“Hey, you big Retard, this is our turf! Get lost!”
I turned to see Shaun and a gang of boys yelling and pushing Quentin, my mentally challenged neighbour who was playing basketball in the schoolyard. Quentin’s normally cheerful face paled and he dropped his ball.
He looked over at me as I was passing by, a hopeful look in his eyes that said “Help me.” I shrugged and looked away.
Quentin turned and ran off, his gangly legs almost making him fall a few times. I could hear him sniffling and hoped he was okay. I wanted to go to help Quentin and hoped the gang wouldn’t notice me. I didn’t want to get drawn into anything.
“Steve, want to join us for a game?” Shaun called.
“Uh, no thanks. I have lots of homework.”
“Aw, come on, just one game,” Shaun coaxed. “Now that retard is gone, we have the whole court to ourselves.”
“Okay, just one,” I said putting down my knapsack.
We threw a few hoops and I got it in a few times.
“Nice,” Shaun said with admiration. “Say, you’re a math whiz, aren’t you? You sit next to me in grade 9 advanced math, right?”
“I like math. It’s my best subject.”
“I need some help with my homework. What do you say?”
“I’m kind of busy,” I said, my face growing hot.
“Oh, you can help me. Tell you what. If you do, you can be in my new group that I’m starting. Only the coolest guys are allowed in. I’ll even buy us some special jackets to wear.”
“Really?” I said, impressed that he would ask me. I’d never seen myself as one of the cool guys.
“Sure,” he said giving that award winning smile of his that all the girls liked. “Can you come over now and help me get ready for the test?”
“Okay,” I said, a feeling of excitement and dread going through me.
Shaun let me in the house and I followed him to the basement where he turned on his X box.
“If you want to do well on your test, you should turn that off,” I suggested.
“You’re not my dad,” Shaun said rolling his eyes. “Say, I wanted to make a deal with you. Since we sit close in class, can I look off your paper during the test?”
I looked at him in surprise that he would ask such a thing.
“But that’s cheating.”
“Not really, if you know and the teacher doesn’t find out.”
“It’s wrong,” I said.
“Do you want into my group or not?” Shaun said. “Melissa will think you’re hot. I see the way you look at her.”
I hesitated, sweat beading on my forehead.
“Yeh, sure but..”
“I need to know.”
“Okay,” I said, exhaling quickly. “I’ll do it.”
I returned home and saw Quentin out raking in his yard.
“Hi Quentin,” I said and Quentin turned away, pretending not to hear me. I could tell he was hurt that I ignored him at the park.
That night I tossed and turned worrying about Quentin and worrying about what I’d agreed to do for Shaun. Did I want to be in Shaun’s group that much? Did Melissa’s approval matter?
The next morning on my walk to school, I passed Shaun and the boys taunting Quentin again. Why couldn’t they leave the poor guy alone? Melissa was also there watching, a worried look on her face. Quentin was clutching his CD player to his chest as it blared “Jack and Jill went up the hill.”
“Turn that crap off!” Shaun yelled. “That’s not music.” He pushed Quentin to the ground and the CD player fell and smashed into pieces.
“It’s broke!” Quentin cried. His face crumpled as he looked at what was left of his CD player and he burst into tears.
“Leave him alone. He didn’t do anything to you,” I said.
“Go away. This isn’t your business,” Shaun said, a hostile look on his face.
“Of course it is,” I said. “Stop bullying Quentin.
“Do you want to fight with me?” Shaun said, putting out his fists.
“I want you to leave Quentin alone.”
“He’s just a stupid retard. He’s not important,” Shaun said. Quentin flinched at the words.
“Of course he’s important. He’s a person who deserves respect like anyone else. You think you’re so incredibly cool, Shaun, but you’re not. You’re a bully, plain and simple.”
“Just for that, I’m not letting you join my group.”
“That’s okay. I didn’t want to join your lame group anyhow. And by the way, our deal is off, too.”
Shaun looked at me in disgust.
“You are a loser, Steve. I’ve always thought you were.”
“You’re the loser, Shaun. You lie, cheat and bully people,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t retaliate and hit me. Instead, he spat on the ground and walked away without a word, his entourage following.
I stood there wondering what I should do now. If I took Quentin home, I’d be late for school.
“I have a CD player you can have, Quentin,” I said as I helped him up. “I’ll take you home and get it for you.” So I’d be a bit late. At least it was only gym class first period.
“Thanks, Steve,” Quentin said.
I led Quentin away and hoped Shaun wouldn’t do anything. Behind me, I could hear him laughing with his buddies.
“Wait up, Steve,” Melissa called out to me. She ran to catch up with us.
"You should go back. The bell is going to ring any minute," I said to her.
"I don't care if I'm late. I'll explain what happened to Mr. Saunders and what you did to help Quentin.“I wanted to tell you that you’re not a loser. Shaun is. You did the right thing.”
“Thanks, Melissa,” I said, smiling, a warm feeling replacing the cold dread I had felt only moments ago.
“Steve is my good friend,” Quentin said proudly to Melissa.
“And he’s my friend, too,” Melissa said to Quentin. “Aren’t we lucky?”