He asked over and over again, to anybody who would listen to him. Was it wrong to do something drastic to save someone else? The thing that scared him was that he was angry at those neighbors who took care of their houses while a woman's child burned. He knew that saving the baby had been terrifying, and dangerous and carried an almost certain chance of self-harm. So what right did he have to feel they had done the wrong thing?
He asked people about it for exactly one year. The last time, he'd been at school, hanging out with his friends and a new guy. They'd been laughing and talking, until Travis noticed the new guy trying not to stare at the pink skin twisting across his face and down his arm. All his friends had stopped talking about Travis' choice with the fire and he appreciated that, but he couldn't ignore the thought that this person might have answers for him.
"Hey," he'd said to the new guy while everyone was talking. He gestured to his face, "You heard the story?"
The new guy nodded, wordless.
"So," Travis leaned forward and put his elbows on the table, "Should I have done it?"
The new guy looked at him, the corners of his mouth turned down, eyes lidded. The seconds ticked by. Travis felt his ears growing hot as the other boy just stared at him, expressionless.
He finally spoke, his voice cold. "All I see here is an ignoramus who wants everybody to feel sorry for him because he made a bad decision."
Travis didn't ask anybody questions after that. It was too easy to be misunderstood, he told himself, and it wasn't something he should dwell on. So he said what his counselor wanted him to say, he smiled, he made choices that validated other's life choices, and he tried not scream when he woke up from a nightmare about burning to death.
His scars were healing. His face was still gnarled, but it faded from a raw meat pink to something closer to his own skin tone. Everything was returning to normal. He'd accepted reality, he'd taken responsibility for his actions. As he passed his parent's room one night, he heard his mother's voice through the door, "I'm so glad he's gotten over that. I guess every kid gets into some kind of trouble, right? It's such a relief he's getting past it."
Almost before he realized he'd done it, he stretched his face into his best attempt at a pleasant, well-adjusted smile and walked on past.
That spring his father talked him into co-coaching the first grader's baseball team together. Travis agreed—it was nice that his father wanted to do something with him again instead of just be embarrassed. He was a good coach, and he enjoyed it.
One evening, as the sky went purple and the peepers began to sing, Travis walked into the restroom area after a practice. He stopped before coming around the corner as he saw his entire baseball team clustered around the snack machine. The plastic cover was off and each boy was taking a handful of candy bars or chips from the inside of the machine—all but one.
"Guys," dweeby little Nathan Dreer squeaked, "We shouldn't do this! It's wrong!"
One of the taller boys, their first baseman, swung around to glare at Nathan, "Okay, first of all, dumbo, if we don't get caught it's not wrong. And secondly, who made you the one who can decide what's right and wrong for us?"
Nathan stuck his chin out. "I don't care. It's wrong!"
The first baseman lifted his fist. "I'll show you wrong, you little—"
Travis stepped around the corner and the boys froze in tableau. In the back, someone hissed, "You're gonna get it now, Nathan!"
The first baseman straightened up and pointed a finger at Nathan. "He's trying to force me to do what he wants!"
Travis looked at them, their angry faces, their muddy uniforms. He jerked his head over his shoulder. "All of you, get out. Time to go home. Nathan, stay a moment."
They filed out, several boys snickering or glaring at Nathan as they stuffed candy bars in their pockets.
Then they were gone, leaving Nathan alone in the restroom hallway, clutching his helmet as if for protection. Travis' dad would have reminded Nathan of the Tolerance Law, talked about how important autonomy was, how selfish and low it was to take that right away from people. He'd talk about respecting others choices and protecting other's rights. He'd sound real good and patriotic.
Travis knelt down on one knee in front of Nathan and looked the boy in the eye.
"Listen," Travis said, glancing over his shoulder quickly, "Don't tell anybody, but—what you did just now—it was right. It was good. I'm proud of you. Don't you let anybody tell you something else, okay? A lot of people believing something's right—it doesn't make it right."
Nathan's mouth fell open. Travis got up, still glancing over his shoulder. "Now, if anybody asks, I chewed you out big time, right? Go on, get out. I think your mom's here to pick you up."
His face lighter, Nathan scampered out. Travis followed him and stood in the archway watching the boys cluster around the field gate as their parents pulled into the parking lot. He ran a finger over the deformed whorls and pock marks on his face and stepped onto the field to go help his Dad clean up the dugout.