The game involved a red ball.
Damien sat on a bench between the playground and the tennis court, watching the children.
The goal was to keep the red ball away from the girl, obviously the oldest, bigger than everyone else… the best shover. She pushed a boy and he flew forward, his head snapping back from the impact, the ball springing from his small grasp. His friends tried to regain the prize, but the big girl got it first and protected it against her chest, oblivious to the pain as she slid across the woodchips. Four children were crawling on top of her, prying at her arms, looking for a weakness.
Damien had been going around the local playgrounds for weeks, and he decided he finally found what he was looking for. An averaged sized boy with honey blonde hair. He was the one who kicked the girl's bleeding kneecap and ignored her furious scream as he finally snatched the ball away. Damien learned the child's name was Rémy when the chaperoning teacher yelled it in such a way to demonstrate that she'd shouted at him many times before. Damien watched the girl with the red and tear stained face tell the teacher her outrage, pointing at Rémy the whole time while he just watched her like he wanted to punch her in her irritating, loud mouth.
Rémy was sent to timeout -the bench by the water fountain- for the rest of recess. This water fountain was the only thing separating Damien's bench from the boy's. Unlike the water fountains in America, the one in this particular park in Paris was a simple spraying faucet which one had to stick their head under, accepting that without practice, to sate thirst meant soaking yourself. Rémy turned the water pressure up so high that not only did he soak his chest, but the water splashing onto the ground covered Damien's shoes. He turned the faucet off and wiped his chin, glancing up at Damien insolently with his pretty blue eyes narrowed, his baby face in an unconvincing scowl. Damien smirked.
"I hate that bitch!" Rémy said once seated on the opposite bench, crossing his arms. He looked at the adult sitting next to him to see if his profanity had any affect.
"The woman or the girl?" Damien asked quietly.
"Both," Rémy said once recovering from the shock of being taken seriously.
"How old are you?"
Damien nodded and left before being noticed. He'd come back later.
Later ended up being three days. He had no idea how to deal with children, how to maintain their interest, so the only strategy he had was the one he used with women. He leaned against the fence of the tennis court facing the street, unsure of how to move forward. Should he just get the kid's attention and grab him? No. Surely that would induce screaming and exposure.
"What are you doing here?" A small skeptical voice asked.
Damien looked down, startled to see Rémy leaning beside him, with his neon green mesh school vest still on.
"Take that vest off," Damien said.
"They'll notice you."
Rémy looked back to the park resentfully and obeyed. The teachers always told them to keep their vests on when they weren't inside the school. Stick together, they said. Don't talk to strangers.
"I hate them," Rémy said. "I hate that stupid Elsbeth. She got me in timeout again."
"How'd you get away?" Damien asked.
Rémy smiled, "Walked." And then very quickly he asked again, "Why are you here? Are you a dad?"
"No… I was waiting."
"Maybe someone like you."
"I need help. I need someone smart, who hates teachers and wants to learn how to fight. I need a… partner."
Damien didn't want to look down, but he doubted his words were the proper ones. He damned himself for not playing this conversation out beforehand.
"I know how to fight!"
"Bet I'm better," Damien smiled.
"Bet you're not!"
A whistle blew and Rémy grimaced at the sound. "I gotta go," he said, walking away and untangling his vest. But after he turned the corner, he ran back around it and stared up at Damien.
"Whadda I gotta do?"
"Meet me here. After school," Damien suggested.
Rémy debated. "I gotta bring Adrien. We always walk home together."
"Sure." How could he say no?
Rémy ran back to his class and Damien wondered if there was any possible chance any of this was actually going to work.