The bell rings and the shrill noise pounds into my ears, making me jump.  I grab all my books and jam them into my backpack as fast as I can.  When Mrs. Hendersen says goodbye to the class I make sure that I’m the first one out the door.  Maybe if I’m extra fast today I’ll make it.  The hallway’s long and crowded and it takes a long time to make it to the big double doors at the end.  My hands are starting to shake by the end.  Was that quick enough?  I keep going towards the gate and the big tree, almost running across the wet grass.  Maybe he won’t be there today.  Maybe I beat him to it.  But my hands are still getting clammy and my heart is still pounding.  He’s always there. 
    Closer.  I grip my backpack extra tight.  Maybe.  Closer.  A drop of sweat rolls down my face.  Maybe today.  Closer.  Maybe today I’ll get by.  There’s the tree, just before the gate, and I’m past it!  I made it!  I...
    “Where you think you’re goin’ squirt?”
    I freeze, my heart pounding like crazy.  No!  I was so close!  Trembling, I turn around slowly.  It’s not like there’s any point in running.
    “You tryin’ to get off easy today, squirt?”  All my sweat seems to freeze ice-cold as I look up into the smirking face of Ronny Dudley. 
    He’s lounging up against the big tree and smiling.  It’s not a nice smile.  It’s the kind of smile with a punch lurking somewhere behind it.  Ronny is pretty much every third grader’s nightmare.  I know because he’s been in a few of mine, stealing my lunch money and shoving me into lockers for hours on end.  He’s got big beefy hands, all bruised from hitting people, and a head shaped like a pumpkin with a nose thats all squashed in.  He always throws extra hard in dodgeball, never washes his hair, and makes sure that he hits every boy in Mrs. Henderson’s class at least once a week.  Wednesday is my day.  Three and a half months into the year and he’s never missed a week.
    “N-no, Ronny, I got to get home today.  It’s important.”  My voice is shaking and it hurts to breath.  Icy fear freezes my feet to the ground.  Why bother arguing?  It’s not going to help.
    “Oh really?”  Ronny steps forward, shoving his greasy head in my face.  He’s wearing old beat-up tennis shoes with no laces, ripped jeans covered in dirt, and a flannel shirt that’s way too big for him.  None of his clothes are new.  They never are.  Sometimes I wonder why, but not for very long, because then he always hits me and then I just think about how much it hurts for a while.  He takes another step and I flinch, throwing my arms up to block a punch that doesn’t come. 
    Then he shuffles aside.  
    “Well then, squirt, if it’s important you’d better go then,” he says, smiling.   
    What?  Is he letting me go?  Can I make it without getting hit?  Is Ronny finally being nice?  I don’t get it.  Maybe because he took my lucky rock last week, and it was a really cool rock, so he’s not going to hit me?  Whatever, I should take the chance.  I pry my feet up from the ground and take off for the gate as fast as I can go. Ronny still has that smile on his face as I go by, but I don’t really think about it too much.   
    I make it three steps before Ronny’s fist crashes into my shoulder like a freight train, sending me sprawling flat on my face.  Maybe I should have thought about it more. 
    “Hahaha, dumb little squirt,” he snorts.  “Nothing is more important than Ronny Dudley.  And don’t you forget it.” 
    I lie on the ground, holding my shoulder.  It hurts really bad and my eyes are getting all wet but I don’t cry because boys don’t do that.  And I try to think of something to yell back, but I can’t.  So I just lay there, screwing up my face and trying not to show how much it hurts.  Ronny smirks one more time, then spits down at me and runs off, laughing and kicking at grass clumps with his busted up sneakers. 

The End

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