So, there I was, little five-year-old Froggy, caught in the din of the big school lobby; with all the other quivering, home-sick Kindies, waiting to be herded to our safe, quiet classies.
It was lonely, in a way. I only had two faces of which I knew the names. Kevin was a dickweed, so you can go ahead and forget about his sorry ass.
Ray was in first grade, and he was on the other side of the lobby at the time—a moving forest of kids between us. Spoiler alert: we may or may not see each other again, at some point.
Now, I'm sure you're interested in the riveting recant of my first-morning class-room experience.
Of how I gleaned the concepts of obedience, social order, and conformity by innocently consigning myself to a particular intersection of a skewed grid made out of masking-tape set on a worn, stained, and down-right gaudy maroon-colored carpet.
Or, perhaps, of my first experience in freely expressing my limitless creativity through finite crafting materials to complete an objective, the degree of success of which would be summed up by a letter that corresponded to a number which was but a factor within a system that I would not come to be aware of—let alone understand—until third grade, at the earliest.
Well, I'm sorry if you did, you weirdo. Let's try to stay focused, here. You wanna understand how we got from _Point-A—us meeting at the bus-stop—to Point-B—Ray giving me a knuckle-sandwich—right?_
Well, then I'd be doing him a disservice if I didn't give you at least a glimpse at what it was like before we crossed paths, for real-real.
His morning was… not quite as simple as mine. Not quite as simple as most kids' starting first-grade, I'd imagine.
By the way, fair warning, and the only one you'll get. You won't necessarily have the opportunity to appreciate this right away, but, as of right now…
The kid-gloves are off, and burned to a crisp.
* * *
The drizzling let up during the twenty minutes of disorganized frenzy that was waiting for everyone to be present and accounted for.
There were several activities available to keep the children occupied: a couple incomplete packs of Uno cards; a game of checkers that had most of its pieces substituted with scraps of paper, and what pieces were left were scratched, chipped, or chewed on; a selection of books with ripped covers, torn pages, and drool-smudged illustrations; a surprisingly adequate set of building blocks, if a little beaten-up and worn-down; a ream of construction-paper, a couple pairs of safety-scissors that-could, and a single, half-congealed stick of glue that was the subject of perpetual bickering; and, a community tub of mutilated crayon stubs and dried-up markers.
Most kids went to their activity of choice. A few had the wherewithal to bring their own activity from home as a solace. One boy had brought a Tiger Bowling, which was taken away when the he and the two others playing it argued over turns.
The remaining children sat in out-of-the-way spots, usually against the wall, and kept to themselves; nervously picking at the loose rubber on shoes or taking the opportunity to curl up, close their eyes, and try to ignore the commotion and pretend they were back home, snuggled under their grandmother-made quilt.
A calico was one such classroom wall-flower. She had snagged a chair, and knelt upon it to raise herself up enough to be able to gaze out the window. She watched a patch of sky, as it brightened from the sun beginning to pierce through the sheet of clouds. A cardinal fluttered out from its perch in a small tree, its crimson body turning to black silhouette as it passed between the calico's squinting eye and the cracking sky.
”S'cuse me, sweetie,” called a buttery voice from behind.
The calico twisted, looking back over her right shoulder. “Huh?” She asked.
”I'm sorry,” said the teacher's aide, “but I need to hold onto your hair-tie.” She extended out her hand expectantly.
The kitten twisted further, spotting another girl with her hair tied up in a bun, and pointed. “She has her hair up, too.”
”I know, but she's using a scrunchie.” The TA explained. “Your hair-tie is too small, and some of the other kids could choke on it if you lose it.” She twitched her fingers insistently.
The calico's eyes looked down at the carpet.
”I can go to the nurse and see if she has a scrunchie you can borrow, would you like me to do that?”
The kitten's brow flattened. “No,” she responded tersely, and reached behind. She tugged off the discreetly thin hair-tie, and her locks began to stretch and unfurl right away. She raised her hand up, pinching the hair-tie; but, before it actually went securely to the aide's hand, she let it fall.
”Oopsie, it's all right, I got it,” the aide said. “I'll give it to your teacher, and you can pick it up before you go home, okay?”
”Mm.” The calico replied. She watched the aide leave, turning to sit in the chair correctly. She looked at the girl who had the proper item with which to tidy up her hair, and seethed. The calico already felt the uncomfortable warmth smothering the nape of her neck.
She saw that some of the boys who had been playing with the blocks were leaving to take the place of some of the kids who left after a game of Uno. She took the chance, and quietly made her way toward the blocks.
There were only a couple of boys that remained, building a tall tower. She watched for a second, before reaching for the pile of blocks.
”Don't. We need those,” one of the boys interjected.
”You don't need them right now,” she replied.
”We will,” the other boy countered, hand carefully receding from a block he had just placed.
”Can I help, then?” The calico asked.
The boys exchanged glances.
”Shouldn't you be playing with dolls or something?” The first boy questioned.
The calico wrinkled her nose. “No, I shouldn't. And I want to play with the blocks.” The boy who had just placed one reached for another, and she snatched it up.
The first boy rolled his eyes. “Fine, sheesh. Put it here,” he pointed. As she did, he muttered under his breath: “Why do girls have to be so pushy?”
The calico's tongue peeked out of the side of her muzzle, and she raised up on her knees to get better height and stability. She carefully lowered the block to where she was instructed to put it, and let it hover just a hair's-breadth from the structure below it.
”Don't you mess it up,” the second boy warned.
A second later, her hand lifted, the piece placed. She settled back, shuffling backwards on her knees.
The first boy picked up the next block. He placed it carefully enough, but he did not take as much time nor did he make it look as tense. “That's how it's done,” he said, as if implying the calico had done something inadequate.
The second boy picked up the next block, and tried to do the same. He set the block on the opposite side of the new platform from the first boy's block, preparing for a bridge-block to be laid over-top them. However, in his bit of haste, when he lifted it up it was not parallel, and was set a bit too inward. “Bam,” he said.
”It's crooked,” the calico pointed out, reaching up.
”It's just fine,” the second boy said, batting her hand.
The calico flinched, her hand colliding with the tower. The blocks on top fell away.
”Man, now we gotta do that part all over,” the first boy grumbled. But, just as soon as a huff left his muzzle, the whole tower abruptly collapsed with a tinkling clatter.
All three looked at the rubble.
”Thanks a stinkin' lot,” the second boy growled.
The bell rang.
”All right kiddos, time to put up all your things,” said the teacher, with a sprightliness that was either forced or induced, but in no way genuine. “Don't worry, if you're in the middle of something you can finish it during free-time at the end of the day.”
The calico began collecting blocks, and when she looked up the boys were a few steps away. “Hey!” She called out. “We gotta put the blocks away,” she said, when they turned.
”You made the mess,” the first boy said.
”Clean it up like a good girl should,” the second boy snickered, turning away and batting his friend with the back of his hand as they chuckled.
The blocks the calico held dropped, spreading out in front of her. She looked about for the sack, found it behind her, and snagged it. She began putting the blocks away, angrily. She picked them up, and threw them downward into the sack.
”Hey, hey, hey,” the TA from before rushed up. “What are you doing? Are those your blocks?” She questioned, rhetorically.
The calico looked up nervously; first her hair-tie, now getting questioned. “Uhm…” She sat back, ears flattening sheepishly. “N-No,” she replied.
”Then don't be so rough with them. Other kids will want to play with them, too. But, if you keep doing that, you'll damage them, and then no one will get to play with them.”
”Well the others that were here left me to pick them up,” the calico tried to explain.
”No excuses,” the aide admonished, huffing as she moved to her knees. “I'll help you pick them up,” she offered. The aide could tell the calico was still a little upset, probably because she had her hair-tie taken away. Still, she calmed down enough, and when all the blocks were put away, the aide took the sack back to where it was supposed to go.
”Oh-kay,” the teacher said, as the TA walked across the room with the sack of blocks. “That was pretty good, but when the bell rings let's try to pick our things up right away next time,” she remarked.
The calico felt a few glances, being one of the stragglers.
”Now, first-grade is a little different from kindergarten,” the teacher began. “The first thing you'll notice is that instead of sitting on the carpet, this year you get to sit in a big-kid desk!” She walked over to one of the groups of four desks in the room; there were five groups total. “Ms. Potter and I will be calling out your names, and when we do we will give you a name-plate,” she held up a laminated cut-out of blue paper, in the shape of a T-Rex. “You'll put the name-plate on the inside-corner of your desk, okay?”
There was a low, bored murmur and a few head-nods.
At the same time, the teacher and her aide began calling out the children's names. Every now and again, they had to pause to suppress a rising commotion of conversation from both the standing crowd and the groups that started to meet one another.
”Audrey LaRoux,” the teacher called.
The calico's ears perked. After a second of pause, she trotted over to the group of desks, where a boy whose name that had been called just earlier was sitting, a skateboard-shaped blue name-plate placed at the inner-corner of his desk.
”Troy Phillips,” the teacher said, proffering a pink flower with Audrey written on it. When it wasn't taken right away, she looked to the kitten. “Take this and put it on your desk, hun,” she said, moving her hand to fan with the flower and draw attention to it.
Almost reluctantly, the calico took the name-plate, and sat at the desk opposite the boy with the skateboard, and Troy took the seat next to him.
”Libby Eaton,” the teacher called.
Soon enough, the girl that was called sat next to the calico, setting her heart diagonal of the skateboard. “Tsh,” she began, running her hand through her hair. “S'matter? You guys don't wanna sit next to a girl?”
”Girls have cooties,” said Luke, the boy with the skateboard.
”No we don't.” Libby rejected. “'Least I don't. What about you, um…” She looked to the calico beside her. “Ow-Berry?” She tried to pronounce, squinting at the weird combination of letters.
The calico curled up just a little. “Um… Just… You can just call me Ray,” she said, uncomfortably.
”Ray? Sounds like a boy's—”
While the girl was making her remark, a crackle sounded overhead, followed by a loud, female voice that burst from a small tan-colored box in the corner of the room: “Goooooooooooooood morning, Mallards!”
Everyone winced, including the teachers.
”I hope everyone has found their classrooms and is ready for a super-duper first day of school! Please stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Sluggishly, the chairs scuffed across the dingy carpet, and the Pledge was droned by twenty young voices. Then, as one, those with seats plopped back down in them.
”And now it's time for the morning announcements.”
The kids started murmuring.
”Quiet please,” the teacher's assistance said.
The woman with the loud voice began reading the announcements of the day, while the volume continued to rise.
Troy reached for his dinosaur, and used it to pretend like it was eating the flower diagonal from it, making chomping noises.
The TA cleared her throat. “Keep it down, please.”
”Teachers, if you have any students not assigned to your cla—”
A group across the room burst into giggles.
”Hey! Quiet!” The teacher barked.
The children flinched, and silence presided.
”The menu for today is: Spaghetti and Meatballs, corn-bread roll, and black beans. This concludes today's announcements. The time is now seven fifty-seven. Have a great day!”
A few moments after the crackle, the murmur started again.
”What are you doing?” The calico questioned, as the dinosaur once again tried to eat the flower.
”Rex is hungry,” he said, making dinosaur growls.
The skateboard boy began to chuckle.
”But… T-Rexes are meat-eaters.”
”You don't know that!” Troy declared. “Girls don't know 'bout dinos,” he declared, pronouncing the word dinos as Fred Flinstone's pet.
”I know a lot abou—”
”Watching Land Of The Lost doesn't count,” the other boy interjected “That's a fake-o TV show.”
”Ugh, don't talk to them,” Libby said with contempt. “It's just paper anyway.” Despite saying this, she snagged her heart and pulled it closer to her.
”All right everyone, listen up,” the teacher spoke up. “Where you're sitting now: this is your desk for the next several weeks. Get to know the others in your group; you will be working together on lessons and worksheets, and then after a while, you'll switch into a new group. Are there any questions?”
There was a moment of quiet.
”Okay, well if—”
Libby glanced to her right as the calico next to her raised her hand.
”I… Um, I have a flower…” She held the name-plate up.
”Oh, right, I was just about to get to get that; one step ahead of me,” the teacher said, in a bit of a praising manner. “If you look at your name-plates,” she began, “you'll notice two things: a number; if you're a boy, you're a skateboard or a dinosaur, and for girls you're a heart or a flower.”
Libby once again fidgeted with her name-plate, looking it over front-and-back.
”The other classes are grouped into the same four 'teams.' So, if you're a skateboard, then you're a part of the Skateboard Team, along with the other kids that have a skateboard in the other classes. Now—”
The teacher paused.
“Please, just raise your hand,” the TA instructed.
The calico raised her hand.
”What if… I don't wanna be a flower?”
The teacher took in a breath. Someone was bound to ask this question. “Unfortunately the cards were assigned, to make the teams as even as possible. We can't let anyone switch or swap, so you're stuck with what ya got,” she smiled, like it was a joke. “So, you've also got a number.”
Audrey looked at the flower, seeing the number 3.
”Every week, someone will be assigned to be a helper. A helper will help both in the class, and outside of the class, when another teacher calls for helpers. Can the person with numero uno raise their hand, please?”
For a moment, there was a soft commotion.
”Guy or gal with number one, please raise your hand.”
At last, a girl across the room raised. “Oh! I'm sorry, I thought it was a seven,” she said, bashfully.
”That's okay. So, what's your name, sweetie?”
”Anna,” she said, holding up her name-plate.
”Right. Anna, you will our first helper. Who is number two?”
The class snickered and giggled.
”Okay, settle down,” the TA said, after a moment.
A reluctant husky raised his hand, “I'm… I'm number two,” he mumbled.
”Gregory,” he said.
”Thank you. Gregory, if Anna is absent or not around when the teacher asks for helpers, then you get to be the helper. So-on-and-so-forth, so if Gregory isn't present when the helper is called, then number three will the helper.
”Ms. Potter?” The teacher turned to her assistant.
”Ready for the tour?” The TA asked, standing up. When the teacher nodded, she clapped her hands. “All right, can I have numbers one through ten line up at the door please?”
Some kids dashed, eager to be a part of the first group to do something, and not sit in the chair for any longer. Troy was one of the first few kids to get in line. Audrey, however, arrived in line slowly.
”Seh-, eih-, nih-, teh—Okay,” the TA said, pointing at the calico when she quietly counted the tenth child. “I'm going to take you guys on a little tour in and around the school.”
”What if we already know it?” Troy asked. “My big brother's in fourth grade, so I know this place like the back-a my hand.” He wiggled his hand in gesture as he mentioned it.
”Then you can help me make sure everyone's staying together, and this will be a nice refresher for you.”
The boy rolled his eyes.
The TA opened the door. “Let's go.”
The small crowd of five boys and five girls spilled out into the empty hallway.
”Line up against the wall, your name?” She pointed at the boy who already knew the school.
”Troy,” he answered.
”Troy,” she repeated, “would you be the line-leader?”
”Eh, sure, why not,” he replied passively, although his grin implied that he was rather delighted at being called a leader.
”Okay, just one moment,” she said, as the children lined up against the wall. They watched as she went to the classroom across the hall, knocking and opening the door. She exchanged a brief word with the TA of that class through the space of the door ajar, and then turned to her kids while the door shut. “Okay, down the hall we go.”
The kids began to shuffle along, one boy making his shoes squeak.
”Walk nicely,” the TA requested. Slowing down so that she was about halfway between Troy and the calico; the line-leader and caboose. Theirs was the last class in the hallway, and their hallway on one end of the school. The walls were a light-orange, with the sun shining at the far end from a door that led outside, used only by faculty and staff.
”Right outside our hallway is the library, and kindergarten classes,” Ms. Potter said, pointing to the aisles of books, to their left, and the doors to their right. “Say: 'Hello Mrs. Gonzalez!'”
”Hello, Mrs. Gonzalez,” the children said in a mix of cheeriness and weariness, all waving at the librarian as she came to see them.
”Well hi there,” the vixen said, her tail swishing primly as she stood next to the TA. “Tours startin' already, just had Mrs. Trinbeck's class shuffle on out.” She remarked, pointing to the ajar door of a kindergarten classroom. “The year has be-gun,” she stamped her foot and swung her arm emphatically.
”Yep, it has,” Ms. Potter nodded.
”Well, I'll let ya get to it, then. Now, don't y'all be shy 'bout comin' here to read. There's plenty-a books always waitin' to get cracked open. M'kay?”
”Yes ma'am,” Ms. Potter said, hinting for the children to reply in ilk; they did, with the same mix of attitudes as before. “Onward-march,” she pointed. They walked—a few marched with her—out into the lobby, where the hallway opened up to a fairly empty juncture, aside from the tables that were still set up from earlier that morning.
They had stopped just outside the doorways to the library. “To our left is the Office, that's where the principal usually is. Who here knows the Principal's name?”
The kids all looked around, but none spoke up.
”Troy? Do you know?” She asked.
”Uhhhhhh…” he said, his vocal chords dragging out the sound as he thought, “Mrs. Cleveland?”
”You got it,” she nodded.
He fist-pumped with triumph. “What do I get?” He asked.
Ms. Potter smirked. “You get to keep being the line-leader,” she replied. “Now, on the other side,” she pointed to behind them, and they twisted, “is the nurse's office.”
”Excuse me, Miss?” One of the girls raised her hands.
”My name is Ms. Potter,” the TA admonished. “Yours is…?”
”Katie,” the mousette replied.
”What's your question, Katie?”
”What do I do if I have to take medicine during lunch?” She asked.
”Normally, to visit the nurse you need a nurse's pass, but at lunch time you can go see the nurse before or after you eat—whichever your medicine says you should do.”
”Okay.” The girl said, her burning question of the morning answered.
”These doors here,” the TA said, moving to the doors just beyond the Nurse's office, “lead to the third-grade hallway, which turns the corner,” she gestured, holding her arm at a right-angle, “into the fifth-grade hall,” she walked, beckoning them on, past a middle set of doors to a set of doors on the far side of the lobby from the library, “which turns into the fourth-grade hall, which also starts here,” she pointed down the hallway. “It makes sort of a horseshoe.”
”That's the gym.” Troy announced, pointing to the set of doors they had passed.
”And that's the cafeteria?” Asked a raccoon-girl, pointing to the large ramp walkway beyond the small wall in front of them.
”Yes,” Ms. Potter confirmed. “When it's lunch time, we'll go up on the right side of the ramp, and when we leave we come down the left,” she informed them.
”Where's the playground?” The rat-boy who liked to squeak his shoes questioned, in a way that implied he was eager for recess to start already.
”Why don't we make our way there, next. Come down the fourth-grade hall—quietly.”
They walked through the entrance, and down the long hallway. The walls were fire-truck red, with gray and white bricks here and there to break up the onslaught of crimson.
Halfway down the hall, there were sets of doors on either side; the inside set another entrance to the gym, and the outside set leading to the open air, mostly as a fire-exit.
When they reached the back corner, the TA pressed her arm upon the bar of the set of doors that led out to the school yard. The air was still humid, but the sun was high in the sky, lighting up the clouds nearby in a white glare. The kids shielded their eyes at first as they emerged out into the light.
The doors opened to a sidewalk that extended along the wall to the other set of doors at the opposite corner. The sidewalk was broad enough for them all to stand comfortably, and it was painted with four-squares and hop-scotches, the lines faded and scuffed by sun and sole.
Off of the sidewalk was grass, fairly vibrant now but likely soon to become withered as the kids trampled over it, chasing each other around. It stretched for just a few yards, until the area was dominated by tiny pebbles.
The play-set wasn't too bad. Big enough for a bunch of kids, but old; made of wood and some cold metal that had not been painted. There were a few tunnels, a couple of swing-sets, and several picnic tables; plus other outposts, like a castle, and see-saws.
The yard was surrounded by a wooden fence, jutting out from a stone base and supported by small metal poles every dozen feet. It was not an even square, meandering here and there to avoid a tree or bad spot of ground. There was a gravel pathway all about the inside of the perimeter, that also joined with the sidewalk, to form a sort of track.
The trees that dotted the yard gave plenty of shade, but also would shed many leaves in just a few short weeks. The pebbles were not found about their bases, but there were several that had long since been lodged into small knots or low crevices.
”When is recess?” One of the girls asked, excitedly.
The rat-boy yelled excitedly, as if the very word caste a spell on him, and darted off toward the yard.
”Hey! Get back here!” Ms. Potter shouted, dashing off after him as best she could in her ankle-length dress. It whipped and flowed, nearly tripping her a few times. Her stride was just able to keep behind the boy's, until he ducked into one of the tubes. “You get out here, right now!” She yelled into the tunnel, her voice ricocheting down the smooth, red-clay walls.
He curled up into the tube, sticking out his tongue.
”You have until the count of three,” she growled. “One!” She barked.
The boy bit his lip.
He flinched at the bark, his curl breaking.
He looked to the other side, debating scurrying out that way.
”Two-and-three-quarters…” The assistant said, in a low and menacing tone.
Breaking, the boy clambered toward her.
As he emerged, she grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, yanking him out all the way onto his stomach. Dropping to one knee, she raised her hand, and smacked him on the rump.
The other kids winced as the boy let out a squeak. Four more reports hit their ears, with the boy whimpering after the last one.
As the boy timidly hobbled back to the group, tail curled around his left leg, Troy let out a snicker. When Ms. Potter gave him a glare, he stood up straight, gulping.
”For most of us, recess will not be for another couple of hours,” the assistant said, huffing and straightening her hair and dress. “We have one more stop to make on our tour, back in our own hallway; so let's go, go-go-go,” she ushered them to turn back into the school.
The group went back down the hall they came, the boy whom had been spanked still lagging behind. They passed the nurse's office, and made their way back through the library, where the librarian was reading a book to some of the kindergartners.
The calico paused, looking into the small crowd of kinders. There were about two classes-worth of kids sitting around the librarian's rocking-chair. When the librarian flipped the book toward them so they could see the picture she read, some of the kids farther out popped up to see over the others' ears. On the far side, a girl wearing a purple shirt was the first to settle back down.
The TA grabbed the kitten's arm, giving her a shush, and walked with her to catch up to the group. “Okay, the last stop is here,” Ms. Potter announced, standing between two open pathways cut into the wall. “If you were in kinder last year, you may have noticed that the first-grade classrooms don't have bathrooms. That's because they are out here,” she pointed to the two open pathways, where the bricks were painted a lighter, peach color and the floor was made of hundreds of small, tan-colored tiles.
”This is the girls' bathroom,” she patted the wall on her right. “This is the boys',” she patted the wall on her left.
The children were distracted as another class walked by, starting their tour.
“Eyes back here,” she called, snapping her fingers. “If you have to make a stop, feel free; otherwise, you'll need to ask for a pass when you're in the classroom.”
The kids stood for a moment.
”No one needs to go? If so, we'll head back.”
Katie quietly stepped forward, heading toward the girls' room. With the ice broken, quickly a couple of the boys and a few more of the girls started heading to their sides.
The boys shrugged, poking fun at the girls for making it look like going to the bathroom was a big deal just because it wasn't the single rooms like at home or in their kindergarten classrooms. They each went in, and then there was a bit of laughter and commotion about something they saw.
Only the calico kitten and one other girl remained with the teacher's assistant.
The kitten kept looking in the direction of the boys' room, as they made loud farting noises and flushed the toilets.
”Boys, no playing,” Ms. Potter admonished. “Do your business and come back out here.”
Just as they had entered, they emerged, with only one boy a straggler. They all giggled and chuckled about their first school-bathroom experience, the boys making odd whinnying noises, which the girls called them weird for.
”Did everyone wash their hands?”
”Nope!” Said one of the boys, grabbing onto the girl next to the calico.
She squeaked, jerking away. “Ew! Gross! He touched me!”
”Boston,” the teacher barked. “Go in there and wash your hands!”
The boy flinched. “I… I did; it was just a joke,” he said. “Smell,” he said, holding his hands up.
The teacher grimaced. “I'm not smelling your hand,” she scoffed. “Go wash them. We'll wait.”
Groaning, the boy skipped back into the restroom. The sound of the sink could be heard, and he announced the had turned it on; he then called out he was using the soap, and scrubbing his hands. Finally he declared he was drying them off, before walking out with a big grin on his face.
”Wash your hands every time,” the TA said to the kids. “Whether you go number one, or number two.”
”What about number three?” Asked Troy, and the other boys giggled.
”There's no number three…” The calico said with confusion, more to herself than the others.
”Yeah there is,” he said, and the other boys joined him as he sang: “diarrhea-cha-cha-cha!””
The girls gagged and plugged their noses. “Well, I'm not hungry for lunch anymore, thanks,” one of them grumbled.
”Enough of that,” Ms. Potter said, wagging her finger. “C'mon, line up, we're going back to class.”
The kids all got into the line, some sulking they were heading back to the boring, smelly classroom. When they got to the door, Ms. Potter held it open, waving them all in. As the calico passed, she called for the assistant's attention.
Ms. Potter leaned over. “What is it, sweetie?”
The calico's muzzle neared the older woman's ear. “Can… Can I go back and use the potty?” She asked.
The expression on the TA's face dropped right away. “Honey, I told you that you should have used it right away.” She replied.
”I know… but… I um… I didn't really hafta go then.”
Ms. Potter sucked in a breath of frustration through her nose, gesturing to the teacher. She held out her hand for the kitten. “Okay, let's go,” she spoke tersely, walking with the girl down the hall. Her feet were stompy, and the kitten seemed to look guilty.
She stopped in front of the girls' room. “Hurry it up, the next set of kids are waiting on you for the tour.”
”Y-Yes ma'am,” the kitten said, trotting over to the entrance of the other restroom.
”Honey, no, that's the boys' side. This is girls' side.”
The calico paused. “I… I know,” she replied, and made to continue on.
”Sweetie,” Ms. Potter said, with a straining patience as she went into the entrance of the restroom, and held the calico by the shoulders before she could get too far in. “This is not your room,” she pulled the girl out, and toward the other entryway. “This is your—”
”No no no no no-stop!” The calico squeaked, digging the heels of her shoes onto the tile.
”I am not in the mood to play any games,” the woman snapped. “Either you use the restroom, or you can pee your pants if you're just gonna play around.”
The calico sniffled, and hugged herself, not moving.
The TA gritted her teeth. “Okay. Then c'mon, we're going back to class, and I'm talking with the teacher.” She held out her hand.
The calico weakly took it.
Her footsteps were even more stompy, and the kitten's face was even more guilty. She opened the door, motioning for the teacher to step out into the hall.
”Um… One second, kids; you can talk a little but keep the noise down.” She walked over, her muzzle pursed in agitation. “What?” She snarled at her TA.
Ms. Potter tugged on the kitten's arm. “She isn't going to the restroom. She didn't when I went by with the others, and so we went back so she could, and now she's still not going; she's trying to go into the boys' room, but won't go in the girls'.”
”Audrey,” the teacher said, looking down at the student, recalling the name because the kitten had left a negative impression with her—and that was still holding; “why won't you go to the restroom?”
The kitten mumbled something.
”Speak up.” The teacher said, impatiently.
The calico sniffled, like she was about to cry.
Closing her eyes, the teacher knelt down. “I don't appreciate this kind of behavior on our first day, okay? But, give me the straight answer, and I'll let it slide a little. Why are you being so odd about the bathroom?”
The kitten looked down. “Because… I'm a boy.”
Ms. Potter wasn't sure if she had heard it right, but when she saw the expression on the teacher's face, she started to trust what she had heard. When the teacher looked up to her, she whispered, “what do we do?”
The volume inside the room grew, with cackles and squeals and shouts.
The teacher's expression turned to impatience again. “All right, if she's playing games, take her to the nurse's office and have her use that bathroom. Call her parents while you're there, see if you can get ahold of one of them and figure out if she's confusing a game or something—” The kids in the classroom began shouting. “I really don't have time for this.” She went back into the classroom. “Hey! Quiet down! Right now!”
The door shut.
Ms. Potter bit her lip. She looked down at the kitten, watching… her… for a moment as… she.. worked through a few sniffles and rubbed at… her… eyes.
When the kitten was calmer, the assistant reached down. “C'mon, let's go.”
The older woman's footfalls were softer, but the calico still had a deepening expression on her… it's… her face. Thankfully, the walk to the nurse's office was just down the hall, and the librarian was still reading. At the door, Ms. Potter knocked, and pushed down on the handle.
”Hello,” called the leopardess, taking the temperature of a fifth-grade boy. Seeing the younger kid, she smiled. “Got some home-sickness?” She said with cheer.
”Actually,” the assistant said, “we need to use the restroom. Is it open?”
”Mhmm,” the nurse nodded, as the thermometer beeped.
Ms. Potter walked the kitten over to the door, and opened it. “Don't take too long. The kids are still waiting on you,” she said, ushering the kitten inside.
”Ninety-seven point three; you're an ice-cube kiddo,” the nurse said, tousling the boy's hair.
”But my stomach hurts…”
”Hm… Well, s'cuse me just one sec, okay?” The leopardess stood up. “So, what's happening, is she up-chucking?”
”Um… no, we're just using the potty… Can I go make a call really quick?”
”Sure,” the nurse rolled her chair out of the way, pushing the desk-phone out from some clutter. “Dial nine, an—”
”Actually, I think I should make this call across the hallway,” Ms. Potter said. “Can you just have… her,” she pointed to the restroom door, “wait, 'till I get back?”
The nurse nodded. “Sure. So,” she turned back to the boy. “You can lie down for ten minutes, but then you're goin' back to class, okie-pokie?”
The boy nodded and, with surprisingly little hesitation for someone with a hurting tummy, trotted his way into the dimly lit room to lie down on a cot.
The door to the office shut, and the nurse sat at the table, slipping the thermometer stick back into the holster, and tossing the spit-covered plastic covering away. Amidst the silence that followed, she thought she could make out restrained crying coming from the restroom. She sighed, smiling as if with satisfaction. “Definitely home-sickness.”
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