There was blood on his knuckles, but not on his face.
The school bully was on the ground in front of him, eye already swollen shut, blood running from his nose and lip and tears streaming from his eyes.
Beyond the bully, Joey's little brother Mick was getting to his feet, brushing the dirt from his clothes and face. He looked up adoringly to his brother. And beyond him--
...beyond him was the green-eyed girl, and the look she gave when their eyes met was electric.
The bully got to hands and knees, and looked up at Joey with raw, undisguised hatred. His face was long and narrow, with thin lips below ice-grey eyes and greasy curly black hair. He got to one foot, and Joey put his hands on his hips, ready to square off for round two.
The bully opened his mouth to hurl some insults--the normal retreat of a defeated bully--but what came out of his mouth wasn't a voice. It was a shrill, high-pitched buzz, getting steadily louder and more annoying...
Joey smacked the alarm clock in disgust. It took three whacks to finally hit the snooze button, and he angrily rolled away from it in the dark, burrowing into the covers.
Why did he have to wake up anyway?
He tried to return to the dream...tried to find his way back to the ugly bully...and the green-eyed girl...and failed miserably. That was the problem with dreams...they only seemed to come when they wanted, not when he wanted.
The alarm went off again--was it actually louder and more obnoxious this time, or was that his imagination?--and he hit the snooze button...a bit less forcefully and a bit more resigned to the inevitable.
He lay there in the dark, staring at the ceiling, as the pre-dawn light slowly lit up the room. He was mostly covered by the ugly checked bedspread knitted for him by his aunt.
Above, more than a dozen airplane and starship models hung from lines attached to the ceiling. Some were even shooting at each other, with red and yellow yarn playing the part of tracer rounds and laser beam fire. Many of the models showed extensive battle damage...or, rather, many of them had been used as toys, and broken, before Joey's father came up with the idea of hanging them out of reach. He had gotten tired of gluing small parts back onto them when they broke. So, as they went up, Joey and Mick had painted red and black combat scars on the worst breaks, and even had two going "down in flames" with a wing hanging from a second thread. It had seemed really cool to look at three months ago, but now, he just missed their mock dogfights, chasing each other and screaming sound effects, even if it did leave sharp plastic booby-traps in the living room carpet for his parents to find.
Now it was bright enough to see the poster on the far wall, past his feet, just to the left of the window. It was a cute, cuddly kitten, dangling from a branch by its paws, with the old familiar "Hang in There!" caption at the bottom. That was his mother's contribution to the room's decor. He had much preferred his older poster--the cutaway view of a starship, showing the decks and levels and stations and their scale--but his mother, following the advice of some book supposedly written by some child psychiatrist, had found the humor and cuteness to be more "inspirational" somehow.
He thought a starship, and the idea of unlimited travel that a starship implied, was a lot more inspirational than some kitten that was too stupid to let go and drop the three feet to the ground. He stuck his tongue out at the poster, as he had done every morning for the last month.
The sun peeked over the horizon, spilling golden light across the sky and into his room...and his eyes. He flinched away from the brightness, squinting his eyes shut until they adjusted to the light. He had to blink a dozen painful times until it was bearable.
He stuck his tongue out at the sun, too, just on general principles.
The alarm went off again, and this time, he fumbled around and shut it off. He hopped out of bed, slipped on his glasses from the nightstand, found his slippers under the edge of the bed, pulled the blankets up into a semblance of a "made" bed, and headed off for the bathroom.
The glare from the lights over the sink was even worse than the rising sun, and he frowned painfully at them. Then he looked down into the sink, to avoid looking in the mirror. He brushed his teeth that way, and tried to run a comb through his hair without looking, too, but he couldn't do it. He finally gave in to the inevitable, and looked in the mirror.
The shiner was a glaring ugly purple, with the eye not quite swollen shut. The lip wasn't fat anymore, but there was a major scab where it had been cut.
At least the nosebleed hadn't lasted too long.
He hadn't yet decided which was worse; the fact that Eddie, the school bully, had decided to beat him up, or that Mick had come to the rescue. Mick--big for his age, almost as big as Joey. Mick, the athlete and brain and over-achiever...where Joey was the skinny dreamer, more interested in a book than a ball.
He finished combing his hair, and went back to his room to get dressed.