My fist makes a satisfying noise as it collides with the boy's stomach. He doubles over and collapses silently into the grass, a shadow in the dark.
I hate the joy that rises up within me as I step closer, savouring his suffering. I hate the rush of adrenaline that accompanies every blow and how a smile spreads across my face when I cause somebody pain. I don't even know this boy; he has done nothing to incur my wrath. He simply has the misfortune of getting in my way when I was feeling frustrated.
I hear something and at first think of shoes scuffing on gravel. Then I realize it's something closer by; the boy is crying into the dirt. That punch must have hurt.
The noise reminds me who and what I am. It's not a self-portrait I am happy with. A monster; preying on the weak and defenceless in the dark because she has nothing else to do. A girl beating up a stranger just because she's bored.
Because I can't stand to listen, I step forward and kick him lightly in the ribs, trying desperately to stifle his sobs. The boy curls up to protect his stomach, but the crying doesn't cease. I kick him harder, putting more force behind the blows.
Shut up, I think. Why won't you shut up?
Eventually the boy becomes too terrified to cry. He just lies there, unmoving. I leave off kicking and watch him. How blissful it must be to be afraid of violence. That fear, I see it in people's eyes all the time.
Petty, peaceful, stupid people.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and jerk round. A tall guy around my own age is standing there, a frown on his face. He's already seen the boy lying in the grass. I try to get out a good hit, but he grabs hold of my wrist with surprising speed and pins my arm behind my back. I struggle for a few moments, I'm not going to give up easily, until I realize there's no point, and go limp.
'I've fought people tougher and stronger than you,' he tells me. 'So don't get any ideas.'
I glare at him and nod after a moment.
He releases me, gives me a wary look and goes to kneel by the younger boy. 'Tom, are you okay? It's me.'
I think about attacking, but I don't doubt the guy's ability to beat me. Maybe if I took him by surprise, I could get in a hard enough punch to wind him. Yet something about the scene stops me and I remain rooted to the spot.
'Jake?' Tom, the little boy, mutters, remaining still.
'It's me, Jake,' the older guy promises. 'Listen, you're going to be okay. Mum sent me out looking for you. I'm going to get you home.'
'Can't…move…' Tom whispers. 'She…'
'She's not going to hurt you,' Jake says. 'Not anymore. I'm here; it's going to be all right.'
Eventually Tom gets to his feet. He sees me and shrinks away; clinging to the guy I presume is his brother. There was a time when the fear on his face would have made me laugh, but now it paralyses me.
'Come on little fella, I'm going to get you home,' says Jake, slipping his hand into Tom's. The younger boy looks at me again and his knees buckle, sending him toppling into the grass. Sighing, Jake picks him in his arms like he weighs nothing more than a rag doll.
'I'm sorry.' The words tumble, unbidden, from my mouth.
Jake looks at me coldly. 'Yeah,' he says angrily. 'I bet you are.'
I am familiar with hatred this strong, yet this is the first time I've let it affect me. I take a step back, feeling stunned.
'You stay away from my brother,' Jake warns me. 'I don't care how tough you are. Stay away from my family.'
Then he turns, still carrying Tom, and is lost in the darkness.
I don't know how long I stay there. Once I'm sure the brothers had gone, my own knees give way and I find myself sitting in the grass. It's been so hot this summer it's practically hay. I keep hearing Jake's voice in my head, how warmly he spoke to Tom and then how it became colder than the Arctic when he addressed me.
What can I expect? I hit his brother and then kicked him once he was down. Must have been nightmarish for the kid.
Suddenly it's not Jake or Tom I'm thinking about, it's my mother. My tired, frustrated, angry mother. Still beautiful like a small bird, but motherhood has clipped her wings and she may never fly again. My father and I, violent brutes the both of us, have destroyed her life. Not suddenly or all at once, but over a period of many years, so that none of us noticed it happening until she was suffering the consequences.
God, Mum, I'm sorry.
Why am I thinking about this? Was it Tom's tears? Children crying have never had this effect on me before. Surely his sobs, ugly as they were, did not release this sudden feeling of remorse. No, it couldn't be him.
It was Jake.
The way he spoke to his brother. Reassuring him, promising safety and a tomorrow that was better than today. It made me want Jake to like me. I don't know why or how. It's almost definitely stupid. Especially as by hitting Tom I was making myself an object of loathing.
People want to know why I'm messed up. All those shrinks my mother sends me to in hope of helping me, they try and figure out why I'm like I am.
I guess their job just got harder, because I don't even know who I am anymore.
The sad thing? I don't care.