Nine-year-old Michelle Tanner focused on a kickball as it rolled toward her. She ran up to it and swung her foot.
Giggles rose around her. She had missed the ball. Her shoe, however, went flying.
She grinned. She bowed toward the laughter before putting her shoe on again. Laughter didn't embarrass her if she treated it as applause. After all, she could have done that to be funny. She enjoyed making people laugh.
For some reason, the laughter continued. She frowned. Why were they still doing that? Her schoolmates normally quieted quickly when she took pleasure in their laughter.
She realized the laughter was directed at someone else. A boy she'd never seen had just gotten off his bus. He stood half way between the kickball diamond and the school building. His shoes were coming apart at the seams. He was quite dirty and messy.
"They shouldn't make fun of him," she told herself. It wasn't his fault if he didn't have good clothes.
Michelle decided to do something about the teasing. She marched toward the middle of the playground. The boy stood near a group of third through fifth graders. His clothes looked old and worn. His hair was quite messy. He appeared very embarrassed.
She grinned warmly as she walked up to him. Michelle stood beside him and turned to the gathering of students. She glared. The others milled around the two in a half circle.
Michelle put a hand on the boy's shoulder. The look on her face said "this is my friend. If you tease him, you tease me." She couldn't believe nobody else was trying to make him feel welcome. Not even her two best friends, Cassie Wilkins and Mandy Metz. They weren't chiding the boy. However, they weren't doing anything to help.
"Hey, Michelle, who's that old scarecrow," teased a fifth grader.
"Hey, kid," shouted Ronald Persley. "Do your feet come apart like that, too?"
Cassie and Mandy quickly left the crowd. Several other children followed immediately. They joined Michelle beside the boy. Michelle's best friends passed her grateful looks. Michelle figured they had been afraid to stand up for the newcomer.
As the first tardy bell rang, only half a dozen taunters remained. The boy no longer felt like crawling under a rock. However, Michelle was more and more upset. She wanted to lecture the ones who continued to laugh. "How can they hurt someone like that?"
Fed up, Michelle's face reddened. She usually hid her feelings well. But, now she needed to say something.
Still, she didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. The principal, Mr. Posey, was walking toward the group, anyway. Maybe he would say something.
She couldn't wait. She remembered one of her sister Stephanie's sayings. She hated to be a copycat. Nothing else good came to mind, though. So, Michelle used it. "As Stephanie would say, ‘how rude!'" "The tone sounded a little different than Stephanie's. So, I really wasn't copying her."
The principal smiled at her before looking at the others. "No more teasing. It's time to go in, anyway," he told the remaining taunters.
"I'm sorry those kids were so mean to you," Michelle said sorrowfully as they entered the building. The new boy thanked her, and walked to Mrs. Wexley's third grade class. She presumed that was his class.
Cassie breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Michelle. I felt scared to say anything. I think there were more than twenty kids there at first."
"Yeah," Mandy said, her cheeks slightly red from embarrassment. "I remember last year when I was new. I felt really lonesome, too. But, I just didn't know what to do for him."
The three deposited their backpacks in their cubbies. "I know," Michelle said matter-of-factly. "Sometimes you just have to be the first." A tinge of worry to hit her.
Cassie read her mind. "There were a few third graders who stepped out right after Mandy and I did."
"He'll have friends in there," Mandy agreed.
"Michelle's got a boyfriend," teased Rachel Tilly. "So, when are you gonna kiss him? Or are you gonna make him take a bath first?"
Michelle glared. Rachel was wearing all pink. She was too upset at Rachel's comment to think about clothes, though. She growled while trying to think of a good comeback. She feared she wouldn't develop one until after she got home.
Mrs. Yoshida, Michelle's teacher, spoke for her. "Rachel, that comment was uncalled for," the teacher spoke in a slightly scolding manner. "Michelle did a very nice thing by being friendly to that boy. We shouldn't judge people by their appearance, or make fun of it."
Michelle's face lit up. She couldn't resist this line. "Yeah, besides, my dad could beat your dad in a cleaning competition any day of the week!" Her father, Danny Tanner, always seemed to be cleaning something. He kept everything spotless around their house.
"Oh yeah, well my mom could beat your..." Rachel smiled victoriously. "Oh, yeah," came the smug remark. "That's right, you don't have a mom."
Michelle sighed. She'd walked into that comeback. It was still wrong to say it, though.
Michelle's mother died when she was a baby. Her dad, Danny Tanner, had needed help raising Michelle and her sisters, Stephanie, now 14, and D.J., now 19. So, his brother-in-law, Jesse Katsopolis, and his best friend, Joey Gladstone, moved in to help. Later, Jesse married Becky Donaldson. She co-hosted a local TV program with Danny. Now, Michelle's Aunt Becky and the couple's four-year-old boys, Nicky and Alex, also lived there.
Michelle ignored the jibe. She didn't need anyone to tell her she had a great family even without a mom.
She spent part of her day wondering about the new boy. If Rachel acted as mean as she did toward her, what kinds of things might children say about him?
She wanted to get to know him. Unfortunately, the third graders ate and had recess with the lower grades. She probably wouldn't run into him until after school. Around mid-morning, she asked Mrs. Yoshida if she could be excused to go talk to him.
Mrs. Yoshida smiled. "He'll be fine, Michelle. I'm sure Mrs. Wexley is handling things well. She'll make him feel welcome."
"But, Mrs. Yoshida, kids have gone to lower grades to help before." She especially recalled her first day of Kindergarten. She'd felt very lonely. So, she snuck out and went into Stephanie's fourth grade class. Stephanie had walked her back. She stayed for a couple minutes and helped Michelle make friends. She was such a super big sister!
Mrs. Yoshida recalled hearing about that incident. "It's a lot easier to help in Kindergarten. The kids would respect you more there. You'd be a lot older." She would, of course, be only four years older. However, the teacher knew that four years was a lot to Michelle.
She comforted Michelle with this. "I'm sure if he's lonely, your gesture on the playground will help him more than any visit could."
Michelle admitted defeat and returned to her seat. "I wish there was something I could do."
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