Enormous Nine-Toes Billy

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“Well, well. If it isn’t Enormous Nine-Toes Billy!” Nathan Naylor shouted, plopping down next to me on the school bus. “Did you guys know that Billy here only has four tootsies on his left foot? I kid you not.” He did a cross-your-heart gesture. “His big toe is missing! I saw it for myself. And it was soooo gross…” He scrunched up his face.

I moaned. My terrible secret was out.

Nathan hates me. The trouble started last year in gym class when I dribbled the basketball away from him. That’s when he started calling me Enormous Billy. “Watch out!” he’d warn everyone. “Here comes Enormous Billy. Run for your lives!”

The thing is, even though I’m the tallest kid in the fifth grade, I don’t mess with anyone. Sometimes I think I must have been brain-damaged when I dribbled that ball away from Nathan Naylor—the master of nasty.

But that was before I lost my toe, before Nathan added the nine-toes part. I don’t play basketball anymore. It’s hard to do sports when you’re short a big toe. Sometimes keeping my balance is a problem. I figure if I don’t try, I won’t fall on my face and embarrass myself.

When the bus stopped, I couldn’t get off fast enough. My good friend, Robby Fuller, was right behind me.

“I don’t get it,” Robby shook his head. “Why don’t you just knock Nathan on his stupid bully butt?”

I did a shoulder roll.

“Sheesh! I mean where did he come up with that nine-toes garbage, anyway?” Robby sputtered.

I stared at Robby. “It’s true.”

“What’s true?” Robby frowned, confused.

“I’m missing a toe.” I’m not sure why I blurted it out. Maybe I was way tired of my terrible secret—which, thanks to Nathan, wasn’t a secret anymore.

“Whoa!” Robby took a step back. “Well…okay. So you’re missing a toe,” he shrugged it off. “No biggie. But how did Nathan find out?”

I blew out a sigh. “Today in gym I twisted my ankle and went to the nurse. She’s examining my foot when guess who strolls in, looking for a Band-Aid for his lame paper cut?”

“Nathan,” Robby supplied.

“Exactly correct. The genius points at my foot and says, ‘Hey, your toe’s missing!’ Like it should be news to me.”

Robby wore a pensive look, stuffed his hands in his pockets. “How did it happen?” he hesitated. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Last summer I went camping with my dad. He warned me not to walk around barefoot. But did I listen?” I blew out a sigh. “Anyway, I cut my toe on a rusty can and got a serious infection.”

“Oh man,” Robby scrunched up his face. “Sounds nasty.”

“It was nasty, all right. I waited too long to tell my Dad, and the infection got so bad the doctor had to amputate—cut it off,” I explained. And now, thanks to Nathan’s big mouth, everybody knows I’m a nine-toes freak. He’s gonna dis me about it until the moon weeps,” my hand swept the sky.

“Well, I gotta tell ya Bill, Nathan’s version is way different. Today at lunch he told Daisy Pratt and her friends that you put peanut butter on your toe, and your dog bit it off.”

What? Jeez Louise! I don’t even have a dog!”

“I know. And you’re right about Nathan. He’s never gonna stop dissing you. You’ll be Enormous Nine-Toes Billy forever.”

“Hey Rob,” I growled, “tell me something I don’t know.”

Robby’s hand jutted up like a STOP sign. “Hang on, Bill. What I mean is you’ll be Enormous Nine-Toes Billy forever—unless you shut Nathan up.”

I glared at Rob. “Shut Nathan up. No problem. I’ll get right on that!” I gave myself a sarcastic head slap. “I know. I’ll borrow my make-believe dog’s muzzle and strap it on Nathan!”

Robby gave the sky an eye roll. “Hey, I’m serious. Nathan is just your basic bully. He needs attention to feel important. We can agree on that, right?”

I did a grudging nod.

“Bullies are like sharks, Bill. They go after the easy prey, victims that won’t or can’t fight back.”

I frowned at Rob. “And this has what to do with my foot problem?”

“The problem isn’t your toeless foot, Bill. The problem is the way you feel about it. That’s what gives Nathan his power. Think about it, Bill. Nathan is a shark and your secret makes you a scared little fish.” Robby blew out a sigh. “Hey, I know you didn’t want your personal business spread all over school, but it happened. I’m surprised Nathan didn’t break a leg racing out of the nurse’s office so he could be the first.”

“The first?” I frowned.

“The first to blab your secret. In his mind, being the first to tell everyone your secret makes him important. Don’t you get it, Bill? The bigger the secret, the more power Nathan has to destroy you. Ditch the secret, Bill.”

I nodded slowly. Robby was making sense. Nathan had everyone’s attention because he was the only one doing the talking. And if I kept acting like a freak, well, Nathan would keep treating me like one.

“Okay. I get that. But how do I shut him down?”

“You need a plan,” Robby declared.

“And you have a plan?”

I think I do,” Robby hesitated, “but ya gotta keep an open mind. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “Can’t hurt to listen.”

Robby nodded. “Kids love to be grossed out, right? So why not show off your toe-less foot. Describe all the gory details!”

I shot Robby my get-serious look.

“Think about it, Bill,” Robby pressed. “You do a little show and tell. They oooh and ahhh for a couple of minutes, then your foot is old news. Been there, done that. And the best part is you’ll totally discredit the master of nasty. You—Billy Witkowski—will expose Nathan for the liar he is! You’ll totally shut him down!

As we crossed the street, I thought it over. If I took my foot out of the closet, so to speak, I’d be the one in control.

But…could I actually take off my shoe…in front of everyone?

“I don’t know, Rob…”

“You can do it,” Robby encouraged.

“Okay. Agreed. But how? I mean what am I supposed to do? Whip out my foot in the middle of math?”

“Huumm…you have a point,” Robby considered. “Everyone will think you’re a few sandwiches shy of a picnic.”

As we walked, a light blinked on in my head. “Hey Rob, I have an idea!”

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”

“Tomorrow our speeches are due, right?” Our teacher had assigned a speech project last week. “What if I talk about the camping trip, and how I lost my toe?”

Robby tapped the side of his head. “That is totally brilliant! So what were you gonna talk about before?”

I grinned. “How to take care of a goldfish.”

Robby hooted. “They’d have snoozed through that one for sure. I’ll bet nobody nods off when you announce that you’re gonna talk about how you lost your big toe!”

*  *  *

I was more nervous than a rabbit staring down a hungry fox when Mrs. Vaccarello announced that it was time for speeches. When she called on me, I walked to the front of the room.

As I passed Nathan, he cupped his hand over his mouth. “Make way for Enormous Nine-Toes Billy!”

Mrs. Vaccarello cleared her throat—her first warning. Next time, she’d write Nathan’s name on the board. But the damage was done. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. My mind was a blank. My face got as red as a summer tomato.

“Way to go, Nine-Toes,” Nathan snorted.

When Mrs. Vaccarello jotted Nathan’s name on the board, I swallowed over the lump in my throat. I was totally blowing it!

“One more outburst, Mr. Naylor, and you’re out of here,” Mrs. Vaccarello warned. “So Billy,” she turned to me, “what will you speak about today?”

Robby coughed, got my attention. When I looked over, he gave me a thumbs-up. I focused on Robby and began. “Today… I’m going to… talk about…. how I… lost my… toe.”

“No way!” Nathan blurted.

Mrs. Vaccarello walked to the door and pointed, “Out Mr. Naylor. Go visit the principal.”

“Fine!” Nathan stammered.

As he stormed out, I did a mental grin. I mean, here he was pretending to know all the details about my missing toe, but he’d be the only kid who wouldn’t hear the facts. I was about to prove Nathan was just a stupid liar.

“It happened last summer when I went camping with my dad…”

My speech lasted five minutes. “…so if you go camping, remember to wear shoes!”

“Thank you, Billy. That was an excellent presentation. Are there any questions for Billy,” Mrs. Vaccarello asked. Hands shot up. I called on Robby. It was part of the plan. I already knew what his question would be.

“What does your foot look like?” he asked.

“Actually,” I reached down, “that’s the visual part of my presentation.”

Heads were bobbing every which way for the best view as I pulled off my sneaker and sock, then stuck out my foot. A chorus of ooohs and ahhhs filled the air, just as Robby had predicted.

“Awesome, Dude!” Jamal whispered minutes later as I walked back to my seat.

I smiled way big. For the first time in months, I wasn’t dragging that heavy secret around. It felt way good.

Jamal went next. “Today I’m going to talk about my pet snake.” As he opened the crate, everybody began ooohing and ahhhing over the snake. My foot was already yesterday’s news.

When the bell rang, I climbed on the bus. Robby sat beside me. Nathan climbed on and plopped down across from us.

“Well, if it isn’t Enormous Nine-Toes Billy!” he whooped, slapping his thigh.

“Oh get over it already, Nathan,” Daisy Pratt said as she sat down. “You’re such a stupid bully—and a liar, too. You need to get a life!”

Nathan glanced around the bus, but no one was paying him any attention. That’s when I knew that Enormous Nine-Toes Billy was history.

“So…what are you doing after school today?” Robby asked.

I shrugged. “I think I’ll play a little basketball. Wanna come over?”

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