Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…
“Come on, Max! We’re going to get in trouble.”
“Seriously, Ms. Alvarez is calling everyone in the hallway.”
…twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four…
Max concentrated on his hands. “I’ll be out in a minute. I have to finish.”
“Fine, but don’t blame me if you have to sit out recess tomorrow!” Jaime said as the bathroom door swung shut behind him.
Max dried his hands and stuck his head out the bathroom door. Ms. Alvarez was standing there, frowning.
“Hurry up. Everyone else is already back in the classroom! What took you so long?”
Max shrugged his shoulders; he kept his hands behind his back as they walked down the hall.
After school, Jaime plunked down beside him on the bus.
“You got me in trouble! Why are you always messing around in the bathroom? Now we’re both going to miss recess tomorrow!”
Max didn’t say anything.
At home, he slid his backpack under his bed.
He could hear his dad calling from the living room, “Wash your hands, and I’ll make you a snack.”
Max thought about his bag, covered in germs from school. There must be millions of different bacteria—that’s what Ms. Alvarez calls germs. And then there were the books, and he let Trina borrow that one pen. She chews on pens.
He turned on the hot water and stuck his hands under the faucet.
One, two, three…
His dad’s voice called over the rush of water, “Max! Your sandwich is ready!”
He could hear footsteps coming down the hall. He pushed the lock.
“Max, stop lollygagging. What’s taking you so long?”
Max turned off the water. His hands hurt from the heat.
“I’m coming, Dad,” he said, unlocking the door and shoving his hands in his pockets.
“Your sandwich is on the table.”
“Thanks, Dad. I’m going next door to Jaime’s house,” said Max, grabbing the sandwich and opening the front door.
Max’s hands started to sweat as he walked across the yard toward Jaime’s house. He’d suddenly remembered high-fiving his dad as he got off the bus. And then his dad made the sandwich. It must be crawling with germs. Gross!
Jaime’s voice startled him. “Hey!” he yelled from his porch. “Mom said no TV. I told you you’d get me in trouble! You’re such a weirdo, always taking forever in the bathroom.”
Jaime grabbed the sandwich out of Max’s hand. “Wait! Don’t eat that!” Max grabbed the sandwich back and ran inside Jaime’s house, straight to the bathroom. He threw the sandwich in the trash and lunged for the sink.
One, two, three…
“Max?” It was Jaime’s mom. “Is everything OK?”
…four, five, six…
Max realized he’d forgotten to lock the door. It opened, and Jaime’s mom walked in.
“Honey, your hands are really raw. Let’s get you a towel.”
“Leave me alone!” Max muttered between counts. “They’re not clean yet!”
He could hear Jaime’s mom on the phone, “I think you should come over here…”
Max looked up. His dad was standing in the bathroom doorway. He gently pulled Max’s hands from behind his back. They were red, and the skin on one of his knuckles was cracked. Max started to cry.
“I just don’t want any of us to get sick. If I wash my hands the same way every time, we’ll all be safe,” he said.
Max’s dad held him tight.
“You’re not going to make us sick, Max, but I understand how scared you are. We’ll talk to Ms. Johnson, the school counselor, tomorrow. I bet she can help.”
Jaime poked his head around Max’s dad. He looked embarrassed.
“Sorry I was a jerk earlier,” he said. “I didn’t know you were so worried. Come on, let’s go make some more sandwiches!”
Max cracked a smile. Things were a little less scary with his dad and Jaime on his side.
Pettway is a freelance writer and poet. She lives in Shanghai, China.
Questions for Readers
Right There (In the Text)
Why does Jaime blame Max for getting in trouble?
Think and Search (In the Text)
Why does Max keep his hands behind his back or in his pockets?
Author and Me (In My Head)
Why does Max wash his hands so often and for so long? What is something you do over and over?
On My Own (In My Head)
Have you ever hid something from family or friends? Explain what happened when they found out.