Jay Roberts stared out the window and sighed, then slowly stirred his cereal. He could hardly believe that summer was already gone.
“Hurry up, Jay,” Mother called from the hall. “Dad is ready for family prayer before he leaves.”
After the prayer, Jay carried his cereal bowl to the sink, then trudged up the stairs to brush his teeth. Who invented school anyway? he wondered.
When the school bus arrived, he dutifully climbed on. There were only a couple of seats left. He chose the one across the aisle from his best buddy. “Hey, Lance,” he said.
“Yo,” Lance replied. He said “yo” all the time now, after seeing a guy in a movie do it.
“Who do you want for a teacher?” Jay asked.
“Anyone except Mrs. Turnbull,” Lance replied. “I heard she’s really hard.”
Suddenly Jay was aware of a slight groan beside him. He turned around and saw a very small boy sharing the seat. “Hey,” Jay said to his neighbor, “I’m Jay.”
The little boy hesitated a moment before mumbling, “My name’s Rickey.”
“Well, hello, Rick,” Jay answered. “What grade are you in?”
“None? What does that mean?”
“I’m just in the kid garden.”
“You mean in kindergarten?” Jay asked, trying not to smile.
Rickey nodded solemnly. “And I’m not sure where the garden is.”
“It’s OK,” Jay assured him. “There will be teachers at school to help you get where you’re going. And if there aren’t, we’ll show you.”
Rickey stared at Jay for a moment and then asked, “What’s your grade?”
“Lance and I are in fifth grade,” Jay replied, motioning toward his friend.
The little boy looked across the aisle and waved to Lance.
“Yo, Rick,” Lance said, nodding his head.
“This bus is pretty scary, huh?” Rickey said. “I mean, I never was in such a big car before.”
“Yeah,” Jay replied, “it’s bigger than anything else on the road. Everybody gets out of the way of the bus. And all the cars have to stop when we’re getting off and on.”
“Oh,” Rickey replied, looking around with a new interest. He turned toward the window. “I do kind of like looking down at all the cars.”
“I’ve been riding the bus for years,” Jay said importantly. “It isn’t too bad.”
Rickey looked at Jay’s bag. “What’s in there?” he asked.
“It’s my lunch—a peanut-butter sandwich, an apple, some raisins, and if I’m lucky, a brownie.”
“How do you know?” Rickey asked.
“I told you, I’ve been doing this a long time. Mom used to pack a different sandwich every day, but then she found out that I just traded them off, so now she just packs peanut butter.”
Jay nodded. “Right. It works pretty good. Whatever you don’t like, you just trade with someone else. Sometimes you can get some really good stuff.”
Rickey considered this information. “Lunch sounds fun.”
“Did your mom tell you about recess?”
“Yes,” Rickey replied. “That’s playtime. But I don’t know who to play with.”
“You’ll make friends,” Jay replied, looking at Lance. “I guess friends are the best thing about school.”
“How come?” Rickey asked.
“Because they help you solve problems and get you through the tough stuff.”
“Like when you don’t do so well on a test, and they play with you at recess and help you remember you’re the best soccer player in school. Or when you get a goofy part in a play, and they tell you it’s cool in front of all the other kids. That kind of stuff.”
The bus pulled up in front of the school, and Rickey still looked scared.
“It’s OK, Rick,” Jay told him. “Come on.”
“I’m afraid of the teacher.”
Jay gently pulled Rickey to his feet. “You don’t have to be afraid of the teachers. They’re kind of like your mom or dad away from home.”
“Absolutely,” Lance chimed in. “I even called my kindergarten teacher ‘Mom’ once.”
Jay looked at his friend with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, it was only once,” Lance said, shrugging.
“Let’s go,” Jay said, as the three boys walked toward the door. When they arrived at the kindergarten class, Rickey peered inside and was greeted with a smile from his teacher.
“Gotta go,” Jay said. Lance was already hurrying toward the fifth-grade classrooms.
“Listen, Jay,” Rickey told him, “if anyone makes fun of you about that play or something, just tell them you’re my friend.”
Jay nodded his head. “For sure!” With a wave he started off down the hall. Turning the corner, he saw Lance motioning to him.
“Hey, Jay,” Lance called, “we’re in the same class. We have Mrs. Turnbull!” Surprised by the grin on Jay’s face, he asked, “Did you hear me?”
“Absolutely!” Jay kept on grinning.