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The Ghost and the Boys

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Clint is high in the old oak tree at the very edge of the playground chatting with Bobbi. He likes Bobbi because she’s really nice and doesn’t call him a freak like everyone else. She always looks sad and lonely around her tree, and Clint likes high places where no one can get him, so he hangs out with her a lot.

 

“Can you really see ghosts?”

 

Clint flinches and almost falls off his perch. He glares down at the base of the tree at Phillip “Teacher’s Pet” Coulson. Phil stares back up at him with serious hazel eyes in his stupid Captain America t-shirt and perfectly clean khaki pants with all of his hair neat and his shoes free of dirt and scuffs. Clint hates most of the kids in his class because they’re mean and call him names. He hates Phillip Coulson because he’s a tattletale and a goody-two-shoes and a know-it-all. The teachers all love him because he gets good grades and never causes trouble. The other kids ignore him because he’s so boring and stuffy, like an old man.

 

“Buzz off, tattletale,” Clint calls down with a sneer. Bobbi gives him a reproachful look and shakes her head.

 

“You don’t have to be mean about it,” she chides him.

 

“But he is a tattletale!” he retorts.

 

“Not his fault they thought it was you that told on them.”

 

“So? It’s none of his business anyway,” Clint bristles.

 

“Is there someone up there with you?” Phil asks, peering up at the branches with squinted eyes, as if staring hard enough will make the other person appear.

 

“None of your business!”

 

“Is her name Barbara?”

 

Clint and Bobbi both freeze, exchanging looks. “How does he know that?” Bobbi demands. She hops of her perch and drifts down to stare at Phil, hands propped on her hips as she studies him. Clint sees the shiver run up Phil’s spine and he looks around him with a nervous frown.

 

“How do you know about Bobbi?” Clint snaps. He starts climbing down, movements sharp and angry and he practically drops the last few feet to the ground to glare directly into Phil’s eyes.

 

“There’s old newspapers in the local history section at the library,” Phil answers, unperturbed by the twin glares being aimed at him, only one of which he can see. “One of them from 1987 has a story about a girl named Barbara Morse who fell out of the tree during recess and died. That’s why kids aren’t supposed to climb it anymore.” He gives Clint a pointed look. “You’re always up there talking with someone, I thought it might be her.”

 

“She prefers to be called Bobbi,” Clint states. “Now go away.” Clint clambered back up the branches to his perch. Stupid Phil Coulson and his stupid library. Why did he even care? Not like it was any of his business, anyway.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Clint stares down at the other boy with a puzzled frown. Bobbi settles on the branch next to him and looks between them, eyes bright with curiosity.

 

“What for?” Clint demands, suspicious.

 

“I didn’t know they’d get mad at you,” Phil says. He stares up at Clint with an earnest expression on his face. “Victor and the others.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Clint scowls at the ant crawling up the bark next to his leg. “Not like it was any of your business anyway.”

 

Phil frowns. “Bullies are everyone’s business.”

 

“Just leave me alone, tattletale,” Clint sneers. Bobbi glares at him but he ignores her.

 

Phil stares up at him with sharp eyes before he shrugs and looks to the empty spot at Clint’s side. “It was nice to meet you Bobbi,” he says.

 

Clint flinches and Bobbi grins. “You too, Phil!” she replies, poking Clint in the side. He glares at her before relaying the message. Phil smiles, bright and warm, and it makes Clint’s stomach twist in a way he can’t describe. He’s not as relieved as he thought he would be when Phil walks back to the playground.

 

“No wonder you don’t have any living friends,” Bobbi chides. “He was just trying to be nice!”

 

“Shut up, Bobbi.”