“But I thought you said the best way to stop a bully was to punch him in the nose?” Krystal said.
Clayton realized, not for the first time, that he and Krystal had grown up in parallel universes, not withstanding the fact that they had attended high schools only seven miles apart.
Some of it was the gender difference. It was his impression that girls were rule-followers and saw little of life outside the pavement, the painted lines and the areas covered by security cameras.
Some of it was personality.
Some of it was the seemingly random life events that directed life-trajectories like bumpers in a pinball machine.
But much of the difference was undoubtedly due to the fact that Krystal came from the silver-spoon side of the tracks and he came from the gritty-cinder side.
They met when he worked at a coffee-shop. He was a barista and she was a manager by virtue of the fact that the chain was owned by "a friend of the family".
To her credit, she asked for a transfer to a different branch when she felt drawn to Clayton. She was not going to date somebody who reported to her as an employee.
To the dismay of her family, they fell in love and got married.
Girls from Rich-Ville subdivision became lawyers and doctors and professors and accountants. They married the same.
Clayton, on the other hand, was raised by his single-mother. His mother insisted that he not go to school in Lansing. Instead, she exercised Michigan’s School-of-Choice option and sent him to a nearby suburban school.
In this case, suburban meant first-ring-suburb which was much like Lansing had been, value-wise, thirty years ago.
The coaches at the middle-school were VERY interested in Clayton. He had gotten his growth early and there was no indication that his growth was going to stop. Clayton also had a biddable, easy-to-coach nature.
Clayton was sure he had found his place in the scheme-of-things until the local kids who were on the team decided to make him the target of their hazing. As an outsider, he was an easy target.
While the coaches were inside of their office filling out the mandatory, computer forms that documented the practice, Clayton’s would-be-teammates engaged in activities in the locker-room that could have been prosecuted as Criminal Sexual Conduct if they had been done by adults.
The coaches did not have a clue.
Clayton never went back to practice.
His mother was livid when Clayton quit the team. She had spent good money to get him signed up for football.
He never told her what happened. He knew how much she had sacrificed just to arrange transportation to-and-from school.
But Clayton was all-boy. He was active and NEEDED sports. He played pick-up basketball before school started. He had plenty of time. The rides his mother arranged got him to the school-yard an hour before classes started.
He played football at lunch and basketball after school.
There were no referees. No umps. No video or instant replay.
And the contests, though hotly-contested, were “cleaner” than the official, sanctioned contests.
In the official contests the winners often prevailed because they were better at instigating and then drawing attention from the officials when the other team retaliated. The game was not football or basketball, it was to "game" the officials.
That is not how it worked on the short-sided, pick-up games. The rules were known. Many sets of eyes were watching. Violations were dealt with quickly and brutally.
The problem for Clayton is that this entire universe was something he had internalized and he knew how it worked at an intuitive level. He had never had to verbalize it for somebody else.
But he had to try.
Scratching his head, he replied to Krystal’s challenge “For most bullies you would be right.”
“Like when Mark Trombley would corner smaller kids taking a shortcut through the alley-way and beat them up. Every kid he was bullying thought they were the only one” Clayton said.
“That is part of how bullies operate. The shame of the victims keeps them from talking, keeps them from forming a team.”
“When one of them wised-up and started hitting back, none of the other kids knew. Trombley would pick another, smaller victim.” Clayton said.
“This is a little bit different” Clayton asserted.
“Do you remember Steve Lehigh?” Clayton asked Krystal.
Krystal thought for a minute. “A couple inches taller than you. Walks with a limp. Drinks a lot and has a foul mouth?”
“Yep, that is Steve” Clayton agreed. “Do you know why he walks with a limp?”
Krystal shook her head “No”.
“We were playing football at lunch. We played two-hand touch because we couldn’t get our clothes stained. Full contact blocking, though.
“Timmy Perrone was quarterback for the other team. He had just made a long pass to a receiver when Steve tackled him from behind.” Clayton said.
“It was a cheap shot. Timmy had faked out Steve and made him look foolish. Steve got mad.”
“The next play Shane Sandell and Greg McNairy hit Steve. Greg tackled him from behind and hit him up high. Shane hit him from the front at knee level.”
“Steve was not carrying the ball or anything. But he had broken the rules and nothing was going to happen in that game until after Steve had been knocked out of it.”
“Knees are not supposed to bend that way.” Even though it had happened more than ten years ago, Clayton still winced.
“So what are you saying?” Krystal asked.
“From the viewpoint of whoever is running these home-invasions, we broke their rules. We pushed back. They will not rest until we get knocked out of the game.” Clayton said.
“Our only real option is to beat them to the punch. They cannot hurt us if we are not here. We need to leave. Today.”