Three of the boys ran away when the girl fell. But Daniel stopped running when she hit the pavement, her out-of-style dress flying up around her waist exposing her panties. She quickly pulled it down and sat in the middle of the four square court, fighting back tears, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, her knobby knees scraped and bleeding.
They’d been chasing her, taunting her, yelling, “Bird legs, bird legs, fly away ugly buzzard.” She was an easy target: new in school, thin and quiet, always had her nose in a book.
He didn’t want to tease her; he was just trying to fit in with the boys. He didn’t like their unruly, uncouth ways, but that’s how the cool boys acted so he went along to be accepted. He didn’t mean for her to get hurt.
Truth was, he liked her from the first day she transferred in. She was different. In a good way. She was nice and she was smart. It wasn’t her fault she had to wear hand-me-downs. He could see that she’d be beautiful one day when she grew into herself. Sometimes, he imagined walking her to class, hand in hand, but he didn’t know how to do that. You couldn’t just take a girl’s hand, could you?
Kids started gathering around, whispering, and he knew he should disappear, but he was drawn to her by some magnetic force. The girl looked up at him with teary eyes and regarded his goofy expression. Her face turned flowery like a rosebud opening in the spring sun. She was amused by him, or maybe confused by him. Now he blushed with embarrassment and his stomach flip-flopped like when Miss Davidson made him recite something in front of the class.
The recess supervisor rounded the corner of the building, holding her whistle, suspicious of the sudden cessation of the noise of children at play. If he kept standing there, she would grab him by the elbow and haul him off to the principal’s office, but he couldn’t leave the girl.
He stepped toward her and held out his hand. “Sorry,” he said.
She reached out her hand and he took it. The feeling of it surprised him. The flesh was not soft as he imagined, but scrapped up like it’d gone over a cheese grater, pebbles embedded in the palm. He held it anyway and helped her to her feet. Even after she was standing, he kept holding her hand. “I’ll take you to the nurse,” he said, and she smiled at him for the first time.
He wasn’t thinking about the children gathered around, judging him, or the trouble he was about to get into for causing the scene, or the razzing his friends would give him. He only thought about how he wanted to keep holding her hand every chance he got for as long as she would let him.
Mary Senter writes in a cabin in the woods on the shores of Puget Sound. She earned certificates in literary fiction writing from the University of Washington and an M.A. in strategic communication from WSU. Her work can be found in Ponder Review, Cleaver, SHARK REEF, and elsewhere. She is the graphic designer for Crab Creek Review. Visit her at www.marysenter.com.