Robert is Mister Popular. Everyone in my sixth grade class likes him. I kind of wish he would disappear like invisible ink. Before he came to our school, my life was great, but now all I hear is “Robert, Robert, Robert!”
This week, our teacher, Mrs. Beng, told us we were going to do reports on different dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs. I was so happy with this assignment, I couldn’t stop grinning—until Mrs. Beng said that my best friend, Jeff, would be Robert’s partner.
“You should see the neat picture Robert drew of a tyrannosaurus,” Jeff told me at lunchtime. “Our report is going to be great!”
“Probably,” I mumbled. “I’m partners with Katie. She only likes to draw horses.” I hurriedly changed the subject. “Want to play soccer?”
Jeff nodded as he finished off his milk. “I brought my ball.”
We grabbed our hats and ran outside to the grassy field next to the playground. The kids were waiting to start a game, and I made sure I wasn’t on Robert’s team. I’m pretty quick, and I figured I might score a couple of goals.
But Robert got the ball. He weaved in and out of the players and passed it off to Jessica before I could get my legs racing in the right direction. Jessica kicked it into the net. Before the bell rang, Robert’s team had scored four goals. He’d kept stealing the ball and passing it to a teammate in front of the net.
That afternoon, we had a spelling bee. Robert knew how to spell triceratops.
“Good job,” Mrs. Beng said when he finally outspelled everyone. He didn’t even get the extra-hard challenge words wrong. The whole class clapped for him. I didn’t clap very loudly. Everyone would cheer for me, too, if I had a computer brain like Robert’s.
After school, I waited by my locker for Jeff. “Do you want to come over and play basketball?” I asked him.
“I’m going over to Robert’s,” Jeff answered. “We’re going to work on our dinosaur report. And he’s going to show me his aquarium. I love fish. Plus, I’m going to try out his new skateboard. Want to come over to my house tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” I said. “I’ll let you know.” My stomach felt like I’d swallowed a pile of rocks. It figured that Robert had all sorts of neat stuff. No wonder Jeff wanted to go there. No wonder everyone liked him.
That night, I thought about Robert before I fell asleep. There had to be some amazing thing I could do, too. It took a lot of thinking, but I finally remembered the trick Grandpa had taught me. I knew how to make a coin disappear and then seem to pull it out of someone’s ear. Jeff would like seeing that, and then he’d forget all about Robert.
Tomorrow will be a much better day, I told myself as I pulled up my covers. Besides my magic trick, our class was going on a field trip to the dinosaur museum.
When I woke up the next morning, I wanted to make my stomach disappear instead of a coin. It kept flipping and flopping. My head hurt, too.
“You have the stomach flu,” Mom said. “You’ll have to stay home today with me.”
“Not today,” I moaned. “We’re going to the dinosaur museum.”
“I’m sorry.” Mom brushed back my hair with her cool hand. “I’ll take you there another day.”
“I can go,” I said, standing up. Everything in the room twirled around, and I felt myself getting hot and sweaty, like I’d raced ten miles. My stomach lurched.
“Lie down,” Mom said sympathetically but firmly. “Maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
I lay down, but I missed two whole days of school before I felt normal again. I was really glad to go back to school, but I didn’t tell everyone that. I also remembered to bring my coin.
At lunchtime, Mrs. Beng asked me to stay in and make up some of the work I’d missed. Two seconds later, guess who showed up at my desk—Robert. He was going to help me.
“I’m sure you two will do fine,” Mrs. Beng said as she left, her heels tip-tapping down the hallway.
First, Robert explained the math assignment to me. I started working on it while he went to dig something out of his backpack.
“What’s that?” I asked when he plunked a box down on my desk.
“It’s from the museum,” he explained. “It’s a plastic model of a brontosaurus, but you have to put the bones together. You like dinosaurs so much, I felt kind of bad when you missed our trip. I thought you might like this, so I got one for you.”
“How did you know I like dinosaurs?” I said, picking up the box.
“I noticed that you have dinosaur stickers all over your folders, and Jeff told me you have a collection of plastic ones in your room.”
“Oh.” A bunch of thoughts jumbled around in my head. Robert cared about me, and he even knew my favorite hobby. I guess I never realized how he always paid so much attention to the other kids. That’s why everyone liked him. It wasn’t because he could draw or spell or play soccer. Robert was just plain nice! Suddenly I didn’t feel so good about myself. But maybe I could fix that. “The dinosaur’s great,” I told him. “Thanks. Do you want to come over and see my collection?”
“Sure.” He gave me a friendly grin.
“Do you collect anything?” I asked Robert next.
“Stamps,” he answered.
“I’ll keep my eyes open for any special ones,” I promised.
“Great!” He grinned again.
“No problem,” I said. A warm feeling spread through me as I finished up my math. Robert had helped me more than he knew. In fact, from now on I decided I’d try to be like him, a real Mister Nice Guy. It was the only “magic” trick I’d really need.