RICKY DOLTON was at a loss. Since the beginning of fifth grade, he and his best friend drifted further and further apart. This was due, in part, to the fact that Ricky's parents had warned him about getting involved in the other boy's family affairs. Although they knew the horrible conditions that Cody Morton was living in, they were indifferent. They turned a blind eye when he came to school in the same wrinkled, dirty clothes with the same greenish yellow bruises etched into his forearms. In fact, it wasn't just the Doltons who refused to help. Nobody did a goddamn thing. They figured it wasn't their place to.
They didn't say anything when his cousin, Danny, raised his fist and threatened to hit Cody in a room full of people or made sexually charged comments to the younger boy. He was more or less invisible. Like anybody else in his position would be, Cody was a nightmare. He was hard to handle. He didn't listen to anybody. He talked back to the teacher, tore open notebooks and defamed texts, and spat at the other students. It pained Ricky to know he was hurting. To make matters worse, there was nothing he could do about it.
"You're too young to understand now." His father told him, "but we're doing this for your own good."
So when his friend came to school later that same day, he said nothing. Did not mention the purple, pear-shaped bruise on his left cheekbone, the dark circles under his eyes, or the tight-lipped smile when he saw Ricky watching him. Ricky smiled back.
"Hey." He said.
Cody grunted in response. Sliding into the seat next to Ricky, he pulled out a sheet of loose leaf paper and a short, stubby pencil and began to doodle.
"Do you want to come over this weekend?"
It was only Thursday, but Ricky had to ask his parents' permission for Cody to stay the night. The other boy shrugged, turned to look at him, and replied,
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Why not?" Ricky was floored. He thought that Cody would be thrilled at the offer.
"Cause your parents don't like me." He sighed. "And Danny's already mad at me because of something that happened yesterday."
Ricky wanted to argue that his parents did like Cody, but knew that it wasn't true. So he simply nodded in response. He didn't want to pry any further than he already had. Hadn't his parents told him not to get involved?
Cody nodded and resumed doodling. He was quieter than usual and didn't tease the other boy for his dorky, red and black checkered shirt or the way he wrote his name painstakingly neat on the morning bell ringer. Ricky wondered what was wrong with him. But at the same time, he knew that it wasn't any of his business and that, if he did ask, he would feel compelled to help.
He wanted to. But his mom and dad had specifically told him not to.