by E. A. Blevins
The rubbery smell of hot playground asphalt accented the squeak of sneakers as Lucy dominated the foursquare court. She couldn’t use the force provided by her spiffy magic boxing gloves because her parents said boxing gloves weren’t “appropriate” for school, but Lucy didn’t need any help.
She bent her knees and sent Oscar Norcott a feral grin as he readied himself to start a new round. He was a third grader, one grade above Lucy, but she’d still won two games to his three. He’d learned to take her seriously from day one, when he’d genuinely thought she was a kindergartener and tried to go easy on her and wound up embarrassed in front of his friends. Now, he used his longer arm span to his advantage. It kept him just ahead of Lucy on the scoreboard, but Lucy was fast, determined, and never got tired. Pretty much ever.
Since foursquare needed four players to fill all the squares, other kids played too, but they tended to quit after a game or two. Some of them said it was to let someone else take a turn, but the miserable frowns on their faces convinced Lucy that they just didn’t like being so bad at the game. Luckily, there was another foursquare court nearby so that everyone could play the slow, easy game they preferred and let Lucy and Oscar and sometimes his friends, who weren’t bad but took it worse when the got beaten by a girl, play for keeps. Oscar’s friends seemed to prefer dominating the easy court.
When that happened, a lot of the less competitive kids would start a game of tag, and the really uncoordinated ones went to the swings.
Lucy turned her head at the unexpected summons, and the red kickball bounced right past her. Her temper flared and she rounded on Oscar. “That’s cheating! I wasn’t ready!”
He shrugged, an infuriating smirk on his face, and went to get the ball.
Mrs. Nelson, the playground monitor, approached Lucy with a slip of paper in her hand. “You’ve been called to the vice principal’s office. Take this pass and go straight there, okay?”
Lucy took the pass with a confused frown and waved it under Oscar’s nose as they passed each other. “You didn’t win that one. I want a rematch.”
“Four to two,” he called after her.
“Three to two!” she called back.
He grinned. “Four!”
She was halfway through the doors and caught the one dropping shut behind her to shout “Three!” before scurrying off down the hall.
Lucy got to the office and showed her pass to the secretary, Mrs. Gardner, who looked through her glasses, past the bulbous end of her long nose, and waved Lucy on with a fond smile. “Go right in, dear. They’re waiting for you.”
Lucy’s dad leaned one hip against his desk as he talked to a tall man in an ill–fitting suit. The man had lightly tanned skin, greying scruff on his jaw, and one eyelid that drooped lower than the other. He looked tough and weather–worn, like a cowboy, and his presence put a worry frown in her dad’s eyes.
“Lucy,” her dad said gently as she entered. He straightened and moved to close the door, his movements precise in a way she’d last seen when her goldfish died. “This is Mr. Drake. He seems to be the owner of the boxing gloves you found, and he’s been looking for them.”
Lucy stared at her dad, then at Mr. Drake, and waited with a sinking feeling for them to tell her they were just kidding.
Instead, Mr. Drake pierced her with a suspicious stare. “Those gloves were my dad’s. His father left them to him, and when my dad died in the recent tornado that hit your town, I knew he’d want me to have them.” Here he turned his gaze back to her dad, which Lucy appreciated because her eyes had begun to sting. “They have a lot of sentimental value.”
“They’re mine,” Lucy said, bewildered, her eyes wide to hold back that stinging prickling feeling. “I found them.”
Her dad knelt beside her, his voice infinitely gentle. “You did find them. But Mr. Drake owns them. We need to give them back.”
“No!” The tears spilled over and Lucy turned away so they wouldn’t see.
Silence fell behind her. Her dad took a distressed breath, and Mr. Drake spoke in a hard voice. “I’ll have them back one way or another. They’re mine.”
Lucy felt like her heart was breaking. She strangled a sob when her dad settled a hand on her shoulder. “Lucy,” he murmured, but she didn’t want to hear what he had to say. She tore herself away and ran out the door. She didn’t slow down until she was in the girls bathroom, locked safely in a stall, where she bawled quietly.
When she thought maybe recess would be over soon, she wiped her nose on her sleeve, exited the stall, and checked her face in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy and red. Lucy leaned in to examine them. She didn’t have eyes like most of the kids in school. She and her big sister Hannah had only one fold instead of two. Their mom called it a “monolid” and said it was fairly common in people of Chinese ancestry, like their family. Lucy’s mom and dad had monolids, and mom had taught Hannah how to put on eyeliner when she was old enough to wear it. The eyeliner made Hannah’s eyes look bigger, but Lucy didn’t see how she kept it from getting smudged all day unless she just never rubbed her eyes. Which seemed impossible. Lucy rubbed her eyes when the sun was too bright or when the wind kicked up the rubber smell of the playground and made her sneeze or when the kickball got bounced too hard and hit her in the face. Lucy rubbed her eyes when she was tired.
Lucy never wanted to wear makeup.
She straightened her Elsa shirt with a tug and used a paper towel to scrub at her face, leaving it dry but no less red and puffy.
“Where are my gloves, kid?”
Lucy jumped, heart racing, to face Mr. Drake. A moment later, as the reality sank in, she gaped. “This is the girls bathroom. You’re not allowed in here.”
“My gloves. I want them. Now.”
Lucy couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t leaving. It was the girls bathroom. Boys weren’t allowed. She stared at him and all she could think to say was, “This is the girls bathroom. You have to leave.”
“I’ve been waiting years to inherit those things, and I’m not going to let some sticky–fingered brat steal them from me. So where are they?”
He stalked forward, head lowered in a bull–like fashion. “Give me the gloves, kid.”
It occurred to Lucy that he didn’t care he was in the girls room. This fact blew her mind. She could barely process it. It was against the very laws of nature. Boys did not get to enter the girls bathroom. And when they tried…
Lucy opened her mouth wide and did what any responsible little girl would do to an invading boy in the bathroom.
And she bowled into Mr. Drake, pushing and shoving and trying to drive him toward the door.
“Out out out out out!”
She expected him to give way, because that was what boys did when caught invading the girls bathroom. They laughed and let themselves be shoved out. So she was taken by surprise when he wrapped a hand around her throat, one in her shirt, and lifted her against the bathroom wall.
Lucy heard herself whimper, and the skin of her hands grew unusually warm. She kicked her feet at Mr. Drake, but his arms were long and he could twist his body easily out of her reach.
“Where. Are. The gloves.”
And then Lucy shoved him, and he flew backward into the opposite wall.
The gloves were on her hands.
They were supposed to be in her room.
Mr. Drake pulled himself to a crouch and eyed her warily, gaze locked on the gloves. In a dark, strangled voice, he said, “You put them on.”
Lucy looked at him like he was crazy. “Um.”
“And they activated for you.”
He closed his eyes and pressed a hand to his face, his entire body going rigid. When he lifted his eyes to hers, the rage that glittered there made her shrink back.
He lifted himself to a stalking posture. “You stupid little” and then he said a bad word. A really bad word. A word Lucy wasn’t even supposed to know about. It rang out across the bathroom, bouncing off the tile walls like a living thing, angry and vile.
The shock made Lucy freeze. She’d never been called a word that bad before. She wasn’t even allowed to watch movies with words like that.
He took a step toward her, then another, and his voice came out powerful and dark. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
Lucy shrank back against the wall.
Mr. Drake took another step and it left him right in front of her. “They’re useless to me now. The only way I can use them is if…” A hard gleam entered his eye that Lucy didn’t like at all. He paused for a moment, then lifted a hand to her throat. “Sorry about this, kid.”
Lucy didn’t think about her gloves or how they could protect her. She didn’t think about screaming or crying or begging. She was too stunned and confused for any of that. So she stood in silence as his hands clenched on her throat, until the panic set in.
“No!” she screamed, shoving his hands away with a gloved swat that made him curse and clutch at his left wrist. She ran to a stall, but he was right behind her. He grabbed the door with his good hand before she could close it.
That was when the bathroom door opened and someone said, “In here. I heard yelling.”
“Hello?” said someone else. Then “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
Lucy wriggled under the separating wall into the next stall while Mr. Drake was distracted. From the stall closest to the doors, she ran for the grownups.
Mrs. Gardner clutched Lucy’s shoulders protectively and glared through her glasses at Mr. Drake.
“He wouldn’t leave,” said Lucy, burrowing her face into Mrs. Gardner’s stomach. “I told him it’s the girls bathroom, but he wouldn’t leave.”
Mrs. Gardner petted her and murmured soothing words while the person with her—a maintenance man—tried to get Mr. Drake to come to the office.
“We’ve called the cops,” said the maintenance man. “I’d hate to have to explain why you’re alone in the bathroom with a little girl.”
This seemed to make Mr. Drake even madder. He snarled, and Lucy clutched harder to Mrs. Gardner.
“I want my dad,” said Lucy.
“Of course, sweetie,” said Mrs. Gardner, tugging her into the hallway as security arrived at a trot.
Lucy saw her dad hurrying toward them and threw herself bodily into his arms. The gloves didn’t seem to hurt him even though she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, buried her face in his neck, and clung as hard as she could.
“What happened?” he asked Mrs. Gardner softly.
“I thought I heard something in the ladies room, so I grabbed Frank to help me check it out.” She shook her head. “If I’d known Lucy was in there, I wouldn’t have taken the time. I’m so sorry, Dan. I should have interrupted sooner.” Tears thickened Mrs. Gardner’s voice and Lucy felt cool, gentle fingers on the back of her neck. “She’s hurt.”
Her dad’s head moved, and he hugged Lucy tighter. His voice sounded shaky when he said, “Backup was smart.”
They took Lucy to the office, where the principal came out to check on her and give her a lollipop and the nurse had to coax her to release the full–body clamp on her dad. Her dad seemed just as reluctant to let her go, which made Lucy feel better, and they finally agreed Lucy could sit in his lap while the nurse examined her.
The cops got there soon after the nurse did and asked Lucy lots of questions. Another pair of cops took Mr. Drake out of the building, but Lucy didn’t see him, only heard him, and was glad they didn’t bring him past the office.
The cops were friendly, but they kept asking her to go back and repeat the wrong parts of the story, like when Mr. Drake had grabbed her and pushed her against the wall and how high did he lift her and did he just grab her shirt or did he wrestle with it.
Lucy answered their questions; however, she needed them to understand. Mr. Drake had refused to leave the bathroom when she’d told him to. He wasn’t allowed in there, but he wouldn’t leave. It was very important to Lucy that she get this point across.
“Okay,” said Officer Clayton, who was maybe her dad’s age or a little older but definitely the older of the two policemen. He asked most of the questions while the other one wrote things down. “Tell me again about the second time he grabbed you. What did he say beforehand?”
Lucy huffed impatiently and told him, adding, “But he couldn’t hurt me because I had my gloves on.” She’d taken them off when the nurse arrived. She glanced down at them in her lap, then leaned in and told the officers in a whisper, “They’re magic.”
Officer Clayton’s concerned face eased into a soft smile. “It’s good you had them, then.”
Lucy nodded and sat back. “That’s why Mr. Drake wanted them. But they’re mine.” She thought the steel in her gaze would warn the officers away from her magic gloves, but they just smiled.
The younger policeman, Officer Greene, said, “I don’t think you’ll have much problem keeping your gloves after all of this. Mr. Drake is in big trouble.”
Lucy’s eyes went round and she looked up at her dad. “Am I in trouble?”
Her dad, who seemed stunned by the question, wrapped his arms tight around her and whispered, “No, honey. No you are not in trouble. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
Officer Greene leaned in and touched her hand to get her attention. “Mr. Drake is in trouble, not you.”
Worried tears entered Lucy’s eyes. “But I pushed him.”
The officer’s tone took on a serious, conspiratorial mein. “Then he shouldn’t have been in the girls bathroom, should he?”
It was the perfect thing to say. Lucy took a deep breath and nodded. Her reply held every ounce of conviction that Mr. Drake should not have broken that one, sacrosanct rule. “Boys aren’t allowed.”
The grownups smiled, even her dad, but Lucy didn’t know what she’d said that was funny. Officer Greene only grinned fiercely at her and said, “That’s right, young lady. That is absolutely right.”