Josh hid like a scared animal when things got bad. I knew most of his hiding places by now. I found him in the old boathouse down by Mouse Lake this time. Oily green water lapped at the edges of the rickety doorway, and spiderwebs netted across my face as I peeked inside. The smell of rotting fish made me gag as I walked over to where he was huddled up in the far corner. Arms hugging his knees, head tucked between them. He looked up as a floorboard creaked under my weight. Behind his now-crooked glasses, one eye was almost swollen shut. His lip was bloodied. My chest ached at the sight of him.
“What happened?” I asked. “Were they picking on you again?”
Staring at the floor, Josh slowly nodded his head up and down, sniffing back tears. Clenching my hands into fists, I studied him to see how bad it was today. Thin and small for a nine-year old boy, Josh made an easy target. “Are you all right? Except for the eye and lip, I mean. We can get your glasses fixed.”
Again, he nodded his head up and down, not looking at me. Almost in a daze. Slapping at a mosquito on my arm, I curled my legs underneath me and sat beside him. I reached out and ruffled his hair, needing to touch him. Sometimes, I felt more like his mom than his big sister. He was fragile, but it was understandable. Josh had been to hell and back in his short years.