Kary tasted blood. Sean Mulligan’s heavy, sweaty body pinned him against his locker.
“Get off!” Kary shouted, twisting desperately.
Sean laughed, slammed his forearm into the back of Kary’s head, and swaggered off.
Kary trembled with rage; bile rose in his throat. He refused to cry. For weeks, Sean had kicked, hit, shoved and ridiculed him. He lived in terror of the next attack. It was almost ridiculous to think of fighting back. Sean was fifty pounds heavier and three inches taller than Kary, and was reputed to have put kids in the hospital. Besides, I’m supposed to turn the other cheek, right Lord? How long do I have to be his punching bag?
He saw a lion 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 his 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 on his way to the drum section. 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 up?” 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.
Mr. Alder pulled him away and held him tightly from behind. “Calm down, son,” he said.
Kary’s fog cleared. He looked down at Sean’s huge, unconscious body. It appeared Sean’s head had struck the podium.
“Is he all right?” he gasped.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Alder said, releasing Kary and tending to his victim.
The nurse rushed in and helped revive Sean. Principal Jones walked Kary to his office.
“What happened, Kary?” Mr. Jones asked as soon as they were alone.
Kary looked at his feet. “Sean has been messing with me. I lost it.”
“I believe you,” Mr. Jones said. “I see a lot of Mulligan. Unfortunately, I have to suspend you both for fighting. Your parents were called, they’ll be here soon.”
Kary nodded. Moments later, he explained what happened to his upset, but supportive parents.
“Lord, I’m sorry,” Kary prayed quietly as they drove away. “Please heal Sean and forgive me for losing my temper. Help me make this right.”
“I need to see Sean,” he said. “Please, take me to the hospital.”
Kary’s father turned the car toward town.
Jonas Mulligan met them at the door to Sean’s room. “You did this,” he said, recognizing Kary.
Kary wanted to run, but he forced himself to look at Sean’s father, “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.”
Kary pushed the door open. Sean looked smaller in the hospital than he did at school. He was staring at the ceiling.
“Sean, I’m sorry,” Kary said.
Sean’s head snapped in his direction. “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. Why didn’t He do it?”
Suddenly, Kary understood. Sean was the lion. The bars of his cage were anger.
Kary answered carefully, “You have attacked me for weeks. 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 laughed. “I’m not so sure,” he said.
Kary saw the cage door crack open.
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