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Chris sat in the back of class, making a paper plane out of schoolwork as he waited for the bell that sounded recess to ring. For the past few weeks, the weather had been nothing but gray and rainy. Today was the first sight of a sunny spring.
When finally the bell rang out through the classroom, everyone quickly stood up from his or her desks. After making his way into the line, Chris found Jeremy standing behind his as usual. Jeremy was taller than Chris, like everyone in class, and round like a beach ball with a small, pug face. He reminded Chris of his dog at home: fat and a little stupid. The kind that would walk into a wall if it wasn’t paying attention.
Almost every single day Jeremy went to school with a bright yellow bumblebee-striped shirt, which he never took off unless his mother forced him to. He wore baggy, ill-fitting pants, and his sneakers loose, the laces permanently untied and covered in a thick layer of dirt.
The walk to the playground went quickly. Even the teacher, Ms. Hartmenn, seemed a little excited to get out on such a nice day. As she opened the door to the playground and gave the go ahead, all the kids who had once been lined up impatiently now scattered to the playground. Some flew to the monkey bars or swings while others raced to the basket of balls at the edge of the kickball field. And some of the girls wandered out in the grass to make daisy chains.
Usually Chris and Jeremy played ball during recess. However, by the time Chris had gotten to the basket, none were left. This he blamed on Jeremy. Jeremy was always a sluggish runner, always getting in his way. He turned with a scowl to a group of kids playing dodge ball and yelled out, “Hey, give us the ball!”
“No way, this is ours!” They all seemed to chime out together.
“Well, if you don’t give us the ball—” He started, but with a sharp reprimand from Ms. Hartmenn, did not finish his sentence.
Shifting his angry glare from the playing kids to his teacher, Chris then turned away, stomping his feet as he left. Jeremy, although known for being a silent thug, followed after, trying to say something helpful.
“Doesn’t matter, playing ball is stupid anyway,” Chris grumped.
It was then that Chris saw them: Julia and Marcy, sitting on the swings as usual, blissful and oblivious to everyone else. He was about the same height as Marcy, with the same mousy brown hair and brown eyes. Many teachers and parents had mistaken them for siblings, which Chris had always hated. He would never want to be related to a stupid tattle tale like Marcy with her mismatching clothes and thick rimmed glasses. Not to mention she was best friends with Julia, who he hated more than anyone in the world.
Chris turned his eyes to his friend, a smirk growing on his face. “Let’s go get the swings.”
“Wait, why don’t we just go play with those guys?” Jeremy said, pointing a chubbed finger over to a group of kids running around the playground, laughing and screaming at each other.
Chris turned to Jeremy with a disdainful look. “I don’t want to go play tag. I want to go swing.” His voice was firm, his fists clenched.
Jeremy didn’t like making Chris angry. He didn’t want Chris to decide he was suddenly of no use to him. But today Jeremy had to protest. He knew that Chris did not like Julia. He had even been right alongside his friend bulling when they got Julia alone. But not Julia’s friend, Marcy. Jeremy liked the girl; she was quiet and nice. He didn’t even mind that she sometimes told on them. Before Chris, Marcy was the only one in school who would even talk to Jeremy. Even sit next to him on the school bus. He saw no reason why they should go over and steal a swing from her.
“Yeah well, I want to do it, so we’re going to do it!” Chris turned on his heels and marched towards the girls. Jeremy stood there, torn. He could go to the teacher and tell her what Chris was trying to do, but Chris would probably never talk to him again. He could just follow along with Chris and do whatever he said, but he didn’t want to do that either. Finally, Jeremy made up his mind, and started quickly toward the swings.
“Get off the swings, we want them now!” Chris was saying with such a snarling voice, it stopped both of the girls in their swings. It even made Jeremy a little nervous, but nonetheless he stepped up to his friend.
“Come on, Chris, let’s just go.”
“What? No way, Jeremy!” Chris said.
“Why don’t you guys just go away. We were here first!” scolded Julia, Marcy letting out a little groan at her friend.
Chris turned to Julia, his frustration building up inside of him. He stepped toward her and gave her a hard shove off the swing. The girl let out a surprised cry, falling backwards onto the hard ground, letting out another, more hurt cry when she landed on her hand.
Both Marcy and Jeremy started forward toward Julia, however Jeremy was held back by Chris who had grabbed onto his thick arm tightly.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“She got hurt. We should bring her to the teacher.”
“And have the teacher yell at us? Yeah right.”
“I’ll just go tell her then!” said Marcy, standing up from where she had been kneeling beside her friend.
“Shut up, Marcy!” Chris said, letting go of his grip on Jeremy and walking in front of the girl. “No way am I going to let a stupid girl like you go to the teacher!”
“Hey, come on Chris, stop it!” Jeremy quickly intervened, moving in between Chris and Marcy. “She’s only trying to look after her friend.”
Suddenly a wicked smile replaced Chris’ scowl. “Don’t tell me you like Marcy, Jeremy!”
“No!” Jeremy retorted, his round cheeks getting a little red at the words. “I just think what you’re doing is wrong. Julia needs to go to the teacher!”
“Suuure,” said Chris, rolling his eyes. “I bet you want to marry Marcy! I bet you’re just like all those stupid girls picking flowers!”
A dark red spread over Jeremy’s face.
“Look at your face!” laughed the young bully. “You look so stupid, Jeremy! Like a fat strawberry!”
Chris’ laughter stopped almost immediately with his own words, but Jeremy’s face still turned from embarrassment to anger. Jeremy lunged at his friend, landing in one punch before there was a sudden shout from across the playground.
He watched, petrified from above a bloody-nosed Chris as their teacher strode across the playground with pursed lips. “Get off of him now, Jeremy,” came the woman’s firm voice.
“Ms. Hartmenn! Julia hurt her ankle!” Piped up Marcy, Julia shaking her head as if to say she was fine.
“I see. Chris, Julia, we’re going to the nurses office. And you,” Ms. Hartmenn turned back to Jeremy, “Detention for you. Stay right here until I get back. Got it?”
Jeremy gave a nervous nod and watched as Chris and the teacher walked away. For a moment there was an awkward silence between Marcy and Jeremy. Then finally the girl spoke up.
“Thank you for standing up for us.”
Jeremy looked down at his untied shoelaces, just missing the smile she gave him.