Elementary school

The bell rang, and in the next second every student in the classroom closed their books and shuffled to the door. The noise level went from zero to one hundred in two seconds flat. It wasn’t just any bell. It was the recess bell.

Reggie Peterson, my newest ally in the class, found me as we stood in line against the wall waiting to go outside together. My father said it was best to have allies in every function of life, so even as a fifth grader I worked hard to hone my networking circle.

We both reached the outside playground at the same time and scanned the area in front of us. “We’re sharing a recess with the third-graders this semester?” There was pure disgust in Reggie’s voice. “It’s horrible. They’re a bunch of babies. You know I hit one with a dodgeball the other day and he cried.”

I stopped walking not only because I didn’t want to hear how highly he thought of his own throwing skill, but also because something caught the corner my eye and I wanted to watch it. “Well, you hit him in the face.”

Reggie huffed. If he didn’t go to law school like his father wanted him to, he’d be a great thug for someone who did. “They needed to toughen up before next year.”

I scanned the playground from my perch at the corner where I oversaw the playing children. A few were taking turns on the slide and two claimed swings. The same pair were on them yesterday—a set of twins from the third grade.

It was our last year at the elementary school, and as one of the big kids, I considered myself a mentor of types. We were the older kids now, and it became our responsibility to look after the younger ones. I took the job seriously.

Reggie not so much.

This small girl who caught my attention moved. She hopped along the side of the brick school building as if she was chasing something. It was weird, and I wanted to find out what had her acting like she’d had a fit.

Reggie eyed the basketball teams forming as they fought over who would get the best ball while Mr. Johnson wheeled a case of them onto the court. “Rile up the basketball court. I’ll catch up.”

It was just the permission he needed. Reggie nodded once before taking off toward the other boys without looking back at me.

I waited another minute so he wouldn’t get suspicious and then walked over to the girl who was now talking to the brick building like it was her best friend. Maybe she had issues.

When I reached her, it grew easier to see she had something small cupped between her two palms.

“What have you got?” I asked staring at her hands.

She smiled and then opened her hands to give me a view. A bright green frog almost jumped out before she closed them again. “I’m saving them.” She gestured to the ground where ten or so other frogs sat on the ground or had attached themselves to the building.

Someone should call pest control. I’d have to tell my father we were having a plague-sized frog outbreak. “How are you saving them?”

I wasn’t a hundred percent sure the frogs even needed to be saved. They were far enough away from where everyone played. They wouldn’t get trampled by kids even as they ran in from recess.

The student, who I didn’t remember seeing before looked at me as if I was a complete moron. “Duh, don’t you know anything about frogs? They’ll dry out if they don’t get to shade and it gets too warm. I’m going to rescue them and take them to the woods.”

Again, I didn’t agree the frogs needed to be saved, but she was so passionate in her speech I couldn’t help but want to get involved. Besides, the woods would be a better spot for them. More shade and lots of bugs to eat.

“Can I help?”

“Why?” she asked skeptically, her words full of distrust.

I shrugged. Who know? I hadn’t figured out why I wanted to help either. It just seemed like the right thing to do. “I hate to see a good frog die.”

It sounded a good enough answer to her, and she used her toe to point out a frog off to the side. “Okay, grab Jasper.”

“You named it?” I asked as I reached for Jasper and he hopped away as frogs did.

“Well yeah. Everything should have a name,” she said, and I swore even at that young age I heard the eye roll in her words as if she hated wasting frog-saving time to explain the simple things in life to me.

I’d never met anyone like this girl. Most people in my grade were concerned with friendship bracelets and what nail polish they planned to wear. None of the fifth-grade girls saved frogs or named them Jasper.

I hobbled after Jasper as he tried to get away and cupped my palms over him to stop his movement. “I didn’t realize names were so important,” I said a little out of breath from hopping after the frog.

If Reggie saw me, I’d be the one he’d hit with a dodge ball next time we played.

“Yeah, names are everything. At least my Nanna says so.” She waited for me and we stood side-by-side as I held Jasper, my palm squeezing him hard enough not to hurt him but to guarantee he wouldn’t get away.

His slimy frog body wiggled against my fingers and I searched my memory but could not remember a time I tried to catch a frog. I smiled after the girl as she marched to the woods and froggy freedom.

Something about her made me want to stick around. She might have only been a third-grader, who Reggie would snub his nose up to, but I liked her. She had spunk. The girl made me smile.

“I’m Pierce. Pierce Kensington,” I said as I released Jasper to the wilds of the woods and hoped he didn’t get eaten by a larger animal now that he’d hit the wilderness.

“Katy,” she replied, releasing her frog next to mine. “Now are you going to help me catch the rest of the frogs or do you plan to stand around talking?”

We raced each other back to the same spot and in unspoken words had a friendly competition to see who could catch the next frog first. Katy successfully picked up and named Stella a mere second or two before I was able to get Jedediah in my hands. She never explained where the names came from or why she always caught girl frogs and I ended up with boy frogs. Or even how she knew to tell the difference between boy and girl frogs. We worked quickly together helping more frogs find new homes in the woods and I didn’t ruin the excitement by making her explain the magic.

But then quicker than any recess ever passed, the bell rang, calling us back into the school. No one raced for the doors. It was easier to get us outside than back into the school. Katy and I hung out at the corner of the building waiting for the last call from the recess aid.

“We made good time,” I said wanting to prolong the conversation. Look at me, Pierce Kensington befriending a third-grader.

Katy smiled, and that made me smile too. “Yeah, you’re not a half bad frog catcher. We can be friends.”

No one ever wanted to be my friend based on how well I captured frogs and I didn’t want to turn away the offer. I held my hand out and Katy shook it. “I’d like that.”

Her grin grew. “Great. I can see it now. We are going to be great friends, Pierce.”