“Hey Tobes, got any lunch money?”
Tobey turned his head swiftly. Instinctively his bony hands grasped his rucksack just as the suspicion and tension grasped his insides. He knew that voice. Too well.
“Aden,” he said, smiling to hide his fear. It looked more of a pained grimace. “No, sorry. I have a packed lunch.”
He looked around hopefully for a teacher to enforce the anti-bullying policy, but though the school grounds were busy, they were busy with flocks of milling students. Little year sevens in their regulation uniform were running about like the children they were, while “hard” year elevens like Zak and Tristan hovered nearby, watching the two boys with scarcely-concealed interest. Nowhere in this sea of adolescence was anyone with authority or anyone who looked even remotely inclined to help Tobey.
“So, you have no money at all to give me?”
“No,” said Tobey, smiling, mostly with nerves but partly with relief that it had worked out cheaper to buy a bus card. He didn’t have any money on him, which, although it would probably provoke more of Aden’s wrath, would at least mean that he’d be able to get to the park. Well, unless he was in a particularly sadistic mood…
Aden looked unconvinced and reached out for Tobey. “Are you sure you don’t have anything to spare?” he smirked in a gross parody of need. He’d been Oliver in year seven drama club, and acted so well many of the teachers had cried- Tobey had felt pity for him then. How could someone so vile, repulsive, cruel, ever have moved anyone’s heart when his own was so silent when it came to his victims?
Tobey stepped back quickly as Aden’s hands moved upwards to his shoulders. He was well acquainted with how painful it could be when those pressure points were poked. As he stepped backwards, though, he felt his bag press against the concrete of a nearby bin. He realised- once again, far too late- he was trapped.
“Let’s turn out those pockets, shall we?” said Aden, blocking Tobey from leaving. With Zak and Tristan at his flanks like bodyguards or enormous bouncers, he looked all the more powerful.
“There’s nothing in there that’s of any interest to you,” he said, with more bravery then he felt. He dug his hands deep into the pockets of his raincoat, trying to surreptitiously extract his floppy disc and hide it somewhere. Somehow, he had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps letting Aden get his hands on it was just asking for trouble.
Aden took a step nearer to Tobey with a swagger. “I don’t like your lip, Merritt. I think we need to teach you some manners, don’t we?”
He turned to his friends for corroboration; they gave it in the nods and grunts that seemed to make up most of their vocabulary. The grin that erupted onto Tristan’s boil-encrusted face was positively alarming in its fondness of causing pain. Zak cracked his meaty knuckles like a piano virtuoso warming up for a concert, only the music he was going to play would be a chorus of yelps from the hapless Tobey. Oh yes, he knew it well. He was used to it by now.
“So, let’s see what you’ve got inside those pockets, Merritt,” the bully smirked, running one hand through his artfully dishevelled and gelled hair.
Tobey’s fingers curled around the plastic of the floppy disc. His English coursework was saved on it, the coursework he had spent hours finishing on the computer in his father’s study. How was he going to get it past Aden? He began to look around to see if there was anyone nearby who might hold on to the disc until he asked for it back- because even if they weren’t willing to actively defy Aden, they might perhaps hide it from him and thus help him passively.
Josie! Would she…could she…?
Jut as Tobey slid the disc out of his pocket to attempt what would be an impressive feat, Aden lunged forward and forced both hands into Tobey’s pockets. He grabbed the loose things lying about in their, Tobey’s wallet (thankfully devoid of actual money, it was filled with his bus card, library card, and various old receipts) an old biro- wait a second, was my key in my pocket? – panic temporarily overcame him for long enough for Aden to snatch the disc.
“What would this be then, Tobes?” He snarled, pointing at the wallet. “Have you been telling fibs again?”
“It’s empty, honest,”
“I don’t believe you,” Aden turned to Zak and Tristen, raising one eyebrow in what Tobey recognised as signal to attack. He ducked, but not quick enough to avoid the stinging slap that made white stars erupt in front of his eyes, like the glinting fragments of a sparkler. Cheek smarting, he stood up again, only to find himself being punched in the stomach so that he doubled over, winded.
When he was able to stand upright again, Aden’s attention had turned to the floppy disc, as Tobey thought it would. Grinning, he gestured to it. In his hand, it suddenly looked so fragile. Tobey mentally said goodbye to all that evening’s work, eyes beginning to well up at the frustration of the unfairness of it all.
“So, what do we have here?”
“It doesn’t look like nothing, Merritt, don’t lie to me.”
“Sorry Aden,” he said, bowing his head humbly in respect at the bully, at the same time hating himself for so doing. Why should he have to bow to his oppressor? For a split second, he toyed with the idea of fighting back, before remembering that he was outnumbered. “It’s a floppy disc,”
“I can see that, do you think I’m an idiot?”
The answer yes would be both suicidal and untrue.
“Yeah, do you think we’re idiots?” grunted Tristen, while Zak menacingly cracked his knuckles again.
“No, Aden, sorry. There’s nothing on it,” he lied, while privately thinking in the calm part of his mind that Tristen might have had a point.
Aden looked at Tobey with a looks that could have turned an unaccustomed person to stone. Tobey, however, was used to it, and though he couldn’t really suppress a gulp at what he suspected was coming, didn’t look away, fixing Aden’s hard blue stare with his own steely grey one. Steely, unlike him.
“Why did you try so hard to keep it safe then?”
“I think you’re lying,” said Zak
Tristan’s smile was so wide it looked as if some of his zits were going to pop with the strain of maintaining such an unnatural and unaccustomed smirk on the face of a surly teenage boy. Sure enough, the wallop that came next was enough to rattle all of Tobey’s teeth.
“Well, if there really is nothing on it, you won’t mind if I do…this?” leered Aden as he snapped the small plastic square cleanly down the middle.
The snapping sound was the sound of Tobey’s self-composure breaking in two. A single tear escaped the corner of his eyes, then suddenly he exploded in a storm of angry tears, scalding like fury.
“Cry baby Tobey,” they laughed, and Aden slipped the cardboard bus card (ten journeys for £4.25) out from the wallet.
“Someone this young really shouldn’t be on the bus unaccompanied,” he sniggered, holding the card up in front of him, just out of reach.
Tobey saw the flash of metal and realised that Aden did indeed have his front door key.
“Aden, give me back my key,” he said through the deep shuddering breaths that marked the end of his tears.
“What’s a baby like you doing with a key, you’ll only lose it. If you don’t manage to get lost on the way home,”
Aden ripped the card in half, then half again. Repeatedly, like confetti, before throwing the pieces into Tobey’s tearstained face.
“Aden, give me my key, please.”
“Ok, Tobes,” he smiled, in an almost friendly way. Both the smile and his voice seemed lit up, as if a switch marked ‘kill’ had been turned off and a bright white light had been turned on.
Tobey watched warily as Aden brought his hands nearer to him, open so he could take the stuff. His eyes behind his glasses darted from Aden to Zak and Tristen and back again, suspecting some kind of trickery.
“Thank you, Aden,”
Just as Tobey was about to rescue his possessions from Aden’s possession, they rapidly travelled past him, dumped them into the bin.
“Have fun, Tobes,” he chortled, as the bell rang for the start of first period.