Zed was the greatest kid in all the school!
Only nobody knew it.
He was shy. During class he stood behind the desks as though they were his fortress, safe away from the other students. At recess, the kids ran around yelling, playing chase, throwing disks and balls, or playing hopscotch or jump rope, or discussing important issues like last night's TV episode or how to build a tree house. Zed stood behind a bench near the playground fence. He watched the other kids with interest, but did not wish to join in.
Instead, he counted how many kids were wearing brown, and how many red. He made maps in his mind about who played where. 'Here is the hopscotch section. Here is the kickball square. Three girls here. Two guys there. Five or six at the basketball hoop.' He was not bored at all.
Frank and Paul were always discussing. Zed liked to watch that. There was a girl, Marcie, who kept glancing toward Zed. He did not like that.
Today was the first cool day of fall, and the playground was happy. Faces were bright and cheerful. Zed found his spot behind the bench, and noted among the kids there were three green sweaters and four pairs of shoes with a Zebra emblem. Leaves were racing in the breeze in circles. Marcie looked at Zed. Zed turned away. His face grew hot. When he looked up, her back was to him, and he sighed with relief. She went up, and stood near Frank and Paul while they chatted. Frank was showing Paul how to soften his new baseball mitt. Marcie watched too. She backed up a little when some of the younger kids ran past them. They were all closer to the bench. Zed now could hear their discussion.
The next day, the same thing happened, only there was just one green sweater. There were two black sweatshirts and one girl was still in sandals, though the weather was even cooler.
Marcie had her back to him. Zed didn't mind that. She was a little closer today, and Frank and Paul came over to chat, ignoring her, but keeping her in their circle. Frank examined Paul's mitt with approval. 'It's getting there,' he said. 'Let me see,' said Marcie, and she examined the mitt with interest. She turned toward Zed, and he turned away.
The next day was similar and then there was a weekend. Zed was nervous and he was a little happy. He was looking forward to Monday, looking forward to recess. But Marcie was not there on Monday nor on Tuesday. Frank and Paul shot hoops for a change. Zed counted the feet that had boots on them, ten, but he wasn't very happy.
Wednesday, Marcie was back. Her eyes were a little puffy. She sneezed. She said to Frank and Paul, 'I'm feeling better.' Her back was facing Zed again. She was wearing boots. She said, 'I'm going to sit down.' She backed all the way to the bench. Plop!
Zed, behind the bench, turned this way, then that. There was no easy escape. Frank and Paul followed Marcie, manfully discussing the lunch menu for the week.
'There's Jello today.' Zed's voice piped up. He studied the menu every week, and knew it by heart.
Frank, Paul, and Marcie looked at him. Zed couldn't believe it was himself that had said something.
'I like Jello. Red's my favorite,' said Paul. There was quiet.
'I like any kind,' said Marcie. 'It'll be good for my throat.'
'Grape is good,' said Frank. They looked at Zed. He smiled a little, and looked down.
'Recess is almost over,' said Frank. Frank, Paul and Marcie turned toward the building. 'You coming with us, Zed?'
'Um. Ahh,' he said. 'Maybe later!'
They walked on. Zed turned away and looked down at his shoes, hiding a big smile.