CHAPTER ONE "We're off to the zoo," Ms. Flowers said as the doors of the yellow school bus closed. Everyone cheered. Our whole class had been looking forward to this field trip all week. My best friends, Frankie and Ashley, were sitting in the seat in front of me. I had the bad luck to have gotten Nick McKelty as my partner. That meant I had to sit next to him on the bus. And that meant I had very little seat. Nick the Tick's thick body took up most of it. I don't mean to gross you out, but my right butt cheek was riding in the air. "What do you most want to see at the zoo?" Ms. Flowers asked as she walked up and down the aisle collecting our lunches. One of the parents, Ms. Shimozato, held the big yellow container where our lunches would be kept until it was time to eat. "A giant squid," Luke Whitman said, handing her his brown bag with a salami grease mark covering the bottom. "We're going to the zoo, Luke, not the aquarium," Ms. Flowers answered. Her voice sounded like she was holding her nose, even though she wasn't. That happens a lot around Luke. "What about you, Hank?" "I want to see a giraffe tongue," I said. "I hear they're purple and covered in hair." "So are you, Zipper Fang," Nick said. He threw his arms up in the air and burst out laughing at his usual not-funny joke. That one movement put my nose right next to his armpit, which is not a place any nose wants to be. It smelled like rotten eggs on toast. "Giraffe tongues are dark in color to protect them from getting sunburned," Ms. Flowers said. "Their tongues are out a lot when they're picking leaves off trees." That set off a lot of conversation about weird-but-true animal facts. It seemed like everyone on the bus knew one. It was a fun way to spend the bus ride. "Spiders have eight legs and forty-eight knees," Katie Sperling said. "Kangaroos cannot walk backward," Frankie chimed in. "Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur," Ryan Shimozato said. His mom smiled proudly, as if she had said it herself. "Elephants are the only animals that can't jump," Ashley said. "That's because they can weigh up to fifteen thousand pounds. Hard to get that off the ground." "I love them, anyway," I said to Ashley. "I've watched lots of shows about them on television. I hope we get to see one today." "Well, Hank, I think you're going to get your wish," Ms. Flowers said. "There is an elephant enclosure at the zoo." "Can we go there first?" I begged. "We have a tour guide who has the whole morning planned for us," Ms. Flowers said. "It's important that we all stay together. Remember our most important rule--no wandering away. And that goes especially for you, Hank." She didn't even have to say why. I knew what she meant. I get lost a lot. Maybe it's because I still can't tell my left from my right. Last week, Ms. Flowers gave me the attendance sheet to take to the office. She said to walk to the end of the hall and turn right, then go to the water fountain and turn left. I thought I followed her directions perfectly. That is, until I pulled the door open and walked right into the girls' bathroom. Lucky for me, it was empty. "The zoo is very large," Ms. Flowers explained as we pulled into the parking lot. "You are each responsible to always know where your partner is." After we entered the zoo, we met our tour guide, Gina, who told us our first stop was Gorilla World. While she was telling us all about what we were going to see, I noticed Nick wandering away. He was heading for a cart that sold toy zoo animals. Since he was my partner, it was my responsibility to tell him to stay with the group. His back was to me, so I couldn't see what he was doing. I snuck over to him and whispered in his ear, so Ms. Flowers couldn't hear. "You're not supposed to be here," I said. Suddenly, he wheeled around and flashed what looked like a rat in front of my face. Before I could do anything, he dropped it down the front of my shirt. It felt cold and sticky. "Aarrgh!" I screamed, before I could stop myself. I pulled my shirt out of my pants, and the sticky thing fell out the bottom of my shirt to the ground. I looked down and saw it was just a rubber rat. I turned around to tell McKelty how annoying that was, but he had already snuck back to the group. So I stood there alone, with everyone in the class laughing at me. Everyone but Ms. Flowers. She did not look happy. "Hank," she said. "What was the last thing I said to you on the bus? No wandering away." "But Ms. Flowers, I was just trying to be responsible." "Well, you didn't succeed, Hank. Now please apologize to Gina for interrupting her introduction to Gorilla World." I apologized, but it wasn't fair. It was McKelty who had wandered away. I had only gone after him to help. We started down the path that led to the gorillas. I looked at Frankie and Ashley, who were at the front of the line asking Gina lots of questions. They seemed really "I'm going to have a fun day with you, Zipperbutt," McKelty said. "You're my favorite kind of partner. You make the animals in this zoo seem smart." happy. Then I looked at Nick McKelty next to me, who snickered just before he tripped me. "Watch your step," the big creep said. Only one thought was running through my mind: Why did I get stuck with this guy? Excerpted from How to Hug an Elephant #6 by Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.