She makes a face. "Ugh. What a name. Itís just like her personality."
"Thatís got to be the only thing that this whole school agrees on."
She laughs a beautiful laugh, like little bells. Handing me the napkin from my lunch she says, "My nameís Bethany Nelson, not Mom, but Iím gonna tell you to wipe your shirt anyhow."
"Max Rosen," I answer, smiling.
When she finishes cleaning the mess, Bethany pushes me out of the crack. Quietly she hangs my backpack on the hook my dad attached to the edge of my wheelchair for my backpack. I had insisted that I be able to wheel to school myself in seventh grade. Bethany falls into step as I push myself forward.
"Why did you do it?" I ask, "I mean why did you just clean the things up and give them to me? Nobodyís ever done that for me before."
Bethany takes a big breath and looks at me. I know immediately this was the wrong question to have asked. But she begins before I can take it back.
"A bunch of kids used to beat me up and tease me at my old school. Thatís partially why we moved here. I knew how you felt. I couldnít just walk by you like you werenít there. Youíve got to tell somebody about them. Youíve got to tell somebody who can help, Max. Who were those kids?"
She looks at me with such honesty that I know what she says is true. I canít lie to a person who can confess something like that. I had spent all of my thirteen years trying to convince the world I was as good as anyone, yet she can explain it in under a paragraph. Nobodyís strong enough for everything. I barely know her, but I donít have it in my heart to betray that trust.
"Theyíre my brother Brianís gang," I admit, "my younger brother Brianís gang."
I know from experience that sort of thing is hard to stomach. Bethany swallows it sort of like that disgusting cold medicineóyou know itís good for you, but it still makes you want to gag. She remains quiet for a while. "You donít have to say youíre sorry or anything. Sometimes life just doesnít face forward and stand up tall. You just deal with it," I tell her.
"You should still tell someone. Someone important. Someone who knows what to do. Your mom. Your dad. Your teacher. The president for all I care!"
I know sheís right. But I donít reply.
We continue to walk in silence along the birch-lined street. Two squirrels make a ruckus in a game of treetop tag. We reach a small broken-down house.
"This is my stop," she jokes, but I know sheís embarrassed that itís her home.
I want to thank her. To tell her sheís the best person in the world. To tell her how much I like her. But Iím lost for words. "Bye, Max."
"See you, Bethany."
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