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Weep Little Lion Man

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Stepping outside of Franklin County Juvenile Detention Facility was about as uneventful as Darius anticipated. With nothing but a cracked flip phone in his pocket, cigarettes, lighter, wallet, and loose change, it looked like walking back would be his best option. Still, stopping by his mother’s house was at the top of his list, and that kind of a haul would be grueling on his worn-out sneakers. He fished his wallet out, pleasantly surprised that the few bills he left inside of it were, in fact, still there. The dude managing the front desk seemed a lot sketchier than half the juveniles in the facility, but apparently it was all in the tongue ring and eyebrow industrial. Dare flipped his phone open with his thumb and phoned a taxi, fishing out the box of stale cigarettes in his back pocket and used the last of the gas in his lighter to manage a flame. Letting out an exhausted puff following a deep, long inhale, Dare leaned against a traffic pole and waited for his taxi to show.

Fifteen minutes later the yellow cab pulled up and Dare wrenched the back door open, tossing the remains of his cigarette to the ground and slamming the door shut behind him. He gave the directions to the driver and sat back, glancing out the window as they pulled away from the correctional facility. Six months in that shithole, and what was gained? He didn’t learn a lesson. Both he, his lawyer, and the judge knew that six months wouldn’t be enough to ‘straighten him out’, but he’d still be given the minimum sentence anyways being tried as a juvenile. The judge called it ‘given the unfortunate circumstances’, but he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Darius hardly testified, and if it wasn’t for the shitty counter-testimony, he’d probably have gotten a much longer sentence.

Thirty minutes came and went in a breeze, and with what miniscule money he had left, he paid the driver and shoved the door open without consideration to whether he’d even managed to pay the full amount for his ride. But basing off where he came from, the driver smartly avoided a confrontation and instead drove away. Squaring his shoulders as he stood in front of the walkway of a prim and proper little house in the suburbs, the sudden gnawing thoughts ofyou don’t belong here began to eat away at the back of his head, all of which had to be forcibly buried beneath a layer of indifference as he stepped up onto the wrap-around white-picket front porch and lingered at the front door. The deep-crimson colored door and black knocker had been decorated for the most miniscule of holidays, as he’d come to expect from them as the seasons started to switch from Summer to Fall. He brushed aside a few of the little decorative leaves and rapped on the door with his bruised, scaly-appearing knuckles, scuffing his boots against the “WELCOME HOME” mat, complete with a happy Sun with a smiley face on it.

He heard the footsteps on the other side of the door, guessing that the person on the other side was peering through the little peephole above the knocker. Seconds stretched on, but eventually the door opened slowly, her curly brown hair poking out around the frame before she tugged it open the rest of the way. She faked a smile for him.

“Well…isn’t this a surprise. Hi sweetheart.”

“Hey Mom.” Dare muttered.

“I thought…your sentence got extended?”

“Let me out for good behavior,” Dare answered with a shrug. “Mostly they just left me alone, so we didn’t have a problem.”

Pam didn’t reply, her body blocking most of the entrance into the house.

Unwelcome, Dare reminded himself. “School’s started, right? I’m supposed to display model behavior and shit for awhile—”

“—Blaine’s at a private school, Darius.” Pam corrected him before he could continue. “Your father and I don’t have the funds to send you there too.”

“I’m not interested in going to Blaine’s school, Mother.” Dare lied irritably. “I’m not even in this district. I’m headed back to Lima in a bit, but since the school year already started, I need you to do the parent thing and just get me in. Can you manage that, or should I just have called Cooper?”

The hurt and self-criticism plastered across his mother’s face almost immediately, and Dare had to sigh, trying to reign in some of his temper. Pam stepped out onto the porch, closing the door behind her and folding her arms over her chest. She didn’t meet his eyes. “Why don’t you stay with us for a little while? I think staying home would be good for you…”

“Mom.”

Pam sniffled. Dare groaned internally. “This doesn’t have to be complicated. I didn’t want to come over in the first place. But I’m not interested in going back in lockup so if you could just fucking call the school—”

“—Pam?” A second voice from inside the house called, and Mom whirled around, opening the door just a crack and whispering to the other person inside. There were some irritable grunts in retort, but she eventually managed to shut the door behind her again.

Dare could feel his ears start to itch and burn. “He’s still here?”

“Of course he’s still here. Where do you think he’s going to go? He’s—”

“—Don’t even say it, Mom. I’m not having this argument with you. He’s not. He never was. And if he ever puts his hands on Blaine again—”

“—Enough, Darius.” Pam put up a hand to stop him, her eyes finally snapping up to his face with a sharp glare. “Blaine’s forgiven him. I’ve forgiven him. We’re moving past it. You don’t know what Blaine wants any more than I do. And he’s made it very clear he doesn’t want to see you right now. Until he recovers from this…embarrassment…I’d hope that you could keep your distance.”

“That’s why I’m here instead of tracking him down, Pam.” Dare snapped. “Can you make the damn phone call or not?

“Fine. I’ll call the school in the morning.” She wrenched the front door open again, then stopped in the doorway with a heavy, dramatic sigh as Dare had already started down the steps. “We love you, Darius. I hope you realize that one day and make the right choices.”

“You’re not one to preach about making the right choices.” Dare retorted without turning around.

“How are you going to get back?”

“I’ll find my own fucking way, don’t worry about it.”

“Darius.”

Dare’s hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, but even he couldn’t muster the energy to lash back out at his mother as she started down the steps and gingerly grabbed his arm, pressing a wad of neatly folded bills into his palm and her other hand to his face, gently turning him around.

“What you’re putting yourself through isn’t necessary. Despite what you might think, but I love you. Blaine loves you. Even Dan loves you…in his own way.” She sighed when he didn’t reply. “Take the train down to Lima and I’ll make sure you’re enrolled by Monday, okay? And this time…if anything happens, just…come home, Dare.”

Dare jerked his arm free from her hold and she flinched back a step, more hurt and pain creeping up into her face. Unable to even look at her for a second longer, he turned on his heel, shoving the bills into his pocket, and started for the train station about six or seven miles from the house. The entire walk his face flushed red with frustration and bottled up rage. Dan was still in the house. Still in the fucking house even after all of the shit that went down. He shouldn’t be surprised. Dan did nothing wrong. He was the good guy in everything. Only did what he thought was right. And even after his fight with Blaine, Pam hadn’t done a thing to try and remedy the situation. She sided wrongly with the man that had a whole other life she deliriously pretended to know nothing about. But it wasn’t his concern. His concern had been Blaine. It always was about Blaine.

Blaine didn’t write more than a single letter, and Darius had flushed it violently down the toilet in his cell in a fit of rage. It was exactly the kind of overly-sophisticated, yet scathing wording he expected from his twin, and yet when the message conveyed that Blaine wanted nothing to do with him, the anger came through in full force and he couldn’t be bothered to read the remainder of the note. He’d come to terms with it throughout the duration of his juvie sentence, and took out his frustrations on anyone that dared to come too close. No visitors, no more letters, and no one there to see him when he walked out today. It was exactly the kind of response he anticipated, but a deep, longing part in the back of his mind hoped and ached that Blaine might’ve been there to see him. But the line in the sand was clear. And Dare would accept his responsibility for causing it to happen.

The train ride from Westerville to Lima was a miserable eleven and a half hours crammed with some of the most disgusting and obnoxious people to ever take place in public transportation, but Dare grit his teeth and dealt with it, as nothing was really worse than the mosquito-infested walk back to Country Estates. Unsurprisingly, the community hadn’t changed in the slightest, and gossiping figures stood in their lawn as they watched Darius approach his unit and start for the door. Locks hadn’t even been changed. He shoved the door with his shoulder and let himself into the unit, slamming it shut behind him with his foot. The drunk, pathetic, waste of human life hardly budged from his spot on the couch, enough beer bottles littered around him to induce alcohol poisoning in any human being that wasn’t 90% alcohol already.

Bruce’s head wobbled as he looked up, eyes narrowing to confused slits. “Darius?”

“Yeah, Bruce. Glad to see your eyes still work.” Dare locked the door behind him and tossed his jacket carelessly into the closet.

“Wha…z’fuck are you doin’ here? Thoughts you were…in jail.”

“It’s been seven months. You been shitfaced the whole time?”

“Don’t ‘u cric-cric-i-size me you lil’ shit. Get…your ass sent r’ght back—”

“Uh huh.” Dare ignored him, kicking aside three or four pizza boxes as he walked toward the bathroom. “You keep living the American Welfare dream. All I need is a place to shower and sleep.”

“Yeah yeah…whatever. K’ck you-self out. Like…really hard.”

Just to have some privacy while he showered was more relief than he could’ve asked for, even if he could hear the echoes of trash TV through the paper-thin trailer walls. It was still a hot shower, and there was a curtain and a door, which he’d completely forgotten how much of a luxury it truly was until he couldn’t have it for the last seven months. Freshly showered, he was even surprised to find that he still had clothes to wear, his dresser drawer mostly untouched, save for a few things that look like they’d been shoved out of the way in a vain attempt at finding something hidden to smoke or drink.

“You plannin’ on doin’ something to con-tri-boot around here, lazy fu-kin kid?” Bruce’s voice called from the living room over the sound of the TV.

“Yeah I’ll get right on that, miserable fuck.” Dare muttered under his breath, wrenching the rumpled bedsheets back, though with all the chips, grease, and sweat plastered to the mattress, reconsidered whether or not it was genuinely worth staying in this dump and taking his chances with the mosquitos. “Christ did you clean anything while I was gone?”

“Shut the fuck up, kid.” Bruce grunted, belched.

Dare pulled the sheet back up over the fitted sheet, sandwiching himself between the comforter that reeked of sex and booze and the sticky disgusting bottom. Bruce was in too much of a stupor to get up off the couch tonight, and Dare managed to lull himself to sleep with the TV blaring in the background and Bruce’s fat-necked snores from the living room.

Like most anything in Bruce’s trailer, not a thing came to last, not even sleep. Dare was awoken by a burning sensation against his scalp, jumping out of the bed with a start and swatting violently and the offending hand that started it. Bruce had a second cigarette lit and ready as Dare shook the second one out of his hair, stomping it out on the carpet with his bare foot and glaring at the man grinning like an asshole at the foot of the bed.

“Shouldn’t of been sleeping in the bed, kid. You know better.”

“So you lit my fucking scalp on fire?” Dare snarled, ready to start swinging.

“Ah…take it easy. Wouldn’t want to have to call the judge and report you as out of control again, right? So…” Bruce took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew out the smoke. “What’s your plan? Just gonna lounge around the house?”

“I’m going to school.” Dare retorted, willing himself to calm with every ounce of strength he could muster.

“Didn’t you flunk out?”

“You can’t flunk out of high school. They just make you repeat until you’re old enough to drop out. Plus, I have to. Court orders.”

“And how the hell are you planning on paying for what you owe? This isn’t a shelter. You don’t get free room and board.”

“I’ll find a job. Maybe you should think about getting some solid work too.”

Bruce’s expression hardened, the cigarette tightening in his fingers. “I don’t recall asking for your input. As you can see, I did just fine taking care of everything while you were gone.”

“I mean, you are the fucking adult here. Glad you could step up to the plate—”

Bruce’s hand caught him hard across the face, but after all the fights and beatings he’d taken, Dare hardly flinched. Instead he grabbed the man’s hand at the wrist and held it firmly in place. “We’re going to put a few ground rules in place. You don’t touch me, and I don’t break every last bone in your fucking body. Got it?”

“Oh I see,” Bruce wrenched his hand free. “So you want me to finally tell Blaine the truth?”

“Don’t even say his name.” Dare growled.

“I’ll say whatever the fuck I want, he’s—”

“—Don’t.” Dare lunged forward, grabbing Bruce by the front of his shirt and slamming him against a wall with enough force to rattle his dresser. “Not a fucking word, do you understand me? I stay here and take care of your shit, and you leave him the hell alone. You’re getting the money you wanted out of this. You talk to Blaine, and all of that is gone, you hear me?”

“Get your hands off me, or I’ll knock you into next week.”

Dare slowly pried his hands free, earning him another punch to the face. It seemed to hurt Bruce’s fragile hand more than Dare, but the man recovered just as quickly and stepped back out into the living room.

“Just get a fucking job.”

“Whatever you say, old man.”

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Monday morning rolled around quicker than anticipated, and Dare lingered around the front entrance of McKinley high school. He’d only been in it for a quarter before he flunked all his classes and bailed, but now that he was back, the thought of having to immerse himself amongst the cliquey, obnoxious hierarchy of the other students made his stomach knot. Not that he intended on spending any length of time with any of them regardless. Go to class, leave, find a job. He repeated it like a mantra as he headed up the steps finally and let himself into the principal’s office to receive all of his paperwork. The same man he recognized from years before sat behind the big mahogany desk, face buried in a note when Dare wrenched the door open.

Figgins looked up with a start. “Mr. Anderson. I…we’ve been expecting you.”

“Figgins.” Dare replied flatly. “Just need my schedule.”

“Just so you are aware, we will be monitoring your behavior closely.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m here to go to class and leave.” He snatched the document with his schedule and locker information off the desk and folded it carelessly into a fist.

“Some extracurriculars might help the courts show that you’re serious about settling back in. Not trying to cause any repeat trouble.”

“The court gave me what I needed to do, and that’s all I intend on doing.”

Without further addressing the principal and before his running mouth got him kicked out five minutes after re-entering the building, Dare tugged the door back open and stormed out into the hallway. Five minutes here and he was already lit like the end of a cigarette. He thought back to the counseling services they offered in juvie, about how his therapist encouraged him to try and take some deep breaths to calm down. In a shitty, unchecked school environment such as this one, it felt like an impossibility. But as he rounded the corner to his locker, he took several deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth, counting the seconds between. The tightness in his chest lessened drastically, and by the time he began to put in his combination, the frustration subsided enough that he could catch his breath.

The whispers and stares already began, feeling eyes at the back of his head, knowing the footsteps that should’ve been on a straight path suddenly turned sharply to the right. Dare ignored them, opening his locker and dumping off a few of the notebooks he’d been sent from Mom. Not seconds after he’d closed his locker did somebody suddenly ram up against his arm, reeking of wet cherries. The boy in front of him was covered head to toe in bright red slush, the goop clinging to his hair and eyes, as well as the rest of his shirt. He’d transferred some of the mess running into him, and after the boy managed to clear his eyes a little, he blanched, looking half-apologetic, half-annoyed.

“Ooooooh Hummel hit the convict!” A voice called from further down the hall, some dope in a letterman jacket. “Better run before you make his hit list!”

The annoyance vanished from the boy’s face immediately, becoming pale beneath the mess. “I’m—really sorry about that, I—I couldn’t see, I can pay to get that dry cleaned for you—”

“—It’s fine.” Dare interrupted, removing the jacket and holding it in at the collar in his left hand. “Go get cleaned up.”

If he wanted to argue further, he certainly didn’t choose to waste the opportunity to flee, quickly moving around Dare and making a beeline for the men’s bathroom. Dare glanced down at the little flecks of red clinging to his jacket and sighed. If he didn’t clean it up now, it’d dry up and crust all over the jacket. So much for getting to class on time. Following the same sticky red path the boy took to the bathroom, Dare made his way inside, tossing his backpack to the floor beneath one of the sinks and grabbing a couple paper towels to mop up the mess. The boy from earlier was at one of the other sinks, doing the exact same with most of his clothing. Within moments he’d managed to clean up the transfer mess and pulled his jacket back on over his shoulders. He took his backpack in hand, starting for the door when the boy’s voice stopped him again.

“I really didn’t mean to run into you like that. Are you sure you don’t want me to get that dry cleaned for you?”

Dare sighed and turned back around. “It’s fine, dude.”

“You’re new, right? The football team likes to slushie the new guys too, so you should…probably watch out.”

“I’m not new.”

“Oh. Well…I don’t remember seeing you…before.”

“I’ve been away.” Dare wanted nothing more than to walk away from this conversation as the tardy bell rang in the background and he grumbled about it to himself.

“Well…I’m Kurt. Hummel.”

“Great? I didn’t ask.”

“You don’t have to be rude about it. I just thought I could introduce myself.”

“Cool. Are we done, now? I’m late for class.”

The bathroom door opened again before Kurt could come up with a retort, the same idiot jock from before holding another monstrous cup from a 7-Eleven in hand, full to the brim with red mess. “Hey, Hummel you forgot—…oh. Is this your new boyfriend?”

“Get out of the way, dickhead.” Dare tightened his grip on his bag’s shoulder strap.

“You just got out of juvie, right? Everyone here heard that you were coming back to school. If I were you, just friendly advice from one dude to another, stay away from the losers if you don’t wanna end up with a cherry facial.”

“Uh huh. So, do you always chase guys into the bathrooms? Is that like…your thing?”

The boy’s face paled slightly, then hardened. “You calling me gay?”

“I’m just saying, you chased him into the bathroom and now you’re here again? Seem pretty eager to get me out. Did I interrupt something?”

The boy’s arm twitched, and before he could make the fatal mistake of throwing slushie into his face, Dare grabbed the cup from his hand and the jock stumbled back a step or two. Taking the cup and turning it more comfortably in his hand, he caught the boy by the front of his shirt and jerked him in a little closer, their faces inches apart.

“If I were you, I’d worry a lot more about your image than mine if that’s so fucking important to you.” He pulled the boy’s shirt open just enough to pour the slushie directly down his bare chest, topping off his head with a few little drops of whatever remained before tossing the empty Styrofoam cup in the sink. The jock blinked, baffled, furious, but mostly just looked stunned and humiliated. Dare turned back at an angle to look at Kurt, the smaller boy hiding what was assuredly a grin behind his hand.

“I’m Darius. Usually just Dare.” He turned back to the jock who still hadn’t moved, the slushie remnants from down his chest now pooling onto the front of his pants. “What’s your name, dickhead?”

“You’re…You’re not gonna get away with this. We’ll get you back.” The boy retorted scathingly, seemingly recovering some of his manhood from being so embarrassed.

“That’s not what I asked you.” Dare was in his face again, leaving absolutely no wiggle room for personal space. The idiot had backed himself up into the corner between the exit door and one of the sinks. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Karofsky. Dave Karofsky.” Kurt mumbled from behind him.

“Cool. So Karofsky, you’ve really pissed me off. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people who can’t mind their own fucking business. So, here’s what we’re gonna do. If you come anywhere near Hummel again with another slushie, I’m going to make damn sure that the only thing you’ll be able to eat again for the next six months are slushies and ice cream while they try to find you a new larynx. I went to juvie once. I’m not afraid to go back. We good?”

Karofsky didn’t reply, eyes wide, but face blotchy and red with slushie and frustration. Dare sighed, stepping out of his space as Karofsky turned and quickly made his way out of the bathroom without a word. Adjusting his backpack again, Dare tugged the door open after him and left Kurt alone to finish cleaning himself off in peace.

The school day concluded without much further drama on his part, though he did hear about a catfight in the hallways between a couple of cheerleaders and something going on with the football team and their budget. Paying it little to no attention, Dare focused solely on getting immersed in his classes, which thankfully as it was the beginning of a new school year meant that he could understand “class syllabus” day. The moment he was free to escape from those wretched halls he did, making a beeline out the door and down the steps so he could begin the irritating trek through the humidity back to the trailer park. Wiggling his pathetic excuse for a phone out of his pocket, he thumbed open the cover and glanced over the blank screen. He hadn’t anticipated anything from him but…there’d be an iota of hope in it. Muttering to himself, Dare shoved the phone back into his pocket and refocused his attention on the road, even while he passed a nearby park and his thoughts started to drift.

Was there anything worse than woodchips to soften up a playground? All it did was cause splinters. With such a wealthy district you’d think someone could afford to cover the ground in sand or something if they were worried about injuries. Dare shuffled them around his feet in annoyance.

“Higher, Dare! HIGHER!”

“You’re gonna go flying off…” Dare replied, though pushed his twin harder just the same.

“I’m gonna touch the clouds!”

“Uh huh…” Dare eyeballed the way the swingset jerked slightly from the ground and worryingly slowed it down despite the smaller twin’s protests. “B, let’s do something else.”

“You’re no fun.” Blaine stuck his tongue out, but hopped down from the swing as it came to a safe stop, holding out an expectant hand. “Wanna go run on the jungle gym??”

Dare sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Can’t we just go home?”

Blaine frowned. “Um…if you wanna? I thought we could play some more…”

Dare hated that tone. He hated disappointing Blaine. But he hated the park only slightly less than he hated letting his brother down. He unfurled his arms and nodded, taking Blaine’s hand and leading him over to the wobbly chain ladder. “Okay, B. Just a little bit. You first!”

He and Blaine ran about the jungle gym chasing each other, leaping off of things, and Dare guiding Blaine over the monkey bars so he could feel like he was doing it almost all by himself. After awhile, he made his way back over to the swing so Blaine could play for a little bit longer and Dare could have some quiet. He didn’t like all the noise, all the kids, how hot and sticky everything felt.

Unfortunately, things never stayed quiet for long.

He couldn’t hear the other kids at the playground running around anymore, but they were standing over by the metal slide, all of them crowded around the area. Already a sick feeling twisted up in Dare’s stomach and he quickly ran over and up the side, finally hearing the jeering of the kids laughing at Blaine’s bowtie.

“Why are you wearing that thing you look DUMB!”

“Someone push him!”

“Did you fall on your head and your head came off and that’s why you got a tie on?? Does it keep your head on?”

Dare roughly seized the first young boy blocking his way and jerked him back with enough force to send the kid crashing onto his butt. Blaine was at the end of the slide, two other boys on either side of him trying to pry his hands off either of the supporting rails so they could push him down. Blaine’s bowtie was on the ground by his feet now, the little clip-on appearing to have been stomped on by another kid. The two boys holding onto his twin made faces back at him.

“You guys look the same!”

“We’re twins you idiot.” Dare growled. “Get your stupid hands off him.”

“Or what? You don’t look—”

Before the boy to the right could even finish speaking, Dare grabbed him violently by his hair, gripping it with enough force to make the boy scream and cry for his mom in a matter of seconds. Blaine scrambled out of the path of the slide as the boy to the left released him in fright, and Dare shoved his victim down the slide in the same manner they had intended to do with Blaine. The boy’s back hit the slide with a hard THUD, slipping down the rest of the slope until he tumbled backwards onto the woodchips. The boy flipped himself upright and wailed at the top of his lungs, stumbling to his feet and running toward the pavilion where the parents tended to sit and ‘watch from afar’.

The gaggle of children that’d once surrounded Blaine completely vanished, leaving nothing but the shorter of the two Anderson’s frustratingly wiping tears away from his face with his sleeve, head down. Dare picked the bow tie up from the ground and tucked it into his pocket, holding Blaine’s face in his hand so he could look him over. He had a few scratches on his cheek, but nothing that looked too serious.

“I’m fine,” Blaine mumbled. “You shouldn’t have pushed him.”

“Why not?” Dare retorted, still doing his exam as he turned over Blaine’s arms. “He was gonna do it to you.”

“Because you’re gonna get in trouble again, Dare. You just got un-grounded.”

“I don’t care about being grounded. Dan can’t tell me what to do.”

“Dad.” Blaine corrected for the umpteenth time.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll call him Dad when he’s not such a jerk-face.”

“Don’t say that.” Blaine pulled his arm away. “I don’t like you getting in trouble because then we can’t spend time together. Dad says you’re a bad influence.”

“Do you think I’m bad?”

“I think…” Blaine seemed to consider what he wanted to say for a moment or so, fidgeting under his brother’s watchful stare without ever meeting his eyes. “No. I think you’re angry. Very angry.”

“I am angry. I’m angry that people pick on you. I’m angry that Dad and Cooper pick on you. I’m angry that you don’t stand up for yourself.”

“So…you’re only angry because of me?”

“No—no that’s not what I mean.”

“So, if I wasn’t here…you would be happy?”

“What? No! Don’t say stupid things like that. You’re not stupid. I just mean that you’re my best friend. And I don’t like the way people talk about you because they don’t see how awesome you are like I do. And you think that they’re all right about it.”

“If everybody thinks that…maybe it’s true.”

“No. It’s not. And it’s not everybody. It’s just stupid people like that kid, and Cooper, and Dan—”

“—Dad.”

“Darius!”

Dare groaned outwardly, turning around at the sight of his mother beside another woman clutching that same sniffling little brat he’d pushed down the slide minutes before. Pam’s arms crossed over her chest and her ears were pink with frustration.

“Get down here and explain yourself to me at once. This boy says you pulled his hair and pushed him back down the slide. You could’ve really hurt him!”

“He started it.” Dare retorted angrily. “He was trying to push Blaine down.”

“My Jimmy would NEVER do something like that!” The other mother proclaimed. “Your son is an unruly liar! I’ve seen him causing trouble here before!”

“He IS lying, Mama!” The boy, Jimmy, cried even harder, fake tears spilling over his cheeks. “We were just PLAYING and then that boy came and pulled my hair!”

“Blaine…” Pam spoke much more softly. “Is that true? Were you and Jimmy playing and Darius took it the wrong way?”

Blaine looked down at his feet, trying not to make another sniffling sound even as he wiped his nose again. “…Can we go home?”

Blaine didn’t see any point to confessing the truth, and Dare understood in his own way. All it would do is cause more problems if they ever decided to come back to the playground. Blaine would be labeled a tattle-tale and that was about the worst thing for an eight-year-old. Jimmy’s mother continued a series of shrill and stern lecturing at Pam while Dare helped Blaine down from the jungle gym and took his hand, leading him over to the car.

Later…Pam would put together just what had happened from the scratches on Blaine’s wrists and face, but it still was too late to stop the punishment Darius had received from acting out once again.

Nothing teaches a kid that violence is never the answer like punishment by violence Dare thought bitterly to himself as he approached the steps of the trailer he lived in with Bruce and fished his key out of his pocket. He glanced one more time at his phone, the screen alight with a notification.

[1 NEW MESSAGE – B]