Small boy with a dilemma on his birthday
| This story has been accepted for publication in Abandoned Towers Magazine
For my tenth birthday my mother had promised me a party to remember. There would be a gigantic chocolate cake, ice cream, a clown, presents, balloons and even my first pair of long trousers. While I liked the idea of the clown, I thought myself a bit old for balloons--they were for babies, not boys in long trousers.
"And don't forget, Arthur" my mother said, as she packed me off to school. "Ask some of your little friends to the party."
That's the problem with birthday parties--you can't have them all by yourself; you have to invite someone, and in my school no small boy with an ounce of sense would let on it was his birthday. If he did, he'd be shoved straight into the nearest holly bush by Smythe and some of his nasty henchmen.
Smythe was the school bully. I suppose every school has one like him: thick as two planks and the personality of a pitbull. His first name was Nicholas—'Nickel-arse' to the gormless thugs he called friends. The rest of us called him 'Copper-bottom' behind his back, but never to his face. All the smaller kids were terrified of him and most of the bigger ones as well. So was I and it was just my luck to sit next to him every day in class.
Dim as he was, Smythe could tell if a boy was afraid just by looking at him. Throughout the morning I kept peeking at his scowling face as he struggled with his lessons, searching fearfully for a sign that he suspected something. If he did, he had only to twist my arm a couple of times in the playground, and the truth would be out in a minute. Not that it mattered much; he'd know soon enough, anyway.The moment I mentioned my party someone would be sure to snitch and the entire Copper-bottom gang would be waiting for me outside the gates after school, where a particularly dense and prickly holly bush was conveniently to hand.
Mind you, swaggering home with my clothes torn and my face covered in scratches had a certain appeal; my mother raising her eyes to heaven and saying, "Fighting again? Who was it this time?" while I maintain a modest and manly silence in keeping with my new long-trouser status; my father ruffling my hair and saying he wished he could see how the other kid looked, while in class all the girls would admire my scars and Smythe would be so affected by my fortitude he'd beg me on his knees to join his gang and...
During the dinner break I had a brilliant idea. I would invite Julie. Julie was a new girl and I didn't know her very well, but she often smiled at me in class and in the playground. She seemed rather nice, as girls go, and I was sure she'd like to come to my party. Just as the bell rang to end the break, I plucked up courage to speak to her.
"Can I ask you something?"
"If you like," she answered.
"Do you want to come to my birthday party?"
She beamed at me. "I just love birthday parties."
"Then meet me at the gate after school," I said. "Only you mustn't tell anybody."
Her eyes lit up. "Cross my heart and hope to die."
I spent the rest of the day feeling very pleased with myself. I even looked Copperbottom directly in the eye. Not for long, of course; no point in pushing my luck.
When school ended I held back a little, just to make sure he was gone, and then hurried off towards the gate where Julie would be waiting. Instead, I found a grinning reception committee headed by the Lord High Executioner himself.
"Thought I wouldn't find out, didn't you?" said Smythe.
"Find out what?" I asked innocently.
"I saw you two whispering. Didn't take long to get it out of her," he boasted.
"Did you hit her?"
"I told her I'd hit you," Smythe said, and twisted my arm behind my back.
"OY!" shouted someone.
Julie had come up behind us. She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring furiously at Smythe.
He was unimpressed. "This is bloke's business," he said. "No girls allowed, so bugger off."
"Copper-bottom," she answered scornfully.
Julie reached up and waved her index finger in Smythe's face. "You just watch it," she hissed. "I've got a brother, and he's a lot bigger than you."
Smythe almost backed into the holly bush. Before he could right himself, Julie seized my arm and led me away from him.
"You can phone your mum from my house," I said, as we hurried breathlessly up the road. "And you can invite your brother to my party."
She giggled. "What brother?" she said.
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