The guys slowed as they came to the bus stop. The one in the middle, wearing a black hoodie and baggy jeans, lifted his arms and shhhed his companions. The other two quieted down. The guy on the right was wearing a white Cowboys jersey, number 81, and the one on the left wore a black shirt and yellow ball cap turned backwards. They stopped in front of the girl, grinning down at her.
“Hey, baby, I’ve been looking for you all night,” Black Hoodie guy said.
The girl ignored him and turned a page in her book.
“Whatcha reading there, girlie?” He asked.
The three of them crowded around her. I sat up.
The guy in the Cowboys jersey snatched the book out of her hands.
“Hey, you jerk!” She screeched at him.
The guys laughed.
The girl stood up and grabbed her book back from Cowboys Jersey. She held her chin up defiantly and pushed past the guys. I was impressed by her bravery. She was a tiny, little thing. Each of those guys probably had at least a hundred pounds on her, but she didn’t seem the least bit concerned. She acted as though they were just an annoyance, not a threat.
The girl walked over to me, leaned against the outside of the bus stop. “Can I stand here?” There was something deliberate about the way she asked it, like maybe she was asking for more than my permission to stand there. Like maybe she was really asking permission to bring me into this problem.
“Sure.” I tried to sound reassuring. Tried to give her a look that would somehow make her feel comfortable now that she was near me. Although if she had moved over here for protection I doubted there was much I could do. I was an accountant not a super hero.
A moment later the guys came after her again.
“Ah, c’mon baby. You don’t gotta be rude. We just wanna talk to ya.” Black Hoodie said.
The third one in the yellow cap, who had yet to speak, reached a hand out to the girl. She backed away.
“Don’t touch me.” She warned.
All three guys started to move in towards her.
I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit idly by and let this girl get attacked. I didn’t want to be one of those people you read about in the news who hear a gunshot or a cry for help but don’t do anything about it. What would my mother think if I just sat here too much a coward to help this poor little girl? Of course if I did stand up to them, if I did help the girl out, well that would be quite a story to tell Beth tomorrow. She would be impressed. She might even invite me back to her apartment after drinks. But what could I do? I wasn’t exactly intimidating.
“Leave me alone,” the girl shouted. “I said fuck off!”
Yellow Hat looked down at me, one eyebrow raised. He looked amused.
“Come on, guys. Leave her alone.” I wanted it to sound like a strong demand. But it sounded more like a polite suggestion.
All six eyes were suddenly glaring down at me.
“Mind your own damn business,” Black hoodie growled. He turned his attention back to the girl. “Let’s see what you got in that bag.”
I stood up.
They didn’t notice.
“Hey,” I said again. This time it actually sounded more forceful. “Leave the girl alone.”
Cowboys Jersey laughed. “We got us a real John Wayne here, boys.”
Black Hoodie frowned and came around the corner of the bus stop. Cowboys Jersey and Yellow Cap followed him. I swallowed. Oh, shit. I curled my hands into fists, narrowed my eyes to keep from looking scared.
Black Hoodie stood toe to toe with me, his face inches from mine. I was a little relieved that I was actually taller than him, though I didn’t think height would count for much in a fight. Black Hoodie stared at me, his eyes wide and not blinking.
“You got anything else to say?”
I opened my mouth, but before I could speak a fist crashed into my face. The force sent me reeling backwards. I lost my balance and fell into the space between the bench and the back of the bus stop. Blood pulsed out of my busted lips. My arms and legs flailed as I tried to get up.
Black Hoodie grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me to my feet but before I could get them planted his fist slammed into my head again. Pain exploded in my jaw and spread across my skull. I caught a glimpse of the girl through the dirty glass, her eyes wide and her hand pressed against her mouth. Better me than her, right?
Another punch landed on my ear. The next one hit me in the eye and it felt like my eyeball might pop out of its socket. The other guys yelled and cheered as Black Hoodie through me to the ground.
Now face to face with the concrete I watched as red spots appeared on the sidewalk. I spit out a mouth full of blood, saw it splatter on the pavement. I started to push myself up to my knees, but the toe of someone’s sneaker cracked against my ribs. I cried out and collapsed on the ground. My eyes flashed down the street again. Where the hell was the bus?
“This is what happens when you try to be a hero,” Black Hoodie said.
All three started kicking me at the same time. I covered my head with my arms, pulled my legs up to protect my ribs. It was all I could do to defend myself. Then something strange happened. I sort of pulled up out of my body.
It was like I floated up and now sat on top of the bus stop, looking down on the scene below. So this is what an out of body experience is like, I thought, if it’s possible to think outside of yourself. Black Hoodie and Yellow Cap were on my left, Cowboys Jersey was on the right. They pulled their legs back as far behind them as they could before swinging their feet into me. My body bounced back and forth between the blows.
It was painful to watch, or it should have been but I felt nothing so I watched on. My shirt was going to be ruined after this, which was unfortunate. I had worn it out with Beth once and she had laughingly told me it brought out the color of my eyes. It had become my favorite shirt.
The girl was still standing next to the stop. She screamed at the guys to stop, but they kept kicking. She took two steps towards them, but then moved back to her original place. She could do nothing to stop them and it would be really annoying if she ended up getting herself hurt after I had so graciously accepted a beating for her.
Instead she turned away, dug around in her bag and pulled out a cell phone. She put it to her ear and started talking quietly into it. A few seconds later she dropped it back in her purse.
Yellow Cap and Cowboys Jersey stopped kicking and started laughing hysterically at me. They high-fived each other and then took a step back to admire their work.
“Punk-ass bitch,” Cowboys Jersey said to my body before erupting into laughter again.
Black Hoodie was still kicking away at me. He seemed to be getting a lot out of it and hadn’t noticed that his friends had quit. His two buddies stopped laughing and watched him.
“Dude,” said Yellow Cap, but Black Hoodie ignored him.
“Lee. C’mon bro, he’s done.” Cowboys Jersey said.
Far, far off in the distance sirens went off.
“Let’s go, man. I’m bored now.” Yellow Cap said. He put his hands in his pockets and started to walk back in the direction he had come.
Cowboys Jersey stepped over me. Black Hoodie took a step back, and then delivered one last kick to my body. He turned and sauntered off after Cowboys Jersey and Yellow Cap.
From my perch I saw the girl approach me. She kneeled down, asked me if I was okay. She touched me on the shoulder, and then turned me over to my back. When I saw my bleeding, pulp of a face I floated back into my body. I groaned when I felt the pain. Every breath felt like I was being stabbed.
“It’s okay. I called 911 and they’ll be here soon. You’ll be okay.”
I caught sight of the name tag on her purse again. It was now close enough that I could easily read it. BETH. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony, even though it hurt my face and chest to do so. The girl knitted her brow, looking even more concerned.
“I’m sorry this happened,” she said. “But…thank you.”
I groaned again. It was the strangest thing, even though I was in the worst pain of my life and I had just gone through one hell of a beating, I felt…good. Maybe those guys had given me brain damage.
My head fell to the side. As the swelling forced my eyes closed, I saw headlights coming towards us. It was about time.