Xander poked his cold nose through the brittle bushes at the back of the vacant lot he’d cut through. The seventh grader had walked a full block and a half past the two story house that he’d lived in since kindergarten. He looked down the alley both ways. A sigh of relief escaped his lips. The coast was clear. He took a big step over the ridge of ice and snow created earlier in the day by a snowplow. His house sat just two blocks from the school but lately it took him over half an hour to get home. The usual direct route had ceased to be a viable option.
As if the additional ridicule and jokes weren’t enough, the bullying had also gotten worse. It had been mostly pushing and shoving, with lots of name calling thrown in for good measure. Last week he’d gotten his first black eye. More green and yellow than black, the eye looked more painful than it felt. Worse though, it had made his mother cry whenever she looked at it. All his former friends avoided him like the plague. Just being seen near Captain Kook, Moon Beam Bookman, or any of the hundred other creative names he’d heard in the past two weeks, could get them labeled a freak, a nut job, or worse. When someone called him Jupider Stupider, Xander thanked his lucky stars that he and his step-dad hadn’t been searching for Uranus that night. It didn’t take long, of course, before Uranus jokes and names inevitably found him. He’d heard, “Hey Xander, maybe the UFO came from Uranus,” at least fifty times in the last few days.
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