“Charlotte laughed because your mother died,” Tess stood before me, her head to one side, a hand on her hip. It was my first morning at school after the woman died. “She said it was funny.” Tess glanced around the semicircle of sixth, seventh and eighth year girls who listened, their mouths wide ovals or smiles. I don’t want to do this, I mutely told my Friend. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and marched off to the tetherball court where Charlotte waited for a turn. “Charlotte!” I made my voice hard, “I heard what you did!” Charlotte turned to me. I socked her in the eye. Charlotte swung back. I continued to hit at her. We missed more than we connected. A whistle shrieked in the crisp morning air. “Break it up!” Mrs. L, the vice-principal called out. “I’m surprised at you two,” Mrs. L. held us each by one arm. “I thought you were friends.” My lower lip felt big. A sharp pain filled my mouth when I touched it with my tongue. We are, I mutely told my Friend.
Mr. E. gently wiped blood off my chin and handed me a paper towel, “Here, hold this to your mouth. It will stop bleeding soon.” He went over to examine Charlotte’s eye, “Well, I don’t understand this.” “She hit me!” Charlotte declared, her good eye opened wide. Mr. E. looked at me. I dropped my head, “Tess said you laughed because my mother died.” Tears filled my eyes. “I didn’t laugh!” Charlotte insisted looking up at Mr. E., then over at me. “I said, ‘It’s so sad your mother died.’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry for her.'” My tears fell on my lap. I looked up, my voice a tiny whisper, “She said you laughed.” “I would never do that!” Charlotte placed one hand on my arm. Mr. E. passed me a tissue, “I think the best thing we can do is start the day over.” Charlotte and I looked into each others eyes, then back at Mr. E. Our heads nodded slowly in unison.