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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Estrada

Her First Friend

Photo Courtesy of gettyimages

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Rubber soles pounding the private street floor and the screeches erupting out of children were all that Emily hears as she stood at the corner of a brick school wall.


Her hazel eyes were looking down at the ground. She would only look up as loafers and black Mary Jane shoes would hinder her view, or when students would occasionally bump into her as they would run past. She saw nothing but the backs of burgundy polos and plaid uniform skirts that bumped into her continue to run.


They never stopped running.


Emily would then continue to look down and pretend to forget it even occurred. This happened every recess. Time would saunter at its own pace with every minute being a steady footstep forward into the next second.


The shrieks and shoves of students would make her start to perspire with the idea of having to socialize, and her presence was nothing but an additional gust of air that students would breeze through as they focused on claiming victory with every game they played.

She always hated recess.


There would be fifty third graders outside the courtyard prancing on the ground and racing towards each other to play tag. Emily was the only one to never participate.


She always wanted to spend her free period in the library every day. She wanted to be soothed by the soft flaps of pages and the vanilla bean scent of a new book on the shelf. It was cozy. It was calm. It was tranquil. It was private.


Being in the library made her heart stop racing with every batch of children that would jog past her. It kept her breaths even because no one spent their time calling her stuck up for being so silent. It shielded her from the daggers of gossip. It was her safety net.


She wished that she could enjoy it on her own for as long as she wanted, but loathed the fact that she was too young to be unsupervised.


For that reason, instead of carrying books during recess, Emily would hold acorns. The acorns would nestle in her small palms as she would wait. She would cradle them with her fingers and race to pick them up if any push from students would cause them to fall on the ground.


She would take note of the cracks within the outer shell and feel the prickly scales of the acorn’s cupule that was on top. They were always so light and fragile; they required careful treatment and delivery.


Eventually, Emily would hear small squeaks and scratches on the security gate calling for her attention. She would walk to the gate and see a family of ground squirrels eagerly waiting for their next meal. She always bent down and gingerly placed acorns on the other side of the gate. She would always count the white spots on their backs as the squirrels rapidly ate and shared with their babies.


Within a few minutes, the squirrels would disappear, and Emily would continue counting down the minutes to the end of recess. She would entertain herself by watching other children from a distance play with toys and howl in laughter alongside their peers. She always paid attention to the toys they used and the games they played, but it would never be reciprocated.


Until today.


“It’s really cool that you feed the squirrels.”


Emily gasped and jolted upwards. She looked up to see a young boy peering down at her with blue glasses and white teeth hidden under blue braces. She bit her lip and immediately began to twirl the locks of her hair with her fingers.


“You saw me feeding squirrels?” she asked.


Her voice was higher than the shrieks of a squirrel, and it stuttered with the thought that he would report her to the lunch monitor.


“Yeah,” the boy replied. “I see you feed the squirrels every single recess. Where do the squirrels come from?”


“I don’t know,” she said while looking down at the ground. “I only see them when they come here.”


She heard a shuffling sound and saw a pair of rubber sneakers. She looked up and saw the boy squatting next to her. The boy smiled and she quickly turned away. She felt her face begin to heat rapidly and she clasped her hands together in hopes it could calm her.


“I always see them standing there but no one else feeds them,” the boy said. “I wonder why.”


“Maybe no one really notices the squirrels,” she spoke softly. “Maybe they think squirrels have their own food in their trees and they shouldn’t feed them.”


“But those are ground squirrels,” he said. “They don’t live in trees; they dig burrows and make nests to protect themselves from predators.”


Emily looked at him with pursed lips and a raised eyebrow. He stared at her. Little did she know, he never stopped staring.


“How do you know that?” she asked.


“My grandma would always have ground squirrels living in her backyard,” he said. “I would see them there and she would feed them. She always said that being an animal doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken care of.”


A small smile crept on Emily’s lips.


“My parents never let me feed any squirrels,” she said. “My mom says they’re pests and dangerous, so I only feed them in secret.”


The boy chuckles.


“I won’t tell your secret to anyone,” he said.


“Good,” she giggled.


She watched the boy as he began to sit cris-crossed. She copied him and began to fiddle with her fingers.


“Your grandma must be feeding a lot of squirrels today,” she said.


“My grandma’s not here anymore,” he spoke quietly. “She died three months ago.”


Emily frowned. She watched the boy gaze at the gate in front of them. His green eyes glistened, and his lips formed a straight line. Uncertainty began to weigh down on her shoulders as she didn’t know whether to touch his shoulder or not. Instead, she looked at the gate and watched the squirrels eating from afar.


“I’m sorry,” she whispered.


She anticipated to be watching the squirrels alone within the next few seconds. Instead, he placed his hand on her shoulder.


“It’s okay,” he said. “You didn’t know.”


She watched the squirrels skip on the grass and huddle together. The squirrels continued in a pack and moved forward. Emily couldn’t stop watching.


“Have you ever fed the squirrels?” she asked.


“No, but I wish I did before,” he said. “My grandma could have seen me and been proud of me.”


“Well, she could still see you now,” she said. “You can still make her proud.”


“You really think so?” He asked. She turned to him to see him looking at her with wide eyes and a smile.




The bell suddenly rang. For once, Emily was saddened. The boy rose to his feet. He looked down at Emily with a smile never leaving his face. He extended his arm.


“My name’s Peter,” he said. “What’s your name?”


“Emily,” she took his hand.


“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He released her hand and began to walk toward the students starting to line up. Emily watched him move forward. She wondered if this would be the last time that they would speak to each other.


It would be nice if they were in the same class. They could sit next to each other in every class and partner in every project. They could even switch lunches every day. But would he even want to speak to her?


“Hey Emily,” Peter called out. “Bring an acorn for me tomorrow, okay?”


“Okay,” she said. She watched him run to his class.


She had hope.

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