We were all now standing around on the sidewalk, everyone waiting for something to happen. I knew I couldn't back down, but I wasn't going to volunteer either. "Look, nobody's going to make you," I finally said. "Can't you take a hint? No one wants you around here. So get lost."
Eddie edged forward, pushed past me and started to walk up the driveway.
"Hey, stay out of here!" George piped up, his face flushing red in anger and frustration. "This is my yard. You can't come in here!"
I followed Eddie in through the gate. Darby was on my heels. "What are we gonna do?" Darby whispered anxiously to me. "We can't let him do this to us. We've got to get 'em."
"Okay, Eddie," I said, deepening my voice, trying to sound threatening. "Enough is enough. Get out of here now, will ya."
Eddie turned around. "You gonna make me?" he challenged. He took a step forward, reached out with both arms and pushed me in the chest. I stumbled back a step. Darby caught me. "Get him, Tom," he urged. "Go for it."
I stepped forward and gave Eddie a return shove. "Well, maybe I'm going to have to," I heard myself saying. But when I pushed Eddie he didn't fall back. He just stood there like a concrete wall.
Eddie shoved me again. "Don't you dare touch me, you shit-eating pipsqueak." His tone had changed completely. Instead of sneering and taunting, he was suddenly threatening, and dead serious.
I realized we had just crossed some kind of line. Eddie was not going to back off. And I couldn't, either -- not now, not in front of my friends. So I made a split-second decision. If we had to fight, the only chance I had was to strike first.
I lunged at Eddie, grabbed him around his stomach and drove him to the ground.
"Way to go!" Darby yelled. "Go get him, Tom!"
It might have been better if I'd let Eddie have the first shot, because then the fight would have been over quickly. Instead, since I had the initial advantage, it took him a while to beat me up.
He rolled out from my grasp, flipped me over and started pommeling my stomach and chest. I managed to get away, then tackled him. We traded blows. I was on top, then he was on top. We fought on the ground, and we fought standing up. But eventually his greater strength and bulk wore me out, until he finally drove me across the yard. I was stumbling backward. I almost lost my balance, but was saved by crashing up against the chain-link fence.
Eddie came after me, throwing his body into mine and pinning me against the fence. Both my arms were trapped. Eddie had one of his arms around my chest while he jammed the other up against my throat. I tried to resist as he pushed up against my head, until finally my neck pressed back against the sharp metal spikes sticking up from the top of the fence. I was breathing hard, and every time I gasped for air the spikes dug into my skin. Eddie's face hovered just inches in front of mine; it was red and bloated, his skin puffed up in anger. His teeth were thrashing, and spit was flying out of his mouth.
"Give up?" he shouted at me. "Do you give up, Tom? Do you give up?"
I didn't know what to do. I could barely breathe.
Then he started demanding, over and over. "Give up. Give up!" He applied more pressure to my neck. I was trapped between his piston-like arm and the metal spikes of the fence that would soon start to puncture my flesh and draw blood.
"I give up," I finally managed to cough out.
The pressure let up. Eddie abruptly turned and left. And I slumped to the ground.
Everything was a blur of darkness and muffled noises. I could feel the cool grass on my back. I kept my eyes closed to shut out the world for a minute, to give myself a moment to recover.
"Tom?" It was someone's voice. I didn't know who it belonged to.
"Are you okay?" came another voice. This one belonged to George. I opened my eyes and saw a narrow slice of trees and sky. As I came out of the spinning darkness, it all seemed very bright and full of color.
Then a head came into my field of vision. It was Darby. He had a quizzical look on his movie-star face. "Tom?" he queried. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I think so," I managed to say through my constricted throat. "He had my neck on the fence," I said apologetically, fearing that I'd let my friends down. "I had to give up. The fence woulda killed me."
Darby gave a little shrug. "Hey, don't worry. It doesn't matter." He reached down and helped me up. "But jeez, Tom . . . you shouldn't have picked a fight with Eddie Lynch."