Sometimes graduation isn't all it's cracked up to be. (A well-worn premise, but I dig it.)
Chapter Description: Sometimes graduation isn't all it's cracked up to be.
[size=2][Note: I’m still slightly obsessed with Nico’s Mirror, so if this story tracks the same trajectory, that’s why. My apologies to the writer of that far superior story. ; ) Please accept this story as a compliment.]
Too consumed with a game of Candy Crush and the latest Tame Impala record gliding through his earbuds to notice the extra cars in the driveway outside his house, Justin Waters shambled down the long sidewalk to the front door - blissfully oblivious to the scene that awaited him. Allowing the last song to fade out, he tucked the iPhone into his pocket and reached for the handle.
Inside, the normally dormant living room buzzed with a small but chatty collection of family members, some rarely seen outside of reunions and holidays. Seated on the couch were his parents, Lori and Greg, who were in turn flanked by grandparents. His little brother Cody appeared especially content, stuffing his face with a messy slice of leftover Domino’s on the new leather ottomon. Even Aunt Rita was in attendance, an uncommon event given her Boo Radley-like reputation in the family. The hell? he wondered. Did I miss an announcement? More strange still was the hush that fell over the room the moment everyone caught sight of him. Justin nearly turned around expecting to see the Pope dressed in full vestments making a house call. One moment a Fourth of July cookout, the next a candlelight vigil.
Something was brewing.
“Oh Justin,” Lori said, her demeanor suddenly downshifting into a vaguely ominous gear. “I’m glad you’re home. We’re all here because there’s something we need to talk about.”
Justin recognized that expression. He’d seen it before - three years ago when she launched into an intervention with Dad over his Jim Beam habit and last summer when Cody accidentally blurted out the f-word at her boss’s wedding reception. It was an omen, a raven quothing nevermore.
“O...K... what’s up?” he mumbled, unthreading his arms from his ironic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack and plopping it down unceremoniously on the floor.
“Here, just sit down,” she said, pointing at the papasan chair across from the couch. “This is kind of serious and so we wanted to have the whole family here to be supportive.”
Supportive? The myriad possibilities played out like tiny movie scenes in Justin’s mind: divorce, pregnancy, upcoming medical procedure, someone lost a job, Uncle Paul finally figured out he’s a woman, Cody got his first pubic hair and celebrated by setting his room on fire. The scenarios were endless.
Surrounded by equally serious faces, Lori leaned closer, elbows on her knees and hands clasped. “Justin, we know this is going to be a surprise and a big adjustment, but we want you to know we all agree this is for the best. Now, it may seem unfair to you at first, but hear us out, all right?”
Justin nodded skeptically. None of this sounded encouraging.
An excruciating pause passed before she summoned the courage to explain. “We’ve been looking into a program for students about to graduate high school. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it. It’s called Voluntary Educational Retention and...”
With those three words, Justin’s blood froze in his veins. Voluntary Educational Retention. VER. Committees of counselors and administrators no doubt spent months formulating that clinical little euphemism. The “voluntary” part was particularly insidious. Whoever cooked up that bit of propaganda should be behind bars, Justin thought. No, kids at school knew the program by a different name: the kindergartening. At the outset of senior year, a niggling fear would plant itself in the minds of every student. For the vast majority, that’s all it would ever be. But for an unlucky handful, Voluntary Education Retention meant a complete reordering of life itself. And gaining approval was no small task. To weed out impulsive parents and guardians, applicants faced a mountain of tedious paperwork, countless bureaucratic hurdles, requests for psychologist and physician signatures, consultations with friends and relatives, and a nontrivial price tag. Receiving that manilla envelope with an approval letter from the school district meant a parent possessed an almost gladiatorial level of determination.
“Wait,” Justin cut his mother off mid-thought. “You’re kidding, right. This is a big prank on the graduating senior?”
His eyes darted back and forth, scanning the room for confirmation... nothing.
“This is a joke,” he stated, as if merely voicing the words would imbue them with truth.
“Honey, just let me explain,” Lori started over. “This is something we’ve been discussing for awhile. We put a lot of thought into this.”
The room fell dead silent as the realization sunk in. Justin’s anxious smile melted.
“You’re really doing this? I can’t... This is unbelievable,” he spat. “You’ve been ‘putting a lot of thought’ into this? So what, while I was up in my room you were down here plotting to send me to elementary school again?”
“It’s not like that, honey.”
A dull, vice-like pain curled around his head. How could they? Out of nowhere this revelation came whirling at him like a flaming NASCAR tire. Not once had he detected the smallest hint his parents were contemplating such a drastic move. Normally VER was reserved for obvious cases, students racking up mile-long rap sheets and causing endless headaches for their families. Justin immediately thought of Gabe Letcher, a terminal delinquent who started mouthing off to teachers his first day of middle school. The classic over-underachiever. Every year he added another court-ordered badge of honor to his record, starting small with a few lighthearted misdemeanors and gradually working up the ladder to crimes measured in degrees. Fellow Creekland High students started pools to bet on the most likely candidates for kindergartening and every year Gabe topped the rankings - leaving few surprised when the rumor mill started up and Mr. Letcher soon took a permanent leave from the twelfth grade. But what had I done? Justin wondered.
“We know this probably comes as a shock, but we’re all here because we love you,” his mother continued, unfazed by Justin’s icy glare. “We just noticed, over the last couple years especially, that you seem to be sort of... stuck. It’s not just the grades. It’s that you don’t seem to be interested in, well, growing up, or maturing.”
“She’s right, Justin,” his dad piped up after a nudge. “We just think you might really benefit from starting fresh, you know? It’s really a great opportunity.”
“And honey, we know you’ve been trying drugs. It’s OK, we’re not here to come down on you,” she read all the right lines in pure, faux-maternal Lori fashion. “Part of this is our fault. We didn’t give you the attention you deserved growing up. Especially early on. We were just so consumed with work and money. It wasn’t fair to you.”
The rest of the audience remained still, all wearing their best masks of concern. That is everyone but Cody, whose ill-concealed grin kept creeping up like a caterpillar on his fat little face. Every slice of silence felt thick and heavy. The first gurgles of discontent bubbled in Justin’s gut, leaving him unsure if he might throw up or pass out.
“I can’t believe you guys,” he finally replied, his voice crescendoing with each thought... or was it getting higher? “All of you. Crammed in the living room like it’s some kind of party, yapping it up like everything is totally normal. Katie’s going camping next week, Uncle Jerry needs another loan, and oh yeah, we’re going to take Justin’s entire life away from him. I know all about the program, all the hurdles you have to jump through, the agreements. This is bullshit. All this time you’ve been secretly planning a little do-over to clear your consciences. Well, count me out.”
Lori and Greg traded another worrying glance. Another pendulum swung just above Justin’s stomach.
“What is it? Why are you looking at each other like that?”
“Baby, we knew you wouldn’t like this news,” Lori said, her eyes going even softer. “But you’ve already started the program.”
“I’ve what?” Justin’s hands seemed suddenly coated in a layer of sweat.
“...in your lunch today, sweetie.”
What. The. Fuck. The pangs of anger instantly gave way to waves of dread. Like a hypochondriac Justin immediately became aware and obsessed with the tiniest physical sensations, every twitch or jerk noticed and catalogued. Was anything different? Was it already happening? His hands. He detected a slight shooting pain down his middle finger. Apropos. Did it look shorter? His left elbow itched. Vision slightly cloudy in one eye. Were his trusty Old Navy cargo pants just a hair baggier? Justin’s everyday bodily rhythms became an orchestra of potential alarm bells - even worse than his inaugural experience with that edible mystery marijuana last year at Dave Matthews. The torrent of adrenaline nearly reduced his mother’s voice to muffled background noise.
“Now don’t worry. This process is totally safe,” she parroted the pediatrician who signed off on the procedure. “It’s been tested thousands of times and there’s no pain at all. I know how squeamish you get with medical things, so I made a hundred percent sure it wouldn’t hurt even a tiny bit.”
Stunned into silence, Justin surrendered to a trance like Nicholson in The Shining. This couldn’t be happening.
“The medicine takes a few hours to absorb, so it started taking effect about an hour ago. That means you’re already a little bit younger, OK?” Lori said, kneeling down on the floor and taking Justin’s hands in hers. “I know you don’t believe us, but this is going to be a good change. When it’s over you won’t remember any of this and you’ll have a chance to do something most people only dream about. Just think, you get to redo part of your life! Remember how much fun you had making mud pies and playing in the sprinkler in the backyard? You won’t have to worry about college for a long, long time. And we’ll be right there with you, being the parents we should have been the first time.”
“And you can borrow my old swimming trunks,” Cody volunteered, a satisfied timbre in his annoying twelve-year-old voice.
“Cody...” Greg warned with a shushing gesture.
“Justin, we’re not here to embarrass you,” his grandmother added. “We want you to be happy and your mom and dad think this could really help.”
“I bet, given the chance, almost everyone here would love to be able to relive their childhood,” his mom opined, still clasping his shaking hands. “But we didn’t get that chance. Now, we have the means and we want to do this. It’s such a wonderful time and you get to experience it twice.”
Justin stewed. Wasn’t it just like Mom to sugarcoat a giant turd? She never missed a chance to paint the most unfair decisions as blessings in disguise. Drop a hydrogen bomb on someone and suddenly he’s the ungrateful one. His family planned to strip him of thirteen hard-earned years and plop him back onto the kindergarten mat with the other sniveling brats and she was acting like it was Christmas morning. Master magicians had nothing on Lori Waters. Give her five minutes and the tables would turn so fast the china would stay still.
About a million other seniors at Creekland deserved this punishment more than he did. Justin pictured them all hearing the news. Connor Evans. That serial liar, always feigning ignorance while throwing his friends under the bus whenever anyone got caught breaking the rules. His manipulative charms probably wouldn’t work too much magic in a five-year-old body. Or what about Jessica Reynolds? That girl hands out blowjobs like Halloween candy. Or Mark Thomason, the town drunk in training. All these MENSA candidates had college on their horizons - not sippy cups and Sesame Street. This was nothing short of injustice.
Lifting his head, Justin witnessed his little brother resuming his lunch.
He watched intently as the slovenly seventh-grader gnawed, unconcerned, on a tough slice of pepperoni. In a few short hours he would find himself staring up at the towering pre-teen, his new big brother. Justin shuddered. The mere thought of growing up envious and admiring of Cody set his brain reeling. This was the genius who broke his leg trying to recreate the sky hook scene from The Dark Knight. In the third grade he used to sneak into the lunch line twice - and still went back to class stomach growling. Worst of all, he knew Cody was loving every second of this. Seeing his chief tormenter informed of what lay in store. Enjoying the new balance of power would be delightful, no doubt, but by then Justin would be a clueless little kid bounding around the house without a care. Right now, though... right now the deepening anxiety was written in beautiful colors all over Justin’s face.
“Mom, when Justin is in preschool again, can I have his room?” Cody blurted out.
“Honey, we told you. Justin is not going to be in preschool,” his mother declared sternly, as if Cody were far off the mark. “It’s kindergarten. And Justin will still be your big brother.”
Preschool. Kindergarten. Did it really matter? Every vestige of his eighteen-year-old existence would soon evaporate into graham crackers and Disney sing-a-longs and four-piece foam puzzles. And that little monster would take over as the older, more mature sibling enjoying all the firsts - staying up late, watching R-rated movies, scoring his driver’s license, going out on dates (well, maybe). Meanwhile, Justin’s future consisted of distant seconds, hand-me-downs and plastic leftovers, pale imitations of the cooler gadgets his brother would be unwrapping on birthdays to come. He tried to imagine Cody entering his teenage years, voice deepening and chin sprouting fine brown hairs, freckles disappearing, his goofy antics gradually mellowing into a more subdued high schooler demeanor. It seemed foreign and impossible and yet, it was bound to happen. And Justin would be trailing far behind in the kiddie caboose, thrilled with the smallest crumb his elder might toss his way. He wouldn’t even be cracking double digits by the time Cody turned sixteen.
“Well yeah, but,” Cody continued, still chewing. “...he’s gonna be little and stuff. So it seems like I should get the bigger-”
“Sweetie, we’ll discuss it. This is not the time,” Lori ordered. “Justin is going through a difficult transition right now and we need to be considerate.”
“A difficult transition?” Disbelief oozing from his pores, Justin yanked his hands away from his mother’s. “Are you all delusional? You’re pretending like this is some big decision we made together. Like I’m moving away for college or getting married or something.”
Before Lori could concoct her next brilliant piece of parental propaganda, the audience turned to see an attractive redhead in a miniskirt poking her head through the front door.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, wiping her shoes on the welcome mat.
A flicker of hope lit up inside Justin’s mind. Finally a voice of reason had arrived. Justin never fully understood how he managed to snag Britney as a girlfriend last fall, but ever since the relationship had won him some relevance at school - not as a player or big shot, but enough to fend off any charges of being a total loser. An easy candidate for the Mean Girls set, Britney somehow avoided falling in with the superficial, cliquey groups at Creekland High. Despite her cheerleader-ready physique, she blended remarkably well with the academic team and chess club crowd. Britney’s only vices were Barbecue Lays and pot, which often went hand in hand.
“Hey Justin,” she said, slipping a stray bra strap back under her top. “Doing OK?”
“Umm, not really.” He motioned toward the cluster of relatives staring back and forth at the pair. “My entire family is here to inform me that they’ve enrolled me in VER without even fucking asking me. You’ve got to tell them this is nuts. They can’t do this. We’re in a relationship and it’s not fair...”
Now the center of attention, Britney fidgeted for a moment, directing periodic glances at Lori as she avoided eye contact with Justin. She hadn’t expected to be thrust into the spotlight seconds after arriving, but evidently the room demanded a speech.
Nervous, Justin worked to fill the silence. “Look, I know when parents do this they have to get all kinds of documentation and approvals. They have to talk with my classmates and friends. I know you’re not on board with this bullshit, so please... tell them.”
Lori aimed a raised eyebrow at the uneasy girl. “Britney...” she coaxed.
“Justin,” she began tentatively. “I don’t know how to say this, but your parents came to me a few weeks ago with this idea and at first I was really surprised and didn’t know what to say. But...”
There’s a but? Holy shit, there’s a but. How can there be a but?
“But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like it might help. You know with your depression and stuff.”
After Justin pulled his unhinged jaw off the floor, he deployed the only defense he could muster: a string of barely intelligible noises. The world had gone mad. Outer Limits mad. And now his girl, the last lifeline, reveals she’s part of the conspiracy. Et tu, Britney? Hell, they had made out dozens of times and had sex twice. Well, twice if you count that five-second charlie-horse-inducing episode inside her Toyota Tercel during spring break.
“What the hell?” he eventually pieced together identifiable words. “You’re supposed to be on my side here. We’re dating!”
“I know, Justin, but to be honest, I kind of think of you more like...”
Then Britney unleashed the most dick-shriveling three words a girlfriend could possibly utter.
“...my little brother.”
An audible giggle emanated from Cody’s vicinity.
Justin swore he could feel himself shrink an inch right there on the spot. Robbed and blindsided, the friendless teen sank into the chair. The sight of his well-endowed girlfriend was downright painful now, a searing reminder of pleasures that would soon be off limits. Soon she would join that club of mysterious giants known as grown-ups and he would lose all interest in her and every other active cootie-carrier. Already he could sense his grasp on adulthood slipping, taking with it all the things every eighteen-year-old guy craves. It was uncanny, experiencing the anticipation that accompanies life’s milestones, only in reverse. Whatever eagerness Justin felt passing his driving test, during his first kiss, it was nothing compared to feeling of having those prospects ripped away. In hindsight such craziness made sense coming from his always-wistful mother, but not Britney. Evidently even she looked at him and saw nothing but a sad little overgrown boy, pining for the effortless days of childhood.
“I can’t take this anymore,” Justin said, suddenly standing up and receiving confirmation that his clothes were indeed looser. “All of you.”
“Be careful, honey,” Lori cautioned. “The medicine starts to work faster once it takes effect.”
“This is insane.”
With that, Justin marched toward the bathroom, nearly knocking Britney out of the way like a running back. They could perform this cruel experiment on him, but they had no right to watch him transform into a snot-nosed kid before their eyes. He deserved some privacy.
Once locked inside, family members traded exasperated looks.
“I knew he wouldn’t take it well,” Greg provided his usual enlightening commentary. “But I’d hoped it wouldn’t be that bad.”
“He just needs time,” Lori offered, collecting the cups and plates and arranging them in the dishwasher. “This is a big change and we’re asking a lot of him.”
Seated on the cold toilet, Justin struggled to wrap his head around the nightmare unfolding around him. Surely there’s some way to fight this, he thought. In this litigious society, it was inconceivable that this question never landed in court. People have rights. Eighteen-year-olds can vote for christsake. Of course, once the treatment wraps up the plaintiffs in question care more about Saturday morning cartoons than any boring legal stuff. And, as far as he knew, no antidote existed.
Right now, his imagination served as his worst enemy. Images materialized in his mind, clear as day:
Cody driving home from school with a batch of gamer friends, pulling up in the driveway, and Justin proudly rushing out the front door to show off his latest crayon and marker Picasso. And his super awesome big brother tousles his hair, saying, “That’s so good, Justin. Did you show Mommy?”... only to snicker with his friends the moment Justin gets beyond earshot.
Or a carefree birthday boy careening down a Slip ‘n’ Slide in nothing but a drenched pair of He-Man underwear, which barely survive the trip. After coming to halt, he grabs his plastic sword and raises if aloft, yelling “By the power of Grayskull!” His parents applaud. Maybe they even invite Britney and a few of his old friends too. And he‘ll parade around half-naked and unbothered while they sip punch, nibble on chocolate cake, and chuckle at the dorky little pipsqueak he’s become.
On some level, Justin failed to comprehend it. His brain lagged behind reality - that is until he took a deep breath, reluctantly slid a hand mirror across the counter, and held it up.
Gazing back was a lad of fifteen, sixteen if he was lucky. A banner of reddish pimples populated his forehead, untouched by all those never-ending Accutane treatments. A half-hearted smile revealed a pair of now outsized rabbit teeth on full display. Strategically angling the mirror he observed that all evidence of facial hair had, of course, vanished, a change that probably contributed the most to his more youthful appearance. Even a sparse, modest mustache would now prove impossible. Time to toss the Norelco.
The minutes clicked by as Justin did battle with the Benjamin Button looking back at him. Slowly, imperceptibly, previous versions of himself emerged. The swamp of acne cleared, his complete freshmen look returned, even his chestnut hair seemed a lighter tint. He didn’t dare check what was going on in his nether regions. The visible parts were distressing enough. Despite certain failure, Justin attempted to will the process to stop. He could live with fifteen. Sure, old curfews would go back into effect and he would be once again reliant on his parents for transportation, but he would survive. Why did it have to be the safe, padded, sanitized world of elementary school?
The visions left Justin overwhelmed by how bizarre life can be - not for those sharing his current predicament, but for everyone. Not a single person who ever lived, everyday anonymous people all the way to presidents and living legends, bypassed humanity’s larval stage. Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, Pamela Anderson, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At some point in time they were all babies, then clumsy toddlers, and then silly little kids begging their parents to watch them do dumb shit. No one was immune. Yet most suffered through this mandatory embarrassment only once. And with their place in time and history firmly established, they could lock the humiliating episodes in the vault and move on.
Not Justin Waters.
The pencils would come out of the drawers and a new set of height marks would grace the doorway frame. All sorts of important numbers would be subtracted. Shoe sizes, reading levels, bedtimes, the length of certain male body parts. Foods would come packaged in squeeze boxes and animal form. Once dubbed a late bloomer, he now faced the prospect of being an early deblooomer. All while his friends graduated and partook of endless new freedoms, experimental substances, and opportunities to get naked with each other.
“Justin?” a familiar voice called through the door. “It’s been a really long time. We just wanted to make sure you’re OK.”
Uninterested in talking, Justin contemplated ignoring his backstabbing girlfriend, but the request came again.
“I’m fine,” Justin replied, petrified by the perfectly child-pitched sound that sprang from his lips. How long had it been? Remaining quiet during his entire bathroom stay, he hadn’t once tested his vocal cords. The resulting vibrations pinpointed his age at no more than thirteen.
Rattled for a moment by the middle schooler who responded, Britney hesitated. “Do you, um... would it be OK if I came in?”
“I have nothing to say to you,” Justin huffed, sounding like a child imitating an adult.
“Justin, please. I just want to say I’m sorry about all this.”
More seconds ticked by without an answer.
The door creaked open and Britney timidly peered in. Standing at the sink was a shy eighth-grader, swimming in a gob of roomy attire. Somewhat diminished since their last encounter, Justin now came up to her chin. The moment marked the first time Britney had witnessed the handiwork of the VER program up close. Shocked by the gathering speed of the transformation, she found herself searching for any phrase that wouldn’t offend.
“I... I didn’t know it would start working this fast,” she observed, still processing the sight of her boyfriend on the other side of puberty.
“Yeah, well,” Justin muttered, cinching his pants with his fist.
“You know... if it helps, you’re really cute this way,” she said, immediately regretting how the sentiment came out but feeling an irresistible urge to explain. “I mean, you were always cute. I’m not saying you weren’t before. It’s just... I’ve never seen any pictures of you when you were younger and you’re a really handsome young man.”
Young man, Britney thought. What am I doing?
“Well, you’re in luck because I’m getting cuter all the time,” Justin shot back, almost resembling his old sarcastic self.
“Hey, do you remember Nick Jackson?” Britney diverted course.
“Well, remember how he basically owned Creekland High. I mean, he had the standard football team captain, sports car, good looks thing going on, but there was also that, like, unreal charisma. All the girls in the yearbook club would always devise ways of pasting him on every page.”
“This is supposed to make me feel better?” Justin grumbled.
“What I’m trying to tell you is he was kindergartened too.”
“Yeah, his parents found a bag of stolen money in his room and that’s why he didn’t show up for graduation,” Britney expounded in full rumor mode.
“I thought his family moved to Colorado.”
“Nope. Anyway, someone got a hold of a cell phone pic of him playing tag with some other kids at the Brentwood Elementary playground,” she said. “You should have seen the girls at school. They were so depressed. I think Patricia went back on Lexapro.”
“And your point is?”
“I’m just saying you’re not alone. You know how Nick barely passed junior year? Well, they say he’s doing really well in the second grade now. Higher grades. Healthier. And he’s still a little cutie who’s gonna grow up to be hot as balls again in a few years. And you will too.”
Justin shrugged his narrow shoulders and sighed.
“And who knows, maybe it’ll all be better the second time around,” Britney suggested, tickling his smooth, dimpled chin.
“This isn’t fair,” Justin moaned, brushing her fingers away. “I don’t wanna be a dumb kid.”
“Just look on the bright side, kiddo,” she said, further messing up his already tangled hair. “You’ll be the coolest kindergartener there is.”
With that, Britney turned and left, her sexy figure merging with the crowd of relatives still loitering in the living room. And so went Justin’s final tenuous hold on adulthood. It was like watching sex itself go bye-bye. Flashes of their brief but memorable encounter under the covers faded away as the calendar flipped over one more year, placing him back in the seventh grade. Right on par with the walking, talking bane of his existence.
“Hey cool!” Cody hollered emerging from the den with hands dusty from a bag of Cheetos. “It’s working. You’re getting young. You’re like my age now.”
Justin refused to dignify that brilliant scientific conclusion with a response.
“This is so awesome,” the shit stain continued, popping another orange blur in his mouth. “Mom says I can’t have your room, but I think I should because I’m gonna be a lot older than you. Anyway, you can have all my old socks and stuff.”
Cody snorted, picturing his normally aloof big brother dancing around in his former undies.
“Just don’t pee in your pants. You’ll get Batman all wet.”
“Shut up, Cody.”
Meanwhile, Britney wove her way through the traffic on the 109, all the while succeeding and failing to rationalize her complicity in Justin’s kindergartening. She told herself Justin’s parents - Lori especially - were so gung-ho it would happen no matter what she argued during the consultation. And the depression part wasn’t a lie; over the last year, Justin fluctuated between directionless pleasure-seeking and borderline nihilism. Maybe a journey down memory lane was the best prescription. Still, she understood the seriousness of telling a guy his junk was about to get smaller.
While she couldn’t take back the decision or reverse the effects, the natural impulse arose to find some small way of making it up to Justin. Maybe she would pay him some visits in class, be some cool unofficial aunt who takes him to Six Flags or brings fun-size Skittles for all his classmates. It wouldn’t do much to change Justin’s circumstances, but it might assuage some guilty feelings on her end. And she would be lying if she didn’t admit she wanted to see him as a five-year-old. One rarely gets the chance to meet a good friend as a child.
Still mulling over options for surprising her ex-boyfriend, Britney locked the car and walked inside. Unsure if she wanted to relay the drama of the day with her parents, she dropped her book bag near the door and made for the stairs.
“Oh, Brit?” she heard her mother’s dulcet tones from the kitchen. “Could you come back down here for a bit? We need to talk with you...”
On August 15 at 7:30 a.m., the Brentwood Elementary School bell blared down the hallways like a starting gun. Teachers and aides, all shaking off the remnants of summer vacation, took their places in front of armies of yawning children. Mrs. Weathers had the pleasure of addressing an especially sleepy collection of kindergarteners, all wholly uninterested in the tedious, form-filled chores of day one.
“Good morning, class,” she said.
“Gooood mooorning,” the droopy-eyed students repeated.
“Well now, we can do better than that. Good morning, class.”
“Goood moooooorning!” the kids hollered, invigorated by any hint of a challenge.
Then came the attendance ritual. Justin waited nervously for his turn and even waved his hand when the time came.
“Justin Waters?” she called, recognizing the name from a class years ago.
“Here!” the gap-toothed youngster yelled, sitting crosslegged on the multicolored mat made to look like the United States.
“And let’s see, one more here... Britney Yates,” Mrs. Weathers said, glancing about the room.
“Here!” a petite strawberry-haired sprite called out from the corner.
“Well, it looks like we are all here!” the gray-ponytailed veteran sang in a chippy tone she hadn’t lost in thirty years of teaching kindergarten. “Now, Mrs. Weathers needs to fill out a couple papers at her desk, but she’ll be right back, all right? Why don’t you all look around the room and meet some of your new classmates?”
“OK, Mrs. Weathers,” the class chanted in unison.
Immediately Justin spied a massive toy elephant with his name all over it. Unfortunately, interested parties were already examining the two-foot-tall, fluffy attraction.
“Hi,” Justin introduced himself in lispy fashion. “Can I play with the elephant too?”
“Sure,” the pretty, very freckled girl replied. “It’s really neat. If you press this button, he makes a trumpet noise. Watch.”
She kindly demonstrated.
“Neat,” Justin said. “Hey, you wanna be friends?”
“Yeah, we can play house,” the peppy redhead recommended, dusting a crumb off her pink pleated dress.
“You can be my little brother.”[/size]