Clutch the tupperware container full of brownies to your chest. Look out the schoolbus window and think of the way your mother bent to kiss you good morning. Know that she will have slipped one of the brownies into your hard, pink My Little Pony lunchbox, with a note that says Happy Birthday, I Love You!
Count the houses as they pass. Compare them to the houses in your old neighborhood and decide these are larger, but not nicer. Squeeze closer to the window so someone will want to sit next to you. Wait for someone to sit next to you. Wait the whole bus ride.
Watch the other children get off the bus. Let them leave you behind. Watch the bus driver make his lumbering way toward you at the back. Sit very still. When he asks your name, pause skeptically before telling him. Don’t let him put his hand on your back as he guides you down the aisle. Don’t listen to him whistle, softly “Someone’s In The Kitchen With Dinah.” When you reach your classroom door, don’t let him twirl your pigtail in his finger or tug on the ribbon your mother put there. Don’t let him smirk and call you girly. Hold tight to the tupperware.
Squint as you enter the too bright classroom. When your teacher scolds you for being late, stare blankly and tell her it’s your birthday. Ignore her sighs. Find your seat behind the boy with the buzz cut and big mouth. Place the brownies, carefully, on top of your desk. Stand for the pledge of allegiance. Try to remember to ask your father what allegiance means when you get home.
Pick your nose, quickly, when you think no one is looking. Turn pinker than your lunchbox when your teacher wordlessly drops a tissue on your desk. Hate everyone who acknowledges things better left unseen. Sneak a glance at the pretty girl to your left with the white ruffled socks and shiny black shoes. Don’t desperately covet her shoes and socks, her grey pleated skirt, her peter pan collared blouse. Don’t convince yourself that she never picks her nose.
At lunchtime, bring your brownies to your teacher’s desk. When she pauses, tell her that your mother made them for the class. When she appears to have forgotten that it’s your birthday, remind her. Stand perfectly straight when she tells you they only allow store bought treats. That the treats must be wrapped. That homemade goodies are dangerous. Don’t glance nervously at the tupperware in your hands. Don’t feel your palms begin to sweat. Return to your seat. Stuff the brownies in your desk.
Open your lunchbox and take out the note you knew you’d find there. Read your mother’s wide, even handwriting. Happy Birthday, darling! I hope you and all your friends enjoy the brownies! I love you! Admire the graceful tilt of her exclamation points. Put an entire brownie in your mouth. Chew. Swallow.
Let your eyes flick over to the pretty girl’s desk. Ogle her brown bagged lunch: an apple, a sandwich on a gorgeous, flaky croissant, a miniature bag of Ruffles potato chips. Watch her play with the apple stem, circling and twisting until it falls onto her desk. See her sip from a tiny bottle of water. Open the tupperware inside your desk. Put another brownie in your mouth. Chomp mercilessly. Imagine that the pretty girl can feel your eyes on her. Look down at your lap. Listen to the satisfying crunch as she bites into the apple. Let the brownie pieces sit heavily in your mouth. Begin to feel full. Don’t let that stop you. Have another.
Look up, startled, when the teacher rings the lunch bell. Watch the pretty girl gather up her uneaten lunch neatly and follow her to the waste basket. Watch her throw it, piece by piece into the trash - the beautiful croissant sandwich, the unopened bag of chips, the apple with a single white bite. Meet her eyes. Without looking away, empty the uneaten contents of your lunch box into the trash. Don’t think about your mother’s letter, covered with milk and half-eaten cheese sticks. Feel the pretty girl’s approving smile on your skin like sunlight. Wipe the brownie crumbs from your lips. Smile back.
Spend story time with your hands in your desk. Sneak brownies to your mouth, morsel by morsel. Suck them. Taste the way your mother baked all of Sunday afternoon. Taste the baking dish she brought from Pennsylvania to New York. Taste the newsprint it was wrapped in. Keep trying to taste home. Keep trying.
When the brownies are gone, scrape your fingers around the sides of the tupperware, searching for crumbs. Feel full. Feel emptier than tupperware. When the teacher asks a question you know the answer to, don’t raise your hand. When she calls on you anyway, pretend you’ve forgotten how to speak. Ignore her sighs.
Get on the bus home. Feel the lightness of the tupperware in your hands. Feel proud and sick. Don’t look at the bus driver when he winks at you. Spot the pretty girl and sit beside her. When she tells you, unapologetically, that the seat you are sitting in is saved for her boyfriend, nod knowingly, gather up your things and go. Don’t wish you had a boyfriend.
Don’t fall asleep in your seat with your cheek pressed to the hot window. Don’t sleep through your stop. Don’t wake with a jump when the bus stops somewhere unfamiliar. Don’t look as the bus driver lumbers toward you. Don’t cringe when he puts his hand on your cheek. Don’t think about the way he smells, like tobacco and salami and your father’s after shave. When he comes even closer, with his face close to yours, and his hands in your pigtails, don’t hesitate. Don’t think. Go ahead. Throw up half-digested brownies all over the front of his shirt. Watch his eyes widen in horror, then anger. When he smacks you, laugh.
Make him take you home. Run up the walk to your front door. Run into your mother’s arms. Hand her the tupperware, let her take it from you, smiling. Follow her to the kitchen sink. Watch her gently scrub the tupperware with warm water and lemon scented soap. While she washes, tell her about your day - all the questions you answered and the friends you made. Tell her how much they loved the brownies. Reassure her that you’re fine. That moving to New York was a good idea. After all, you’re seven now. It’s a very adaptable age.