The blood and tears ran together and met beneath the boy’s nose and hung there, above his lip, before finally splashing below to join the growing pool. He knelt before the other boy, two years older, twenty pounds heavier, and not even breathing hard, and watched as the crowd around them shrank from a hundred people, to fifty, to twenty, to just the ten that had been here all along. He struggled to get up but felt another blow connect with his jaw and suddenly he was down on all fours and vomiting blood into the grass. Several of the girls in the crowd moved back a step and made a sound of disgust, while the boys moved closer. One of his teeth felt loose and his nose hurt like hell. He wondered if it was broken.
The boy leaned down and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him close enough to whisper – “Was that enough? Did he want more?”
The boy thought for a moment, remembering how this was supposed to go, and shook his head. The bigger boy gave a single nod and pushed him down. The boy fell flat on his back and closed his eyes. Maybe it gave it all away, maybe it didn’t, but he knew this was going to hurt and wasn’t looking forward to it. A moment later he felt swift kick of the other boy land solidly on his thigh and felt the pain twist up and down his legs.
His back arched automatically from the pain and more tears ran down his face.
He was crying.
This was good.
He tried to roll over, to crawl away but couldn’t. His legs wouldn’t work.
Some in the crowd were laughing, some were protesting, and the others, the loudest, hooted and screamed for more, more, more.
How many times had he heard that same, familiar cry, under different circumstances?
He looked up and saw that the bigger boy was in someone’s face and suddenly the other boy backed off and the crowd started to disperse. A couple held back a moment, wanting to see what would happen next but it was over, the fight was done.
He let out a sigh and tried moving his legs again. They worked, but just barely. That’d be a deep, nasty bruise that was for sure.
The bigger boy leaned down again –
“And don’t try that shit again, you fuckin’ noob.” Saying it loud so the other kids heard him, then saying more quietly –
“Dude, I am so sorry, but you, you said this is what you wanted. You said this was what you…”
“This is exactly what I wanted. Thank you. The money is in your locker already. In a blue envelope. It’ll look like a love letter. My treat.”
“I’ll call an ambulance as soon as I am outta here, ok?”
“Naw, just call my brother, ok? Tell him you saw me getting beaten up. If he asks who you are, hang up. Got it?”
“Yeah. Dude, I am…”
“No, no, no. This is fine. This is good. I just need a minute. It ain’t even that bad.” He gave a weak smile to the other boy.
The other boy stood and started to move away but took a step back –
“Was, was I ok? Was it good?”
“You did great, sport. Couldn’t have done better myself back in the day. Thank you.”
The bigger boy turned, the shadow of a grin on his face, and started walking home.
The other boy lay back in the grass and stared up at a plane crossing the sky. If his brother was right, this should have worked like a charm.
Two lives, both different. Two strangers with pasts neither knew, but whose futures were now forever intertwined. Two fates undone from the cords of time and redone. Remade. Two boys with new futures and second chances.
It was Friday so he’d have a couple days to heal before school was back in and he’d need it. He’d lay around, whine a lot, cry if he had to, and take the weekend to heal, and Monday, everything would be different.
A boy known for his bullying, known for his cruelty, known as a jerk, a burnout, and known for being kicked out of three other schools was now the weak one. He was now the victim. He was no one.
He had a chance to right the wrongs of the past and to write a new future.
All while another boy, a boy known for his mind and not his body. A boy who, as a senior, had spent the three years previous taking the beatings was suddenly the tough guy. He was the new sheriff. A boy with nothing to him, a boy that would never get a date, never get a kiss, and never have a chance to be remembered as more than a dork, a nerd, a loser had a second chance. He would never get in another fight in his life but they’d remember when he beat that new kid up. The kid who was supposed to be so badass.
They’d remember when he kicked the shit out of someone instead of getting the shit kicked out of him.
It was a devil’s bargain that was risky for them both, but was worth the risk. Whatever happened, whatever came next, they were free, free of the past and all its baggage. People said that each school year was a chance to do things over, do things better, and to do things right.
A new school year meant one thing – hope.
The boy smiled and wiped the blood from his face as he lay there in the grass, looking up at the faceless angels in the clouds and anxious to see what came next.