In the hospital they tell me I’ve broken my nose. And two fingers. And bruised some of my ribs. And lost a few teeth, but they’ll grow back. I fade in and out. Mum does a lot of crying and so does Esmé, but she smiles when I smile at her. When I wake up at home Dad is sitting on my bed. He wipes his eyes fast when he sees me move.
The next weeks blur. I sleep, eat, heal. Nana and Grandpa visit and I pray with them. The entire family is just happy I’m okay. Mum and Dad argue about whether to sell the bikes and never let us ride again. I know cause I can hear them outside my door. Esmé always comes in and whispers in my ear that the secret is safe. I believe her. Sometimes Mum and Dad bring Zac in and sit him on my bed where he tilts forward and reaches as far around me as he can before he smushes his face into my chest. I love his hugs.
I get better. At school people stare for a while. When Billy Slater sneers at me, I look right back and his smile disappears. Nathan gets it. He knows I can tell anyone. At anytime. He avoids me. Payton gives me a card she made. We don’t talk for a while. My nose is still ugly. I want to heal so she’ll look at me again.
Six Saturdays after the incident, I wake up and stretch from nose to toes. I reach as far as I can with my fingertips and feel my broken bits wiggle. Today is the day. I make my way down stairs and walk by Zac and Es and their cartoons to go eat. Breakfast is Cheerio’s and tea. Dad and Mum run circles around each other in the little kitchen. I sit and eat as world events pass above my head. When Dad says someone’s name wrong, Mum laughs and demands a kiss. They kiss and I freeze. They look so natural its like they’ve been kissing all their lives. I finish my Cheerio’s and tilt the bowl up to get the milk at the bottom; it spills a bit and dribbles down my chin. I’m still not used to my missing teeth. I ask Mum for the baseball and bat. I steal some change off Dad’s dresser. I put on my baseball hat and palm a sharpie on the way out the door.
I’m not a good guy. Nathan has taught me that. I had tried running from them. I had tried talking to them. I’m told it was a miracle I didn’t get more stitches, more broken bones. For Nathan’s birthday in the summer Mum and I bussed with his present sitting on my lap. She made me memorize the bus number and cost and stops. Number 14, buck twenty-five, six stops. I have some trouble keeping the ball and bat together as I scribble on them. The moving bus makes it hard but friendly strangers help me out. After a while the ‘Sean’s were gone. An ugly cursive ‘Ed’ labels the ball, bat and hat. I almost miss my stop.
His house is big and pretty and blue with white trim and red roses and a flag that leaves a long shadow on the grass. I stand on Nathan’s welcome mat and I tuck my hair under the cap, checking and double-checking it in my reflection in the window beside the door. I breathe deep twice. In and out. In and out. My nose whistles. I ring the bell.
His mother answers the door in an apron and cooking mitts. “Hi, Mrs. Duncan. I’m Ed, is Nathan here?”
“Sure, Ed. He’s downstairs. Are you going to ask him to play baseball?”
“Should I go get him?”
“No ma’am, I can go downstairs.”
“Alright, now don’t forget to wipe you feet.”
I wipe my feet and she smiles at me. I go down a few stairs then watch her while she turns and goes back to her cooking before I keep going. I lock the basement door behind me and look around. I cross quietly to the back door and prop it open. Then I go and find Nathan. There are lights flashing in the den. The door is slightly open and I push it with the bat. It swings, slow and quiet. Nathan sits on the couch, his back to the door, watching toons. His head is tee-ball height popping up above the edge of the couch. Swing badda-badda-badda. Swing.
At home I slip upstairs and change. I hear mum bathing Esmé –a lot of splashing and laughter– and a steady BRRRRUBRUMBRUM from Zac’s room. I pull him out of his crib and sit with him. He drives his tractor up, over my crossed legs, and up my chest and onto my face. I stick my tongue out at him. He sticks his out at me. I pull him close.
“I’m not a good person, Zac.” I look at him. He reaches his arms out as far as they can around me and slams his face into my chest. Super hug.