Marshmallow Coat

Jack saw the new kid in homeroom two weeks before winter break, and all he could think was, New Kid was going to get picked on. It was the way he sat at the front and actually raised his hand, it was the way he read a book in the cafeteria during lunch, and more than anything else, the way he dressed. Like his mom had gone shopping for him or something. Or so Jack figured, since it wasn't like he'd ever had that particular problem. The point was, New Kid was a bully magnet.

Jack didn't think too hard about it, just occasionally watched New Kid out of the corner of his eye, until the day before Christmas break. Most of the kids had rushed home as soon as the bell rang, but Jack didn't really have anything waiting for him back there. So he'd been bumming around outside, sharing a cigarette with Tony, when he'd seen New Kid and what looked like a marshmallow with arms and legs.

"Hey, lookit that." Jack nudged Tony's elbow and nodded at New Kid.

"I think that's his brother. Ryan said he saw that guy with a kid," Tony said.

"Yeah, but lookit that coat," Jack laughed. It must have been way too big, and it was one of the big, pillowy types. It was impossible to tell if the kid even had a face beneath the enormous hood, and he'd have been almost perfectly round if his backpack hadn't weighed it down.

"Dunno, looks warm to me," Tony said.

Jack shot him a concerned glance. Tony was still wearing his fall jacket over his hoodie, even though it was way too cold for it. Tony's mom wasn't any better than Jack's dad; probably, he didn't even have a winter coat. Jack decided to search through his closet when he got home, he might still have his old one. Tony was small enough that it might fit.

"What do you think of him, anyway?"

"Who, David? That's his name, right?"

"Yeah, I think," Jack said. "David something."

"I dunno. He seems okay, I guess. Smart, anyways."

"Yeah. That's what I think, too."

"Then maybe you need to do something about it." Tony pointed, cigarette still between his fingers. Oscar and Morris Delancey were coming up the block towards David and his marshmallow brother, and that could only mean trouble. Jack held up a hand and just waited while they walked by, and David, oblivious, just kept holding his brother's hand.

Jack looked around quickly. Some snow had already fallen this year; now it was mostly brown and gross.

He wasn't close enough to hear whatever Morris' opening line was, but New Kid suddenly looked nervous. Oscar took a threatening step forward, and New Kid looked kind of panicked.

"Better get moving if you wanna sweep him off his feet, Jacky," Tony said.

"Yeah, shut it," Jack snapped, and elbowed Tony, who just laughed. Jack didn't mind too much -- he knew Tony would have his back if he needed it. Not that he would. It was just the Delanceys, a couple of drop-out wannabe thugs. Jack paused just long enough to scoop up some of the gross snow, tore down the block, and yelled, "Hey, Oscar!"

Oscar turned, because he was an idiot, and got the snowball full in the face. "Kelly!"

"What the hell's your problem?" Morris added, turning on him -- but carefully. Not that Jack had a chance to grab another fistful of snow.

"Just having a little fun," Jack said, cautiously coming closer. "Like you were having with my new pal Davey."

"I don't even know who you are," New Kid put in.

"Jack Kelly, your new best friend," Jack said, sliding past the Delanceys to David's side. He slung a friendly arm around David. "Which is why these two bums are gonna back off unless they want to get beat down, right, boys?"

"Like we're scared of you," Morris sneered.

"Then why're you backing away?"

Oscar wiped the last of the muddy snow off his face and snapped, "We got somewhere to be, Cowboy. We'll finish this up tomorrow."

"Yeah, that'll be nice. Move along, boys." He waited, smug, as the Delanceys walked away, muttering to themselves. Then he turned to New Kid and said, "They been bothering you? Hey, who's the one in the puffy coat?"

"Les," the marshmallow said from somewhere inside his winter gear. "I'm David's brother. He's older."

"Is that so?" Jack reached out to ruffle his hair… well, hood. "And like I said, I'm Jack. Seriously, if they're bothering you, I can take care of it. Oh, this is my friend, Tony."

Tony was walking up, close enough to hear, and he waved. David ducked away from Jack. "Okay, so your name is Jack and you just . . . rescue guys you see walking down the street?"

"Not exactly. My name is Jack and I rescue cute guys I see walking down the street."

"Davey, I think he's flirting with you!" Marshmallow squeaked.

David went bright red and shoved a hand over Les's mouth. Or his ear or something. It was hard to tell, given the enormous, puffy hood.

"Yeah, Davey, he's flirting with you," Tony muttered. Jack elbowed him again.

"I was just doing a favor for a friend," Jack said.

"Hmm. I don't know. Can you really call me your friend if we don't even know each other?" David asked. "I appreciate the, uh, help, but it's kinda presumptuous."

"Someone likes three-dollar words."

"Shut it, Tony. There's an easy way around that, Dave. See, you and me, we just gotta get to know each other."

"Maybe over dinner? Sometime during winter break?" David suggested. Jack couldn't quite tell if he was being sarcastic.

"Yeah! You can come over to our house and murpbleurpmmpppph--"

"Ignore him," David said, covering Les' mouth again. Jack was pretty sure the pink in his cheeks wasn't from the cold wind.

"Getting to know each other does sound good, though. Tomorrow night? Dinner does sound good."

"Sounds great," David said. "And thanks for the help. C'mon, Les."

Les made some kind of indignant squawk, but David pushed him forward towards wherever they'd been going before. Jack watched, amused, as they walked away, and waved when David glanced back over his shoulder.