Mum smiled at me – she always did that to try to calm me down. That’s useless and she knows it too, but it’s probably better than yelling to sit still or pinching my arm to remind me of my manners, like Mr Bradshaw did in kindergarten. I told mum about it and he didn’t return the next week. Not sad about it, mind, because he never let me play on my own and would always hover behind me to make sure I didn’t break anything. It’s not as if I did that on purpose.
My nerves, all over the place anyway, went round my belly like tiny, angry chihuahuas. Our neighbour got one – the most annoying, blood thirsty little dog you could imagine. Mrs Pierce always laughed about how I was like Mr Puffy, because apparently, I was running around circles too. Mum would probably frown if she knew I wished Mr Puffy would someday bite Mrs Pierce nose. Needless to say, probably, that I liked neither and being carted over to have them babysit me – even though I actually don’t even need a babysitter anymore, I’m way too old for that – was my personal hell.
Everyone around us whispered excitedly, making the air buzz like it was filled with lots of bees. Anyway, it was way too hot outside to squeeze 53 children plus their parents into this little assembly hall comfortably. Most, if not all, were sweating something awful and even the mums with painted faces and braided hair looked frazzled. Mum never painted herself like that – she painted me, once, though. I was the best tiger ever, promise. I had whiskers and stripes. The hall would probably look a lot more cheery if everyone was painted like an animal, even if it would smudge all the way in this heat. It would be more fun, at least.
Waiting to be sorted into class was boring – boring enough that every last thought in my head chose a different direction to wander. One counted the blondes, another the brunettes, the next planned every step until my first school day would be over and I could return home to my xbox, another yet made guesses who I ended up with in class. That was the most important thought, mum always said that I had to priori – priot – choose which is best and follow that thought. So I let the others count and plan in the background, where I could reach them later if I had the time and still remembered them, and tried to guess my future classmates.
I knew most of the other kids in the hall. There’s only one kindergarten in Beacon Hills and every kid goes there – except Benny Baker, but he’s real sick and has to stay in hospital, and Cora Hale, don’t know why she never came back after the first month, but she lives in the forest – not just the outskirts, but smack in the middle and what could be cooler than that? Not kindergarten, I tell you.
The kindergarten had four groups, though, and we were almost never allowed to play together or something, so maybe I didn’t actually know everyone. I had to hope that, because no one in my group actually liked me any – I got ADHD, mum said and tried to explain it for babies. Seriously, she could just have not bothered for all the information it gave me, but I read about it later in the library and though most words in the text where a little big and I didn’t know every one, I understood enough to have the gist of it down.
Mum always says I’m a special flower, but that’s only mum-talk for “I lost in kid lottery”. I know she loves me, she tells me at least once everyday to make sure I never forget, but Dad always says I’m a handful, which – true. I even tried not to be, honest, but somehow that always ends up making everything worse and everyone way more angry at me.
Like that Friday last week – or was it the week before? – where I tried to show Jackson Jerkface Whittemore how awesome my most awesome survival tactics were. It’s not my fault their interest in it isn’t as empiric as mine and double not my fault that they didn’t see the lots of marks I left in the forest to guide them back. I made sure to make them real obvious, because Jackson isn’t very smart, and his friends weren’t either, seeing that they were friends with him. But adults were adults and wouldn’t listen to me any and I was punished, even though Jackson was the blind snail who wouldn’t manage to find the way out of its own shell if I plastered it with glow-in-the-dark arrows.
A hand came to lie heavily on my shoulder and I gasped in surprise to see Dad.
He actually made it! I gave him my brightest, bestest tooth-gap grin as a reward, so happy I could burst that I pretended not to see the disapproving frown mum send him over my head for being late. I was sure now that nothing could stop me. I started to hop up and down on my seat with restless energy, enjoying the tighten-coil-release-jump of my muscles, grabbing Dads hand and squeezing tight. Mum sneaked her arm around mine and stroked it to calm me down again.
Half of the other kids were in similar positions, sandwiched between their parents, but even if I would have been the only one I wouldn’t have cared. Dad actually made it – even though he worked long hours at the moment to catch the bad guy who lights all the fires around the town. Dad is a deputy, you know, a real good one. I just know, now that my Dad was on the case, they would get him soon, because he always got the bad guys. Just because I could, because he made it, I gave him another bright smile.
The black shirt mum made me wear was icky with sweat from the summer heat, clinging to my back uncomfortably, but I felt like bursting from feeling. Mum always said to “be more specific. Not just “feelings”, honey, what exactly do you feel?”, but I could never put a finger on it. I just felt like I was vibrating out of my skin, ready to explode because I couldn’t contain it all.
There were two teachers standing in front of everyone, but I don’t know what they’ve been talking bout, because I didn’t actually listen to a word they said. Probably about everything we would learn and how exciting everything was and yes, I felt excited too, but more about the question which guys I ended up with in class, because I had to live with them for years on a daily basis and I would actually like to score a friend or two. Mum always says that every day is a new chance, but that’s ridiculous and she only thinks that because she’s old and its been a while for her since she had to go to kindergarten or, from today, to school. First impressions were important and if I got saddled with Jerkface Whittemore he would make sure to tell everyone nasty lies about me.
I listened a short while to one of the teachers counting off the things we would do in the first few weeks and to say I wasn’t impressed would put it mildly. I already knew most of it from a third grader from boy scouts I followed around before they excluded me for the next few meetings and I bugged mum and Dad to let me skip a grade since then. They wouldn’t budge – which, rude! – but at least they compromised with me to observe it and talk to the teachers for extra work if it was necessary.
I started reading age four, mostly cause mum wasn’t very forthcoming on detailed enough information to satisfy my curiosity and grew ever more short tempered. She refused to teach me, because I was “a baby” and “didn’t need to learn it yet”, so it was a bumpy ride in the beginning, but now I had my own library card and visited there frequently. It’s easier now that I can read – not just with mum, who hasn’t got to explain me everything anymore, but more for myself. Now I could just get the information of the why’s and how’s of every topic I could think of all on my own. That was what freedom felt like.
I’m not that good with my numbers, though, so I guess the teachers did have a job for a reason.
Some kids already stood up front when I resurfaced from my thoughts again, forming a small line to the right side of one of the teachers – Ms Hershal or something and I forced my attention to stay at the front.
“McCall, Scott. Welcome in first grade, sweety, we’ll have lots of fun. Go on to the others.”, Ms Hershal just said and a shy boy I already knew stepped into line. He was in my kindergarten group and we even chatted a few times. Sometimes we would play together on the playground, and one time we met up in the park coincidentally and played fetch. He had to take a break shortly after, though, and went home with his mum. I bugged my mum about it and she said it’s called asthma, something to do with not getting enough air to breath properly, but I read about it in the library afterward. There were lots of big words, like with my ADHD, but I mostly managed well enough.
Scott came to a stop next to Danny Mahealani, Jacksons best friend and my shoulders slumped a little. It would be great to be in class with Scott, but Danny didn’t like me on principal alone – and okay, maybe because he got in the crossfire of a mud war with Jackson early in kindergarten. Never gave me another chance, though. But even if Danny chatted up Scott – which would ultimately result in Jackson chatting up Scott, making him unavailable to be friends with me – I could still manage to find other friends, right? Of course. And even if not, I’m plenty good company on my own. I zoomed out again for the next few kids, a little or a lot disheartened.
“Raeken, Theodore. Come on up, sweetheart.”
A boy in the row in front of me, five seats to the left, snapped his head around to the teacher before standing up. I craned my head around, too, wanting to know what he had been looking at, but finding nothing worthwhile other than a lot more people who would surely find it weird to be stared at if I continued. I turned back around.
I didn’t really know him, because he was a hedgehog and I was a fox – the names of our kindergarten groups – and he isn’t a boy scout, but I remembered him briefly from the fieldtrip to the forest we went on as a parting activity. He had short, brown hair and the kind of pale skin that was almost always covered in freckles – my mum was like that and her friend Karen and Mrs Pierce, too, even though she’s all wrinkly already. I was almost gone down the train of thought when the teacher stumbled about a mess of a name. I groaned loudly on reflex and stood up.
“Don’t even bother. Let’s stick with Stiles, aye? Way shorter, way more easy. Easy to remember, too, in case old people actually tend to be forgetful. Are they? Don’t bother, I’ll ask my Dad later. Hey, I’m Stiles.” I smiled my best you-can’t-not-like-me-smile, though I probably needed a new one, because too many people tended to look like my new teacher did when they see it. It was a weird cross between kindness, hard-pressed patience and what you look like when you try eating a lemon and the sourness numbs your whole head.
“Welcome in first grade, Stiles. Good to have you with us.”, she lied through her teeth, disappointing me greatly. It’s okay not to like me. I’m aware that I can be a handful. It’s still not okay to lie to me, though. Not. Ever.
I took my place next to Theodore, but didn’t bother trying to chat with him. Instead I looked around to find my Dad in the sea of people and showed him a wobbly smile, holding his eyes while trying to stand still in front of so many kids and their parents. My stomach rolled with angry-miniature-dog-nerves.
“What’s the difficult name?”, Theodore whispered in my ear, leaning over to be real quiet not to disturb anyone, breathing warmly on my already sweaty neck in the process – which, ew! My eyes grew huge – was he actually talking to me? In front of people, after he witnessed that I’m a loud blabbermouth?
But it could always be just to make fun of me. Jackson invited me to his birthday earlier this year just to laugh in my face after I accepted – it was a waterslide party, who says no to a waterslide party?
I was a lot more suspicious now.
“What do you want to know that for?”, I whispered back, really trying to keep my voice down but speaking too harshly to really manage.
“Curious, is all. Is it embarrassing?”, Theodore grinned and my hackles rose, annoyed that he made fun of me and annoyed at myself for hoping just a second that he could actually want to be my friend.
“You are embarrassing”, I hissed between clenched teeth. I wanted to shove him actually and watch him fall into whoever stood next to him and see everyone fall down, but Dad didn’t make time to see me starting fights and embarrassing him on my very first school day.
The jerk had the nerve to get real wide-eyed.
“I didn’t – I’m – um – “, he started, but right then Jackson Jerkface Whittemore sauntered to me, face split by a shark grin, even though sharks were way cooler than him.
“Already making friend, weirdo?”, he whispered, pinching my neck real hard out of everyones line of sight.
I sneered at him with all the bad blood I could master. “Don’t need no friend if they are as brainless as you are, jerkface.”
Before either of us could continue with whatever we planned to do next – I favoured ignoring everything and everyone and just punching his lights out – the teacher came forth to lead us out of the assembly hall, obviously finished assorting my class.
I craned my neck to look at Dad one last time, before being ushered outside, seeing him hold up both hands with crossed fingers and a huge smile on his face.
Alright, Dad. No fighting. I promise to at least give it my best.