Brett Bealer isn't sure when he started being the bad guy. Of course, he doesn't think he's the bad guy at all, but if someone on the internet says it, it must be true.
It might have begun in first grade, when he was just starting school and was already twice as big as most of the other kids in his class. His teachers didn't treat him any differently than they did the others, but the Coach who taught the older kids watched him running around and bragged, "Look at that kid go! He's going to be on the football team." When Brett went home and told his father about it, his dad beamed and patted him on the head. His mother smiled, but she was easily pleased anyway so it didn't matter.
Then second grade came around. There was another boy who was going to be on the football team, Jackson Jones. He was almost exactly the same as Brett: street-smart, popular, a good athlete. He became Brett's best friend rather quickly, and then they were surrounded by a bunch of other kids, their "team". Kids who weren't part of the gang didn't matter. That year was the first time Brett ever bullied anyone, too. He didn't think of it as bullying, and in fact considered it sort of an accident. Nonetheless everything just went downhill from there.
What had happened was that he and Jackson were leading the team out to the football fields during recess. The football field was behind the school, far away from the second-grade classroom, and their teacher had specifically told them not to go there. They weren't going to let Ms. Kayla's stupid rules stop them, though. Jackson was Lookout, Brett was Leader. He had already led the team halfway there when Jackson shouted the signal. "Someone's coming!"
That "someone" was the redheaded kid with glasses and buckteeth whose name Brett couldn't remember. H-something, but not Harold or Harry. Something old-fashioned.
"What are you doing?" The kid asked angrily.
"None of your business!" Jackson retorted.
"You're going to the football field, aren't you?" The kid - the nerd - was wearing a mixed expression of disgust and smugness. "Ms. Kayla said not to! I'm telling!"
He started running. Jackson came after him first, trying to grab his sleeve. A second later, Brett had the team surround the nerd, and then he was shouting orders to "beat him up good" so that the kid wouldn't say anything. It felt good, in an odd way. He had all these people at his command, and he was finally starting to use them!
Second grade became the best year of his short life and the worst of the misfits'.
Third grade was the year he officially joined the football team - well, the junior team, to be exact. They only played tag football, but that was okay because he had all his friends there and nerds weren't allowed. Besides the redhead, there was also a girl with glasses and a twitchy Mexican boy that needed to be kept in line. They were a lot more fun to mess with than the other nerds, because they didn't fight back. These ones were smart.
After school, he and Jackson would come up with plans for getting out of homework, pulling pranks on everyone they could get away with, and otherwise living life the fun way. Brett knew that he wouldn't have been able to come up with the complex plots his friend did, but that never bothered him. Listening while Jackson talked about his evil plans, and occasionally interrupting with an insulting joke, was great.
They were in one of these discussions when Brett's annoying cousin Kevin popped in. Kevin lived in the next town over, but every so often his parents would have business in Arlington, and Mr. and Mrs. Houser inevitably left their son at his cousin's house.
"Hey, guys," Kevin said, smiling. One couldn't trust Kevin when he was smiling. Even at eight years old, he was a talented little weasel, as Brett knew all too well. "Did you hear? My best friend's moving to your school. You think you can let him be part of your gang?" He pulled out a chair and sat down with them at the kitchen table. "His name's Duncan Dewey. He does a carnival act for me, eating paste. Do you know how many people are willing to pay to watch someone eat paste?"
In fourth grade, said Duncan Dewey appeared right on schedule, two days after Jackson's mother died in a car accident. Duncan was a nice kid and he really didn't deserve his share of teasing, but at that point Brett was too worried with making sure his friend was alright. The easiest way to do so seemed to be making sure that somebody else was hurting as much as Jackson was.
If he broke down crying when he thought he was alone, then some unlucky nerd was going to cry while everyone watched.
If he couldn't eat, then neither would anyone else, even if the football team had to go throwing lunchboxes onto the floor.
Brett personally oversaw the systematic destruction of Mother's Day, ripping up cards made in art class and trashing the presents that had been carefully stored underneath his classmates' desks.
Fifth grade is where Jackson began to come back to normal. It didn't last long. Some sadistic dentist caught him and gave him the most painful, oversized, ugly set of braces Brett had ever seen. That would have been okay, maybe, but then suddenly Jackson couldn't play football anymore. What's more, the braces kept him from pulling off his evil plans, so even that was out. Brett wasn't sure how to react. At first he simply kept his "best friend" at a distance. Then Kevin came over again.
"Hey bro! I heard what happened to Jones!"
Brett had been practicing with a football. He dropped it.
Kevin picked it up and kept smirking. "Must be a shame, the king of the school suddenly becoming the least-liked member. I mean, I saw it coming from a mile away, but I guess you didn't. Do you want to know who called the dentist on him?"
Immediately Brett recognized what his cousin was saying. "You made him into... this?"
"I told you to take care of Duncan," Kevin said, beginning to laugh.
"He eats paste. What kind of geek-" Brett crossed his arms. "What does this have to do with Jackson?"
"I know you've got an irrational fear of geeks. Well. If my best friend is a nerd, then yours will be too. Enjoy the next four years!"
Brett never had to try to make a relationship of any sort work. People were either his friends or they weren't. They were either physically perfect or they were nerds. There wasn'much middle ground.
While he didn't specifically stop Jackson from hanging out with the team, he didn't stop the guys from making life difficult for him. That might have been the worse option, actually. It didn't matter. Eventually Jackson left on his own, and Brett didn't have to worry too much about him.
Sure, he teased him on a regular basis, but it was all good-natured. Jackson was the one who backstabbed him by revealing things that were supposed to be secrets. He deserved everything he got.