Tom hesitated in the open doorway, the breeze touching his hair. He watched the other children laughing and chasing each other around the picnic tables—and he wondered what it would be like to have someone chase him. He thought of his old school and the friends he'd left behind. His father said he would make new friends. His father didn't understand.
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He stepped down the cracked concrete steps, his thermos rattling inside his lunch pail, and walked to the table he usually used. It was nearest the fence. Behind him, children giggled as they shared their lunches. He listened for a moment, and then moved to an empty table nearer the swing set.
Opening his lunch, he placed his napkin on the table and then his sandwich and apple. His father had taped a smiling photo of himself on the inside of the lunch box, and he tilted the lid so he could see it.
"What'cha doing, Tom?" someone said. "Having a gore-met meal?"
Tom unwrapped his sandwich carefully, not looking up. He took a bite. It tasted like paper.
A presence shadowed him. "Look. He's got an apple."
"He always has an apple. Don't ya, Tom?"
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
Tom blinked, glancing around. His fingers slid over his apple.
"What's this?" A heavyset boy picked up the thermos. "Don't you know only sissies use lunch boxes?"
"Who packs your lunch? Your mommy?"
"I don't have a mother," Tom said, snatching back his thermos.
"What's the matter? She run away from home?"
"No," said Tom. "She died." He laid the thermos in his lunch box.
The shadows thickened. Someone reached over his shoulder.
"Who's this?" a boy asked as he ripped the smiling photo from the lunch pail.
"Give that back!" Tom shouted.
There was a pause and then raucous laughter. The boys ran, and he chased them.
"That's mine!" he yelled. "Give it back!"
The boys passed it among themselves, playing keep-away.
"Take it, Robby."
Tom felt tears coming, burning his eyes. Anger made his movements quick and jerky. He swung his arms as the boys passed the photo over his head and felt his hand smack someone in the face.
The heavyset boy shoved him hard. Tom fell in the gravel, bumping his head upon the table. The bigger boy glared at him. Then he held out the photograph and ripped it into several small pieces.
Tom watched bits of his father's face flutter to the ground, scattering over the dirt. He scrabbled for them, hunting them all. He couldn't lose his father, too.
Laughing, the boys walked away. Tom stared at the backs of chasing, giggling children and vowed never to be their friend. Ever.