“Hoooowwwarrrrdd!” Vince shouted as he stumbled along the path. He was regretting changing into his new boots after school. They looked great, sure, but he’d never worn heels before and they were no use now that he was in the woods. He wished he was still wearing his school shoes, but there was no time to stop and change them if he was going to find his friend.
“Howard?” He stopped, sure that he’d heard a twig snap, but maybe it was just a squirrel. He was sure he’d seen the older boy run this direction, but he hadn’t been able to keep up. Howard had such long legs and sensible shoes.
Vince stopped shouting for a while and continued quietly along the path. The wood behind their school was familiar - many afternoons had he spent by the riverbed catching toads and chasing butterflies with Howard. Howard was glad for the company and Vince was glad for the reprieve - an hour spent out was an hour he didn’t have to spend at home. He stopped by the river to think for a moment when he heard a sudden, “Sniff!” from behind an old oak.
Howard! Vince thought, and tried to tiptoe around the tree, but he stumbled anyway and nearly fell on his friend.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t look at me.” Howard shouted at Vince. He was red-eyed and miserable, hugging his bloodied knees to his chest and a red blotchy mark on his cheek would soon be a bruise.
“Oh, Howard. What happened to you? Wha’d they do that for?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Leave me be!”
“Oh, alright.” Vince sat down and took off his rucksack and began rummaging through it. He took out some rubbing alcohol and cotton pads and, upon consideration, a small box of brown plasters. This wasn’t the time for the ones with hearts. “Let me ‘ave a look at your knees.”
Howard looked suspiciously at his friend and then sighed and straightened his legs out, wincing. He kept his arms crossed firmly across his chest. Vince wet a cotton pad with the alcohol, being careful not to spill any, and gingerly dabbed at Howard’s knee.
“Oww, you berk! Be careful!”
“I am being careful!” Cried Vince. “It’s just going to hurt a bit, alright?” Vince continued to dab at the scrapes on the first knee with the cotton pad until they were clean and then covered them with plasters.
“Why do you have all this in your rucksack, anyway? If anyone should be prepared for disaster, it’s me - Howard Moon.”
“You’re not the only one gets beat up, yeah? Anyway I got tired of waiting for me mum to get home to fix me up. Thought I’d take matters into my own hands.”
“As if you get beat up. You probably hurt yourself falling down in those stupid shoes.”
Vince grinned. “Yeah, well. I look well cool in these boots. Check out the stitching!”
Howard laughed and then winced again as Vince started on his other knee. Both boys were quiet as Vince completed his task and carefully put the first aid supplies back in his bag. He leaned forward and gently touched Howard’s chin, tilting it upward to look at his cheek.
“There’s nothing I’ve got can sort out that bruise… maybe get your mum to put a steak on it?”
Howard didn’t reply and the boys sat quietly for a moment, Vince’s fingertips still gently touching Howard’s chin. As the moment passed, Vince stood up, offering the larger boy his hand. Howard slowly got to his feet and looked down at his bandaged knees.
“Thanks.” He mumbled.
Vince blushed and stared at his feet. “It’s alright, Howard.” I’ll always look after you.
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