The other kids jeered and stomped their feet.
“Suzie the claw hand!” they chanted. Many of them curled and stiffened their fingers into an exaggeration of Suzie’s defect.
Suzie’s knees were grazed and bleeding, but her classmate’s words hurt more. She squeezed her eyes shut. Crying would only make things worse.
She pushed herself off the ground with her good hand, being careful to miss the hole in the concrete near the table, then stood straight despite the cruel faces surrounding her. Her brown, curly hair fell over her eyes and hid the pain she felt; something she was grateful for as Jack stepped closer.
“What’s the matter, Claw Hand? Aren’t you gonna fight back or curse me with your demon powers?”
She hid her hand behind her, out of sight from the bullies in the front row.
“Leave me alone,” she whispered.
The children laughed and Jack mocked her. He grabbed her arm and held it aloft for everyone to gawk at.
With her cheeks burning, Suzie struggled in his grip. She twisted her body around the table and forced Jack to step into the hole by her feet.
Jack howled as his foot became wedged, and he released Suzie’s arm.
The bell sounded, announcing the end of lunch. The kids sighed and reluctantly dispersed. Jack, however, remained with his foot stuck in the hole.
He dropped to the ground and moved his ankle in every direction, only for his shoe to become wedged deeper.
“Stupid hole!” He yelled.
But there was no one left to listen except for Suzie, who watched with a mixture of relief and curiosity.
Jack struggled to fit his hand into the hole. “Ugh, my hand is too big.”
Suzie considered leaving him to his fate, but Jack’s face showed no sneering or malice, only frustration and pain.
She moved without a second thought, knowing she’d change her mind if she waited too long.
“Here, let me help,” she said, kneeling next to him.
Jack startled, as if he’d forgotten she was there. His brows furrowed. “How? You can’t do anything with that claw.”
Suzie shrugged. “My hand is small. It might fit.”
The boy pursed his lips, then nodded. A moment later, she lowered her hand into the space between his shoe and the concrete and wiggled the sneaker free.
Jack blinked several times. “Um, thanks.”
He stood and looked at her crouched on the ground. His mouth formed a hard line, but his eyes were soft as he held his arm toward her. Suzie offered her malformed hand and Jack hesitated, but then took it gently and helped her to her feet.
“Don’t think this means we’re friends or anything,” Jack said.
“I know,” Suzie grinned.
Jack’s mouth twitched into a smile and they walked to their next class together.