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Marbles

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"Stanley?" Ford's voice sounds small, plaintive. "Are you okay?"

Stan pokes his head out from under the covers. "'M fine," he protests. He doesn't think Ford can tell how upset he really is. His eyes feel warm and wet, but he hasn't been crying, not really.

"Then why are you lying around in bed?" Ford asks.

Stan sits up and shrugs. "Cuz I was grounded, Sixer. Geez, for someone so smart, you sure can be dumb."

"Well, you could be up reading comics," Ford offers. "Or--or playing marbles, or something."

Stan ducks back under the covers with a huff. "Maybe I'm just tired, ya dummy."

Ford thinks on this for a moment. "Well, I wanna play marbles, so get up, dummy." He pulls the covers off the bed, and Stan gets up with an exaggerated groan. "C'mon, we can play in our fort."

Stan follows his brother to their pillow-fort by the bunk beds, scratching his elbow anxiously. When they reach the fort, he flops down on the floor, hard.

"Geez!" Ford exclaims. He holds out his hand, which Stan refuses to take. "Stanley, are you okay?" he asks again. Then, when Stan doesn't answer: "Come on. You can tell me what's wrong."

"Sixer..." Stan struggles not to cry. "You wouldn't... if there was..." He rubs his eyes and tries again. "Say everybody else in the world hated me. Even... even dad. Would you hate me, too?"

Ford huffs out a laugh. "Stanley! Come on! That's so dumb."

Stan turns away from from Ford. "Sometimes it feels like it's true," he mutters.

Suddenly, he feels a hand clasped on his shoulder. "Hey," he hears his brother say. "Stanley, you know that's not true. And even if it were... Even if it were, you're my brother, okay? I could never hate you."

Stan turns to look at Ford, and sees his brother's bright, happy smile. "Yeah, okay, nerd," says Stan. "I believe you." He punches Ford on the arm, which gets a laugh out of both of them.

"Come on, Stanley!" says Ford. "Let's play marbles!"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time," says Stan, and he grabs a whole bunch of them out of their bucket in the fort.

By the time they finish playing, Stan's already forgotten what he was so upset about.