I don’t really know why I got involved. I walked to class with Cassie whenever we were headed in the same direction, and I’d encountered Peter’s persistence before. I found it annoying and awkward and felt sorry for Cassie, but I never really took it personally until that day in front of the auditorium. Maybe I was frustrated by our lack of recent progress in history, maybe I was just irritable from the cold I was fighting, or maybe it was the gap in letters from my father. Whatever prompted it, the injustice of what Peter was doing to Cassie finally hit home and felt personal.
“Hey!” I shouted, and when there was no response, I took a step forward so there was no question about who I was talking to and shouted again. The second time Peter took notice and stopped pestering Cassie long enough to turn toward me.
“Leave her alone. She’s not interested in you and is tired of you stopping her between classes. Get away from her and stay away.”
There was a blank expression on Peter’s face as he processed what I’d just said, and he was clearly surprised at my verbal attack. Then I saw his eyes dart side to side, getting in a quick count of the bystanders who had witnessed the exchange, and I understood immediately where Peter was coming from. It wasn’t just about being interested in Cassie. Tagging along after a girl for the last two months, Peter had put himself at risk of being labeled as the kid who got dumped before the first date, and I’d just pointed a spotlight at him. But he was used to fending off Cassie’s protests, so he quickly recovered and turned things his way. A smile grew across his face.
“Awww, that’s so cute, sticking up for your friend. Or maybe you’re jealous? I see you a lot with her in the halls. You getting tired of me asking her out instead of you? Well, there’s a good movie showing this weekend. If you’re interested…”
That’s as far as he got. I didn’t really think about punching him. I just felt a shift, from feeling sorry for Cassie and being aggravated at the delay on my way to the library to being overwhelmingly angry at the kid in front of me. Angry at how he was messing things up for Cassie, but mostly angry at how he was talking to me. Like I’d be honored to spend time with him. Of course, I thought about all this after, mostly while I was sitting in the principal’s office. In that instant what I was really thinking about was just hitting Peter’s face with my fist as hard as I could.
And I did.
He was one hundred percent not expecting it. From the tone of his voice, he thought he had the upper hand and was winning our little exchange. Clearly getting punched in the face by a girl was the last thing on his mind. My fist came up from his left, hitting him on the side of his face just under his cheekbone. He actually spun around. Spun around like he was in some cartoon, and when he faced me again his expression had gone from confident smugness to a mixture of surprise and unconsciousness. Peter’s mouth hung open and his eyes widened. Then his eyelids flickered and closed, while his body slumped to the ground.
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