Just getting home from school, Davey stood in the laundry room facing his mom. He was having a bad day and felt it was about to get worse.
“Principal Marrow called from school,” she said, arms folded one over the other. She looked him up and down. “Rolling around in the mud, fighting like a hooligan.”
“Don’t ‘but mom’ me. Are you all right?” He nodded and she continued. “What am I supposed to think?” He answered with a shrug. “Take those filthy clothes off.”
Sighing, Davey unbuttoned his shirt and handed it to her. “I didn’t start it.”
“I don’t care who started it.” She held his face in her hands. “You’ll be lucky if you don’t get a black eye.”
“Yeah, well I gave Billy two of ‘em.” He turned his back as he unfastened his jeans and stepped out of them. Dressed in a white t-shirt and his big-boy skivvies, he turned to face her, pants in hand.
“And empty your pockets while you’re at it.”
From the pockets came lint stuck to a wad of chewed gum wrapped in tissue, two marbles and a folded piece of paper. Davey blushed and tried to hide the paper with his hand.
“Let me see.” She took it from his grasp. Her face could not betray her thoughts as she opened the paper. Someone had drawn a stick figure of a boy who had fallen down. The boy wore thick glasses - now broken - his legs enclosed with braces. A balloon over his head read: “Help! I can’t get up!!!” Surrounding the boy were a group of kids, pointing with big smiles. Over their heads, a collective balloon read: “Ha! Ha! Ha!” An arrow pointed to the boy indicating it was Stevie.
“Is this what the fight was about?”
“Billy gave it to Stevie after school; then knocked him down, breaking his glasses.”
“Soccer tryouts were today. Yesterday I told Billy I wasn’t going ‘cause I had to help Stevie with his homework. Today, he called me a sissy - then he gave Stevie the note.”
She folded the paper. “Go upstairs and take your bath. I’ll make some hot cocoa. We’ll talk about this in the den.”
“Stevie’s my best friend, mom.”
“I know. Now go and get cleaned up.”
It was late fall. Morning snow had fallen in the mountains; its chill sliding down the hill’s slopes and into the homes nestled at its base. Davey’s mother put her son’s robe in the dryer and gave it to him as he came down to the den.
“Am I in trouble?” Davey shivered; his hair damp from the bath.
“Marshmallows in your cocoa,” she handed him his cup,“what do you think?”
He took a tentative sip. A white mustache blossomed over his top lip. “Stevie was crying.”
“I don’t blame him, what Billy wrote was cruel.” She handed him a napkin. “But fighting’s never solved anything.”
“Stevie’s not like the rest of us.” He wiped his mouth. “What was I supposed to do?”
The note lay unfolded on the coffee table. She nodded toward it. “Is anything Billy wrote true?”
“No. Well maybe one thing – the kids laughing at him.”
“Davey, I want you to know I’m proud of you for standing up for Stevie; but what he needed most was someone to share his hurt.”
“I busted Billy’s face.”
“Yes, and I got a call from his mother. He’s going to have a couple of shiners just like you said. I told her what happened and will share this note with her. But fighting was not the answer.”
Davey set the cocoa down. “I don’t get it.”
“I think deep down inside you really do. Stevie’s mom called, too. Want to tell me what you did before the fight?”
Leaning forward, he fingered the note. “After Billy knocked Stevie down, I helped him up.” He shrugged, mumbling, “Told him I was sorry.”
“And the kids stopped laughing, didn’t they?” He nodded and she continued. “Your concern for Stevie gave Billy a bigger shiner than any fist ever could. It should’ve stopped there.”
“Davey, your bending down to help out a friend was a knock-out punch.” She picked up the note. “And I have a feeling once the principal sees this he’ll be in for a bit more misery.”
Eye blackening, Davey took another sip of cocoa. “He missed soccer tryouts, too.” A proud smile faintly beamed beneath his white-mustachioed lips.
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