T… t… t, t, t, twinkle, t… t, t, t, twinkle, little star…
Jason wanted to scream. It was almost always the same.
Sometimes a little better, but not much, The first two words or so in a sentence were pushed out at great expense. And once they were out, the rest followed one after the other like little soldiers. Of course sometimes it was worse. It was then that he froze almost completely. His throat choked by a mental boa constrictor.
He gave the speech therapist points for wanting to help. He knew she was doing the best she could, but her notion of help was just downright painful. Part of the pain was in missing his mathematics class. That was the only place in school where the agility of his mind could shine.
In math class, as in his other classes, Jason never spoke unless pressed. No one but the teacher knew what he could do; the ease with which he performed his logical computations in the crystal field of his mind and transferred them to the clean white paper where his pencil never stumbled.
Other than math, he hated going to school. It was his torture chamber.
His nemesis, his nightmare, was Brace McElveny.
What kind of a stupid name was Brace anyways. It was inflated and made the boy seem more than he was. Jason was disgusted and nauseated at the thought of his antagonist.
Brace and his loyal idiot followers: Allen Barnhard and Bill James, were a daily torment. They took delight in their cruelty, especially if they had any kind of audience. Other times it was only for their own personal amusement.
Every day they claimed and defended their territory. They took a stand outside the cafeteria door and a bit off from the main door of the school. Just out of earshot of the teacher on duty.
Brace would start, “Hey, it’s the dummy. What a retard. He can’t talk cause he’s got no brain.”
Allen and Bill would snicker violently. Allen would make a face at Jason, while Bill called out, “Idiot boy!” And followed that with a rude noise. They must have thought it was hilarious, because then they would all dissolve in laughter.
There were times that Jason wished Brace dead. He wanted him gone. Jason felt guilty thinking something like that, he knew it was unchristian, but he wanted an end to the pain. Sometimes that was all he could think about.
At home he could get away from his tormentors. In his room, from a book, he could fight dragons and minataurs. He braved daring rescues of beautiful maidens, even though he had never talked to a girl at school. Evil sorcerers were no match for his brilliant strategies.
He memorized the stories of Jason and the Argonauts and was a namesake in heart and deed. Jason dreamed of performing feats of honor, promoting justice and protecting the weak. He had dreams, but was stopped, every time he tripped over his tongue.
And every day when he had to go the gauntlet past Brace and company, another piece of him withered and was blown away by the dry Nebraska wind.
Then a day came that would test his character as nothing else had.
The day started as any other. Brace and his pals went into their usual routine as Jason went by. It made Jason sick to his stomach, so he passed the bullies as quickly as possible. Once inside, he went about his business and shut out the rest. That was his routine. It was how he survived.
At the 10 o’clock bell, the teacher announced that they were making a special trip to the public library. The public library in Kearney was small, but it was still larger than the school library. The school library was adequate for most student research, but Miss Tenney wanted them to investigate and include information from professional and scientific journals.
The students lined up loosely at the door in anticipation. From his viewpoint, Jason knew how tricky any change in the order of the day could be for him. He had to be prepared for an attack. He situated himself where he could watch Brace without drawing his attention.
As usual, Brace and associates carelessly pushed their way toward the front of the line. The teacher didn’t notice and the students who were manhandled were too timid to say anything. They half-heartedly grumbled, but let it go. No one would willingly make themselves a target.
When they all walked out into the crisp fall air, the bully boys moved quickly a few paces ahead. They hurried along, laughing at their own jokes and not listening to the teacher as she gave last minute instructions. After all, they were above having to go by the rules.
The gang of three were not watching as they approached the crosswalk. They were looking at the vendor’s cart that was pulling up to the office on the other side of the road. They didn’t see the dark blue sedan slide past the caution sign.
But Jason saw. There were a couple of gasps from other students, but they were frozen. Fear gripped Jason’s throat. For a fraction of a second all his thoughts were focused with one intent. Thoughts of Brace, gone, flickered through his mind. Then he felt something inside break open.
In that moment, Jason called out. There was no stutter. Only a strong steady voice, warning, “Brace! A car. Move Now!” The boys in the path of the car hurled themselves across the eight foot stretch to the side of the road.
They were still on the ground trembling as Jason walked past.
He had saved their sorry skins. Without Jason’s warning they would have been smashed by the oncoming car.
Then, for the second time ever, they heard Jason speak without a stutter. He simply said, “Idiots.”