Book 2: Pax's Story
“Go play, con trai,” Mom said.
“Finally,” Pax said, jumping down from his stool in the restaurant that his parents owned. “I hate sitting in this kitchen. It makes me smell different than everyone else.”
Mom sighed. “Be proud of who you are. Tôi mến bạn.”
Pax rolled his eyes and ran out of the kitchen, through the rows of empty tables, and out the door. The bell jingled as Pax stared at the ground where his bike had been. “What the?” he whispered to himself, looking down the street. Then he turned his head the other way only to see a familiar face sneering at him.
The boy from down the street sat on Pax’s bike, his feet planted on the ground. If Pax could only get close enough to knock him off…
The boy reached up and pulled at the corners of his eyes. “Can you even see me, Charlie, or are you just going to stand there?”
Pax clenched his fists. All the kids he knew made fun of his eyes just because they were a little different, and it wasn’t fair. “I can see you just fine, Carrot Top.”
The boy stopped pulling on his eyes and dropped his hands to the bike handles. “At least I’m not from a country that slings poop.”
“At least I don’t look like a Cheeto.”
The boy smirked.
“Give me my bike,” Pax said.
The boy put his hand on his chin like he was thinking. “Catch me if you can,” he said, moving his feet up to the pedals and riding off.
Pax took three running steps and leapt onto the boy, unbalancing the bike. They tipped onto the ground and Pax threw his fists at every part of the boy he could reach. The boy put his hands over his face and attempted to wriggle his legs out from under the bike, but Pax’s fists kept him too busy.
“Stop,” the boy cried. “Please!”
Pax continued punching.
“I’ll give your bike back!”
Pax stopped punching, and the boy slowly uncovered his face. Pax spotted bruises developing on his cheek and his arms and smiled smugly. He stood up and wrenched his bike away from the boy, who rolled onto his hands and knees. Pax slung his leg over his bike, his foot finding the pedal.
“Wait,” the boy said, standing up.
“What do you want, asshole?”
The boy laughed. “How old are you, anyway?”
“Well then no wonder you haven’t learned to punch properly.”
“I just punched you all over,” Pax said, rolling his eyes.
“Am I bleeding, though?”
Pax shrugged, twisting his hands on the bike handles.
“I’m Patrick,” the boy said.
“Why do I care?”
“Because I’m eleven. I can teach you stuff.”
“By stealing my stuff?”
Patrick shrugged. “I don’t have a bike, and yours was out in the open.”
“Well I got it back,” Pax said. “Sucks to suck.”
“If I can borrow your bike sometimes, I’ll teach you how to punch.”
“How do I know you won’t just steal it?” Pax asked. He did want to learn to punch.
The boy held up his hand, three fingers pointed in the air. “Scout’s honor.”
“You’re a Boy Scout?” Pax asked laughing.
Patrick dropped his hand to his side. “I was. Still counts.”
Pax stuck his hand out. “As long as I always get my bike back, it’s a deal.”
Patrick grinned and shook his hand. Pax stepped off his bike and leaned it towards Patrick, who climbed on.
“Can you even ride a bike?” Pax asked.
“My cousin taught me.” Patrick started pedaling, and Pax jogged beside him.
“So what’s your real name, Charlie?”
“Is that even a real name?”
“It’s my name.”
“So it’s a gook name, huh?”
“It’s not Vietnamese, if that’s what you mean.”
“Still sounds like one.”
“Does not,” Pax said. He had always been glad that his name didn’t sound Vietnamese. It would have just been another thing to set him apart. “Patrick’s a pretty dumb name.”
“Shut up, Charlie.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
“Because you’re a gook, obviously. My dad says he wishes you guys would leave the country. He says they never should have let people like you in.”
“I’m not ‘gook,’ I’m Vietnamese.”
Patrick side-eyed him. “Same difference. It’s like you don’t even know where you came from.”
Pax scrunched his eyebrows, too afraid to ask what Patrick meant in case it made him seem even stupider than he did already. He ran after Patrick as he sped up. After a few minutes of practically sprinting, Pax called, “Can we trade?” His side was starting to hurt.
Patrick looked back at him and then almost swerved over the curb and into the road. “You getting tired or something?”
“Too bad.” Patrick laughed and started pedaling faster.
Pax poured on speed. “I’ll jump on you again!”
Patrick slowed down a little before coming to a complete stop. Pax nearly tripped over himself trying to stop before he ran into the bike.
“Fine,” Patrick said. “But only because I don’t want to be blamed for breaking your leg.”
Pax took over his bike eagerly as Patrick stood with his arms crossed. “Well, see you later, Charlie.”
“What about teaching me to fight?”
Patrick shrugged. “Some other time."