Patrick Mason held his lunch box in front of him as a shield, Spongebob on the lid. His green eyes were big ovals full of tears. His bottom lip trembled, and a whine came from his throat. His back was pressed into the corner, his left shoulder taking a poking from one of Marty Wilson’s meaty fingers.
“You watch where you’re going, wimp,” Marty growled. He towered over the little boy and leaned down so his nose was inches from Patrick’s. “Do you understand me or are you too dumb for that?”
Patrick didn’t move. Neither did Carrie. She stared at the bully and the victim, her eyes as big as Patrick’s, her hands clutching tight to the straps of the little pink book bag on her back. Her heart pounded. She wanted to turn, to hurry around the corner in hopes that Marty wouldn’t see her.
That hope fled as Marty turned in her direction. His brown eyes were slits, and his lips pulled down in an angry frown.
“What are you looking at, pigeon toes?” he yelled. Spittle flew from his mouth.
Patrick looked at her. Though he didn’t speak, his eyes begged, Please help!
“Nothing,” Carrie said.
“That’s right, little girl. You haven’t seen a thing.”
Carrie turned and hurried around the corner. She half hobbled, half ran, her feet pointed in, as they always had. She reached the exit and pushed on the door. It opened and she burst through it and started down the steps. Halfway down, she stopped. Her breaths came in labored gasps, her heart thump thumped, and tears fell down her cheeks.
“I’m safe,” she said between breaths. “I’m safe. He didn’t... he didn’t...”
Carrie looked back at the door.
“I’m safe,” she said, “But Patrick...”
She shook her head. “He’s not my problem.” Carrie made her way down to the sidewalk, got most of the way across the lawn before she stopped again.
She recalled his wide eyes, the message in them: Please help. He was scared, and she left him with Marty Wilson. I can’t help him. Marty’s much bigger than me, and he is mean. I’m not mean. I’m just... me.
“But Patrick is little and... and...”
Carrie looked back at the school. Its red brick structure looked uninviting. The steps looked like a long white tongue; the doors looked like a giant mouth, open and hungry for little girl flesh. She thought the halls were the monster’s throat and Marty waited in its belly to finish off what the teeth of the giant beast didn’t. A shiver traced up her spine, sending chill bumps along her arms, legs and neck.
“There’s nothing I can do.”
Carrie looked down at her feet. They pointed inward. Her shoes were heavy clod hoppers, the insoles soft foam pads to support her high arches. She hated that she had been born with ‘defected’ ankles and legs as her dad put it once when he was in an alcohol fueled grumpy mood.
Defected. Pigeon toed.
She frowned. If the only thing wrong with her were a couple of turned in feet and she got picked on for it, how much worse was it for Patrick, who was small for his age, frail in some eyes, painfully shy and who often found it difficult to talk?
Can’t someone help him?
With that thought came a second, more powerful one. You’re someone.
Carrie’s shoulders sagged. Her conscious was right. No one else would help Patrick. Everyone ran. But she had seen him cornered by Marty, had seen that fat finger poking into Patrick’s shoulder, had seen those sad green eyes begging for her to help him.
She looked up to the sky as tears tugged at her eyes. White tufts of cotton hung in the canvas of blue. A plane flew by high enough she couldn’t hear it. “I’m only ten,” she said. Her eyes remained on the sky, on the plane that quickly faded from view, as if waiting on something from high above to tell her ‘it’s okay, Carrie, don’t worry about Patrick, he’ll be all right.’ No voice came, and deep inside she knew Patrick wasn’t going to be all right.
Carrie took a deep breath, let it out and started back toward the school. At the steps, she looked up into the mouth of the beast, never minding she was already on its tongue. She took the steps one at a time, reached the landing and then the door. The handle was cool in her sweaty palm.
I can’t do this, her mind screamed. Her father would have left Patrick to his own devices. He would have called him a little wimp who needs a good beating to right his ship. She hated her dad. He was a bully, just like Marty.
“I have to,” she said. “No one else will.”
She opened the door and took several steps up the hall, her shoes clopping hard on the floor. Carrie looked down at the black and white shoes, the heavy soles and toes made it impossible to walk quietly. She sat down, unlaced them and pulled them free. With a shoe in each hand, she hobbled up the hall, her toes pointed in, her hips and shoulders swaying with each step.
She heard crying, even before she reached the corner. No doubt Marty had hit Patrick by now. Her heart sank into her stomach. Her skin felt cold. Her breaths were sharp and quick.
The sound of a hand on skin stopped her short of the corner. Her heart stopped right along with her feet. More crying came, and one strangled word was mixed in there, “Please.”
“Please, what!?” Marty yelled.
“Please what?!” Another slap came.
“Please what?” Marty yelled again.
Carrie stopped breathing when she rounded the corner. Her stomach knotted and she thought she would throw up.
Marty stood over Patrick, his hands clutched into fists. Patrick’s lunch box lay open on the floor, its contents spilled out. Patrick lay in the fetal position, his hands over his head, but not doing a good job of covering anything. His bottom lip bled and there was a red hand print on the side of his face.
“Please,” Patrick said.
“Please what!?” Marty raised his fist.
“Please stop!” Carrie yelled.
Marty turned. His face was red, but Carrie didn’t think he was embarrassed. Maybe surprised, but not embarrassed. She thought he looked joyful, like her father had when he beat her mom. “Look at you,” he snarled. “Little pigeon-toed girl coming to save the special needs kid?”
Anger filled her thoughts. Her heart sped up. The look of fear she saw on Patrick’s face was the same as the one on her mom’s face before... before she fought back. “Leave him alone,” she growled.
He stepped over Patrick and glared at Carrie. “What if I don’t?”
She didn’t know how to answer that question. She just knew to act, and she did. With all the strength she could muster, she slung one of her heavy shoes at Marty. This time surprise bordering on shock appeared on his face. The heavy heel of the shoe struck him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He stumbled backward. His feet bumped into one of Patrick’s legs. His arms pinwheeled as he tried to keep his balance. He fell, landing hard on his bottom. His head struck the wall. Both hands went up to the back of his skull.
“Get up, Patrick,” she said and tottered over to him. She held one hand out. He took it and stood. He looked down at Marty, who still lay on the floor holding his head. “It’s okay, Patrick. He’s not going to hurt you anymore.” To Marty she said, “Are you?”
“I’ll get you for this,” Marty said.
Carrie thought of her dad, of her mom and the fear she experienced because of him. She knew Marty meant what he had said, but he had been bested, by a girl at that. He would talk, but that is all he would do.
“No, you won’t,” she said and took Patrick’s hand. “Let’s go, Patrick.”
The two rounded the corner and left the building without looking back. Outside, she wiped his mouth with the sleeve of her shirt.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice soft.
Carrie smiled, shrugged her shoulders and tussled his brown hair. “You’re welcome.”
Like her mom, Patrick no longer looked scared.