J. S. Cooper
Fifteen Years Ago
Six Years Old
When I was in first grade, there was a boy who used to pinch me on the bus, and every day I would go home crying. He was older than I was by at least three years, and he had a snotty nose and dirty hands. I hated him with as much passion as a six-year-old could hate a boy. And one day, in my bravest voice, I told my mom that I no longer wanted to go to school on the bus because of this horrible little boy. The day after I told her, my mom found out the boy’s name from the bus driver and took me to his house so that she could speak to his mom. That was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I sat there on the couch in the living room, waiting in fear. I was so scared that the boy was going to come in and pinch me again. But he didn’t. Instead, my mom brought him over to me and he apologized with a big dopey grin. A grin that told me that he didn’t think he had really done anything wrong. My mom told me that he was going to look after me on the bus and at school and make sure that no one ever hurt me. He was going to be my very own protector. He called himself Batman, I called him Dopey, and his parents called him Hudson. Hudson Blake. From that day on, he never pinched me on the bus again. But I can’t say that I’ve never cried because of him since.
Ten Years Ago
She sat in the corner of the couch crying, her sobs loud and her face red and splotchy. I walked past her into the kitchen and grabbed a can of Coke, ignoring the tug of my heartstrings as I watched her.
“What’s wrong, Riley?” I sighed as I questioned her. She looked up at me with big brown eyes full of tears and I was taken back to the days when I used to pinch her on the school bus.
“Nothing.” She gulped and looked down at her legs.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” I sat on the couch next to her and awkwardly put my arm around her shoulders. “Maybe I can help.” I had no idea what I’d be able to do to help, but at fourteen, I felt years ahead of eleven-year-old Riley.
“Eden won’t...” She paused and sobbed some more. “Eden won’t let me borrow her nail polish.”
“What?” I frowned, confused.
“I heard that part.” I stared at her for a few moments before continuing. “I don’t get why you care. Nail polish just looks cheap and gross anyways.”
“No, it doesn’t.” She shook her head and I sighed.
“Get up, Riley. Let’s go and talk to Eden.” I grabbed her hand and pulled her up from the couch, and she held on to my hand as we walked up the stairs to go talk to Eden. Eden was my sister and Riley’s best friend, but many times I felt as if I were closer to Riley than I was to Eden.
“Eden, open up.” I tried opening the door and then banged on it.
“No!” my sister yelled back in a whiny tone.
“Eden, I don’t have time for this!” I shouted, annoyed. I was fourteen and at the age where I felt like I was a man, not a boy. “Open up. Now.”
“Whatever!” she cried out as she slowly opened the door. “What do you want?” She stuck her face out at me and raised her nose up in the air.
“Let Riley play with the nail polish, please.”
She rolled her eyes. “I told her she could already.”
“I wanted the red one, not the pink.” Riley looked at me with wide eyes and I sighed.
“The red one, Eden?”
“No, that’s my favorite.” Eden shook her head. “You can’t make me.”
“Riley’s your best friend,” I huffed. “You should be generous. You know that’s what good little girls do.” I gave her a big smile like my dad always did to try and convince her. “Okay?”
“No,” she said obstinately, as only an eleven-year-old could.
“That’s my name. Don’t wear it out.” She gave me a superior look.
“You’re so childish.”
“You’re such a brat,” she shot back at me.
“Whatever. Come on, Riley.” I grabbed her hand and walked away from Eden’s door. “See you later, Eden. Riley and I are going to hang out in my room.”
“Kissy kissy time!” Eden called out and made kissing noises, and I frowned at her.
“You’re disgusting.” I shook my head and let go of Riley’s hand. “Come on. We can go and hang out in my room.”
“Okay.” She smiled at me weakly and followed me into my room.
“You can sit on the bed,” I offered generously. I really was magnanimous. I wanted to call Luke and tell him to come over so that we could play my new wrestling video game, but I knew that would be no fun for Riley to watch. “I’m going to play video games.”
“Okay.” She nodded and smiled at me. She sat on my bed with her legs crossed, and I stared at her for a few seconds before speaking again.
“You can play too...if you want.” I held back a sigh, not wanting her to know that I didn’t really want to play with her. Girls sucked at video games, especially her and Eden. Whenever they came to my room to play, they always giggled and fell on the ground. It was so annoying having to let them play when my parents were home that I was surprised I had asked her to play now of my own volition.
“I can watch.”
“Are you going to play the car racing game?” she asked eagerly, and I groaned. I should have known that she didn’t really want to watch.
“No, I’m going to play my WCW game. Practice my wrestling.” I flexed my arms to show her my muscles, but she didn’t look too impressed. Typical kid. She had no clue that I’d been lifting fifty-pound weights for the last couple of months.
“Wrestling is boring,” she spoke innocently, and I tried not to let it annoy me.
Wrestling was my life. I wanted to be in the WWE when I grew older. I was going to be called ‘The Real Batman’ and I’d wear a black cape and mask and be totally awesome.
“You’re too young to understand.”
“I’m not too young to know it’s boring.” She grinned at me and I laughed.
“Very funny, Riley. Don’t make me pinch you.”
“I’ll tell my mom.” She gave me a look, and this time I didn’t hold back my groan.
“Please don’t. I don’t need her coming over here again, begging my parents to make me be nice to you.”
She giggled. “She didn’t beg.”
“Well, it worked.” She got off of the bed and came and gave me a hug. “Now you’re my private bodyguard.”
“You know it.” I gave her an awkward hug back. “I’m your personal Batman.”
“Uh huh.” She smiled up at me.
I was about to say something else when Eden knocked on the door.
“What are you guys doing?” She sauntered in without waiting for an answer to her knock.
“What do you think, dork?” I rolled my eyes.
“K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Eden laughed and I shuddered.
“That’s disgusting, Eden. What do you want?”
“Want to come and do nails, Riley?” She walked over to her friend. “You can use the red.”
“Are you sure?” A grin spread across Riley’s face. “I thought it was your favorite.”
“I’m sure. It’s my favorite, but you’re my best friend.” Eden linked her arm through Riley’s and they walked back out of my bedroom door.
I shook my head as I watched them go and then picked up my phone to call Luke.
“Wassup, dawg,” Luke drawled into the phone, trying to imitate his favorite rappers.
“What up?” I sat on the bed and looked at the door. “You wanna come over and play video games?”
“Dude, my mom said I gotta finish my homework before I go anywhere.”
“You nearly done?”
“Do you think I’m nearly done? I’ve got homework from last week that I still gotta do.” He groaned. “This school shit sucks.”
“I know, I know.” I sighed. Luke had been my best friend for years and I loved him, but sometimes I wished that he was a little bit more on the ball. “You think you can finish in the next hour? I’m sure you can stay over for dinner.”
“What’s your mom cooking?” he asked eagerly. Luke loved coming over for dinner, as my mom was a great cook and his mom was the queen of takeout. As much as we both loved takeout, we didn’t want to eat it every night.
“Meatloaf, I think.”
“With mashed potatoes?” His voice was excited and I laughed. I knew that Luke would do whatever it took to get over to my house that evening now that he knew my mom was making her famous mashed potatoes.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.” He hung up the phone and I grinned before running down the stairs.
“Mom!” I shouted as I ran. “Mom, what are you cooking for dinner?”
“Mom went out to grab a pizza.” Eden poked her head out of her door and made a face at me.
“Not again,” I groaned.
Now that my dad had started working late, Mom was making fewer meals at home. I was fed up with pizza. She didn’t even get the good kind. I felt like I was starting to look like Hungry Howie every time I glanced in a mirror.
“I like pizza.” Eden stuck her tongue out, and I ran into the room and grabbed her. “Put me down!” she squealed. “Hudson!”
“You’re a brat.” I dropped her on the bed and she giggled.
“Whatever. At least I’m getting pizza.”
“I wish mom would make meatloaf.” I shook my head, frustrated.
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