He fell down, just another failed attempt to look tough in a burgundy sweater. He must have fallen while I wasn't looking, so I feel the need to watch him from behind the shield of music meeting my ears through blue headphones to protect me from the football game happening around us in the unused parking lot where the bus picks us all up. He balls up on the ground, and I stare at him awhile as the bright yellow ball goes whirling through the air above us and into window of the house across the street like it does every morning. The cold air stings at my cheeks just over the brim of my scarf as I turn my face to get a better look, letting the icy wind tear into the pale white skin of my face.

I glance at my ex-boyfriend, standing tall and glaring out at the sky for giving us the cold weather, lost in his own little world, like he always was. The children around us are consumed in their games; those too young to play with the middle school children are running around the bush, trying to get a little girl with brown hair to talk to her first grade class mate, a boy, no less, and she's red in the face.

I crane my head back to where the boy is crying, curled up next to a wooden crate in the middle of the parking lot that marks the line for field goals, the other side being the street. I make my way towards him, the middle school children darting out of my way despite my interruption of their game when they see the high school student rushing past, knowing best to keep out of my way unless they want to hit the ground with a stern lecture involved. The yellow ball whisks past my head, and even though the team tries to make a goal, I make them lose a few uncared for points just to reach the crying boy.

The other children dash to make a goal by the street when I reach him, crouching down on instinct because he's so small I don't want to scare him. "Are you all right?" I ask, as a numb hand slides into my pocket. He looks just as pale as I do, and equally as abandoned by his peers. I turn the volume down as he looks up at me, natural born pepper hair lifting up to stare at me. Only a few tears are visible and when he notices me next to him, he wipes his eyes as if I'll make fun of him.

"He's just a bully," he tells me, and even though I'm not sure who he's talking about, I nod and hold out my hand to help him up. He takes the hand and leans on me a moment to climb off of the pavement. His hand shoots away from mine as soon as he's up, and I can't help but to stare at how bony his fingers are before he cradles an elbow. He tries to stretch it and winces, and I lean down just enough to meet his eyes.

"Are you going to be okay?" I ask, my voice as soft as I can make it even though I can tell he's older than he looks just by the sharp glare in his eyes as he looks out towards the boy who must have been his bully. He nods his head and wipes his eyes again, and I tell him to follow me over to the bush where the little children play and I watch to make sure none of them gets picked on by the middleschoolers. He follows me obediently, and for a moment I wonder if it's because of who I am or because he doesn't have any place else to be.

The little children flock around him, six-year-old girls asking him why he's crying, and I offer him a smile he returns for just a second before he wipes another tear and winces.

I watch him more often now, looking for a sign he's got a friend, or maybe more than that.

-

The boy in the red jacket is sitting next to a six foot tall six grader, stuck between the overgrown child in camouflage and the window, while he barely reaches five foot on his own. The camouflaged one with the ice blue eyes and a shaved head starts laughing, calling him all sorts of names about his size. He barely stands up for himself verbally, but it's obvious he's trying. He hasn't gained any respect yet, and if the boy in camouflage was from our bus stop, I'd say he was the bully. The boy in red shells up and gives in with a final "Shut up!" and a smile, but the other boy just stares him down and he loses his cool and I can see him slink backwards in the seat.
All it takes for him to lose the fight is a, "Yeah, that's what I thought!"
He hasn't made any friends yet.
-
I walk down the aisle, and he's sitting in a seat, just having sat down. I have the choice to sit with him, my ex, or the annoying girl with the cotton sort of skin nobody likes because she screams everything. I look to the boy with the red coat, and he grabs his bag and looks frightened. "You sit with me or move," I tell him, not in a harsh tone, just matter-of-fact, and he skitters out of the seat immediately and darts to the back of the bus to sit next to my ex, who gives me a look like I'm punishing him before I flop into my seat.

The annoying girl that screams a lot is sitting next to the boy in camouflage and stabbing him in the neck with a needle, progressively causing irritation to cross his face. I want to congratulate her, but then I don't want her to talk to me so I stay hidden behind my shield of music, turning up the volume all the way, looking out the window to watch dead plants with no snow on them for some strange reason in the middle of December.

When the bus comes to a stop, I stand up, angled from my bags so I get a clear view as a hand reaches out and presses the boy in the red coat's hand down against the top of a seat. The boy in the red coat looks stunned a moment before jerking back his hand and staring at the other boy, only slightly taller and in a worn out green jacket with blonde hair and brown eyes. The boy in green gives a playful wink, his tone not mocking at all. "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to hold your hand."

The boy in the red coat stuffs his hands into his pocket before the boy in green speaks up again, "You've got nice hands. They're very soft." He isn't joking this time. His expression is gentle and serious.

The boy in the red coat blushes and looks around cautiously. He doesn't notice that I'm watching. "Oh. Really?" he says, astounded by the compliment.

"Yeah. I like it," the boy in green whispers, and I can only hear as the bus empties out because I'm right next to them, angled just enough they still can't tell I'm listening, besides, I have headphones.

The boy in red gives a warm smile to the other boy. "Thanks. I use lotion on them every day."

"Mine are too coarse. I should do that," the boy in green says, and they keep talking in that fashion as I make my way off the bus.

I'm proud of him; he didn't try to look tough, and I think he made his friend.