“You looked like a loser this morning, Eddy,” said James, “but you had to go and smell like one too.”
“Ha. Yeah!” said Furbs, enjoying a rare partnership with the social king. “Loser.”
Edward’s shoulders sagged. He’d had enough of these kinds of meetings to be resigned to their outcomes. He turned around hoping to reach the safety of the school building.
“Why, Eddy Boy,” said James in mock pain. He put his arm around Edward’s shoulders and turned him back toward the crowd. “It seems like you don’t want our excellent advice.”
“You’re gonna take it anyway,” Furbs said, vying for second-in-command of the mob.
James continued his own line of reasoning without acknowledging his counterpart. “Well, spaceman, you know what? I just want to help you.”
Edward raised his eyebrows.
“Yeah. I want to see you fly higher than anyone has before.”
Edward shook his head and waved his hands in protest.
Billy Fitz and another of James’ goons took places to the side and behind Edward.
Edward smiled nervously. He let James lead him around the corner. The crowd followed.
“You’re gonna be famous, Eddy Boy.” James spread his hands as the flagpole came in sight. “We’re gonna send you to the stars on a rocket ship.”
Edward tried to fight, to struggle, to get away, but the suit was bulky and awkward and the goons were strong, so much stronger than him.
In his struggle his suit’s backpack tore off. His helmet fell to the ground; its visor cracked under the feet of the mob.
They brought Edward to the flagpole and hooked him onto the flag rope. With all saluting, James counted down from T-minus 10. At “liftoff” the goons hoisted Edward into the air. A few audible rips happened during the trip heavenward, but the suit held firm. The sky went dark as storm clouds rolled in.
“Come on, spaceman! Can’t you fly down from there?” Someone called out.
“Did you get stuck in the troposphere?” Furbs shouted. No one laughed.
“Fly home!” Came another voice.
“Spaceman, spaceman,” the crowd taunted.
Edward didn’t say a word. He looked at the crowd of classmates and former friends and people he’d never seen before. He felt sorry for them. Up here their words mixed into white noise. He had the perfect view. All the pain and frustration and awkwardness that put him in that suit melted away. He felt like a helium balloon reaching for the sky.
His eyes fell upon Laura. She stood stock still in the middle of the rowdy mob wearing his trampled helmet. Half of the visor still clung to the helmet. The other half was gone. Even at that distance he could tell she’d been crying.
He smiled at her. His body tugged at the rope, longing to be free, yearning for the sky. Then he unhooked himself from the flagpole. With one last breath, he pushed off and floated toward the stars.