Two years later
Corey wasn’t sure if she was going to like first grade. She had liked preschool and kindergarten well enough, having made a few friends, but then she and her parents had moved into a new school district and now she was about an hour away from all her friends. She supposed it was better to start over at six rather than being sixteen and having to start over without the friendships she’d spent years cultivating. But she still missed her old friends.
She also thought everyone, including herself, looked a little funny in the same navy blue uniforms. She’d gotten used to the tan at her old school. And now it was different and darker. The material was also a little stiffer.
And her classmates were looking at her a little funny. She knew it was because she was new to the school. They didn’t know her and she didn’t know them. She was too timid to start to approach people. At her old school, Beth had immediately approached her and befriended her. Now she missed Beth more than anything. They had cried relentlessly when Corey and her parents had to move.
Corey had never missed anyone so much before. Not her biological parents and not Mrs. Appleton.
Now she stood off to the side on the playground, unsure of what to do. She had her back pressed against the chain link fence, her fingers latched onto the cool metal behind her back, wishing more than anything else that Helen had let her bring her teddy bear with her. She hated first days of school.
Her eyes scanned the playground. There were groups of kids her age and a few years older playing around on the slide, swings, and jungle gym. Some of the older kids were running around with a ball on the field. They all seemed to be ignoring her, but she knew some of them were whispering about her. About the strange girl who wouldn’t talk to any of them, who sat alone and stared at nothing.
They all knew about her. She’d been in the papers two years before when the police had been trying to get more information about the murders of her parents. They all knew her real parents had died under mysterious circumstances in what they were now calling a cold case, especially the older kids. The younger ones, her age-mates, just thought she was weird.
Corey’s fingers tightened around the fence. She didn’t like it here.
A girl, about six, with long blond hair and bright blue eyes, ran up to Corey and smiled.
“Hi!” the girl said brightly. “I’m Terese. You’re Cora, right? We’re in the same class.”
Corey gave her a tentative smile, wondering why this girl was talking to her. She knew Terese was in her class; she remembered the bubbly girl’s responses to their teacher’s questions. Terese was much more outgoing than Corey ever wanted to be.
“Corey,” she said quietly. “Everyone calls me Corey.”
“Corey, then. Want to play with us? We’re going to go down the slide. Come join us!”
Slowly, Corey began to shake her head, but Terese was having none of that. The blond girl tugged on Corey’s arm, trying to dislodge her fingers from the fence.
“Come on,” Terese said encouragingly. “It’ll be fun. Everyone loves slides!”
Reluctantly, Corey released her hold on the fence and allowed Terese to drag her over to the slide. A group of girls, all from their class, were gathered around the slide, laughing amongst themselves. They quieted down and turned to look at Corey as the two girls approached.
“Why’d you bring her?” one of the girls, a tall one with short black hair, said almost rudely.
“She looked like she needed a friend,” Terese said defensively.
Some of the girls looked over at the tall girl, seemingly waiting for a cure from her. The tall girl folded her arms without glancing at any one of them.
“Well,” she said, “we don’t want to play with her. She’s an orphan who found her parents dead.”
“So?” Terese asked. “My parents told me about that, but they said you should play with everyone anyways. You should be nice to people, especially lonely people.”
“Fine. Then you can play with her. Because we don’t want to. Go find your own slide.”
Terese stuck her tongue out. “Fine. We will. Come on, Corey, we can find something else to do.”
And with that Terese grabbed Corey’s hand and half dragged the quiet girl off to the grassy area surrounding the sandbox. Still holding her hand, Terese led them around the edge of the sandbox.
“They’re always like that,” Terese said. “Everyone listens to Sandra. They think she’s cool. Whatever that means! But my mommy and daddy are right. Everyone needs a friend. You looked like you needed a friend.”
Corey gave her a small smile when Terese turned her brilliant blue eyes on her. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
“Why are you so quiet anyways?” Terese asked. “I’ve never met anyone so quiet before. Do you have other friends?”
Corey nodded, a little bewildered by all of Terese’s chatter. “I have a friend named Beth and another named Janine. We were best friends. But then we moved. But I get to see them this weekend.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun!” Terese said brightly. “Are you excited? I would be!”
Mutely, Corey nodded. “Are those other girls your friends?”
Terese shrugged. “I guess. I don’t know. There aren’t that many nice girls in our class, so I make do. But Sandra can be kind of mean sometimes. Her mom’s really rich, so she always has nice things and everyone always wants to be her friend because she brings in candy for her friends. But I don’t care about candy. My mommy and daddy say it’ll rot my teeth and then they’ll all fall out. So, I’m fine with not being their friend. You seem like you’re a lot nicer.”
Corey gave her new friend a timid smile. Terese talked a lot, but at least she had a friend and, apparently, a champion who didn’t like the class bully any more than she was beginning to.
“Do I need to stay away from certain people?” Corey asked when Terese was taking a breath.
The blond girl nodded. “Oh, yes! Sandra, of course. And her friends. They’re kind of mean. Some of the boys, too. Especially the loud ones. They like to push people down and think it’s funny.” She shrugged. “There are a few nice kids, but they can be hard to pick out. But at least I have you and you have me!”
Corey nodded. “That sounds nice.”
“Are the teachers here nice?” Corey asked, turning wide eyes to her new friend. “My old teachers were very nice and so were my classmates.”
Terese nodded enthusiastically. “They sure are! Most of them, anyways. Some of them can be kind of mean and give everyone lots of work, but ours is really nice. My sister had her two years ago. She said Ms. Sanders is really nice. I’m sure we’ll like her a lot. Have you been living around here for a while?”
Corey blinked a couple of times, just to let the fact that Terese had asked a question sink in. Then she had to hesitate before speaking just to make sure the question itself had sunk in. Being friends with Terese was going to be interesting, but she was glad she had at least one friend.
“Just for a month. Helen and Andy are still unpacking everything, but my room is mostly done.”
Terese gave her an odd look. Then her eyes and face brightened. “Oh, that’s right! You’re adopted.”
Corey nodded as they finished their circle around the sandbox.
“How long have you lived with them?” Terese asked curiously.
“About two years. They adopted me a few months after my parents died.”
“That must have been terrible,” Terese said, shaking her head. “I would have been very sad if I lost my parents. Weren’t you sad? That would have been very hard for me. You’re so brave, Corey!”
Corey gave her a weak smile as their teacher blew her whistle to call her students back into the classroom. Terese grabbed Corey’s hand and tugged her along. Amused, Corey let her new friend pull her along. They fell in with some of their other chattering classmates and all but ran into the brightly lit classroom. With a smile, Terese let go of Corey’s hand and went over to her desk at the front of the class. Corey went straight to her own on the other side of the room towards the middle of the row.
Surreptitiously, Corey stuck her hand into her desk, feeling around for the small teddy bear her parents had gotten her when they moved. It was so it could comfort her, and she was glad it did. Though she had a new friend, she still didn’t feel quite right. Many of her new classmates weren’t very welcoming and, unfortunately, she sat two seats away from Sandra.
“What do you have there?” Sandra’s imperious voice rang out from next to her.
Corey yanked her hand out from her desk and quickly folded her hands together. She looked up at the tall girl, who stood with a shorter girl with red hair. Both girls had their arms folded across their chests.
“I don’t have anything,” Corey said, eyes wide and innocent.
“What were you doing in your desk?” the redhead asked.
“Just making sure my pencils are all there.”
Sandra whispered something to her friend and both girls giggled. Corey didn’t know what Sandra had said, but she thought she’d caught the words “teddy bear.” She stiffened in her seat and clasped her hands tighter together.
Just then, their teacher swept down the row and made a shooing motion with her hands. All three girls looked up at their tall, slender teacher, blond hair cut just below her shoulders and dark brown eyes warm. Her floral dress swayed around her legs gently, the material shining in the florescent light.
“Off to your seats, girls,” Ms. Sanders said, her voice melodic and pleasant. “Recess is over.”
With looks that just bordered on being nasty, Sandra and her friend retreated to their desks a row over. Corey watched them with a cool gaze and carefully blank eyes until they sat. Then she looked up at her smiling teacher, who leaned down slightly.
“Don’t worry, Cora. You’ll get used to them after a while. But if they give you trouble, let me know right away, okay?”
Mutely, Corey nodded. Ms. Sanders smiled and patted the girl’s shoulder before moving on to take her place at the front of the classroom. Ms. Sanders clapped her hands and instructed her students to take out their math books. Corey stuck her hand back into her desk for her math book, but made sure her fingers brushed against her teddy bear one more time.