draw an explosion of blood and brains coming out the other side. It’s a bit morbid (it’s a red pen after all) but I feel it’s a fairly accurate depiction of what’s coming my way. Gerard Williamson, the kid sitting next to me, looks over at my drawing and makes a face, like I’m such a freak he can literally smell the freak on me and he’s making the face because the freak smell is so strong and also nasty. Gerard is overweight, pimply, unpopular. But he still has someone to look down on.

Mr. C tells Gerard to keep his eyes on his own work, which is funny because neither Gerard nor I have been doing any work since class started. Gerard looks annoyed at having been called out, and for a second I think he’s going to bust me, tell Mr. Crosby that I’m drawing disturbing pictures in my binder. Then I’d get hauled down to the principal’s office, maybe a stop at the guidance counselor. They might even take a look in my bag, if they’re feeling paranoid enough, (although I guess it wouldn’t really be paranoia, would it?) and that would derail everything. I look at Gerard, straight in the eyes. Misfit to Misfit. I beg him (telepathically) not to say anything.

After six long seconds, Gerard shrugs and goes back to his own doodling. He’s drawing dragons and orcs. God bless you Gerard Williamson. God bless your dragons and your orcs.

I should have packed a lunch; I’m going to die hungry.

I think about my parents and I feel bad for them. I know this will be hard. But it’s for them, too, that I’m doing it. They need to learn. Maybe after I’ve been gone for a while, they’ll decide they want another little girl; they’re still pretty young. Maybe they’ll listen to their new daughter when she asks for help. Maybe they’ll be there for her when she needs them. Maybe they won’t blame her for things she could never have anticipated would happen. This is for my parents. And for my unborn, yet-to-be-conceived sister. And the cheerleader. And all the animals. And him. It’s for him too. It is his redemption.

I look around for him in the cafeteria, but I don’t see him. He’s probably off somewhere with the cheerleader. I hope I’m not too late for her.

I adjoin myself to the end of the queue at the front of the room. I have a few dollars I can buy something with. Not much point in saving it for anything else, I guess. The line zigzags back and forth through a path demarked by stanchions with their retractable seatbelt straps; it is a gauntlet. From their seats, dozens of hungry bullies threaten and coerce the lineup as it passes by them. Some offer the stick of intimidation; others offer the carrot of potential gratitude. Both incentives are powerless against me. What use is a bully’s gratitude, or what detriment their ire, when I’ll be dead in less than two hours?

I buy a cinnamon roll and a coffee (black), then take a seat at the back of the room (alone). It’s not a healthy lunch, but I’m not really concerned about putting on weight. I’m sure they’ll put me in a black dress for the funeral. Black is very slimming (so says Mom).

I’m thankful no one bothers me while I eat. I need a little serenity for some quiet reflection; I’m going to have a big afternoon.

It’s the best cinnamon roll I’ve ever had.

Career/Life Management class. Referred to mainly as CLM (pronounced clam). Literally my last class ever (I don’t count swim class, as I’ll only be there for a minute). Basically, CLM is resume-writing class. Honestly, I think this is a great class. It teaches a legitimate real-world skill that every student needs to know. Well, almost every student. We have computers in the class, though, so mostly everyone just looks at porn and then clicks over to their resume when Miss Carter walks by.

I’ll admit, I’ve been known to stray from the prescribed research pages from time to time (though not to look at porn). Today I’m researching death. Specifically, my death. What a gunshot does to a person’s head, what happens to a person’s body when they die, etc. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. In the movies, when someone shoots themselves, the camera always cuts away at the last second; you just hear a gunshot and see a spray of blood on the wall. In 43 minutes, there will be no cutaway. He will have to see the whole thing. He will watch me die and he will know that his actions have consequences. He will smell the blood and the piss and the shit and he will understand. He will watch my eyes roll into the back of my head and he will be sorry.

Miss Carter walks by, so I click back to my resume. It is mostly completed; I’ve been working hard on it all semester. I really thought I’d need it one day, but it’s ok that I won’t. This is more important. This could save lives. This will save lives. It’s not for me.

It’s for them.

The locker room is the cruelest place in this entire school. Forcing us to strip down in front of our peers is like giving the bullies a license to torture. I have the spare swimsuit I got out of my locker (my last ever trip to that locker) and I change into it, facing the wall. I don’t know why I feel the need to wear my swimsuit; it’s a safe bet I won’t be doing any swimming this class. It feels right, somehow, to do it in my suit, though. I fold my clothes neatly and place them on the bench by the wall I’ll never wear them again.

My heart is beating so hard it hurts. When I first decided on this course of action several days ago, I was overtaken by a sort of serene tranquility. I surprised myself with how easily I was able to accept my own death, but now that it’s time, the calmness has evaporated. My mind is overrun with terrified thoughts of what will happen. I’ve never believed in God (any god) but now that I’m about to die, I’m scared that I’ve been wrong this whole time. Maybe God is real and if so then I guess I’m going to Hell. I don’t really believe that, but the thought is still there, deep in my subconscious, quietly urging me to reconsider.

I don’t falter though, not really. I know that this is best for everybody. I can do some real good by killing myself this way. And my life? Well, it’s no big loss. I wasn’t doing much with it anyway. I have to face facts: I was miserable yesterday, I’m miserable today, and I’m going to be miserable tomorrow (or at least I would be). I get to end my misery and, at the same time, prevent someone else from ever falling down this rabbit hole themselves. In fact, I’d be stupid not to kill myself.

I walk out of the locker room; Meaghan yells something at me about why I’m taking my purse out to the pool with me. She laughs and says I must be on my period. I laugh back. I’m never going to have my period again.

The door swings shut behind me and I see him standing there, chatting with his friends. This is the only class we have together, he and I; I guess we had a shared interest in swimming. He never mentioned it at the party when we talked. I guess he didn’t have to.

Once upon a time, swim class was the highlight of my day on any day I had it. I loved swimming, I loved the water, but ever since then, I’ve dreaded every second I would have to spend in this pool. I started to associate the water with him, with what happened, because every time I stepped into the pool, there he was. I even stopped showering three days ago, partially because I couldn’t stand the way being wet made me feel. Also partially because what would have been the point?

I pull the weapon from my purse as I approach him, letting the bag drop to the floor. He’s standing by the edge of the pool, preparing to jump in with his friends. I say his name. I say it loud enough to get his attention. I’m only a few feet away when he turns to look at me.

I put the gun to my head. I know he’ll understand. He’s going to see it in my eyes, all the pain he caused. He will understand that he killed me, and he’ll never hurt anyone like this ever again. I’m sure of it.

I start to pull the trigger. And then I see the look in his eyes.

Utter confusion.

He doesn’t get it. He’ll never get it. I gave him too much credit. He has no idea why I’m doing this. He probably doesn’t even remember who I am. If he does, he probably thinks he never did anything wrong.

How could I have been so stupid? He’s never going to learn. He’s happy the way he is. He’ll probably be laughing about my suicide with his friends by the end of the week. The crazy bitch who killed herself ‘cause she was totally obsessed with him ‘cause of that one time when…

No. I won’t let that happen. I won’t let him hurt anyone else. I won’t let him hurt me anymore.

I pull the trigger. I have to pull hard. It’s kind of like there’s two triggers and you have to pull one and then the other (you were right, Dad). The weapon kicks hard when it fires, trying to leap from my hand, but I manage to keep a grip on it. Smoke rises from the end of the barrel, just like in the movies.

He staggers back. He puts his hands over the hole in his chest. His eyes still say “why?” I guess he’ll never know. He falls backward into the pool. I watch the crimson ink-cloud gush from the hole in his heart, thickening the water around him like cornstarch in a pan of gravy. Slowly, he starts to sink, just underneath the surface of the water.

 Students and teachers swarm me. They wrestle the gun from my hand. I don’t put up a fight. They can have the gun. I don’t need it anymore. I don’t need to kill myself; I’ve stopped him. There will be no future victims thanks to me. I get pulled to the floor and someone punches me in the face. I feel blood flowing down my face. I should have planned it this way from the start. This was always the best possible outcome, I just couldn’t see it. The animals are dragging me away. I go limp and let them take me.

You’re welcome.

Eyes Like Marigolds