Justin closed and opened his hand, trying to dry the sweat that was there. Steven, Frank, and Kyle stood in front of him, wicked smiles on their faces as Steven poked fun at him. Justin looked for a way to get past them, but they had successfully blocked the entire sidewalk. He turned and walked across the street, trying to avoid more confrontation.
“Where are you going, Justin? We’re trying to have a conversation with you,” Steven said as he crossed the street parallel to him.
“I just need to get home, I’m late,” Justin lied. He didn’t have anywhere to be, and no one to worry about him.
“Late for what?” Steven asked as they stepped up on the curb on this side of the street. “Are you late for your manicure?”
“No,” Justin mumbled.
“I’m late, too,” Steven said, “for fucking your girlfriend.”
“Can I go now, please?” Justin asked, feeling his ears grow warm.
“We’re not done here,” Steven said.
“What do you want from me, Steven?” Justin asked.
Steven glanced at his friends. “Oh, nothing,” he said. Steven jumped forward, shoving Justin.
Justin fell backward, not expecting it. He landed on the sidewalk and skinned his left hand. He got back to his feet quickly, not wanting to be on the ground if they were going to start a fight.
“What?” Steven asked, getting in Justin’s face. “Do you wanna hit me now?”
“I want to go home,” Justin said, feeling his hands starting to shake.
“You hear that, guys? He wants to go home,” Steven laughed. “You don’t get to go anywhere until I let you. Do you understand?”
Justin didn’t want to fight, but he could feel his face flushing. His vision blurred as tears came. He didn’t want to fight, but he understood that it was quickly becoming unavoidable.
“Are those tears?” Steven said, pointing at Justin’s face. “Guys, I think we upset him. Frank, would you please show Justin where we’re going?”
“Come on,” Frank said, reaching for Justin’s shoulder, the smile still on his face.
Justin closed his eyes for a moment and tried to breathe. When Frank’s hand connected with his shoulder, he moved. He thrust forward, dropping his shoulder and pushing as hard as he could with his legs. He heard the breath leave Frank’s lungs as he flew backward into Steven.
Justin watched the world slow down as though someone had adjusted the camera settings. He watched Kyle’s face twist from amusement to anger as he watched his friends roll into a ball together. Justin was already lifting his arm with his fist clenched toward him when he turned back to look.
Justin connected square with Kyle’s face, feeling his nose breaking under his knuckles turned his stomach. Kyle collapsed, bringing his hands up to his face as he cried out. Frank was pushing himself back to his feet as Justin brought his foot up and kicked him in the side of the head.
Steven was already on his feet with fists raised when Justin turned his attention back to him, and the world sped back up.
“You think you’re so tough?” Steven asked, his voice shaking a little.
“I don’t like this,” Justin replied, leaving his hands at his sides. “I don’t like fighting. I don’t like hurting people.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Steven asked. “We didn’t do anything.”
“You’ve been trying to torment me for months,” Justin replied, narrowing his vision. “I’m not going to let you anymore. Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. Deal?”
“Fuck you,” Steven said.
Justin shook his head, tears still running down his cheeks, and walked forward. He watched Steven flinch as he walked past him up the street. He could still feel the adrenaline in his veins pushing him to fight more. He put one foot in front of the other and took a deep breath, trying to calm down.
Justin turned at the corner and kept walking as he tried to get his hands to stop shaking. It took him the rest of the way to his house to finally calm himself enough that he could breathe normally.
He leaned against his mother’s car and looked at the tiny building that they called home. It leaned slightly to the right, and the grey paint peeled almost everywhere you would look. The roof sagged a little, but he had been up there enough times, patching the shingles to know that it was solid.
“What happened?” his mother asked as she sped out of the house. “Sharon just called me and told me you were fighting on Devonshire Street.”
“Sorry, Mom. I know I said I wouldn’t anymore,” he said, looking at his feet.
“Sharon said that you tried to get away from those boys,” she said as she lifted his chin. “I’m not mad. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he lied.
“Okay, well, you should go get cleaned up before lunch. Your uncle needs you down at the shop after you eat,” she said.
“Alright, Mom,” he said, pushing off the car.
Justin walked through the front door to the chaos inside that was his younger siblings. Emily ran past him, an ear-piercing screech escaping her lips as Gary pursued her. Lyle and Fred sat on the couch playing their video games. Grace waved as he walked past the kitchen while she was feeding his niece Tasha.
Justin walked up the stairs and went into the bedroom he shared with his three brothers. Their toys littered the floor to the point that he couldn’t see the floor. He carefully stepped through the room to his dresser, grabbed his clothes, and proceeded down the hall to the bathroom.
“I need to pee!” Emily screeched as she sped past him and slammed the bathroom door.
Justin nodded and leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath as he waited. Downstairs he heard the front door open and close again, then his mother’s voice yelled through the house at the kids.
“Clean this mess up!” she yelled. “Lyle, Fred, and Gary, I want this room spotless. Grace, how’s lunch coming?”
Justin heard his brothers protest as the noise from the TV disappeared. The bathroom door opened, and Emily sprinted past him again and clomped loudly down the stairs. He stepped into the bathroom and shut the door, locking it behind him. He turned on the water and looked at himself in the mirror.
Why the hell am I still here? He thought, shaking his head, as the mirror began fogging.