An Excerpt from Chapter 4 of Aggie's Nine Heroes by Diana Laurence
At age ten, Aggie was a straight-A student. She liked school. It was so easy for her that she always got her homework done even if she took the time to watch the last innings of the Cubs games with Bernie after school. Or, after baseball season ended, continued her lessons with him from the World Book and the almanac. She had friends at school and in the neighborhood, boys as well as girls because she liked baseball and comic books.
Aggie came to like the X-Men even better than Superman. Her favorite was Professor Xavier, and she liked to pretend she was a student in his school for mutant kids. Her mutant power was to be able to picture things and make them real, a skill she used mostly to make gifts for the other X-Men. She also liked Nightcrawler; one time she made up a story where she envisioned a big, gorgeous mansion for him to live in with her and it became real. Nightcrawler would transport himself from room to room, popping in and out in a little burst of blue smoke, and she would chase him in a crazy game of hide and seek. Then they would talk about how hard it was to be different from normal people, but how they were still glad that they were. Professor Xavier had taught them it was good to be different.
So Aggie was comfortable in that belief, at least until the arrival of fourth grade. In Ms. Hamilton’s class there was a bully, a boy with short, wiry brown hair and what Aggie thought to be a sort of piggish nose. His name was Kyle Mitchell. Kyle Mitchell was the first person Aggie had ever known that made her feel self-conscious. When he was nearby, all of a sudden she found herself thinking about what she was wearing, what sort of doodles she had on her book covers, and how her name was old-fashioned; in short, things she had never concerned herself with before. Kyle made her try to go unnoticed.
For the most part, Kyle didn’t notice her. That was because he was preoccupied with another girl in Ms. Hamilton’s class: Glenda Springs. Glenda was the sort of girl who could bring out the bully in the average little boy, so of course Kyle was obsessed with her. She was overweight, had frizzy, dishwater blonde hair, a squarish head, and small eyes. She often tripped, or burped, or said one thing or other that was an easy target for ridicule. Glenda did not have any good friends, partly because of Kyle, but partly because she was very smart and somewhat eccentric.
Secretly, Aggie liked her.
On the day in question, Glenda gave an oral report to the class about the history of mustard. It was almost time for afternoon recess, and students were getting antsy. Glenda stood in the front of the room, droning softly about how mustard seeds were mentioned in the Bible, how some old Pope had loved mustard, and how Mr. Grey had met Mr. Poupon. Needless to say, the mention of “Poupon” set off Kyle Mitchell in a big way.
In the last seat of the middle row, Kyle whispered to his sidekick, Josh McAndrews, about poop. Josh stifled his titters with both hands. Aggie, who sat on the other side of Kyle from Josh, got a bad feeling. It embarrassed her that Glenda pronounced “Poupon” in an actual French accent, even thought by rights that should have been cool. And it aggravated her, as it so often did, that Ms. Hamilton sat at her deck, her young, pretty face propped up in one hand, not doing anything to shut Kyle up.
Glenda wrapped up her report by explaining how it was possible to make mustard yourself at home, and produced a Tupperware container full of the creamy yellow stuff. “All you need is mustard powder and water,” said Glenda, smiling obliviously, “but I added some garlic salt and some pepper to mine. I brought these little tasting spoons, so everyone can try.” She turned to Ms. Hamilton for approval.
The teacher sat up and said, “Yes, Glenda, that’s very nice. Class, if you’d like to try Glenda’s mustard, please come up and do so.”
There wasn’t a person in the class who didn’t know it was a bad idea to affiliate oneself with Glenda Springs. No one moved. Aggie felt terrible, thinking that probably Glenda had busied herself in her kitchen the night before, mixing and tasting, fine-tuning the flavor of her mustard, imagining her classmates sampling it and smiling with delight. She felt terrible, but not bad enough to get up and try the mustard. A long, uncomfortable moment passed…
And then Kyle Mitchell himself rose from his seat, strutted up to Glenda, and stopped, staring at her.
Glenda turned crimson. She fumbled, then handed Kyle a little tasting spoon, the kind they used at Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. Kyle dipped the spoon in the mustard and put it in his mouth. He made a horrible face. Then he said, “It tastes like poo…..ponn.”
The pause was perfectly timed. It was long enough that every kid in class got the message, but not so long that you could be absolutely sure he wasn’t just having trouble with the French. The class tittered. Ms. Hamilton said, “Class, be mature…” in a warning tone.
But that was all.
Kyle threw his spoon away in the teacher’s trash can, grinned, and swaggered back to his desk.
What followed was a ridiculous scene of Ms. Hamilton sampling the mustard, trying to get the kids to try it, and succeeding in coercing a few. While this was going on, Kyle continued to make jokes under his breath in the back of the room, saying things like “I wonder why Glenda’s poo is yellow?” The entire farce made Aggie so angry she could hardly see straight. To add insult to injury, she had actually found Glenda’s report pretty interesting. Glenda didn’t have a friend in the room, and at least the teacher ought to have defended her somehow. It was so unfair.
Suddenly it dawned on Aggie: What was her excuse for not sticking up for Glenda? Was it that she was afraid of Kyle? Kyle was an assmobile. Who cared what he thought?
It was like the sky had opened up. She didn’t have to sit there feeling powerless just because Ms. Hamilton never yelled at Kyle. There were plenty of things in Aggie’s power to do.
She got up and tried the mustard. “It’s good,” she told Glenda, who smiled gratefully.
Recess came, and the class surged out into the hall and onto the playground, eager to escape the painfully uncomfortable atmosphere of Ms. Hamilton’s room. Aggie said a few words to her own friends, just enough to make things seem natural, then looked around for Glenda. She spotted the girl, in her ridiculously bright lime green hoodie, standing by herself under the one tree on the playground. She held her hands behind her back in a hopeless attempt at nonchalance, and gazed around at the rest of her classmates.
Aggie strode over to her. At first Glenda looked elsewhere, as if this couldn’t possibly be happening. But then her small blue eyes met Aggie’s and stayed there until they stood together under the tree.
“Hi Glenda, I liked your report,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Glenda, blinking rapidly.
“I never knew mustard had been around for so long. Or that it was so easy to make. I think I’ll try making it myself sometime.”
For a moment Glenda stared, as if she had never quite grasped the concept of “conversation.” But then she took a breath and said, “If you like pickles, you should make it with dill. Dill and mustard are very complimentary flavors, you know.”
“Yes. Also onion. You can use onion powder.”
“Do you want to be a chef when you grow up?” asked Aggie.
Glenda shook her head. “Oh no, I want to be a pharmacologist,” she said passionately.
Aggie squinted. “Is that a person who works like at Walgreens?” she asked.
“No, no—that’s a pharmacist. They just dispense medicine.”
Aggie pondered for a moment. Then she said, “Oh! Does a pharmaco—pharmoco—”
“Pharmacologist,” repeated Glenda, not at all condescendingly, but rather in the most helpful of tones.
“Do they, like, make the medicine?”
“Yes! They mix the chemicals and invent the medicine. They invent stuff that helps people get well. I think that would be the raddest job in the world.”
“It would be pretty rad,” agreed Aggie, and took a breath to ask Glenda if you had to learn to be a doctor to be a pharmacologist. But before she could speak, she noticed the girl’s countenance had gone slack and her small eyes were not quite so small. Aggie whirled around to see Kyle Mitchell striding towards them.
“Look, it’s the Stupid First Names Club,” said Kyle, stepping up and standing just a little too close to Glenda.
Glenda looked down at the ground, utterly deflated from her moment of glory talking about pharmacology.
Aggie, for her part, was terrified. And angry at herself for being terrified. She tried desperately to think of what to say to drive the boy off, but her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth.
“Glenda and Aggie,” said Kyle in a disdainful sing-song.
“There’s nothing wrong with our names,” Aggie heard herself say.
“Except that they’re stupid old lady names. Borkowski. Borky-bork-bork.”
His mean little squint raised Aggie’s fear again, and she took a step back.
Kyle turned back to Glenda. “Maybe you’d rather be called by your real name, ‘Pigface.’ Is that better, Pigface?”
Aggie saw tears fill Glenda’s eyes, but the girl didn’t utter a peep. Then Kyle glanced over his shoulder, at the playground. He’s checking for the supervisor, thought Aggie, and her whole body went cold with alarm.
But she just stood and watched as Kyle’s hand darted, furtively, to snatch at Glenda’s left breast and squeeze it, hard. Glenda let out a little cry, drew back, and stood staring at him in abject shock.
She lunged forward, practically into Kyle’s face, and said in as much of a growl as her fourth grade voice could muster, “Leave her alone, you assmobile.”
Kyle whirled on her. “What did you call me, Bork?” he snarled.
“I called you an assmobile but you’re much worse!”
Kyle’s snarl turned into a weird half-smile, and he grabbed Aggie’s breast and pinched it, hard. He took a breath to follow the attack with a snide comment, but choked on the remark before he could utter it.
Aggie had driven her knee into his crotch.
Kyle let out a horrible squeak and doubled over. Aggie hopped backwards, completely surprised at the reaction. Then she remembered something she hadn’t thought about in a long time: that boys were different down there than girls. Her grandfather had explained it to her, maybe two years before. At the time she had been pretty amazed. But then she’d forgotten all about it, seeing as the anatomy of boys was not anything that particularly concerned her.
But indeed, boys were different, and apparently also vulnerable. Very vulnerable—for now Kyle Mitchell was crying.
“Aggie!” gasped Glenda, staring first at Kyle and then at her.
Aggie stared back at Glenda…and grinned.
Glenda grinned back.