Better Than That

He's on his back unable to breathe all of a sudden and Nya, daughter of one of the farmhands, is above him laughing like the time he stuck ice down his mama's shirt and she gave him a whipping. There's a loud sucking noise as he tries to breathe again. Not enough oxygen. Can't breathe. Need air. Pain unlike anything else he's felt sits on his chest and keeps him from standing.

It's a world out of focus that peers down on him from a million miles away, a world where there is plenty of air but none for him. He can feel tears prick at his eyes and with one hand he gestures at his chest. Just as he's certain he'll pass out Nya helps him up and pounds him on the back. It works. Air fills his lungs, greedily rushing in and out and in and out as it did before he fell.

Relief pours over him and he slowly staggers to his feet. The tree branch that snapped on him nearly trips him; he glares it and then sends it flying with a kick. Dragging a hand several times through his hair, he removes dirt and twigs from it. Nya continues to snigger at him.

"Shut it, Ny," he warns.

"Or what? You'll fall out of a tree on me?"

"Ha. Funny." He makes a face at her.

"I know it was," she says with a smirk.

If it was any other day he would pounce on her and pin her to the ground until she pleaded for him to let her go. He wouldn't hurt her of course – mama wouldn't approve of that and he wasn't fond of the idea of getting any more whippings – but he would do what he could to keep her down and off his back just for a little while. He most certainly did not have fun doing so.

"I'm going home," he tells her, haughtily swiping more dirt from his clothes.

"'ittle Mal scared of hurting himself more?"

He clenches his jaw, shakes his head and takes off, his feet digging into the ground and sending up clouds of dust. Nya's laughter follows him and tears at his resolve. He wants to turn back and push her into the ground or out of the tree so she knows how it feels. He won't though. He knows he won't. He's better than that.