“Friend or Foe” by Hailey Edwards, 7th Grade, KIPP STAR Middle School
This story originally appeared in Legend, KIPP NYC’s student literary magazine.
It’s the first day back to school, and I am super excited. I’m finally in 4th grade! As I walk into the building with my new Jordans and my sequined backpack, I get this overwhelming feeling that I can’t wait to see my friends. Me and my friends (Aaliyah, Harper Rose, and Neveah) hung out all summer. We had an amazing time. I could tell we were going to be friends forever… or at least that is what I thought.
I walk into the cafeteria, and Neveah rushes towards me. She blurts out, “The clique is together forevaaaaaa! We are all in the same class”. As happy as I am, something – or better yet, someone – catches my eye.
A new face.
I sit down and think to myself, “Must be the new kid”. I get closer and can see him a little better. He is a strawberry blonde like my new neighbor. I look at him closer and can tell he is both sad and mad, two emotions that don’t mix well.
I look around and see my friends laughing and pointing at him as I walk closer to the table.
I overhear Aaliyah say, “Hey, Four Eyes, what’s with the dictionary?”
I soon realize they are bullying him! I sit down next to them as they continue to laugh and whisper mean things about him. I ask them what the new kid did for them to be bullying him.
They look at each other with weird looks on their faces before Aaliyah says, “He did nothing wrong. We bully him because it’s fun.”
Before I can say anything, the bell rings on the way to our first class. I’m hoping that if I talk to them later, they will understand how I feel about bullying… but I’m wrong.
We go into our first class; History, my favorite subject. This will make the day so much better. Our history teacher comes in shortly after us and writes his name on the black board: MR. MARTINEZ. I can already tell I’m gonna like him, I thought as he stood smiling in the front of the room.
“OK class! I’m Mr. Martinez, and before we start, I think it’s only proper to introduce our new student in our school!” he says. “Ashers please come up and tell us a few things about yourself.”
“Asher?” I mutter under my breath. For some reason that name sounds very familiar… The sound of the chair next to me scraping the floor as it is being pulled back breaks me from my trance. As I look up, I am met with golden eyes: the strawberry blonde kid from earlier. He steps to the front. I finally put the pieces together. He’s my neighbor. Yesterday I saw him and his mom move into the apartment next to us. I hope he doesn’t remember me. I feel so guilty for letting my friends bully him.
I should have said something then. Now I know I must confront them before the day is over. After a dreadful three hours at school, it’s finally time for our last class before lunch. Unfortunately, it’s math. I walk into the room and sit in the back hoping that if I hide, the teacher won’t call on me. I’m not good at math. I used to be really good but as I grew up, it got worse and worse. He begins to talk about how we are supposed to isolate the variable but my mind wanders off. I’m super nervous. I know that what my friends are doing to Asher is wrong, but I can’t help but wonder, if I let them continue, can we still be friends?
Maybe they’ll learn that what they did was wrong and apologize.
“Leilani can u please tell me what we have to do to isolate A?”
Mr. Rodriguez interrupts my train of thought. “Uh I- maybe you have to multiply by -7…” I look at him desperately as he shakes his head and explains the problem over, but before he can continue, the bell rings and I’m the first one out. Time for lunch.
For the first time since kindergarten, I’m dreading having to go. When I first get there, I eat in silence. I know I should say something to them, but I can’t. I’ll have to do it during recess or else I won’t be able to do it at all. I watch them snicker as the new kid walks by, and I’m silently hoping the bell will ring. Suddenly, like it was reading my mind, the bell rings. It’s time for recess, which couldn’t come sooner. The tension at the table grows and I can’t take it anymore. I get up quicker than ever and go outside, which I know caused a few stares because usually I walk with the girls. I have to get away from the table before I say something I would later regret.
Instead of playing during recess like everyone else, my friends and I sit at the bench and talk. It’s been a tradition since first grade and probably will be one forever. I hear them planning a sleepover, but I can’t really focus on that right now. Not when I am so angry at them. How could they bully the new kid? How could they bully anyone? Maybe that’s something we are supposed to do, like a trend, but I can’t stomach it. My gaze travels to the new kid. I feel guilty for not saying anything, but I know if I do, I will lose my friends. If they were my real friends, they wouldn’t care. I look down at my feet and rise angrily, and before I can stop myself, my feet guide me to him
I remember when I was younger and I was bullied for wearing glasses. It made me feel really bad about myself. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. My feet stop and I can see the new kid looking at me. He has the sides of his hair shaved off and the rest out on the top. He’s wearing beat-up Air Force Ones, jeans, and a black shirt.
“Hi,” I manage to mutter.
“Uhhhh, hi,” he says. I can tell he had been crying. His eyes are still red and puffy. But before I can apologize for the way my “friends” were acting, I hear Neveah yell my name.
“Perfect timing,” I mutter, rolling my eyes. I turn to face them and soon they are only a few inches away.
“Oh, crud,” Asher mutters under his breath. I can see Asher shift uncomfortably, and I know things are about to get real bad. I turn around to see them all staring at me with disgust clear on their faces. I look at the blonde boy with no friends who just got here and is already getting bullied. I look back at my friends and I know what I have to do.
At first, we are all just staring at each other. From the side of my eye, I can see Asher shift uncomfortably.
Finally, Neveah starts and says, “What are yo-” but I quickly cut her off.
“Do you guys even know his name?” They all look confused, and the blonde boy looks up at me. Neveah goes to say something, but I cut her off again. I’m not going to stay quiet this time.
“Do you know his favorite color? What does he like to do for fun? If he is a bully like you guys or just a regular kid who wants to learn?”
They all go quiet. I glimpse the blonde boy, now looking more confident and smiling at me.
“Braces,” I mutter and smile back at him to reveal my braces as well. I look back at Neveah who is fuming, but instead of apologizing and following her around like a puppy like I usually do, I decide today I’m gonna take a stand and grin at her.
Neveah scoffs and says, “Why should we care? He’s a loossserrrr”.
Before I get the chance to say something, I hear something – or should I say, someone – say, “And you’re a low-life whose only joy is to pick on new kids.”
By this time everyone had surrounded us and was laughing, causing Neveah to run inside the building. Shortly after, Harper and Aaliyah follow. I look up to see who said that and realize it was the new kid – or should I say, Asher. I smile at him and in return, he smiles back.
“I’m Asher,” he says, “Asher Anderson.”
“I know,” I blurt out. He looks at me, confused, when I realize how weird I sound.
“I’m Leilani Ortiz. We have history together,” I said smiling. I don’t know why, but his smile is contagious. “Well, Leilani, it sure is nice to meet ya!” He has a strong country accent. I can tell we are going to be great friends.
“Nice to meet y-” I begin, but the bell had other ideas and cut me off.
Everyone started heading inside.
“See you around!” I yell, hoping he’d hear me. “See ya,” he replies and gets lost in the crowd of students pouring inside the building.
As I was heading to my next class, I realized that I will be New K- err, I mean, Asher’s, first real friend here, so I have to give him a good experience. I laugh to myself. I have got to get used to that name! I head inside for P.E. Today’s dodgeball day… this should be good.
After getting sorted into teams, I find myself on the blue team with Asher. Of course Aaliyah Harper and Neveah are on the red team, but like I said before, this should be good, because I am exquisite at dodgeball! I smile at myself knowing what’s about to happen. The game begins and balls are flying everywhere. Luckily for me, I am amazing at dodgeball and from the looks of it, so is Asher. We
get almost everyone out on the other team. I go high-five him and say, “Good work!” when a ball flies towards us. It misses by an inch, and I turn to see Neveah smiling at us. There are only Asher and I on the blue team and Neveah and Aaliyah on the red team.
Of course Harper is out. She is really shy and doesn’t take comfort in sports. Asher must notice my discomfort because he goes to say something, but quickly closes his mouth. The game resumes. Asher and I dodge the balls for what seems like forever when he gets hit by Neveah.
It’s time for the final showdown. It’s just me and Neveah.
I look at my old best friend, who used to come over all the time, go on ice cream dates with me, and have mega-awesome sleepovers. I realize how much has changed in just a few days. Neveah threw the ball and I caught it, which is rare because her throw is incredible. Everyone on the blue team cheers as Asher runs and hugs me.
After what seems like forever, “Yesss!” I scream. I high-five Asher and get a glare from both the gym teacher and Neveah, causing me and Asher to burst out laughing.
“This win deserves ice cream,” I tell him. He looks confused at first, and I tell him he is welcome to come if he pays. We both laugh at this as we leave the gym. On our way to the ice cream shop, Asher stops.
I turn to look at him. Before I can say anything, he says, “Thank you for sticking up for me.” He looks really nervous, so I smile at him.
“Of course,” I say, “What are friends for?” His smile is so wide, it goes ear to ear.
“I knew we would be friends. I just knew it,” I tell him as we walk to the parlor. He just smiles and keeps running, and right there I knew we would be friends forever.