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So I decided to be a boy, and I was pretty good at it. I emulated guys like Randy. I admired his gusto and his guts. He would undertake any challenge no matter how dangerous or stupid. During our adventures together, there hadn’t been anything he was able to do that I hadn’t been able to do, too. I could climb as high as he could. I stayed on the railroad tracks as long as he did when we heard a train coming. I could ride my bike as fast. I waded into the muck at the bottom of a creek where we both knew there could be leeches. I could almost throw a baseball as far. And I could almost beat him at arm-wrestling. I even shot his BB gun. I didn’t like shooting the gun, but I was able to do it. That was what was most important to me: That I could do it. I never stopped to think about if I wanted to do it. That didn’t seem to matter.

One day we were walking down the road heading for the creek, each of us carrying a Ball jar we were hoping to fill with minnows or crayfish, when we heard this terrible sound. It was a tiny, high-pitched mew so full of pain and terror it stopped both of us in our tracks even though the sound was so faint we almost didn’t hear it over the crunching of our shoes in the roadside gravel.

We looked behind us in the direction of the sound at the weeds growing on the bank and saw a huge crow tearing at something on the ground. Randy had his BB gun, but he didn’t even think to use it as a gun. He went running toward the crow using it as a club. The bird was so cocky, the sight of a human coming at him didn’t bother him at all. Randy had to hit him with the butt of his gun to scare him off. I heard a thud and a squawk before I saw the ugly thing fly away.

I joined Randy who was looking down into the tall grass and goldenrod. A mangled orange kitten, maybe a couple weeks old, lie panting with his tiny pink tongue hanging out of his mouth frothy with blood. His blue eyes were open and staring. His little round belly was torn open and part of his entrails had been tugged out. But he was still alive. Alive enough to cry for help.

“Shit,” Randy said.

I turned away. I felt like I was going to puke. Tears welled up in my eyes. The very last thing in the world I wanted to do in front of Randy was cry.

“What are we going to do?” I asked him.

“Ain’t nothing we can do,” he replied.

“Did that crow do this?”

“Crows don’t usually attack something healthy like a hawk will. It might have been sick or hurt, and he saw it and thought it was already roadkill.”

That explanation didn’t make me like the crow any better.

“Where’s its mom?” I asked, and that was it for me. I started to cry.

“Its mom couldn’t help,” he said simply.

“Can’t we help him? We can take him to a vet. My grandma would drive us.”

“Nobody can help him. He’s gonna die.”

“How do you know?”

“He’s gonna die,” he repeated tonelessly.

I wiped away my tears and looked over at him in time to see him turn his gun around so he was holding it the right way again and start to lower the muzzle toward the kitten.

“What are you doing?” I cried out.

“I’m putting him out of his misery.”

“You’re going to shoot him? You can’t do that.”

He looked at me over his shoulder. He looked as sad as I felt, but his eyes were dry.

“You’d rather have him lie here and bleed to death? Or maybe we should walk away and that crow could come back and finish eating him?” he asked roughly.

“You can’t shoot him,” I insisted.

He continued looking at me for a moment then he turned his head back to the kitten and with one swift movement, he placed the muzzle of the gun somewhere against its soft little body and pulled the trigger.