Sean knew that Andy Page never walked away from a fight. Heck, he usually was the one to start them. And he was pretty sure Andy wasn’t going to walk away today. Or was he?
Andy jerked back around. “I said, ‘Give it here’, you little baby!”
He stared at Andy’s zit marked face and without thinking muttered, “N-n-o!”
Sean knew he was taking a big risk. Andy wasn’t the kind of guy that you said “No” to. Not only did he scare the pants off most kids in school, Andy was considered the one most likely to succeed as a future World Wrestling star. Besides, he seemed to possess a personal agenda for singling out Sean. But this time, Sean had gone too far.
“What did you say, punk?” Sean watched Andy’s big head swing back and forth like a pendulum. “Were you talking to me?”
Sweat beaded up on Sean’s nose the way it always did when he felt trapped. His knees began to shake just slightly at first, but then, more rapidly as momentum took hold. Still, he managed to plant his feet firmly on the ground as he tried to ignore the thunder of his pounding heart.
Andy relaxed his scowl and, for a split second Sean thought, maybe he might let me go this time.
Not likely, though. This was Springdale’s primary lunchtime entertainment. And Sean had never stood up to Andy before. Out of the sweat-laden corner of his eye, he watched other kids gather around. They want to watch Andy thrashing me big time. He heard one of them whisper, “What could be so important that Sean would suddenly risk his life?”
As the crowd grew, Sean saw Andy regain his drive. The buzzing excitement of the mob seemed to pump him up. Andy cocked his arm back and threatened, “You better hand it over or else.”
Sean took a deep breath, tightened his thumbs around his fingers, and glared up defiantly at Andy’s towering frame. Nobody made a sound. And nobody moved.
“I-I-I will not”, Sean stammered.
Sean didn’t even flinch when Andy breathed right down into his face. In fact, he couldn’t move if he tried. His legs became roots in a winter’s frozen ground.
“You better wipe that smirk off your face. You want to go a round, boy? Huh?”
Sean felt something snap inside and he couldn’t keep his temper bottled up anymore. “Get out of my face or I-I-I’ll…”
Andy lunged forward and grabbed Sean by the shoulder. As he jerked away, Sean heard the seam of his jacket rip. Andy snatched his arm, twisted it behind his back and pried open his clenched fingers. As Sean’s fingers loosened, the badge hit the floor with a clank, clank, clank, and rolled to a stop at Andy’s feet. Andy grunted as he lowered himself to get a closer look.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me.”
He started to pick up the badge, but jerked back up and around so fast he knocked Sean against the wall. Then he kicked it away instead.
“That’s your big secret? What a joke!” Andy pushed his smelly body right up next to Sean’s chest and smacked him on the side of the face. Sean felt the slap reverberate all the way from one side of his head to the other.
As the sound stopped echoing, Sean was able to notice some of the kids’ gasps and “W-o-o-o’s”.
“C’mon, Sean. Don’t let him get away with that!” one of them shouted!
“Yeah. Smack him back!” yelled someone else.
Sean suddenly felt nauseous and his face stung from the blow.
“Aw, keep your stupid little badge, freak show,” Andy cackled. “Play cops and robbers with it.”
As he motioned to his gang to follow him down the hall, Andy shouted back over his shoulder, “It don’t mean nothing anymore, seeing’s how your old man’s dead.” The venom of Andy’s words burned in his veins more than any slap ever could.
“Sean! What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to hit him back?” somebody snickered. “Man! I thought he might just fight back this time,” another boy quipped.
Sean tried to conceal his face so no one could see his tears. It was bad enough that Andy picked on him almost every day. He wasn’t about to let anybody see him cry.
As Andy and his crew grazed past, one of them taunted, “My pop said your dad was nothing but a dirty cop anyhow.”
Sean waited for the hall to clear before he retrieved his father’s badge. His chest was heaving and he was seething as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and surveyed the damage to his jacket. How was he going to explain his ripped jacket? He knew his mother would yell at him for fighting. And how was he going to manage to sneak his dad’s badge back into the dresser drawer?
Mom’s going to kill me!
The throbbing of his head thumped in tempo with his racing pulse. Sean knew his dad wasn’t dirty. He was set up. He had to have been. Somebody set him up and then killed him. I’ve gotta find a way to clear his name. I’ll show them. I’ll prove them all wrong!
Straightening his glasses and tucking in his shirt, he grabbed his backpack and started to class. He felt faint, but steadying himself against the window, he realized that he had
finally done it! After all this time, he had dared to stand up to Andy. Sure, he got whipped. But he had done it!
Sean slunk through the partially opened door of Mrs. Sullivan’s fifth grade room. Cheeks flushed, he was thankful that Andy and his mob were in Mr. Jeter’s class. Sean knew that everyone would be at their desks, writing in their journals like every other day after lunch.
Praying that he hadn’t been missed, he tiptoed toward his usual spot in the back of the 3rd row. But there was somebody new sitting there, right in his chair.
“Hey,” he whispered, “You’re in my place.”
The stranger didn’t even look up at him. Without a word, she picked up her books and moved to the empty desk next to his.
Sean hooked his backpack over the back of his chair and laid the badge on the top of his desk as he sat down. He looked over at the girl, in case he needed to emphasize the importance of staying out of his chair. But she was just sitting there, with her chin resting on her crossed hands, looking straight ahead. As if she could feel him staring at her, she turned toward him, her head still resting on her arms, and stared back. The girl had the biggest blue eyes Sean had ever seen. Man is she cute! Sean felt the heat rise in his face like a cartoon thermometer stuck in boiling liquid. Feeling himself turning red, he started rummaging around in his desk.
“You’re late again, Sean.” Mrs. Sullivan didn’t stop writing the homework assignment on the board. She didn’t even turn around to see if it was really him. “What’s your excuse this time?”
Even though Sean had his head in his desk trying to find his journal, he could feel all eyes on him. Everyone except that new girl. She just sat there. Quiet. There was something really strange about her. What’s her deal? Where had she come from, anyway?
A high-pitched, whiny voice brought Sean back to reality.
“He was dodging the inevitable but usual persecution from Mr. Page.” Brice, the next to smartest boy in the fifth grade, always blurted out answers before anybody else could even open their mouths. And he always used everybody’s last name. It was pretty annoying.
“S-e-a-n, I’m waiting for an answer.”
Sean realized they all knew that he wouldn’t have anything to say. There was no excuse, really. Although he was the smartest in the fifth grade, he was the smallest. Barely four
feet tall and only seventy-three pounds. Getting pushed around by bigger guys seemed to be, as Brice put it, “inevitable”.
All of a sudden, the class was abuzz. Everybody was talking about the fight as if Sean was the victor instead of the victim.
“You shoulda’ seen Sean, Mrs. Sullivan!”
“Andy didn’t know what to do at first.”
“Sean thought he could take him.”
Finally, Mrs. Sullivan stopped writing, let out an exasperated grunt, and said, “What’s this all about, Sean?”
Sean took in a deep breath and started to answer. But all of the words seemed to jumble together and rush out quickly.
“I-I-got-he…” Sean started to cough and sputter because his throat was so parched. When he reached up to massage his throat, he knocked the badge off his desk onto the floor.
Brice sprung to his feet and snatched the badge up like a pelican scooping a fish from under water.
“This is what they were fighting over, Mrs. Sullivan.” Brice held the shiny metal object proudly in his outstretched
hand as he scampered up the aisle toward Mrs. Sullivan. “Mr. Page wanted Mr. Gray’s father’s FBI badge.”
In his enthusiasm, Brice tripped over his own feet and tumbled to the floor. The class began to howl.
“Hush, class.” Mrs. Sullivan took one look at Brice, still holding the badge up in the air from the floor and stepped over him on the way back to Sean’s desk. She gasped when she saw his swelling cheek. All at once, bright red blood began to drip from his nose.
“Sean! You’re bleeding.”
Sean looked down at the drops of blood on his journal. He fainted, as usual.
Nurse Zimmerman was a shimmering ghost hovering over him with an icepack, as Sean slowly focused one eye and then the other.
“Do you want me to call your mother to come get you, Sean?”
“No way!” He leapt up from the bed so fast he fell back down. “I mean, no, ma’am.” He sat back up slowly, “She’s at work, and my grandma would just get upset if the phone rang.”
“Alright, but Mr. Petry wants to talk with you before you go home.”
Sitting outside the principal’s office was not the greatest way to end what would otherwise have been a perfectly horrible day. Mr. Petry was one of those principals who didn’t tolerate fighting in his school. Period. Even if you were just standing up for yourself.
Sean knew he was going to have to explain what happened. What could he say that wouldn’t make matters worse? Nobody wanted to snitch on Andy and his gang. Least of all, not him.
Mrs. Washington, the school secretary, always looked up at everybody over the top of her little reading glasses. Sean wondered if she really needed those things or just wore them to intimidate people. Thankfully, she was distracted when her phone rang.
“Yes, Mr. Petry?”
He must be ready for me. Sean started to get up. The blood was now rushing to the top of his head instead of from his nose.
“I’ll call for him.”
Call for him. I’m right here. Sean wanted to get this over with and go to the computer lab.
“Sit back down, Sean.” She turned around to the teacher callboard and started pressing the button right next to 5-B. “He’s not ready for you yet.”
Oh, no, she’s going to get Andy down here. That’s going to make things worse. Why does Mr. Petry need him? Why do grown-ups always think they know the best way to handle stuff? The twist in his stomach sprang like the coils on a trampoline.
“Mr. Jeter, please send Andy Page to the office.”
Sean ran for the bathroom.