She was looking at my paper. I was sure of it. But every time I turned toward her, she ducked. I was certain Mr. K would see me looking her way and not see her beady eyes reaching for my work.
I hunched over my test. Her gaze cut through the clammy air, scarring my desk, burning my skin. I glanced up from the second page of fractions. The expression on her face stopped my breath. Her eyes were pink, wet, desperate. We looked at each other for a moment, too long. Her cold fear slithered across the aisle and filled my throat. I threw off the feeling, took a deep breath, and then I knew. I had to help her even though she was sloppy and stinky and had the worst hair of anyone in our grade, even though she was not special in any way. Just like me.
I eased my first page to the edge of my desk, leaned in her direction as if adjusting my tights, nodded slightly. She released a breath. The scritch-scratch of her copying started slow, then gained speed. She grunted softly as she wrote. Suddenly I felt light and capable; I understood my purpose. I would keep her from sinking.
I dove into the rest of the problems, intent, for once, on doing my best and not just on scoring the best grade. Now I was working to save her, not to beat all the others. I’d be the best, and so would she.