I don't understand bullies. How can you wilfully hurt another of your own kind? What would make you want to attack someone weaker than you, when they haven't done anything wrong - when they didn't even so much as stand in front of you? I don't understand humans. How can you see somebody who is so injured that they can't even stand and not want to help them? How can you walk by a kid slumped on the ground and covered in blood?
Then again, I'm softer than people think. Most people look at me and instantly peg me as the kind of person they should stay away from unless they want to get hurt. I'd never hurt anyone intentionally. Except maybe whoever hurt this poor kid in front of me; the one who was terrified of me, the one who expected me to hurt him too, the one who told me how worthless he thinks he is. He's not. He's really, really not. I can tell, just from the few minutes I've spent with Mikey Way, that he's an amazing kid. And I want to make him realise that too. I'm tempted to invite him to my house, take him out of school and make sure he really is fine like he says he is.
He wouldn't want to. He'd be petrified, yet he'd also be fearful to say no. So he'd run. I know he would, and I don't want him to. The classes will change over soon and if he runs, he'll run straight into the bullies' arms. And fists. And taunts. I don't think Mikey would be able to take it: not so soon. Which is why I should make sure he gets home safely, to my house, or at least take him to the Nurse. The Nurse will know what to do if Mikey is more badly injured than we both thought.
He says he's fine. I know he isn't but he must've said it for a reason. I think he's scared. But of what? I need to do something; I can't just let him go. I won't. I refuse to let Mikey Way wander out of my life. He's too innocent and wounded. There are a lot of things he hasn't told me about himself. I want to know everything about him so I know how I can help him. I need to help him. I look up, and Mikey's still standing there; unsure, nervous, scared. I think he wants to leave but he isn't leaving in case I want him to stay. I should tell him that it's okay. I should tell him that he can go if he wants. I should tell him to go to the nurse. I should tell him that he doesn't have to be my friend.
"Hey, Mikey...would-would you mind if-? I mean, is it okay for me to-? Um...can you please let me take you to the Nurse?" I manage to ask, eventually, and I wait hopefully. If he says no, then I might need to take him forcefully. And I don't want to do that. He looks torn, unable to decide whether to allow me to walk him to the Nurse. Slowly, he writes on his board, carefully making the letters as neat as possible.
"Why? I'm perfectly fine."
"Mikey, you you just got attacked by a group of teens who are all so much bigger than you."
"It's okay; I'm used to it."
I blink. How can he be used to it? No-one should ever get used to being beaten up, especially a kid as painstakingly frail and adorable as Mikey Way.
"Mikey, you shouldn't be used to it. Even if you are, you still need to be checked over by the Nurse. You never know how injured you might be inside," I plead: he needs to let me walk him there at least. At first, he gives me no reaction. Then his eyes fill with tears and the words he writes on his board are messy and scribbled.
"I can't, Bob. I just can't."
Breathing deeply, I try to calm myself.
"Why Mikey? Tell me what's wrong and I'll try to help you."
I thought it might work if I stay calm and encouraging. It doesn't; he just crumples against the wall and falls into silent sobs. Panicking slightly, I reach forward and pull him toward me. He doesn't resist and almost leans into my touch, so I stroke his hair to try and comfort him. I think it works because when he pulls away a few minutes later, his tears are drying on his face and there are no fresh ones in his chocolate eyes. Again, he waits a few minutes, but then he nods at me. It's quick and subtle, but I pick up on it and I know what it means. Smiling, I take his hand and lead him to the Nurse's office.
On the way, Mikey's breathing speeds up a little and when we reach our destination, he's slightly sweating. I can see the fear in his eyes, the fear I still don't understand. There's something more about this kid than meets the eye. There's something that I need him to tell me but I know he won't open up yet. I have to be patient. Smiling, the trainee Nurse - I think her name's Lisa - opens the door, although her face falls when she catches sight of Mikey. I look at Mikey again and, with fresh eyes, I see what the Nurse sees. Mottled blue, green and yellow bruises - some clearly old and others brand new. A few cuts with congealed blood and others with blood still flowing. Faded scars, like threads holding his battered skin together. Honestly, it's a surprise he can even stand up straight.
"Come in, dear, I'll sort you out."
It's not the trainee Nurse, it's the senior Nurse: Cara. I think Lisa had to go and sit down - she's awfully squeamish for a Nurse in training - so it's up to Cara to take care of Mikey. Mikey steadily tiptoes into the sterilised room, with its sea green walls and matching carpet, looking nervous. Cara guides him to a little table, almost like a school desk, and sits him on a large chair whilst she potters around gathering supplies. Having found everything necessary to patch Mikey up, she sits opposite him, and begins gently dabbing at the contusions. I think it's anti-septic or disinfectant or something, because Mikey winces when it's placed on his cheek and Cara just smiles gently. Mesmerised, I watch the Nurse work deftly and efficiently, occasionally seeing yet another Nurse - Anne - passing equipment back and forth. They finish quicker than I expected. After several minutes, Mikey is stood shakily beside the table and clutching a note in his hands. I sweep my eyes over him and see that he has several bandages, plasters and gauze all over. I offer a small smile, hoping it relaxes him; it doesn't work because he's still pasty white and trembling and unmoving.
"Mikes," I call, deciding instantly that I like the nickname, "are you okay?"
He just looks up sharply, before softening his features and nodding rapidly. I smile again, and this time he gives me a weak, watery smile back. Stumbling slightly, Mikey makes his way toward me and I catch his arm before he falls. Lisa peers round her computer monitor, giving me a sympathetic look - Mikey isn't looking though - and clearing her throat.
"What's your name, dear?" she asks, her voice a little wobbly but still strong. I'm not sure if she's asking me or Mikey, so I answer for us both.
"I'm Bob Bryar and this is Mikey Way."
She nods, and I hear the clicking of her carefully manicured nails on the keyboard. She looks up again with an odd mixture of concern and confusion.
"Michael Way? Oh!" Her eyes widen impeccably far and she gives a tiny gasp at the sudden realisation of who Mikey is. Or, rather, who Mikey is known as to everyone else. The kid who's selectively mute. The kid who can't talk to anyone at school. Lisa recovers herself pretty quickly, clearing her throat again, and smoothing her hair. Sitting up a little straighter, she breathes in deeply.
"Mikey has been excused from school for the rest for the day but we our records say that he can't be picked up because his brother is in school himself. Would you be able to take him home? I could easily excuse you from classes too, just so you can make sure he's okay. That is, if you're okay with that. I mean -"
"Sure. I'll take him home. That's fine," I cut in quickly. I can tell she was a little flustered because she didn't know what she should do with Mikey. I look round and see that Mikey hasn't moved at all. I bite my lip, unsure. What if he doesn't want me to take him home? What if he doesn't trust me enough? I feel bad for telling the Nurse I'd do it without consulting Mikey first. Sensing my gaze, Mikey looks up. I turn back to Lisa and take the note she's holding in her left hand, typing still with the other. Once I've taken it, she finishes tapping at the keyboard and stands.
"You've both been signed absent for the rest of the day. Mikey, you're also excused for tomorrow, but you'll need to be here, Bob. The system says you've had a lot of sick days but Mikey hasn't. Anyway, you're absolutely fine, so there's no need to be off," she adds, pausing for me to nod. "Okay, are you ready to go? Make sure you leave through the main reception and hand in your slips. Bye!"
Mikey starts trudging towards the door and he's in the hall already by the time I make my feet move. I catch up with him and try to make him cheer up.
"Hey, Mikey, do you want me to take you to your home or mine?"
He stops dead in his tracks, but doesn't raise his head from staring at the floor. I frown, wondering if I've done something wrong, but then he just starts walking again. I, too, decide to act like nothing happened. Once we reach reception, I take Mikey's slip and mine in the same hand and pass them to the secretary at her desk. She nods curtly and waves her hand at the door, so I take the cue to just leave. When I reach my car, I realise that Mikey has not followed me and he's just sitting on the steps. Is he scared about coming home with me? Is he dizzy? Is he just tired? I run back and kneel beside him.
"Hey, Mikes, what's up?" I ask softly. His head jolts up and his eyes are wild until he sees me and then they become sad again. He shakes his head and pulls his knees to his chest, making me feel the urge to just cuddle him until he's happy again. I determine that it might work, so I go for it, wrapping my arms around him like a child's comfort blanket. I feel the tension in his entire body, sigh and readjust myself so he can relax against me, and then whisper into his fluffy hair.
"Mikey, it's okay. I'll take you back to your own house if you want, I honestly don't mind. I just thought that it might help you take your mind off things if you had fun at a friend's house. It's fine if you don't want to." I look down after speaking, and see that Mikey has trained his eyes on me, but they're definitely finding it difficult to keep focus and I can see him straining to keep them open, as though I'm so important to him and I'll disappear if he blinks. I feel a little guilty that he believes I could leave him like this, but I realise that it's just up to me to prove my loyalty to him - despite only meeting an hour or two ago, I can sense that we could be good friends.