The minute Billy came out to the playground after Health class, Louis Marino started right in teasing him about how he blushed when he read from the child abuse book.
“Louis, you better leave me alone,” Billy told him. I mean it.”
“Why’d you blush, Billy?” Louis taunted.
That’s when Raymond came over and told Louis to knock it off. “Come on, Billy,” Raymond said, “we don’t need to hang around this goof ball. Let’s go.”
“Shut up, Raymond,” Louis said.
“Make me,” Louis dared.
Then Billy swung around and broadsided Louis with the back of his right forearm. The next thing, they were in a pile, ten-year-old arms and legs swinging in every direction. By the time the duty teacher got there, Louis was on the bottom and Raymond had one of his arms pinned. Billy was just about to lay one on Louis’s stupid face, when the duty shouted.
“Stop it! You boys stop it right now!”
“He hit me first,” Louis screamed. “He hit me first.”
“You two get to the office and wait for me there,” he duty told Raymond and Billy. “And you … aren’t you Louis Marino? You get to the Medical Office and wash your face. I want the nurse to look you over. Get going, all of you!”
Outside the Principal’s Office, Raymond asked Billy why he got so mad at Louis. Billy didn’t say anything, so Raymond said, “Okay, okay, you don’t have to talk about it. But I am your best friend you know. We promised to have no secrets between best friends. Remember?”
Billy started to cry then, and Raymond said, “Hey I’m sorry, okay? It’s just that we’re best friends, okay? Jeez, Billy.”
When the Principal questioned them, all Raymond could tell him was that Louis was teasing Billy and Billy got mad, and then there was a fight.
“And what were you doing? I understand you were straddling Mr. Moreno?”
“Well yeah,” Raymond said. “I was trying to stop him.”
“I see,” Mr. Owsley said. “And what about you, Mr. Adams? Did you start the fight?”
“Yes, Sir,” Billy said.
“Louis was teasing me,” Billy said. His head was hanging so far down, the words got lost in his chest somewhere.
“What was that?” Mr. Owsley said.
Billy slowly lifted his head part of the way up from his chest. “He was teasing me.”
“What was he teasing you about?” Mr. Owsley asked.
Billy’s head went back down to his chest. Mr. Owsley looked at Raymond. Ray just shrugged. Mr. Owsley sat back in his chair and looked at the two boys for a minute. Then he made a note on a piece of paper.
“Mr. Adams, I believe you’re familiar with the prohibition against fighting. You should be suspended. However this is the first time I’ve seen you in here. So I’m letting you off easy. But if it happens again the consequences will be severe. Billy, you will stay after school today. Tomorrow you will report to Mr. Stewart’s office during recess. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Billy mumbled.
“Mr. Windell, you are dismissed. Now both of you please return to class. And remember, I don’t want to see you in here again.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Ray said.
Later, when the bell rang and everybody else lined up at the door to leave, Billy stayed at his desk. When everyone else was gone, Mr. C walked over and sat in the desk next to Billy’s. For a minute he didn’t say anything. Billy wanted to tell him everything. But it was like he had a lock on his voice. No matter how hard he tried to say something, nothing would come out.
“Billy?” Billy looked over at Mr. C. but didn’t say anything. “I understand Mr. Owsley gave you after school detention today. So, what would you like to do for the next half hour?”
Billy still didn’t speak. He just looked down at his desk.
“Maybe you’d like to talk?” Mr. C said. When Billy didn’t say anything, Mr. C said, “You know I was surprised by what happened in the school yard at recess. That’s not like you, Billy. I don’t know exactly what Louis said to you, but I get that it really upset you.” Mr. C’s hand was on Billy’s shoulder. “So anyway, if you want to talk about it, Billy, I’ll listen. Meanwhile, you could help me out by straightening the library shelves under the window. Okay?”
Billy could tell he was blushing again, but he forced himself to concentrate on the books and getting them in alphabetical order. On the way home, he thought about what the book said, especially the part about telling a grown-up you trust. Billy decided the book was wrong. Nothing good would happen if he told someone. Anyway, it was a long time ago. Marissa had moved away. He tried to tell himself it didn’t matter, but the more he tried, the more he wanted to tell somebody. He decided he would tell Raymond. After all Ray was his best friend, and he’d already gotten Ray in trouble for fighting with Louis so it was only fair.
On the way up the Greenfield Hill, Myrtle Jones stopped and gave Billy a ride to the daycare, but when Billy got there, Josh was already gone.
“Your Mom called, and a friend of hers picked him up.”
“Who?” Billy asked.
“A lady. I didn’t recognize her. But she knew the password.”