Wonder, p.11

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Wonder
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  He pointed to his face when he said that and batted his eyes, which made me laugh.

  “I guess not.” I shrugged.

  “Hey, I might even be handsome!” he said, smiling. “That would be so awesome, wouldn’t it? I could come back and be this good-looking dude and be super buff and super tall.”

  I laughed again. He was such a good sport about himself. That’s one of the things I like the most about Auggie.

  “Hey, Auggie, can I ask you a question?”

  “Yeah,” he said, like he knew exactly what I wanted to ask.

  I hesitated. I’ve been wanting to ask him this for a while but I’ve always lost the guts to ask.

  “What?” he said. “You want to know what’s wrong with my face?”

  “Yeah, I guess. If it’s okay for me to ask.”

  He shrugged. I was so relieved that he didn’t seem mad or sad.

  “Yeah, it’s no big deal,” he said casually. “The main thing I have is this thing called man-di-bu-lo-facial dys-os-tosis—which took me forever to learn how to pronounce, by the way. But I also have this other syndrome thing that I can’t even pronounce. And these things kind of just morphed together into one big superthing, which is so rare they don’t even have a name for it. I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m actually considered something of a medical wonder, you know.”

  He smiled.

  “That was a joke,” he said. “You can laugh.”

  I smiled and shook my head.

  “You’re funny, Auggie.” I said.

  “Yes, I am,” he said proudly. “I am cool beans.”

  The Egyptian Tomb

  Over the next month, August and I hung out a lot after school, either at his house or my house. August’s parents even invited Mom and me over for dinner a couple of times. I overheard them talking about fixing Mom up on a blind date with August’s uncle Ben.

  On the day of the Egyptian Museum exhibit, we were all really excited and kind of giddy. It had snowed the day before—not as much as it had snowed over the Thanksgiving break, but still, snow is snow.

  The gym was turned into a giant museum, with everyone’s Egyptian artifact displayed on a table with a little caption card explaining what the thing was. Most of the artifacts were really great, but I have to say I really think mine and August’s were the best. My sculpture of Anubis looked pretty real, and I had even used real gold paint on it. And August had made his step pyramid out of sugar cubes. It was two feet high and two feet long, and he had spray painted the cubes with this kind of fake-sand paint or something. It looked so awesome.

  We all dressed up in Egyptian costumes. Some of the kids were Indiana Jones–type archaeologists. Some of them dressed up like pharaohs. August and I dressed up like mummies. Our faces were covered except for two little holes for the eyes and one little hole for the mouth.

  When the parents showed up, they all lined up in the hallway in front of the gym. Then we were told we could go get our parents, and each kid got to take his or her parent on a flashlight tour through the dark gym. August and I took our moms around together. We stopped at each exhibit, explaining what it was, talking in whispers, answering questions. Since it was dark, we used our flashlights to illuminate the artifacts while we were talking. Sometimes, for dramatic effect, we would hold the flashlights under our chins while we were explaining something in detail. It was so much fun, hearing all these whispers in the dark, seeing all the lights zigzagging around the dark room.

  At one point, I went over to get a drink at the water fountain. I had to take the mummy wrap off my face.

  “Hey, Summer,” said Jack, who came over to talk to me. He was dressed like the man from The Mummy. “Cool costume.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Is the other mummy August?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Um … hey, do you know why August is mad at me?”

  “Uh-huh.” I nodded.

  “Can you tell me?”

  “No.”

  He nodded. He seemed bummed.

  “I told him I wouldn’t tell you,” I explained.

  “It’s so weird,” he said. “I have no idea why he’s mad at me all of a sudden. None. Can’t you at least give me a hint?”

  I looked over at where August was across the room, talking to our moms. I wasn’t about to break my solid oath that I wouldn’t tell anyone about what he overheard at Halloween, but I felt bad for Jack.

  “Bleeding Scream,” I whispered in his ear, and then walked away.

  Now here is my secret. It is very simple.

  It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly.

  What is essential is invisible to the eye.

  —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

  The Call

  So in August my parents got this call from Mr. Tushman, the middle-school director. And my Mom said: “Maybe he calls all the new students to welcome them,” and my dad said: “That’s a lot of kids he’d be calling.” So my mom called him back, and I could hear her talking to Mr. Tushman on the phone. This is exactly what she said:

  “Oh, hi, Mr. Tushman. This is Amanda Will, returning your call? Pause. Oh, thank you! That’s so nice of you to say. He is looking forward to it. Pause. Yes. Pause. Yeah. Pause. Oh. Sure. Long pause. Ohhh. Uh-huh. Pause. Well, that’s so nice of you to say. Pause. Sure. Ohh. Wow. Ohhhh. Super long pause. I see, of course. I’m sure he will. Let me write it down … got it. I’ll call you after I’ve had a chance to talk to him, okay? Pause. No, thank you for thinking of him. Bye bye!”

  And when she hung up, I was like, “what’s up, what did he say?”

  And Mom said: “Well, it’s actually very flattering but kind of sad, too. See, there’s this boy who’s starting middle school this year, and he’s never been in a real school environment before because he was homeschooled, so Mr. Tushman talked to some of the lower-school teachers to find out who they thought were some of the really, really great kids coming into fifth grade, and the teachers must have told him you were an especially nice kid—which I already knew, of course—and so Mr. Tushman is wondering if he could count on you to sort of shepherd this new boy around a bit?”

  “Like let him hang out with me?” I said.

  “Exactly,” said Mom. “He called it being a ‘welcome buddy.’ ”

  “But why me?”

  “I told you. Your teachers told Mr. Tushman that you were the kind of kid who’s known for being a good egg. I mean, I’m so proud that they think so highly of you.…”

  “Why is it sad?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You said it’s flattering but kind of sad, too.”

  “Oh.” Mom nodded. “Well, apparently this boy has some sort of … um, I guess there’s something wrong with his face … or something like that. Not sure. Maybe he was in an accident. Mr. Tushman said he’d explain a bit more when you come to the school next week.”

  “School doesn’t start till September!”

  “He wants you to meet this kid before school starts.”

  “Do I have to?”

  Mom looked a bit surprised.

  “Well, no, of course not,” she said, “but it would be the nice thing to do, Jack.”

  “If I don’t have to do it,” I said, “I don’t want to do it.”

  “Can you at least think about it?”

  “I’m thinking about it and I don’t want to do it.”

  “Well, I’m not going to force you,” she said, “but at least think about it some more, okay? I’m not calling Mr. Tushman back until tomorrow, so just sit with it a bit. I mean, Jack, I really don’t think it’s that much to ask that you spend a little extra time with some new kid.…”

  “It’s not just that he’s a new kid, Mom,” I answered. “He’s deformed.”

  “That’s a terrible thing to say, Jack.”

  “He is, Mom.”

  “You don’t even know who it is!”

  “Yeah, I do,” I said, because I kne
w the second she started talking about him that it was that kid named August.

  Carvel

  I remember seeing him for the first time in front of the Carvel on Amesfort Avenue when I was about five or six. Me and Veronica, my babysitter, were sitting on the bench outside the store with Jamie, my baby brother, who was sitting in his stroller facing us. I guess I was busy eating my ice cream cone, because I didn’t even notice the people who sat down next to us.

  Then at one point I turned my head to suck the ice cream out of the bottom of my cone, and that’s when I saw him: August. He was sitting right next to me. I know it wasn’t cool, but I kind of went “Uhh!” when I saw him because I honestly got scared. I thought he was wearing a zombie mask or something. It was the kind of “uhh” you say when you’re watching a scary movie and the bad guy like jumps out of the bushes. Anyway, I know it wasn’t nice of me to do that, and though the kid didn’t hear me, I know his sister did.

  “Jack! We have to go!” said Veronica. She had gotten up and was turning the stroller around because Jamie, who had obviously just noticed the kid, too, was about to say something embarrassing. So I jumped up kind of suddenly, like a bee had landed on me, and followed Veronica as she zoomed away. I could hear the kid’s mom saying softly behind us: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go,” and I turned around to look at them one more time. The kid was licking his ice cream cone, the mom was picking up his scooter, and the sister was glaring at me like she was going to kill me. I looked away quickly.

  “Veronica, what was wrong with that kid?” I whispered.

  “Hush, boy!” she said, her voice angry. I love Veronica, but when she got mad, she got mad. Meanwhile, Jamie was practically spilling out of his stroller trying to get another look as Veronica pushed him away.

  “But, Vonica …,” said Jamie.

  “You boys were very naughty! Very naughty!” said Veronica as soon as we were farther down the block. “Staring like that!”

  “I didn’t mean to!” I said.

  “Vonica,” said Jamie.

  “Us leaving like that,” Veronica was muttering. “Oh Lord, that poor lady. I tell you, boys. Every day we should thank the Lord for our blessings, you hear me?”

  “Vonica!”

  “What is it, Jamie?”

  “Is it Halloween?”

  “No, Jamie.”

  “Then why was that boy wearing a mask?”

  Veronica didn’t answer. Sometimes, when she was mad about something, she would do that.

  “He wasn’t wearing a mask,” I explained to Jamie.

  “Hush, Jack!” said Veronica.

  “Why are you so mad, Veronica?” I couldn’t help asking.

  I thought this would make her angrier, but actually she shook her head.

  “It was bad how we did that,” she said. “Just getting up like that, like we’d just seen the devil. I was scared for what Jamie was going to say, you know? I didn’t want him to say anything that would hurt that little boy’s feelings. But it was very bad, us leaving like that. The momma knew what was going on.”

  “But we didn’t mean it,” I answered.

  “Jack, sometimes you don’t have to mean to hurt someone to hurt someone. You understand?”

  That was the first time I ever saw August in the neighborhood, at least that I remember. But I’ve seen him around ever since then: a couple of times in the playground, a few times in the park. He used to wear an astronaut helmet sometimes. But I always knew it was him underneath the helmet. All the kids in the neighborhood knew it was him. Everyone has seen August at some point or another. We all know his name, though he doesn’t know ours.

  And whenever I’ve seen him, I try to remember what Veronica said. But it’s hard. It’s hard not to sneak a second look. It’s hard to act normal when you see him.

  Why I Changed My Mind

  “Who else did Mr. Tushman call?” I asked Mom later that night. “Did he tell you?”

  “He mentioned Julian and Charlotte.”

  “Julian!” I said. “Ugh. Why Julian?”

  “You used to be friends with Julian!”

  “Mom, that was like in kindergarten. Julian’s the biggest phony there is. And he’s trying so hard to be popular all the time.”

  “Well,” said Mom, “at least Julian agreed to help this kid out. Got to give him credit for that.”

  I didn’t say anything because she was right.

  “What about Charlotte?” I asked. “Is she doing it, too?”

  “Yes,” Mom said.

  “Of course she is. Charlotte’s such a Goody Two-Shoes,” I answered.

  “Boy, Jack,” said Mom, “you seem to have a problem with everybody these days.”

  “It’s just …,” I started. “Mom, you have no idea what this kid looks like.”

  “I can imagine.”

  “No! You can’t! You’ve never seen him. I have.”

  “It might not even be who you’re thinking it is.”

  “Trust me, it is. And I’m telling you, it’s really, really bad. He’s deformed, Mom. His eyes are like down here.” I pointed to my cheeks. “And he has no ears. And his mouth is like …”

  Jamie had walked into the kitchen to get a juice box from the fridge.

  “Ask Jamie,” I said. “Right, Jamie? Remember that kid we saw in the park after school last year? The kid named August? The one with the face?”

  “Oh, that kid?” said Jamie, his eyes opening wide. “He gave me a nightmare!! Remember, Mommy? That nightmare about the zombies from last year?”

  “I thought that was from watching a scary movie!” answered Mom.

  “No!” said Jamie, “it was from seeing that kid! When I saw him, I was like, ‘Ahhh!’ and I ran away.…”

  “Wait a minute,” said Mom, getting serious. “Did you do that in front of him?”

  “I couldn’t help it!” said Jamie, kind of whining.

  “Of course you could help it!” Mom scolded. “Guys, I have to tell you, I’m really disappointed by what I’m hearing here.” And she looked like how she sounded. “I mean, honestly, he’s just a little boy—just like you! Can you imagine how he felt to see you running away from him, Jamie, screaming?”

  “It wasn’t a scream,” argued Jamie. “It was like an ‘Ahhh!’ ” He put his hands on his cheeks and started running around the kitchen.

  “Come on, Jamie!” said Mom angrily. “I honestly thought both my boys were more sympathetic than that.”

  “What’s sympathetic?” said Jamie, who was only going into the second grade.

  “You know exactly what I mean by sympathetic, Jamie,” said Mom.

  “It’s just he’s so ugly, Mommy,” said Jamie.

  “Hey!” Mom yelled, “I don’t like that word! Jamie, just get your juice box. I want to talk to Jack alone for a second.”

  “Look, Jack,” said Mom as soon as he left, and I knew she was about to give me a whole speech.

  “Okay, I’ll do it,” I said, which completely shocked her.

  “You will?”

  “Yes!”

  “So I can call Mr. Tushman?”

  “Yes! Mom, yes, I said yes!”

  Mom smiled. “I knew you’d rise to the occasion, kiddo. Good for you. I’m proud of you, Jackie.” She messed up my hair.

  So here’s why I changed my mind. It wasn’t so I wouldn’t have to hear Mom give me a whole lecture. And it wasn’t to protect this August kid from Julian, who I knew would be a jerk about the whole thing. It was because when I heard Jamie talking about how he had run away from August going ‘Ahhh,’ I suddenly felt really bad. The thing is, there are always going to be kids like Julian who are jerks. But if a little kid like Jamie, who’s usually a nice enough kid, can be that mean, then a kid like August doesn’t stand a chance in middle school.

  Four Things

  First of all, you do get used to his face. The first couple of times I was like, whoa, I’m never going to get used to this. And then, after about a week, I was like,
huh, it’s not so bad.

  Second of all, he’s actually a really cool dude. I mean, he’s pretty funny. Like, the teacher will say something and August will whisper something funny to me that no one else hears and totally make me crack up. He’s also just, overall, a nice kid. Like, he’s easy to hang out with and talk to and stuff.

  Third of all, he’s really smart. I thought he’d be behind everyone because he hadn’t gone to school before. But in most things he’s way ahead of me. I mean, maybe not as smart as Charlotte or Ximena, but he’s up there. And unlike Charlotte or Ximena, he lets me cheat off of him if I really need to (though I’ve only needed to a couple of times). He also let me copy his homework once, though we both got in trouble for it after class.

  “The two of you got the exact same answers wrong on yesterday’s homework,” Ms. Rubin said, looking at both of us like she was waiting for an explanation. I didn’t know what to say, because the explanation would have been: Oh, that’s because I copied August’s homework.

  But August lied to protect me. He was like, “Oh, that’s because we did our homework together last night,” which wasn’t true at all.

  “Well, doing homework together is a good thing,” Ms. Rubin answered, “but you’re supposed to still do it separately, okay? You could work side by side if you want, but you can’t actually do your homework together, okay? Got it?”

  After we left the classroom, I said: “Dude, thanks for doing that.” And he was like, “No problem.”

  That was cool.

  Fourthly, now that I know him, I would say I actually do want to be friends with August. At first, I admit it, I was only friendly to him because Mr. Tushman asked me to be especially nice and all that. But now I would choose to hang out with him. He laughs at all my jokes. And I kind of feel like I can tell August anything. Like he’s a good friend. Like, if all the guys in the fifth grade were lined up against a wall and I got to choose anyone I wanted to hang out with, I would choose August.

 
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