‘Hettie!’ called Mindy one afternoon as Hettie walked laps of the school during lunch break. Hettie wasn’t sporty; not pretty, not clever. Just average. But her bones ached from loneliness.
Hettie looked up, suspicious. Mindy had never uttered a word to her before; she had, until now, assumed Mindy didn’t even know her name. Mindy was surrounded by a large group, all girls. They were smiling at her, broad, welcoming grins. Hettie’s heart swelled to her ribcage, blood warmed her fingertips and toes. Eye contact from these girls was rare, smiles were unheard of. Hettie lips curled up. She hoped it looked like a smile to Mindy.
‘Yes?’ she responded.
‘You’re ugly!’ Mindy yelled. The gang around her laughed in cruel, witch-like cackles.
Hettie lowered her head and kept walking. Mindy’s crew kept with their laughter and taunts; they followed her until the bell rang for class.
After school that day, Mindy followed her home.
‘This your home?’ Mindy asked.
‘Can I come in?’
‘Wanna get to know you better, that’s all.’
Hettie hesitated. ‘Really?’ her voice high with anticipation.
‘Sure,’ replied Mindy.
The two girls walked through the front door. A delicious scent tickled Hettie’s nose, warmth wrapped its arms around her as she trod the hallway, following the smell. It was homely, rich, sweet. Her mouth watered, her tummy rumbled. As she walked into the kitchen, Hettie saw her mum had set the table with sumptuous after-school snacks: freshly baked muffins, a chocolate cake and savoury pinwheels.
‘Mum,’ she whispered. ‘What’s all this?’ Snacks were not common in her home; if she was lucky, she sometimes had dry crackers and leftovers from her lunchbox.
‘Why hello,’ Hettie’s mum said, ignoring her daughter’s question. ‘Who’s this?’
‘Oh, mum, this is Mindy. She’s a…’ Hettie didn’t know what Mindy was. ‘…girl from school.’
‘Welcome, sit. Eat. I’m Donna, Hettie’s mum.’
Donna left the kitchen.
‘So, I’m sorry about lunchtime,’ Mindy offered feebly.
‘That’s OK,’ Hettie returned. It was anything but alright, but what could Hettie say.
‘No, it’s not. Look I’m going to try better from now on, OK?’
Hettie looked into Mindy’s eyes, confused.
‘To include you. With me, with the group. I’ve seen you doing laps on your own. It can’t be fun. Can you give me a chance to be your friend?’
‘But you called me ugly today. Friends don’t do that.’
‘Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, like I said. I wanted to be brave, but I chickened out. You know, I’m their leader.’
‘Well, if you’re the leader of the group, then you shouldn’t have any problems with who you speak to. Right?’
‘Yeah, you’re right. Please forgive me.’ Mindy paused for a moment. ‘Can I come by tomorrow before school? We’ll walk together.’
Hettie’s tummy jumped and flipped. She wasn’t sure if it was from excitement or a warning to be careful.