Big Mix’s tears blended with the raindrops falling out of her saturated hair. Her new pink jams were ruined from the mud puddle I had pushed her in, and her books swelled from the weight of all the water they absorbed. The whole social studies class stared at her from their chairs.
The pond under her seat looked like a flash flood with her butt as the big rain cloud. From the back row I beamed at my accomplishment. The bell rang and Mrs. Harris stood at the door, arms crossed with hands under elbows. Her lips pouted like she was holding back something she wanted to say.
I didn’t plan to push Big Mix in the mud puddle, but the opportunity presented itself. The shortcut between the gym and the next pod of classrooms required that students leave from behind the bleachers through the back door. Most people avoided the shortcut on days like today when it was raining. But I saw Big Mix cut away from the herd trying to fit into the hallway. The dim bulbs in the old gym hung so high the light got lost before it hit the ground. When the door to the outside opened the rainy haze was enough to slice through the gym’s shadows.
I veered from the line and took the exit myself. Big Mix was no farther than I could throw a paper airplane. A steady waterfall fell from the overhang of the doorway and I pulled my backpack straps to tighten my books against me for a good run. I felt myself slipping in the spots where the grass had died out. The cracked dirt from the first week of school quickly turned to soup after this week’s rain.
My momentum was going by the time I caught up with her. I don’t think I could have stopped if I had wanted to. When I yanked down on her book bag a look of pure terror and surprise flashed across her face as she fell down in the mud. When she landed the mud splashed up thick. Its color looked like tomato soup made with milk. I kept running. I didn’t see her wallow on her side trying to get up. But, in the classroom, I saw the red mud layered on her so wide it could have been put on with a paint roller. Mrs. Harris shut the door and went to her desk without uttering a word.
. Go to the principal’s office.” Mrs. Harris said as she ripped a piece of paper off of her notepad. Brandon
"But I haven't done anything?" I protested
She looked at Big Mix and then at me. She shook the paper in her hand like a tambourine. I stood up to leave.
“Take your books. You won’t be coming back today.”
The clacking sound of the lunch trays couldn’t be distinguished from the girl table’s laughter. I left the principle’s office after the bell rang and arrived at my lunch table to find someone in my seat. Aaron, my best friend, stared at me as I held my full tray above the intruder’s head. The watery spaghetti and snot covered apples would have made a mess, and I was hungry, so I kicked the chair leg instead.
“You’re in my seat.” I said.
The kid turned around like a spring and hugged the top of the chair. His eyebrows almost bumped and his eyes narrowed as a response to the threat.
. This is my cousin, Neil, and he didn’t know whose seat it was.” Aaron said. Brandon
Aaron nodded to his cousin, who got up and moved to the other end of the table. I sat down my tray and sighed as I placed myself in the seat.
“So what did you get?” Paul asked as I scooted up my chair.
“Principal Skelton seemed to not know what happened when he called me in his office. I don’t think Big Mix said anything because he never accused me of nothin. I think he figured, with my past, whatever I had done was worth two days of in-school suspension.”
“Did you do it?” Spurgeon asked.
His light caramel eyes steadied themselves on me. I had all of the boy’s rapt attention. Metal forks hung above everyone's next bite of food as they waited to hear the next juicy piece of gossip. I tore my ration of toast in half and bit into the buttery middle. Paul pushed his glasses higher up the bridge of his nose. I swallowed and sucked down the toast with the anxious need to tell every detail until it landed like a pat on the back.
“Yeah. I did it. How can you pass up an opportunity like that?”
Everyone nodded their head, understanding the temptation, except for the new kid Neil.
“What is a Big Mix?” Neil asked. Dark freckles sprinkled his face like termite holes in birch wood.
“Big Mix is that fat girl Lanece in the seventh grade. She has that big pig head with hair like a peacock, and the round body of a hippopotamus. Not quite human, and not all beast. She is a mixed breed like that new cereal animal on that commercial they show all the time on Saturday morning cartoons.” Aaron said.
“She also snorts like that thing when she laughs.” Spurgeon added. “Somebody to mess with when there is nothing else to do. Well except for Paul.” Spurgeon laughed.
“Shut up. Shut up or I won’t finish you math homework.” Paul muttered under his breath.
Since it was so close to the beginning of the school year I was the only prisoner in in-school suspension. The sounds of laughter and chatter passed by during class changes like crows resting in a field. There wasn’t much homework to do, and after lunch my head gravitated toward the desk as I pretended to read my social studies book.
The last time I remembered being fully conscious Mr. Wofford said he was running an errand to the office. I wearily nodded, then laid my head on the desk when the door was shut.
When I drifted back to the surface of consciousness spittle stuck to the corner of my mouth like a glob of mayonnaise. Something warm and moist slithered across my neck. When I tried to raise my head a giant hand palmed my head and held me to the desk. I flung my arms trying to tag whatever was holding me. Purple streaks flashed across the gray walls as I strained to get up.
“Help me!” I yelled as the wet wiggling thing on my neck heated up. I could only imagine it as someone’s tongue, the tip swirled counter clockwise and the suction of lips molded my flesh into a painful pinch.
“Oh God.” My voice cracked from the pain.
My skin felt like it was melting. The tongue stopped swirling and it pressed, relaxed and flat, against the burned flesh. When it pulled away from my neck there was a loud pop. I turned, rubbed my wound, and watched as Big Mix backed away from me.
“What are you doing you stupid cow? I’m not a salt lick.”
Big Mix licked her lips and slurped in the juices. The bad lighting rested on the girth of her hump. I rubbed the side of my neck and waited for a response. The stare she held on me was a different one from the look of fear or humiliation she usually carried. I was a little scared. As she dragged the back of her paw across her lips she reminded me of Sylvester the cat after he ate a bird. Eyes all wide and glowing with a smile.
“I’ll get you back for this. When I get done with you they’ll hang your bones beside the elephant man. When I get done with you they’ll stuff your hide and use you to scare away other beasts.”
Big Mix turned around and walked to the door. Her calves were so big it looked like someone shoved hams into her shoes. The sound of the handle to the door clicked like the loading of a gun, and the stream of fresh air was sealed shut when the door closed behind her. The spot on my neck felt raised. Heat radiated from the assaulted patch of skin. Not being able to see what it looked like drove me crazy. I felt like I had been jabbed with a branding iron.
“Everything okay?” Mr. Wofford asked when he walked back into the classroom.
“Yeah. Everything is great.”
Aaron was at the bus stop with his thumbs hitched into the straps of his book bag. He stood off by himself while other kids buzzed like bees back and forth to their friends. A group of boys crowded around the brick wall, pressing on each others throats, playing the blackout game. Buses herded into the parking lot from the elementary school, and Aaron just stood there, talking to no one.
When I walked closer I saw a bead of sweat roll out of his sideburns and down his cheek. He had to be burning up in his black Ghostbusters t-shirt and dark jeans in this late summer heat. The shagged mop of hair came off his head at all directions, and his clothes hung loose around his body because they were accustomed to his older brother.
“You alright?” I asked.
The way he crunched his face together I couldn’t tell if he was hurt, angry, or had too much sun in his face.
“Yeah.” He spat out.
“You’re not going to believe what happened to me today.” I said.
I threw my book bag to the ground and got my hands got in on the story. I showed Aaron how Big Mix held me down, and how I fought. He could see the spot on my neck. It waved like a flag when I moved my jaw or tilted my head. Classmates I had passed since the incident didn’t stare at me as hard as Aaron did. With his arms still crossed he leaned in on me like he was studying graffiti on the bathroom wall. His nostril flared when he leaned back.
“When did this happen?”
“Today during in-school. Right after fourth period.”
When he turned his head I finally saw the spot on his neck, and it was bigger than mine. The redness wasn’t the color of hickeys my mom had come home with, but more like the deep crimson of an old burn. The border was a pink sear and the body of the wound looked like it would have stained my fingers just by touching it.
I didn’t know what to say to him. The way he bared his neck at me reminded me of my dog when he was too scared to play with me anymore. Aaron was so guarded, and tough, proven by the amount of scars on his knuckles, and I couldn’t believe she got him too.
“I was in the boiler room after lunch waiting on Amanda Pine to show up so we could make out. I don’t know how long I waited, but when I was about to leave Big Mix bum-rushed me as I stepped through the door to head to class.
“She pinned me to the wall, and no matter how hard I kicked or punched she took it. She took it, and leeched on to my neck. It was like being burned with a car cigarette lighter.”
Aaron touched his neck and covered the spot with his palm.
“I know I had to hit her with two solid shots to the gut and she took it without so much as a whimper.” He said.
He shook his head then plumed his eyes to the ground. The parking lot emptied as the buses filled up, and when Aaron’s bus rolled in the brakes sneezed. Aaron hopped to shift the weight of his book bag.
“Who have you told?” I asked
“You. Nobody else dared to ask. Why? What are you thinking?”
Cover Art by Robert Ingle