Samuel Smallbottom remembers the first time he got the shit kicked out of him. Well, not the total shit kicked out of him. He wasn’t broken and bruised. He wasn’t bleeding out of his face or his legs. But it still bloody well hurt. It was last year in grade 5 after Sam had refused to let Harry Handcock play Bat-Tennis with him and his mates. Harry had mental issues and he was poor and his clothes were always a little dirty and he smelt damp and dusty. Also Harry would brag constantly about how Santa bought him a Sega Saturn for Christmas, which made Sam insanely jealous because Sam only had a Sega Master System II. But none of that bothered Sam too much. Sam really didn’t like Harry because Harry would always surprise the girls in the playground by showing them his penis which made them cry. And that’s not on. To Sam, a penis was a private-part meant only to be seen at bath-time or at the Doctors when it was red and hurty.
So Sam told Harry he couldn’t play Bat-Tennis and to go play something else somewhere else with someone else. Harry called Sam a fucking fuck head, he said, ‘You’re a Fucking Fuck Head, Sam,’ and Sam didn’t say anything back. The harsh, cracking sounds of the bad words were enough to make Sam want to cry, but he kept it all inside just like his Dad taught him, which made his face go all puffy and red. Sam turned around to pick up the tennis ball and BAM! It felt like someone had smashed an elbow into Sam’s back at great speed. And it felt like that because that’s exactly what someone did. And that someone was Harry Handcock. Sam was knocked face first into the cold, gravely asphalt, and his palms became bloody and raw as he slid to a stop; tiny dark rocks now lodged into his skin. As Sam attempted to stand his breath felt short and shocking. He tried to breathe but not enough air would go into his lungs. He started to panic. The panicking made his breaths shorter and sharper. No one was helping and he didn’t know what to do. And he still couldn’t breathe. And. And. And…
Sam blacked out. When he woke up in the sick-bay, sleepy and confused, the nurse told him he’d been ‘winded,’ which Sam thought was an inappropriate name, as the title didn’t sound anywhere near as traumatic as the experience.
Anyway, today was a sunny Tuesday, and this time Sam was getting the TOTAL shit kicked out of him. Broken and bruised. Pig-nosed and curly haired Reid Rockcliff had Sam by the scruff of his pale blue school-uniform, shaking him senseless and herding the ever growing crowd of excited 6th graders towards the back oval.
Reid was the coolest, most popular kid in grade 6; he had the official Jurassic Park ™ T-Rex Figurine — the one that ate action figures and had a belly that opened up to retrieve them — which made him the King of Recess; he had two Gameboys and a link-cable which he’d only let his best friends use to verse him on Poke’mon Yellow during Lunch times; he’d been held back at school for the second time this year, which made him bigger and older and super mysterious; and he was a massive, gigantic, enormous dick-hole. Reid smoked and swore at teachers. Reid never asked for a bathroom pass when he needed to pee; he just went. He just went! Reid was rude and pushy and rough; he’d punch you in the arm as a ‘joke’ and if you cried he’d say it was your fault for being such a pussy. In short, Reid Rockcliff had everyone’s attention.
Earlier in the day during maths, a note had been passed from one side of the room to the other in secret. The crinkly piece of loose-leaf, folded in half four times, had moved under-tables and across laps by many grubby hands until it finally made its way to Sam. ‘SEM’ it had scribbled across the front. It must be from Reid, Sam thought. It was an invitation to play footy on the main oval with Reid and his mates. Sam was pretty terrified of footy – it was all bumping and scraped knees and extended rough hugs that had boys rolling around in the mud together – but he couldn’t say no. He was so excited by the thought of being seen with Reid and his crew that his stomach felt sick and his head felt giddy. Well… the thought of being seen with Reid and his crew by Lauren Lauder, that is.
Lauren Lauder was the it girl. She was so it. She was so god damn, massively it. When she was around Sam’s chest would crush inwards and he could only look at the ground. Her hair was long and dark and always held in a side pony tail by a purple scrunchie. And she knew all the dance moves and all the words to every Spice Girls song. And her down-ball skills were unparalleled. She put every student in whole damn school, even the boys (especially the boys), to shame. Sometimes Sam wished there was such a thing as the Down-Ball Championships just so Lauren could show the world how truly great he knew she was. He’d never admit this to anyone, but sometimes, when he had the lounge-room all to himself, Sam would draw the curtains wide open, play his Mum’s Best of Meat-Loaf CD stupidly loud, then dance, roll and flip himself manically all over the couch. He’d scream ‘Sex and Drums and Rock’n’Roll!’ because those were the only lyrics he knew. And through the fun of it all… secretly he’d pray that Lauren would drive past the house, turn her head at just the right moment, and see him rocking out through the windows. Then she’d know. Sam was actually cool.
The footy game, as it turned out, was a god damn set up. A cruel ruse designed by Reid and his gang to get Sam onto the oval just to hurt him. He should have been smarter. He should have known he wasn’t good enough to really be invited. Their plan? To kick the ball to Sam, high. So high, that in his deep concentration and desperation to catch the ball, he’d never see Reid waiting behind, lining up the perfect, crushing speckie. But Reid was a loud runner, all heavy feet and panting. Sam’s ears spiked and his instincts grabbed him and pulled him a slight step to the left. Reid’s full throttle run turn jump sent him leaping into nothing, hitting the slippery mud curly-hair first.
The crowd swarmed and squealed for blood as Reid pulled his fist back to deliver what would be a final, devastating blow. Sam recoiled, covering his eyes with one hand and cupping his important parts with the other, when… it never came. Sam carefully peeked through his fingers, praying this wasn’t some kind of trick that would lead to the squishing of his important parts, and saw something he’d never seen before in his life. It was Reid, calm. The fury in his eyes, faded. His hand, now unfolded and flat, resting in the hand of Lauren Lauders. Sam wanted to scream ‘No Lauren! He will give you the Aids!’ Sam didn’t know what or who the Aids were but he’d heard it was not to be joked about and it was the worst thing ever and if anyone had them it was Reid. He wanted to protect Lauren from the horrible mistake she was making, but… Lauren held Reid’s hand gently, purposefully. She whispered something long and measured into his ear, Reid nodded… and that was that. The crowd was still roaring – crying for Reid to finish what he’d started – to obliterate the cheat, the sook, the shrimp. But Reid walked away, Lauren’s palm pressed into his, crossing the back oval, together.
Sam watched and watched and watched and his tiny heart began to turn dark, sinking into a thick, grey cloud. They’re going out. They must be going out. He didn’t know they were going out. No one holds hands like that unless they’re going out. Samuel Smallbottom had just found out that the incredible Lauren Lauder was taken, off the market, ‘in a relationship’… with Reid Rockcliff.
Sam felt like he was sitting there, still cupping his penis, for what must have been forever. And then it happened. A moment. A teenie, tiny spark that grabbed onto Sam. A warm, bright flash that no one else in the entire world saw or felt. Lauren turned her head, locked eyes with Sam, and smiled. But not just any smile. The softest, sweetest smile Sam had ever saw. A smile softer than a pile of kittens. A smile sweeter than 1000 musk-sticks. Sam sat there with his mouth gaping open. His body had been pummelled and beaten but right now… he couldn’t feel any pain. And for some strange reason, even though no one had slammed a shoulder into his back, Sam felt winded again.