“Did you sleep last night?” Mr. Steve asked me in the car as we drove to school the next day.
“Nope,” I said looking out the window.
“Natalie, I…,” Mr. Steve started, but we pulled up to school and I got out.
“Hey, polka dot, missed you yesterday,” The same girl who made fun of me before said when I walked into math class.
“Hey, Blondie,” I said. “I have a name you know just like you. Mine’s Natalie. What’s yours? Queenie?”
Some of the class snickered.
“Nicole,” The girl said not looking at me. “Your name may be Natalie, but you’re just another outcast just like your desk friend Noel.”
I walked towards my seat in the back of the class. Mrs. Roberts walked into the class and towards the back.
“Is Noel in the bathroom?” Mrs. Roberts asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I just got here.”
Mrs. Roberts nodded.
“Class,” Mrs. Roberts said walking up to the front.
Noel didn’t show up for class, and for some reason that bothered me.
I along with at least two dozen heads turned towards Mrs. Roberts who was running down the hallway.
“Natalie Matthews! Natalie Zoey Matthews!” Mrs. Robert shouted running up to me. The other Natalie’s walked away.
“Yes, Mrs. Roberts? Was something wrong with my homework?” I asked.
“No,” Mrs. Roberts said. “You’re doing great in my class. It is only the first week of school, but you’re doing really well. Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure,” I said looking at my watch. “My stepdad just called and said he was going to be a little late.”
“Great,” Mrs. Roberts said. I followed her to the Advanced Math classroom.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked. “If it’s about Nicole, she called me polka dots first.”
“What? No,” Mrs. Roberts said. “It’s not about Nicole. It’s about Noel.”
“Oh,” I said. “What about her?”
“I want you to deliver her her homework,” Mrs. Roberts said taking a stack of papers out of a bag.
“Oh,” I said. “Does she live close to me?”
“Um, no,” Mrs. Roberts said. “I believe you live in Manhattan. She lives in Brooklyn.”
“Then why do you want me to deliver her homework?” I asked.
“You’re the first person I’ve seen in a long time try to be friends with her,” Mrs. Roberts said.
“She wasn’t very friendly,” I mumbled.
“Natalie, Noel has autism,” Mrs. Roberts said. “She’s incredibly smart, but she doesn’t have very many social skills. She doesn’t communicate very well. She has trouble talking even to me. She’s a truly bright girl stuck in an autistic body. She’s in all the advanced classes here and is on scholarship.”
“I didn’t know,” I said.
“I’m surprised Nicole didn’t ‘warn’ you. She likes to go around telling people that Noel doesn’t want friends. She likes to tell people that Noel will treat them as if they are like objects. She says that she’s shady and a liar because she doesn’t make eye contact,” Mrs. Roberts said. “Noel hasn’t had it easy. A lot of the people here think that I’m showing favorites, but she doesn’t deserve to be treated like dirt.”
“Um, where does she live?” I asked.
“She lives with her sixteen year old brother and grandmother. Her grandmother had a stroke a month ago. So she and her brother spend most of their time at the hospital. I think they’ve moved into their grandmother’s hospital room,” Mrs. Roberts said. “Her brother got his his high school diploma early so he could start working.”
“I didn’t know,” I said feeling a little guilty.
“I didn’t expect you to,” Mrs. Roberts said. “If you keep trying you’ll eventually get through to her. It took me two weeks before I could get her to say hi.”
Mrs. Roberts gave me the hospital information.
“You just have your stepfather drive you here, ok?” Mrs. Roberts said. I nodded, took Noel’s homework, and walked out the door.
“There you are,” Mr. Steve said when he saw me in the hall. “You didn’t get into any trouble did you?”
“I need you to take me here,” I said handing Mr. Steve the piece of paper Mrs. Robert’s gave me.
“Why do you need to go to a hospital?” Mr. Steve asked.
“I need to deliver this girl her homework,” I said walking towards the car.
“Why do you have to do? Shouldn’t a teacher be doing this?” Mr. Steve asked.
“She’s my friend,” I said getting into the car. “Nobody really likes her. She’s an outcast like me.”
“You’re an outcast?” Mr. Steve asked.
“That’s what Nicole says,” I said.
“Natalie, you’re not an outcast,” Mr. Steve said. “I thought this school would be better than public school.”
“It is,” I said. “I’m not upset about it. I have Noel.”
Mr. Steve looked at me and relaxed. If I didn’t find this a big deal then would should he?
“Call your mother,” Mr. Steve said. “Tell her that we’re going to be late.”
Mr. Steve stopped.
“And stuck in traffic for a while,” Mr. Steve sighed.
“I’m looking for a girl named Noel,” I said really wishing Mrs. Roberts had given me her last name. “I go to her school. She didn’t came today, and I’m delivering her her homework. Her grandmother had a stroke and she has an older brother.”
“I didn’t know Noel had any school friends,” The nurse smiled. “Lord knows she needs some. Her grandmother is in the stroke ward. Her grandmother had surgery today and her brother wanted one of them to stay here with her. Floor two. Take two rights and then a left and ask for Noel. They’ll know who she is.”
I nodded. Mr. Steve thanked the nurse and we walked to the elevator.
“Noel,” Another nurse said when we got to the point the other nurse had said. “Room 7.”
“Thank you,” I said walking towards the room.
“Such manners,” I heard the nurse say to Mr. Steve.
The door to room seven was shut so I knocked on the door. Noel opened the door.
“Hey, Noel,” I said. She didn’t quite look me in the eye.
“You Natalie right?” Noel asked.
“I brought you your homework,” I smiled. Noel opened the door wide enough for me to walk in.
“Stop,” Noel said to Mr. Steve. “Two at time.”
“I’ll just wait out here,” Mr. Steve said. Noel left the door open a crack.
“Thank you,” Noel said taking her homework. She looked over to who I assumed was her grandmother on the hospital bed.
“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” I said. Noel looked at her feet.
I turned around to find Yule standing there in the doorway.
“Yule?” I asked. “Noel is your sister?”
“Yup,” Yule smiled. Noel ran to her brother and gave him a hug.
“New names?” Noel asked pointing to her stomach.
“Portia, Betty, and Thelma Lou,” Yule said not moving from the doorway. Noel shook her head no.
“So, Natalie, how do you know my sister?” Yule asked.
“We go to the same school. We’re both in Mrs. Roberts Advanced Math Class,” I said. Yule nodded still not moving from the doorway.
“What a coincidence,” Yule said.
“Yule, you know the rules. Only two visitors allowed at one time,” A nurse said to Yule.
“Two visitors in the room at one time,” Yule said. “I’m in the doorway.”
I laughed. Noel didn’t seem to get the joke. The nurse smiled.
“Whatever you say, Yule,” The nurse said walking away smiling.
“You know,” Noel started. She pointed at me.
“Yup,” Yule said
“This is Natalie,” Noel said like a light bulb went off in her head. “Is girl you meet cabling?”
“Yes, Noel,” Yule laughed. Noel gave me a hug. Yule smiled. I hugged her back.
“Natalie,” Mr. Steve said clearly uncomfortable. “We should get going.”
“Now that you know where I live don’t be a stranger,” Yule said to me as I walked out the room. “Noel and I are usually here in the evenings and Noel is here all day weekends.”
I nodded, and Yule ruffled my hair. I smiled.
“So you know him?” Mr. Steve asked as we walked towards the elevator
“You could say that,” I said smiling.