Travis gagged like he was choking on something. He coughed hard and blew the gum across the floor. Kelly jumped off the bench in surprise.
Travis shook his head. His expression was pure terror. “Maria!”
Kelly grabbed Travis by the arm. “Come on!” When they got outside, she was shocked. Brandon stood between the dumpster and the building. Three other boys threw punches at him while he struggled to fight them off.
Maria yelled at them and tried to pull them away. “Stop it! Leave him alone!”
“Grab him!” said the biggest kid, who stood half a head taller than Brandon. “Hold him, Robbie! Get his arm, Spider!”
The boys named Robbie and Spider outflanked Brandon. They each caught one of his arms. All at once Brandon couldn’t punch back.
The older kid swung at him. He caught Brandon on the side of the head. Smack!
Brandon shook off the punch. He stomped on the foot of the boy named Spider, the boy on his left. Spider cried out in pain, but he didn’t let go.
The biggest kid grinned at Maria. “You can stop this, Maria! Right now!” His eyes flashed.
He’s hateful! cried Travis in Kelly’s head. He likes hurtin’ people!
Kelly had already gathered that much. But what did he mean that Maria could stop it? Stop what? Stop them beating up Brandon?
Maria looked helpless. She was about to say something, but Brandon cut her off. “No, Maria! Not a word!”
“Brandon! I have to!”
“Do it! Do it! Do it!” The kid named Robbie chanted while he held Brandon’s other arm. Robbie was tall and skinny with big ears and some zits on his face. Kelly could tell Robbie enjoyed pain, too: as long as it was someone else’s pain.
Maria charged at the big kid. “Stop it, Kurt!” She punched him hard in the back. The big kid, Kurt, turned and pushed her backward. She stumbled and fell into Kelly, who caught her and held her up.
“Just say the magic words, and I’ll stop. You know what I want. Hold ‘im still, Spider! I’ll finish him off!”
Jon! Get out back! They’re beating up Brandon! When Kelly sent the mental message to Jon, Travis heard it, loud and clear. The problem was, Jon must have blocked her out. He never responded. She ran back inside.
“Where ya going?” asked Travis in a panic.
Jon was still sitting on the bench where they’d left him. He glanced up in surprise when she grabbed his arm and pulled him outside. He came with her, sensing her urgency.
“You’ve got to help Brandon!” she told him.
Jon stopped when he saw Maria. He took in the brutal scene as if he didn’t quite understand what was going on. Kurt focused on him at once.
“Well, if it isn’t Golden Boy. This is the wimp you’re dating, Maria? Instead of me? You gotta be kidding.”
Kurt went up to Jon, face-to-face. He seemed to tower over him. He was a big guy! Jon took a passive stance, like he had no idea Kurt wanted to pound him. Kelly tried to warn him inside his head, but he continued to block her out. Desperate, Maria looked at Kelly, who quickly read her thoughts. Does Jon remember how to fight?
They were about to find out.
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