“Henry? Is that you, honey?” She called to him from the kitchen, where she was almost every afternoon when he got home from school.
“Yeah, Mom.” He walked through the living room and tossed his school bag onto the couch.
“How was school today?” She dropped a kiss on his cheek as he walked by.
He reached in the refrigerator for a soda. “It was fine, I guess. Amy Fletcher put gum in Stacy Cromwell’s hair. Again.” His mother looked up from her pan of sautéed vegetables.
“Again?! That’s what – every other day since second grade?”
“Third, but yeah.” He shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable with the subject. He liked Stacy, better than the other girls. Better than some of the guys. He didn’t understand all the weird feelings that attacked him whenever he thought about her.
“That poor girl. Aren’t the teachers doing anything about it?”
“Taking bets on how long it will be before she gives up and shaves her head?” She gave him a look that was somewhere between ‘you don’t mean that’ and ‘that’s terrible’. Henry shrugged again. “I don’t know. Not really. They’ve changed Stacy’s schedule three or four times, trying to keep Amy away from her, but it’s not working. And they’ve never done anything to Amy for it, not even a single detention.”
She shook her head and turned back to her stove. “I’ve half a mind to go to that principal myself. What that little girl is doing is bullying. Just because she’s a girl doesn’t excuse her.”
“It’s getting worse, I think. She used to be able to handle it, but ever since her mom died… I mean, her dad is great and all, but he works all the time. She doesn’t really have an adult she trusts to talk to.”
His mother sighed, but not the irritated or upset sigh he was used to. Her voice cracked when she spoke. “Do you think she would like to join us for dinner?”
“Don’t know. I’ll go call her.” She nodded without looking at him.
He grabbed his backpack from the couch and walked to his bedroom, speed-dialing Stacy’s number as he went.
“Hey Henry,” she answered on the second ring.
“Hey. What are you doing?”
“Walking to the store. We’re out of peanut butter.”
“You want to come here instead? I think we have some. Hang on and I’ll ask… Mom!” he yelled down the hall.
“Yes?” she yelled back.
“Do we have any peanut butter?”
“Yes, we have peanut butter,” she said, standing in his doorway, having moved in that stealthy way only moms and spies can master.
“Yeah, we’ve got some. You want to just head over here? You can stay for dinner, if it’s alright with your dad.”
“Um, yeah, okay. I’ll have to call him first, and I have some homework I need to get done…”
“Sure. Call him and if he says it’s okay, we can do our homework together before dinner, and then my mom can drive you home.” He looked up at her for approval as he said it, and she nodded.
“Okay. Let me call him and I’ll be right over. And Henry?”
The line went dead before he could answer. He looked up at his mother, confused.
“I’ll go set another place at the table.” She turned back to the kitchen, and stopped. “You’re a good friend, Henry.”
“Yeah.” She smiled and walked away.