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Four sets of eyes followed his rise, all but Elena Markworth's, her usually reluctant gaze fixed fully upon the crimson pool spreading on the asphalt beneath her tormentor's creviced head.
“If we stick to the story,” Joey began, fingers curling around the slick wood handle, tips pressing hard on the grain, “then no one will get into trouble. Everything will be all right. Just
like it used to be.”
The stares did not doubt him. They wanted to believe him.
“You're sure he didn't see who it was?” Bryce Hool asked, his glasses sliding low on his nose. He pushed them up
with a single finger.
“I'm sure,” Joey confirmed, and held the bat out to the class treasurer. “Here.”
“There's blood on it,” Bryce
“Only at the top,” Joey assured
him, and Bryce took the bat and squeezed his hands where Joey had.
Michael Prentiss, the class sergeant at arms, watched Bryce turn toward him, bat held tip to the gray morning sky, in front as a knight might present his sword reverently to a king.
“Take it,” Joey prompted.
Michael did, grasping the Louisville Slugger as he did in little league, testing its heft, staring at the sweet spot stained the color of a cherry Slurpee. After a moment his eyes drifted down to the bully lying outside their classroom, and over the one visible hand which reached for the mouth unnaturally, as a baby might when
trying to suck its fingers. He knew that hand, and the one he could not see, mostly as fists, and he remembered the black eye, and going to the principal's office because he had fought back, and he thought how glad he was that Guy Edmond was not going to be able to use those fists this day, those sharp-knuckled pile drivers that belonged at Bidwell Junior High and not in Miss Austin's class.
Guy deserved a lot. A whole lot, Michael truly believed. But something made him wonder if he deserved what had just
been dealt him. He thought on that and flexed his fingers on the bat, the backward ‘S' shape of Guy Edmond's still and frightful form holding him rapt, and for a reason he did not quite understand his lower lip grew prominent and began to quiver. An uncomfortable warmth drained over his eyes.
“Here,” Michael said, shoving the bat at Paula Jean Allenton and turning away.
“All right,” Paula Jean, PJ to all but her mother, took the bat lest it be dropped in Michael's haste to be rid of it, and added her own fingerprints to the handle. She studied it up and down,
holding it far from her body as the early fall breeze picked up her loose brown hair and swept it across her face. “What about higher?”
“Higher where?” Joey asked as he tucked the loose tail of his shirt back into his pants.
“On the bat. Should we touch it where it gets fatter?”
Joey's trim, gonna-be-a-lady-killer-someday face shook slightly. “Where you've got it is fine.”
PJ, the class vice-president, nodded and put force into her grip, like she did when her younger brother got stupid and needed a pinch to remind him who was the boss of the bedroom they
shared. Then, like Michael, she looked at Guy Edmond's motionless, lanky body, but she did not recoil, and she did not let emotion overwhelm her. No, she thought instead of how much she would like to lift the bat high in the air and
bring it down onto Guy's back, again and again, beating him until she could hear bones snap, until she felt like she'd gotten some payback for all that he'd done to her and her friends. He'd almost ruined everything in Miss Austin's class, the best class PJ had ever been in. The best class any of them had ever been in.
But they weren't going to let him ruin anything ever again.
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