Searing pain shot up his nose and forced tears into his eyes. It was difficult to concentrate on anything but how bad it hurt. Even his classmates were starting to fade as they egged them on. A playground suddenly transformed into the hollowed grounds of the Colosseum, preteen gladiators doing battle to the roars and cheers of 4th & 5th graders. Teachers yelled in the distance as they charged at the squabbling boys, demanding they stop. It was all fading. All Michael could think about was how every strike that his mounted assailant landed through raised forearms hurt. The bully's name escaped him. His own name escaped him. The shame that he was suppose to be the son of the mighty Jack Everett, now getting pummeled by some big brute slipped his mind too. There was only the pain and how much he wished it'd stop. If Jack was watching would he wonder if he was really his son? He wanted it to stop. Was this how terrible it felt every time his dad took a punch? How did he do it? Why couldn't hestand it? A blow landed right on his eye, making everything look blurrier, and then what came next wasn't thought, just pure instinct. Michael felt his arms come down, maybe to welcome the bully's fists. That wasn't it. His hands sprawled out across damp soil, he felt rain soaked dirt course through his small fingers and beneath his fingernails. He clawed at it desperately. Use it, some part of him urged, just how he was suppose to didn't register until a fistful of wet earth was leaving his hand and thrown into the boy's face. Fists suddenly stopped raining on his face and he saw the boy frantically try to wipe at the dirt in his eyes, crying. He wanted to make him cry harder. Michael's other hand clawed through the muck again, this time it wasn't soft or soggy. It was smooth and hard, a perfect fit within his palm and with the desirable weight. Get him, the instinct commanded again, this time he didn't feel desperation when it called to him, but something else. A feeling that he didn't have a word for at the moment. Payback. He felt it before he heard it, a soft thud as the stone crashed against the bigger boy's temple, followed immediately with a shrill whine as he rolled to the ground beside Mikey. He cried louder than his reputation on the playground would have suggested. There was no part of him urging him to continue what he'd started, but he wanted to anyway, and so he climbed on and gave back what the boy had been dishing out earlier in full measure. Weaker, less practiced, but angry nonetheless until a heavy hand grabbed at the collar of his shirt and pulled him away.

"Get yourself cleaned up. Your father will hear about this."

Michael almost didn't recognize himself in the mirror, his face was a mess. His lip bruised and cut, skin around his left eye swollen and discolored. What caught his eye most was the cascade of blood that rolled down to his chin, even dried the color drew his eye, as that color always did. It was his favorite color. Sometimes to a fault. It was always the warmer colors, the bright and dark reds, the oranges and yellows that he loved most. He used them with so much zeal that they were always the first to get whittled down to nothing. Keeping red in his box of crayons had been such a challenge when he was younger that he'd once landed himself in hot water trying to steal a replacement from the store. He didn't understand what it meant exactly, but he knew it wasn't normal. In art class the other kids were daring and imaginative, dipping into every spectrum of color they could, often to disastrous effect artistically. Not Michael. He stayed to the ones that looked vibrant to him, to the ones he was most drawn to. He'd overheard a teacher talk to his father before, about how she thought Michael was having trouble distinguishing certain colors, something about a problem in his eyes. Staring at the blood now in his reflection, he wondered if his eyes were the reason red had always been his favorite. Fascinated, he leaned forward over the sink to inspect his wounds closer, prodding a finger against his nose, almost immediately recoiling in pain and whining aloud. The pain was overwhelming. Suddenly he thought about his dad, how he'd come home looking beaten and battered. Everetts know how to take a punch, Mikey, he'd say. Now he looked like him kind of, just not nearly as bad. The thought made him smile, a flash of scarlet stained teeth. Michael decided he wouldn't wash the blood off his face like the nurse told him, he liked this look. It made him look tough, strong. It made him look like Jack Everett's son.