The blow came out of nowhere, knocking Margret to the ground. She sat there dazed for a moment, cradling her throbbing elbow. It had contacted first, breaking her fall. Although, technically, the first thing to contact anything was Eve Tyler’s fist against her face.
There were stars dancing across her vision as Eve hauled her up by the lapels of her jacket and backed her up against the cool bricks of the office building nearby. As Margie blinked rapidly, Eve’s snarling face came into view, her cheeks red with anger and exertion, mostly anger though.
Margie was beginning to regret her decision to stand up to the bully who insisted on picking on poor Lawler Wills as she gauged the bird like eye movements of Eve as she assessed what to do next.
Lawler was apart from the group of school children who’d descended like a swarm of locust over the fight. He held his books firmly to his chest and stared at Eve’s back through his cracked glasses.
Margie turned her attention back on Eve, who’d begun to grin terribly wide.
“Well it looks like little Margie wants to play the hero today,” she said.
Margie ignored the taunts from the circle of kids prompted by Eve’s statement. “Well, honestly, I was just trying to keep Lawler from another trip to the nurse’s office. He’s visited so many times they practically have a room set aside just for him.”
“Well maybe he should stop tripping over things, and falling into things,” Eve smiled, an edge to her voice.
Margie patted Eve’s hand lightly as it was still entwined in her jacket. “Don’t worry. When I go to the nurse’s office for this black eye, I’ll tell her you sent me.”
Eve’s lips drew back over her teeth in a scowl, and she tightened her grip. Again, a wave of dread washed over Margie. She imagined her face would resemble a Jackson Pollock painting when this was through. But she still couldn’t back down, she was after all, the first person to directly challenge Eve. If she was going to get beaten up, she mind-as-well earn it.
“So before we begin, I think it’s only fair that I tell you that beating me up won’t bring you gratification. It won’t fill whatever void you’re trying to fill, or remove that sense of inadequacy. It won’t make your parents pay attention to you more.”
“Shut up!” she yelled, shaking Margie violently. “You’re just trying to confuse me.”
“Is it working?” Margie asked.
An irritated growl rose from Eve’s throat, and the sound, combined with the two red pigtails that stick up from her head, made her look like a raging bull.
“Might I ask you to aim for the nose? I’ve had this awful bump on the bridge since I was little. I was planning on having corrective surgery later in life, but this will probably do the trick.”
Eve was not impressed by Margie’s wit and she pulled her hand back like a pitcher winding up. Margie squeezed her eyes shut and awaited the punch. But it didn’t come. Instead, Margie heard a male voice beside her. When she opened her eyes, a boy with black hair and denim shirt had his hand cupped around Eve’s fist.
“Before you knock her out, may I ask what she did to you to deserve such a reprimand?” he asked calmly.
Eve stared at the boy in shock, which quickly turned to loathing. Two people standing up to her in one day. It must be opposite day or something. Maybe she was losing her reputation. She’d probably have to fix that.
“Unless you want to be next, I think you should back up,” she said when she’d regained her composure.
Margie looked from Eve’s face to the boy’s. His grip remained over Eve’s fist, and she was not impressed. Margie floundered around for a way out of this that didn’t end with Eve’s fist kissing the boy’s face. He was cute, with his steady blue eyes, and his ultra-calm demeanour. But he was new here and clearly had no idea what he’d just walked into. No longer worried for her own safety, she spoke quickly.
“Can’t you see this is a private event?” Margie asked, gesturing between Eve and herself. “But I’m sure Eve can arrange something between you two at a later date.”
The boy looked at her for the first time since the altercation began. He cocked his head in amusement, his mouth drawing up slightly at the corner. The look made Margie weak in the knees, of course that could be from the fear.
“What would I have to give you in order for you to let this poor girl go?” he asked, still looking at Margie.
Eve’s expression had grown thoroughly confused and her cheeks were now flaming. She pulled her fist from the boy’s grip and turned to face him, momentarily forgetting about Margie. She was tall, standing three inches above the boy and she peered down at him through narrowed eyes.
“Do you have some sort of death wish? Or are you just stupid?” she demanded.
The kids around scattered to get out of the way as the boy backed up, Eve hot on his trail. Margie watched in horror as Eve closed the distance. She had to do something. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Lawler, he was skirting the periphery of the crowd, his books missing from his hands.
“Well?” Eve bellowed, cracking her knuckles.
The boy assessed her, looking her up and down. Finally he answered. “No. I rather like life. But one thing I can’t stand is bullies. Even if they are girls.”
Ah, he played the girl card. Bad idea. Margie could practically see the steam coming out of Eve’s ears. She took a step forward as Eve drew her fist back.
“Hey!” Lawler shouted.
Eve turned too quickly and suddenly Lawler was standing between the boy and her. He struck out with a punch of his own and Eve fell to the ground like a pound of bricks, knocked out cold. Lawler was huffing staring at his fist in shock. Everyone was staring at him.
Margie recovered first. Turning to the crowd she said, “Show’s over. Now get out of here before she wakes up and decides to let out her anger on the first person she sees.”
The kids knew she was right, and giggling and laughing, they all ran down the street and around the corner, off to tell their friends that Lawler Wills knocked Eve Tyler’s lights out.
Margie returned her attention to Lawler. “Where the hell did that come from?”
Lawler was still staring at his clenched fist. “I don’t know. I just saw her about to beat into you guys and I knew you guys didn’t deserve it.”
“You don’t either. That’s why I jumped in to stop her,” Margie reminded him.
“That was a stupid thing to do.”
Margie let out a breath. “I know. Are you okay?”
Lawler looked very small in his overalls and cracked glasses but he nodded. “She’s going to kill you when she sees you next. Both of you,” he says, turning to the boy.
The boy glanced down at Eve’s unconscious body and shrugged. “No big deal.”
Eve stirred then and Lawler’s calmness evaporated. He stooped to pick up his books. “Well thanks,” he said and then darted away down the street.
“That was pretty brave what you did, standing up for that boy like that.”
Margie feel a rush of pride and accomplishment. “He gets it a lot.”
“The name’s Jay. Jay Bird.”
Margie cracked a grin. “You’re kidding, right?”
Jay’s expression became light. “Well my parents got creative when I was born. ‘Gee,’ they thought, ‘What name can we add in front of Bird that would totally mess up any hopes of a teasing-free childhood?’ Thus, Jay it was.”
Margie chuckled at his explanation. “Well that’s a new one.”
“Always is,” he said. When Eve begins to stir, groaning a little, he looks to the street. “Maybe now would be a good time to get out of here, you know, before…”
They walked quickly out from behind the office building and onto the sidewalk.
“I’m Margie, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“So you’re new around here?” Margie said, genuine interest in her voice.
Jay nodded, the movement sending his hair into his eyes. “Transferred last week. I start school tomorrow.”
“We’ll be at the same school then.”
“How do you know that?”
Margie smiled. “Because there’s only one middle school in this town.”
Jay realized his mistake and laughed. “I did say I was new around here, right?”
“You should probably get some ice on that eye before it swells too much,” he said.
Margie had completely forgotten about the punch that Eve had landed. The memory made the dull ache below her eye sharper.
“Oh, yeah. I’ll do that when I get home. This should be fun to explain to mom and dad. I still can’t believe Lawler decked Eve.”
“He finally found his courage. I doubt Eve will bother him anymore,” Jay said, clearly happy for Lawler.
Margie grinned a little. “He’s right what he said about us being on Eve’s radar though. You’d better be careful at school.”
They’d walked a long way before Margie realized her house had come into view. “That’s my house there actually.” She pointed to the one with orange shingles and a jungle of plants and flowers lining the walkway to the front door.
“We moved into the house at the end of the street, the one with the broken basketball net in front,” he laughed. “It looks like we’ll be neighbours.”
“We can walk to school tomorrow, if you want,” Margie said, trying to contain her excitement at the prospect of seeing Jay regularly.
“Sure. See you tomorrow.”
Margie watched him walk down the sidewalk with a lazy gait, his hands in his pockets. She smiled inwardly and then hurried up the steps to her house.