By Chuck Logan
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2005 Chuck Logan
All right reserved. ISBN: 0060570202
It was another March surprise. Yesterday the kids were playing in long sleeves and tennis shoes. Then the storm moved in last night, riding on serious cold that knocked everyone's weather clock for a loop. Now there was a foot of fresh snow on the ground. The air temperature stuck on 18 degrees Fahrenheit, but the windchill shivered it down to 11. School policy put the kids out in the snow if the thermometer topped zero. Ten-thirty in the morning at Glacier Elementary. Recess.
The new kid was a snotty showoff, and it was really starting to bug Teddy Klumpe. Especially the way a lot of third-graders had gathered on the playground to watch her.
Just like yesterday, when she was doing skips on the monkey bars. Not just swinging, flying almost. And everyone big-eyed, checking her out, like wow. See that? Three-bar skip. Except today it so was so cold -- ha -- that her gloves slipped on the icy bars and she dropped off, the heels of her boots skidded in the snow, and she fell on her skinny rear end. But then she got up and studied the stretch of steel bars over her head; studied them so hard these wrinkles scrunched up her forehead. Slowly, as her breath jetted in crisp white clouds, she removed her gloves.
Boy, was that dumb. It was just too cold ...
But it didn't stop her. She mounted the wooden platform and carefully placed her gloves on the snowy planks. She blew a couple times on her bare hands, took a stance, gauged the distance, bent her knees, swung her arms back, and sprung. Parka, snow pants, bulky boots. Didn't matter. Smoothly, she caught the third bar out.
Yuk. The thought of his bare skin touching that frozen steel made him wince. Along with the fact he was too heavy to propel himself hand over hand. But when she dropped back to the ground. Then he'd show her. Skinny, red-haired, freckle-faced little bitch.
The Klumpe kid was almost nine. Naturally powerful for his age, he packed an extra ten pounds of junk-food blubber in a sumo-like tire around his gut and his wide PlayStation 2 butt. Biggest kid in the third grade. Most feared kid. Knew the most swear words. King of the playground.
Teddy scouted the immediate area.
Mrs. Etherby, the nearest recess monitor, was watching the kids sliding down the hill on plastic sleds. The other monitor was on the far side of the playground, where some fourth-graders were building a snow fort.
Ten of Teddy's classmates were standing over by the slide next to the monkey bars, making a winter rainbow of fleece red caps and blue and yellow Land's End parkas against the oatmeal sky. All of them curiously watching Teddy and the new kid. They should be watching him take his snowboard down the hill. And repairing the bump jump when he smashed it apart. Instead, they were watching to see what he would do.
The new kid swung from the last bar, landed lightly on her feet on the far wooden platform, and blew on her chapped hands. Teddy eyed the gloves she'd left on the opposite end. As she leaped up and grabbed the bars for the return trip, Teddy walked over casually, snatched up her gloves, and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.
"Hey!" the kid yelled, swinging hand over hand.
Teddy ignored her and kept walking, around the back of a small equipment shed near the tire swings.
"Hey," she said again, dropping to the snow and trotting after him. "Those are my gloves." Her breath made an energetic white puff in the air. Two brooding vertical creases started between her eyebrows and shot up her broad forehead.
Teddy angled his face away from her but let his eyes roll to the edge of his sockets. Kinda like his dad did when he was getting ready to get really mad. He took a few more steps, drawing her farther behind the shed, out of sight from eyes on the playground. Then he spun.
"Liar," he said.
She balled her cold hands at her sides and narrowed her green eyes. The creases deeper now, pulling her face tight. "Thief," she said in a trembling voice.
Teddy saw the tension rattle on her face, turning it red. He heard the tremor in her voice. Little bitch is scared. Encouraged, he surged forward and pushed her chest hard with both hands. She went down on her butt in the snow. Then he yanked her gloves from his pocket and tossed them up on the roof of the shed, where they stayed put in a foot of snow.
"Yuk," Teddy wiped his own gloves on the front of his jacket. "Now I got girl cooties all over me."
She was starting to get up, working to hold back tears. "Now you're gonna cry. More girl cooties," Teddy said with a grin.
"No, I ain't," she said in a trembling voice as she drew hard, pulling the tears back inside her eyes. She pushed up off the snow.
"Crybaby girl cooties," Teddy taunted, and he rammed her with his shoulder and hip. Ha. Hockey check. She went down again.
"Leave me alone," she said in the shaky voice. "I mean it, that's two." This time she was up faster, bouncing kinda . . .
Two? Teddy laughed and shoved her again. "Loser," he taunted. It was one of his dad's favorite words. Then he blinked, surprised because this time she surged against him, kinda strong for a girl, and kept her footing. Doing this dance thing on the balls of her feet.
"That's three," she said, still moving away from him but her small fists swinging up; tight, compact miniature hammers. Red with cold.
"Oh, yeah?" Teddy sneered, opening his arms, palms out, elbows cocked to shove her again. As he charged forward, he realized she wasn't moving away anymore.
Excerpted from Homefront by Chuck Logan Copyright © 2005 by Chuck Logan. Excerpted by permission.
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