"Ugh, I can't believe we're stuck with Marten Dawes in our class again," Suzy whined loudly, the class all turning and listening in on her high volume conversation. Third grade had finally arrived, and Suzy Olsen eagerly wanted it to be perfect. And when she was stuck with a loser like Marten Dawes in her class, it was one of those problems she felt she'd have the whole world know about.

"Yeah, it sucks." Suzy Olsen's best friend forever Promise Johansson nodded in agreement, playing with a lock of ink black hair that held a collection of colorful plastic beads. "I mean, hello, reality check teachers? We should—like—not have to deal with him for the third year in a row!" Promise held Suzy in the highest esteem, looking up to her and constantly yearning for her approval.

"Whatever, so long as he keeps his nose picking, potty pants away from us, I guess we can live through one more year." Suzy kicked one of her sequin decorated sneakers at the leg of her desk and sighed. "You know, last year on the last day of school, Randy taught him not to try and talk to me anymore. Hopefully he's not that dumb that he'd forget.

Promise let out a giggle. "Too bad Randy's not in our class this year. He's starting to look a little cute." A dark blush exploded across the young girl's cheeks as she quickly looked up at Suzy in worry at the mention of this.

"I know," Suzy turned and sighed. "But he's still being as gross as ever. He and Vance can act real immature. But having them around would mean that Lard 'n Marten would stay away from us."

Meanwhile, Marten sat only four feet away, in a seat by the window, looking down at his hands. Never had he seen his fingers shake and tremble with such violence before. The past two years had been so hard—so rough. He still remembered how much he cried and begged that big guy Randy not to hurt him so much on that day. It was a tough memory to review.

No one wanted to be his friend. The teachers never helped him when he asked. And whenever he tried to speak to anyone new he was immediately told off or worse… ignored. It was an unpleasant first day of school for him, and it seemed to only get worse by the minute.

And his stomach kept hurting real bad, especially at the spot where his dad had kicked him a few nights earlier.

He was doing a good job not crying. He hadn't cried in weeks. He was starting to be tough. He wanted to be tough. He wanted to be able to stand up for himself. Maybe then someone would come and talk to him. Maybe even play with him.

A sudden fit of coughing pounded out of his lungs, and he choked despite his effort to hold it in.

"Great, now we're going to get whatever cooties fatty has," Suzy announced, while Promise jeered on with a squeaky laugh.

The teacher wasn't even in the room whenever this happened. Often, the boy would have to suffer at the words of Suzy Olsen, and sometimes Promise too. It always went by unnoticed. Marten could only swallow back the harsh sting in his throat and force his eyes wide open so they wouldn't drip with salty tears during those horrible isolated moments when the teacher would leave the room.

It was going to be a long day…

School was almost over—and it was time to go home. While Marten sat near the back of the bus, he could hear all the fun conversations everyone had. He'd listen in, because he hoped that maybe he could join in at some moment and be a part of it.

These two boys in front of him, Randal West and Vance Ferguson were talking about the baseball cards they were collecting. Randal—Randy, the very same guy that had hit, kicked, and thrown Marten into that mud puddle the year earlier was talking about the New York Yankees.

Marten, despite it all, kept trying to talk to people: specifically, these people that put it out of their way to hurt him. And these two were the only classmates that rode his bus. An opportunity to talk to someone—and maybe even have them reply back with something friendly was all too irresistible for Marten, despite his common sense begging for him to control himself.

"Do any of you guys have any for the Red Sox?" A glimmer of hope shone in Marten's hazel eyes, as he raised his voice.

Vance and Randy suddenly grew quiet, until Randy turned his large head suddenly and hissed, "Shut the fuck up, you dumbass. Nobody was talking to you." Brown eyes glared down at him, daring him to speak.

Marten swallowed, nodding and leaning back against the seat of the bus. "Sorry."

Randy turned back around and went right back on his merry conversation, though in more hushed whispers this time. Marten tried not to listen in, and instead looked on out the window, the pit of his stomach dreading every foot closer they were to his neighborhood.

He prayed that his parents weren't home. He hoped that his dad was at work and his mom was out. He begged for an empty home to go to—or even an occupied home with passed out parents or parents in half a good mood even.

Every time the wheel rotated, a shadow heavily grew over Marten's face. He prayed not to go home. He prayed for the bus to break down. For the world to end. Anything.

The moment the brakes of the large vehicle squeaked to a halt, Marten had no choice but to stand on his feet and force himself to step off the bus. The moment his sneaker greeted the pavement his heart exploded into an adrenaline rush of worry.

Every day after school was like this. Every day his body went through the exact feeling of absolute sheer terror of walking up the steps of his simple home, knocking on the door for his mom to let him in. He wanted her to not answer the door. He held his breath and hoped.

But the moment he heard the tumblers of the lock's bolt open, his heart sank and he slowly breathed in for the terrors that arrived.

"Good. You're back. Get in." His mom looked down on him with tired eyes. She didn't look like she was in any way of a decent mood. Haggard blue eyes and dirty graying brown hair dressed in simple sweats was the monster that always found fault in her son.

Marten shut his eyes tight and forced himself to step through the threshold and face the darkness within.