Summary – In his senior year in high school, Alan Tracy had a lot going for him. But that didn't protect him from attack. Written for a dear friend who had to face down the trolls.

17 year old Alan Tracy strode down the corridor of Kalvesta High feeling on top of the world. It was his senior year of high school, and finally, finally he was out from under the shadows of his very successful older brothers.

Sure, teachers were always asking after one or another of them, but his own star, as a sprint car driver was on the rise. Just yesterday he had taken home the trophy in the Jetmore Outlaw class race.

He'd spent the last evening on a conference call with all four of his older brothers, and his father too. Although he had been teased unmercifully, he was also praised by the people who meant the most to him.

He was still basking in the afterglow of that call as he headed for his first class of the day. "Hey, Alan! Alan!"

Alan looked over his shoulder, and paused as his friend, Lawrence Hallett, trotted to catch up. Alan cocked an eyebrow at his friend's serious look. "Lawrence. What's up? You forget your homework?"

Lawrence shook his head, frowning. "No man. Have you checked your blog today?"

"No. Why?" Like most of the kids in school, Alan had his own page on World Teen, a social networking site designed for teenagers.

"You'd better look. I went in to see how you did yesterday, and there's someone trashing you."

Pulling out his phone, Alan frowned, "What do you mean trashing me?"

"See for yourself. Look, I have to get to class. I'll see you in gym, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Alan responded, distracted. He walked down the hallway, his attention on the small screen of his smartphone. Moving on autopilot, he reached his classroom, and took his seat, all while staring at his phone. World Teen was a notoriously slow site, and even though he had the latest in smartphones, it had still had not finished loading when his teacher, Mr. Garman, called the class to order.

Feeling slightly put out, Alan switched his phone off, and turned his attention to the teacher. He might have been tempted to ignore the teacher in some other class, but Mr. Garman was a personal friend of Alan's father, and Alan was not willing to risk getting grounded over something like a post on his blog. Besides, he liked chemistry, and Mr. Garman had a knack for making the class interesting.

When the bell rang an hour later, Alan was disappointed. He really wanted to try the experiment Mr. Garman had been setting up. Scooping up his Ipad and his bookbag, he headed out the door, and across campus to his second class, Honors English. It was another class that he excelled in, and anticipating a quiz on the Hemingway book they had been reading, he forgot all about checking his blog, until he reached Ms. Krenwinkle's class.

Alan liked Ms. Krenwinkle, and he knew she liked him. But he also knew that wouldn't stop her from confiscating his phone if she caught him with it on, so he settled into his seat, resigned to wait a while longer.

By the time the class was over, Alan was feeling pretty good. He knew he had aced the quiz, and in the discussion that had followed, he raised some points that had his classmates raising their eyebrows even as Ms. Krenwinkle smiled and nodded her approval.

After second period, there was a fifteen minute break between classes. Alan pulled what his grandma called a hand pie out of his bookbag, and munching as he walked, headed toward the back of the building, where his physics class took place. Around the corner from his class was a quiet bench that Alan sometimes frequented.

As he came around the corner, and found his bench unoccupied, he grunted with satisfaction, and sat down to finally see what it was that had his friend concerned. As the site loaded, Alan glanced at his watch, calculating he had a good 8 minutes before he had to be in his seat in the classroom.

Finally he was able to access his page on the site. He started to scroll down, past the photo showing him holding up the Outlaw Trophy, but just had to pause with a smile. It had been a hard fought series of races over three days, and he was thrilled to have won.

Releasing a deep breath, the smile never leaving his face, Alan finally scrolled further down to the comments section. The most recent comment, only minutes old, said simply, "That's disgusting."

The smile dropping from his face, Alan read on. Every comment was negative, and he was breathing hard when he finally got to the cause of the problem. It was a lengthy report from someone named Sprintcarfan. It gave a pretty faithful account of the championship race from the previous day, but then it went on to accuse Alan of terrible things. Hateful things.

"I wanted to meet this young champion, so after the race, I climbed the fence and went in search of him. To my great shock, I found him hiding behind his trailer, and he had good reason to hide. I watched as this so-called All American kid shot what I am sure must have been some kind of drug directly into his veins. When he saw me watching, he asked me if I was there for a buy. When I said I didn't do drugs, he offered me a free hit, saying I'd like it if I tried it. I guess my disgust showed on my face because he suddenly turned ugly, using vile language and threats."

Feeling sick, Alan wanted to throw the phone as far away from him as he could. It was all a lie, of course. After his win, Alan and his father had loaded up the trailer and headed home, his dad saying he wouldn't stand for Alan missing any classes because of his hobby.

But judging by the responses the post had received, there were plenty of people out there who were all too willing to believe he was capable of such a thing. Alan started to respond, then shook his head. He wanted what he said to be perfect, and he needed to think about it.

Checking his watch, he shut down the phone, and headed to class, his mind whirling. Who would write something like that? He didn't know anybody who hated him that much. Sure, there were kids that he didn't hang out with, but he'd never been mean to anyone.

And why hadn't any of his friends made comments in his defense? Lawrence at the very least had seen it, and a lot of his friends regularly checked his blog like Lawrence did, to see how he did in races. Usually they were very quick to post congratulatory notes. Where were they now?

Alan sat in class, growing more and more angry at his friends, and seething at the unfairness of it all. When the teacher called on him, he stared blankly back, earning himself a mark in Mr. Gupta's grading book.

He didn't fare any better in his Trig class, and by the time lunchtime rolled around, he was beside himself with anger. Additional negative comments only fueled his fury, and his earlier intention to only post his response after careful consideration flew out the window.

He stabbed at the tiny phone keypad hard enough to hurt. He hit the send key without even spellchecking. He didn't care, he just needed to tell the world that the whole thing was a lie. Finished, he looked around the cafeteria, where he sat in his usual seat.

His ears turned red as he realized that he was all alone. He tried to spot any of his friends, but none of them seemed to be around. The kids that were there all seemed to Alan's eyes to be looking at him and whispering.

He tried to act normally, pulling out the sandwiches his grandmother had packed for his lunch, but the perceived condemnation had turned his stomach sour, and after a few bites, he shoved the food back into his bag, and got up and, head down, slunk away.

Why would people believe something like that? Why would anyone say something like that? Distressed, Alan stared out across the student parking lot, contemplating ditching the rest of the school day.

It wasn't really an option. His father would be furious, and his grandma would tan his hide. He'd be grounded for sure, and that would mean the end of his sprint car racing career.

Alan felt a knot harden in his throat. How could he show his face at the track after this? Leaning back against the wall, he hit his head against the brick. Why? Why had he been singled out? He was a good person, surely everyone knew that?

His phone rang, and without checking the caller ID, he brought it up to his ear. "Hello?"

"You misspelled cretin."

Alan stood straighter. "John!"

"Yes. What is going on out there?" Alan's brother John was in his senior year at Harvard.


"Doesn't look like nothing on your race car page."

"I'll handle it."

"Doing a fine job so far."

"Look, I just don't want to talk about it, okay?"

"You know, the primary parental unit is not going to be pleased."

"What? You're going to squeal on me?"

"Get real, kid. I won't say a word, but all those corporate brown-nosers follow your blog religiously. I'd be willing to bet one or another of them has already spilled it to Dad."

"Dad hates those guys."

"True, but that doesn't mean he won't listen to them, especially about something like this."

Embarrassed to the core of his being, Alan finally let the floodgates open. "Did you read it? John, it's all a lie. What am I going to do?"

"Alan, calm down. Of course it's a lie. Nobody who knows you will believe this crap."

"Yeah? Well, then how come nobody came to my defense? How come nobody said it was crap?" Alan fought to keep his anger under control. "John, I walked through the cafeteria and everybody was whispering about me behind my back."

On the small phone screen, his brother shook his head. "No they aren't. It just feels that way because the situation is bugging you so much. Most of the kids in the cafeteria have no clue about that blog, and those that do, don't really care all that much."

"Yeah? Well, what about my so-called friends? Why aren't they sticking up for me?"

John shrugged. "I don't know, but if it was me, I'd want to talk to you before I said anything."

Alan's jaw worked, "It's just… just…"

"It's just that you feel like you're all alone? Like you want to hide?"

Head hanging, a deep frown on his face, Alan nodded shortly, not saying anything.

"Yes. I know how that feels. But listen, kiddo, you are not alone. You'll see. By the end of the day, your friends will be there supporting you."

Not quite believing it, Alan shook his head. "Yeah, sure."

"Just wait, you'll see. Now, let's talk about who did this."

His voice rising, Alan practically wailed. "I don't know! I don't know who would do this! I'm a nice guy, you know that Johnny! I'm a nice guy!"

"Hey, hey, hey! Settle down there, Alan. I was thinking more along the lines of hunting this bastard down. Have you ever tried hacking into World Teen's database?"

Alan's eyes widened. "Are you kidding? Do you think I can?"

John's look was inscrutable. "Listen, I think I'll just come home for the weekend. I have a hankering for Grandma's cooking. Don't do anything dumb, okay? You and I, we'll take care of this."

Swallowing hard, Alan nodded. "Okay. Okay, Johnny."

"Good. I'll see you Friday night."

"Yeah. Great. I gotta go, the bell rang."

"Yeah, me too. Remember, don't do anything dumb."

John hung up before Alan could say anything more. Putting his phone in his bag, Alan headed for his Auto Shop class. The shop class was his one 'fun' class, but he had found it disappointing.

His older brother Virgil had loved the class, saying Mr. Peterson was one of the best teachers he'd ever had. But so far, at least, the class had only covered things that Alan knew. And working on the dilapidated donated junker in the shop held no appeal now that he had his own sprint car.

He sat through the class half excited, half worried about what John had said. Hacking into the World Teen database had to be illegal, and if they were caught, the consequences with their father would be gruesome. But then again, even Scott and Virgil respected Johnny's computer skills. A chance to learn at the feet of the master was too good to pass up.

After the fifteen minute classwork review, Alan joined his classmates in working on the car he'd been assigned. Almost without thinking, he replaced the coil and the spark plugs in record time. He smiled when Mr. Peterson nodded his approval of the work, but his mind was still elsewhere.

When class was over, Alan stopped by his locker and put his books away before heading to the gym and his team sports class. John had said that people weren't staring at him, and Alan tried to be objective about it, but he still found he couldn't look people in the eye as he headed for his last class of the day.

When he reached his gym locker, his friends Lawrence and Justin were waiting for him. "Al, where you been? I was looking for you at lunch, but I couldn't find you."

"I was in my usual seat."

Justin frowned. "I was a little late, but you weren't there when I got there."

Lawrence dismissed Justin's remarks with a wave. "Listen, we need to talk. We need to know how you want to handle this."

Affecting nonchalance, Alan sat down and started dressing for gym class. "Handle what?"

"What do you mean, handle what? How we handle this butthole that's putting those lies up on your blog."

"Oh, so you know they're lies?"

Both boys paused at the sudden anger in Alan's voice. Lawrence cocked his head. "Yes, Alan, we know they are lies. What, you think we even wondered? Well, thanks a lot."

Alan looked up then rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay. I'm sorry. It's just been a tough day, okay?"

Justin nodded. "Yeah. So how are we going to handle it?"

"John called. He thinks we should hack the site."

"Oh, please. That site's got more security than the Pentagon."

"I dunno, Lawrence. His brother is like the hacker king. If anybody could do it, it'd be John."

"Okay, so once you've hacked it, then what?"

"Then I go beat the crap out of whoever is doing this."

"Yeah, there's a plan. You beat them up and you just prove they're right."

"Yeah, well, then, what do you think I should do?"

Lawrence shook his head. "I don't know, Al. Things like this are just so…" He shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, for now, I'd appreciate it, if you guys could say something like I'm not a druggie."

"Already done."

"We both did. And there were other people saying it too. Didn't you see?"

Alan looked up. "I haven't checked since lunch. The last I looked it was all nasty."

"No, everybody's commenting now. I think people just wanted to see what you would say first."

"Oh, and you misspelled cretin."

Alan considered pulling out his phone, to see what people were saying, but a whistle blew, and all three of the boys had to hustle to get out on the field. Alan started for the equipment bags to get his mask and chest protector, when Coach Daugherty called the class over.

"Men, take a knee." Alan swallowed at the severe look on the coach's face. With the rest of the team, he hunkered down on the turf.

For a moment, the coach stood there looking out over the team. When he spoke, his voice was stern. "Every few years, we have an issue here at this school with bullying. The last time, it was a young man who thought he could mistreat others if they were physically smaller than he was. We disabused him of that belief.

"Now I know you have all seen films and had lectures over the years telling you that bullying was not to be tolerated. I've known most of you since you were children, and I know that not one of you would put up with someone picking on someone smaller. I know none of you would sit still if you saw someone demanding someone else's lunch money. I know I can trust all of you to be good decent citizens."

Like most of his teammates, Alan was frowning. He hadn't heard of any bullying. The coach was right about one thing. If Alan had known that some kid in his school was being bullied, he would have taken care of it. He would have stopped it. And he wouldn't have been alone either. All of his friends were stand up guys, and none of them would have ignored a bully.

Coach Daugherty continued. "When you men think of a bully, you get a certain picture in your head, don't you? Someone large, maybe not too bright, with a huge chip on their shoulder, right? And you picture the victim, too. Undersized, no fashion sense, plays chess, not football."

The boys all laughed, nodding in agreement. Coach Daugherty shook his head. "Let me give you another picture. That self same victim, this time at his computer. This time posting insinuations and lies about the big lug. Do you say, well, he deserves it? Or do you sneer and tease him, accepting that what was said was true?" The coach paused, then, looking each boy in the eye, said, "Or do you understand that this is just another form of bullying? Just another way to demean others, because isn't that all that bullying really is? A way to make you feel better about yourself by dragging down others?"

Alan sat very still, his eyes widening. Was the coach talking about him? Had Coach Daugherty seen the lies on his blog page? Embarrassed and ashamed, Alan could not look the man in the eye.

"You know, in my mind, a cyber bully is in many ways worse than any big kid punching a smaller kid on a playground. A cyber bully hides behind the anonymity of a computer. A cyber bully spreads their poison in the assumption that they will not be caught. They say whatever they want with no repercussions. Unlike a schoolyard bully, a victim of a cyber bully can't turn to friends and teachers for help in stopping the abuse. How can you stop someone when you don't know who it is?

"So, does that mean that when someone is attacked by a cyber bully, we just shrug and say there is nothing we can do? You pat the victim on the back and shake your head?"

Coach Daugherty shook his head and continued. "One of the first lessons you learn from all of those classroom films you've seen over the years, is that a bully's greatest ally is silence. If everyone turns away, if no one says anything, the bully wins. Men, the same is true with a cyber bully. You have someone posting lies about a friend on the internet, you do not walk away, you respond, you refute the lies. If the bully comes back, you refute the lies again. And again. You present a solid wall of truth to the attacker, and to the world. You do not stay silent. You do not walk away."

The coach stood tall and proud, looking over the team, and the boys all responded, holding themselves a bit prouder. The coach nodded, then blew his whistle. "Wind sprints. Now."

Knowing the drill, the boys lined up to run to the far fence three at a time. Alan was in the second group, and as he waited, he heard his teammates asking one another what the coach's speech had been about.

Alan ignored the talk, and when Justin tagged his hand, ran as hard as he could to the outer fence. He understood what the coach was saying, but he was embarrassed beyond belief that anybody would think of him as a victim.

By the time he returned and tagged the next teammate, the talk had died down, and everyone was staring at him. Leif Magnuson stepped up, saying, "Al, I didn't know about it, but I agree with the coach, silence is the worst way to handle it. As soon as school is out, I'm going to post something, okay?"

Alan, looked over at the boy. They had been teammates for the last three years, but other than that, they hadn't much in common, and they didn't hang out together. Alan was touched at the gesture, and he smiled saying, "Thanks, Leif, I appreciate it."

Leif nodded and held up his fist, which Alan bumped with his own fist. Leif looked Alan in the eye and said firmly, "Solid wall, man."

The rest of his team all agreed, each kid stepping up to bump fists, each repeating "Solid wall." By the time Justin and Lawrence stepped up, Alan was standing tall, proud to have such support. He looked over at Coach Daugherty who had watched the entire scene, and nodded, his chin held high.

When the team practice was over, Alan took his shower and dressed to go home. As he picked up his books from his locker, he saw several guys typing on their phones. It was a matter of pride that he didn't rush to see what was being said, instead going out to his car and waving goodbye to his friends before driving through town to the donut shop. He settled himself at a back table, a bag of chocolate long johns and a cup of coffee at hand.

With a deep breath, he opened his blog and scrolled to comments. As he saw the support that he was receiving, he blew out a long sigh of relief. Not only were his friends and teammates supporting him, but other people that he'd never even met were throwing in words of encouragement.

Sitting back in the hard plastic seat, Alan felt as if a weight had been lifted from his heart. John had been right, and all of his friends were stepping up. He took a big bite of his donut, and perked up when his phone chimed indicating a new comment.

With a bit of a smile, he started to read, and his heart suddenly bottomed out. Alan's ears heated up as his breathing became ragged. The creep was back, and this time, it was worse, far worse. Alan stabbed at the phone, to scroll back to the start of the new comment. Growing more angry by the second, he read:

"Oh, please! Are you all really that naïve? Alan Tracy's father has enough money to cover up anything. Do you people think that this sixteen- year-old kid, is really good enough to beat adults? Or that Gordon Tracy actually earned that Olympic Gold Medal? More likely, doping runs in the family. Use your heads, people! Daddy can pay off other drivers and other swimmers and race officials and anyone else he needs to out of petty cash! Come to think of it, how many of those so-called friends painting the rosy picture of 'Saint Alan' here actually exist? The comments are all the same, aren't they? Want to know what I think? Daddy didn't even spring for group of people, he just paid one of his secretaries to write them all! Wise up, people!"

Alan felt as if he would explode, he was so angry. For this jerk to come after him was infuriating, but for his brother Gordon's Olympic medal to be called into question was beyond belief. His hands shook as he grabbed his phone, ready to rip the hide off of the idiot.

Before he so much as typed a letter, his phone beeped indicating another message. Realizing he had to calm down before he said anything, he took a deep breath, and opened the new comment. Reading, he snorted. At least one of Gordon's swim meet opponents had been reading the blog. His response helped drain the anger from Alan's heart. He read:

"Wait, wait! You mean I was supposed to be getting paid to get my butt whipped by Gordon Tracy? I started swimming against him when I was twelve years old, and I have yet to beat him, especially since he took up the butterfly. Let me tell you all, I could have been on a Ski-Doo, and I still would never have gone as fast as Gordon. But damn, why didn't anybody tell me his dad was paying? I coulda been a millionaire by now! I've been robbed!"

The phone chimed again, several overlapping tones, indicating multiple messages. Alan read them all, almost tearing up at the support. A number of Gordon's teammates and opponents jumped on board, complaining about not getting paid to lose races, including guys who'd lost to him in the Olympics.

His eyes widened when Piers Engstrom, one of the older men whom Alan himself competed against in Outlaw racing joined in, bemoaning the fact that he needed a new carburetor, but he'd never gotten his 'loser money' either. Within thirty minutes, there had been a virtual flood of support from his friends, from his teammates and from his competitors.

Alan sat back, overwhelmed. He wasn't surprised at all of the people jumping in to support Gordon. His brother was a great guy, and he deserved every compliment he ever got. But he had never really thought of himself as being worth all of this. He tried to be a good person, he really did, but he knew he had a temper that sometimes got the best of him, and not always in private.

Alan decided it felt good. He started to put his phone away, but when it chimed one last time, he paused to read the message. His eyes flew wide when he saw it was from his oldest brother, Scott. He'd hoped that only Johnny would be aware of this embarrassing mess. He felt a bit of a lump form in his throat at the words Scott had written.

"Obviously, anyone with access to a television knows that my brother Gordon earned his Olympic gold. Having been awakened time after time by his stomping around the house at five in the morning getting ready to go to swim practice, I can assure anyone who asks that nothing was handed to him. As far as my brother Alan is concerned, his sprint car races haven't been shown on worldwide TV yet, and more's the pity. Any interested person can go to and see Alan in action. I recommend it. You'll see a star in the making. Alan has talent up the wazoo, but don't tell him I said so. Oh, and as far as my dad's secretary writing these messages is concerned, clearly, you don't know her. Dad would never dare ask her. She'd put him down with a single look."

Alan chuckled at that last comment. His dad didn't really have a secretary. He had an executive assistant who was formidable in her own right. Alan put his phone away and headed for his car.

As he drove home, he considered the day. He decided to tell John that he didn't need to know who the cyber attacker was. It didn't really matter. Knowing that any further attacks would be met with Coach Daugherty's solid wall of truth filled him with pride and not a little humility. To know he had the kind of support he'd seen today meant more to him than even winning the race yesterday.

He headed home, a smile on his face, and lift in his heart.

The end.

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