Andy glanced up from his homework as the new kid entered study hall. The boy tripped over his shoelace and fell to the floor, splattering books as well as his thick-lensed glasses.
Chris snickered in the chair beside Andy. "What a geek," he said in a low voice to Andy. "He does something like that in every class."
Andy stared at his paper, feeling embarrassed for the boy. What was his name? Dexter? He even had a geek name. Poor kid. He suspected Chris wasn't exaggerating, though. There was something familiar about the way Dexter was scrambling all over the floor, picking up his books. He'd seen it earlier today in the hallway outside science class. Even then he had felt that uncomfortable feeling - like he wanted to remove himself from the vicinity. It was as though he knew what the kid was feeling. Only he had never been like Dexter. He had always enjoyed popularity and coordination. There was little that he didn't feel confident about achieving...well, everything but a B in math.
"Chris," the teacher said. "Why don't you come up and help Dexter."
Oh man. Didn't she realize she was only making it worse for Dexter?
Chris squirmed out of his chair and slouched toward the front of the class. Dexter scrambled from the floor, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.
"I'm okay," he protested with a red face.
Chris shrugged and turned back to his desk, shaking his head at Andy as he slid into his chair. "Is he a geek, or what?"
Andy opened his book and tried to concentrate on the homework he hadn't completed last night. He had thirty minutes to finish it.
The sound of scuffling at the empty chair on the other side of him suggested Dexter was taking that desk. Andy glanced up and met the red-faced boy's gaze. The thick lenses made his eyes look like huge blue marbles, and his shock of red hair was standing straight on end. Andy suppressed a smile. The boy looked comical.
Dexter slid into the chair. "I think I lost my math assignment some place. Do you remember what page it was?"
Andy nodded. "Page 25 to 27. You'd better hurry. You've got less than a half hour to get it done."
"Shhhh!" The girl in front of Dexter put a finger to her lips. "I'm trying to study."
Dexter flipped his math book open and it slid across the slick desk top, toppling to the floor. Dexter tried to catch it, but he only succeeded in knocking it under the girl's desk.
Chris broke out in a cackle, and the girl gave Dexter a withering look. Dexter fished the book out from under her desk, his face almost as red as his hair.
"Sorry," he said.
Andy tried to focus on the math problems. It was hard enough under normal circumstances. He had to bring his math grade up. One more D and he would get pulled off the basketball team.
He had just started to focus on his work when he noticed the quick scraping of pencil on the desk beside him. What now? He glanced over at Dexter and his jaw dropped.
Dexter was calculating those math problems as fast as he could write. Andy snapped his mouth shut. But were they correct? He dropped his pencil and leaned over to get it, taking a quick look at problem number five as he passed.
"Andy," the teacher spoke sternly. "Keep your eyes on your own paper."
Everyone turned to look at him, and he slumped down in his chair, his face flaming. Dexter glanced at him and frowned, fanning the flames into a raging inferno. He couldn't honestly say he wasn't looking at Dexter's paper, and how could he explain why he was looking? He stared at his paper. How was he ever going to get it all done with all this going on?
He still had four more problems to do when the bell rang. He leaned over his work, trying to concentrate in the din of scraping chairs and conversation.
Dexter paused by his desk. "Would you like me to help you with that?"
Andy frowned. "I don't need any help - and I wasn't trying to copy your answers, either."
Dexter shrugged. "I didn't think you were."
Andy stared at him. "You didn't?"
Dexter shook his head. "Why would a guy with a B+ average need to copy off of someone with a C average?"
Andy gave Dexter a suspicious look. "How would you know what my average is?"
Dexter smiled. "I read it in the paper. You know, that write up about the basketball team."
"Oh yeah. I forgot about that," Andy said. He slammed his math book shut. Maybe he could work on the problems in math class before everybody got settled down. He gathered his books and headed for the door, Dexter following in close pursuit.
Two long strides shy of the math classroom, Andy heard a crash behind him. He paused; calling himself a fool as he turned to see Dexter sprawled on the floor again. For one agonizing moment he was torn between walking away and stopping to help Dexter up from the floor. How could anyone fall so often? He let out a long sigh and turned to Dexter. Kids were snickering behind their hands and rolling their eyes. Poor Dexter.
Andy reached down and grabbed Dexter by the arm. "Here, let me help you."
Dexter jerked his arm free, his face turning red. "I can get up by myself." He glanced around the hallway, and for a moment Andy thought he was going to cry. Andy grabbed Dexter's books and handed them to him.
"Here. Why don't you watch where you're going?"
Dexter gave him a hard stare and brushed by without a word, limping on one foot. He must have hurt himself in the fall, but he wasn't complaining.
What with all the excitement, Andy didn't get to finish his homework, and had to hand it in with three problems incomplete. Combine that with the six he got wrong, and he managed a D+. Something had to give.
Dexter joined him after math class, still limping. "I'm sorry about your math homework. I'd be glad to help you. I'm good at math."
His confidence was amusing. Andy grinned and teased him. "Yeah, now if you could just stay on your feet until the next class."
Dexter had started to smile in response to Andy's grin, but the smile faded with the statement. A cold feeling settled in Andy's stomach. "Did it hurt you bad when you fell? I noticed you were limping."
Dexter made a face. "I always limp. I have one bad leg. The doctors said I'd never walk on it, but I showed them."
Andy wanted to crawl into his locker. "Geez, I didn't know. I didn't mean...I shouldn't have said..."
Dexter waved a hand. "Oh, I'm used to it. How could you know?" He tossed his books in the locker and slammed it shut. "Want to come over to my house this evening? I've got a new computer game."
Andy shook his head. "I've got to study tonight. If I don't pass that math test tomorrow, they're going to kick me off the team."
Dexter's eyes grew even larger behind the thick glasses. He pursed his lips and whistled. "That would be a blow to the team."
Andy colored up. "Well, it would be more of a blow to me - and my parents."
"So why don't you let me help you?"
Andy hesitated. "I don't know. You think you could help me pass the test?"
"I'm sure of it." The round blue eyes were comically serious. "Why don't you come by my house tonight. I'll show you a few tricks."
Why not? It was probably the only chance he had. He nodded. "Okay, I'll see you this evening."
Andy threw everything but his math book in the locker and slammed the door shut. A hand came down in the middle of his back with a stinging slap.
"Got a new friend?" Chris teased. "The geek?"
For a moment Andy was tempted to deny any interest in Dexter. After all; hadn't Dexter been the one following him around, asking him over to his place? It was plain that Dexter was the laughing stock of the ninth grade. But then he remembered the look on Dexter's face as he struggled up from the floor. He deserved better.
Andy slapped Chris on the back and grinned real big. "Yeah, my friend, the geek. I'm going over to his place to study tonight. Want to come along?"
Chris stared at him. "No way, man. Everybody will laugh at you."
Andy playfully punched Chris in the arm. "I don't think so. They didn't laugh when I started hanging out with you."
Chris frowned. "I'm serious, man. People will think you're a geek too."
Andy shrugged. "Maybe. It's just possible that they'll all find out Dexter isn't a geek after all."
Of course, he knew that wasn't true. Dexter was a geek all right. He would be even if he didn't fall all the time. It was the way he dressed, the way he wore his hair - everything about him. He was a geek. But there was something about him that Andy liked anyway. Maybe it was the fact that Dexter knew how to be a friend. Even after being laughed at and teased for being so clumsy, Dexter was willing to forgive him. Dexter would be there long after the others had found new friends.
Yes, Dexter was a geek. And Andy had found a new friend. So what? He left Chris standing there, staring after him as though he had lost his mind. But Chris didn't realize that Andy had just found his own mind.
This story can be purchased in the collection of short youth stories "YOUTH YARNS."