It’s the third week of grade one. I know three people: my brother, Aaron, his friend, Allie, and my neighbor, David. But I only ever saw them on the bus because the grade fours aren’t allowed to play with the grade ones at recess.
I sit on the cold leathery seat behind the bus lady. The window beside me jabs my shoulder every time the lady turns the wheel, but I don’t mind. I watch the bus’s shadow outside paint the light gray road to charcoal as we drive to my school. The playground sits in between my school, the big brown rectangle with a blue line across the top, and my school’s church, the big brown triangle with pretty windows.
The green field with soccer nets and sand pits reminds me of Maddie, my best friend in kindergarten at my old school. I used to see her every day — at recess, at lunch, and sometimes at her house.
“You see Maddie lately?” Dad joked at the dinner table last night, “I was just with her today,” he continued. He likes to tease me about seeing my best friends.
Maddie looks like me. She has brown curly hair, but she has brown eyes instead of green. She would always come to my house with her hands cupped under her armpits because Dad would always tickle us. At recess, we would try to find as many snails as we could and see who could bring back the most. She taught me how to draw a butterfly, and she was for sure invited to all my birthday parties.
But she is gone. I don’t know anyone like Maddie at my new school.
Mrs. Spehar teaches us about math today. Her thick brown curls rest perfectly on her red button-up shirt that she matches with corduroy bottoms.
The white lights above me flicker as if a mouse was constantly chewing on the wires, and the textbooks that sit on the bottom shelves of the room blows a scent of dead moldy grass.
“If Johnny has two apples, and you give him one, how many apples does he have?” Mrs. Spehar asks the class.
I lower my head and pinch my fingers. Johnny has three apples. I know that because I memorized the answers for the addition questions.
A girl shoots her hand in the air and Mrs. Spehar’s eyes widen with joy. “Denise?”
“Three?” Denise responds.
“Yes, Johnny would have three apples.”
After a few more questions, Mrs. Spehar dismisses us for recess.
Denise plays with Thomas, Katherine plays with Emily, and I stand by the fence. I don’t like recess here because there’s no one to play with, and it’s not fun counting snails by yourself.
I balance myself along the curb that fences the outside of the kindergarten playground. Junior and senior kindergartens ride tike bikes to my right, and grade ones play foursquare to my left. Scream laughs, basketballs, and a monster woman barking “stop running!” echo from across the yard.
My fingers latch on to every wire on the fence beside me — like they’re climbing stairs sideways. Fifteen more minutes til’ the bell. Ten more minutes ’til the bell. At the end of the curb, I turn around and do it again. In class and at school, I forget what my voice sounds like.
My foot lunges for another step when a blonde girl with a giant sunflower printed on her shirt stops me.
“Do you wanna play with me and my friends?” She asks.
I clear my throat. “Sure,” I mumble.
She guides me past the people playing Snake, the basketball nets, and the monster woman yelling at the grade twos, and leads me to her friends.
“I’m Dana,” the sunflower girl says, “and these are my friends, Alicia and Stephanie.”
“Oh, hi. I’m Michelle,” I murmur. “What are you guys playing?”
“Four Square,” Alicia says.
~ ~ ~
Dana Penny. Two words unlike any other, and two words that are very special to me.
We played freeze tag the next day, snake the next, and hopscotch a bunch of few times in between. It felt strange being so far from the fence, but the fence doesn’t have four square, and I like that better anyway.