The first time I found Tina Cohen-Chang broken, I didn't even know that was her name.
At the time I didn't know anything about her. I had never seen her before, even though I'd heard the rumors that there was a new girl in school, a creepy Gothic freak who didn't talk much. I shrugged aside the news, because honestly why should I care that someone else had moved into this town and would most likely end up brushing aside the kid in the wheelchair just like everyone else does? So I ignored all of the gossip churning through the building and went through my classes like I do every day.
At lunch I dug my paper bag out of my backpack as usual and then rolled out into the hall outside the cafeteria. I generally avoid eating in there, because the big milling crowd of people makes it that much more likely I'll take a backpack to the face or have a lunch tray dropped on me. Just as I was about to park myself in an open alcove, I heard a faint noise coming from around the corner. Curious, I went around the corner and saw a crouched figure dressed in black. A girl, I judged by the length of the hair and the fact she was wearing a skirt, and she seemed to be crying.
Feeling extremely awkward, since I had zero experience with crying girls apart from when my little sister skinned her knees, I ventured a tentative, "Hey, are you okay?"
The girl jumped and turned to face me. She was a pretty Asian girl I'd never seen before, with dark slanting eyes and soft, coppery skin. Her black hair was draped around her face in sheets, half hiding it, and there were streaks of bright blue in it that matched the bits of blue that were the only color in her otherwise black wardrobe. The make-up around her eyes had smeared and I watched as she hastily wiped at the mascara on her cheeks with the backs of her fishnet-clad hands.
"F-f-fine," she sputtered out in such a quiet voice that I could barely hear her. "I j-just – No, I'm n-n-not fine," she changed tact midway through her sentence and I saw her chin start to quiver. "I h-had just g-gotten comfortable in m-m-m-my old school, and th-then my parents m-made us p-pick up and move here. And everyone is s-staring at me and t-t-talking about me because of th-this stupid st-t-tutter, and I j-just wish they'd s-s-stop."
She buried her face in her hands again and all I could do was stare at her. When I'd asked if she was okay, I really wasn't expecting to hear all of that. Still, I felt bad for her, because I sort of knew how she felt. I could still remember the way it had been when I'd finally come back from the hospital after being paralyzed, and the way everyone treated me it felt like I was a new kid in school too. So I rolled closer to her and leaned over to pat her shoulder lightly.
The girl flinched away from my touch at first, like she thought I was going to hit her, but after a second she relaxed and even leaned sideways against the wheel of my chair. After a minute or so her crying calmed down and she wiped her hands over her face one more time before looking up at me.
"S-s-sorry, I d-didn't mean to just r-r-r-ramble at you like th-that," she said, still in an insanely low voice. "You p-probably didn't w-want to know all that."
"No, it was no problem," I said because it just seemed like the right thing to say. While I really wasn't expecting for her to completely unload on me like that, since most people generally avoid talking to me at all, it didn't actually bother me. And then, because we were both looking awkward, I panicked and did the first thing that came to mind. Digging into the paper sack in my lap, I pulled out a Ziploc bag and offered it out to her. "Cookie?"
The girl stared at the bag for a moment and then she smiled. It was soft and small, just like her voice, but it was a real smile and I couldn't help but smile too. "Th-thanks," she said, taking one out of the bag.
All of the tension between us melted away as she took a curious bite of the cookie and then smiled again. "My name's Artie," I said, holding out a hand to her.
The girl regarded my hand just as curious as she had the cookies, and I realized belatedly that I was still wearing my gloves, but she just gave me another quiet smile and slipped one of her fishnet gloved hands into mine. "T-t-tina," she replied.
"Nice to meet you," I said. I pulled everything out of my lunchbag and laid it out on my lap and then looked down at her questioningly. "Wanna go half-sies? My mom always packs too much for me to eat." Tina smiled and nodded, and a minute later we were both munching down on halves of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and the rest of my cookies. She sat leaning up against the side of my chair like it didn't bother her in the slightest, and the longer we talked the less I noticed her stutter. She told me about how her family had moved around a lot, and I told her about what life was like in Lima.
When the bell rang at the end of the lunch period, Tina stood up and grabbed her bag off the floor, slinging it over her shoulder. "Do you need a hand finding your next class?" I asked hopefully. Honestly, I didn't want to have to leave her, because she was the first person in a long time to treat me like a normal person.
Tina smiled gratefully. "Th-that would be great," she said and dug her schedule out of her bag. When she handed it to me, my eyes panned down until I found the right class hour and then I couldn't stop my face from lighting up. "Science with Mr. Kilpatrick, that's my class," I told her. She beamed.
We headed for class together, still chatting idly about nothing important, and I noticed that we were drawing a lot of stares from the other students. Tina seemed to shrink a little at the attention, but I just smiled at her and pulled her into another topic to keep her distracted. If there was one thing to avoid when you're the new kid, it was letting the constant staring bog you down.
When we got to class, I went back to my seat while Tina went up to give her papers to the teacher. Once Mr. Kilpatrick had nodded, she hurried back and slipped into the seat beside me, one that had been determinedly empty for the early half of the term. "I'm g-going to be so l-l-lost in this class," she said to me mournfully. "I'm awful at s-s-science."
"Don't worry about it, I'm pretty good at it, I'll help you study," I told her and then the doubt had sunk in. Was I overstepping bounds? Did she even want help from me? But Tina had smiled at me again.
"Th-th-thanks, Artie," she said and the weight behind her words told me it was for a whole lot more than science lessons or an escort to class or even half my sandwich and chocolate chip cookies. I just smiled back.
That was the first time I'd found Tina Cohen-Chang broken, and the first time I fixed her.