“Come on, will ya? I still gotta take you to your new class before I go to mine, for cryin’ out loud” Michael said.
Michael and Sal walked fast, ahead of me. I had to run to keep up. “Why can’t we go to the same class? That would be a lot better,” I said, pushing my Polly nose down as it had come unstuck from my nose.
Sal laughed some more. “Right, I could see that!” he said.
“Ha,” said Michael. “I’m in seventh grade, you nut. You can’t have kindergarten in my class. I told you that already,” he said, pushing ahead. “Come on, Danny, you’re too damned slow.”
“Please don’t make me go to that other class.” I threw the Polly-nose down and scooped up another one.
“Don’t worry, Shorty,” Michael said. “I’ll come and get you when you’re finished, then we’ll go home for lunch. Okay? What are you doing, now, crying?”
Sal laughed. “Hey Goofy,” he said, “believe me, you wouldn’t want to be in our class.”
“Listen,” said Michael, “it’s only kindergarten, for cryin’ out loud. All they do is play. I wish I could go myself. You wanna trade? I’ll go to your class and you go to mine.”
They both laughed. But tears were spilling down my face now.
“Aw, don’t worry Danny,” said Sal. “You’ll be okay.”
Just then two neighborhood bullies with backpacks passed us on the sidewalk. I recognized them because they had attacked me that summer once when I had strayed a little too far from the front stoop of our building, though was still on our block. They had acted friendly and came over and asked me if I lived on the block and I nodded. In the next minute, the big one punched me full force in my stomach, and I folded in half like a jackknife. Then the other guy pushed my folded-over body into a mud puddle and I rolled in the wet mud with piercing pain shooting through my body, trying to catch my breath. I could hear them laughing and running, and Michael, who had appeared from nowhere, running after them, yelling that he was going to break them in half, after which he came back panting, saying he had done just that, still cursing at them as he checked to see if I was okay, telling me, “I told you to stay on the stoop when I’m not home.”
Now, here they were, back at it. “Taking your little sister to school?” the bigger one asked Michael, then ran with his stupid buddy behind him, both of them laughing.
“You better run, you idiots,” Michael yelled after them. “Or I’ll pound you into the ground like I did the last time!”
Sal shook his head. “Yeah, real idiots,” he said.
We crossed 111th Avenue. “Come on, Danny.” Michael waited for me half-way into the street, his arm outstretched for my hand. “Would you hurry?” he said.
After we crossed the street I saw the giant, gray stone building looming like a rock monster just ahead on the next block. Carved into the stone were the letters spelling out Our Lady of Sorrows.
“I don’t want to go there,” I said. “Please, Michael, don’t make me, not alone. I can’t do it.”
“Danny, gimme a break, will ya? I’m gonna be late as it is, on my first freaking day.” He inhaled the last puff of his cigarette and tossed the butt into the street.