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“Time to get up for school!” Dawson’s father bellowed up the stairs.
“Ughh…” Dawson groaned as he pulled the covers up over his head in an attempt to fall back asleep. “Great,” he muttered. “Another crappy day at Cambria High School.”
Dawson threw the covers off his body and shivered as the cold air enveloped him. He trudged to the bathroom and started the water in the shower. Dawson waited until the water was so hot that he almost couldn’t handle it and hopped in. He let the water run off his body for awhile as he thought about the day ahead. Dawson loved school, but there was one thing that made him dread it everyday, and that thing was named Cameron.
Cameron was known as the class bully and scarcely let anyone pass him in the halls without torment. He had moved to Cambria a few years before, and since that first day, he had been the meanest kid on school grounds. He rarely made class on time, and when he did, he was always kicked out for something or another. Dawson was Cameron’s new “project,” and Cameron wanted to run Dawson and his family out of the city. He was sure to let everyone know that if they tried to stop him, nasty things would certainly happen to them also. Cameron had been expelled from nearly every school in the county, and Cambria was his last chance before he would have to go to a juvenile detention center. This he knew, of course, but that didn’t stop him, nonetheless.
As the hot water chilled in the shower, Dawson was brought back to reality as he realized he might be late for school. He hurriedly lathered his hair and body with soap, rinsed off, and switched the water off. Wrapping a freshly dried towel around his body, he strode to the mirror and paused as he saw his reflection. His deep hazel eyes stared back at him with anguish, dreading the day ahead of him. He tore his gaze away from the mirror and tried to quench thoughts of what Cameron might do to him today. He quickly ran a comb through his slick, sandy brown hair and fumbled around for his toothbrush. After he was finished, he dressed, packed his backpack, and slid his shoes on. He quickly grabbed a Pop-Tart and nearly tripped running down the porch steps to make the bus on time.
Once on the bus, Dawson found a seat in the front, but before he could even sit down, he felt something hard slam into the back of his head. “What the….?” Dawson mumbled as he clutched his head in his hand.
From the back of the bus he heard laughter and scowled when he realized it was none other than Cameron who had knocked him in the back of the head with a book. “No use defending yourself,” Dawson thought to himself. Any other time Dawson would have fought back in self-defense, but it was no use trying anymore.
Dawson slumped forward in his seat, took out his favorite book, and started reading. His head was throbbing like crazy, and it seemed like the bus ride was taking forever. More than once, Dawson heard a thwumping sound and felt something slimy slide down his neck. Cameron and Jared were shooting spitballs at him.
“Alright!! That’s ENOUGH!” the bus driver finally yelled. “The next person to throw a spitball walks the rest of the week!”
“Watch this!” Cameron whispered to his buddy Jared. THHHWWWUUMMMP!!! Another spitball was shot at Dawson, and this time he reacted instinctively and raised his fist. At that exact moment, the bus driver looked back and caught Dawson with his fist in the air. The driver abruptly stopped the bus, whirled around in his seat, and stormed down the aisle toward Dawson. He grabbed Dawson by the ear and dragged him to the door.
“You little punk. Didn’t think I would see you throw that spitball, did you??” he howled at Dawson.
“…b-bu-but I didn’t do it!” Dawson whined to the driver. “Cameron did it, I swear!”
“You expect me to believe that, huh? Well, I’m not going to take any more of your crap. You just lost your bus privileges for the rest of the week,” the bus driver hollered, his face scrunched up in fury. He shoved Dawson out the door and shouted after him, “Now GET OUT!”
Dawson stumbled to catch himself from falling and gathered his books again. “This is the last straw!” Dawson grunted to himself. He shuffled his feet the rest of the way to school and arrived just as the warning bell was ringing. He shoved his books into his locker and sprinted to his first hour class.
The rest of the day seemed to drag on forever. Cameron and Jared didn’t bother him for the rest of the day, but he knew that if they weren’t bothering him, they were planning something bad.
At the end of the day, Dawson watched all the kids hop on the bus, and he cursed Cameron and Jared for getting him in trouble. It was just starting to rain, and he knew this was going to be a miserable walk home. The rain started as a mist and quickly turned into a downpour. Every car that passed him nearly splashed him with muddy water. He was getting so upset that he was kicking puddles and stomping his boots on the sidewalk with every step. Eventually, Dawson made it home, sopping wet and muddy. He saw his neighbor Jared peering at him through the window and laughing at him. Hmmmphh, Dawson sneered as he trudged up the porch steps. He stomped, mud and all, into the house, stamping his boots in disgust as he attempted to kick them into the corner closet.
“What happened to you?” Dawson’s mother asked, concerned.
“Nothing,” Dawson replied, aggravated, as he threw his coat on the floor in the closet and stormed up to his bedroom.
“Be ready for dinner in an hour!” his mom hollered up the stairs.
Dawson peeled off his soaking wet clothes and changed into a pair of freshly dried pajamas. He ran his fingers through his soaked hair and hoped tomorrow would be a better day. Later, Dawson trotted wearily down the stairs for dinner. His parents didn’t bother asking him what had happened that day, and Dawson plowed through his meal like he was a caveman, hurrying to finish his meal before anyone else could take it from him. After dinner, he checked his email online and then crawled under the warm covers of his bed. The moment his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light.
“AHHHH!!!!” Jared screamed as he woke up from a nightmare, clutching his side and sweating bullets. “God, I am so glad that was just a dream,” Jared sighed to himself. He stumbled out of bed and began to get ready for school, all the while trying to rid the scenes of the dream from his head. He packed his lunch, grabbed a bite of breakfast, and headed out to the bus stop. Once on the bus, Jared sat next to Cameron.
A few moments later, Dawson hopped on the bus. Without thinking, Cameron chucked his history book at him and knocked him in the back of the head. He heard Dawson cry out and clutch his head in agony. This only made Cameron and Jared laugh so hard they almost peed their pants.
“Hey, Jared. You got paper and a pen?” Cameron asked.
“Yeah, here,” Jared said as he handed him a BIC pen and some loose-leaf paper. Cameron unscrewed the top and bottom of the pen and handed the extra parts back to Jared. Cameron ripped up the paper into small pieces and shoved them in his mouth. The first few spitballs missed Dawson so Cameron took aim and spit again.
The bus driver saw paper flying and hollered at everyone. “ALRIGHT!! That’s ENOUGH! The next person to throw a spitball walks for the rest of the week!”
“Watch this!” Cameron whispered to Jared. He shoved the paper into his mouth, made sure it was super saturated with spit and loaded the pen cartridge with the slobbery paper. TTTTHHHHWWWUUUMMMPPP!! The slimy spitball hurtled towards Dawson and slid down his neck. Dawson raised his fist and whirled around in anger.
Cameron saw the bus driver storm down the aisle toward Dawson. He ducked behind the seat and poked his head out just as Dawson was getting shoved out the door of the bus. Cameron snickered as he realized he had gotten away with getting someone in trouble again.
“Hey Jared, whatcha doin’ tomorrow before school?” Cameron asked.
“Nothing that I know of, why?” Jared replied with curiosity as to what Cameron was plotting now.
“Well, I got some new matches and a pack of cigs if you wanna try em,” Cameron stated proudly. “And we could go start things on fire,” he finished.
“Hey that sounds like a great idea. I’m in,” Jared replied, thinking that he hadn’t had a cigarette in a long time and that it was sounding pretty good right about now. He didn’t catch the last part about starting things on fire.
“Sweet, meet me before school in the park,” Cameron told him as he hopped off the bus and strode proudly to his class, for once on time.
The next morning, the boys met in the park and shared a laugh as they recalled the look on Dawson’s face as he got the book chucked at his head the day before. Cameron handed Jared a cigarette and a match to light it, and they sat for a few minutes in silence as they finished their cigarettes. Cameron took out a bottle filled with booze, and they shared that too. When the boys were feeling kind of buzzed, Cameron had the bright idea to start things on fire with the leftover matches. The boys first started lighting small twigs and grass on fire but soon got bored of watching the small fire die out.
“Let’s go find something in town to start on fire,” Cameron suggested, and Jared complied. He was too buzzed to realize what he was getting himself into. The two boys stumbled their way into town and searched the alleys for boxes and such. Cameron got this crazy idea to bug Dawson, and the two boys started toward his house.
Jared was starting to feel queasy, and he leaned over the curb of the sidewalk to hurl. He wiped the spit off his face and continued walking to Dawson’s house, following Cameron closely.
“Cameron, I really don’t think this is such a good idea. I feel bad for the kid,” Jared said in complete honesty. If there was one thing Jared hated, it was that the truth always came out when he was drunk.
“Oh stop being a baby,” Cameron teased. “Let’s get this party started,” he sneered as he took out the matches. He lit the match and waved it back and forth in front of Jared’s face. Jared’s eyes suddenly bugged as he realized this was exactly what had happened in his dream. He immediately felt sick to his stomach and gasped as he knew what was going to happen.
“Cameron, we shouldn’t be doing this,” Jared pleaded. “I had a dream about this last night; it’s almost like déjÃ vu. I dreamed you and I were messing around with the matches and that we started Dawson’s house on fire. I saw him looking at me through the window,” Jared recalled.
“I don’t believe in that crap,” Cameron snickered. “And besides, I can take care of it if anything happens,” he said, as he struck the match to the side of the box. He dropped the match onto the porch before Jared could object. Immediately, the flame caught a tuft of grass on the side of the porch and started to burn. Jared tried frantically to put out the flame, but it was no use. Cameron was lighting match after match and was throwing them in random places throughout the yard. All Jared could do was watch helplessly.
The boys heard someone yelling at them, and Cameron took off running. Jared was too stunned to move and curled up into a ball on the grass as he began to weep. He was sorry for everything he and Cameron had ever done to Dawson. He wished he would have trusted his gut and left while he had the chance. Even though he was Dawson’s neighbor, he couldn’t bring himself to walk to his own house and pretend nothing had happened. He didn’t want Dawson hurt.
Jared’s mind flashed back to the day when Dawson had first moved next door. The boys had become good friends when they were younger but had grown apart as they got older. In a way, he wished they were still friends because he hated the way that Dawson had been treated, both by himself and by others. Jared lay in the grass with tears rolling down his cheeks, murmuring to himself until he heard sirens. He knew the fire department was on their way, and he was worried about what was going to happen to him and to Dawson. He knew what he had to do. He was going to help the family rebuild their house, at whatever cost it would take. He felt horrible about what Cameron had done, and he knew he was going to get the blame for it, no matter what.
Soon the police and fire trucks showed up and tried to put the fire out. Jared was questioned as to why he was at the scene of the accident, and he tried to tell the story about Cameron but, of course, nobody believed him. Jared was taken to the police station for further questioning. Jared asked the receptionist at the station for a pen and paper. He needed to write out his feelings on the situation, and he needed Dawson and his parents to understand the pain he had felt each and every day and how sorry he was about their house. He wrote a three-page letter describing everything that he had done to Dawson and how he wished he had been nicer to him. Dawson had never done anything to hurt him, and he didn’t know why he had ever thought it would be okay to hurt his friend. He knew it would take a long time for the family to forgive him for what he had done, but he was willing to do whatever it took to earn their trust and friendship back. At the end of his letter, he volunteered to help pay for some of the costs of the new house and to help rebuild. He signed his letter in sincere apology and sealed the envelope. He stepped over to the counter where the receptionist was typing away and told her to make sure this letter got into the hands of Dawson and his family as soon as possible.
Dawson stood silently in front of the ruins of his house with his mother and father. His mother was sobbing uncontrollably, while his father was holding her tight. She was mumbling something about pictures and knick-knacks and how everything was gone. Dawson was tired of all the jibberish, so he went to search the house for salvageable items. He started where his room used to be and rummaged around in the wreckage. He didn’t see much aside from the ashes and small remains of his bed and dresser. He attempted to open the drawer in the dresser because he was hoping to find a letter he had kept. It was from Jared when they were good friends; the boys used to play “mailman” and exchange letters to each other. This particular letter was his favorite. He dug around in the dresser and found a yellow, crumpled piece of paper. He unfolded the letter and re-read what Jared had written to him so many years before.
I’m glad you’re
From your friend,
Dawson folded up the letter again and stuck it in his pocket. He rummaged around the rest of the house in hopes of finding something else worth keeping, but there was nothing. He suddenly knew why his mother was so upset. Everything they had ever bought, saved, or made was gone. The things that his father had built for this house were completely demolished. All the arts and crafts he had made in elementary school were gone. His mother’s angel collection would never be seen again. He had never realized how much stuff he had that he would never see again. He went back to stand by his mother and father again, and saw them looking at some piece of paper that the neighbor had delivered.
Dear Dawson and Family,
I am so dearly sorry to
be writing this letter to
you, as I sit in the police
station awaiting my
conviction here…I have some
good news for you...The boy
who really started the fire was
caught today. His name is
Cameron, and he has been
sentenced to seven years
in Juvenile Hall. He was
the bully who coerced me
into being mean to
Dawson for many years…
Dawson automatically knew who this note was from. As he finished reading the letter, tears flooded down his cheeks, and he knew that he had his friend back.