Kary tasted blood.
“Get off!” he shouted, twisting desperately. Sean Mulligan’s heavy, sweaty body had him pinned against his locker.
Sean laughed, slammed his forearm into the back of Kary’s head, and swaggered off.
Kary trembled with rage. Bile rose in his throat. I will not cry!
Sean had kicked, hit, shoved and ridiculed him for weeks. Kary lived in terror of the next attack. It was ridiculous to think of fighting back. Sean had put kids in the hospital. He outweighed Kary by fifty pounds and towered over him. Besides, I’m supposed to turn the other cheek, right Lord? Kary kicked his locker closed with a bang. How long do I have to be his punching bag?
Suddenly, Kary saw the lion. It was pacing and panting behind bars in his mind, he’d seen it ever since the harassment began. Why, Lord? I feel trapped…am I the lion?
There was no answer. Kary got detention for being late. He refused to provoke further torture by reporting Sean.
Band was Kary’s last class. He loved music, but it was part of his problem. He played the flute, like his mother. Many of the boys, Sean in particular, didn’t feel this was a sufficiently masculine instrument.
Sean smacked the back of Kary’s head with his drumsticks on his way to the back of the room. Kary clenched his jaw and took out his instrument.
He played poorly, thinking of caged lions and plotting his escape. When class ended, he crammed his flute into its case, but he was not fast enough.
“What’s the matter, Kary?” Sean drawled. “Having trouble putting your flute away?” Sean hit the case in Kary’s hands, knocking the instrument loose.
Kary barely knew what happened. Everything went dim. His flute and then his body flew into Sean. From what seemed a great distance, he heard a cry and a crash.
Strong arms pulled him away and held him tight. “Calm down, son.” It was the band director, Mr. Alder.
Kary’s fog cleared. He saw Sean’s huge body, unconscious on the floor next to the podium.
“Is he all right?” he gasped.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Alder said. He released Kary and went to tend to his victim.
“Lord, I’m sorry,” Kary prayed quietly as he watched. His body trembled with shock and grief. “Please let him be okay. Please help me make this right.”
Hours later, Kary sat in his car in the hospital parking lot. His stomach was a pit of boiling acid. He wished he could just vanish. “Help me, Lord. I’m sorry I hurt Sean. Please, help me face him.” He took a deep breath and left the safety of his car.
Jonas Mulligan met him at the door to Sean’s room. “You did this,” he said, recognizing Kary.
Kary forced himself to look at Sean’s father. He was a large, powerful looking man. “Mr. Mulligan, I came to apologize. I didn’t mean to hurt Sean.”
Jonas turned red and looked down. “Sean told me he had it coming,” he muttered. “He has been angry since his mom and I broke up…mean. I’m sorry he’s been hassling you. You can see him.”
“Thanks,” Kary said, the knot in his stomach loosened a bit.
He pushed the door open. Sean was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. He looked smaller in the hospital than he did at school.
Kary cleared his throat and said, “Sean, I’m sorry.”
Sean’s head snapped in his direction. He looked surprised. “You’re apologizing to me?”
“Yes. Will you forgive me?”
“Why do you care?” Sean asked. His face was red and his voice was husky.
“I believe in God. I’m supposed to treat others the way I want to be treated.”
Sean looked at Kary for a minute without saying anything. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “I used to believe in God. I prayed He would keep my family together, but He didn’t do it.” He paused, then almost yelled, “Why didn’t He do it?”
Suddenly, Kary understood. Sean was the lion. The bars of his cage were anger.
His mind whirled. He took a deep breath and answered carefully, feeling almost as if the words were not his own, “You have attacked me for weeks, Sean. It made me mad; it wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t God’s fault. I don’t think God makes people do anything,” he continued. “We make choices and sometimes they’re bad. Like me, today. It isn’t God’s fault I knocked you out.”
Sean suddenly started to laugh, startling Kary. “I’m not so sure,” he said. “You think you did that all by yourself?”
Weak and giddy with relief, Kary laughed too.
In his mind, he saw a cage crack open.
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