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We both knew there was going to be trouble. We told Mom when she informed us of the moving plans that it would be just like last time.


“It’s a new school,” she said. “New opportunities for friends.”


It was the same shit that’s been said to every kid who’s ever been moved from one school to another all through history. We knew it. She knew it. But the new apartment was just too good a deal to pass up. So here we were, in a new school, with new opportunities.


A trio of those ‘opportunities’ had Josh trapped against the back of the school when I came around the corner during recess. One was just cocking back a fist as I saw them, but I was already moving at a dead run, and I’m fast. Just as the punch started forward I caught his arm, elbow crook to elbow crook. I transfered my forward motion into a spin, and we went around in a kind of high-speed square-dancing do-si-do. By the end of the move I was standing between them and Josh, while my dance partner had been flung to the ground.


Did I mention that I’m big for my age? Fast and big.


“Who the hell are you?”


My dance partner was getting up, looking at me with disbelief. I figured it was best to just get to the point and not waste any time.


“This is my brother. Leave him alone.”


This guy is your brother?”


“Yeah. Leave him alone.”


We’re twins, actually, though people never see it. We share a birthday but look nothing alike. As I said, I’m big for my age, blond and strong. Josh, even though he’s ten minutes older than me, doesn’t quite reach my shoulder. He’s dark-haired, not big, or strong, or fast, but he is smart, very smart, and… well, he’s what Mom calls ‘gifted’. I heard him behind me, breathing fast. Some of that was from trying to run away, I knew, but a lot was anger and fear


“Well your brother is a smart-mouthed little asshole.


Mom was right, he was ‘gifted’. That makes him different, though, and if you’re too different you tend to draw bullies.


Josh is pretty different.


“I don’t care. Leave him alone.”


“Yeah? I think you’re an asshole too. You know what I do with assholes?”


I could see him looking at me, sizing me up against the three of them. All were big, though not as big as me, and there were three of them, all in football jackets. I could see him thinking I was outnumbered, and I knew there was no way out of this. I sighed and threw the first punch.


There were three of them, but like I said, I’m big, fast, and even stronger than I look. It was actually over in an embarrassingly short time. The one I hit without warning, I hit right under the ear; I’m pretty sure I broke his jaw. The second one came at me from behind, but I spun around fast and caught him in another do-si-do, like I had their leader. Rather than down to the ground, this one went face-first into the wall. Then he hit the ground, sitting there crying and holding his broken nose. That just left Dance Partner, who’s jacket sleeve said “Scroggins”. I took a while with him, let him see what was happening. He was the leader, after all. I needed him to learn the lesson: leave the Crean boys alone. I don’t usually do it, but just to make sure he got the point I kicked him in the balls.


Twice.


The bell sounded and I took Josh by the elbow to lead him back into the school. He was still trembling, and would be until the adrenaline washed out of his system.


“You okay?” I said.


“Yeah, thanks Jacob. You?”


“Yeah. You think they learned the lesson?”


“They better have,” said Josh, as he turned off toward the classroom. I just stood for a second and watched him go.


~ * ~


This is what we get for moving to the better side of Spreewald, I thought as the fist smashed my face again. A better football team. Tougher. More organized. More team spirit.


Scroggins caught us half-way home, sore balls and all. He brought the rest of the team with him, and though it took most of them to get me down, it was just a matter of numbers and time. We could have tried to outrun them, but once that adrenaline hit Josh’s system again there was no way I could get him to run. He can’t help it. Fight or flight, like flipping a coin. Hell, it was all I could do to get him to stand there with his back to a tree while I tried to get us out of it.


That didn’t go so well.


The hand holding the back of my hair let go, though the four linebacker types holding my arms never loosened their grip. Scroggins sauntered up to Josh— visibly trembling beneath the tree, eyes huge, breathing fast. He grabbed Josh’s T-shirt and cocked back a fist.


I spat blood, cleared my mouth.


“I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”


Leaving his fist high, Scroggins turned to me.


“Why? You really think Big Brother’s gonna come protect him now?”


“I wasn’t protecting him, asshole.”


I spat again.


“I was protecting you!”


Scroggins sneered and turned back to Josh — just in time to catch Josh’s lengthening talon across the face. Josh’s own face stretched into a hairy muzzle filled with long, sharp teeth, which he buried in Scroggins’s throat with a growling lunge.

I told you he was ‘gifted’.


I sighed and started laying out the stunned team with haymaker lefts and rights so we wouldn’t have to chase all the witnesses down.


Sorry, Mom. Looks like we might have to move again…

~ ~ * * ~ ~

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