Wes sat slouched at the lunch table, barely playing with his food as he doodled in his notebook. He was still trying to shake his fury at Mr. Drummond, and this sketch he was working on was frustrating. Drawing the sextant from memory was harder than he’d thought it would be. He couldn’t seem to get the mirrors on the upper arm quite right, and the irritation wasn’t helping his mood.
“Gimme your pizza, putz.”
Wes turned at the sound of Cameron’s voice. The big ox was at the next table over, his two cronies Darren and Jimmy at his side as he snatched the pizza off Doug Boerner’s tray and used his other hand to shove the freshman trombone player aside. Wes sighed.
“Hey, come on, Cameron,” said Doug. “That’s mine!”
“Not anymore,” said Cameron. He gave Doug another rough shove and laughed. “Fries look good too.” He reached out and snatched a handful of French fries from the tray. “You got my algebra homework done yet?”
“Yo, Cameron,” said Wes, rising slowly. He’d had more than enough. He walked deliberately around the table and moved face to face with the bully. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
“Find me someone, I will,” replied Cameron, and Darren and Jimmy laughed uproariously.
“Seriously, can’t you ever lay off? Leave Doug alone.”
“Why don’t you get lost?” Cameron grabbed Doug by the back of the neck. “So what if I decide to make Doogie here my slave? What’s it to you?”
“Brass section’s gotta’ stick together. Besides, I don’t really like you all that much, so whatever I can do to screw with your day, I’m up for it.”
Cameron let go of Doug and poked his finger into Wes’ chest.
“You think you bug me, Bellamy? You don’t sweat me even a little.”
“Knock it off, Cameron. You’re gonna’ get us in trouble.” Wes’ tone was sharp.
The bully grabbed Wes by the shirt and pulled him close. “You’re the only one that’s in trouble, Bellamy. I’m tired of your crap, and I’m doing something about it.”
Wes jerked free from the larger boy, his contempt plain. “Yeah, sure, what are you gonna’ do, ugly me to death?”
Cameron’s face clouded, and he pulled Wes close again, his hot breath making Wes wince.
“No, you little turd. I’m kicking your butt. Show up or shut up. Right after school, behind the gym. You better be there.” He shoved Wes aside, turning his attention back to Doug.
“Yeah, whatever. You coming alone, or you bringing your two girlfriends along?” Wes gestured toward Darren and Jimmy. He held his forefinger and thumb about half an inch apart, showing Cameron. “Your cojones are about this big, and it takes all three of you to make one tough guy.” With every word, Wes could see Cameron getting more and more angry, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Bad enough it takes three of you to think up a comeback, but now it takes three of you to beat up somebody half your size?” He waved Cameron away dismissively. “You aren’t worth the time.”
“Shut up, you little…,” began Cameron as he lunged for Wes. His voice was raised just a bit too much, though.
“All right, you two, that’s it!” Mrs. Schultz stormed over angrily. “Out in the hall, now!” She took both boys by the arm and walked them into the hallway.
“Now, what exactly is the problem here, gentlemen?”
“He was insulting me, Mrs. Schultz,” said Cameron. “He turned around and started talking nasty about my mom.” Cameron smirked as he pointed his finger at Wes.
“Whatever!” said Wes indignantly. “He was picking on Doug Boerner, and I told him to back off, that was it!”
“Doogie and I were just having a little chat!” protested Cameron with mock sincerity. “What gives you the right to stick your nose in?”
“What gives you the right to pick on a little kid?” shouted Wes, his finger in Cameron’s face. “He shouldn’t have to take that crap!”
“Mr. Bellamy, you’re right, no one should have to take threats from anyone, but that doesn’t give you the right to make trouble in my lunch room! If someone is bothering you, you’re supposed to come to me.”
“Oh, sure, that’s gonna’ work great.” Wes’ voice still held the disdain it had when insulting Cameron. He couldn’t seem to help it. He liked Mrs. Schultz, but she was blaming it all on him!
“Cameron, I’ve had enough of your bullying. You have detention today and tomorrow for threats and intimidation.” She rounded on Wes as he chuckled. “Wes, you can’t behave like this, and you know it. We’ve had this conversation too many times. You get a detention this afternoon. I’ll be having a word with your parents, both of you.” Mrs. Schultz looked at them sternly, but the boys seemed cowed. “For now, I want you in the office. I’ve had enough of this for the day. Finish out the lunch period there and then go to your next class.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong!” Wes couldn’t believe that she was sending him to the office, and worse, was going to call his father. Again!
“Not another word, Mr. Bellamy! To the office, now! You too, Mr. Jacobs!”
With that she went back into the lunch room and closed the door.
“I can’t believe this crap,” muttered Wes as he started down the hall. “She’s so stupid! And you’re worse than she is, Cameron! I can’t believe you got me a detention!”
Suddenly Wes felt a shove from behind and was slammed face first into the wall, bumping his forehead so hard that his head jerked back. A heavy arm settled on the back of his neck, forcing his face up against the rough bricks.
“Who’s stupid now, you little freak?” a whispered voice said directly in his ear. “I’m gonna’ beat you so bad you won’t be able to walk for a week. I’m gonna’ make you hurt.” He shoved harder against Wes. “I’m gonna’ make you wish you hadn’t got out of bed today.”
Something inside Wes snapped. The weight of everything that had happened today, losing the challenge, Mr. Drummond’s lecture, Cameron’s bullying, Mrs. Schultz’s unfair treatment. It was all too much. He shoved against Cameron, hard, with strength he didn’t know he possessed. He flung his head back and felt a satisfying crunch as it made contact with the brute’s nose. Turning, he felt satisfaction as Cameron staggered.
Wes looked at Cameron, seeing the blood starting to run down from the boy’s suddenly crooked nose, seeing his eyes start to water, and a cold fury came over him. It didn’t matter in the slightest that Cameron was ten inches taller than Wes, and outweighed him by a hundred pounds. Wes’ blood boiled as he looked at the bully, and he was gratified to see astonishment growing in the bigger boy’s eyes. When Wes charged forward, his fists flying, Cameron staggered backward in surprise. The sheer ferocity of the attack even surprised Wes. He landed a couple of solid blows, one to Cameron’s jaw, another to his midsection, before Cameron reached out and took him into a bear hug, squeezing the breath out of him.
“What do you two think you’re doing?” Mr. Jarvis, the gym teacher, ran toward them from the other end of the hall, but the two boys were oblivious. They both fell to the floor, struggling, each trying to gain advantage over the other. Mr. Jarvis grabbed Cameron by the shoulder as Mrs. Schultz emerged from the lunch room at a dead run. She got there just in time to grab Wes and hold him back from trying to get at Cameron, who was straining against Mr. Jarvis’ grip.
“That’s enough!” Mr. Jarvis bellowed at the two boys. “Both of you, come with me, now!” He grabbed both of the boys by the back of the neck and propelled them down the hall and toward the principal’s office.