The bell rang, and I darted out of the classroom.
“Hey! Andrew! Andrew Hinton, stop right there!”
I was weaving in and out of the crowded hall like an all-star halfback. Normally I wasn’t this talented, but when Helen chased me, it was as if I gained extra speed.
“Andrew Hinton—just wait until I get my hands on you!”
When I turned to see if the towering figure was still chasing me, I tripped over Tommy, who had stooped to pick up a book. “Oof!” I went crashing over the top of him. “Are you OK, Tommy?” I asked.
“Yeah, how about you?”
“I’m all right as long as Helen doesn’t catch me.”
Tommy shivered, and his eyes got wide. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story. I have to go.” I turned to run. “Ahhh!” I was staring at Helen’s throat. She glared down at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, hi, Helen,” I said with a weak grin.
She squinted her eyes as she loomed over me like a storm cloud about to erupt. “Why did you groan and say, ‘Oh, no—not Helen the Giant!’ when Mrs. Haynes assigned us to be partners in the science project?” she demanded, still squinting.
“I didn’t say that, Helen,” I said, even though it wasn’t the truth.
“Yes, you did.” Her stare was like a hot laser beam.
“OK, maybe I said it, but I really didn’t mean it.” I smiled sheepishly.
“Yes you did.”
“Well … but I meant it in a nice way. …”
She shook her head. Her fists were now clenched at her side. “I guess there’s only one thing left to do then,” she said, pushing up her sleeves.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and braced myself for the worst.
To my amazement, she said, “I’ll go tell Mrs. Haynes that you want a different partner.”
It took a second for me to understand what had happened. When I opened my eyes, she was already trudging away. Why didn’t she slug me? I wondered. Then I surprised myself by running after her. “Hey, Helen! Wait up!”
She turned around, her face puffy and red from trying not to cry.
“Why didn’t you hit me or something?” I asked.
“Hit you? Why would I do that? I’ve never hit anyone.”
I scratched my head. “But what about all those stories about you hurting people?”
“You know, like the one about your scratching up Billy Snead’s face?”
She laughed and shook her head. “He was riding by me on his bike and calling me names. When he finally turned to look where he was going, it was too late—he crashed into a rosebush. I tried to help him, but he ran off screaming.”
“Yeah, that sounds like something Billy would do,” I laughed. “But why don’t you just ignore people when they joke about you and tease you?”
“I try, but it still hurts my feelings. I can’t help it that I’m this tall.”
“I guess you can’t. I never really thought about it that way.”
“Tommy Clark can’t help it because he’s short,” she added, “yet people pick on him too. And what about Tara Phelps? I’m sure she’d rather talk without stuttering.”
“And you can’t help it if your ears are too big,” she said.
“Well, yeah, I mean that’s—Hey! Wait a minute!”
“It doesn’t feel very good, does it?” Helen asked with a half smile.
“No, it doesn’t,” I admitted. I was beginning to understand. Just because someone looks, talks, or acts differently doesn’t mean that they should be avoided or be made fun of. I hesitated. “Uh, Helen, if you’re still interested, I was wondering if you’d like to stay as my science partner. I mean, if you don’t mind having a partner with big ears. …”
“Sure, why not? Maybe you’ll hear something from down there that I can’t see from up here.” She grinned.
I grinned back.