“If he keeps bothering you you fight back,” his father told him. 

“How,” the boy asked. 

“If he starts harassing you pick up a rock,” he reached down and picked up a rock from the driveway. He held it in his fist. 

“Then what?” the boy asked. 

“Then hit him right in the nose,” he said swinging. 

Sitting in class he remembered this as he watched the clock ticking toward recess. This kid would be on him as soon as they hit the playground. 

The bell rang for recess. For twenty minutes he’d have to dodge this kid. Maybe not today though. 

“Hey,” the kid said in the taunting voice tuned for playgrounds anywhere. “Are you gonna to run to momma?”

He held his ground against the little bully. That meant a crowd begin to gather. It was how it worked. It was playground politics, elementary entertainment. It was a proving ground. 

“Oh, you gonna fight this time cry baby?” the kid asked. 

He kneeled down like he was going to tie his shoe. 

“He’s praying!” said a kid from the growing crowd. Everyone laughed. It was a good line. Witty. He picked up a smooth rock and clenched it in his right fist. 

He struck first and hard. The kid fell back. There was a gasp from the crowd of kids. The little bully tasted his own blood. He charged, and the boys wrestled. The crowd shouted and yelled. The boys rolled around. 

He’d pinned the bully down, holding his shoulders down. Blood was dripping from his nose, and he let it hit the bully’s white t-shirt. Drip. Drip. Drip. He kept him on the ground. Something changed in the bully’s face. He looked he was going to cry. 

“Let’s not fight,” he said. 

An adult hand grabbed his elbow and pulled him off the other boy. The crowd scattered. A teacher had a boys arm in each hand, hassling them toward the school building. He dropped the rock on the sandy playground.