“Boys Will Be” by Lauren Light
I knew today wasn’t going to be good when I went out to recess and didn’t see Jake there. I asked his cousin Ryan and he said that Jake and his family still weren’t back from Christmas vacation in Florida. That meant a long afternoon at the Groesbeck’s after school with no one to play with Seth. Jake was great because he could distract Seth enough to leave me alone. Usually, I’d just hang out with his little sister, Honey, until my mom came to pick me up. She was a quiet kindergartener, nice, if not a little boring. Seth was a 4th grader and always wanted to be the boss. He was a lot bigger than me, even though I was almost the tallest boy in Mrs. Chapman’s second grade class.
I was starting to get a tummy ache thinking about spending the entire afternoon at the Groesbeck’s by myself, but I knew there was no way my mom would let me come home early.
I told my best friend Annie about it and she said that it wouldn’t be that bad. Seth probably got a ton of Christmas presents to play with and I could just hide out with Honey until my mom came. This is why Annie was one of my best friends (even if she was a girl and kind of a scaredy cat). She was nice and smart.
When Mrs. Groesbeck picked us up from school, she made it clear that we had to be especially quiet today since she had one of her headaches. I don’t know who she was talking to since I was always quiet. It was Seth and Jake who were the ones who liked to yell and jump on things. We rode in complete silence to their house. It was one of the first houses built in the Cutter Woods subdivision. In the summer, there was always construction going on. But, since it was so cold out, all the outside building was delayed. Last summer, Seth and Jake used to go sneak out to try to break into the half built houses, but one time a man caught them and brought them back to Mr. Groesbeck. I’d never seen Mr. Groesbeck so mad. It was scary. I ran upstairs to the attic with Honey when it happened and we heard lots of noises. We didn’t see Seth or Jake for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t want to get on Mr. Groesbeck’s bad side. He was a lawyer and would probably sue me and put me in jail for the rest of my life.
The silence was broken once we pulled into their garage. Mr. Groesbeck had these two dogs he was supposed to use for hunting, but he never did. Mr. Groesbeck took out the dog’s voice box. When I asked Seth about it, he said his parents did it because they didn’t want the dogs barking so much. They still bark now, but it sounds more like a raw throated cry. Like they’re being kicked. They keep them in the garage most of the time. When I go in there to pet them, I have to make sure I don’t step in poop. Mrs. Groesbeck almost didn’t let me come over again when I accidently walked through the living room with dog poop on my shoe.
Seth and Honey don’t really bother to pet the dogs but instead run upstairs to the attic. Mrs. Groesbeck yells at them to be quiet and not to stomp. She then tells me to leave the dogs alone because I’m getting them excited. I make sure to not step in dog poop and tip toe up the stairs.
When I get up to the attic (or “the loft” as Mrs. Groesbeck calls it), I can barely open the door. I can’t believe how many cool new toys are up here.
Seth has cleared out the far right corner of the room and is sitting in a circle of Legos and Alien vs. Predator action figures. He has torn down all of the coloring book pages that Honey put up and they are crumpled up in a pile next to her half naked Barbie dolls and board games.
“This is my part of the room now,” Seth says, “and you can only come over here if you have my permission…Which you don’t.”
It takes me a few beats before I spot Honey. She is in the other corner of the room, buried under a pile of stuffed dolphins and orcas. “Hey, Dan? Would you pretty please hand me my Mermaid Barbie?” she says in a high-pitched voice.
“He doesn’t want to touch your stupid girly toys. Get it yourself,” Seth says.
I look down. The Barbie is right by my feet and I see some old Legos that Seth isn’t using next to Honey’s pile. I walk cautiously around the toys, almost slipping on a torn up coloring book and avoiding the spot in the carpet where some silly putty is stuck. Not because it’s sticky anymore, but because Honey poured some glitter on it and I don’t want to be covered in sparkly stuff.
I hand the Barbie to Honey and sit down to start making some Lego houses. I don’t have any of the big lawn pieces, so I decide to build a bridge between Seth’s old Ninja Turtle lair and Honey’s Barbie house. I’m half way done when Seth throws a Street Shark action figure at me. It knocks down most of my bridge.
“Hey! Who said you could play with my Legos?” Seth yells.
“They weren’t on your side. I didn’t think you were using them.”
“Don’t be stupid. Those are mine, and I didn’t say you could use them!” Seth picks up another toy and throws it against the wall.
“Stop making so much damn noise,” Mrs. Groesbeck’s voice cuts over the intercom. Seth buzzes down. “It was Dan that started it.”
“I don’t care,” and then, after a pause, “Seth, come down here and pick up the dog poop in the garage. You were supposed to do it yesterday.”
I start to scoop the Legos up to go dump them over on Seth’s side. “What are you doing? You heard her. Go pick up the dog poop.”
I know better than to argue with Seth. Even though it’s gross, I don’t have much of a choice in the matter. Annie told me before break that I shouldn’t do stuff like that for Seth, that it’s not my job, but she doesn’t understand what its like over here. Annie suggested that next time he tells me to do it I should just pick up some of the poop and put it in Seth’s shoe or sneak it into his backpack. We laughed for a really long time about that and thought of different places I could put it. But, I’m pretty sure that Seth would tell his dad and then I’d get in big trouble.
I made sure to creep quietly down the stairs. As long as I’m quick about going past the living room on my way to the mudroom, I shouldn’t be spotted. But, Mrs. Groesbeck sees me.
“What are you doing? Where’s Seth?”
“Oh, he’s busy with some stuff so I was going to take care of the dogs. It’s no big deal.”
“No way. You go right back upstairs and tell Seth it’s his job and he’s going to be in big trouble if he’s not down here in 20 seconds.” Mrs. Groesbeck says.
I know better than to argue with her. When I tell Seth, he is angry.
“Why did you have to walk in front of her? Why’d you have to get me in trouble? I hate you. I seriously do.” His face is red. “When I get back, you’re dead.”
As he walks by, I see a flash of movement. Before I know anything, I feel a sharp pain in my groin. Seth pushes me over into a pile of toys. I can’t breathe. I can feel sharp edges of plastic digging into my stomach and shoulders. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
“Don’t be gay. Stop holding yourself,” Seth says quietly.
I try not to cry. Only babies cry. I breathe in. Out. I need to get up. I need to get out of here before he gets back. Still sore, I manage to stand up.
I debate about hiding in the stuffed animal pile with Honey, but then quickly decide against it. Too obvious. Then it comes to me: I should go to the fort. It would take him a while to think of that, and maybe my mom might even be here when he finally does figure it out. I wait a few moments and then quickly tip toe down the stairs. I grab my coat and boots, and go down to the basement before putting them on. I unlock the sliding glass door and walk outside.
It’s snowing a little bit, and the snow crunches under my boots as I run out to the woods. The snow is starting to melt, but it’s still pretty cold out. Before we went on break, there were a couple of feet of snow. Now, it’s only a few inches deep. I have to be careful not to walk on the snow covered pond. Even though it’s probably still frozen over, I don’t want to risk it. The Groesbeck’s had a man-made pond put in when they moved out here. Mr. Groesbeck said that he was going to put some fish in there and install a dock so we could go swimming in the summer. So far, he hasn’t done it yet. Not that I’d like to go out here anyway. There are too many mosquitoes that like to lay their eggs here.
I wish my coat wasn’t so bright. But, once I get a bit deeper in the woods, I know it will be harder for Seth to see me if he were to look out a window. The fort is hidden under some thick pine trees that Jack and Seth managed to build with some borrowed plywood. When I get there, the ground is cold and wet, but at least it’s safe. Looks like they left some blankets here. They are frozen solid. I lift the blanket away to see if there is any dry space underneath them, but it’s just rotted leaves. It smells moldy. I sit on my haunches until my thighs start to burn, and then I resolve to sit down on the ground. Immediately the wetness soaks through the seat of my pants, but at least my legs have stopped hurting. I sit there for what seems like a long time, absent mindedly playing with some little army men that were left here.
And then I hear it. The sound of the dog’s raspy cry. I hear twigs break as they get closer. I can hear them panting, and one pokes his head in. He starts licking my face and wagging his tale.
Just as I’m about to run out of there, Seth throws the plywood off onto the ground.
I try to scramble away, but my boot slips on the wet leaves. I hit my elbow hard on a rock. Seth pulls me up by my jacket and presses me up against the tree, his hands hard on my chest. I can feel the bark digging into the back of my head. And then, I do the only thing I can do. I spit into his face.
“Ahhh, you got it in my eye,” Seth yells.
I make a run for it. I’m jumping over icy patches of snow, twigs, and bushes. I turn around and Seth is right behind me.
I feel him lunge at me, and I go down. The wind is knocked out of me and my face is in the snow. It burns. Seth grabs my arm and twists it behind my back. It feels like it’s going to break. I try to yell at him to stop, but I don’t have any air in my lungs.
I can hear the dogs barking their feeble cries. One is growling.
“Go away, Shadow,” Seth yells at the dog. He is still barking at him. I can feel Seth’s grip on me start to loosen, and I roll over. All I see is the great expanse of overcast sky above me. Seth kicks me lightly in the arm and then bends his rear end to my face and lets out a long wet fart. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I sit up.
“Next time you do something stupid like that I’m going to show you the hunting knives my dad got me for Christmas,” Seth says.
I hear Mrs. Groesbeck call our names out. My mom is here. I start running for the house, running away from Seth, from the dogs, from the woods. I can feel tears starting to run down my face and snot in my throat. Everything is blurry. And then I’m stuck. I look down. My left boot is lost at the edge of the covered up pond. I don’t care. I just want to get to my mom. I pull my foot out and keep running, jaggedly.
I look up and see Mrs. Groesbeck looking at me. She is pointing at the boot. She wants me to turn around and go get it. She is yelling at me that I can’t leave it in the mud. I am crying even harder right now.
My mom sees me. Finally. Even though I’m too big to be picked up, she picks me up anyway. She asks me what happened.
“Seth beat me up!” I say, without even thinking about it. I look over at Seth. This was obviously the wrong thing to say. I am crying even harder now.
“Looks like the boys were rough housing a little too hard, Kelly,” Mrs. Groesbeck says to my mom. “What are you going to do though? Boys will be boys.”
My mom says nothing to her. She sets me down and tells me to grab my backpack. We’re going home. In the car, my mom looks furious. I’ve never seen her so angry.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” I say quietly.
“Don’t you worry about that. There is no way in hell you’ll ever go back to that damn house ever again. That woman is horrible. She barely looks after you and then excuses her son’s violent behavior.” Mom rants for the rest of the ride home. When my father gets home, she makes it clear that we need to find a new after school sitter for me. I almost expect him to object, but he doesn’t. He comes over to me and puts a hand on my shoulder.
This makes me feel a lot better. That night, I sleep soundly.