“Can’t I stay home and start school tomorrow?”
“No, Megan. Dad and I have things to do, and we can’t leave you here alone,” said her mother.
“But Valentine Day is a terrible time to begin at a new school. When they trade valentines, I won’t have anything to do,” said Megan.
“It’s hard, but it can’t be helped. Get your coat. I’ll drive you.”
Megan rode silently beside her mother. When they stopped at the school, her mother said, “Thanks for being brave.”
But Megan wasn’t feeling brave; she was just too miserable to talk.
“Try to learn the other children’s names,” said her mother. “There’s a saying, ‘Learn a name, and you’re halfway to knowing a person.’”
As Megan and her mother walked to the principal’s office, kids turned and looked at them. Megan wished that she were invisible. While her mother and the principal talked, Megan thought If he says kind things to me, I’ll cry. But when her mother left, the principal simply led her to the fifth-grade classroom, where thirty strangers stared at her.
The teacher smiled. “Who’s this?” she asked.
“Mrs. Thomas, this is Megan McNeal,” said the principal. He turned to the class. “It’s hard entering a new school. Try to make this a fine first day for Megan.” But the children just looked puzzled, as if they didn’t know how to do what he asked.
“There’s a desk for you back here,” said Mrs. Thomas.
Following her, Megan passed the valentine box. So many envelopes crowded it that they poked out the top. Not one would be for her.
“Because Megan has come, we’ll stop working for a while and introduce ourselves,” said Mrs. Thomas. The class murmured with pleasure. “How many of you have ever had to move?” the teacher asked. Ten hands went up. “When it’s your turn, tell Megan your name and something that you liked about your new school. You others tell what you hope it will be like if you ever do move.”
A boy in front said, “My name is Tom. When I moved, I didn’t like it here. Then John asked me to play, and now we’re best friends.”
“I’m Leisl,” said the girl beside Tom. “I’ve never moved. If I do, I hope people will be nice to me.”
“My name is Bridget. I haven’t moved, either, but if I do, I hope that Leisl will move with me.” Everyone laughed.
“I’m Peter,” said a tall boy. “I moved here from Norway. I miss my friends there, but I have friends here now.”
“I’m Jenny. I’m used to moving because my dad’s in the military. The last time I moved, I especially liked my new teacher.”
When the introductions were over, the class returned to their studies. The spelling lesson was hard. Megan felt dumb for not knowing many of the words. In science, they were studying volcanoes. Megan didn’t know much about that subject, either. And still ahead was the valentine box. When valentines were passed out, she would feel completely left out. Well, she thought, maybe tomorrow will be better.
Near the end of the day Mrs. Thomas opened the frilly box and called the names on the envelopes. Children filed back and forth gathering piles of valentines. At a signal, they began opening them. Megan sat alone, a lump of misery. I can’t just sit here, she thought.
She went and whispered to Mrs. Thomas, who whispered back, “That sounds like fun.” She gave Megan a pair of scissors, and Megan went back to her desk.
When all the valentines had been opened, Mrs. Thomas announced, “We’re going to play a game that Megan has suggested. She made a list of our names and has written them on slips of paper. She’ll try to hand us each the slip with our own name on it. If she doesn’t know where a slip belongs, we’ll help her by saying hot or cold.”
Megan began by handing Leisl and Bridget their slips. She remembered their names because Bridget had said that if she moved, she’d want Leisl to move too. She remembered Jenny, who had said that you get used to moving. She knew six more people. She began to read out the other names, one by one. The class directed her to the right person by shouting cold when she headed in the wrong direction and hot when she was headed right. The game became noisy and exciting. She tried to give the name Jesse to a girl, but it belonged to a boy. The children enjoyed that mistake.
When the closing bell rang, the class scrambled for their coats and pushed toward the door. Several children said, “That was fun, Megan.” Her game had turned a roomful of strangers into friends. Now, Megan thought, I know that tomorrow will be better.