After the painful bus journey, Alex finally walked into his homeroom class. Stumbling through the narrow aisles he made his way to the back of the room and sat down.
“Good morning Class, and welcome back,” Mrs. Oxford announced. She stood in the middle of the room with her long flowery dress and extra-large red framed glasses. Her jet-black hair was pulled back tightly in a bun.
Alex looked around the room.
Rudy Jerqson sat a few rows ahead of him. He knew the guy when Finley and him did lunch duty in Mrs. Humphrey’s kindergarten class last year. He was sort of funny, but had an annoying laugh. Then there was Satbir, two seats over to his right, but all he ever talked about was basketball - and his feet always smelled funny. Alex looked at the boy sitting in front of him. He had never seen him before. His giant orange hair puffed out like cotton candy.
“I hope everyone had a wonderful summer,” continued Mrs. Oxford. “Before we get started today, I would like all of you to welcome our new student to the class, Henry Greenfield.”
Henry sat so tall in his seat that Alex couldn’t even see the front of the class.
“Henry just moved from Red Apple Creek I believe. Isn’t that right Henry?”
“Yes Ma’am, that’s right,” he replied. The kid could barely fit in his desk chair.
Lisa Weatherly pulled her phone out of her desk and took a picture of him. She giggled and showed Tori Backwater.
Rudy Jerqson shot up his hand. “Um, Miss? Isn’t he in the wrong class?”
“No, Rudy, why would you think that?” Mrs. Oxford walked back to the front of the room.
“Well, because he’s a grown-up. This is only grade six.”
Mrs. Oxford shook her head and turned on the Smart-board. “He’s the same age as you, Rudy.”
“Oh,” he replied, chewing madly on the end of his pencil. He looked at Henry and spit out bits of the eraser. “Wait til Damian Dermite gets a load of you.”
Henry folded his hands on his desk. Alex wondered if Henry had heard of Damian, the school bully. The guy terrorized kids at Timpleville for years. Being invisible before school, after school, between classes and during recess was an important part of surviving the year at Timpleville. With Henry’s crazy giant hair, and his purple overalls and bright pink shirt, Alex knew the big guy didn’t stand a chance.
“Okay class, Lisa is going to pass out your language notebooks. Please write your name on the front and open it up to the first page. We’re going to write our first journal entry of the year.” Mrs. Oxford pulled up an image on the Smart-board of Timpleville Public School. She turned to the class, waiting for everyone to have their books and show her they were ready to start. “Your first entry is going to be about school.”
Rudy threw up his hand again. “You want us to write about school?”
Mrs. Oxford nodded. “Yes. I want you to write down what you are hoping to achieve this year. What are your goals? What are you plans?”
Alex turned to the first page on his book and thought for a second. Mrs. Oxford walked up and down the aisles. For a short time, the class was silent. Alex thought about what he was going to write. He knew he wanted to make friends. He knew that was the most important goal for the year. He wasn’t sure Mrs. Oxford cared to know that, but there was really nothing else. He wrote the date on his page and looked around the room. He wondered if there was anyone he would like to try talking to at lunch time. Who can I share my leftover pepperoni pizza with?
Seconds seemed like minutes.
Minutes felt like hours.
Alex started to write. My goal this year is…
He stretched his neck and yawned. He put his pencil down on the page again. My goal this year is to…
The clock ticked louder.
Henry’s chair creaked in front of him.
Alex’s mind drifted to the summer - standing knee deep in Timpleville Creek. Finley was with him. The two were catching crawfish. It could have been a Monday, or a Saturday. Each day just blended nicely into the next. Life was good.
He placed his pencil on the page. My goal this year is to…
The bell rang to end the first period. Mrs. Oxford stood beside Alex’s desk. She picked up his book and looked at his journal entry. “Looks like you have some homework young man. I need this in by tomorrow.” She shook her head and walked back to the front of the class. Alex dropped his head onto his desk and closed his eyes.
He needed Finley. He would know what to say. He’d give Alex a hundred goals and all of them would be perfect.
“Okay students, before I forget, I want to remind you we have a spelling test on Friday. The words will be posted tomorrow. Now, I need you all to line up at the door. We are going to get ready for gym class with Coach Mason,” Mrs. Oxford announced. “He’s going to be your new gym teacher this year.”
Alex pulled himself up to his feet and ambled to the line at the front of the class. “Great. Gym class. My most favorite subject in the whole wide world.” He dropped his shoulders and sighed. “I hate you Finley Oliver McKnight.”
The line started to move out into the hall. The large, orange-haired boy turned around and smiled at Alex.
“Hello,” Henry said. “What’s your name?”
Alex swallowed and bit off a piece of skin from his thumb. “I don’t speak English.”
Henry’s smile quickly faded as he turned back around.
The class shuffled along the junior-wing and down toward their lockers.
“That was pretty funny man.” Rudy Jerqson hustled up beside Alex as they stepped into the locker bay.
“What was funny?” Alex replied
“What you said to the big purple Ogre-Beast just now.”
“What you said to Henry. That was funny.”
“Um...thanks,” replied Alex. Pulling out his gym bag from his locker, Alex looked back at Rudy and wondered if he was someone who he could make friends with. Who cared if he had an annoying laugh? Maybe school would be okay if he had a new friend. He watched Rudy pull out his gym socks from his bag and dangle them in front of Lisa Weatherly. Rudy snorted and laughed before nudging his buddy Satbir.
The more Alex thought about it the more it made sense. An idea pieced together in his tired brain. He pulled out his iPhone and shoved it in his pocket. Before closing his locker the smell of the pepperoni pizza in his lunch bag filtered through the air. Lunch was less than an hour away.
“Good morning class, and welcome to Grade Six Physical Education,” Coach Mason stood in the center of the gymnasium. A red skin-tight t-shirt clung tightly around his pecks and large biceps. The students were all seated on the floor in their green gym uniforms. “Today we are going to start the year with laps. My job is to get you into prime physical shape so that you’re ready for next year’s intermediate basketball, football, volleyball and soccer.”
As Coach Mason turned away to look for the attendance, Alex pulled out his phone and quickly typed, The new kid hides candy in his bellybutton on the screen. He showed it to Rudy, who giggled and secretly passed it to Ryland Black.
Ryland laughed and slipped the phone over to Belinda Wright.
In seconds, the message was passed on to everyone in the class...everyone except Henry Greenfield.
“I want you to find a partner and take turns counting how many laps you can do in fifteen minutes,” instructed the Coach, counting the students and checking off their names on his attendance sheet. “Which one of you is Henry?”
Henry raised his hand.
Alex ducked his head down and covered his mouth. “Henry Greenfield smells!”
Some muffled snickers spilled into the gym.
Henry didn’t say a word.
The Coach tapped his pencil on his clipboard. “Who was that? Henry? Who said that to you?”
Henry glanced over at Alex for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. “I'm not sure, sir.”
“Class? Who said that? Those kinds of words are negative. This class is going to learn how to be positive. We are all about ‘Put Ups’ and not ‘Put Downs’.”
Coach Mason looked at the circle of students sitting on the gym floor. He stood with his arms crossed; his whistle was around his neck. He twirled the long black hair on his moustache.
“I think this class needs to learn about respect. I want you to look at the person to your left,” he continued. Each student looked at the person to their left. “Now look at the person to the right of you.” The class, once again, did as he said. “Class, I want you to say something positive to both of them. Do it now.”
He blew his whistle. The class jumped and quickly noticed he was serious. Alex looked to his left and shyly mumbled something to Lisa Weatherly. He had no idea what he even said to her, but noticed that Satbir, who was sitting next to Henry didn’t say a thing to him. When Coach Mason went into his office to set the gym clock, each student was told to say kind words to the person to their right. Again, Henry was ignored.
“Henry Greenfield picks his nose,” Alex whispered loudly.
The Coach marched back into the gym. “I heard that! Henry, who is saying this?”
Henry looked at Alex again and shrugged. “I don’t know, sir.”
The Coach eyed the class one last time and blew his whistle. “Okay, the clock is set for fifteen minutes, but I’m going to now make it thirty. Now, find a partner. This will be your partner for the rest of the school year. Go.”
Alex bolted up and stepped away from Lisa Weatherly. He looked over to Rudy and smiled. Rudy nodded and turned to Satbir and tapped him on the shoulder. Alex scanned the room trying to get eye contact with somebody...Ryland Black, James Knicklebuck, Nolan Whitehorse...anybody.
As the students partnered up with each other, Alex suddenly realized he had nobody. His brief moment of fame was gone. The attention, the jokes, the laughter...was for nothing. Why did his best friend have to move away?
As he chewed on his thumb in the middle of the gym, Alex felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Do you want to be my partner?”
Alex turned around.
It was Henry Greenfield.
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