Peter Xavier heard screaming coming from behind the school. It was Alex—he was sure of it. He ran toward what sounded like a fight. As he rounded the corner, he slid in the sand covering the tarmac. Jake, Ben, and Troy, three of the biggest kids in Grade Ten, were standing over his friend Alex, who lay curled in a ball on the ground.
“Reject!” Ben yelled, kicking Alex in the ribs.
“Why don’t you just go home to your mommy, you idiot!” Jake screamed in his face. Alex sobbed, holding his hands over his head. His glasses lay on the ground beside him.
“Hey!” Peter yelled, running toward his friend. “Leave him alone!”
The three boys stood up when they heard the noise, but laughed when they saw who was coming. “Peter? You think you’re going to save him?” Troy sneered. “Just wait your turn over there—we’ll get to you in a minute.”
Peter was about to grab Jake when he heard a voice behind him. “Let go of him right now.” Peter’s hand dropped. Alex peeked out from behind his arms. Mr. Franklin was standing there, and he looked angry. Sweat dripped from his forehead and his face was flushed. The principal’s hands were balled into fists, and although Peter knew he wouldn’t, it sure looked like he wanted to hit someone.
“What’s going on here?” he barked. “Jake, Ben, Troy? What do you think you’re doing? Up against the wall, all of you.”
Ben turned and started to bolt toward the far corner of the building. Suddenly, Joey Floretti and Billy Jackson, Peter’s best friends, came around the corner. Ben slid to a stop and started backing up as they advanced. He quickly rejoined Troy and Jake.
“Hey, Pete, Alex,” Billy said as they got closer and saw Alex on the ground.
“You OK, man?” Joey reached Alex first and helped him up.
“Yeah,” Alex said, his voice shaking slightly. “I’m OK.” He reached down and dusted off his pants. Peter handed him his glasses. Surrounded now by his three friends, he looked up at Ben, Troy, and Jake where they stood against the red brick wall.
Mr. Franklin reached out a hand to Alex. “Are you OK, son?”
Alex held his arm to his side. “Yeah, thanks Mr. Franklin,” he whispered, his big eyes round with tears. He looked up at his friend. “Thanks Peter. You saved me,” he added in an awestruck tone. Joey and Billy laughed and nudged Peter.
“Whatever, what an idiot…” Troy started, but Mr. Franklin’s glare shut him up again.
Peter smiled at the smaller boy. “I’m just glad you’re OK. Want to go home now?” Alex nodded and looked at Mr. Franklin.
“Go on home,” Mr. Franklin agreed. “Tell your mom I’ll be calling to fill her in on what happened today.” Turning to Peter, he added, “Why don’t you guys walk Alex home? I’m going to want to talk to you, though. Come to my office before class tomorrow, alright?”
As Alex and his friends slowly walked away, they could still hear Mr. Franklin. “Now, as for you three, let’s go. We’re going to the office and we’re calling your parents. And after that, we might just be calling the police too.”
The spring breeze puffed out the boys’ jackets as they walked to Alex’s house. All the snow was finally gone, and they could smell warmer weather on the way.
“Thank you so much, Peter,” Alex’s mom said as the three of them sat in the Smileys’ front room while Billy and Joey waited outside. Peter nodded. Mrs. Smiley put her arm around Alex, and he leaned into her embrace. “Thank God you’re OK.” She looked from her son to his friend. “Peter, you’ve always been such a good friend to Alex, and you have no idea what that means to us. I don’t even want to think about what might have happened if you weren’t there.”
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Smiley.” Peter stood to leave. “Bye, Alex, see you tomorrow. Stay out of trouble!” Alex laughed.
As she waved from the front door, May Smiley thought back to that day all those years ago when they’d first found out something was different about Alex. She closed the door and turned to see her son sitting on the couch playing a video game.
May and her husband James had been overjoyed to find themselves pregnant. They’d been married for six years and had all but given up hope. The doctor had raised some concerns after her first ultrasound at two months, but the couple knew God had a special purpose for this baby—no matter what. Amid all the voices telling them termination might be best, they determined to continue the pregnancy.
Alex was born seven months later, healthy and perfect. He also had Down syndrome. They had dedicated their lives to raising their only child to reach what they considered his limitless potential. Limits are only something other people place on you, they told him. It is up to you to accept them or not. May only wished other parents had taught their kids the same.