“Have a great day, sweetie. I love you.”
Billy held on to her a little longer.
“Mommy has to go to work, buddy.”
Pleading saucer eyes peered up at her through round specs. She smiled her warm smile and crouched down to his level.
“You’re going to have so much fun, little man. And you can tell me all about it when I pick you up. You’ll tell me about your day, won’t you?”
He offered a shy nod. “I can’t wait.” She kissed his forehead. “Love ya, bud.”
Billy watched her leave and knew his security was gone. In its place was a scary new world. He turned around and saw the tall lady in the nice dress.
“Okay, everyone, class has begun. My name is Ms. Katherine, and I can’t wait to meet all of you! The first thing we do every day is attendance, so at the start of class we’re all going to sit on the rug with the circles on it. There are no assigned seats, so you can choose whichever circle you like.”
The class ran over to the rug, a chorus of excited giggles. Billy chose the circle at the farthest corner of the rug because it was orange.
“Alright. When I say your name, you can say ‘here’ or ‘present,’ and then you can tell the class about something you like to do. Does that sound okay with everyone?”
Billy nodded with the rest of the class. Ms. Katherine had a kind voice. He liked her, he decided.
But what would he say when it was his turn? He thought about it. He liked playing with Legos. Those were fun. They could be whatever or whoever he wanted. But the first person Ms. Katherine called on said Legos. So, what could Billy say?
Billy looked up from his twiddling thumbs. Ms. Katherine was scanning the class.
“I’m sorry? Did someone say ‘here?’”
Twelve heads turned to look at Billy.
“Oh, there you are. Okay, William, do you like to be called Will? Or is William good?”
She wrote it down on the attendance sheet.
“Billy… got it… Alright, Billy, do you want to tell us something you like to do?”
“I, um. I like to…”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t quite get that.”
She was nice. He wanted to please her.
“I like to play with my friends.”
“Can I sit here?”
Billy spun his head around to look behind him. His chubby hands reached up to push his glasses further up his freckled nose.
The voice’s owner had the standard red cafeteria tray and a friendly, hopeful look on his face.
“Okay,” Billy mumbled. He’d never been asked this before.
The friendly boy set his tray down and took a seat beside Billy. Suddenly, the table didn’t feel so empty anymore.
“My name’s Dennis. Nice to meet you!”
“Hi. I’m Billy.”
Dennis looked away for a second to poke a hole in his juice box with the straw.
“So how’s your first day?” he asked eagerly.
“It’s okay. Ms. Katherine is my teacher. She’s nice.”
“Oh yeah, my older brother had her. He told me she’s great. But I got Ms. Freeman.”
“Yeah. Oh well.”
Billy didn’t know what else to say, and awkwardly took a bite of his mac and cheese.
“That looks good. Mac and cheese is my favorite,” Dennis chirped in.
“Really? Me too! My mommy makes it homemade! That means that she makes it herself!”
“Wow… can I try it?”
“Well, I shouldn’t let you, because of germs.”
“That’s true. You’re smart, Billy.”
Billy blushed. His first compliment.
“Thanks. I think you’re smart, too.”
“Thanks. I’m glad I can sit with you. I was nervous about making friends.”
“Well do you want to be friends?”
“Cool! Well now we’re friends.”
Billy offered his hand, a pleased look on his face.
Dennis happily obliged.
“Who are you talking to?”
Billy blinked, wiping the pleased look off of his face and snapping himself back into reality. He withdrew his extended hand and used it to push up his spectacles to see the voice’s owner.
Looking behind him, he could see that there were several bigger boys. He recognized some of them from class. Their leader looked confused, almost disgusted.
“Hey! Who are you talking to?”
“No one. I was talking to no one.”
The boys looked at each other and laughed, before moving as a group to somewhere more interesting.
And then there was only Billy.