“What are you doing down there?”“I fell down.”“No, you didn’t. I saw what they did. Why’d you let them do that?”“I dunno. They’re older.”“So? You’re bigger.”“Why do you care? Either help me up or leave me alone.”
She stared at me for a minute, her dark eyes narrowed, as though she was seriously weighing thetwo options. After a beat she reached out her hand and pulled me to my feet. I stood a full headtaller than her, and as I wiped the mud from my jeans I caught her watching me again, sizing meup.
“They wouldn’t pick on you if you stopped standing out so much.”
It seemed like a ridiculous comment.
“I can’t help being tall.”
“Not just that. I heard you singing by the swings. I hear you in the bathroom at lunch. And everyone in school saw you win the spelling bee. No one likes a show off. Maybe if you stopped,they’d leave you alone.”
Friends. The perpetual determiners of fate. This tiny little brunette stared up at me with her hugeeyes filled with nothing but sincerity in her sentiment. She wasn’t warning me or threatening me.She meant it. She wanted them to stop bothering me, and this was the one way she knew how tomake it stop.I think I fell in love with her in that moment.
She smiled at me, something more than happiness at my agreement on her face.
“Come on. We’ll show ‘em.”
I followed her across the soccer field next to the playground, where the older girls satindifferently on the bleachers, chewing the sugar-free gum their moms bought them and pickingat their nail polish. Santana crossed her arms again, her feet planted firmly shoulder-width apart.She called out the pack leader, who scoffed and got to her feet. Santana, as small as she was,stood on her toes and whispered something in the girl’s ear. After a moment the girl’s eyes wentwide, and she took a jerky step backward, her fingers at her mouth. Santana smirked. I wouldcome to know that face well over the next few years.