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Reaching a point in their journey when they need to separate, Alec says, “Hey, let’s meet at school tomorrow before class.”

Jason says, “Sure. What about out in front of the school by the flag pole?” The three agree to the plan and go their separate ways.

Alec feels pretty good about his newfound friends. Never having any close friends—at least not since his family moved from Massachusetts—he’s excited about the prospects. Life seems good and as the leaves crunch beneath his feet, he runs down the sidewalk in the cool autumn air.

When he reaches the final corner leading to his house, three figures jump out from behind a row of hedges. At first startled, Alec catches his breath, but before he reacts he’s surrounded. It’s the three tormentors from football practice, Charlie Nichols and his two minions.

Alec’s first instinct leads him to run, but he only gets a half block before the three overtake him.

“Thornton, your ass is grass,” Charlie bellows as the other two manhandle him. “Let’s take him over to the alley. Behind that old house.”

The three brutes drag Alec to a corner between two garages. Through clenched teeth, Charlie continues his angry rant. “Did you think squealing to Coach was going to get me in trouble? You think Coach is going to protect you and your little punk friends?”

Charlie reaches out and grips Alec’s right hand. “I hear you’re an artist?” He then bends back his index finger and Alec winces in pain.

“Yeah,” comes out of Alec’s mouth between short breaths.

Charlie turns up the pain. “If you want to continue to be an artist, you’ll never try that shit on me again.”

Amidst tears and crying, Alec says, “I won’t. I promise. I’ll never tell on you.”

Satisfied, Charlie releases the pressure on Alec’s finger. He says to his two flunkeys, “Let’s make sure Mr. Thornton here understands what we mean.”

The three bullies throw Alec to the ground and pummel him with punches, kicks, and gouges, and Alec does his best to curl up in a ball to limit the damage.

A few minutes later, the bigger boys have gotten their message across and stop the beating. The thugs leave Alec on the ground, bruised, battered, dirty, and wet. Alec lies there for a few minutes, his head throbbing, before regaining his feet and wiping himself off. The pain pulsating throughout his body screams with every heartbeat, and he recognizes the familiar taste of metal on his lips.

Resuming his journey home, Alec wonders if he should tell his parents what just happened. He assumes his father won’t be home and his mother won’t care, even if she is home, so he keeps today’s events to himself. He thinks of Charlie and he’s scared. He knows he’ll have to see him again.

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