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Fiction Coming of Age

      He thought it would have been over by now. The comments whispered under breaths. The comments expressed unnaturally loudly. The way their voices went up an octave whenever they talked to him. Peter’s mom said that kids just needed to grow up. That they didn’t understand him, but it would get better. He wondered when. He was old enough to know that what they were doing was wrong, so how come they didn't know it? His mom said that Peter was special, more mature. But if that was the case, why did everyone treat him like he was so much younger? Like a baby?  

           He thought it would have been over by now. That twelve seemed like an old enough age for him to deserve at least a little respect. Yet here he was, in Mass of all places, with Jake Kranson pulling on his shirt and whispering profanities in his ear. He wanted to tell Jake that if he was going to pick on him, he should at least have the decency to do it in a less holy place, with Jesus and all the saint statues watching them. What kind of idiot picks on kids directly in the presence of God? But he couldn’t do it. Although these thoughts formed clearly in his head, when he tried to speak them out loud all that came out of his mouth was a hesitant stutter, which just led to more teasing. So he stayed quiet and tried to act as if he didn’t notice.

           Jake, however, seemed to have no intention of giving up. The insults were said with increasing malice and new vocabulary, and even though Peter didn’t know what most of the words meant, they caused his stomach to tighten and turn. He had a feeling they were words that, if he repeated, would cause his dad to put soap in his mouth. He felt as though he might need soap in his ears just for hearing them. He wondered why God didn’t just strike Jake down already, He had to be able to hear everything he was saying. As the tugging and the whispers continued, a new thought tip-toed into his brain. What if everything Jake’s saying is true?

           This was a new revelation. What if God didn’t stop Jake because Jake was right? What if people treated him the way they did for a reason? What if there was something wrong with Peter? His breath began to pick up and he buried his face in his hands as he knelt. This just egged Jake on, and he began tugging harder.

Peter stopped praying for God to stop Jake. He stopped praying altogether. Why would God want to listen to him? Maybe he deserved this because he was different.

           Somehow Mass ended and Peter left the pew as quickly as possible. He headed straight for the bathroom, the quickest escape he could think of. He just needed to breathe. Peter waited until most of his class had walked by, then followed from a distance. He kept his eye on Jake in case he turned around and noticed him, then he could quickly dodge into a classroom. As he watched Jake he saw a girl walking quickly towards him. Her legs were not bending much but she was moving fast enough to be running and her arms pumped strongly at her sides until she caught up to Jake and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and his eyes widened. Peter did the same when he realized who the girl was.

Mary-Beth was the quietest girl in his class. She wasn’t teased like Peter, but she was left out a lot. He had noticed her on the playground often hiding in corners or tunnels with a book in her hands, her long blonde hair hiding her face. She had to hide because if she didn’t the teachers would confiscate her book and make her play with the other girls. When this happened, Mary-Beth would be almost driven to tears as she attempted to jump-rope or play four-square with her classmates, which usually led to the teacher sighing and returning her book. Peter would sometimes hear the other girls talk about Mary-Beth after these occurrences. They didn’t say mean things like the boys did to him, but he had a feeling nonetheless that they meant just as much cruelty, if not more, with their seemingly innocent words. They would ignore Mary-Beth and then proceed to talk about how bad they felt for the “quiet little girl.”

It was this same quiet little girl who was now speaking to Jake. Her face was red and her finger was pointed like a weapon at Jake’s chest. Other students had stopped and were gawking at the pair, as if they could not believe what they were seeing. Peter didn’t believe it either, especially once he got close enough to hear what Mary-Beth was saying. Her words were coming out of her mouth at an unnatural speed, as if they were bullets and would do more harm the faster they came shooting off her tongue.  

“Have you ever thought about what you are doing? How immature it is for you to be pulling on someone’s shirt and talking to them during church? How would you like it if I did that to you?” At this point, she grabbed the sleeve of his uniform and yanked on it. “It’s not very nice, is it? Having someone pull on your shirt. Start thinking about how you like to be treated and maybe let that influence how you treat others.” Her mouth clenched tightly as soon as she stopped speaking and her face shone a bright red. She looked like she wanted to say more, but also like she might cry. She gave one last glare to Jake and darted off into the girls’ bathroom.

Jake stood there dumbly for a few seconds before shaking his head and storming off. Peter heard a couple of students mutter to each other as the crowd dispersed quickly, making it seem as if the recent event hadn’t even happened.

“Can you believe she said all that?”

“I didn’t even know she could talk. Jake looked so embarrassed.”

They both giggled and walked faster. Peter hung back, positioning himself right outside the girls’ bathroom. Mary-Beth didn’t come out, though. He peeked his head inside. “Mary-Beth?”

There was no response. She was not by the sinks, so she must have been in one of the stalls. He tried again. “Mary-Beth?” Still nothing other than a soft cry coming from the back of the bathroom, which was so quiet that it might just have been the sound of water trickling through the pipes.

He thought better of fully entering the girls’ bathroom and went to his next class. Mary-Beth usually sat in the far-right seat, two rows back. The seat stayed empty for the entire class. As the bell rang and he started towards his next class, he felt a familiar tug on the back of his shirt. He turned to see Jake Kranson smirking menacingly. Peter stood frozen. Maybe he should just let Jake do what he was about to do. The hallway was empty. Everyone else had already walked by. God, if He was there, seemed to be more of a spectator in Peter’s life. Or perhaps He had sent Jake as a punishment. Peter probably deserved everything that was about to happen.

But then he thought about Mary-Beth. Her blonde hair falling in front of her blushing face. He knew how much she hated talking, yet she had practically yelled to defend him. To defend Peter. There must have been something good in him to make her do that. Maybe God was listening. Maybe he had sent her to help Peter.

“What are you smiling about, Loser?” Jake had backed Peter against one of the lockers.

Peter continued to grin as he reached out and pulled on Jake’s shirt. Then, for the first time, he began to speak back to Jake Kranson without hesitation. He didn’t need to form the words, they had been given to him.

“It’s not very nice, is it? Having someone pull on your shirt?”

July 07, 2022 01:31

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2 comments

BA Eubank
16:32 Jul 11, 2022

Good story. I like how Peter draws on the strength it took Mary Beth to speak up to stand up for himself. True to life.

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Katy B
14:31 Jul 09, 2022

Great story! Really captures that age range. I really enjoyed the portion "What if God didn’t stop Jake because Jake was right? What if people treated him the way they did for a reason? What if there was something wrong with Peter?" Thank you for sharing!

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