Writing Sample (from Broken Chain)

On the day when Wayne badmouthed Annie, there were no seats left near the front of the bus. Jimmy and Brody were late leaving gym class. The teacher made all of them run an extra lap around the track because he’d overheard one of the boys call him a “fag”. They barely caught the bus. If it hadn’t been a ten mile hike home, Brody would have gladly missed it.

They ended up sitting a couple of rows from the back—across the aisle from each other. Brody edged in beside Sherry Kendall, one of the most sought-after girls in the senior class. She was a cheerleader, had a boyfriend on the football team, and was known to be flirty with other guys. Sherry wasn’t usually alone on the bus. There was always someone clammering to sit beside her. But that day, it was the only empty spot. Brody wondered if she’d been kept in late as well.

There was a moment of silence after he sat down beside her, while old man Crombie slipped the bus into gear. Brody’s face was hot and he didn’t dare look at her. In his peripheral vision, he noticed that Sherry twisted around, looked over her shoulder, and smirked. Someone snickered. Then Sherry slid over closer to him.

Brody glanced at Jimmy. His friend had his head turned as he stretched his neck, attempting to see beyond the boy beside him and look out the window. His seatmate leaned forward to watch Sherry and blocked Jimmy’s view.

“Hey, Brody,” Sherry purred. “Have you ever done it?”
Brody swallowed and his throat dried up. She giggled as her hand touched his knee then crept up his pant leg like a long-legged spider.

“Let’s see if you have what it takes.” Her fingers were uncomfortably close to Brody’s groin and there were muffled chuckles all around him. She nestled in even closer. The smell of her perfume and the pressure of her body were overwhelming. He knocked her hand away. Her lips settled into a sulky pout.

“What’s wrong, Brody?” she asked, loudly. “Don’t you like girls?”

Wayne’s answer rose above the laughter. “He only likes his mommy, Sherry. But then, everybody likes her. I heard she stays late at the bowling alley, tells the men where to put their balls.”

The laughter increased in volume and Brody closed his eyes, fighting the urge to jump up and grab Wayne Middleton by his throat.

“Yep,” he drawled, “after she finishes with all the bowlers, she helps Brody out with his too.”

Brody was on his feet before he had time to think. He took two long steps down the aisle, reached out to drag Wayne from his seat, and slammed his fist into Wayne’s face. Wayne stumbled back against his buddy behind him, righted himself, then threw his entire weight at Brody. Brody went over backwards and his head cracked against the metal bar along the top of one seat. In less than a minute, he was sprawled out in the aisle with Wayne on top of him. Wayne’s fist crashed into Brody’s nose then his mouth. Pain expanded through Brody’s head, making him too woozy to block the attack. When Wayne realized that Brody wasn’t struggling, he eased off.

One thing about Wayne—he knew when to stop before he did too much damage, how far he could go before the fight was reported to the principal. He couldn’t afford to be expelled from school. Word had it that Wayne’s father was tougher than Jimmy’s mother, even though his dad acted like the proud family man. He never missed any of Wayne’s basketball games, and he kept his wife close to his side at all times, his arm wound around her waist.

As soon as Brody stepped through the back door, his mother took one look at his face and started to fuss.

“Good Lord, Brody. What now?” She guided him to a kitchen chair, ran to the bathroom for a wet facecloth, returned and hovered over her son. “Hold this up against your nose. It’ll stop the bleeding.”

Will stood in the background and watched them, his mouth twisted into a crooked line.

Brody put up with his mother’s coddling. She knew Brody was a target. She even knew why. There wasn’t much that either of them could do about it.

She left to fetch some salve from the medicine cabinet upstairs. Will didn’t speak or move, just continued to watch Brody with no expression on his face. Brody glared at him.

“What do you want?”

He shrugged. “I’m just wondering—how long are you gonna let this happen?”

“You got a solution?” Brody asked, his tone suggesting that the man was as dense as a tree toad.

Will snorted. “Seems to me you’ve been fighting for years…and losing for years. Maybe somebody needs to show you how to defend yourself.”

“Like you?”

Will shrugged again. “You ever seen me with a bloody nose? A man’s gotta learn how to fight just so he doesn’t need to no more.”

Brody looked away from him. Will sighed, heavily.

“Just think about it.”