As they walked out the changing rooms, the bell signalled for the end the school day.
"That's my cue," Josh said. "Gotta go. Catch you later." And with that he jogged off, leaving Dwight standing awkwardly in the middle of the hall.
"Okay then," replied Dwight to nobody. "I'll just walk home by myself." He headed in the other direction.
As he made his way out of Staley High's entrance, along with the other hundreds of students, he began to feel a sadness he thought he had gotten over long ago. A pining for Josh's true acceptance, rather than a façade he put up for the family and an attempt to spare Dwight's feelings. Dwight knew that he was an embarrassment to his cousin, that he was nerdy and unpopular, and that he was the subject of ridicule to most of Josh's friends. Nevertheless he wished for the days when they could hang out without Josh worrying about what others thought of him.
"Oi, watch it Ginger!"
Dwight looked over his shoulder to see a boy he did not recognise sneer at him. There were others with him, all from Brad's gang, all smirking. The boy must have been a new recruit then. He appeared to be a couple of years younger, but that did not make him any less threatening. Dwight reckoned that they had been tailing him for the past five minutes, egging the boy on. Make your move before the nerdy freak gets away, he imagined them saying.
Dwight increased his walking pace, hoping to avoid any confrontation, but it was a mistake. They sensed his fear, possibly even smelt it, and so began to stride after him. Remember what the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy said, he thought to himself. Don't panic.
He could hear their footsteps thudding on the pavement behind him. Don't panic. He could hear their angry voices call out to them. Don't panic. One of them grabbed onto the back of the t-shirt he was wearing. Before he realised what he was doing he had pulled away and was running as fast as he could down the street.
Dwight knew that he did not have long before they caught up with him. Not only were they biologically engineered for athletic activities such as chasing after nerds or football, they had been training at it all their lives. Dwight on the other hand was asthmatic and had spent most his adolescence trying to do as little exercise as possible. The only way he could shake them off completely was at the park.
He made a sharp left down an alley and then another at the end. As he ran he brought up a mental map of all the short cuts that would arise on the route. Hopefully some of the less obvious ones would confuse his pursuers, perhaps they would get lost and lose interest. But that was too much to hope for as he heard one of them finally cotton on to his plan and bellow, "he's heading to the park!"
A few minutes later he was there, clutching onto the iron fence that encircled it and struggling to breath. He shoved his hand into the pocket of Josh's jeans, searching for his inhaler, before remembering that it was in his school trousers, wherever Brad had left them.
What do I do now? He thought as he continued to gasp like a fish hauled out of the water. The air was going in, but it had no effect. He began to sink to the ground, his cheek sliding against one of the fence's cool metal bars.
Brad's gang had finally caught up with him. Fortunately, there was no Brad. They stared down at him in a kind of confused wonder, as though he was a science experiment. If he could breath he would have told them, "I'm having an asthma attack, you idiots." Maybe omitting the last part if he wanted to avoid a beating.
One of them took a step towards him and swung their leg back, getting ready to kick him right in between the legs. It was the new recruit, still intent on trying to prove himself to the rest of the gang. Dwight flinched.
"Leave it mate." Another boy put his hand on the new recruit's shoulder. Dwight recognised him as Brad's second-in-command, Don Jackson. One of the smarter members of the gang, though not as clever as us nerdy kids thought Dwight.
He observed Dwight with a look that almost seemed sympathetic. Then turned away and strode off, the others following close behind.