Melody Marsh shoved her books into her pack and looked up at Ms. Burns for permission to leave. If she’d been one of the kids who took the bus, even Ms. Burns wouldn’t have dared keep her after school like this.
The 7th grade English teacher’s mouth stayed in a straight line but her eyebrows tilted down. After a long pause, she snapped, “Are you finished?”
“It’s in the turn-in basket.” Melody hated that her voice quivered. The teacher scared her, and the feeling of being such a loser made her feel sick to her stomach. She’d really tried to get the test done in class, even though her education plan allowed her more time. Even James had finished before her. He’d hissed, “Second rate dummy,” as he cruised out the door ten minutes earlier.
“Go ahead,” the teacher dropped her eyes, clearly wanting to be done with her student.
Melody practically ran out of the classroom, pulling on her coat, trying unsuccessfully to dodge the cold sleet and rain. She didn’t try to zip the jacket – either she was growing or maybe all the holiday food was bulging her out even more. As well as feeling stupid all the time, she felt like a big lump too. Her mom said she was growing and it didn’t matter, but Melody would have given almost anything to be as skinny as Jasmyn Preston. Or to have friends like Jasmyn did.
The dark was settling in as she hurried along the sidewalk towards her house. The evergreen trees were melting into pointy shadows against the sky, and the bite of the wet wind made her wish she’d worked harder at zipping her coat. Oh well, hurrying burned calories as well as making her warmer.
As she rounded a bend through the trees, she saw the crowd. At first she thought it was just three or four kids hanging out, but as she neared them, she saw James on the ground and Jasmyn dropping wet leaves on his head.
“Leave me alone…” His voice quavered. The street lights flickered on and Melody saw clearly that he was crying. Sean gave a kick to James’s side and the other three kids laughed.
Melody stopped dead. Sean, Brian and Nevarr liked to torment other kids. The ones who showed any kind of weakness. The ones who were easy to push until they wept and bled a little. So far she’d been able to avoid them. But now what?
Melody wanted to turn away her eyes. James’ tear-streaked face, his bloody nose, and his hunched posture seemed obscene. Why didn’t he stand up and face them? Had he tried and been pushed down? He was an even bigger loser than she was and she really couldn’t stand him. Sometimes, like tonight, he went out of his way to be mean.
Jasmyn dropped another handful of soggy leaves on James, and then caught sight of Melody.
“What are you looking at?” she demanded.
“I…I…” Melody stuttered. “Nothing…”
“That’s right,” Jasmyn said. “This guy is nothing!”
Her glittery smile invited Melody to join in or laugh. Melody remembered how Jasmyn had never harmed her or been nasty. Even when Melody went all klutzy and tripped over her backpack, scattering the other girl’s papers.
Reassured, Melody came a few steps closer. She swallowed hard.
“I don’t think you should hurt him.” Her voice quivered again but she forced her chin up.
Brian laughed. “I didn’t think you could think,” he sneered. His toe nudged into James’ backside.
Melody felt a sigh building in her. She knew where this would go. She should just leave. It wasn’t like James was a nice guy. He’d made fun of her more than once; Jasmyn never had.
“Leave him alone, Brian,” Melody was surprised that her voice was firm. Jasmyn’s eyes took on an arrested interest. “You’re being a bully.”
“Ooooh,” Brian taunted. “Is that what this is?”
“He said something really nasty to me,” Jasmyn said. She balled up her hands on her hips and scowled. “Nobody, but nobody does that. He has to pay.”
Melody wanted to run – all this confused her. Maybe she was missing something important…but James’ face was bloody and he was crying.
“This is wrong,” she said. She wanted to cry too but she tried to speak up. “You guys have to stop it.”
Then Brian grabbed her shoulders and hooked his foot behind her. She was down in the muddy leaves in a flash. “Oof…” exploded from her mouth, immediately echoed by high, brittle laughter from the other kids.
“Cuddle up to your boyfriend,” Sean yelled. His voice had become shrill with pack madness. He kicked wet leaves at Melody. The soggy mess fell over her head, sticking to her hair and face. Melody scrubbed them away, but the dank smell smeared into her nostrils.
Brian giggled and kicked her leg. “Kiss him, kiss him!” he howled.
Nevarr pushed her shoulders so that she fell against James, her cheek grazing his tear and blood streaked face.
“Leave me alone,” Melody screamed. She tried to struggle to her feet but Sean shoved her back against James. The other boy just stayed huddled, his shoulders shaking, turning his wet face away from them.
Melody rocked on all fours, her clothes soaked, her knees sore and icy. This can’t be happening, she thought. She looked briefly at Jasmyn, but the other girl had stepped back and was glaring at no one in particular.
Brian kicked her again, and suddenly Melody had had enough. Somehow she caught his leg. She didn’t have the strength to hang onto it, but it threw the boy off balance. The moment’s confusion gave James an opportunity to twist away and he took it, heaving himself to his feet and running down the path, his backpack abandoned in a puddle.
Nevarr shoved Melody off balance again, plunking her, bottom-first into the wet. She could have sworn she was so angry. “That…that crap-head!” Melody yelled. “He could have tried to help me.”
But the boys had turned and left, running and jeering at their departing prey. Jasmyn stood watching her for a moment, then extended a hand. Melody glared but took it.
“My mom’s going to kill me,” she muttered. She wiped her icy hand over her face, knowing she had probably left another smear of mud. “I’ll never get the dirt out of my clothes.”
Jasmyn shrugged. “Why’d you stick up for James?” she demanded. “It’s not like he’s a good guy.”
“No,” Melody agreed. “He’s terrible.”
“And you are completely pathetic.”
“Yeah.” Melody didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So she picked up her belongings and began trudging toward home. With relief she saw the boys had disappeared. She let out an angry sigh, then realized Jasmyn was strolling along a few steps behind her.
“Are you following me?”
“You wish,” the girl snapped.
Melody shrugged and kept walking, still fighting back the tears. She would not give in or cry.
Within a few steps, Jasmyn was walking beside her, like they were friends. Like the yelling, the kicking, and the mud had slid into an old memory.
Like something good had happened after all.
I hope you enjoyed this story – I have many more at http://www.susanbrownwrites.com
I’ve been adding story collections too, Holiday Cheers, Stories to Celebrate Your Year is on Amazon. Romance in Pajama Pants is available on Amazon and all other ebook platforms . More short story and blog collections, including ones for teens, will be available soon.
And take a look at my books too! Everything can be found on my website, just click on the bar at the top…and enjoy!