Recap: Ezra was accused of pouring water on Kalman’s desk and ruining a book. He was sent to the principal and his parents were called. His mother suggested that the principal check his video camera and, in fact, it showed that Kalman had done the whole thing.

After this heavy meeting, my parents left, and I had to go to class. Thankfully, Kalman was called out and I assumed he would be suspended. The day went fine, and in English class, Mr. Rabinowitz assigned me a different reading partner.

Mr. Rabinowitz announced that the writing club would have a quick meeting after school. I got that old sinking feeling in my stomach.

I met Danny at recess. “Let’s go play basketball today after school.”

“I have to stay for the writing club, but I’ll meet you there after that.”

“Did you figure out what to do?”

I shook my head. “Hey, I’ve had so many problems I couldn’t think about it.”

“Yeah, well, I’m glad they found out who the real culprit was.”

At the writing club meeting, Mr. Rabinowitz asked if everyone had his idea for his research project, and if anyone needed help finding material. Aryeh Cohen was researching The Great Blizzard of 1888. Dov Meister was doing the Alaskan Goldrush of the 1890s, and Ariel was doing the Brooklyn Bridge. There were just two others besides me who hadn’t chosen a topic.

“You need to find your idea by tomorrow. You’ll need a full three weeks for the research and writing.”

Mr. Rabinowitz dismissed everyone but the three of us who hadn’t chosen a topic yet. “I want to hear what you’re considering,” he said.

The other two didn’t seem concerned. Shmuel Katz was deciding between the Apollo Moon Launch and a more recent space flight. Rafael Star said he had two ideas, both dealing with medical discoveries and vaccines, and he was going to the library to decide which had more information.

“Ezra, what about you?”

I swallowed. “Uh, I haven’t decided yet.”

“Well, you have until tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll come up with a great idea. I still remember Betzalel’s project on the Jews escaping the Inquisition from Recife. It was brilliant – just brilliant.”

I nodded, thinking that if he was trying to encourage me, he was doing the opposite. How was I going to come up with a topic by tomorrow?

As I headed outside, I remembered my plan to meet Danny in the park. Shooting some baskets was just what I needed to get my mind off of this writing club thing.

Danny waved to me. He was by the hoop, practicing lay-up shots. We played for a long time until the sun started going down.

Danny said he had to be home before six. I tossed the basketball up and before Danny could reach it, Kalman grabbed it in the air. “Well, well, if it isn’t the big tattle tale himself.”

“I didn’t tattle,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s why I got suspended and in trouble, ’cause you didn’t say anything. Right!”

He aimed the ball at me and threw it hard. I ducked. Then he lunged at me.

I’ve been in fights. I don’t like fights, but I’ve held my own. I knew how to hurt the other guy, but I didn’t want to fight this bully. He was big and strong, and I had no reason to hurt him. Everything about him spelled trouble.

He started punching me hard. My stomach killed and I couldn’t breathe. Then he started towards my face. I held my hands up. I could feel where he’d punched my eye. It was going to be a real shiner.

Danny started pummeling him. He threw him off. Kalman tackled me and kept punching. I didn’t want to fight back. I didn’t want to fight with him.

I wondered if he was actually going to kill me. I really couldn’t breathe.

Just then, a man appeared and pulled him off of me. “Hey, kid, get outta here. We don’t want fights in the park.”

The man helped me to my feet. “Get going. No fighting in the park.”

Danny and I ran away. I didn’t look back to see what Kalman was doing. I wondered who that man was. It didn’t matter. He’d saved me. I could breathe again.

Danny headed home. “You okay, Ezra? Your eye’s like purple.”

“I guess.”

When I walked in the door, Ima went crazy. “What happened?”

This time I told her.

“That boy sounds like a juvenile delinquent. Something is very wrong. I’m calling Rabbi Kleiner. This can’t go on.”

“Kalman’ll say I’m a tattler and try to beat me up again.”

Just then, Aba walked him. “Son, come here, I want to talk to you.”

Aba examined the black eye. “That’s pretty nasty looking. He just started hitting you?”

“He was angry. He said I tattled and got him in trouble.”

“Look, I think he’s a troubled young man. That’s obvious. But with a bully, you have to stand up to him. If he senses weakness, he’ll keep attacking. You’ve got to fight back.”

“He’s bigger than Ezra,” Ima said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to fight with this boy physically.”

“Fights are not good, but there is sometimes no other way to stop a bully. You have to stand up to him and show him you’re not afraid of him.”

“Aba, I was thinking there’s something I noticed when I was reading with Kalman.”

Aba asked what it was.

“Aba, when I asked him if he wanted to read, that’s when he threw the water all over. I wonder if he has a reading problem.”

“That’s a good question. He definitely has some problem. People don’t normally act like bullies for no good reason. There’s usually something going on.”

Mickey ran over to me. “Can we read from that journal again? I love it.”

I was surprised such a little boy liked such a grownup story.

“Sure, come up to my room.” I tried not to think about the fact that I had to come up with an idea for the writing club by tomorrow.

We raced upstairs into my room and plopped onto my bed. I pulled the journal out from under my bed and began to read it aloud.

To be continued…

 By Susie Garber