No one can see me when I pull my hood up over my face. Not Serena, not Alex, not my teacher. My teacher, she says, “What are you doing? You’re so silly, Fin.”
But I’m not that silly, and when I walk into the wall my head goes bang, bang, bang.
“Serena, have a seat please. Fin, are you okay?” I can’t see Ms. Mikel, but I hear her voice. I walk my fingers up the side of my face and push against the little bump on my forehead. I’m okay. I’m better. “Fin?”
“Yup, yup, yup.”
“Will you come back to the table so we can see you again, please?”
I hold my elbows in tight, tight, tight to my sides except for my claws and take big, T-Rex steps back into the kitchen. On the screen of my iPad, Serena is jumping in front of a huge rainbow picture of her face, and Alex is singing Happy Birthday again, but I can tell Ms. Mikel is looking right at me. I stick out my tongue at her, and she copies me, then smiles.
The neck of my hoodie gets stuck on my nose when I try to take it off but I pull and pull until it shoots over my head and I’m all sweaty.
“I know the answer,” I say, wiping my forehead with my fingers. It throbs a little, my fingers coming away damp.
“What’s the answer, dude?” Ms. Mikel says. Her eyes are all twinkly like she has a secret, like we’re sharing a secret because I know the answer and no one else does, not even Serena.
It banged right into my head from the wall; the wall is a lot smarter than me because it’s been here for longer. Maybe even longer than Ms. Mikel. Longer than Grandma, even. Grandma always said that the people who have been here the longest know the most.
“I don’t live with my grandma anymore,” I say.
“Thanks for sharing that, Fin!” Ms. Mikel says. She smiles even harder, just like she used to in the classroom, only now I’m at home. “Did you say you had the answer?”
“Yes. It goes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 —”
“Thank you, my friend —”
“18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 —”
“Why don’t we give the rest of our friends —”
“30, 32, 34, 36, 38 —”
“A chance to help me out as well?”
“40, 42, 44 —”
“46, 48 —”
“50. Yes, Ms. Mikel?”
“That was some great counting you just did! Why don’t we let someone else have a turn now?”
“We visited her in the hospital.”
“Oh! Is she still in the hospital now?”
“That’s good!” She pauses and stops smiling. “That’s good, right?”
“Tomorrow, Mama is taking Naro and me to the store to find a suit.” Serena is changing her background and I can’t hear Alex but his lips are moving so I know he’s singing again.
“Wow! I’m sure you’ll look very handsome in a suit.”
My hoodie was on the back of the chair before, but now I can’t find it. Where is it?
Aha! I dive under the table and scoop it up.
“Serena, it’s your turn. Would you like to try to count by twos?” Ms. Mikel says.
I stick my head through the head hole of the hoodie and then my arms, and then I put one of the strings in my mouth. It’s already wet, and I can taste a little bit of sweetness I think.
“AND I’m getting a bike!” I yell, because I just remembered. My hoodie string swings out of my mouth and leaves a wet spot on the front of the sweatshirt.
“Fin, remember. We have to take turns speaking. If you have something to share, you can raise your hand.”
It’s my first bike ever. We looked it up last night on the Target website, dark blue with yellow stripes and black wheels, and Mama says I can get a bell, too. I don’t know how to ride a bike, but I know how to ride a scooter. And I know how to ring a bell.
I push the black and red button on the screen on my iPad so Ms. Mikel and Serena and Alex and everyone else can’t hear me, and then I go back over to the wall. Bang, bang, bang.
Mama is in the room. “Finley, what on earth are you doing, honey?”
She squats down so her face is right in my face and puts her ginormous hand on my forehead. “Oh sweetie, there’s a bump. How long have you been doing that?”
I push my shoulders up toward my ears and then they fall down.
She looks around. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class?”
She looks over at the iPad. We can hear Serena’s voice: “92, 94, 96…”
“Let me get you an ice pack, honey. Then it’s back to class. No more of that head-bonking, okay? Don’t want to lose any of those special brain cells of yours.”
I put the hoodie string back into my mouth.
When we visited Grandma, the nurse held the iPad up so we could see her on Facetime. She couldn’t talk to us because had a blue tube in her mouth, but she blinked her eyes at us a bunch of times, and Naro started crying but I didn’t.
Mama isn’t our real mom. Before we lived with her, we lived with Grandma. But when Grandma went to the hospital we couldn’t stay in the apartment all by ourselves. We couldn’t stay with our real mom, either, because Grandma always says she’s off getting herself better, which Naro says is code for we don’t know where she is.
As we watched Grandma blink, Mama put her arms around us and said if there’s anything we want to say to Grandma, we should say it. I put my face up close to the screen and I said “Grandma!” And Grandma didn’t say anything, because she had the tube like a ginormous pacifier in her mouth, but I paused anyway just to make sure I had her whole attention. “Grandma! Next Christmas, I think I’m ready to learn how to ride a bike!”
And then Mama started crying, even though she doesn’t know Grandma, so maybe she’s scared of hospitals or something. Grandma blinked a bunch more times, which the nurse said meant, “I love you.” After we hung up, we went to IHOP, and I got birthday cake pancakes which are my favorite, and the syrup on my plate kept getting caught in the strings of my hoodie every time I moved.
Mama comes back with an ice pack shaped like a basketball. It burns cold against my forehead, but the bump hurts less now. I didn’t even realize it was hurting before.
“If you have any more of those feelings, honey, like you want to bonk your head on the wall? Come find me.”
I bob my head up and down.
Mama walks over to the iPad. “Hi, Ms. Mikel? Finley’s going to take a quick break and then he’ll be right back with you all.”
“Okay, great!” Ms. Mikel says, her voice quiet and tinny through the iPad. “Alex, would you like to practice your counting?”
Mama and Ms. Mikel had a meeting when I moved in here, to talk about me, Mama said. But I never said anything and I don’t think Mama did, either, about what happened to Grandma last week.
With one hand I hold the melting basketball to my forehead, while the other hand swoops down and gathers up my hoodie string. I put the string into my mouth and chew. It tastes like syrup.
— Staff writer Zoe B.R. Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.