One morning Treyton looked in the mirror and mountains of inflamed skin and puss were scattered all over his face. It was happening; he was going through puberty. The small school assemblies with his male classmates didn’t prepare him for this. He glared into the mirror, touched his face, and moaned. Of all the days this could happen, he thought. It was picture-day and the look of his face was the last thing he wanted commemorated.

The past school year leading up to this one was a compounding of unfortunate events. From the production of new kinds of body odor, to having to change his bed sheets every morning, to the random cracks in his voice when he spoke, and now having a pizza for a face. Waking up to this was just the icing on an already stellar year. Treyton didn’t want to grow up. It was hard enough in the sixth grade having to adjust to not having a recess and now he’s going through this.

He didn’t like anything about middle school—mainly because his best friend Josh went to a different one. The only way they could ever hang out was on the weekends at his house.

Treyton wasn’t so great at making friends. No one seemed to be into the stuff he liked. His classmates always made fun of him because they kept saying he acted like a kid. He thought Aren’t we all kids? Why is everybody so caught up in being grown?

There could be many reasons why Treyton felt the way he did. Maybe it was that he was an only child and his parents gave him whatever he wanted. His father would complain to his mother saying “You baby him too much.” Though, truth be told, his father was just as bad when it came to spoiling his child. Or maybe it was the fact that his best friend Josh O’Malley was a carbon copy of him. The only difference was their skin tones which made it perfect to play the Ying Yang Ninjas. Treyton was the Black Ninja who wielded the power of the moon, and Josh was the White Ninja who had the power of the sun. They were powerful on their own, but were a force when they were together.

Whatever the reason, Treyton found nothing exciting about growing up. After getting dressed for school Treyton immediately went to the computer to video chat with his best friend.

I’m freaking out, Josh! Look what’s on my face!” Treyton said.

In his fake ninja voice, Josh replied, “It seems like the Evil Emperor Zu has plagued you with a curse upon your Black Ninja face.”

“No seriously, my face is going to be in the yearbook looking like this!” Treyton said, planting his face on the keyboard.

“Hey, I can give you this crap my mom uses on her face every night. She says it’s age reversing. It could be the elixir to reverse your face back to its original state.”

“I need help now! I can’t wait until the weekend, Josh. We take pictures right after first period.” Treyton frowned after lifting his head.

Suddenly their conversation was cut short after Treyton heard his mother calling him from downstairs. She was ready to drive him to the bus stop. Even though it was only a few blocks from his home, his mother deemed it unsafe to walk such a distance. Of course, watching Nancy Grace every night didn’t help Treyton’s case explaining how no one else’s mother waited with them at their bus stops.

“The world is full of crazies,” She’d say, “No child of mine will be kidnapped by a crazy person. No sir, no ma’am, by the grace of God, not my child.”

When the bus arrived, Treyton hung his head in dismay after slumping out of his mother’s car. “Another great day at A. Wisely Middle,” he murmured. As soon as he stepped onto the bus he was greeted by Blake Stewart and his friends.

“Whoa!” exclaimed Blake. “What happened to your face, bro? It looks like roaches crawled all over it and laid eggs!”

The bus burst into laughter. The bus driver shouted, “Settle down! Blake have a seat before I write you up.” Treyton and Blake locked eyes as Blake sat back down and Treyton made his way to the back of the bus.

The rivalry between Blake and Treyton had been around since the third grade when Blake cheated in a game of freeze tag. From then on they never liked each other. With each school year Blake’s bullying got worse. Treyton was hoping to not see him in middle school, but he followed, and their hate for each other only grew stronger. They even ended up in a class together: first period Biology. There they would pass evil glares at each other back and forth all period long.

After arriving to school and settling down in class, Treyton noticed Blake whispering and laughing with his friends. Treyton knew they were talking about him. Tired of being the butt of every one of Blake’s joke Treyton drew some courage to finally say something.

He turned around and said “What’s so funny?”

“Huh?” Blake asked. “What’d you say to me?”

“I said what’s so funny?”

Blake smirked “Other than your face, it’s really none of your business.”

“Well you’re looking at me and whispering like you’ve got something say.”

Blake grinned at Treyton’s sudden macho persona. “If you must know, we’re talking about getting to first base.”

Treyon was confused, “First base? You’re not on the baseball team”.

Blake and his friends howled. “Not baseball, you idiot! You’re such a baby, Treyton. I bet you still hold your mom’s hand when you cross the street!”

Embarrassed, and still confused, Treyton turned around to his seat.

“Lay off of him Blake,” Olivia said, throwing a paper ball at Blake.

“Whoa! He started it!” Blake said indignantly as he stuck his tongue out at Olivia.

Treyton rolled his eyes. He thought Olivia Marshall was such a pest. It was bad enough that the teacher assigned his seat right next to her. Olivia has been that way since the fifth grade. She always wanted to tag along with Josh and him everywhere they went.

“You didn’t have to do that, Olivia,” mumbled Treyton.

“Oh, don’t worry about it Trey, Blake is an asshole anyway” smiled Olivia.

“It’s Treyton.”

“Oh sorry, I keep forgetting. Hey, you’re still coming to my birthday party right? You never gave me a yes or no so I just assumed you were,” said Olivia’s while fixing her sleeve.

Treyton tried to quickly think of an excuse, but was overwhelmed from being put on the spot. “Um yeah—I mean no—Er, I’m still thinking about it,” replied Treyton, avoiding eye contact.

Olivia’s smiled faded. “Well let me know if you do, it’s only a few days away”.

Time seemed to be moving at a rapid pace in Biology. When the school bell suddenly rang, Treyton’s heart quickly sank. It was the moment of truth; he had to take his yearbook picture. He was so stressed that he started sweating and formed sweat pit stains under his Captain America shirt. When his class finally arrived at the photo shoot inside the school library they formed a line. Blake walked up to Treyton and whispered in his ear “Try not to break the camera with your face bro, the rest of the class would like to take a picture too.”

Treyton pushed Blake away. Blake just laughed and said, “Chill out bro, I just thought you should be more considerate for the rest of us.”

Treyton could feel his blood boiling and began to ball up his fist. This new sense of courage seemed to be radiating out of nowhere, until a girl squealed, “Oh my gosh, he’s bleeding!”

Treyton looked around to see what was going on. Blake put his finger in Treyton’s face and said, “Gross! One of the volcanoes on your face has erupted!” Treyton felt everyone’s stares.

Olivia quickly grabbed Treyton by the arm and ran into the girls’ bathroom. “Whoa, what are you doing?” asked Treyton, trying to hold back tears.

“I’m helping. What have you been using on your face?”

“Nothing,” replied Treyton as he tried not to sob from embarrassment. “I woke up like this.”

Olivia dug into her bag and pulled out some face wipes and cotton balls. “Listen Trey, you’ve got to start taking better care of yourself. Didn’t they teach these things at those assemblies?” asked Oliva, as she started to cleaning his face.

“Yea, but, ouch!” Treyton jerked his head away.

“Well first, you’ve got to start wearing deodorant or you’re going to sweat out of your shirt,” snapped Olivia. She could see how Treyton start to shake. “Sorry, just try to relax. The face wipes have some alcohol in them.” She put her arm on his shoulder. “Look, I know these changes seem scary. I mean, how would you feel if your tits itched and ached for half of the day for no reason?” Treyton smiled from the thought of it. “Once you start taking care of those things you’ll be fine. Middle school will be a breeze.” She laughed, “At least that’s what my mom told me, anyway”

As Olivia finished cleaning Treyton’s face he noticed a Molly the Dolly bracelet poke out of her sleeve. “You still collect those?”

She quickly pulled down her sleeve saying “Uh, no. This one just brings me good luck.”

He’d remembered how she had almost hundreds of them in the fifth grade and how she wore them proudly every day. Each tiny collectable doll came with a matching bracelet so he imagined her having hundreds of dolls at home as well. There was a knock on the bathroom from another student asking them hurry up so she could use the bathroom.

Once back in line Blake was back at it again. “You ladies finally prepped and ready to go?”

“Chill out Blake, today is not the day,” Olivia said.

“Oh, so you have your girlfriend fighting your battles now, Treyton?”

Mortified by Blake’s response Treyton shouted “She is not my girlfriend!”

“Oh my bad. So she’s your bitch, then.”

Olivia punched Blake so hard he fell to the ground. “Don’t you ever call me a bitch, asshole!” Olivia said, rubbing her knuckles.

The teacher quickly came to them shouting, “What is going on back here?”

Blake started crying, then sobbed, “Olivia-”

“I hit in him the face” interrupted Treyton. Both the teacher and Blake looked shocked.

Treyton had never been in trouble in his life. Not even detention for being late to school.

“Treyton, if this is true, I’ll have to suspend you,” the teacher said.

The rest of the kids in line were just as shocked and didn’t mention a word of what really happened. Amazed by his actions all Olivia could do was mouth the words thank you as Treyton and the teacher walked to the principal’s office.

“Suspended! You got suspended!? Are you crazy?” shouted Josh over the phone.

“Yeah, but honestly, if she hadn’t hit him I would have,” replied Treyton.

“Wait. I thought you couldn’t stand Olivia? Why lie for her?”

“I don’t know. She’s just different now.” Treyton sat down on his bed.

“Well at least you got out of taking a horrible yearbook picture.”

“That’s the least of my problems right now, Josh”

“So I guess that means we can’t hang out this weekend huh?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Treyton said, trying not to scratch his face. “I’m about to find out now. I’ll call you back.” He hung up the phone as his parents entered his room.

“You’re not calling anyone back, give me your phone” said his father

“Honey, please.” said his mother.

“Honey, nothing! Now Treyton Lamar Robinson you wanna explain to me why you’re fighting in school!?”

“It’s not what you think, Dad. I was defending a girl” pleaded Treyton.

“A girl?” said his mother, tears forming in her eyes. “I can’t handle this.”

“A girl, Treyton? And this girl, you like her?” his father asked, lowering his tone. He sat on the bed next to his son.

“Well kind of. She’s a friend, I think. She’s having birthday party this weekend and Josh and I were thinking about going,” Treyton said.

“Well when you put like that,” His father sighed. “I’ll think about letting you out this weekend, but for the rest of the month your ass is mine. I’m talking cleaning every speck in this house. And don’t you even think about asking me to take you to go see that Spider-Man movie next month”.

“It’s the Avengers, Dad,” replied Treyton.

“Well, whatever. And the next time you wanna defend your lady-friend, fight your battles off-campus.” His father gave him a wink and got up from his bed. “My boy got himself a girlfriend,” chuckled his father as he closed the door.

Treyton spent the next three days of his suspension obsessing over how to act and dress at Olivia’s birthday party. He had never been to a social event because it had always just been him and Josh playing video games and saving the world as Ying Yang Ninjas. The first thing he did was buy a ton of facial cleaning product and deodorant. He refused to look and smell like an extra from The Walking Dead. Josh didn’t help any and only kept suggesting that they show up dressed as ninjas. Treyton tried his best to channel a male celebrity look since he had no real style of his own, until he settled upon Trey Songz. A man who just happened to be Olivia’s favorite R&B singer, she mentioned it in one of the rants she’d gone on every morning in first period where Treyton would pretend to be listening. Some dark blue jeans, a red cardigan sweater over a plain white shirt, and some red and white Air Force One sneakers all brand new with, the courtesy of his mother’s purchase. She’d made him promise not to tell his father.

“You must really like this girl. You hate getting new clothes” She said.

“She’s just a friend mom. And people dress nice at these things, right?”

“I’m sure they do, but just know that I’ll be parked outside her house ten minutes before the party is scheduled to end.”

“You don’t have to do that, mom,” Treyton groaned “I can just call you.”

“Yes I do, the crazies like to lurk out at night.”

On the night of the party, Treyton and Josh arrived at Olivia’s door. Josh was adamant about wearing all white just in case Evil Emperor Zu made an appearance.

“I can’t believe we’re actually here when we could be playing Ying Yang Ninjas” Josh said through gritted teeth.

“Can you shut up, Josh? You’re making me even more nervous,” Treyton snapped.

They walked through the door and immediately they see Olivia in the middle of the room in a pink baby doll party dress. She turned and screamed “Trey! You actually came!”

Josh mimicked her in a high pitched voice, “Trey, like, oh my God!”

“Shut up, Josh,” Treyton muttered, keeping his smile intact.

When Olivia made it to the door, she walked them to the sodas in the kitchen. She handed them two ice-cold Coca Colas from the freezer, and quickly locked eyes with Treyton. Josh opened his drink and slurped loudly.

“You know, you didn’t have to what you did for me” Olivia said, trying to not let Josh hear.

“Yeah I know, but Blake’s an asshole, remember?” They laughed and continued staring at each other. Treyton tried to think of every cool line from any action hero movie he’d ever seen. They always seemed to charm the girls in those movies, but his mind was blank. Then Olivia slowly leaned over for a kiss. He didn’t know what to do, and just reacted. Treyton’s head was suddenly sideways and the kiss landed on cheek.

Josh gasped. “She is a temptress! Don’t be fooled by her womanly persuasion and cooties!”

Embarrassed by her actions Olivia stared at the ground and started walking out the kitchen back to her party guests. Treyton suddenly knew what to do, he grabbed her by the arm spun her around. “No, my White Ninja,” He said, happily pulling her into the most melodramatic kiss he could muster, “She is but a lotus flower.”

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