Davis preferred to stay solitary. Everything was easier if he was all alone. Other people made his too life complicated.
When the bell rang, and it was time to walk to his next class, he always took the longest, most indirect route. And if he ended up two or three minutes late ... well, he was willing to pay the price. A small cut in his citizenship grade was worth it. He could take the long way to class and avoid all the people that wanted something from him.
So when the bell rang at 1:15 and it was time to finish English and start Math, Davis took the same route he did every day. It began, of course, by doing nothing at all. He’d sit and wait—pretending to be searching for things in his backpack—while everybody else left. Then, once everybody else had left and he was alone, it was time to slip out.
He had memorized the patterns of the students in the hallways. Here, a group of popular kids would gather around a locker—slip by quickly in the middle of the hall. There, by the art class, a group of art students would be in the middle of the corridor—slip by on the side. These stairs were always busy, so avoid those. These stairs were usually pretty empty—walk up them. And walk on the right side, so that anyone coming down wouldn’t notice him.
But, unfortunately for Davis, today was different. Today something unusual was going on, and as he turned the corner on the south hallway, there was Mary. She was just as pretty as always, and Davis was just as scared to see her as always. It didn’t matter that they lived next to each other, it didn’t matter that they had played together everyday when they were young—now, in the halls of Junior High, it was impossible for him to talk to her. She was too pretty, too nice, too friendly, and too perfect.
And this time, she wasn’t alone. A gang of older boys had gathered around her. She had a bloody lip, and the boys were laughing. She didn’t look friendly and calm and peaceful now—but scared, hurt and angry. Kevin, the leader of the pack of boys, was laughing and dumping her backpack all over the floor. One of his goons gave Mary a shove, and it looked like everything was over—that the bloody lip and dumped out backpack would be all they would do to torment her that day.
Until they saw Davis.
Kevin smiled hungrily.
“Hey, Davis,” Kevin shouted, shoving him in the shoulder. “I’ve heard of the stuff you can do. So let’s see it now ... get her.” He pointed at Mary.
“Come on, you little freak,” a goon said. “Do it! She’s already crying ... it’ll be awesome!”
The gang of goons surrounded Davis, shoving him, prodding him, smacking him in the head.
“Okay,” Davis finally said. “I’ll do it!”
Snickering, the gang stepped back. They laughed. They looked at Mary greedily, like wolves about to watch a kill. At the same time, Mary looked at him, eyes pleading, filled with tears. And Davis knew he had a choice, right then. A choice he had tried to avoid his whole life. He could do what the gang wanted and become one of them, and the torments would end as long as he did what they wanted. And he would hate himself forever.
Or he could do what Mary wanted and help her. He would feel proud standing up for someone he liked and admired. But the gang would turn on him, and they would never leave him alone. It would be him with the bloody lip ... and probably worse. And he would have to fight just to survive the awfulness of Jr. High every day.
Davis took a step forward.
He did not know what he would do.
He stretched out a hand.
He still did not know what choice he would make.
A burst of blue fire erupted from his hand, blinding everyone in the hallway. It sizzled and cackled, simmered and threatened to torture whoever Davis attacked. He lifted a hand, wondering who he would choose.