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Panic

By Sharon M. Draper

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1

JUSTIN, Friday, April 12 4 p.m.

“ ‘Proud and insolent youth,’ said Hook, ‘prepare to meet thy doom.’

“ ‘Dark and sinister man,’ Peter answered, ‘have at thee.’ ”

—from Peter Pan

“Hey, dance boy!”

Sixteen-year-old Justin Braddock, wearing his favorite Timberland boots, tromped down the rain-slicked sidewalk, book bag slung over his left shoulder, heading to the bus stop. He did not turn around—he knew who trailed behind him.

“You heard me, dancing queen! Don’t be tiptoeing away, now.”

Justin sighed. Another fight.

Zac Patterson, the wrestling team’s “sultan of the slam,” was known to brandish both his biceps and equally massive ego. He yelled louder. “What up, fag!”

“Swish!” added Ben Bones. Justin knew Bones would be hovering just a few steps behind Zac, safe like a shadow.

Justin tried to ignore the idiots behind him. Guys had been teasing him for years, ever since he started taking dance lessons. He was as tall as Zac, more muscled than Bones. But most guys seemed clueless about the athletic skills required for the leaps and lifts he had mastered. And none of them knew how much he loved it.

“Look how he twitches those hips!” Zac jeered.

Justin wondered, amused, why Zac was so interested in his butt.

“Got your shiny pink toe shoes stuffed in that bag? Who braids your hair—yo mama?” Bones asked, laughing loudly with Zac.

“Your mama wears a tutu too!” Zac and Bones hooted with laughter.

Justin stopped walking. He tossed his backpack on the ground and spun around. “Don’t you talk about my mother!” he hissed. A surge of rage and sorrow coursed through him. His mother had died less than a year before, and it felt like yesterday. It felt like forever.

“Your mama so stupid, she tried to put her M&M’s in alphabetical order!” Bones sniped, still standing safely behind Zac.

Justin was not in a mood to play the dozens. Not today. Not ever. Not about his mom.

“Your mama twice the man you are,” Zac sneered.

Nope.

Not today.

Justin did not hesitate. He wheeled around, tightened his right fist, then, with a whump, he planted a direct blow to the center of Zac’s gut.

Zac, all two hundred pounds of him, crumpled in a heap on the sidewalk. “Oomph,” he managed to mumble.

Bones, looking terrified, placed both his hands in a strategic position to protect himself, but Justin just glared at him.

“Dance with that!” Justin said as he picked up his pack. He continued down the street and did not look back.

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