I woke up to Mom calling up the stairs to me. I usually did but rarely actually moved until she came up to get me. Today was different though. Today was Ditch Day. I threw the covers off me and started getting dressed. It was finally here! Watching all those eighth graders last year get to ride off for the day. No classes for them while all the seventh graders still had to go through homework assigning and name calling. We were the eighth graders now. Was I more excited to see those seventh graders faces while we went off to Excalibur Fun Land or was I more excited for the video games after mini golf? Couldn't tell. How about both?
Once I was ready, I cracked the door open to the hall. It was quiet aside from the light sizzle from the pan in the kitchen. Good, last night was over. Usually was by the time morning came. The remainder of the twist in my stomach gave way to the smell of eggs frying.
Coming down the stairs, I turned left into our kitchen. Dad was in his usual place, sitting over his newspaper circling little boxes at the bottom. Susie was in her booster seat close to mom who was going back and forth between the toaster and the stove. Pops from the pan.
“Look who came down all on his own” Mom said without looking away from her cooking.
I just sat down not really paying attention but suddenly hungry and still feeling the thickness in the air from last night. Mom threw two pieces of toast and flicked two eggs onto a plate, turning to place it in front of me all in one motion. I started spreading strawberry jam on one piece of toast.
"Don't be a dick, son," Dad said without looking up from his paper. Mom shot over the disapproving look his way through her heavy makeup around her eyes. It was just a reaction though, and she quickly went back to cooking the last egg for herself before he could see.
"Thank you, Mom," I said.
I looked over to Susie. She nibbled on the corner of her toast in her own little world. I envied that.
"It's that ditch thing today right?" Mom asked.
“You get picked up by the bus still?”
“I don't know, maybe?”
“Sean, I need to know if we have to use the car to get you!”
“I think the bus gets us. I think the eight graders were back by the end of the day last year.”
"You better hope it does," Dad said. "I need the car today."
“You will be back from that interview long before he gets off though.” Mom said.
Dad just looked down at his paper. Mom didn't say anything else. No, I realized it wasn't over yet. Maybe another sleepover at Ryan's house just in case. Fine by me, it was Friday after all.
I ate quickly and went back upstairs to get my backpack only to suddenly realize that I didn't need it. It did have my Game Boy though. Eh, not worth bringing the whole thing just for that. It was ditch day, Zelda could wait anyway. I looked out the window for a moment. Today wasn't just about ditch day though. Nope, too nervous to think about it. If it happens, it happens.
I had never been more excited to hear the bus honk outside. I always knew it was coming too. The sun reflected off of the windows of the bus into my room like streaks of light phantoms coming to a halt to take me with them. Today I ran down the stairs as soon as they scanned over my walls.
“Jacket!” Mom shouted as I opened the front door. “Jacket!”
I didn't respond. It was sunny, no clouds, May in Southern California. Mothers.
I was one of the first kids on the stop; it was always a bit eerie walking on board with only two kids sitting as far apart as possible. I took my place off to the right in the very middle row. The bus sleepily lurched on once I sat. Whelp, this is where being Link comes in handy. It wasn't long though before more piled on and I was always thankful one of my friends, at least, took the bus like I did. Big Mike. The biggest kid in school. Funny enough, friends with me, the shortest kid in school.
"Sup bits," he said sitting next to me throwing his backpack down under the seat in front.
“Hey man. Why the backpack?”
“I don't know, habit I guess. Plus my Game Boy.”
"Hey, it's ditch day though. You said..."
“I know what I said.”
"Well, are you?"
“You just gotta do it!”
“Gotta land on the beach and just run for it!”
I still didn't want to think about it. I could already feel that turn in my stomach. Not like the one at home but still not pleasant. It shouldn't be this hard. But dang it was scary.
After a few more rounds the bus pulled up next to Hilltop Christian School and flipped around to drive into the parking lot. It was an odd mix of emotions unloading from the bus. The eighth graders excited, almost jumping off the last step except for the cool kids who pretended not to care. Then the seventh graders dragging their feet, knowing they still had to go to class. Good good. I loved it. Then there were the seventh graders that jumped off the last step just because they were seventh graders.
Big Mike and I were greeted, as we usually were, by Will, one of a trio of bullies that liked making my days harder just because they had nothing better to do, apparently. His orange hair was almost glowing today on top of his cottage cheese face. His shirts were getting smaller and smaller with every passing day it seemed. He just leered, at first, not invading my personal space as he often did. It pays walking around with a tall friend sometimes. And I was thankful because Will always seemed to have perpetual Dorito breath no matter how early it was. The farther away he was, the better.
"Hey look, it's Waldo!" Will said after thinking for awhile. I looked down forgetting I had put on my red and white striped shirt. Dang it, I guess I would have to hear that all day. I usually avoided wearing this one to school.
“Shut up Will.” That would have usually gotten a punch to the arm but not with all the other kids around next to Big Mike.
Mike and I walked around the gate and into the middle of the buildings with the lockers all off to the side. Ryan was still getting his backpack shoved into his locker. It looked like I was the only who thought to keep it at home.
"Hey, I found Waldo!" he said as we walked up. He had surely seen me in this shirt a few dozen times, and it never got old for him.
"Hey, I found a bits!" I said, and we chuckled.
“Hey, guess who doesn't have to go to class!” Mike said.
"God so nice," Ryan said.
And so the three of us formed our hang out circle talking about whatever it was that seemed important at the time. A good mix. I would say it broke down into categories. Thirty percent video games, twenty percent movies, forty percent Family Guy quotes that had little or nothing to do with what we were actually talking about and then ten percent girls. That ten percent is what I wanted to avoid. Still too nervous. Only getting worse.
And there was that ten percent now. Rose walked by as she usually did to get to her friends. There was a sudden elbow from Ryan as if I didn't see her.
"Hey, Rose!" Ryan called out. He didn't have the crush I did, but my friends liked seeing me nervously fall over my interactions with her whenever they could.
"Hey guys!" she said. She was the only cool girl that actually didn't pretend our little group didn't exist. And there it was, part of the reason I liked her. Her long hair like hazelnut cocoa pouring behind her slender, tall figure didn't hurt either. She was walking over to us! Now, this really was a rare treat. Also terrifying.
“You guys stoked for today?” she said.
“For sure!” I found myself saying. I could feel the other two had their eyes on me already. The worst. Then I wondered if my voice cracked. Oh God did my voice crack?
She just smiled. “Me too! And oh hey it's Waldo!”
I could feel the instant heat in my face. I'm sure it was as red as the stripes on my shirt. Thinking about how red my face was getting only made my face get even more red! I chuckled to play it off then thought of anything I could to change topics.
“You, uh, gonna play some mini golf, er...” I started.
“Meh, I don't know, kinda boring.”
“Totally.” I again automatically replied. I was really looking forward to playing, actually.
"K bye guys," she said and walked over to her friends who were already looking over and giggling to themselves. To them, my group of friends and I were more of an exhibit at a zoo than fellow kids. I never understood it.
"Well, that was your chance there buddy." Big Mike said after she walked off.
"Hey, you were the one that said today was D-Day," Ryan said. "You can let opportunities like that pass up! You should have asked her to play mini golf with you, bam, D-Day started."
"You can't just drop in on the bunkers on the beach," I said loving using the analogy any way I could when really all it was was asking a girl out. "The boats gotta land. If you can make it to cover without getting gunned down, then you can try for the bunkers. Come on its a process."
"Well you better hurry up and land those boats," Ryan said, gesturing towards her group. I looked to see Thomas talking with her with his sidekick Al ever in his shadow. Al was a jerk all by himself, but he grew in strength the closer in proximity he was to Thomas. Thomas. Full on dick. Not annoying, or just mean, or a jerk, or an ass, but full on dick. And rumor was he liked Rose too. Of course he did. The rumor was that I liked her too, I'm sure, and once that started going around, he singled me out even more. Even Al, who was barely taller than I was, started pushing me around. Second-hand hatred I guess. The two of them finally walked away from the group and stared me down until they were around the corner of the building. I guess they saw her go over to us. Oh the glories of being the shortest kid in school with the nerdiest friends.
All of that didn't matter though, once the bell rang. The seventh graders started for their classes as the eighth graders went out to the lunch tables. Look how sad those seventh graders are. Good good. Been there. The tables sat directly in the middle of the school lined up in rows like sprinkles scattered across the concrete. Most had their plastic fading into bleached white nothingness. I guess our first year here was the first year they put up the canopies over the tables. You would think it was the greatest achievement of mankind the way Principal Edwards mentioned how thankful he was and how thankful we all should be for them in every single friggin prayer he led.
Rules, regulations, and announcements. We didn't care and we sure as heck didn't listen. Mike snuck in some Game Boy time while Ryan and I tried to make each other laugh. Everything was always funnier when you were supposed to be quiet. Then suddenly everyone started bowing their heads. Prayer time. Thankfulness, safety, the canopies, the bus driver, all the hits. Then Principal Edwards asked God to lead his sheep. Ryan gave one last attempt at making me laugh.
"Baa-aa" he impersonated in a whisper. Prayer was always the best time to strike. I almost lost it. Then regained my composure but could hear Mike struggling to keep it under his breath too. I had to fight to hold it back again. When would this prayer end? Come on!
Then I peeked up just to try and make sure none of the other teachers were looking our way. I scanned over the kid's heads, all bowed. Except one. Thomas was staring right at me under his arm as he bowed his head. I quickly buried my head in my hands. Oh God, would he think that I was looking purposefully for him? What could he have in store for me? I mean really, I don't do anything to him, and he always finds new reasons to come at me. Not with stupid Waldo jokes either. The ones that you don't want to admit hurt, but they go deep. He may as well be digging right into my skin most of the time.
The prayer finished. We three looked back up. Ryan and Mike both released the last of their laughter, still as quiet as they could. Then we were herded off to the bus. It wasn't exactly a large school; the eighth graders could all fit onto one bus at the same time. There was even enough room for the teachers going as chaperones. One going was my favorite teacher, Mr. Ludlow, the history teacher. Most called him Mr. Ludwig after I accidentally called him that on the first day. Ever since the name stuck, and he even took to it. He would slap a ruler down on his desk and shout "Show some respect!" in his best German accent if he thought we weren't paying attention. It's those dumb things that made something as horrible as history at least a little interesting.
We piled in, grabbing whatever seats we could, trying to sit with friends. I got to sit with mine but paid the price by having to sit on the wheel. Not as bad for me as most people.
“So you gonna ask at mini golf then?” Ryan asked sitting next to me.
"Maybe, or maybe today isn't a good day," I said.
"No no, your ships are in sight, it's too late to turn back! You gotta land on that shoreline!"
“But if I don't get a good chance...”
“Don't get a good chance? The bus is literally driving us to a date, come on man.”
“Besides...I think she likes you.”
"No idea, actually."
The drive wasn't all that long to get to Excalibur Fun Land. A couple turns, then onto the freeway for a bit. It always felt weird being on the freeway on the bus, I don't know why. Ryan looked on with Mike playing his Game Boy across the aisle of the bus while I looked out the window at the asphalt and concrete. Blurs of cars would go by as I drifted off behind my eyes. It was time to man up. I had a crush on this girl since the first day of school, it seemed like. I built up the courage to talk with her now and again but nothing more than that. Maybe it would seem too out of the blue. No no, I was finding excuses already. I just had to do it. Get it done. I would know if she liked me back, I could stop thinking about it. I'm sure it wouldn't feel great if she rejected me, but I'll take a few horrible days over this constant twist in my stomach. D-Day indeed.
All worry went away though when the bus pulled up. The Fun Land greeted you with a huge castle sitting at the end of the parking lot. To me it was glorious. Banners caught high in the wind, the ramparts were strong silhouettes against the blue sky, great thick stones making up the walls, and a doorway three times as tall as Big Mike. We all unloaded. The Principal reminded us about times to check in, but the words were lost on ears that rarely listened anyway.
Funny enough, we went right by the video games in the main hall and out the back to the mini golf courses. God knows we would back for the arcade though. We went up to the counter and got our golf balls and putters as the worker told us to make sure to play the last hole when we were done, we were allowed one course. The last hole would keep your ball if you played it. Yeah, we had no intention of having that happen until the very end of the day.
One course, another course, even a third course. That's where Al found us. No sign of Thomas but Al on his own was bad enough. I putted up one of the anthills, looked like it had a good speed too, then Al came walking over it, putting his foot over the hole. My ball rolled back to me disappointingly. He gave that famous chuckle that always seemed to have phlegm in it somehow.
“Well well.” he started. “You know Thomas is pretty pissed at you guys. Especially you Sean.”
"Okay," I said. "So this is just the weather, not the news."
“Never mind. Okay, you gave us your update now get off the course.”
“You don't tell me what to do, think your tough shit all of a sudden? Mr. I couldn't even make the flag football team over here.”
I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of thing today. Besides it was getting later and later, and I still hadn't committed to my D-Day promise. I never would if he kept hanging around us. Luckily my friends didn't exactly love his presence either.
“Seriously, if you are done, Albert, can you please just go back with Thomas and hold hands or whatever it is you guys do," Ryan said. This didn't sit with Al at all. He took a few steps towards us forgetting that there were three of us and one of him. Although none of us had ever been in a fight, but still. Mike stepped forward, and Al was reminded of the height difference between the two of them. He stopped looked around desperate for something then picked up my golf ball and chucked it to the other side of the courses.
"See ya bitches," he said and walked off. The angry ones never have good one liners.
"Well, he certainly got us," Ryan said almost rolling his eyes.
"Just...give me a sec," I said.
I went off back across the course to see if I could find my ball. I knew the guy at the counter must have figured by now that we were playing more than we should, I doubted I would get a replacement. Over a zig-zagging course, a smaller anthill, and one windmill. I didn't think it fell in the water, but on one part of another course, there was a couple of balls down at the bottom. Works for me. It was deep enough that I had to roll up my short sleeves to get to it. I grabbed one, then stood up trying to air out my arm.
There she was. Rose was walking into view, down one of the paths, over on the other side of the course. This was perfect, I was away from the watchful eyes of my friends, and I didn't see anyone else. It was time. I took a few steps, knowing that I just had to do this without thinking. Then Thomas came into view; he had been lagging behind calling after her. I stopped while I watched as he was pointing in a couple of different directions. I couldn't tell what they were saying.
After a moment, they both walked over to a little garden shed in the back of the lot away from the rest of the courses. I don't know why I kept watching, I could feel my stomach drop. I may have never kissed a girl before but I wasn't an idiot, I knew what they were doing. He tried to open the shed, but it was locked. She glanced around. He moved them into the shadow of the shed. I was about to walk off defeated before any landing craft even made it to the beaches of Normandy, but she looked almost nervous. It was enough to keep my hope. He tried holding her hands but, even when she allowed it for a moment, she decided to pull away. He kept trying to hold her hands, but the more he tried, the more she pulled away. This was an argument now, and it looked way too familiar. Then he grabbed her arm and pulled her in as she pushed at his face. He grabbed her defending hand, yanking it down and slapped her with the back of his hand, and she fell to the ground.
I started running. I wasn't in control of that decision at all. It was as if my legs had more courage than the rest of me and started, without consulting the other parts. It was like watching a movie, I was distance from what was happening, but I hated seeing it. I even felt distance from myself. Who I was at this moment was completely foreign to me. I could hear yelling at night, doors slamming, Susie screaming with no answer. Then something I didn't expect. I was angry. My fists were clenching, and I could feel the waves of blood rushing to my face.
Before I knew it, I was on them, surprised at my own speed. So was Thomas, who didn't even see that anyone was coming at all. I didn't stop though. I used all my momentum that my short stature could possibly produce and tackled him into the shed. The metal was weaker than I expected and we both went careening into the side as it bent inward with our combined weight. He didn't make a noise. I would have thought he would at least feel some pain. He deserved to feel some after slapping her. He would. When we settled into the metal paneling, I was stuck on top of the pile and started wailing downward with a force my arms had never felt before.
Even after a few hits, I don't think it made any difference. Thomas was thick, not in a fat way, and this wasn't his first fight. He kicked me off, and I launched backward slamming onto the concrete as I could hear Rose crying out. I wonder how long she had been doing that? Someone was bound to hear right? God what had I gotten myself into? What was happening?
Thomas slid off the crumpled shed. His face was red, a little blood coming out of his nose. At least I did something! Although that wouldn't matter after what he was about to do to me. I couldn't even imagine. I tried to get back up as soon as I felt any sense come back into me. It was too late. Thomas kicked me back down, bringing his foot back up to start smashing my face into the pavement. Then he was yanked back. Principal Edwards had grabbed him.
At first Thomas didn't realize who was holding him back and fought a little before Principal Edwards started yelling at him. Then Mr. Ludlow helped settle the irate Thomas before checking on Rose, then me. I stood up looking around as Mr. Edwards gave orders on where to take all of us separately. Ryan and Mike had come over by now. Mike had his head tilted a little as he processed the information but Ryan was less subtle, mouth open, trying to form questions.
“What...what happened?” he started asking.
"Okay everyone." Mr. Ludlow said. "Let's all go back to what we were doing; this is over."
I realized there was far more than my two friends watching this. Almost every eighth grader was there. Staring, wishing they could have seen from the beginning, wishing the teachers didn't stop it before it got good.
I was brought to the front side of the building, away from the crowd, back into the parking lot. I was sat down at one of the benches off to the side, looking out into the lot. Rose was with another teacher, and I assumed Thomas was still with the Principal. Mr. Ludlow sat with me, and we just looked ahead for awhile. It was like he knew that I needed some time to process what just happened.
“It's not my fault.” I started with sudden tears welling up from someplace deep and hidden.
“I know...” he said. “I saw you running out of the corner of my eye, I knew something wasn't right. What did you see?”
“He...I don't know...he just...I don't know.”
“Well if you didn't know you wouldn't have run over there like that. Thomas is in trouble already I can tell you that. You are here to help us find out the truth, that's all.”
“Well...he was trying to hold her hands, I guess. She didn't want too. He...he slapped her.” I had to pause to replay it in my head, still almost unbelieving that I saw what I saw. “Yeah he slapped her.”
“Well you aren't the getting into fights type there Sean, I knew it had to be something bad to make you do that.” He leaned a little closer to me and whispered. “And you did the right thing.”
I looked back up to him unsure if he was serious. He just had a reassuring upturn at the corner of his mouth.
"I won't say violence is ever good, really," he said. "But you wanted his violence to stop. You have a good heart in there."
I just sat not knowing what to say. Tears still streamed down my face as I tried to control my breathing. God I hope Mom would be this understanding. I don't even want to think how Dad will react. Probably won't actually. Almost worse than him being mad. Just that glare from behind the newspaper at the table.
"It's ok Sean," Mr. Ludlow said. "And besides." he dropped into his German accent. "He needed to show some respect!"
This got a chuckle out of me as tears were jolted from the corners of my eyes. We both sat feeling a little better about ourselves after that.
Eventually the bus came up, and it was time to start loading back in. Everyone got to board before me, everyone except Rose and Thomas. They had to wait too. My friends still gawked as they walked by. I wondered what they were talking about without me. Knowing Ryan, he was forming some scheme to break me loose. Maybe not. This was a little worse than talking too much in class or something like that.
Once everyone else was loaded, we three in the “Ditch Day Fight” as it came to be known, were brought on. We each had to sit next to a teacher, Thomas still with the Principal. I was on the side with the castle outside my window. I looked out and saw the flags on top were large pieces of plastic always made to look like they were caught in the breeze, the ramparts were cutouts on top of the cracking plaster facade, and the door was actually normal sized with a painting of a larger door around it made to look bigger. Then we drove off.
The ride back was a quiet one. The other kids knew that something crazy had happened. They whispered but there was no actual talking, or so it seemed. I looked over to see Rose looking at me across the center aisle of the bus. Thank you, she mouthed the words. Even from where I was, her eyes got glassy, and she quickly turned to look back out the window. D-Day...successful? Maybe.
Back at school the three of us were taken directly to the office while all the other kids started getting ready to go home. Our parents were called to come pick us up and discuss what happened. This was it. This was where it would actually get bad. God I hoped that Mr. Ludlow stuck around to come to my defense.
Rose and I were sat in the hallway waiting for our parents, while Thomas was kept in the principal's office proper. While no one was looking, Rose took my hand. Then she just held it in between our chairs. Oh what? What was happening? I could feel my hand get sweaty and I tried not to shake like a complete idiot. I looked over at her. She smiled but didn't look back, just looked ahead. Then her mom came in, and she let go of my hand. Then the two of them went into the principal's office. Yeah D-Day successful.
I sat smiling as the assistant came back into the room to sit behind her desk. She kept looking at me as she talked on the phone at the other side of the room. Then Thomas' dad came in. He started yelling at the assistant who directed him into the principal's office. I could hear him through the door. More familiar feelings. That knot in my stomach.
Ten minutes, twenty, forty-five. Finally they all came out from the office. Rose and her mom, Thomas and his dad, Mr. Ludlow and Principal Edwards. They all left, and I was able to catch one more smile from Rose. Mr. Ludlow gave me a subtle thumbs up as he left with that reassuring smirk. The Principal stopped at his assistant's desk who just shook her head. He looked at me and sighed before coming over.
"Well Sean, don't think we aren't going to have a chat with your parents too but we can't seem to get a hold of them right now," he said. "You don't have an emergency contact, so maybe we can call..."
He was interrupted by Ryan's mom coming through the door. She looked down at me and back at Principal Edwards.
“Cathy and Jeff aren't answering?” she asked him.
“Uh...no they don't seem to be home.”
"Not the first time," she responded. "I think Cathy has me as an alternate pick up so I can take Sean home."
“That true Deb?” he asked his assistant.
“Uh...yup, looks like it.”
“Okay, well, Sean you can go with Mrs. Shepard then.
I was happy to get out of that hallway, that's for sure. The sun was lower than it was supposed to be when I left school, it was a strange feeling. I walked with Ryan's mom to her car, and she drove me away.
“Ryan told me what happened today.” She said. “You okay?”
"Yeah...it kinda all happened quickly," I said.
“Yeah Ryan didn't even know what was going on really.”
“Heh, well I guess he will need all the details!”
“So you want me to take you to our house or yours then?” she asked.
"Well...I guess mine, I suppose I should see if my parents are home or not."
“Okay well if they aren't I will leave them a message.”
I loved the idea of not having to face my mom. But after all this, I couldn't imagine her being happy about me going to sleepover at a friend's. The direct way home was always nice, avoiding all the drop offs along the way. It wasn't too long before we pulled up in front of my house. The car was there so I couldn't see why they wouldn't be home. Oh no, they probably just got home and were listening to a million messages about how I was in a fight, and they needed to come to the school. This was the worst possible timing.
“Run to the door and see if it's open.” she said.
I got out walking over the neglected lawn. I couldn't hear anything as I got close to the door. On the porch I paused. I looked at the handle. Oh please don't be open. Please don't turn. I placed my hand on the brass chipped handle. It turned, and I cracked the door open.
I looked back and waved to Ryan's mom shouting my thanks. She honked and drove away around the corner.
I walked in slowly. I tried to form some kind of defense against Mom. How would she open? God I didn't know. She probably doesn't even know what to say to me. I've never been in a fight before. There was a little voice in there though. Like a memory jumping up. D-Day was successful. I walked a little taller through the living room. No matter what happened, I still had that.
There was no one in the living room to greet me.
“Mom” I called out.
I walked past the stairs and into the kitchen. My parents were there. Mom curled up in a ball against the cabinets near the floor. Dad was steadying himself on the counter over her. He looked over to me.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he said.
"I...I..." I couldn't finish. Mom was bloody, some of it still on Dad's knuckles as he faced me catching some of his balance on the chair at the table. There was that familiar smell on him; he used to come home like this after his last job.
“You better fucking answer me you shit.” his voice growing.
“I...school. Getting home.”
"Get upstairs NOW!"
The sudden yell made me jump back. He let himself smile a little at the sight before turning back to grim.
I turned shaking. I took a step up the stairs before something stopped me. I looked back; he had turned back to hovering over Mom. There that little knot was again. There that same feel of the reel of a movie playing out in front of me. My house suddenly foreign or my father an intruder I couldn't tell which. No. There go my legs again.
I bolted at him across the small amount of carpet then onto the linoleum of the kitchen. Even with however many drinks he had in him, it wasn't like Thomas. He reached out his arm and pushed me aside. There wasn't a teacher this time after I fell to the ground. He kicked at my ribs before I could get up. All of my breath seemed forced out of me all at once. I coughed, and he kicked at me again.
"Stop being a pussy," he said. "You feel tough now huh? You are just a fucking kid. That's all, so just go to your fucking room."
I stood up though. I don't know how. I held my side still getting what air I could.
“You better listen this time.” he said.
But I just stood there. I was quiet while he stared me down, but I wouldn't move. I still had no control over those legs. They remained still in their own defiance.
"Why don't you ever listen you little shit?"
"I'm just a fucking kid," I said without skipping a beat. Where the hell did that come from?
That earned a backhand of my own. I could feel his wedding band on my cheek before I even realized he raised his arm. On the ground, I got another kick.
"You got something more to say, tough guy?"
I stood again. Slower this time.
“Dad.” I started. “Don't be a dick.” I smiled already wincing against the hit to come. It did, even harder this time. He picked me up by the collar of my shirt and dragged me over to the stairs throwing me on top of the bottom steps.
"Get the fuck up there, or you better hope God comes through that door to protect you."
I looked over to the door almost half expecting him to be right. Hoping, at least. I looked over at Mom. She was looking at me now.
"Go," she said barely whisper. "Go."
Dad looked back. I couldn't see his expression, but it couldn't have been good.
I finally went up the stairs only because she had told me to. I would have stayed down there forever, with as many kicks as my ribs could take if it meant not having to obey the man in my kitchen. It took me some time. The stairs never seemed so high. I could hear him downstairs still yelling nonsense and fume.
I opened the door to my room. Susie was on the other side of my bed huddled and shaking. She ran over to me holding me. It hurt my sides.
"I'm sorry," she said mistaking my grimace for something else. "Your room is bigger. It's stronger. It's safer." She was desperate to be in her own little world again, but the walls of it were falling down around her.
I looked around to my windows, closer than they had ever been. My Green Day poster looked large on the tiny wall. My bed nearly filled the whole room. Was it always like that?
"It's not that big," I said.