The problem with Max was that the boy just tried too hard. Alan watched through his window as the kid in the black leather jacket wildly attacked 'Squid' Meyers, a boy two years older and hopelessly heavier.
Naturally, the action out on the sidewalk was swift. By the time Alan had put down his coffee and made it out his front door, Max was already curled up on the man's front lawn, clutching his stomach. Squid and his pals were long gone. Alan put a hand on the boy's shoulder. Blood trickled from Max's lower lip and he sobbed silently, tear-filled eyes closed.
"I think we'd better get you inside, Max."
The defeated kid made no sound as Alan lifted and then carried him into the house like a sick dog. On the couch, the small form seemed so helpless. It was hard to believe, Alan thought, as he rummaged through the medicine cabinet, that the Max in his living room was also the most foul-mouthed, disrespectful, instigator of trouble in the neighborhood.
Max was sitting up and wiping away tears when Alan got back.
"Let me see your lip," the man said, sitting down.
Max turned his wet face to him, eyes down. Alan wiped away the blood with a damp rag. Gypsy eyes and rose-petal lips defined the boy. His delicate looks were always getting him teased, and not even short, savagely gel-spiked, hair could save him.
Alan held up the antiseptic to Max.
"This might sting a little."
"So? I ain't no sissy."
"No you're not."
Max's jaw tightened as Alan touched the wound.
"How's your stomach? You breathing okay?"
"Yeah. Can I go home now?"
Alan gathered up his supplies. With his hand, he indicated the open front door. When Alan got back from putting away his medicine, Max was in the hall, examining a silver and blue abstract painting that resembled a waterfall.
"You've got a real nice place," said the boy.
Max continued, "It's real classy, but it doesn't feel like a museum, you know?"
"Well," said Alan, "I've always believed a home was for living in."
"Don't the other guys ever wreck stuff in here?"
"Once in a while. All the expensive stuff is safe enough, though."
"Oh," said Max. He returned to admiring the walls.
"Would you like something to drink, Max?"
The boy's eyes lit up then he looked down and said, "Um, sure."
Alan led him into the kitchen and opened two Cokes. Usually, he gave young guests chocolate milk, but he suspected Max would be offended. They drank in silence for a while, sitting at the island counter.
"Have you ever won a fight, Max?"
Alan took a sip of Coke.
"Well, no," said Max. "Not a real fight. Just with some of the littler kids."
"You ever suspect there might be a better way?"
"Nobody's gonna respect you if you take shit from them."
Alan asked quietly, "So the little kids respect you?"
"Well, they're afraid of me. Look, I can't explain this, Mister-umm..."
"Mister Walker. But you can call me Alan."
"Okay. Alan... I know you think I'm a bully and that I deserved to get beat up today-"
"I don't think you deserved that."
"You don't?" asked Max.
"No. I don't think the little kids deserve what you do to them either."
Max picked up an ebony prancing pony from the shelf.
"You like that?" asked Alan.
"Yeah. Where'd you get it?"
"A present. From a friend with a very twisted sense of humor."
Alan reached over and, folding his hand over Max's, tapped the animal's hind legs against the brown counter-top. White sprinkles appeared between the hooves.
"What-?" Max took the pony back and examined under the tail. "It's a salt-shaker," said the boy, amazed.
"And the salt comes out the butt!"
Max laughed out loud and started shaking 'horse-shit' all over the table.
Alan smiled at him. "That's what's known as 'practical art'."
Comments welcome. Even if you're reading this in an archive years from now, I'd love to hear what you think.
Also, I know that some of you are fans of my Debating Love series in the highschool section and are probaby asking yourselves why I'm posting a new story and I haven't posted a new Debating Love installment in months. Relax. I'm working on finishing Debating Love. This first part of Black is something I wrote 3 years ago and never got around to developing. I'm posting it here in the hope that positive feedback will encourage me to finish it off (Once I'm done with Debating Love, of course!).