Millie sat on the top step outside the main door or Freemont Middle School. One of the few kids whose parents wouldn’t let her have a phone, she just stared ahead, watching the last of the bus riders load onto the final bus in the circle drive. Occasionally picking at her fingernails, checking her watch or looking back at the door way.
Millie sighed and slumped a little lower, then quickly corrected herself and sat up straight, hearing her grandmother’s words in her head, “You don’t want to have a humpback, dear.” It was a pain to remember to sit and stand up straight all the time, but Millie really, really didn’t want to have a humpback. It was a real thing. She’d seen pictures.
“C’mon, Brody,” Millie muttered to herself. “Where are you?”
Brody was Millie’s best friend and on Fridays, they walked to the bakery together for a start-of-the-weekend treat. Millie hadn’t appreciated the leftover rice and beans in her lunchbox today, so her stomach was grumbling and she was ready for a triple chocolate cookie with sprinkles on top.
The doors opened behind Millie and as she turned to see Brody walk out with Mr. Anderson, she felt the grumble in her stomach turn to butterflies. Something had changed recently in her friendship with Brody and Millie felt a girlish crush coming on that she couldn’t suppress.
Who could blame her? Brody had a growth spurt last summer, but not the kind where a kid gets long, lanky and awkward. The perfect kind where a kid grows into themselves and looks the way they’re supposed to. He kept his brown hair shaggy but away from his blue eyes. His one front tooth was just a touch crooked, but in such a charming way that Millie hoped he never got braces.
Millie was bracing herself for the day Brody realized he could do way better than her as a best friend. Plain Millie with her dishwater hair and hand-me-down clothes. But she figured she’d enjoy his company while it lasted.
Millie stood up and slung her backpack over her shoulder as Brody looked her way and smiled.
Mr. Anderson clapped Brody on the shoulder a touch too hard so that Brody lost his balance. “Congrats again, Brody,” Mr. Anderson said as he walked past the kids and down the steps toward the teacher’s parking lot. “You deserve it.”
Brody started walking down the steps without a word to Millie. She quickly caught up and matched him step-for-step.
“Congrats?” Millie asked without asking the whole question.
Brody just shook his head. “It’s just this dumb thing,” Brody said. He looked at Millie and smiled then. “What do you think the Cookie of the Day is?”
Millie knew he was trying to change the subject and would have none of it. “You know it’s macadamia with cranberries. Joyce told us at lunch.”
Brody stuck out his tongue and made a “yech” noise in response to the cookie flavor, just as he’d done earlier that day at the lunch table.
“C’mon, Brody. Out with it,” Millie elbowed her best friend, trying to keep things playful but also really wanting to know what the congratulations were for.
Brody sighed and shook the hair out of his face. “It’s just… I won this award.”
“What? Seriously? That’s awesome!” Millie couldn’t contain her excitement for her best friend. Maybe one of her best qualities was always wanting the best for the people in her life. Truly. Not so that the spotlight might shine on her as she stood beside them or any other selfish reason. She was always genuinely happy to hear other people’s good news - as if it were her own news.
Millie waited for Brody to fill her in, but he wasn’t forthcoming with any details, choosing to pretend to study the cracks in the sidewalk as they walked instead.
“So… what’s the award for?” Millie prompted him.
“It’s this sportsmanship thing,” Brody said. “I don’t even remember what it’s called, exactly. They give it to one kid each year who does well in their sport but isn’t the best, but who’s never a sore loser and encourages other kids in the sport. That kind of thing. It’s like one step up from a participation ribbon.”
“Uh, no, it’s not,” Millie could barely keep her mouth from hanging open at this news. “It’s like the opposite of that. It’s the Robert R. Rellsy Sportsmanship Award. Everyone in the school votes for who wins that award. Brody, this is huge!”
“I mean, I guess it’s cool that the other kids voted for me, but I shouldn’t win this award.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you should! You’re in the top five runners at every cross country meet. You were practically a big brother for all the new kids on the team this year, showing them the ropes, making them comfortable. Plus, you practically high five every kid on every other team before and after every meet.”
“Ok, maybe a little on that last part. But still, you totally deserve this! This is so exciting.”
“No, Millie, you don’t understand.”
“What’s to understand? You’re a great runner and a better person and everyone knows it.”
“No, Millie,” Brody’s voice started to rise, gaining a bit of edge and frustration.
“Yes, Brody. Everyone voted for you! This is a big deal!”
Brody stopped walking and took a firm tone in his voice, one Millie had only heard him use when his little brother wandered toward the street. “Millie, no. You don’t get it. I can’t win this award. My parents will be so upset.”
“What?” Millie treaded lightly. She still disagreed but could tell Brody was really upset about this. “Who’s parents would ever get mad about their amazing son winning an award?”
“Mine,” Brody said quieter, calmer now.
“But why? How could this possibly make your parents mad?” Millie ventured a gentle, calming touch on Brody’s arm, but quickly pulled her hand away, thinking it was too much.
“Millie, I need you to keep a secret. Like no secret you’ve ever kept before.”
Millie nodded, sensing the seriousness of the situation but having no idea what the secret could be. She and Brody told each other everything, she thought.
Brody set his backpack down on the sidewalk. A sly grin snuck onto his face. Then in a flash he was gone.
Millie had felt a slight breeze go past her in the direction of the bakery. She looked up the block and saw a Brody-shaped figure in the distance. It waved at her.
Then, flash! Brody was back next to her, an huge smile plastered on his face, that one crooked tooth making him all the more charming.
“Millie, I have super speed.”