One morning in late May, as the class was going out to the playground, Marco deliberately knocked Tad down and then jumped on him. Punching him over and over, he cried, “You think you’re so damn much better than I am. Well, you’re not. I’m smart. I went to a much better school than this, and my family has more money than yours will ever think of having!”
Tad had never in his life been in a fight and had no idea what to do. He tried to protect his face with his arms as the blows kept coming.
Suddenly, the punches stopped, and Tad looked up to see a very angry Mr. Prescott, the gym teacher, holding Marco up in the air as the boy’s arms and legs flailed about and tears ran down the left side of his face.
Mr. Prescott told the other children to go back to playing. He said to Tad, “Follow me to the gym office,” as he carried Marco back into the building. Wyatt was standing there and helped Tad get up. Tad felt his bruises to see if anything was broken. Tears were coursing down his face as well. Slowly, Wyatt walked with him into the building. They stopped for a minute in the restroom for Tad to splash water on his face and look at himself in the mirror. At least there doesn’t seem to be any real damage except to my feelings he thought.
They walked together to the gym office, where Tad took the seat which Mr. Prescott indicated while Wyatt returned to the playground. Marco had calmed down some. He was still sniffling hard, but he was slowly getting under control. Mr. Prescott waited until at last Marco stopped sniffling and dried his eyes with the tissues from the teacher’s desk.
“Now,” began Mr. Prescott, “who can tell me what happened?”
“I have no idea,” said Tad. “I suddenly found myself on the ground with Marco sitting on top of me and hitting me. If I did something wrong, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what happened or why.”
Turning to Marco, the teacher asked, “What can you tell us?”
“Nothing,” came the sullen reply.
“Did you start this?”
Marco didn’t respond.
“If you can’t tell me, then I’ll have to assume that Tad’s answer is correct.”
Still no response from Marco.
“All right, Marco, so why did you attack him?”
After sniffling a bit more, Marco replied, “He’s a bragger and a showoff. I thought someone needed to teach him a lesson.”
“Have you been bragging?” Mr. Prescott asked Tad.
“Not that I know of. Marco has made it pretty obvious that he doesn’t want to talk with me, so I try to stay away from him.”
“Like that day we were dividing fractions?” Marco challenged.
“No, but after you reacted so badly that time, I’ve been trying to avoid you. Anyway, that was a long time ago.”
“But you’re still a bragger. You have your hand up all the time and you’re always showing off what you know.”
“What am I supposed to do, pretend I don’t know anything?”
Marco was silent. He looked down at the floor. After a long pause, he said, “At my old school, which is a lot better than this one, I was the smartest in the class and I was proud of it. Now this hick comes along and pretends to be smarter than I am.”
Tad was tempted to say that he was indeed smarter than Marco, but he knew that wouldn’t help anything.
Mr. Prescott said, “Well, boys, I’ll have to tell your teacher and the principal what happened. For now, I’m going to walk with you back to your classroom and hope you can stay out of trouble for the rest of the day.”
Neither boy was very happy as they entered the classroom. The other children had already returned from recess, so Mrs. Tucker had gotten a very graphic report of what had happened. She watched the boys as they went to their seats. Mr. Prescott said he’d talk with her at lunch time.
The rest of the day proceeded without incident, until, in the afternoon, the boys were called to the principal’s office. When they were seated, the principal looked at them and said, “I don’t know who started the fight this morning or why, and I don’t really care. I just want you to understand that we do not, under any circumstances, allow fighting in this school, and any more such behavior can result in you being suspended.”
Then, looking at Marco, she asked, “Did you ever fight in your other school?”
“Tad, have you been in fights before?”
Tad was angry, because he knew the fight wasn’t his fault, but he answered, “No, ma’am.”
“Then let this be the end of it,” the principal said. “I want you to shake hands and return to your class.”
Very reluctantly, the boys shook hands, each knowing that he didn’t mean it.
When Tad and his brother arrived home at the end of the school day, Woody blurted out that Tad had been in a fight.
Rachel looked at the bruises on his face and shook her head. Taking him over to the kitchen table, she got him a glass of milk and sat facing him.
“What happened?” she asked gently.
Tad told her about Marco attacking him and what the principal had said.
When Neil came into the cabin at dusk, Rachel told him what had happened. Neil asked, “Do you think I should talk with the principal?”
Tad couldn’t stop himself. “No,” he interrupted. “That won’t solve anything.”
Neil looked at him for a moment before saying, “Okay. We’ll wait to see if this is a one-time event or if Marco continues to threaten you, but you must tell us immediately if anything happens.”
Tad agreed and went out to sit in the meadow until supper time.
That night he lay awake in bed for a long time. Should I have let Neil go to the principal? He wondered. Why does Marco hate me?
He lay, quietly stroking himself as he fell into an uneasy sleep.
In the morning, Tad rose slowly, checking the aches and pains in his arms and face. Finding he was still in one piece, he dressed and went to the table for breakfast. Later, as he walked out to meet the bus with Woody, he thanked his lucky stars that Marco would not be on the bus.
Entering the school, he looked about for his nemesis and, not seeing him, walked to his classroom, hung up his bag, and took his seat. In a few moments, Marco walked in and studiously ignored Tad as he went to his own desk.
The morning passed with no incidents. Tad helped students with their math as Marco occasionally glowered at him.
After lunch, they all went out to recess. It was a beautiful, warm, spring day, and Tad sat on his bench. He had taken a book with him, but he simply watched the others playing.
The next few days passed without incident, but Tad could see that something was building in Marco. He was looking increasingly unhappy and angry.
Three days before school let out for the summer, Marco passed by Tad’s desk, saying softly, “You’ll get yours. Wait for it.”
Before Tad got on the bus to go home in the afternoon, he went to the restroom. There, standing beside the urinals, was Marco.
“Well,” said Marco. “Who’s going to protect you now?” He grabbed Tad by the shirt front and slammed him against the wall before pounding him in the face.
As blood poured out of Tad’s nose, the door opened and two other sixth graders walked in. Seeing what was happening, they pulled Marco away from his victim, punched him once in the stomach, and threw him out of the restroom. Returning to Tad, who was crumpled on the floor, they helped him up. One of them was Wyatt. He got some tissues and held them against Tad’s nose until the bleeding stopped. Then the two helped him clean up. They washed the blood off his face and hands but could do nothing with the stains on his shirt.
Afraid that he would miss his bus, Tad raced out the door and climbed on just before the bus left.
At home, Rachel took one look at him and called Neil, who was in the meadow.
Rachel told Woody to play outside before she, Neil, and Tad sat at the kitchen table. “Now,” she asked, “what happened?”
Tad told them how he’d been cornered in the restroom and how Marco had slammed him against a wall and punched him. He went on to tell how he’d been rescued by a couple of other boys. By the time he was finished, he was sobbing.
“Do you know the names of the two boys?” asked Neil.
Tad told him who they were.
“Okay. Tomorrow I’m going to see the principal. This has to stop, Tad.”
“I didn’t do anything,” protested the boy.
“I know that. I’ll make that clear to the principal. Perhaps she can ask the two boys to be witnesses.”
In the morning, instead of riding the bus, Tad and Woody rode with their father to school, where Woody went to his classroom while Tad and his father went to speak with the principal.
She took them into her office, closed the door, and asked them to be seated. “Now,” she asked, “what’s going on?”
Tad told his story. When she asked if he knew who the other boys were, he told her. Asking Neil and Tad to wait in the office for a bit, she went out. In the sixth-grade rooms she asked for Marco and the two other boys, who immediately stood and followed her out the door. She returned to her office with the three boys.
Marco glared with his one eye at Tad, who looked down in his lap.
When the principal asked Marco what had happened, he told her, “Tad attacked me in the restroom. I was just trying to protect myself.”
Tad was horrified by the lie, but Neil put a warning hand on his thigh, and he said nothing.
The two other boys told her what they had seen. They clearly believed that Marco was the aggressor. Wyatt told how Marco had been holding Tad against the wall and punching him in the face. “That wasn’t self-defense,” said the other boy. “Tad was helpless, and Marco was attacking him.”
The principal thanked the two boys and said they could return to their classrooms. Turning to Marco she said, “I told you last time that any more fighting could result in suspension. I am suspending you for the rest of the school year.” Of course, that was only a couple of days, but it was all she could do.
Then she asked, “What will you be doing this summer, Marco?”
Looking properly chastened, Marco said, “Going to overnight camp.”
“Good,” said the principal. “Maybe you can learn how to get along with other boys.”
She told Tad and Neil they could go. As they were leaving her office, she was calling Marco’s mother.
That night, as Tad lay in bed waiting for sleep to come, he pondered his problem. He knew he was fascinated by Marco. In a way he wanted to be Marco’s friend despite what had happened, but he couldn’t think of how to make that happen.
At last, he fell into a deep sleep, fondling himself and thinking about Marco.