Per sighed and rolled his shoulders. It was only a few minutes since school and let out and already there was a ring of kids roiling out in the field beyond the playground. He knew without seeing that Cree would be in the middle of it, as he always was. Naturally, there weren't any teachers or administrators around to intervene.
Per stood head and shoulders over his classmates, as well as most of the older kids at their school, so it took little effort for him to wade into the crowd and seperate Cree from his offenders.
He didn't want to go, but once he was slung over Per's shoulder, a feat beyond even the older kids, the spirit of the fight deserted him and he slumped in defeat. Only Alvah ever gave Per reason to pause, but he was in high school now, no longer troubling his elementary and middle school victims on weekdays.
Per could have carried Cree home that way, but he didn't. As soon as the other kids were out of sight and hearing around the block, Per set him down gingerly, and they continued walking home, side by side.
"Who was it this time?"
"Yeah, the tongue thing."
"He's going to seriously hurt you one of these times."
"Would you really let him?"
"It's not a matter of letting him, It's a matter of not getting there in time."
"What is this Per? Are you going somewhere?"
"Not yet, but eventually. Probably. Maybe."
"There. You see? You'll have to do better than that to be rid of me."
Per sighed, rolling his shoulders again, and Cree looked up at him, knowing something was making his best friend uncomfortable.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?"
"Whatever's bugging you. You can't hide it. Not from me."
"No, not yet."
"That's what you said last week!"
"I'm still not ready. Let it go, Cree."
"As long as you will tell me eventually. Promise?"
"I promise." Per didn't like making the promise, knowing he didn't want to keep it, but probably would anyway.
"Cross your deck and hope to die?"
They finished the walk in companionable silence, arriving first at the foot of Cree's home. Per waved his goodbye, walking down a couple more houses to his own.