The boy was small, and his attempts at invisibility made him stand out like a sore thumb. He was stuck: if I don't move they won't see me, if I don't make a noise ... or wait, is that for a Rhino attack? The sun was too bright. He was used to New England, where the sun was gentle and rarely aggressive. This 'in your face' sun was a whole new ball game. It burned his Irish skin and made him squint his eyes. He hoped the eye squint had some kind of lone cowboy effect, but he didn't think cowboys had eyes that leaked in the sun.
He watched the children playing and tried to decide which one would start the cruelty. There was a cluster of large boys by the picnic table. They snuck glances when they didn't think he was looking. There was a girl with red hair who looked like she wanted the world to explode. Then, there were the teachers - teachers are anybody's guess.
The biggest of the boys nodded his head in Jimmy's direction, and he sighed. Whatever. Get it over with. As the boys crossed the playground, it really did seem like he was a lone cowboy. The other kids stopped to stare. He could imagine painted women sneaking small pistols from their garters, ranchers diving into water barrels, silence. Drunks diving into the water trough. He looked at his watch - his most prized possession - and realized it was noon. High noon. Seriously?
The big one approached with his cohorts a step behind. He had incredibly shiny hair. Jimmy wanted to tell him how pretty his hair was. Then he thought: Holy SHIT, I hope I didn't say that out loud!
"You the new kid?"
"You got a name?"
His heart was pounding. What was it going to be this time? Jim? Jimmy? Jimbo? Definitely not Jimbo.
"Um ... some people call me Jimmy and some people call me Jim."
His eyes went from squint to shut, boarded up. The sheriff was telling the shopkeepers to move away from the windows. Grab your rifles, boys! Circle the wagons. Don't you cry, Jimmy, I swear to God, if you let yourself cry, there will be ...
"What do you like? Jim or Jimmy?"
He opened his eyes and there was a bit of smile in the corner of the boys' eyes. Wolf gleam. Kill smile. Wasn't it? No one had ever asked him what he wanted to be called.
"I don't like it when people call me Jimmy!"
He placed one foot back, creating a solid base. He could take the impact. No problem. And he was fast. He could always run. If he couldn't stay on his feet, though...
He wrapped his hand around the knife in his pocket. Not because he would use it - it barely cut twigs - but because his Pops was dead and the knife had been his. And that's about all the explanation you need if you've ever owned a pocket knife or had a father.
"Cool. I like Jim better, too."
He looked up, the boy's head was closer and it blocked the sun, allowing him to open his eyes wide. They were all smiling now. What the hell?
"Anyway, we're going to play football at the park after school. Not much to do here, but we can show you the 'hot spots' on the way. You play football?"
Jim nodded his head very slowly. He did play football.
"Cool. I'm Tom. I don't like Tommy either ... my Mom calls me Tommy. This is Ty, Dre, and the twins are Jeff and John. None of us can tell them apart so don't sweat it."
The boy was holding his hand out. Jim shook it, and then shook hands with the rest of the boys."
"Nice to meet you."
"You too, Jim. Meet us here when the last bell rings, OK?"
Now, there was no denying the smile. Jim felt a warmth that sprouted in his abdomen and spread to his fingertips ... fingertips that could already feel old pigskin. Jim was pretty damn good at football.
"OK, I'll be here."
The boys went back to their post and Jim stood smiling, eyes open wide and bright. Somehow, the sun didn't bother him as much anymore. He holstered his six guns.