LEMONADE, A COONSKIN CAP, AND RICK'S LUCKY COIN
"Do you remember Billy Brummel?" Rick asked his battered sibling.
With the fierce intensity of a man who will long remember the torments of a much feared schoolyard bully, A.J. replied, "Billy Brummel was a subhuman monster. What made you bring him up?"
"Well, you remember when he made fun of you for wearin' the coonskin cap in Miss Dayton's class in the fourth grade?"
"I remember it vividly," A.J. responded. "You laughed. You thought it was funny."
Rick gave a sheepish smile. "Well, yeah...I did. Until he started pushin' you around. Remember what I did then?"
"As I remember, you called him a weasel-faced moron, then he beat you up and made you wear the coonskin cap."
*The above conversation is taken from the 6th season aired episode - The Case Of Don Diablo
Rick handed the psychic, Sarah Childs, a coin. Unbeknownst to her, the coin hadn't been found in the vacant lot she'd sent the Simon brothers to search, but rather was Rick's lucky half dollar.
Sarah paced the room, concentrating on the coin she held between her palms. "Blood," she finally said as she looked off into the distance. "I see dried blood. It's on a boy's face...under his nose. There's a torn T-shirt...sneakers. Now other boys are circling around him, cheering, because he's standing over a larger boy who's looking up kind of dazed."
The Simon brothers smiled at each other in amazement, and in fond memory. Without realizing it, Sarah Childs had passed the test A.J. had suggested to Rick in order to verify her unexplainable skills. Without realizing it, Sarah had relayed an incident from the Simon brothers’ boyhood in the exact way it had happened.
*The above scene is taken from 2nd season aired episode - Guessing Game
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Cecilia Simon smiled as she looked out her kitchen window. Her nine-year-old son, A.J., and his best friend Danny...well, second best friend after Rick, as A.J. often reminded her, were busy in the front yard setting up their lemonade stand. It wasn't so much a stand, as it was an old card table with a handmade sign hanging on the front of it that advertised in boyish print; Lemonade - 10 Cents A Glass.
The weather had grown unusually warm as April turned to May in San Diego that year. The previous Saturday A.J. and Danny had hit upon the idea of opening a lemonade stand. They hoped to entice the neighbors out doing yard work, and the teenagers playing ball, into a refreshing cool drink at a nominal price. Cecilia had donated the card table to the boys' cause, then drove them to the store where they bought fresh lemons, sugar, and paper drinking cups with the funds they pooled together from their weekly allowances. From there it didn't take long before the Harris and Simon Lemonade Stand was in full operation. All weekend long coins were willingly plunked into the old cigar box A.J. had once kept toy cars in. By Sunday night, when the two boys counted their spoils, they had made a hefty profit of five dollars and sixty cents...and one pink hair ribbon. Rick teased A.J. unmercifully about that last item, having correctly surmised A.J. had taken the ribbon in place of monetary payment because it came from Cherry Lynn Bonner. Cherry Lynn sat across from A.J. in Miss Dayton's fourth grade class. The two had been sweet on each other throughout the entire school year, though A.J. had tried hard to keep that fact from his family. Especially from his older brother. But as older brothers have a tendency to do, somehow Rick uncovered A.J.'s secret and didn't hesitate to share it with all who were willing to listen.
Cecilia and Jack were forced to turn away from their youngest and hide their smiles when A.J. threw his shoulders back and stuck his chin out in defiance while stating to his older brother, "I only took the ribbon because I'm a good businessman. It's real silk. Cherry's grandmother bought it for her in New York City. It'll be worth a lot more than ten cents when I sell it to someone else."
A few days later Cecilia ran across that very same hair ribbon hidden under a stack of shirts in A.J.'s dresser drawer. She smiled softly as she put it back, knowing full well A.J. had no intention of selling it. It was hard to believe that her youngest son would be ten years old that summer. Already he was beginning to leave the ways of boyhood behind, to be replaced by the ways of adolescence.
And now, for the second weekend in a row, the young entrepreneurs were selling lemonade on Cecilia's sidewalk.
minutes of the stand opening for the day, four little girls pulled up to it on
their bicycles. Cecilia recognized them
as classmates of A.J.'s and Danny's, including the pretty raven-haired Cherry
Cecilia commented with a chuckle, "I wonder how many more hair ribbons A.J. will collect this weekend?" before leaving the window to work in her backyard flower garden.
As is common for girls of nine years old, the quartet drank their lemonade while whispering, giggling, and making eyes at A.J. and Danny. As is common for boys of nine years old, the two young men ignored the girls and their annoying ways. They pretended that the girls' presence didn't matter to them in the slightest, though in reality it very much did.
The young ladies hung around the fringes of the lemonade stand until other customers started to occupy the boys' time. With waves and soprano calls of "Bye, A.J!, Bye, Danny!" they finally rode off down the block.
The boys had a lull in business a few minutes after that, giving them time to collect their breath and restock their supplies. As A.J. was digging around in the cardboard box stored underneath the table for more paper cups, his fifteen year old brother, Rick, came sauntering out of the house.
"Hey, short legs," Rick greeted his kid brother. "Hey, squirt face," was the teen's greeting to the curly headed Danny, whose blond locks were several shades lighter than A.J.'s.
From underneath the table came A.J.'s, "Hi, Rick."
Danny looked up in admiration of the older boy. "Hi, Rick." Part of the benefit of having A.J. as his best friend, was having Rick Simon as his surrogate older brother. Danny was the eldest of four children and the only boy. He thought of A.J. as the brother he never had, and would continue to do so until his death from cancer in 1989. Likewise, he looked up to Rick with a great deal of hero worship, as well as accepted his good- natured teasing in much the same way A.J. did.
A.J. handed Danny a stack of paper cups, then crawled out from under the table. He wiped at the dirt on the knees of his jeans.
"Hey, Rick, you wanna help us with the stand today? We'll split our profit with ya’ if you do."
Rick smiled at his brother's generosity before reaching out a hand to tousle the boy's thick blond hair.
"Naw, kid. I'm too old to be runnin' a lemonade stand. Though if this place continues to attract the chicks like it's been doin,' I may have to rethink your offer."
A.J. scowled. "It doesn't attract chicks."
Rick laughed. "Oh, no? Then who were those admiring females I saw hangin' around here not ten minutes ago?"
A.J. shrugged. "Just some kids from our class."
Danny tried hard to hide the blush that suddenly colored his fair face a rosy pink. "Yeah, Rick. Just some kids from our class."
"Sure," Rick nodded, while crossing his arms over his chest in a superior sort of way. "Just some kids from your class. Kids like Cherry Lynn Bonner and Debbie Darnell."
Much like Cherry Lynn was A.J's special girl, Debbie Darnell was Danny's.
"They were paying customers," A.J. defended. "We had to wait on them."
Rick laughed once more. He well remembered what it was like to be nine years old and in love, and wanting so badly for that fact to remain a secret. He'd been lucky. He didn’t have an older brother to torment him about such things. Therefore, Rick supposed he should take pity on A.J. and not give him such a hard time, but on the other hand... what the heck. It wasn't Rick's fault that Mom had him first.
"Whatever you say, twerp," Rick stated. "But you'll never make me believe it."
Rick headed up the sidewalk. "I'll see you guys later. Mrs. Henderson is payin' me to do some yard work for her today."
"Will you come back and buy a glass of lemonade when you're finished?" A.J. called.
"Sure," Rick agreed with a wave of his hand. "I'll probably even buy two glasses."
With that Rick disappeared around the corner.
A.J. and Danny occupied their lemonade stand for the remainder of the morning. In-between customers they tossed a baseball back and forth in the Simon front lawn. At noon, Cecilia made them close the stand and come in the house for sandwiches and cookies. The elderly Mrs. Henderson was feeding Rick lunch that day, and Jack Simon was putting in overtime at the office.
By one o'clock the stand was reopened and back in business. The boys were busy that afternoon. Danny's parents and three little sisters walked down for cold drinks, as did several other neighbors. Carlos and one of his cousins came by looking for Rick. They, as well, willingly spent twenty cents on two glasses of lemonade before returning to Carlos's house after finding out Rick was working.
"Have your big brother call me when he gets home," Carlos instructed A.J. as he climbed in his cousin's car.
"I will," A.J. promised.
It wasn't long after that when Cherry Lynn, Debbie, and their girlfriends returned for more lemonade. This time the boys and girls weren't so shy with one another. They stood together on the sidewalk and talked of school happenings.
The children's laughing and joking came to an abrupt halt when Danny glanced up the block.
"Oh no! Look who's coming!"
A.J. followed his friend's gaze. He saw the hulking figure of Billy Brummel, the schoolyard bully, and the gang of toughs he hung around with.
"Just ignore him," A.J. advised. "He'll go away."
Although A.J. didn't have much faith in that advice, advice that Cecilia often gave him in regards to the menacing Billy, for the sake of the girls he acted as though he believed it would make a difference.
Billy Brummel was an eighth grader who liked nothing more than to torment the younger children. He was a stocky boy with an oversized head, large flat nose, and a wide frame. Though not as tall as the five foot nine Rick, he outweighed A.J.'s lanky older brother by twenty-five pounds. When Rick was attending Bayshore Elementary School, Billy, for the most part, steered clear of A.J. and his friends. But this past fall Rick had entered his freshman year at Mission Bay High School, leaving A.J. an open and frequently sought-after target of the bully.
Though A.J. prayed really, really hard that Billy and his friends would walk right on past the Simon house without so much as a second look, he didn't get that lucky. God must have been too busy that day to concern Himself with nine year old boys and their foes.
With all the skill of a ventriloquist, A.J. whispered to Danny, "Hide the money," as Billy loomed ever closer.
Danny scurried around to the other side of the card table and in one clean swoop, grabbed the cigar box full of dimes. He took four steps backwards and thrust it underneath a leafy bush that graced the Simons’ front lawn.
The dark headed Billy stuck his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans as he strutted up to A.J. "So...if it isn't Baby Simon."
A.J. glared up at the bully. He was scared out of his wits, but his pride was at stake. Especially with the girls standing in a cluster behind him.
"Don't call me that, Billy."
Billy gave A.J. a shove. "Why not?" The pimply faced teen sneered. "That's what you are. You're nothin' but Rick Simon's baby brother. Baby Simon. I like that name. It fits you."
"Go away, Billy," was all A.J. said in return.
Billy turned to his two eighth grade friends. "Did you hear that, guys? Baby Simon told me to go away."
Billy's friends laughed. "Sure, Billy," one of the boys acknowledged - a boy who wasn't nearly as mean, or as tough, when he wasn't under the questionable influence of the bully. "We heard 'im. So what? He's just a little punk. A little punk who can't tell you nothin'."
right," Billy agreed. He pushed
A.J. backwards once more. "A
little punk who can't tell me nothin'."
With all the bravado of General Patton, Danny marched up beside A.J. Bravely he commanded, "Billy, just get out of here. Go on."
Billy took a step forward, towering menacingly over the younger boys. The toes of his black Keds hightops butted up against theirs. "Look guys," he beckoned to his friends. "The babies have a lemonade stand. Let's help ourselves to a glass."
Billy reached around A.J. for the pitcher of lemonade. A.J.'s right hand shot up. He clamped down with all his strength on the bully's beefy forearm. "Not unless you pay for it."
"That'll be the day, Simon. I don't pay for nothin' I don't wanna pay for."
Billy easily wrenched his arm from A.J.'s grasp. He spun A.J. around, twisting the boy's own arm behind his back. In moments the searing pain had A.J. on his knees in the grass.
A.J. heard the bully's guttural growl in his left ear.
"Now I'm gonna take some of this lemonade for me and my friends whether you like it or not, Baby Simon. Do you hear me?" Like he was screwing a cork back in a bottle, Billy twisted A.J.'s arm higher. "Huh? Do you hear me, Simon?"
The blond's eyes were squeezed tightly shut against the agony that ran up his arm and into his shoulder. No matter how much Billy hurt him, even if the bully broke his arm, A.J. wouldn't give Billy the satisfaction of answering him.
Billy shifted his weight, bringing more pressure down on the displaced appendage. A.J. had to bite his lip to keep from crying out at the additional agony the movement caused.
With that, Cherry Lynn flew into action. She threw down her bike and barreled toward the bigger boy. "Let him go, Billy! Let A.J. go and get out of here!"
A pointed toe of Cherry's Annie Oakley cowgirl boots caught the bully in the center of his shin. With a strangled cry, Billy released A.J. The blond boy scrambled to his feet while tenderly cradling his sore arm.
"Why you little..." Billy swiped a large hand out, snaring Cherry before she could run away. He grabbed one of her braids and pulled for all he was worth. Cherry’s head was yanked backwards, and the triumphant Billy came away with a fistful of hair.
Cherry screamed as tears sprang to her eyes. "Ah!"
Now it was A.J.'s turn to fly at the bigger boy in a blind rage. It was one thing for the bully to pick on A.J. and his buddies, but it was another matter entirely when he hurt A.J.'s girlfriend.
"Let her go, Billy," A.J. ordered. "Let her go!"
A.J. didn't pay attention to where his fists landed, but rather threw misplaced punch after misplaced punch in deference to Cherry Lynn's maiden honor. Though Billy was easily able to thwart off the nine-year-old's efforts to hurt him, if nothing else A.J. accomplished what he set out to do - getting Billy to release his hold on Cherry Lynn.
Cherry's girlfriends reached out for her. They drew her into a circle and clucked soothing words like protective hens, while wiping her tears and smoothing her braids. Danny ran to help A.J., who was once again on the losing end of a fight with Billy Brummel. As usual, Danny was easily held at bay by Billy's two friends, Glen and Tony. Though he fought, and kicked, and struggled, Danny couldn't break loose of the bigger boys' hold.
When he'd had all the fun he could stand for one day, Billy picked the battered A.J. up by the waist. The blond hung over the bully's thick forearm like a limp sack of flour.
"I told you I wanted some lemonade, Baby Simon, and I'm gonna have it."
With that, Billy picked up the pitcher of lemonade and gulped four big swallows. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and gave a thunderous belch. He laughed as he poured the remainder of the cold, sticky liquid over A.J.'s head and upper body.
Billy released the fourth grader with all the care one would give to a bag of potatoes, letting him free-fall to the ground. With a final kick to A.J.'s midsection he warned, "The next time I want lemonade, Simon, you damn well better give it to me."
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A.J. stood under the shower for a long time that afternoon letting the hot water soothe his aches, pains, and battered ego...and letting it wash the gooey dried lemonade out of his hair.
After Billy and his friends left, Danny helped A.J. to his feet. A.J. waved away all solicitous ministrations from the girls, acting as though getting beaten up by Billy Brummel was an every day occurrence and nothing to be concerned with. The girls helped A.J. and Danny clean up the remnants of their lemonade stand. They folded up and carried the card table into the Simon's garage, while A.J. and Danny carried everything else into the kitchen. Fortunately for A.J., his mother was still at work on her knees in a flower garden in the far corner of the backyard, and was therefore unaware of what had just occurred out front. A.J. had to reassure Cherry three more times that he was okay before he could finally get the girls to leave. The last thing he needed was a bunch of girls feeling sorry for him. It was bad enough he'd been humiliated in front of them by that big ape Billy. The only good thing about the entire afternoon was the quick kiss Cherry planted on his cheek when the other girls and Danny had turned away to head for their bikes.
Before running off for her own bicycle, Cherry Lynn whispered in his ear, "You're so brave, A.J."
A.J. managed to finish his shower before his mother came in to start supper. Thankfully, his bruises were minor. Nothing Mom would spot and ask about. She might question the sticky lemonade-soaked shirt he'd laid in the basement sink next to the washing machine, but that could easily enough be explained. He'd just say he tripped while carrying a fresh pitcher from the house.
A.J. was called to supper an hour later. His dad had just arrived home from the office, and Rick was in the bathroom washing his hands.
When everyone was seated at the table, Ceclia began passing the food. Jack looked over at his youngest. "So, Andy, how'd the lemonade business go today?"
A.J. kept his attention on his mashed potatoes. "Okay."
"How much money did you rake in, sport?"
With surprisingly little enthusiasm, A.J. mumbled, "Four dollars and twenty cents." The blond boy supposed he should be more thankful for that small favor. At least Billy hadn't taken notice of where Danny had secured their hard-earned profit.
Cecilia started the dinner rolls circling the table by handing the basket to Rick. "Are you boys going to open the stand again tomorrow?"
"No," A.J. shook his head. "We're not going to do it anymore."
"Why not?" Cecilia asked. "I thought you were having fun. Some of the neighbors mentioned that it might be nice if your stand operated every weekend throughout the summer."
"It was boring," A.J. said with disdain. "We don't wanna do it anymore."
Cecilia and Jack exchanged surprised glances, but let the subject drop there. It wasn't like A.J. to so easily give up a new project by claiming boredom, but if that's how he felt so be it. Soon Jack was questioning Rick on the work he had done for Mrs. Henderson, and the lemonade stand became a subject of the past.
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It was nine o'clock that night when Rick ran upstairs in search of his brother. He found A.J. sprawled across his twin bed reading a book in the room the brothers shared.
Rick did a belly flop onto his own bed. The mattress bounced up and down and the springs squeaked in protest.
"What cha' doin' up here all by yourself, kid? Dad made popcorn. We've been watchin' Saturday Night Mystery Theatre."
A.J. laid his book aside. "I know. Mom told me. I'm not hungry, and I don't feel like watchin' TV tonight."
"But you love Mystery Theatre. It's one of your favorites."
"I know. I'm just not in the mood for it tonight."
This was the first Rick had heard of A.J. needing to be 'in the mood' for Mystery Theatre. He studied his brother a moment. A.J. was on his stomach with his chin resting on his cupped fists. A preoccupied air seemed to hang over the blond boy.
When another full minute passed and A.J. said no more, Rick shrugged his shoulders and rose to go back downstairs. The commercials were probably over by now and the movie ready to resume.
Rick turned from where he stopped in the doorway. "Yeah?"
"Rick...Rick, what should I do about Billy Brummel?" The question tumbled out of nine-year-old's mouth in a rush of troubled words.
Now A.J.'s preoccupation made sense. Obviously the bully was giving the kid a hard time again.
Rick walked over and sat down on the edge of his bed. "He botherin' you again?"
"Like today?" Rick guessed.
A.J. reluctantly nodded. "Yeah."
"Is that why you and Danny don't wanna have the lemonade stand anymore?"
"Yeah. He...Billy poured a whole pitcher of lemonade over my head."
With that Rick started to laugh.
"Hey!" A.J. cried as he sat up on his bed. "Don't laugh. It wasn't funny."
"I can't help it," Rick managed to get out between his chuckles. "It musta' been kinda funny considerin' he poured the stuff over your head."
"Well, it wasn't funny! It was...it was embarrassing."
"The girls...Cherry, and Debbie, and their girlfriends, were here when it happened, huh?" Rick surmised with sympathy.
A.J.'s eyes dropped to his blue bedspread. "Yeah."
"Look, A.J., you're gettin' too big for me to fight your battles for you, or I'd take on Brummel myself."
"I know that. And I don't want you to fight him anyway." A.J. pulled mindlessly on a loose thread at the hem of his blue jeans. "He already calls me Baby Simon. If you fight him it will only make it worse."
"Yeah, it probably will," Rick honestly agreed. "Besides, the best way to beat a bully, one who you can't actually beat up in the physical sense, is to outsmart him."
A.J. looked over at his brother. "How do I do that?"
Rick reached out and tousled his brother's hair before standing up. "I'll leave that up to you, short legs. You're a bright kid. You'll think of something."
With that, Rick left the room to rejoin his parents downstairs.
A.J. wasn't as easily fooled as Rick might think. Rick actually had no idea how to outsmart Billy Brummel. If he did, he would have told A.J. what to do. He would have offered A.J. some suggestions. Now that Rick was in high school, he didn't always seem to understand his younger brother. He seemed to have forgotten what it was like to be tormented by a boy so much older and stronger. He seemed to have more important things to do than concern himself with A.J.'s problems, or the goings on at Bayshore Elementary. Or so it appeared to the forlorn blond at this particular moment.
A.J. sat on his bed and thought a long time that night about how he could to outsmart Billy Brummel. When he didn't come up with so much as one good plan, he returned his attention to his book. Maybe once he slept on it an idea would come to him. At least that was what Dad always recommended when it came to problems too big for a boy to handle all in one night. A.J. sure wished Rick had more sympathy for him. Things always worked out for the best when he and Rick worked as a team.
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Unlikely as it might seem, coonskin caps were the rage amongst preteen boys that year of 1959. The fad could directly be attributed to the popular Walt Disney television series Davy Crockett. Much like Rick had been a tireless devotee of The Rough Rider during his boyhood, A.J.'s hero was Davy Crockett, and the soft-spoken larger-than-life actor who portrayed the frontiersman week after week, Fess Parker.
The youngest Simon son was not only a faithful follower of the TV show, but as was his nature, had read everything he could get his hands on in regards to biographical accounts of the life and times of the backwoodsman and politician. Davy Crockett ranked right behind his dad and Rick in terms of A.J.'s personal heroes.
And for as much of an aversion as A.J. had to hats of any kind, he religiously wore his coonskin cap to school every day that year making him no different from the majority of other boys in his fourth grade class. Cecilia and Jack would often chuckle with shared amusement as their youngest headed out the door each morning with the fur cap perched firmly on his head, the striped coon's tail hanging down his neck. It was a strange sight to see in suburban San Diego, California to say the least.
More than a week had passed since the incident with Billy Brummel in front of the lemonade stand. In that time period A.J. had done his best to avoid the bully, and surprisingly enough, Billy had seemed to lose interest in him. That hardly meant Billy had taken a turn for the better and had stopped his tormenting ways. It only meant he was occupying his time making some other hapless boy miserable. A.J. didn't much care what the reason was, as long as the eighth grader was leaving him and his friends alone.
It was a gorgeous spring Wednesday afternoon. The kind when, so close to the end of the school year, that children have trouble concentrating on their studies while cooped up in a stale classroom illuminated by artificial lighting.
When the dismissal bell rang at three-thirty Miss Dayton's fourth graders spilled out the door. The hall was full of laughter and shouts as the children grabbed jackets, jump ropes, baseball mitts, and coonskin caps off hooks and shelves.
A.J. and his friends ran out the front doors, the tails of their caps flying along behind them. Once outside, they slowed to a walk. They teased, and laughed, and jostled one another, as they headed for the sidewalks beyond the schoolyard that would lead them home.
Before A.J. realized what was happening, Billy Brummel whizzed by him at full speed. The older boy leaped through the air like an oversized leprechaun and snatched A.J.'s cap off his head. He landed a few feet in front of the blond and twirled the hat on the end of his finger with a gleeful smile.
"Hey, Baby Simon. Whatcha' wearin' this dopey hat for?"
A.J. glared up at the older boy. "Give it back to me, Billy."
"What? This stupid thing?" Billy studied the hat. "This ain't nothin' but a dead animal. A dead raccoon to be exact. I don't know why you guys wanna go around wearin' dead raccoons on your heads. You look like little idiots. Little idiot raccoons." Billy looked out over the crowd of fourth grade boys and scowled. "Every single one of you."
A.J. made a futile attempt at grabbing the twirling hat. Billy only laughed at the boy's effort and held the cap higher.
"Hey, Tony. Hey, Glenn," Billy said to the friends who had come to stand on either side of him. "I think this hat's got fleas. Which must mean Baby Simon has fleas, too."
Billy began tugging at the fur on the cap with his fingers. He pretended to pick fleas off and flick them on the ground where he rubbed the imaginary insects out with his size nine shoe.
Soon Billy, with his ever-fruitful imagination, was changing the words to the Davy Crockett theme song, making them more useful to the present situation.
"Aaaay Jaaay. A.J. Simon. He's got a bad case of fleas."
Over and over Billy sang the chorus, much to the amusement of his friends and the utter humiliation of A.J. It was bad enough to have lemonade poured over his head in front of Cherry Lynn and her friends, but to be made the butt of a cruel joke in front of the entire fourth grade, and a good deal of the rest of the school, was mortifying. Especially to a gentle boy as popular and well-liked as A.J. The young blond wasn't used to being put in such a position. Nor would he ever purposefully hurt the feelings of, or torment, another child. Therefore, A.J. couldn't understand why Billy took such delight in this type of behavior.
A.J. stood there trying to decide how best to save face in such a formidable situation as the song went on and on.
At that moment Rick and Carlos were passing by Bayshore Elementary on their way home from high school. Rick glanced with disinterest off to his right when he heard Billy's horribly off-key voice raised in rousing song. He looked again with more curiosity when he realized it was A.J. whom the bully was deriving pleasure from picking on.
"Hey," Carlos said, as Rick changed direction. "Where you goin'?"
"To the schoolyard for a minute. It looks like Brummel's givin' A.J. a hard time again."
Carlos trotted over to join his friend as Rick strode onto the grade school's playground. "Ya' gonna fight 'im, Ricky?"
"No," Rick shook his head. "Not unless he hurts the kid. I'm just gonna hang back and keep an eye on things."
Carlos nodded his understanding. He'd hang back and watch as well, yet remain poised to jump in and offer assistance at a moment's notice if Rick gave the word.
Rick and Carlos stood at the edge of the crowd out of A.J.'s line of vision. They had no trouble getting a bird's eye view over the heads of the younger children.
A.J. steadfastly stood his ground and ordered once again, "Give it back to me, Billy." He refused to feed the bully's appetite for fun by jumping for the hat that was held out of his reach. A.J. was smart enough to know Billy would never let the hat drop low enough where he'd have a chance to grab it. He'd seen Billy play this game with other boys' treasured objects often enough to know he'd only end up looking like a foolish jumping jack.
Billy shook the hat in A.J.'s face like one would tease a puppy with a favorite toy. "Come on, Baby Simon. You want it? Come get it."
"Just stop it and give it to me, Billy."
Billy raised his voice in imitation. "Just stop it and give it to me, Billy."
"Knock it off."
"Knock it off," Billy echoed.
“Give it back to me.”
“Give it back to me.”
Billy started singing his song again. "Aaaay Jaaay. A.J. Simon. He's got a bad case of fleas."
And that's when A.J. heard it. Rick's laugh. The high- pitched laugh that A.J. could pick out of any crowd. He turned and saw his brother and Carlos standing at the edge of his classmates. Just standing there and watching. Watching and laughing. Now A.J. was mad. Mad at Billy Brummel, and even madder at Rick.
A.J.'s anger ran amok and so did he. He threw his body into the bully's. "Give it to me, Billy! Give it to me!"
Billy easily pushed A.J. aside. And kept on pushing. "Get outta my way, you little parasite," the bully growled while advancing on the younger boy. He used two thick fingers to poke A.J. roughly in the shoulder. The blond would stumble backwards, only barely regaining his footing, before he'd be pushed again.
The amusement Rick had been finding in Billy's song came to an abrupt end when the eighth grader began shoving A.J. around. Rick handed his schoolbooks to Carlos.
"Here. Hold these for me, amigo."
Carlos readily accepted Rick's load. "You want my help?"
“No,” Rick shook his head. "I can handle this bozo."
Unbeknownst to Billy, Rick Simon advanced on him from behind. At that same time, Billy gave A.J. one final mighty shove that lifted the blond's feet off the ground. The nine-year-old flew through the air before landing hard on the blacktop on his bottom. The air was forced out of his lungs in a painful, "Umph!"
Billy turned around to find himself standing face to face with Rick Simon. Although William Warren Brummel wasn't afraid of much of anything or anybody, he had a healthy respect for Rick Simon and his reputation. Nonetheless, he wasn't about to chicken out in front of his friends. No way was Rick Simon gonna corner him now and make him run scared.
"Whatta ya' want, Simon?"
"That's my kid brother your messin' with, Brummel."
Billy turned around briefly and looked down at the prone A.J., Danny now by his side.
Billy turned to face Rick once more. He gave a shrug of nonchalance. "Oh, really? Guess I didn't know that."
"You damn good and well knew it, Brummel. Give the kid his cap back and leave him alone."
Billy held up the coonskin cap that had started the afternoon's fun. "This cap?"
"Yeah," Rick nodded tightly. "That cap." Rick stood nose to nose with the bully and snarled, "Now you listen to me, Brummel, and you listen to me good. I'm gonna walk over there and help my brother up. When he's on his feet I expect you to give him his hat back and apologize to him."
Rick stepped around the bully. He bent down and hooked a hand underneath A.J.'s arm.
"You okay, kid?"
"Yeah, Rick," A.J. nodded. "I'm okay."
"Let's get you off the ground then."
Rick helped A.J. stand. His anger increased when he spotted the raw, bloody scrapes on his brother's elbows.
As he looked over A.J.'s wounds Rick stated flatly, "Brummel, you're a real scum bag to pick on a little kid like this. As a matter of fact, you're a weasel faced moron who--"
Because his attention was on A.J.'s bloody elbows, Rick never saw it coming. Never saw coming the sucker punch that caught him hard on the right cheekbone. So hard that it knocked him to the ground.
A.J. had tried to shout a warning, as had Carlos. But it was too late. Billy was too quick. And just as quickly, Billy plunked A.J.'s coonskin cap on Rick's head, then yanked it down over the oldest Simon's eyes right before he, Glen, and Tony raced out of the schoolyard.
Carlos dropped the books he was holding and ran off after them to no avail. They'd had such a large head start that Carlos lost sight of them before he got to the end of the first block. With a sigh of frustration, Carlos headed back to help the wounded Simon brothers.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Later that evening, A.J. sat at the desk in his and Rick's room doing homework. Rick was sitting on his bed, leaning back on his pillow that was propped against the headboard. The teenager's knees were bent and his open English book rested in his lap. The paper of sentences he was supposed to be diagramming lay untouched inside the book.
Thanks to swift thinking on Rick's part, he and A.J. had made it past their mother earlier that afternoon without too much of a fuss being made over their disheveled appearance. The brothers acted like they had some important place to be when they hastily grabbed cookies off the plate their mother held out to them as they buzzed by her.
"Rick?" Cecilia had called after her teenager. "What happened to your face?" .
Rick's replied was garbled by his mouthful of oatmeal cookie. "I fell in gym class today. It's no big deal, Mom."
"And, A.J. Your elbows." The concerned mother snared her youngest by the back of his shirt. "They're scraped raw."
"I fell in gym class, too," A.J. readily used the lie Rick had instructed him to. "We were playing dodge ball."
The younger boy pulled away from his mother before she could study his wounds any further. If she'd been able to take a close look, she would have seen the gravel in the cuts and wondered how such a thing could happen on a hardwood gymnasium floor.
Cecilia started to follow her sons up the stairs. "Those scrapes need to be cleaned, A.J."
Rick stopped his running feet on the fourth stair and turned to look at his mother. "I'll take care of him, Mom."
Before Cecilia could either accept that offer or negate it, the phone rang.
"All right," she agreed as she hurried off to answer it. "But use warm water and soap. And iodine! I don't care if he does say it stings!"
"Sure thing, Mom!"
"No iodine," A.J. had whispered as they mounted the stairs.
"No iodine," Rick promised.
And now, three hours later, the brothers were back in their room for the evening. Nothing more was said about Rick's bruised face or A.J.'s elbows except Jack Simon's, "I hear gym class is getting a little rough these days."
Rick nodded in-between bites of his hamburger. "Yep. It sure is, Dad."
"Yep," A.J. agreed as he ate a pickle. "It sure is."
And that was the last said on the subject until Rick brought it up in the privacy of the brothers' bedroom.
A.J. turned around to see his older brother absently staring off into space.
"Hey, Rick? Whattcha' doin'?"
Rick worried his lower lip. "Thinkin'."
The older boy finally broke his gaze away from the far wall and looked at his brother. "About how I'm gonna annihilate that bean-head Billy Brummel when I get my hands on him."
"You're gonna fight him?"
"I don't know. When the time is right. It might not be tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. But one of these days I'm gonna catch that assho...jerk when the moment's right, and give him a taste of his own medicine. Maybe next fall when he comes to high school. Maybe in front of a whole crowd of people like he did to you and me today."
A.J. looked down at his worn tennis shoes where they rested on the rungs of his chair. "I guess I should really be the one to fight him. I mean...after all, he only hit you because of me."
Rick laughed. Not a teasing laugh. Not the kind of laugh he usually graced his brother with. But rather a mocking laugh. A laugh that told A.J. Rick was making fun of him.
"You? Fight him? He'd kill you, squirt."
A.J.'s head shot up with indignation. "He would not!"
Rick didn't deem the subject worth debating. No way would his nine-year-old brother win a fight with Billy Brummel. It just wouldn't happen. Not in a trillion years.
"He wouldn't kill me," A.J. repeated with conviction. "I could fight him."
"Yeah," Rick scoffed. "Maybe when you're thirty years old. But not now."
Rick turned his attention to his English book. He either didn't hear, or chose to ignore, A.J.'s vehement mutter of, "I could too fight him."
Now it was A.J.'s turn to think. While the preoccupied Rick did his homework, A.J. chewed on the end of his pencil, mulling over his options. As his eyes aimlessly roamed the bedroom, the blond boy caught sight of something shiny gleaming from the top of Rick's dresser.
Rick didn't look up from his paper. "Mmmmm?"
"Do you think your lucky half dollar would work for someone else?"
Rick craned his neck and glanced up at his dresser. He'd emptied out his pockets before sitting on his bed. His lucky half dollar lay among his personal effects of wallet, pocket knife, the phone number of a girl in his study hall, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, some loose change, and three one dollar bills.
The teen looked over at his younger brother with puzzlement. "Whatta ya' mean?"
know. Will the luck your lucky half
dollar gives you, rub off on someone else?"
Although Rick thought it was a silly question and couldn't figure out why A.J. would ask such a thing, he was willing to act as though it was worth great consideration. Anything in order to take a break from English.
Rick pursed his lips together and moved them back and forth in serious concentration. "Well," he said when he was finally ready to speak. "Normally I would say my lucky half dollar would only work for me. I mean, after all, it is mine. I think the luck only works for the person who owns it. But in this case...well, you're my brother...so yeah, I think the luck my lucky half dollar brings me, would rub off on you. Why do you ask?"
"Um, no special reason. I was just wondering. I mean, maybe if I ever needed to use it, I could borrow it, huh?"
"Sure," Rick shrugged. "I don't see why not. But why would you want to borrow it?"
"Because I don't have anything lucky of my own."
"Oh...well, I guess that's true," Rick agreed. Rick's lucky half dollar had actually been his Uncle Ray's before it had been his. Ray had passed it onto his nephew when Rick was seven. By now Rick knew the luck the coin supposedly possessed was nothing more than the sentimental value it held for him, having been a gift from his favorite uncle. But when he was a kid A.J.'s age, he fully believed that half dollar contained the power to change bad luck to good.
"So if I was to need it, you think it would work for me, huh?"
Rick smiled indulgently at the unwavering faith of nine- year-olds. "Sure, kid. If you were to need it, I think it'd work for you."
A.J. smiled in return right before rising to take his shower and get ready for bed. "Thanks, Rick."
With amusement, Rick shook his head at his little brother's retreating back.
"Sure thing, kid."
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The next day after school A.J., against the strong protests of Danny, purposefully tracked down Billy Brummel. He ran up behind the bully as Billy and his friends walked home. Danny lagged a few reluctant paces back.
"Hey, Billy!" The blond hailed. "Wait up."
Billy turned around. "Well if it isn't Baby Simon and his little friend Danny...or is that Annie?" Billy sneered. "Where's your wimpy big brother, turd?"
"He's not wimpy!"
"Oh yeah? Then how come he ended up on his ass on the playground yesterday?"
"Because you sucker punched him, that's how come!"
Billy laughed at the nine-year-old and his fierce intensity.
A.J. licked at his dry lips and took the plunge while he still had the courage. "Look, I didn't come here to talk to you about yesterday anyway. I came to...to...to say I want you to meet me at Logan's lot a week from Saturday."
Billy's eyebrows arched into his greasy bangs. "Logan's lot?"
"Yeah," A.J. nodded.
Logan's lot was three miles from the Simon home. It was a vacant piece of overgrown land owned by old man Logan. Now, exactly who old man Logan was, no one seemed to know. Nor did anyone know for sure if he was even still alive. Or if he had actually ever existed. But the lot had sat empty for as long as everyone could remember. The grass grew as high as a boy's waist in places. Scraggly trees in bad need of pruning, and bushes that had far outgrown their intended height, had long ago overtaken the secluded property. That's why it was the perfect place for a fight. And that's exactly what it was used for. When boys felt the need to settle their disputes with their fists, and didn't want to do that in the schoolyard where they'd be caught and punished, one would challenge the other to appear at Logan's lot. Many a boys’ entire reputation had been won or lost on that property. When you were summoned to Logan's lot, there was no doubting what your opponent had in mind.
Billy winked as he looked first at Tony, then at Glenn, before returning his attention to A.J. "Let me get this straight, Simon. You want me to meet you at Logan's lot?"
Danny frantically whispered, "Don't do it, A.J."
A.J. ignored his friend and nodded. "Yeah."
The bully graciously gave A.J. one last chance to change his mind. "Kid...do you know what happens at Logan's lot?"
"Yes," A.J. nodded again.
"But you want me to meet you there anyway?"
Billy squinted with skepticism. "This ain't some trick your big brother's put you up to so him and his friends can jump me, is it?"
"No," A.J. shook his head. "Rick doesn't even know about it."
With that, a grin smeared itself across Billy's face. "Okay, kid. You got yourself a deal. Logan's lot on Saturday morning at eight o'clock."
"Not this Saturday," A.J. negated. "Next Saturday."
"What's the matter, Baby Simon?" Billy laughed. "Why can't you meet me this Saturday? You gonna spend the next week eatin' your spinach in hopes of gettin' big and strong like Popeye?"
A.J. wasn't going to let the bully's taunts make him angry. "No. I just can't be there this Saturday, that's all."
"All right," Billy agreed. "Have it your way. I guess it don't make much difference to me whether I kill you this Saturday or next. It'll just be one more week your mama will have you around."
"A.J.," Danny hissed. "Come on. Call it off."
Again, A.J. ignored his friend. "Next Saturday morning at eight o'clock," he confirmed with Billy.
"Retarded kid," Billy muttered with a laugh as he and his friends turned and went on their way. "By the time I'm through with him, he'll be lucky if he can walk."
Danny watched the eighth graders saunter away. He shook his white curls in despair. "A.J., that was really dumb. He'll break both your legs. Both your arms. Your nose. Your--"
"No, he won't," A.J. vowed. "And even if he does...well, I don't care. I'm sick of him callin' me Baby Simon, and I'm
sick of him picking on everyone in the fourth grade."
"Look, A.J., the school year's almost over. Next year Brummel will be in high school," Danny tried to reason. "He
won't bother us then."
stared hard at the retreating back of the bully. "That doesn't change what he's done to us this year. Or that he embarrassed me in front of the
entire school yesterday...and sucker punched my brother."
As the two boys began their own walk home Danny suggested, "Well, why don't you tell Rick what you're doin'? I know he'll jump at the chance to fight Billy and--"
"No! No way. This isn't Rick's fight. It's mine."
"Just forget it, Danny. I'm not going to change my mind."
And Danny could see that, indeed, A.J. wasn't going to back out of what Danny considered to be a terrible mistake in judgment. But like the true friend he was, Danny said no more about it, and instead vowed to offer A.J. all the support and loyalty he could. And Danny would pray, too. Pray really hard that God didn't allow Billy Brummel to pulverize A.J. Simon at Logan's lot next Saturday.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
A.J. didn't accept his mother's offer of cookies and milk that afternoon. Instead, he went right out to the garage where he started working-out with the punching bag that hung in a far corner.
A.J. had fallen in love with the sport of boxing at the tender age of four years old. By the age of six, his father had taken him to see five professional fights. By age eight, he had read everything about the sport he could get his hands on, and faithfully followed the stats in the sports page on his favorite boxers. He was itching to join the youth boxing league offered at the local YMCA, but his mother wouldn't hear of it until he was at least twelve.
So, for now, A.J. had to make do with the punching bag and boxing gloves he'd gotten for his seventh birthday. And, for now, he hoped that would be enough.
Friday afternoon was much the same as Thursday. A.J. told Cecilia he didn't have time for a snack as he disappeared out the kitchen door. All weekend long, whenever his family was looking for him, A.J. could be found working-out in the garage. Though Jack Simon had no idea as to why his youngest son suddenly felt the need to spend a considerable number of hours sparring with his punching bag, Jack joined A.J. in his workout on both Saturday and Sunday.
By Tuesday, A.J. had reread and committed to memory every book on boxing techniques he owned. He had even set his gloves aside in favor of working-out with his punching bag bare knuckled. Even when those knuckles became bloody, and bruised, and tender, the boy didn't stop. Finally, Jack showed A.J. how to tape his hands so they would have some protection.
On Wednesday, Rick sat at the kitchen table after school eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Cecilia took a break from her household chores and sat down across from her oldest.
After he'd answered all his mother's questions regarding his school day Rick asked, "Where's A.J.?"
"Where he's been every day since last Thursday. Out in the garage hitting on that punching bag of his."
Rick took a gulp of cold milk. "What's he doin that for?"
"I don't know. You know your little brother. He gets ten times as involved as most people in whatever strikes his fancy at the moment. He hasn't even stopped by Joe's Drugstore on the way home from school this week to have an ice cream cone with his friends."
"Now that's weird." Rick fiddled idly with his glass. "He usually needs his ice cream fix at least twice a week. And besides, I know for a fact that every Wednesday afternoon he and Cherry Lynn share a chocolate milk shake."
Cecilia rose, taking Rick's empty plate and glass with her. "Evidently boxing has taken Cherry Lynn's place in A.J.'s heart for the time being."
Rick headed for the door with a smile. "It looks that way, Mom."
The sound of A.J.'s bare fists smacking forcefully in well practiced rhythm against his punching bag reached Rick's ears before the teen even entered the garage.
"Hey, short legs." Rick crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the garage wall. "Whatcha' doin'?"
The swinging A.J. panted, "Workin' out."
"I can see that. But how come? You got a fight scheduled for Madison Square Garden you ain't told us about?"
spared his brother a glance only long enough to smirk at Rick's joke. "No.
I'm just workin' out. Just for
the fun of it."
Rick watched a few more minutes as A.J. hopped gracefully from one foot to another. Time and time again his fists landed well-placed punches against the side of the swinging bag. Sweat darkened the younger boy's blond hair and ran down his cheeks like tears to salt stain his white undershirt.
When Rick could see that his brother had no intention of putting an end to the workout he turned to leave. "You keep that up and you just might be ready to take on Brummel one of these days," was Rick's parting compliment.
A.J. thought a moment before dropping his fists to his side and following his brother out of the garage. "Hey, Rick? I can I talk to you for a minute about Bil--"
Rick had already mounted his bicycle and was halfway down the driveway. "Gotta go, A.J.!" The teen called with a backwards wave. "Me and Carlos are gonna help his brother work on his motorcycle. See ya' at supper!"
A.J. took a few running steps after his brother. "Rick! Rick! I need to talk to--"
"See ya’ later, alligator!"
And with that, the older boy disappeared around the corner.
Long after Rick Simon was out of sight A.J. stood motionless on the sidewalk. His shoulders slumped with weary defeat and he gave a sigh that sounded as though it came all the way from his toes. Obviously, A.J. would just have to take care of Billy Brummel himself. Obviously, Rick didn't have time for A.J.'s problems anymore. Oh well, even if A.J. had told his big brother what was going to happen at Logan's lot this Saturday, Rick would probably just laugh at him, much like he had in their room the week before.
A.J. walked slowly back into the garage. With more determination than ever, his fists were soon connecting solidly with the punching bag.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The smell of frying bacon woke Rick Simon on Saturday morning. He cocked his tousled head toward the nightstand to see the alarm clock reading seven forty-five. Rick stretched and gave a noisy yawn. He glanced over to see his brother's bed empty and already made. That wasn't unusual, however. A.J. was normally an early riser, even on Saturday mornings when Cecilia allowed her household to sleep in an extra hour.
Amidst the sounds of cookware clattering down in the kitchen, Rick could faintly hear the shower running in the master bathroom. Every few seconds he could pick up his father's voice singing the popular tune from World War II, Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me.
Rick rolled his eyes at the song and its old-fashioned lyrics.
As he did every Saturday, Rick stayed nestled in his warm bed. He had no intention of getting up until his mother had called him at least three times, and her tone changed from one of cheery morning greeting to short-tempered annoyance. His eyes traveled the room, flicking from this to that. He scanned the top of his dresser, taking careless inventory of the items he'd emptied out of his pockets the previous evening. His wallet, pocket knife, a pack of cigarettes he'd better hide before his mother found them, some loose change, a half eaten pack of M&M's that, amazingly enough, A.J. hadn't gotten his hands on yet, and his lucky half dol...
Rick sat up in bed. He strained his neck searching for the silver coin.
He threw the covers back and padded over to his dresser. His hands quickly scattered the items, but the coin was nowhere to be found. Rick scanned the floor, then braced his body against the dresser and pulled it out from the wall. Dropping to his hands and knees, he peered with one eye into the dark space between the dresser and wall, but saw nothing other than dust balls. He reached out and thoroughly raked the carpeting in the tight space with the fingers of his right hand.
When the futile search came to an end, Rick rose to his feet and pushed the dresser back in place.
He looked all around the room once more while reaching up to scratch his head. "I wonder where it is? I know I took it outta my pocket last night right before I went to bed. I remember layin' it right there next to my wallet just like I
Suddenly A.J.'s words from almost two weeks earlier echoed in Rick's head.
"I guess I should really be the one to fight him. I mean...after all, he only hit you because of me."
"Do you think your lucky half dollar would work for someone else?"
Now it all made sense. Now it was perfectly clear to Rick as to why A.J. had spent so much time working-out with his punching bag during the past week.
The teen frantically stripped off his pajama bottoms and yanked open a dresser drawer. In his haste, Rick almost dumped the drawer and its contents on the floor. He thrust his long legs into a pair of jeans, and his head and arms into a T-shirt. He didn't even bother with socks as his feet found their way into his tennis shoes.
"A.J, you little idiot," the teen cursed as he tied the laces of his shoes. "Brummel is gonna kill you."
Rick took the stairs two at a time. The swinging kitchen door banged the wall behind it as Rick tore through the room like a fireman on his way to a five-alarmer.
Cecilia turned from the stove. "Good morning, hon--"
Cecilia turned back around to flip the pancakes. "Oh, he ran out of here fifteen minutes ago like the world was about to come to an end. He grabbed a piece of toast, told me his chores were all done, and said something about meeting Danny for a baseball game."
Rick snatched three slices of warm bacon from the plate Cecilia had them setting on, and snared a pancake right off the griddle. He rolled the bacon up inside the pancake as he raced for the kitchen door. "Thanks, Mom!"
"Rick! Come back here!" Cecilia commanded. "Where are you going?"
"I'll be back in a little while!"
"Have you made your bed yet?"
"No, but I will when I get back!"
Rick pulled the door open and stopped long enough to assure, "I promise, Mom, I will! I'll make my bed, sweep the kitchen floor, take out the garbage, whatever you want. Just make me a list!"
As the door slammed behind her son Cecilia vowed, "Oh, I will, my wandering boy. You can be guaranteed of that."
Cecilia looked at the food piled on the kitchen countertop. Bacon, toast, and stacks of pancakes, that weren't going to be eaten by anyone but Jack and her. Cecilia smiled as a tempting thought came, and walked over to the pantry to retrieve a bed tray. Within minutes she had two plates of warm pancakes, butter, syrup, toast, bacon, two cups of coffee, and two glasses of orange juice, arranged neatly on the tray. In the center, she sat a small vase with a rose cut from her flower garden.
She picked the tray up and headed for the stairs. She had every intention of taking advantage of this unexpected private time with her husband.
"Won't he be surprised when I join him in the shower?"
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The word of the fight scheduled between Billy Brummel and A.J. Simon had spread rapidly through the fourth grade. And while all of A.J.'s classmates knew of the upcoming event, the children had kept it a well-guarded secret from their teachers and parents. If A.J.'d had his way, it would have been kept a well-guarded secret from everyone. He wasn't all that confident he could win this fight. As a matter of fact, he greatly feared he'd be creamed. If that turned out to be the case, he would have preferred it to occur without an audience.
But all hope of that was lost as A.J. and Danny approached Logan's lot that morning to see a good number of their classmates already in attendance. A.J. turned to his friend.
"I told you not to tell anyone!"
"I didn't," Danny denied, right before turning a tell tale shade of ruby red. "Well...I might have told one or two people."
"Oh, man," A.J. moaned. "If Brummel slaughters me I'll never live this down."
"But I thought you said you could beat him. I thought you said you've been workin'--"
"I said I can probably beat him," A.J. contradicted. "I...well, I don't know for sure that I can."
Danny swallowed hard as he caught sight of Billy Brummel towering over the other children. "I guess we're gonna find out soon enough."
A.J.'s heart took on a new rhythm, beating uncomfortably in his chest. "Yeah," he whispered. "I guess we will."
With a final pat on the back for encouragement from Danny,
A.J. stepped through the circle made by his classmates to where Billy was waiting for him. Billy's sidekicks, Tony and Glen, joined the smaller children in forming a ring around the two combatants.
"So, Baby Simon," Billy smirked. "Ya' ready?"
A.J. nodded with as much confidence as he could muster. He took up his boxer's stance of feet spread twelve inches apart, and knees loosely flexed with the left foot planted six inches in front of the right. He raised his elbows and made fists. He kept one close to his face for protection, while the other jutted out in front of him.
"Geeze, Baby Simon," Billy laughed. "You really take this stuff seriously, don't ya'? You look like Rocky Marciano standin' there. A very shrimpy Rocky Marciano. What’s a’ matter, Baby Simon. Did your mama forget to give you your bottle this week? Is that why you’re skinny as a stray cat?”
A.J. didn't let the bully's taunts provoke him, or cause him to do anything rash. Instead, he mentally reviewed everything he'd read in the past week about stance and strategy. Most importantly, he remembered his boxing book said that if your opponent is bigger than you are, you mustn't let him gain the advantage his size will naturally provide him.
Billy put his fists up in imitation of A.J. He didn't realize as he did so, that he gave himself away. His form was sloppy, his stance all-wrong. The bigger boy had no idea how to box.
And somewhere, deep inside himself, A.J. Simon smiled.
Billy began to circle A.J. with heavy uncoordinated steps.
"Okay, you little turd, I hope you wrote out your will before you showed up here today."
Because A.J. was well aware Billy would fight dirty, he was totally expecting it when, rather than throwing a punch A.J.'s way, the bully swept his right foot out in an effort to trip the fourth grader.
A.J. skipped over Billy's oversized Ked. When the blond's feet were firmly back on the ground he threw his right fist forward for all he was worth. Billy caught the punch full force on the jaw. The shock of the action, more than the pain, sent the bully sprawling into the dirt.
The children’s cheers and calls of, "Way to go, A.J.!" and "Come on, A.J., hit him again!" rose from the crowd as one. Glen and Tony stood on the sidelines urging, "Come on, Billy, get up! You can't let that little twerp beat you!"
A.J. was wise enough not to approach Billy. He knew if Billy were able to knock him to the ground and get on top of him, the fight would be over. The bully outweighed him by fifty pounds. There was no way the smaller boy could fight against that. He would have to do just what he'd done all week. Hit Billy as if the boy was his punching bag. Hit and hit and hit until one of them was no longer standing. A.J. offered up a brief prayer that the one not left standing wouldn't be him.
The angry and humiliated Billy shot to his feet. His fists came up again. "That was your one lucky punch, Simon."
A.J. didn't let the threat scare him. He maintained his poise as he and Billy circled one another like marionettes on the same string. Billy threw three wild punches that A.J. dodged. It was on that third throw that A.J. countered with a firm left fist to Billy's midsection, and a right uppercut to the exact same tender spot on Billy's jaw he'd hit less than a minute earlier.
The bully folded over at the waist. His breaths came in rapid, shallow gasps. A.J. threw another punch at Billy's right eye. The flesh surrounding it immediately turned red and began to swell.
Like an enraged bull, Billy charged forward launching his own attack. He landed a fist on A.J.'s nose and one to the side of his cheek. The blond's nose gushed blood, but the punch wasn't hard enough to knock him off his feet - and that was all A.J. cared about.
He countered with another punch to Billy's stomach. As the eighth grader fought for breath once more, A.J. landed two more quick blows, one to Billy's right eye again and one to his nose. Billy yelped as the already swollen eye was hit. His nose spouted blood like Cecilia's backyard fountain spouted water.
A.J. tuned out the screams and shouts of the children encircling him, knowing he couldn't afford any distractions, even those that brought encouragement. He didn't even turn around when he heard Cherry Lynn's tearful, "Oh, A.J., stop it! Please stop!"
Billy wasn't as wise as A.J. and made the fatal mistake of turning around to say "What?" when Tony and Glen shouted advice to him.
For just a moment, A.J. felt like he was taking unfair advantage of the bully, but then he remembered how Billy had sucker punched Rick, and figured the older boy had anything coming that rained his way. With his face averted, Billy never saw the fist flying for his jaw, or the one that landed again in his bruised stomach. He turned to face A.J., but couldn't even raise his hands before two more punches were landed, a quick right to his mouth and a left to his already throbbing nose.
As that last punch fell, so did Billy Brummel. The bully lay dazed in the dirt as stars danced before his eyes.
Just like his boxing book advised, A.J. never let his guard down. As tired as he was, and as much as his own nose hurt, he stood with his fists clenched, doing the little dancing-shuffle all boxers do as they await their opponent's next move.
But Billy had no moves left. He couldn't see out of his right eye, and his left was so swollen A.J. was nothing but a blur. His stomach muscles hurt, as if he'd done too many pushups, his nose throbbed in time with his heartbeat, and blood was running in his mouth. Although Tony and Glenn tried their best to urge him to his feet, Billy rolled over and literally played dead.
A.J.'s classmates rushed to him shouting and cheering and patting him on the back for his defeat of the bully. Cherry Lynn cried and laughed all at the same time, then gave her battered beau a gentle kiss on his injured cheek. And even though everyone in the fourth grade was witness to that kiss, the smiling A.J. didn't mind one bit.
Tony and Glenn helped Billy to his feet. His pitiful whimpers, sounding like the mews of hungry kittens, couldn't be heard over the din of the happy children. Billy limped off with his two friends supporting him, wanting to get away from the younger kids as quickly as possible.
The fourth graders took no notice of the older boy as the celebration of their hero, A.J. Simon, continued.
As Tony and Glenn, with the battered Billy in tow, headed for the sidewalk, Rick Simon stepped out of the overgrowth and blocked their path.
Billy wondered why his friends had stopped their progress. From his bent position in their arms he looked up. "Oh, no," he groaned. He was sure he was about to endure another beating at the hands of the eldest Simon brother, equal to or worse than what he'd just been through.
"It had better end here, Brummel," came Rick's ominous warning. "I don't ever wanna hear of you botherin' my little brother again. He won the fight fair and square. Now you and your friends leave him be."
With a small nod of his aching head, Billy agreed. Though it wasn't Rick's threat that prompted that willingly concession. William Warren Brummel didn't ever want to tangle with A.J. Simon again. Nobody had told him the kid was a professional boxer.
Rick kept watch until the bully and his friends were out of sight. He turned around to see the celebration of A.J.'s victory was still going in full force. Danny let up a cry of "Three cheers for A.J.!" and all the children joined in.
"Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Yay, A.J.!"
From his secluded vantage point, Rick smiled before turning away quietly and heading for home. He wasn't about to intrude on A.J.'s moment of well-deserved glory.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The kitchen door was cautiously cracked open an hour later. One blue eye peered about the room. When the perpetrator deemed the kitchen a parent-free zone, he opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside.
A.J.'s white T-shirt was torn and speckled dark red with splotches of dried blood. The spot where Billy's fist had connected solidly with his right cheekbone was beginning to bruise in various shades of black and blue. But the blond boy barely took note of his throbbing nose or aching cheek. He grinned as much as his face would allow as he mentally relived his victory and the celebration that followed. He was the unabashed hero of the fourth grade.
As he passed by the patio doors, A.J. spotted his parents in the backyard on their hands and knees in one of his mother's flowerbeds. The youngster heaved a sigh of relief knowing that, if only for a little while longer, the inevitable confrontation between himself and his parents over his battered appearance would be avoided. Maybe by the time he did have to face his folks he'd have come up with a good story. Or maybe the swelling and bruising wouldn't look as bad as it presently felt.
A.J. ran up the stairs to assess the damage he had yet to see. He stopped short when he entered his bedroom. He hadn't expected Rick to be home. Usually by this time on a Saturday Rick's chores were haphazardly completed and he was long gone to Carlos's house.
Just has he had promised his mother when he raced by her earlier that morning, Rick Simon had returned home to sweep the kitchen floor, empty all the household garbage cans, make his bed...and await his little brother's return. It was as Rick was smoothing the last wrinkle out of his bedspread that he heard A.J.'s running footsteps on the stairs.
Rick had no doubt his presence caught A.J. by surprise. Evidently the kid thought he was alone in the house. The blond stood in their bedroom doorway, biting his lower lip and nervously eyeing his big brother.
A.J. remained frozen where he was, fully expecting to hear Rick's concerned shouts of, "What the hell happened to you?" and, "Who did this to you?" and, "Where have you been?"
But to the total astonishment of the nine-year-old, none of that happened. Instead, Rick's hands rested on his lean hips as he sized up his little brother's injuries. When his eyes finally met A.J.'s he smiled.
"So...was it worth it?"
A.J. smiled back. For the first time in his life he felt like an equal with Rick. He felt like Rick Simon's brother, rather than Rick Simon's little brother.
The nine-year-old nodded. "Yeah...it was worth it."
Rick couldn't keep the pride out of his voice. "You've got a heck of a right hook, kid."
A.J.'s eyes widened. "You saw?"
come you didn't say anything?"
Rick shrugged. "It was your fight. You were the one who challenged Brummel. I was just there kinda' hangin' around in the background in case you needed me." Rick shook his head in amazement and grinned. "But you sure didn't need me."
A.J. remained humble, even in the face of such astounding victory. "It was no big deal. I practiced my boxing a lot this last week."
"It was too a big deal," Rick countered. "Brummel's twice your size. And he's got a lot more experience in the area of fighting than you do. You're just lucky he didn't grind ya' into dog food. You did good, kid, but the next time you're gonna go and do something stupid like that, tell me about it first. You know I'll help you."
"It wasn't your fight," A.J. pointed out. "And besides...I did try to tell you."
"Whatta' ya' mean?"
"I did try to tell you. But you wouldn't listen," A.J. beseeched in a pouty tone that reminded Rick of just how young nine years old was at times. "You were always busy with Carlos, or doing whatever it is you do now that you're in high school."
"I see," Rick nodded thoughtfully. "I guess you're right. I have been pretty busy now that I've entered high school, haven't I?"
A.J. hung his head and nodded.
Rick let the subject drop there for the moment. He walked
over and put an arm around his younger brother's shoulders.
"Come on. Let's get you cleaned up before Mom sees you." He gently placed a hand underneath A.J.'s chin and urged the boy to look up at him. "We can't do much more than clean the blood off your face, but maybe if I hold an ice pack on your nose and cheek some of the swelling will go down. Want me to try?"
A.J. smiled his thanks. "Sure. But what about my shirt? Mom will have a fit if she sees it."
Rick studied the torn, blood-spattered T-shirt. "I don't think there's much we can do about it other than throw it away. You've got so many white undershirts she'll never notice one missing. After we get you cleaned up, I'll take the shirt and put it in a paper bag. Then I'll bury it at the bottom of the garbage can underneath all the other junk I dumped in there this morning. She'll never run across it before garbage pickup on Tuesday."
A.J. never ceased to be amazed at how many endless ways Rick continuously came up with to keep them both from getting in hot water with their mother.
"Good idea, Rick."
For the next half hour A.J. willingly submitted to his brother's gentle ministrations. First all traces of blood were washed off his nose and face. Then Rick held an ice pack alternately against A.J.'s cheek and nose. The ice did get the swelling to decrease somewhat, but there was no way it would work miracles. There was still going to be a good deal of explaining to do to Jack and Cecilia Simon.
When he'd done all he could for his brother, Rick had A.J. strip off the bloody undershirt. He stuffed it in a brown grocery bag and dashed out to the garage. The bag was then buried under layers of old newspapers, magazines, used Kleenex, empty cereal boxes, tin cans, egg shells, and potato peelings.
With that task complete, Rick sauntered over to where his parents were still hard at work planning the newest addition to Cecilia's flowerbed.
"Hey, Mom? Dad? Is it okay if me and A.J. grab some burgers and shakes at Joe's Drugstore?"
Cecilia rose and removed her gardening gloves. "Dad and I were just getting ready to take a break, Rick. I was going to come in and fix everyone lunch."
don't have to do that. At least not for
A.J. and me. That is, if it's okay for
us to go down to Joe's."
"I suppose you can if you want to," Cecilia granted permission. "Are all your chores done?"
Jack took a break from his work and leaned against his shovel. He echoed his wife's earlier permission. "Go ahead then."
"I'll probably take A.J. to a movie after we're done. We'll be back in time for supper."
Jack smiled, knowing how happy his nine-year-old would be at the opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time with his big brother. "That's fine. Just be back here in time to set the table for your mother."
Rick promised, "We will be," before turning toward the house.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
It was five o'clock when the Simon brothers returned home that afternoon. They rode their bikes right into the garage without seeing either of their parents.
It had been a perfect day as far as young A.J. was concerned. Not only had he thoroughly gotten the best of the schoolyard bully, but he and Rick had spent the afternoon together as well. Rick had treated his younger brother to a hamburger, French fries, and a chocolate milk shake at Joe's, and as well he treated A.J. to a movie. He wouldn't even allow A.J. to buy popcorn or sodas for them, even after A.J. reminded Rick that up until this point he'd paid for everything. Rick said it didn't matter, then promptly bought them a large tub of popcorn with extra butter, a box of MilkDuds, a box of Sugar Babies, and two large Cokes.
The only thing that was going to mar the day was, as of yet, still awaiting the nine-year-old - facing his parents. More specifically, facing his mother.
A.J. lagged several paces behind his brother as the boys made their way to the house.
Rick turned around. "Hey, slowpoke, get a move on. We gotta set the table for Mom."
Rick stopped and waited for his brother to catch up. "Why the long face? Didn't you have fun today?"
That got a smile out of A.J. "Yeah, I had fun. I had a great time!"
"Then how come you look like you just lost your best friend?" Rick teased.
"'Cause I still gotta figure out somethin' to tell Mom about my face."
Rick slung an arm around his brother's shoulders. "Don't worry about it, kid. I've been thinking about it all afternoon, and I'm pretty sure I've come up with something that both Mom and Dad will fall for."
A.J. brightened. "Really?"
"Really. Just follow my lead and say as little as possible. Just agree with me. Okay?"
The boys hadn't gotten two steps into the kitchen before Cecilia looked up from the stove. "Well there you two are," she smiled. "Did you have a good..."
Cecilia's sentence trailed off as A.J, with a gentle push from his big brother, reluctantly stepped out from behind Rick.
"A.J.! What happened to you?"
Cecilia turned and called toward the living room, where her husband was sitting on the couch reading the evening paper.
"Jack! Jack, get in here!"
Cecilia scurried over to her youngest and ushered him toward the window where she could get a better look at him.
"Mom," Rick rushed to say, "Mom, it's not a big deal."
"Not a big deal! Richard, what happened to your bro--"
Jack Simon's voice joined the fray. "What's going on?"
stepped away from her nine-year-old.
"Take a look at A.J.'s face, Jack."
A concerned Jack gently grasped his youngest's chin and tilted A.J.'s head toward the light shining in from the window.
"What happened, sport? What did you--"
"He fell off his bike," Rick explained. "You know that big hill there by Joe's Drugstore? Well, me and A.J. were barrelin' down it on our bikes, and he lost control and--"
"Rick, how many times have we told both you and A.J. to be careful on that hill?" Cecilia interrupted. "You know perfectly well your father broke his arm as he raced down that very same hill on his bike when he was a boy. How many times have we cautioned you--"
"I know, Mom," Rick agreed. "But we kind of...forgot."
"Yeah," A.J. spoke up for the first time from where Jack still had a firm hold on his chin. "We forgot." A.J. rolled his eyes in his mother's direction. "It wasn't Rick's fault anyway, Mom. It was mine. It was my idea."
"Well, it certainly looks like you paid the price for it," Cecilia said. She reached in the freezer for the ice pack she always kept there. The same one Rick had returned earlier in the day. She took a gentle hold of her youngest's left arm. "Come on. I want you to sit on the living room couch with this on your face until dinner."
She turned to scold her oldest. "Really, Rick, you should have brought him right home instead of going on to the movies. At least then we might have had a chance at curbing some of this swelling and bruising."
Rick appeared properly contrite. "Yeah...I know, Mom. I'm sorry. But he really wanted to see the movie. He begged me."
"Yeah," A.J. nodded in full agreement. "I begged him. He really did want to bring me home, but I begged him."
All Cecilia could do was shake her head and mutter, "I don't know what I'm going to do with you two," as she ushered her youngest toward the living room.
Rick busied himself with setting the table while Jack took over the dinner preparations.
"So...Andy fell off his bike, huh?"
Rick risked a glance his father's way before dropping his eyes to the table. "Yeah...yeah he did. That's a pretty big hill, you know."
"Yes, I know. But those bruises on his face and nose don't look like the kind of injuries someone gets when he falls off a bike. They look more like the kind of injuries someone gets when he’s been in a fist fight."
"Oh...well, maybe they do," Rick agreed without looking up. "But A.J. fell off his bike."
continued to brown the pork chops. He
turned the burner down and checked the boiling potatoes. "He sure was intent on working-out with
his punching bag all last week."
Rick shrugged. "Yeah...I guess so."
"I know Billy Brummel has been giving Andy and his friends a hard time all year. That Brummel boy's got a reputation of being quite a bully, doesn't he?"
"Yeah. He's a real moron. He likes to pick on the younger kids."
"I don't care too much for boys like that," was Jack's innocent comment.
Much to Rick's relief, the conversation ended there as father and son went about their tasks.
Jack turned to go tell his wife supper was ready, he caught Rick's eye and
winked. "So, did Andy win?"
Rick hesitated a moment before his face split into a wide, proud grin. "He sure did, Dad. My little brother packs quite a punch."
"Good," Jack nodded. "Not that I'm condoning fighting, you understand. But, if it was justified--"
"It was justified, all right," Rick confirmed.
"I'll take your word on that. And later...in a few days, I'll talk to Andy about it myself. But, in the meantime, I think this is one incident better kept from your mother. We'll just let her go on believing Andy fell off his bike." Jack gave a teasing smile. "Unless you think she should be told differently."
Rick vigorously shook his head. "No. I think we should leave things just as they are."
Jack laughed. "I thought you'd say that, buddy."
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Long after his entire family had retired for the night, Rick sat in the living room watching a horror movie. The feature ended at midnight. The teen carried his empty soda bottle into the kitchen and shut off the downstairs lights. Quietly, he made his way up to his bedroom.
Rick stripped off his T-shirt and jeans in the dark and tossed them in a corner of the room. He opened a dresser drawer and pulled out his pajama bottoms. He folded the bedspread and covers back, fluffed his pillow, and climbed in bed.
Rick hiked up on one elbow and reached up to click on the bedside lamp. He looked across the space between his bed and A.J.'s, to see his little brother's posture mirroring his own.
"Did I wake ya'?"
"No. I've been awake for a while."
Rick reached back toward the lamp. "You'd better go to sleep then. It's after midnight."
"I know. I was just waitin' for you to come up 'cause I wanted to let you know I put your lucky half dollar back on your dresser."
Rick glanced over to see that his lucky coin had been returned.
"I'm sorry I took it without asking first."
"That's okay," Rick readily forgave his brother. "After all, I did tell ya' you could borrow it whenever you needed it."
A.J. lay back down and laced his hands behind his head in self-satisfaction. "Yeah, I guess you did. And it sure brought me good luck today."
"Uh...look, A.J., that old half dollar isn't really what brought you luck today. What brought you luck was the fact that you practiced your boxing, honed your skills, reread your book--"
“No.” A.J. shook his head. "It was the coin. Your lucky coin. It always brings you good luck, and today, some of your good luck rubbed off on me."
Rick smiled at A.J.'s faith in him. "But, A.J..." Rick stopped the explanation he intended to give on skill versus luck before it even began. For some reason he wasn't quite ready to give up the special place he held in A.J.'s young life as the big brother who could somehow manage to make everything come out all right. Even if things came out all right only through the influence of a lucky half dollar. Or a nine-year-old's belief in it.
guess my lucky half dollar is a pretty handy thing to have around. You want it?"
A.J. propped himself up on his elbow once more. "Really? For keeps? You mean it?"
"Sure I mean it. If you want it, it's yours."
A.J. thought long and hard before shaking his head. "No. You keep it."
"Me? But why? I thought you said that lucky coin is what helped you beat Billy today."
is. But don't you see, Rick? It only helped me because it's your
"But maybe I can use it again some time if I ever need it."
"Sure, A.J.," Rick agreed. "You ever need my lucky coin again, you go right ahead and borrow it. Only take a little break before you go pickin' any more fights with guys who are older than you. I don't want all my friends runnin' and hidin' from you every time they come over here."
A.J. rolled his eyes at his brother's teasing. "Sure, Rick. Whatever you say."
Rick reached up and this time shut the light off for good. "Night, kiddo."
"Night, Rick...oh, and Rick?"
"Thanks for coverin' for me with Mom and Dad today."
"No problem, short legs. I'll let you return the favor for me one of these days."
"With as often as you get in trouble, I'll probably have to do that tomorrow."
Rick laughed. "You're probably right, kid, so you'd better get some shut eye and start dreamin' up good excuses for me to pass along to Mom."
In all seriousness, A.J. agreed. "Okay, Rick. I will."
Rick gave a fond shake of his head before nestling down in his pillow.
That night, A.J. Simon relived his sweet victory over Billy Brummel in his dreams. The passage of time would eventually cause that glorious day to fade from A.J.'s memory, until twenty- three-years later when a psychic by the name of Sarah Childs would bring it to the forefront of his mind.
The Simon brothers smiled at each other that day in Sarah's house as they were taken back to a time of innocence. A time of unwavering faith. A time when the most important person in a young boy's life was his big brother. A time of lemonade, coonskin caps, and Rick's lucky coin.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~