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May 11, 2029, 6:16 p.m.
18 Years, 243 Days Ago
The principle called names as Paul waited to hear his. Even if Paul weren’t close to the top of his class, he’d still hear his name quickly since his last name began with the letter a.
Sure enough the principle called out, “Paul Autumn,” which allowed Paul to stand and walk down the grass isle between folding chairs and up to the stage that had been set up on his high school’s football field.
The crowd clapped politely. Of course, a few people shouted.
“All right, Paul!” That would be Jordan.
“I’m so proud of you!” And there was his mother.
Paul fought down a smile as he climbed up the wooden steps and started shaking hands. All the big wigs of the staff were up there. Paul eventually made his way to the principal, who handed him his diploma. That was more a formality these days. In reality, his credits and qualifications were already digitally sent to Carnegie in Pittsburgh.
Paul wasn’t sure why they were still interested in him. He hadn’t worked on the project in more than a year. Every time he thought about it, he thought about Bill. He could study without the sadness hurting him so much. He’d even had a few ideas bounce around in his mind, but if he came anywhere near those white boards, all he could think about was the life he was supposed to have and was denied.
Paul plastered a fake smile on his face and turned to the person with a ComPad. The man snapped a photo, and Paul immediately felt his PID, personal information device, vibrate. These days, everyone had one. These functioned as watches, phones, and Blue Tooth connections to other devices with more space.
Paul made his way back down the stairs and to his original seat to watch the rest of the graduation. He looked down at the red certificate folder. On a whim, he opened it. He expected to see the fancy lettering giving his school name and his own name. The folded piece of paper that rested on top of the protective plastic sheet was what caught his eye.
A flame of anger seemed to blossom from Paul’s gut. Of course. It would be too much to hope that Nobody was gone for good. Paul waited for more than a year to face the man, but of course he was too much of a coward. So here was another note.
Paul opened it if for no other reason than to consider ways to refute Nobody’s claims. “Pain eventually fades, unless one refuses to go through it. Don’t worry, you will see me tonight.”
Paul felt a different sort of smile form on his face. Finally! He was going to be able to look Nobody straight in that mask and tell him everything he wanted. Paul turned around and eventually found his mother sitting in the bleachers. She wore a simple blue pull-over dress. She’d stopped crying after a year, but she was still alone. She seemed OK, but she shouldn’t be OK, she should be deviously happy, and Bill should be next to her.
She noticed Paul looking and gave a cheesy grin and thumbs up. Paul shook his head. Over the past year, he’d been concerned that she’d start hounding him about religion. True, she was different, and some of the rules of the house changed, but the changes in her life were so like what Bill would do that Paul couldn’t bring himself to resent her for it.
So why am I the one who’s acting like he forgot Bill?
Maybe his mom felt better remembering and doing things that he would do. Paul just felt pain and anger.