Even after he managed to drive James and Diana apart,
Bryce proves how possessive he is of Diana. Enjoy!
“What am I supposed to do with this cowboy hat?” Jimmy Cavanaugh asked his little brother, holding up the battered straw hat.
Making a face at Jimmy, Rory said, “Personally, I’d throw it away, but maybe some kid will love it.” He looked around at the mostly sorted sacks and bags, piled full of cold weather clothing that the high schoolers had donated. “Toss it here. I have room for it in the top of this grocery bag.”
Jimmy tossed the orphan hat at Rory, but he misjudged the throw. The hat sailed over Rory’s head, landing in the hallway beyond him.
“This a reject, Jimmy B?”
His hand already reaching for the next piece of clothing, James paused, straightening slowly before turning toward the familiar voice.
“Diana. Um, no, just skittery. Pass it back to Rory, will you?”
The petite girl scooped up the hat, then brought it to Rory. “Hey, Beanpole. Whatcha doing?”
Jimmy watched Diana. He hadn’t seen her much over the last couple of months. We don’t share any classes this semester. And every other time I see her, she surrounded by Bryce’s clique. It’s like she’s been absorbed by them and I’m some foreign body that has to be kept out.
“Sorting,” Rory said with a put-upon tone. He swept his arm around the area. “I didn’t know we’d get this big a response when I asked Jimmy to put up a poster at your school for the Giving Warmth charity.” A broad grin covered his face. “But Di! Look at it all! I’ve got a bigger haul than everyone else in the seventh grade put together.”
Diana reached up and ruffled Rory’s hair before he could duck away. “I miss you, Beanpole. It’s weird not having you following me everywhere demanding to be included.”
She sounds so sad, Jimmy thought. Hell, even Rory isn’t sassing her back and he always has a smart-assed comment to make.
“Yeah, I miss you too, Princess,” Rory replied, making a sad face. Casting an eye toward Jimmy, he added, “And the family misses you too. Ma said you were welcome at our place, no matter what Jimmy did to offend you.”
The girl looked aghast. “But he didn’t…”
“Get back to work, Rory,” Jimmy said loudly. “If we’re not done by the time Killian shows up with the van, he’ll have our hides. He’s taking his new girlfriend to the movies tonight, remember?”
“Oh. Right.” He turned back to his sorting, placing the offending cowboy hat in a bag.
“Could I help, Rory?”
The younger boy’s face brightened. “Sure! We just need to put the coats, hats, scarves and gloves in separate bags. I’ve got the hats and gloves. Jimmy has the scarves and coats over there. Dig in!” he finished cheerfully.
Jimmy watched Diana put her bookbag aside and start shoveling her way through the middle of the piles, tossing items toward either Rory or himself.
“Would you be more careful, Di,” Jimmy complained in a muffled voice.
He stood there staring at the inside of the fur-lined hood, knowing that to all the world it looked like he’d put the coat on backwards and pulled the hood up over his face. He could hear both Diana and Rory dissolve into laughter at the picture he presented. Jimmy heard movement and felt the embarrassing garment slide from his shoulders.
Jimmy’s breath caught in his throat. Standing nearly nose to nose, he looked down into the laughing eyes of his once-best friend. His mind swirled with memories of growing up together—that is until her new boyfriend Bryce forbid her to talk to him.
“I thought I told you to stay away from that Southie, Diana.”
They both jumped at the loud voice from the hall.
Bryce Lundee, in the flesh.
Jimmy felt the heat rising in his face at the slur the other boy had thrown at him. Trying to hold on to his temper, he swung about to face Bryce.
“You shouldn’t talk to Diana like that, she was just helping Rory out. Why can’t she make her own decisions?”
“Yeah, leave my friend alone,” Rory said, stepping up on Diana’s other side.
Jimmy didn’t like the smile on Bryce’s face. Not to mention the four other boys at Bryce’s back. Crap, this isn’t going to end well, he thought grimly. I don’t care what they do to me, but I can’t let them hurt Rory.
Diana protested, “Jimmy, Rory, it’s okay, really. I’ll just….” She slipped away from the the Cavenaugh boys. Grabbing her backpack, she moved to join Bryce.
“Just helping, were you?” Bryce sneered. Glancing at his cronies, he said, “Well, let’s see if we can help things along, shall we?”
“Sure we can.”
All five boys, high school sophomores, bigger and older than Jimmy, advanced on the donation piles. One picked up a black garbage bag of coats, ripped it open and scattered the contents across Rory’s neat piles. Another kicked at the grocery bags, sending them against the tiled wall to burst like over-ripe pumpkins.
Jimmy and Rory rushed at the five, heads down, fists flying. One of Bryce’s gang caught Rory, hefted him off his feet, and threw him into the middle of the devastated donations, then upended two bags over his head, burying the smaller boy.
Jimmy saw Bryce shoot a warning glance at the others before the boy closed on him. Bryce dropped into a martial arts stance, meeting Jimmy’s boxer’s rush with a leg sweep that knocked Jimmy to the floor. Before he could rise, Bryce chopped down with a stiff hand, aiming for Jimmy’s neck. He intercepted Bryce’s wrist, pulling the other boy down as well.
Once they were both wrestling on the floor, Jimmy felt they were more evenly matched. A ring formed around them as Bryce’s gang shouted encouragement to Bryce, while Rory jumped up and down yelling Jimmy’s name. He caught a glimpse of Diana standing behind Rory, eyes wide, clutching her hands to her chest.
“Break it up!”
The roar froze Jimmy and Bryce in place. The shouting died away as they all turned toward the voice.
A tall, black-haired man strode into the area brushing through the circle of onlookers and into the ring. Grabbing the boys’ collars, he hoisted them off the floor like they were teddy bears.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he growled.
Before either Jimmy or Bryce could speak, Rory appeared beside them. “It’s his fault, Killian,” he said, pointing at Bryce. “He called Jimmy a Southie, then him and his gang started tearing up my donations.”
“Is that so?” He set the boys on their feet, then swung Bryce around to face him. “Called Jimmy-boy a Southie, did ya? How’d you like it if I called you a chowda head? And look, you tore up Rory’s stuff, too.” He shook his head.
Killian looked around at the growing crowd. “Git, alls ya. There’ll be no more fighting here today.” He waved his hands, shooing the crowd away.
“Now,” he said to Bryce and his group, as well as his brothers, “let’s get this cleaned up.” Pointing to four areas, he directed the separating and bagging of the scattered garments. When the staging area was organized, he distributed the bags to everyone, including Diana, and marched them all outside, where they almost filled the rusty blue mini-van.
“You boys,” Killian said when they were done, “get moving. If I hear of you brawling with Jimmy again, I’ll report you to the principal and insist he call your parents. Now, shoo!”
Casting dark glares at Jimmy, Bryce and his friends stalked away. Diana, following in their wake, glanced over her shoulder and caught Jimmy’s eye. Bryce caught her look and snagged her arm, jerking her behind him like a reluctant puppy on a leash.
By the van, Jimmy watched his Princess disappear.
“Still mooning over the one that got away?” Killian asked. “What about the new girl? What’s her name?”
“Catherine,” Jimmy said absentmindedly. “She’s okay. I guess. But she’s not as much fun as Diana.” He grimaced. “Not as smart, either.”
Killian snorted. “Looks like Di’s not too smart either, if she lets that kid tell her what to do.”
Jimmy sighed and closed the van’s tailgate. “I suppose.”
His big brother headed for the driver’s door. “And wait till Ma hears you’ve been fighting.”
Jimmy stopped in his tracks, adrenaline shooting through his system. “You won’t tell Ma, will you, Kill?”
He heard Rory laughing in the shotgun seat. “He will, you know he will!”
Jimmy groaned as he climbed into the backseat. “I’m dead,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll be grounded till I’m eighty!”