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Up to the Hills

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On his first day of nursery school, Harry had been a little shy and hid behind Mummy’s legs when she introduced him to the teacher, Miss Robin. But when he’d peeked around Mummy’s legs to see her, she was plump and smiling and had a big blonde ponytail like Bob the Builder’s friend Wendy, and he liked her right away. By the time Mummy was kissing his cheeks and telling him she loved him, he was no longer shy and didn’t understand why she was crying. “You’ll be back to get me at two-thirty,” he reminded her.

“You’re right, I will, you smart boy. Be a little angel for Miss Robin, yes?” she said.

“Yes, Mummy,” he said obediently. He liked being a little angel because it made people happy and Harry liked making people happy. The only time he wasn’t a little angel was if he was tired or forgot or had too many sweets and couldn’t help it. Mummy left and Harry felt a momentary twinge of panic as she walked out the door, but then Miss Robin took him by the shoulder and turned him toward the room.

The classroom was full of short-legged furniture, just the right size for a boy Harry’s age. Miss Robin asked if he knew how to read his name, and he nodded unsurely. She led him to a table, pointing at one of the two name-cards taped to the surface. “H-A-R-R-Y. That’s me,” he read, looking up at her for approval.

“Very good,” she said warmly, and he beamed with pride. “So this must be your seat. Would you like to put your things inside of your cubby and sit down?”

Harry nodded, much more confident now, because Mummy had already shown Harry his cubby when they first walked in, and he knew how to unpack his rucksack because he’d helped Mummy pack it that morning. He went to his cubby and neatly stowed his lunch box, his blankie and his soft toy cat, Eyeball, which he would need for naptime. He took his prized possession, a brand new box of Crayola crayons, to his table. He’d been waiting anxiously to use them ever since Daddy had bought them for him, wanting to save them for this momentous day: The First Day of School.

He sat in his seat, swinging his legs and clutching the box in both hands, and made sure to smile at anyone who happened to look at him. Even at age four, he knew that people liked his smile and his eyes, because they were big like Miss Robin’s ponytail. Grown-ups always told him how beautiful they were, and one time he’d replied, “I know!” because he did know; he heard it all the time.

But then Mummy told him that he must only say, “thank you” and never, “I know” because, “the most beautiful thing you can be is humble and polite.” Harry wasn’t sure what humble was, but he knew that polite meant following the rules and being kind, and Harry liked kind people and wanted to be one.

His head snapped toward the door when a bit of a ruckus kicked off; a boy was trying to twist out of his mother’s grasp and shouting, “Hey, look, Legos!”

Harry turned in his seat to look where the boy was looking, and sure enough, there was a large plastic box full of Legos in one of the play-stations at the back of the room. Harry loved Legos, but he didn’t think they were supposed to be playing with the toys yet. The other children were all in their seats waiting for class to begin. The mother said something to the boy that Harry couldn’t hear, and the boy shouted, “Aw, but that’s boring!”

Miss Robin went to them and said something to the mother, and the boy hopped in place impatiently, still trying to pull free. Miss Robin leaned down and smiled at the boy, and he smiled back and shook her hand. “I’m Louis!” the boy yelled.

Miss Robin said something back, and he yelled, “Sorry!”

After some more talking by Miss Robin and the mother, and more yelling by the boy, the mother hugged him. Even from across the room, Harry could see how tightly the boy was squeezing his arms around her. “Bye, I love you!” the boy yelled as she left, waving his arm frantically. His mother had one finger to her lips, which Harry knew meant to be quiet, but the boy didn’t seem to know that.

Miss Robin spoke again, and the boy shouted, “Sure, I do! Just watch me!” and ran along the tables, skimming his hand over each one as he passed, all the children sitting at them watching him with shocked, wide eyes.

“Louis, slow down!” Miss Robin called after him. “No running indoors!”

“I’m not!” the boy yelled, running up to Harry’s table and stopping with a hard slap to one of the labels taped on it. “There I am! L-O-U-I-S!”

Miss Robin told him he was right and said he’d done a good job but that he mustn’t run indoors or he’d have to sit in Time Out. Louis looked troubled and said, “I wasn’t! I wasn’t!” but Miss Robin only shook her head at that, and Louis’ little shoulders sagged and he said, “Sorry, I won’t do it again. I’ll go so slow, like a snail.”

“Well, you don’t have to go that far,” Miss Robin smiled, but Louis dragged his feet across the floor, moving in slow-motion as he put his things in his cubby.

By the time he was walking back to his seat, he seemed recovered from his scolding, going at normal speed and plopping himself into his chair. Harry stared at him, taking in his brown hair and blue eyes and the Power Rangers plasters on both of his knees.

“Hi,” the boy said.

“Hi,” Harry replied softly, feeling shy again.

“I’m Louis,” said the boy.

“Hi,” said Harry, sucking on his bottom lip. “Did you get hurt?”

“Just here,” said Louis, peeling back the plaster to show off a nasty scrape. Mummy always said it wasn’t good to peel back plasters, but before Harry could say so, Louis laid it back in place and patted it down securely. He pointed to his other knee and said, “Here’s not hurt. I just like plasters.”

“Oh,” said Harry.

The boy stared at him for a long time, then suddenly lunged toward Harry’s crayons. “Gimme!”

“No!” Harry said, turning away in his seat and clutching the box to his chest. “These are mine! I brought them from home.”

“Don’t be greedy!” the boy said, digging his fingers into Harry’s sides, and Harry laughed and squirmed despite himself.

“Louis!” Miss Robin called out warningly, and Louis sat back in his chair immediately. Harry straightened in his seat and looked at Louis, feeling a bit bad that he’d been scolded again.

“You can share with me,” Harry offered.

Louis’ eyes darted towards Miss Robin, and finding her distracted, he made an awful face at her. Harry giggled, scandalised and delighted, and Louis grinned at him. “I can read your name!” Louis said, leaning across the table to point at Harry’s name-card. “H-A-R-R-Y.”

“L-O-U-I-S,” Harry returned, pointing at Louis’.

Louis opened his mouth to say something more, but before he could, Miss Robin clapped her hands and class began.

*

When they were allowed to go to the play-stations in the back of the room, Louis tugged on Harry’s wrist and guided him to the Lego station. A ginger boy and a blond boy were already there, working together to build a house, and both squawked in protest when Louis accidentally knocked over a corner of it.

“Be careful!” the blond one scolded. His voice sounded strange, and Harry was intrigued.

“Hi,” he said. “My name’s Harry. What’s your name?”

“Niall,” said the boy. “Don’t step on our house.”

“I won’t,” said Harry, sitting carefully so as to avoid it. “You talk like a leprechaun.” Niall sounded like the cartoon leprechaun in the Lucky Charms commercials. Harry loved that cereal (even though Mummy wouldn’t buy it often because she said it had too much sugar. Harry didn’t understand why that was a bad thing.)

“Sure, that’s ’cause I’m Irish,” Niall said proudly.

That word, Irish, sounded vaguely familiar to Harry, but he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. “They’re magically delicious!” he said, smiling hopefully.

“They’re magically delicious!” Niall agreed, throwing a few Legos in the air. The ginger boy glanced up and laughed along with them. Harry looked over at Louis, expecting him to join in, and was shocked to find him standing with his arms crossed, glaring.

“Can we play with you?” Harry asked Niall, not looking away from Louis.

“Sure,” said Niall, craning his neck to smile at Louis.

“I don’t want to,” Louis said crossly. “Come play with me over here.”

“No, I want to play with Niall too,” Harry said.

Louis picked up a Lego and threw it as hard as he could. It flew a good six feet and bonked a little girl on the back of the head. She yelped and dropped the doll she was carrying, clutching her head and whipping around to see what had hit her. “Miss Robin, they’re throwing Legos!”

Louis stuck his tongue out at the girl and Miss Robin said, “Boys, are you throwing things?”

“On accident!” Louis cried.

“Louis, go to another play-station, please,” Miss Robin said. “No more Legos for today.”

“But I didn’t get a turn!” he protested.

“You can have a turn tomorrow if you’re not throwing them. Why don’t you go play with the dinosaurs?” Miss Robin said, her tone brooking no argument. Louis huffed and stomped over to the play-station where two girls and a boy were playing with plastic dinosaur figurines. Harry wasn’t sure if Miss Robin would get mad if he joined Louis, or if Louis even wanted him to, so he stayed where he was and helped Niall and the ginger boy, whose name he eventually learned was Eddie, build a great big house with lots of windows and doors and wheels built into the walls.

*

When Miss Robin called them from the play-stations onto the big rug in the front of the room for “Circle Time”, Harry ran straight to Louis’ side and sat by him, smiling as big as he could, and to his relief, Louis smiled back and threw an arm around his neck.

“Hi buddy,” Louis said.

“Hi buddy,” Harry returned, and giggled into his hand.

Niall’s knee bumped Harry’s as he sat next to him, and Louis’ arm tightened around his neck, choking him a bit. He grabbed Louis’ arm and made gurgling noises, but Louis was too busy glaring at Niall to notice. Luckily, Miss Robin noticed and said, “Louis, let go of Harry. You’re hurting him.”

“I’m not!” Louis denied, releasing Harry instantly and making a show of patting his back and leaning in to peer at his flushed face. “You ‘kay, Harry?”

Harry took a deep, slightly shaky breath to make sure, and then nodded. Louis patted his cheek and turned back to Miss Robin expectantly. She raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything.

Circle Time was wonderful! They sang song after song, and each one had a funny little dance to go with it. Harry couldn’t quite keep up, his arms and legs not quite working together the way the other children’s seemed to, but he tried his best to just copy whatever Louis did. At the end of “I’m A Little Teapot”, Louis suddenly twirled around and shook his bum. Harry mirrored him unquestioningly, and it was only when the other children burst into laughter and Miss Robin said, “Louis! Harry! No, sirs!” did he realise he’d been tricked.

Niall’s laugh was the loudest one of all, and Louis looked over at him approvingly. Miss Robin settled the class down and moved on to the next song. Louis appeared quite satisfied with himself, a sneaky grin on his face, and Harry couldn’t help grinning, too. For the rest of Circle Time, whenever he thought Miss Robin wasn’t paying attention, Harry shook his bum at Louis, and Louis did the same to him.

*

After Circle Time, they were sent back to their tables to practise writing the alphabet. Miss Robin handed out sheets of paper and little tubs of crayons. “We don’t need any!” Harry told her proudly, when she came to their table.

Daddy had opened the box for him a week ago, when he’d brought it home for Harry. At least once a day since, Harry had opened it up and looked at all the different colours, inhaled their wax scent, and already selected a favourite. Now, he held it up to show Louis. “This is my favourite,” he said. “It’s called Mango Tango.”

“That’s orange,” said Louis.

“No, Mummy said it’s Mango Tango,” said Harry, pointing to the various orange crayons in the box. “See, there’s lots of oranges and they all have different names. They’re all different. This one is my favourite and its name is Mango Tango.”

“What is this one’s name?” Louis said, plucking out a bright blue.

“Um, I don’t ’member,” Harry admitted. “All I know is Mango Tango. We could ask Miss Robin to read it for us?”

“I think its name is ‘Bluey Blue’,” Louis said decisively.

“Maybe,” Harry allowed.

Today’s letter was ‘A’. Miss Robin showed them lots of drawings of things that began with the letter, then she slowly drew one on the chalkboard, explaining it as she went, and told them to try for themselves. Harry was already an expert at the letter because it was in his name, and Louis was also very good at it.

“Let’s do our names,” Louis whispered, and even though that wasn’t what they were supposed to be doing, Harry agreed. “Show me yours,” Louis asked next, and Harry taught him how to draw an H, an A, two R’s, and a Y.

“Harry,” Louis read, looking down at his work.

“Show me yours,” Harry said, and Louis taught him L, O, U, i, S.

“The little i is better because you get to draw the dot,” Louis explained. Harry had always been fond of dotting little i’s, and the swirly snake of S’s (that he only sometimes accidentally drew backwards).

Miss Robin came to check their work, and Harry froze, wondering if they’d be in trouble. Instead, she said, “Very good, boys!” and put two shiny star stickers on the corner of each of their papers. A glance around the room verified that the other children had only received one sticker for their dutiful rows of A’s. Louis’ foot kicked Harry’s under the table, and Harry kicked back, happily admiring his shiny star stickers and thinking that Louis was really quite clever.

*

The class played a game called “I Spy” that Miss Robin said was a good way to practise their colours. She told them that they should play it in the car with their parents. Harry thought the game was very fun and was excited to teach it to Mummy. Louis was good at the game; he shouted louder than anybody when he knew the answer! Miss Robin didn’t seem to think that made him good at the game; she kept telling him to use his indoor voice and to not jump on his chair, but Harry was impressed.

Louis managed to stump the whole class by saying, “I spy something green.” Everyone guessed and guessed but no one could figure it out, not even Miss Robin! When Louis finally announced, “It’s Harry’s eyes!” everyone turned in their seats to look at Harry. Louis laughed and then everyone else did too, and Harry thought he’d never known a boy as funny and clever as Louis.

When it was Harry’s turn, Louis blinked at him and Harry said, “I spy something blue!” Everyone guessed right away that it was Louis’ eyes, but it didn’t matter. Louis smiled so big that his blue eyes scrunched up, and Harry smiled back.

*

When it was time for lunch, Miss Robin told them to fetch their lunch boxes and queue up by the classroom door. Harry could hardly believe his luck when he was selected to stand at the front of the queue and lead them to the canteen. His little chest puffed with pride as he followed Miss Robin down the corridor, his head held high.

Miss Robin led them to a long table and told them to sit on the bench seats. Harry smiled at the boys who sat next to and across from him. They said their names and admired each other’s lunch boxes as they unpacked their meals. He raised his hand, hoping Miss Robin could help him open his small plastic container of mandarin orange slices. He’d tried to twist the top off the way Daddy had taught him, but it wasn’t working.

Someone appeared by his side, but it wasn’t Miss Robin, it was Louis. “Hey, move,” he said to the boy sitting beside Harry.

“I can’t move,” said the boy, who’d introduced himself as Liam. “This is my seat, Miss Robin said so.”

“Move it or lose it,” Louis warned, holding up his fist menacingly.

Harry watched with wide eyes, his hand still in the air.

“What’s going on here?” Miss Robin said, and Harry turned his eyes to her. She was frowning at Louis’ fist and Liam’s scared face.

“Miss Teacher, he stealed my seat,” Louis said.

“Nuh-uh!” Liam cried.

“There’s plenty of empty seats,” Miss Robin said. “Why don’t you go sit by Zayn?”

“I sit by Harry,” Louis said stubbornly.

“You sit by Harry in class; in the canteen you can sit wherever you like,” she said.

“I like to sit by Harry,” Louis said.

“Come on,” Miss Robin said, taking Louis by the shoulders and guiding him to an empty seat on the far end of the table. Harry felt sad at the way Louis walked all hunched.

“Want me to help you?” Liam said, looking at Harry’s orange slices.

“No,” Harry said, tucking the container back into his lunch box. They were his favourite, but he didn’t feel like eating them anymore.

*

After lunch, they were taken to the playground for recess. Harry ran straight for the field where some boys were playing football. He loved football and couldn’t wait until he was old enough to join Little League. Harry ran around the field, panting for breath as he tried to follow the ball. He fell down a few times, but he didn’t get hurt. He fell down a lot whenever he played football and it didn’t bother him. The only person it bothered was Mummy, if Harry’s clothes got dirty.

As the game went on, he wiped his forehead on his arm and never gave up, chasing the other boys and crashing into one of them, who pushed him for it. “Sorry,” Harry mumbled, eyes stuck on the ball. Finally, his moment arrived! The ball rolled over to him, and he pulled his leg back, aiming carefully, and kicked. He missed. That was okay; that happened a lot, too. He pulled his leg back once more, but before he had a chance to try again, someone raced up behind him and kicked the ball hard. Harry watched dolefully as the ball flew away and whipped around to see who had done it.

Louis stood there, smiling at Harry.

“Why did you do that?!” Harry wailed, and Louis stopped smiling. Harry slapped the air in Louis’ direction and ran away. He ran all the way to a big tree on the other side of the playground and crouched behind it. He yanked some grass out of the ground angrily and threw it as hard as he could.

It wasn’t fair! Louis was very good at football. He had kicked the ball loads of times and Harry had cheered for him every time he did it. Why would he steal Harry’s only chance to kick it? That wasn’t nice at all. Nice friends take turns and share. Harry was so embarrassed and angry, he wished he could dig a little hole in the dirt and live in it.

Before he could even try, he heard Miss Robin yell for everyone to queue up. Harry reluctantly got to his feet, freezing when he saw Louis standing nearby, staring at him. Harry scowled and ran past him, going to the front of the queue to lead it.

In the classroom, mats had been laid out on the floor for naptime. They drank cups of cool water and were told to get their things from their cubbies and lay down. Harry got his blankie and his soft toy cat and went to the mat beside the quiet boy, Zayn, that Louis had sat by at lunch. Zayn looked at him with big brown eyes and slowly pulled his blankie over his head. Harry decided that Zayn was a little bit shy.

He lay down on his mat and tried to cover himself, but his blankie kept flopping the wrong way. “Want me to help?” a voice asked softly, and Harry turned his head to see Louis standing next to him.

“Okay,” Harry whispered.

Louis smiled at him and took his blankie, flapping it out over him. It still didn’t cover him all the way, but Harry smiled anyway and turned over to face Louis as he lay on the mat beside Harry’s. “Power Rangers,” he said, when he saw the soft toy Louis had, a big Red Ranger.

“Yup,” Louis said. “He’s my favourite.”

“I like him and green and pink,” Harry said.

“Pink’s a girl,” Louis told him.

“I know,” said Harry. They giggled quietly.

“Who’s that?” said Louis, pointing at Harry’s soft toy.

“This is Eyeball,” he said, holding it out to Louis so he could touch it. Louis petted its fur. “She’s soft, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis agreed.

Harry snuggled Eyeball close as Miss Robin turned off the lights and said, “Rest well, kiddos. Would you like some naptime music?” as lullabies began to play.

“I’m not tired,” said Louis.

“Me neither,” Harry said, but his eyelids felt heavier with each passing moment, and it wasn’t long before they were both asleep.

*

When the lights came back on, the naptime music was no longer playing, and they were instructed to put away their blankies and help Miss Robin pile the mats in the cupboard. Once that was done, Miss Robin told them they could go back to the play-stations. Harry followed Louis to the Fancy Dress station. He spotted a sparkly crown with pink fur trim and immediately put it on. He looked at himself in the mirror bolted to the wall, smiling at what he saw.

“What’s that?” Louis said, coming up behind him.

Harry shrugged warily. The crown was maybe for girls, he suspected, but he liked it anyway.

“Are you a prince?” Louis asked.

Harry nodded eagerly.

“Then I’ll be a knight!” Louis said, snatching up a policeman’s hat and a plastic spatula to wield as a sword. “Look, a dragon! Don’t worry, Prince Harry, I’ll save you!” he said, waving the spatula mightily and stabbing the air.

Harry giggled and stayed behind Louis, leaping and ducking when Louis did to avoid the dragon’s fiery breath. Louis screamed and fell as the dragon bit him, and Harry rushed to take Louis’ sword and fight the dragon off.

“Louis, indoor voices,” Miss Robin reminded him.

Louis made a face but whisper-screamed during the next attack, but on the third one, he forgot and yelled at the top of his lungs when the dragon snuck up on them while they were repairing the castle’s wall with plastic hammers.

“Louis! Go to your table,” Miss Robin said.

“But Miss Teacher—!” Louis tried to explain, but he was sent to his seat anyway. Miss Robin brought him some drawing paper and a tub of crayons. Harry smiled a little when he saw Louis push the tub away and reach for Harry’s crayons instead.

Harry sadly took off his crown and put it away. He sat on the floor and felt very lonely.

“Harry, why don’t you go play with the dinosaurs?” Miss Robin suggested.

Harry looked over to the Dinosaur station, where Zayn and Liam were playing. Harry went to join them, and when Liam said hi to him, Zayn said it too. Zayn was in a much friendlier mood now, which made Harry feel better. Their dinosaurs attacked each other but they made sure to only roar with their indoor voices.

Parents began to arrive to pick up their children. Liam was one of the first to go home. Harry and Zayn continued playing, until a loud cry caught their attention. Harry stood up as soon as he realised it was Louis and ran to their table, where Miss Robin stood talking to him.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, looking frantically between them before noticing Louis’ cupped hands. Across his palms lay the broken pieces of Harry’s Mango Tango crayon.

Harry stared in horror.

“It was an accident!” Louis said.

Tears sprang to Harry’s eyes and he ran to a corner of the classroom and hid behind a low bookshelf. Miss Robin came after him and said in a gentle voice, “Harry, dear, it really was an accident. Maybe we can find you another one? Want to look through the crayon tubs with me?”

He shook his head no.

“It was kind of you to share your crayons, and I know Louis feels very bad that he broke it. Why don’t we all look for another one together?” Miss Robin said, but again Harry shook his head. He couldn’t help his tears at the moment, and he didn’t want the other children to see him cry.

He sat in the corner, sniffling as quietly as he could and trying to calm down, until finally Miss Robin said, “Harry, dear, your mother’s here for you.”

He was up in a split-second and raced toward his mother, slamming himself against her legs and hugging them tight. She picked him up and petted his hair. “What’s the matter, baby?”

Harry rested his head on her shoulder and sighed shakily. He didn’t want to talk about it.

“Are you ready to go? Shall we get your things?” Mummy said, and even though he didn’t answer, she fetched his rucksack and lunch box from his cubby. Harry took Eyeball when she handed it to him, and hugged it tight, using its fur to wipe his face.

As they headed for the door, Louis ran up to them holding Harry’s box of crayons. “Wait, Harry’s mum! Don’t forget this.”

“Why thank you,” she said, holding out Harry’s rucksack so he could stow them away inside.

Louis looked up at Harry and said, “I’m sorry.”

Harry nodded, but his voice trembled a little when he said, “Okay.”

“See you tomorrow,” Louis said, waving.

“Okay,” Harry said, and waved back. He stared at Louis as they left, and Louis looked so worried that Harry forced himself to smile. Louis smiled back and waved again, wagging his whole arm.

When Harry was buckled up for safety in the backseat of the car, he took his box of crayons out of his rucksack and opened it. It was harder than usual to open, and once Harry managed to do it, he discovered a folded piece of paper tucked inside. Harry unfolded it and saw that Louis had written him a letter in Mango Tango orange. There were two stick people drawn, one with Bluey Blue eyes and one with green. Below them were words:

H A R R Y

L O U i S

H i

H A R R Y

He knew all those words and felt very proud of himself for being able to read the first letter he’d ever gotten from anybody! He looked down at the neat rows of crayons in the box and noticed one sticking up a bit. It was Mango Tango.

He lifted it carefully, again it was harder than usual, and Harry paused when he saw that Louis had wrapped one of his Power Ranger plasters around it. Harry was so happy that he brought the crayon to his lips and kissed it noisily.

“What are you doing, honey?” Mummy asked from the front seat.

“I have a letter!” he said proudly, flapping the paper.

“Oh, from who?” she said.

“Louis!” he said.

“Is that your new mate?” she said.

“Yes, Mummy,” said Harry, “Louis is my best mate in the whole wide world!”

He tried to tell her everything, wanting Mummy to understand exactly how special Louis was, so he started at the beginning and found he couldn’t stop. He kept thinking of more reasons and more great things Louis had done. When Daddy came home, he had to start all over, because he wanted Daddy to understand, too.

As he tucked Harry into bed that night (with Louis’ letter tucked under his pillow), Daddy kissed his forehead and said, “Well, you can see him again tomorrow, isn’t that wonderful?”

Harry nodded and smiled as big as he could. He liked Louis better than mandarin orange slices, better than Mango Tango, better than the Red Ranger and Green Ranger and Pink Ranger combined! Louis was the best thing about nursery school, and that really was so very wonderful.