Rick looked about to let fly with a comeback when Ms. Dyer stepped into the classroom. "This isn't remedial science, Rick," she advised him. "Get out."
For once, Rick did as he was told. Caryn got her notebook out of her backpack and didn't give Rick another thought -- she'd already been fighting him off for ages -- but Chip's comment hung in her mind. "Dude, she will."
Caryn hadn't sought out her reputation at all. It was just a fact of life in a town big enough that the kids didn't all know each other, and small enough that some of them had known each other since kindergarten at least. It was the kind of place where an incident on the playground in the fourth grade could follow you around until you graduated from high school, no matter how much you changed along the way.
"Who's Jon picking on now?" Audrey asked toward the end of recess that day. "A girl?"
Caryn, already a foot taller and better able to see, stood up and craned her neck. "No, it's a boy. A little boy! It looks like Jane Hermann's little brother."
"Matthew?!" Audrey said. "He's only in third grade! Jon wouldn't -"
"Of course he would!" And with one thought only in her mind - Jon wouldn't hit her back because all the boys would never want anything to do with a boy who it a girl - she was off like a shot.
"Caryn! What are you doing?!" She heard Audrey's panicked exclamation, but all she saw was Jon about to beat little Matthew to a pulp and run off with his money.
Jon saw her coming, but that didn't faze him. "Caryn, get lost," he snapped, not looking away from Matthew's terrified face as he kept his fist at the ready. "This is MY five dollars!"
"Let him go, McClegg!"
"Fuck you, you cunt."
"I said let him go!" She gave Jon a shove hard enough to knock him down and lose his grip on Matthew, although not before he pulled Matthew over with him. Still crying in terror, the little boy got up and tore off, managing a feeble "Thanks, Caryn" through his blubbering.
"You bitch!" Jon started to get up, but Caryn straddled him and punched him in the temple, hard enough to knock his head against the grassy ground.
When Jon responded only by wrapping both arms around his head and curling up, Caryn stood up to go. For good measure she gave him a swift kick in the balls, and added, "Pick on someone your own size next time, huh?"
One detention and a thank-you from Matthew and Jane's mother later, Caryn forgot the whole thing. Until late that spring when she and Audrey were out riding their bikes around Blodgett Street. As she dipped in and out of the cul-de-sacs, a boy's voice in one of the side yards caught her ear. "Mike, hide! It's Caryn!"
Hide?! Caryn slammed on her coaster brakes and listened. "Caryn! Haven't you heard of her? She hates boys! She broke a kid's balls once! Stay away from her!"
Caryn looked down at her tall, gangling self, swathed in jeans and sneakers and the windbreaker she'd gotten for her birthday, and wondered what on earth there was to be terrified of. She did hate boys, true, but it wasn't as though she went around looking for trouble with them.
The accusation stung at first. But by the time she got back to her house for dinner that day, the hurt had turned to pleasure. Boys were scared of her?! She couldn't help but like the sound of that.