“Tweet.” The message indicator on Paul’s laptop blared. He stopped digging through the pile of clothes and tripped over a soccer ball to reach the cluttered desk. He picked up a gecko, set it back in the terrarium, and then woke the computer. The round smiling face of his best friend and neighbor, Nathan, materialized on the screen. How could Nate be so chipper first thing in the morning? “Hey, what’s up?”
“Just making sure you’re up and going to school today.”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Billy comes back today.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. Well maybe he learned his lesson and won’t give us any trouble.”
“Sure. What universe are you living in?”
“Right. We’ll just have to try and avoid him and hope he doesn’t notice us. Are you sure we can’t stay home?”
“Nope, we might as well just get it over with.”
“Okay, see you in a few.” Paul switched off the computer, and returned to digging through the clothes pile.
“Paul, hurry up, you’re going to be late.” Paul sniffed a t-shirt and pulled it over his head. Stopping in the bathroom, he ran a comb through his hair and threw it on the counter after getting it stuck in one of the unruly knots. “Give me two minutes,” he replied.
Hopping down the stairs of their two-story house, he plotted how to avoid Billy and his buddies. After grabbing his lunch and jacket, he gave mom a quick kiss on the cheek. The carpool honked its horn for the third time. Mom ruffled Paul’s hair as he ran out the door.
The boys exited the car and Paul tugged his jacket tighter. Even with the sun shining, the air still held a bit of a chill. The ground was still wet and squishy after last night’s spring rains. Looking over Nate’s head, Paul scanned the schoolyard for any signs of Billy. It seemed as if they were lucky today, no sign of the bully. No sense tempting fate by hanging out on the playground and inviting trouble. They walked toward the steel, double doors of the old brick school building.
As they reached the door, a husky hand gripped Paul’s shoulder and spun him around. A head taller than Paul, with broad shoulders and meaty hands, Billy intimidated Paul, Nate, and most of the kids at school. He made a great quarterback, but was not so great with relating to kids smaller than him. Billy tossed a football to one of the other football players while gripping Paul’s shoulder. “Thought you would get past me without giving me your lunch? Think again, Pauly dolly.” Billy grabbed Paul’s lunch.
One of Billy’s friends grabbed Nathan’s lunch and pushed him to the ground. “Hey, slanty-eyes, what’d your mommy pack you today. I hope it’s better than the sushi you brought last time. Why can’t you eat normal American food like everybody else?”
Paul wriggled free of Billy’s grasp and shoved Nathan’s attacker. The bully laughed, but didn’t budge. He smacked Paul before pushing him to the ground beside Nathan.
“These lunches don’t look too good. Let’s get out of here.” They threw the food on the ground and stepped on them, walking away laughing.
Paul chased them and tackled Billy. Mrs. Chrinshaw walked out of the building as they landed in the playground grass.
“What is going on here?” Mrs. Chrinshaw said.
The boys untangled and stood. “Mrs. Chrinshaw, did you see that? Paul attacked me for no reason and stepped on my lunch.”
Billy balled his fist and whispered, “You better not say anything, or I’ll hurt your Jap friend over there.” He nodded and another one of Billy’s buddies stepped closer to Nathan, stomping on his foot.
“Paul, what has gotten into you? Is that any way to greet Billy on his first day back? It’s time to get into class. How about you two shaking hands and let’s get the day started?”
Billy took Paul’s outstretched hand and squeezed really hard. Paul winced then walked over and helped Nathan up. They followed Billy into the school.
For the rest of the morning and through lunch Billy left Paul and Nathan alone. After lunch and afternoon recess they had a test. Paul’s desk was right in front of Billy’s, and most days Billy found ways to antagonize him, like throwing spitballs and kicking the chair when Mrs. Chrinshaw wasn’t looking. Today had been no different, and now they were supposed to be quietly taking a test.
Mrs. Chrinshaw walked around the room keeping an eye on the students. She stopped at her desk to look at some papers when Paul felt something hit him on the side of the head. He looked on the floor beside the chair and saw a paper airplane. Paul picked it up, but Mrs. Chrinshaw snatched the plane before he could unfold it.
By the look on her face Paul knew that whatever decorated that piece of paper wasn’t something that she liked. “Paul Brewster, come with me.”
Paul got up and followed her to the front of the room. He glanced back at Billy and Nathan. Billy smirked, and Nathan looked scared.
“Class, I’ll be escorting Mr. Brewster to the principal’s office. Ms. Smith, my aid, will be in charge until I return. Continue working on your tests.”
When they reached Ms. Harris’s office, the principal gave them an incredulous look. “Paul, I’m surprised to see you here. You’ve never gotten into trouble before.”
Mrs. Chrinshaw handed Ms. Harris the paper airplane. “He drew this during the test, and I caught him tackling Billy this morning.”
Ms. Harris looked at the paper, which Paul had yet to see and then looked at Paul with a serious look on her face. “Paul, did you write this and draw this picture?”
“No, Ms. Harris.”
“Then who did?”
He couldn’t tell on Billy or Billy would bully him even more. “I don’t know.”
“Well, if you can’t tell me, then I will have to discipline you. You can stay after school tomorrow, and I want to have a talk with your mother. I will give her a call. You may go back to class.”
With dragging feet Paul walked back to class. Confusion wrestled in his mind. I can’t tell on Billy, but if I don’t then I’ll get in more trouble.
At the end of the day, Mrs. Chrinshaw gave him a note to give to his mother after she dismissed the class.
Billy and his friends followed them out. “You better not have said anything, Pauly dolly. You and your little friend there better just stay out of my way. You know what will happen if you don’t.” He balled his fist and shook it in Paul’s face before turning and walking away.
Paul and Nathan walked in the opposite direction.
“What happened in the principal’s office?” Nathan asked.
“I have to stay after school tomorrow, and she was going to call my mom.”
“What did you tell her?”
“That I didn’t know who wrote the note or drew the picture.”
“So what are you going to do about Billy?”
“I don’t know. I just want to punch him and tell everybody that he’s the one making the trouble, but I’m scared. What will he do to me next, what will he do to you?
“Well, here’s my house. You wanna come in? Mom’s making yakitori. You love it when she makes it.”
“No, I’d better not. I have to get home and give this note to Mom, and I guess see how she’s going to punish me.”
“Okay, call me later and let me know what’s happening. That is, if you can.”
“Okay, talk later.”
Nathan ran into his house and Paul headed home.