“Alex Thomas, what are you doing? Did you not hear the whistle? Run. Run!”
Alex stood beside Henry in the centre of the gym. Coach Mason waved his arms about as half the class jogged around the red pylons.
“You better go,” Henry said. The side of his mouth twitched, pushing out a faint smile. “I’ll count your laps.”
Alex looked up at him. “Um, okay.” He couldn’t help but stare at the freckles scattered all around his enormous face.
“I’ll talk to the coach after class and see if you can have a different partner...if you like,” Henry tucked in his gym shirt and turned away. He stepped back between the joggers and waited at the side of the gym.
“Alex Thomas!” shouted the c oach.
“Okay, okay, I’m going.”
At the end of the period, Alex staggered across the gym floor. His face burned up. Salty sweat dripped down his head and into his mouth. “That was the longest thirty minutes of my life.”
Rudy wiped his face with his arm and pointed at the gym office. “Check it out.”
Henry stood by the gym office door. His shoulders slumped over as the Coach bounced his finger off the big kid’s chest.
“That can’t be good,” Alex mumbled.
Rudy pushed through the gym doors with Satbir. “Looks like you're stuck with the meatloaf.”
“Yeah I guess.”
“He's gonna make your year a living nightmare if you're not careful.”
Alex followed him into the change room, his legs wobbled like jelly. “What do you mean?”
“He's different dude...enough said. You can't be seen with a kid like that. He can ruin you for life.” He pulled off his shirt and tossed it into his gym bag. The muscles on his stomach looked like carved stone.
“Really?” Alex replied.
“Really. School ain't about getting good grades it's about making friends man. Good friends. The friends you make determine where you fit in. You know?”
Alex quickly changed his shirt and shoved it into his bag. “But what should I do?”
“Keep doing what you're doing dude. That phone thing was pretty funny. Make it clear that you don’t like him, he’ll get the picture. He couldn’t be that stupid. But you better make some friends quick though...now that your buddy Finley is gone. You don’t wanna be spending the year looking like a loner.”
“What about you? Do you wanna hang out?”
Rudy looked at Satbir and smiled. “Maybe man...we'll see. Just be careful. Damian Dermite hunts loners."
Alex glanced around the room and changed into his jeans. The sweat on his legs stuck to the inside of the pants as he yanked them up to his waist.
Alex knew Rudy was right. Dermite was a hunter. He seemed to have a talent for sniffing out the weak and then eating them alive. Alex couldn’t let that happen. It was an important time to think for himself. He needed to climb the ladder. Alex needed to make friends.
Rudy nodded to Alex and walked out of the change room.
“See ya in the cafeteria,” Alex said with a squeak in his voice.
“Whatever,” Rudy replied.
Alex walked over to the sink and splashed water in his face. He knew he had his work cut out for him that year. There was no messing around. A small part of him wished he hadn’t been such good friends with Finley. In a way, Finley held him back.
“He said no,” announced a voice behind him.
Alex dried his face and looked back to see Henry pushing open the change room door. His hands dangled by his sides like a giant Silverback Gorilla. “He said we have to be partners. Sorry.”
Alex stepped away from the sink and grabbed his gym bag from the bench. A few other boys in the class were finishing up in the room. Their eyes followed Alex as he stuck out his chest and marched over to Henry. “Don’t talk to me. Don’t ever talk to me.”
Henry lowered his head and stepped away. “I’m sorry."
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