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Thursday, February 3
"Grab his arms!"
"Now pick up his legs!"
"Hey, quit! Stop! Leave me alone!"
"This is gonna be too funny!"
"Hurry up, before a teacher shows up."
"He's slippery like a little worm, man."
"Quit wigglin', little punk! You gonna make me throw you in the pool!"
"Let me GO!"
Arielle Gresham, who had come to school early to get some homework done, was sitting alone in a side hall near the boys' gym, lost in her own thoughts. Startled by the noise, she turned her head to see two big guys carrying a kicking, flailing smaller boy into the hall that led to the swimming pool.
"Put me down!"
"PLEASE just leave me alone!"
"This is gonna be the best YouTube video ever!"
"Make sure you film just him and not our faces, dude."
"I'm not stupid!"
Arielle heard screeches of complaint, more laughter, then silence. By this time she was already on her feet and marching toward the locker room that led to the boys' entrance to the pool. She'd never actually been in a boys' locker room before, or any male bathroom for that matter, but she figured she could handle it.
The smell hit her first. How could a room that had to have been cleaned last night still reek so bad? The room was brightly lit with fluorescent bulbs that illuminated everything with a purplish glare. The row of urinals lined up against one pee-spattered wall helped explain the smell. Battered green lockers and benches lined the far wall.
She hurried out of there and down the hall to the pool. The voices, louder and clearer, made her break into a run.
"Throw his jeans into the pool!" A soft splash.
"He's wearin' tightie-whities, man!" Lots of deep laughter echoed.
"Throw those in too."
Arielle opened the door to the pool area. Damp, moist air, sharpened by the pungent tang of chlorine, hit her face.
The scene in front of her made her gasp. Two guys, students she'd seen around but did not know, were holding a squirming, crying student facedown on the tiled floor. He wore only a navy blue hoodie and his socks. His shoes lay a few feet away, but his jeans and underpants floated nearby in seven feet of water. A third boy was holding a cell phone, obviously filming the scene.
"What is wrong with you?" she screamed. Her voice echoed against the damp walls. "Let him go!"
"Busted!" the largest of the three said. "By a girl! Too cool!"
"No sweat. We got enough to post," the filmer crowed gleefully, flipping his cell phone shut. "Hey, Wardley! Your butt's gonna be famous!"
And with that, all three bigger guys hooted with laughter and ran out of the pool area.
The kid who'd been released lay there, his hands clasped over his head, trembling.
Arielle, unsure of what to do, knew he had to be mortified.
"Get out," the boy mumbled.
"Do you want me to try and fish your clothes out of the pool?" she offered.
"I said get out!" the boy said louder.
She was pretty sure she recognized that voice. "Osrick?" she asked.
Osrick Wardley was in her chemistry and English classes, but Arielle barely knew him. He was seventeen -- a senior like the rest of them -- but he was only about five feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds. With dirty blond hair, a mouth full of braces, and a narrow, sunken chest, the kid was a magnet for guys who liked to act tough. Members of the football team sucker punched him and tossed him into wastebaskets with regularity. And now, it seemed, the swimmers were taking their turn.
Of course, everybody called him Weird Osrick. Who would name a kid Osrick? Arielle thought. His parents might as well have pinned a sign on him that said, please make fun of me!
Osrick had never scored anything lower than an A in any class Arielle had shared with him. Except for gym, which had to be rough for a guy who could be knocked over by a wildly tossed basketball.
"Osrick, are you okay?" Arielle asked. She touched her carefully curled hair, which was beginning to droop in the humid air.
"Please, promise you won't tell anybody!" Osrick pleaded. "Please!"
"Okay, okay! I promise." Arielle frowned, pondering whether that was the right thing to say. Surely she should tell a teacher?
"Now please just leave," Osrick begged.
"Suit yourself," Arielle said with a shrug. "I was just trying to help." She picked up a towel, tossed it toward him, then hurried out of the pool area, leaving Osrick to the privacy of his humiliation.
Copyright © 2009 by Sharon M. Draper