Bedtime Stories . One Man's World . The Mispronouncer . Downloads . Support
HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer

The Lone Walker

               “Why don’t your parents care what happens to you?”

                Portia didn’t look up from her tray. She was in the middle of the painstaking process wherein she decided in what order she would eat the different items that constituted her school lunch.

                “Do they want you to get kidnapped?”

                “No,” said Portia. “They don’t.” She had decided to eat the beef and noodles first, then the peanut butter bread, then the cherry crisp. She would not be eating the California blend. The California blend would be wasted.

                “But you’re the only kid who still walks to school by yourself. Tony’s mom has been dropping him off all week and he lives even closer to the school than you do.”

                Portia finally deigned to look across the lunch table at Lulu. “I’m not going to get kidnapped. So there’s nothing for my parents to worry about.”

                Parker, who was in the midst of his second attempt at 3rd grade, said, “My parents said I wouldn’t get kidnapped either. But they’re still driving me to school. They’re being extra careful. Because they really, really care what happens to me. My dad said, ‘Better safe than sad.’”

                “It’s ‘better safe than sorry,’” said Portia.

                Parker’s anger, as it often did, flared. “You don’t know what my dad said! I was there! I heard it!”

                “I’m not saying he didn’t say it like that,” said Portia. “I’m saying he said it wrong.” Distracted by her classmates’ criticisms of her parents’ parenting, she accidentally took a bite of her peanut butter bread, which she was supposed to be eating second, not first.

                “I’m not taking sides,” said Olivia, who was Portia’s friend and therefore should have been taking a side: Portia’s. “But I’d rather have a parent that says stuff wrong than a parent who makes me walk to school when there’s a guy in town who’s trying to kidnap us.”

                Portia turned on Olivia, seated on the bench to her immediate left, and said, “My parents aren’t making me walk to school. They’re letting me. I don’t want them to drive me to school. I like walking to school. Only babies get driven to school when they live close enough to walk.”

                Tears filled Olivia’s eyes. “I’m not a baby, Portia. I thought you were my friend. Why are you being mean to me?”

                “You were taking Parker’s side!” said Portia.

                “I said I wasn’t taking sides!” said Olivia. “I specifically said that!” She stood up and rushed off to the bathroom, leaving her lunch tray sitting on the table. She had eaten her California blend first. Why was Portia even friends with her at all?


                Portia walked home from school by herself. She did not feel scared. She knew every inch of the sidewalk between Millie Elementary School and her home. She knew every house along the way, every tree in every yard, every fence, every hedge-row. She knew which houses had dogs that barked at her, which houses had dogs that used to bark at her but now did not because they were so used to her passing by at the same times every day, and which houses had no dogs at all. Even the scary houses, with their sagging gutters, damaged siding, and their blinds always closed, were comforting in their familiar scariness. How could she feel scared on a walk that she knew so well?

                As she walked, cars driven by parents more protective than Portia’s – which was all of them –  slowed as they passed, their drivers gaping at Portia with pity and confusion, probably already envisioning what it was going to be like to see her pictured under a dreadful headline on the front page of the Multioak Interpreter-Tribune in the coming days. In the back seats of these cars, the children watched Portia too, but they were harder to read. Some waved and smiled. Were they mocking her? Portia decided not to look at the cars anymore. She would keep her attention focused on the houses and yards on her left. Or she would watch her own feet, adjusting her stride so that she would fit exactly four steps within each square of sidewalk without stepping on any of the cracks between them.

                “Little girl!” The voice was a woman’s. Portia heard the car pull up to the curb beside her. She quickened her stride. “Little girl, let me give you a ride to your house! It isn’t safe!”

                Portia stopped and turned. The woman was out of her car, standing on the sidewalk half-concealed behind the open door. In the back seat Portia saw her classmate Lulu watching her with her forehead leaned against the window, a sort of beckoning expression on her face.

                “No, thanks,” said Portia. “I live close.” She turned to go.

                “But I’d hate for anything to happen to you,” said Lulu’s mom. “When it would be so easy for me to just take you the rest of the way.”

                “My parents tell me not to accept rides from strangers,” said Portia. “And you’re a stranger to me.”

                Lulu’s mom looked stricken. “But you know my daughter, Lulu. She’s in your class.” She pointed to Lulu in the back seat.

                “You might be the kidnapper,” said Portia.

                Lulu’s mom gasped. Her face darkened. “You know that’s not true! The kidnapper is a man! That girl told the police a man tried to kidnap her!”

                “Sorry,” said Portia. “Maybe you’d let your daughter accept a ride from a stranger as long as she was a woman, but in my family, we’re trying to be extra careful. At least until the kidnapper gets caught.” She smirked to herself as she turned and headed up the sidewalk at her usual leisurely pace. A few moments later, she heard the door slam and the car pull away from the curb.

                A little while after that, she arrived home safely and unkidnapped.


                At recess, Portia stood with one hand touching the rocket-shaped jungle gym that served as “base” during the daily tag game presided over by Michael, a bossy third-grader who was in Mrs. Jonsall’s class. Michael liked being “it” so he made sure there were no rules about how long one could stay at the base, safe from all tagging. The longer the slow people stayed at the base, the longer he got to be “it.” He loved to chase the fast kids, but when he did tag someone else “it,” Michael never used the base, and while being pursued by kids who weren’t quite fast enough to catch him, he would often trip under suspicious circumstances, usually not regaining his feet in time to avoid becoming “it” again.

Portia was at the base because she wanted to take a few moments to catch her breath. Stephie was at the base because she was always at the base. She spent entire recesses standing with both hands on the rocket where she could not be tagged, playing tag in only the very loosest sense. She was the only kid who abused the system this flagrantly. Everyone else played tag because they enjoyed running away from Michael. Stephie enjoyed playing tag because she felt that by never being tagged, she won.

“I saw you walking to school today,” said Stephie. Her eyes were slightly, slightly crossed. “I was in the car with my dad and we drove past you. I waved but you weren’t looking.”

“I never look at cars while I’m walking,” said Portia. “Unless I’m crossing the street.”

“You look both ways before you cross the street?” asked Stephie. She sounded genuinely surprised.

“Of course I do,” said Portia. She paused, wondering if she was reading too much into Stephie’s question. “My parents tell me to. They always remind me.”

“They do?” asked Stephie in a tone that told Portia she had not been reading too much into Stephie’s question.

“Yes,” said Portia. “And just last night my mom yelled at me for not wearing my seatbelt in the car when we were on the way to Newsworthy Burger.”

“Ah,” said Stephie as if the world made sense again. “My parents don’t let me eat at Newsworthy Burger. They say it’s dangerous. And even if it wasn’t, it’s unhealthy.”

This was not going in the direction Portia had intended. She said, “I was in the back seat. My mom yelled at me to wear my seat belt and I wasn’t even in the front. So she had to care enough about me wearing it to ask if I was wearing it.” Portia opted not to include the detail that she had deliberately leaned forward between the front seats to turn up the radio so that her mom would notice she was not buckled in and scold her.

“She has to make you wear a seatbelt,” said Stephie. “Otherwise she’ll get in trouble. Parents can get tickets if their kids aren’t wearing seatbelts.”

“That’s not true,” said Portia, knowing it was true.

“Yes, it is,” said Stephie, not fooled at all.

                “Well, my mom doesn’t know that law,” said Portia. “She was telling me to wear my seatbelt because she was worried I would get hurt.”

                “Does your mom drive recklessly when you’re in the car?” asked Stephie.

                “No,” said Portia. “Accidents can happen to anyone! My mom just cares what happens to me, OK?”

                “Then why was she taking you to Newsworthy Burger?”

                Portia didn’t answer her. Instead, she took her hand off of the cold, metal rocket and ran toward Michael, who was “it” again after a short stint from Lillian. Portia darted right past Michael, narrowly avoiding his outstretched hand. She could feel his footsteps pounding after her as clearly as she could hear them. Some days he could catch her and some days he could not. Who knew what caused this fluctuation in their relative footspeed? Was it what they had eaten that day, what they were wearing, the weather? Whatever it was, Portia could tell that today, Michael would not catch her. Then she felt his fingers brush her right shoulder blade. Lightly, but definitively. She was stunned. Stunned and “it.”


                The phone was for Portia. Her parents hadn’t let her get her own cell phone yet because they said it was too expensive, so she paused her video game and picked up the basement extension of the landline from its cradle on the floor next to the futon.

                “My mom says I can’t come over,” said Olivia. She and Portia had made up with each other after their conflict at lunch a few days before. Well, they hadn’t officially made up, but after a day of uncomfortable distance and coldness, they had both begun acting as if the conflict had never happened and their friendship had gone back to a slightly tenser version of normal.

                “Why not?” asked Portia. “We were gonna play video games all night. I even took a nap after school so I’d be able to stay awake.”

                “I know,” said Olivia. “But my mom’s worried that your mom will let us walk to the store without any adult supervision.”

                “Walk to the store?” asked Portia. “What store?”

                “I dunno,” said Olivia. “Any store, I guess.”

                “Why would we walk to a store? We hate stores! Don’t we?”

                “Yes,” said Olivia. “But my mom says it isn’t worth the risk. She’s afraid I’ll get kidnapped.”

                “Is she afraid I’ll get kidnapped too?” asked Portia, trying to keep her voice from sounding too hopeful.

                “No,” said Olivia. “That’s your parents’ job.”

                Portia stayed up all night playing video games by herself so that the nap wouldn’t be wasted, but it wasn’t very fun. She had a boring weekend.


                In class on Monday morning, Mr. Pumney asked everyone to turn in their signed permission slips for the upcoming half-day field trip to the Diamond Food to learn the inner workings of a grocery store, such as where back stock is kept and how cold it feels to walk into a walk-in freezer and if employees get as much free food as they want, which Mr. Pumney had already said was not the case, but about which Sean had announced he still intended to ask. Portia kept her permission slip, signed by her mother that very morning before Portia’s solitary walk to school, folded and hidden in her back pocket.

                Mr. Pumney stood at the front of the class and flipped through the stack of rumpled permission slips. “Good,” he said. “Good, good. Wait…we’re one short.” He looked out over his students. “Which one of you didn’t turn in your permission slip?”

                Portia raised her hand.

                “Portia?” said Mr. Pumney. “Did you forget it at home?”

                “My mom wouldn’t sign it,” said Portia. “She said the field trip is too dangerous.”

                “Too dangerous?” said Mr. Pumney. “She knows we’re just going to the Diamond Food?”

                “Yes,” said Portia.

                “What part of that does she think is dangerous?”

                Portia realized she should have thought this out more. She should have had some reasons ready. “I don’t know,” she said. “She’s just being overly protective, I guess.”

                Mr. Pumney looked highly skeptical. Unprofessionally so, in Portia’s opinion. “Is your mom at home right now, Portia?”

                She should have lied, but Portia didn’t see what Mr. Pumney’s aim was until she said, “Uh, yes.”

                Mr. Pumney walked over to his computer and sat down, narrowing his eyes, clicking. Portia’s classmates began to murmur. “Stay quiet, class,” said Mr. Pumney. Then he pulled his cell phone out of his desk, called Portia’s mom, and had a brief conversation with her in front of the whole class. For a moment, Portia had feared he might put her mom on speaker phone, but he didn’t.

                “She says she signed your permission slip and sent it with you this morning,” said Mr. Pumney, putting his phone back into his desk.

                “I guess I’ll have to look for it again,” said Portia, avoiding the looks of her judgmental classmates, which was all of them.

                “No need,” said Mr. Pumney. “She gave me verbal permission for you to go. So, good, everyone’s going.”

                Portia resolved to pretend to be sick that day unless she was really sick, in which case she wouldn’t have to pretend.


                At recess, on her way from the lunch room door across the playground to the metal rocket where Michael’s game of tag was taking shape, a small boy who Portia recognized but whose name she could not remember ran up to her. He looked dazed, urgent. “You may talk to Risa.”

                “What?” asked Portia. “Me?”

                “Yes,” said the boy. “You may talk to Risa.”

                Portia fought to stay composed as her thoughts scrambled around the inside of her head, her mouth hanging open and soundless. Her hands were about to tremble, she could tell, and once they trembled once, would they keep trembling? She couldn’t risk it. “What does she want to talk to me about?” she finally asked.

                The boy grimaced. “You may talk to her about any subjects that are of interest to her. Follow me.” He turned and began to walk away.

                Portia was nervous about speaking to Risa, but she knew that no one ever refused her summons. Portia was already the subject of too much unwanted attention; refusing a summons from Risa would not improve the situation. Portia hurried after Risa’s emissary, caught up to him, and walked beside him toward the old equipment clustered in the back corner of the playground next to the fence, the plastic towers connected by monkey bars and colored tubes large enough for a child to crawl through and bridges suspended from chains coated in hoses to minimize pinching, curly slides sprouting from the highest platforms and twisting their way down to the pea gravel covering the ground. There were no kids playing on this equipment. They all knew better. Those who liked to spend their recesses playing on equipment mostly preferred the new stuff on the other end of the playground anyway.

                Risa’s emissary led Portia around the back side of the equipment to the tower nearest the fence. There was a small hole in the fence where the chain-link had popped loose and someone had peeled it back. Beyond the fence was a line of bushes, then a minor street, then a row of boring houses with patchy lawns. The houses were dwarfed by trees that, while on their properties, did seem not capable of being property themselves.

                The boy tapped Portia’s arm and pointed up at the tower. He had apparently decided that he was done talking. There was no one on the tower’s platform, but maybe once Portia got up there, Risa would find her? Portia climbed the ladder six feet up to the platform and then turned to look down at the boy for confirmation that she was fulfilling her role. The boy – Risa’s emissary – was gone. Portia looked around. The playground equipment on which she now stood was deserted. She heard a tapping sound coming from somewhere but couldn’t determine the source. Across the playground, she saw the other kids playing in their varying styles: the bad basketball game, the game of four-square, Michael’s game of tag complete with Stephie clinging to the rocket, the dorky boys pantomiming some kind of gun-based combat.

                “Down here. In here.”

                Portia whirled around, seeing no one.

                “Down here,” said the voice again. There was a strange, stifled quality to the way it sounded.

                Portia crouched down and looked into the blue tube connecting the platform on which she stood to another tower a short distance away. Inside the tube, Portia saw a skinny girl reclining on an arrangement of pillows covered with a table cloth. The girl was lying on her stomach facing Portia with her chin resting on her folded hands. Her eyes had dark circles under them, her hair was gathered into two fraying braids of not quite the same length. She wore an old fashioned dress and her bare legs were bent up at the knee so that she could tap her black shoes against the top of the tube. Her smile was beatific and heavy-lidded: not a very childlike facial expression.

                “Risa,” said Portia, feeling breathless.

                “Yes,” said Risa.

                “Hey,” said Portia. “It’s…nice to meet you.”

                “You’ve heard about me?”

                “Everyone has,” said Portia.

                “Ah,” said Risa. “Good. Awareness ebbs and flows.”

                “Oh,” said Portia, not knowing what that meant. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

                Risa’s smile changed tone without physically changing at all. “You’re the one who wanted to talk to me, right? Isn’t that right?”

                Portia got the impression that there was one right answer. “Right.”

                “So what did you want to talk to me about?” asked Risa.

                “Well, your emissary told me that I could only talk to you about topics that are of interest to you.”

                “But that only makes sense,” said Risa. “Right? Why would you want to talk to someone about a topic that doesn’t interest her? Or him? That wouldn’t be polite or productive at all.”

                “Yeah,” said Portia. “But I don’t know what topics interest you.”

                “You could always ask,” said Risa. “Right? Doesn’t that seem obvious?”

                “I guess so,” said Portia, embarrassed. She knew she couldn’t be impressing Risa very much. “So what interests you, Risa?”

                “Lots of things,” said Risa. She paused and Portia was worried she was going to have to come up with a topic of conversation based only on that vague answer, but then Risa said, “Right now, I’m very interested in your feelings about being the only kid who still walks to school while the would-be kidnapper is still at large.”

                “Oh, that,” said Portia. She had hoped that at least Risa, of all people, would be interested in something else about her. Anything else.

                “Yes, that,” said Risa in a reassuring voice that Portia did not find reassuring. She never found reassuring voices reassuring, not from anyone. She’d never heard one that didn’t sound fakey.

                “I don’t really have anything to say about that,” said Portia.

                “But it’s a topic that is very much of interest to me,” said Risa. “Wouldn’t it be both polite and productive of you to make an effort to talk with me about it?”

                Portia held in a sigh. “My parents care what happens to me, OK? They just know there’s no way I’m going to get kidnapped while I’m walking to or from school so there’s no point in them driving me.”

                “It sounds like you really believe that,” said Risa. “It sounds like you’re convinced.”

                “I am,” said Portia. “I like that they aren’t super worried about me all the time.”

                “So why are you going out of your way to tell other kids that your mom made you put your seatbelt on in the car?” asked Risa. “Why are you pretending your mom didn’t sign your field trip permission slip because she thought going to the Diamond Food with your class was too dangerous for you?”

                Portia’s crouch was making her legs cramp so she sat on the tower platform perpendicular to Risa’s tube with her legs stretched out in front of her. “Because everyone else thinks my parents don’t care about me,” said Portia. “And that’s embarrassing.”

                “Yes,” said Risa. “None of us want to believe that we care what other people think, but we all do, don’t we? Even I, just a few minutes ago, felt good when you told me that ‘everyone’ has heard about me. If you had told me that not many of the students were currently aware of me, I would have felt worse, even if only for a moment or two.”

                “Yeah,” said Portia. “And they keep asking about it. And talking about it. And their parents are talking about it too. My friend couldn’t stay the night with me this weekend because her mom thought my parents would let us walk to the store by ourselves. I’ve never walked to a store in my life! We don’t even have any stores close to our house.”

                “The parents in Multioak are tense,” said Risa. “They’re worried for their kids. The fact that the kidnapper has not been caught means that the issue is unresolved in their minds. But there’s nothing they can do about it. So they turn their attention to you and your parents. Your situation makes them feel less helpless because at least they’re not letting their kids walk to school. So discussing you helps them cope. In that way, you’re almost providing a service for the community. Without you, who would they have to compare themselves too? They would only be doing exactly as much as every other parent to keep their kids safe, and where’s the comfort in that? Your classmates are merely channeling the feelings of their parents. They would all envy you if their parents hadn’t talked them into thinking differently by framing their insistence on driving them to school as evidence of the care they feel for their children as contrasted with your parents’ apparent lack of care.”

                “Is this supposed to make me feel better?” asked Portia.

                “Isn’t it enough that a conversation be interesting?” asked Risa. “Do you not find this conversation interesting?”

                “I thought you were trying to help me,” said Portia.

                “Sometimes it can be helpful to step back and examine your situation from a distance, from a more analytical angle,” said Risa. Her unchanging smile had changed again.

                “What grade are you in?” asked Portia.

                “That’s a difficult question to answer,” said Risa. “I work at my own pace.” Her shoes on the tube-ceiling: tap tap tap.

                “How old are you?” asked Portia.

                “My family doesn’t keep track of birthdays,” said Risa. “Does yours?”

                “Of course,” said Portia. “I have two parties every year: one with my friends and one with my family.”

                “Maybe your parents care about you more than mine care about me,” said Risa. Her lips parted, her smile transformed into a dazzling grin, and Portia’s heart flooded with gratitude, overflowed, overflowed, overflowed.


                That night, Risa was on the news with her parents, who were both bawling their eyes out, pleading with authorities to do something. Their guilt was palpable. Earlier that afternoon, someone had tried to kidnap Risa off of the street right behind Millie Elementary School. Risa was home-schooled, but she was crossing the street on her way back to her house from her daily hour-long lunchtime break when a stranger had tried to entice her into his car. When that hadn’t succeeded, the driver had exited the vehicle and grabbed Risa, but she had screamed and kicked and broken free, running home to her parents. She had nothing to add to the known description of the kidnapper or his car. She hadn’t noticed, couldn’t remember. She’d been too frightened.

On TV, Risa did not look anything like she had when Portia had spoken to her on the playground at school. She was dressed the same, but her body language, the way she carried herself, the look on her face: her whole bearing was completely different. And it was pretty obvious to Portia now, seeing her like this, that whatever pace Risa was working at, she was basically a third-grader.


The next morning on the walk to school, Portia didn’t walk to school. As soon as she rounded the corner at the end of her block, she began to walk faster, blowing right past the next turn she would have taken if she were following the same route she had followed every school day since kindergarten. Portia’s mom had walked to school with her when she was in kindergarten so she could learn the route and feel confident, but by the time she was in first grade, she was on her own. She remembered the feeling of walking to school by herself on the first day of first grade: she had felt proud, independent, flattered that her parents believed her capable, which she was. She had proven that belief to be well-founded every school day since. Until today, anyway. Today – now – she was proving all the other dumb parents and their dumb kids right. She was proving that she shouldn’t be allowed to walk to school by herself because she could abuse that freedom by doing something exactly like what she was doing.

Portia didn’t have a specific destination in mind, but if someone stopped to ask her where she was going she knew what she was going to say: “the store.”


                “Where are you going?” The man’s car idled at the curb where he’d stopped just ahead of Portia. His head was poked out of the open driver’s side window, looking back at her.

                “The store,” said Portia, stopping on the sidewalk so she wouldn’t have to walk within grabbing distance of the man. She shifted her weight forward onto her toes, felt her calves flex.

                “Which store?” asked the man. Portia tried to absorb the details of his face, his voice, his car, but it was as if her eyes kept slipping off of him.

                “Um, I forget its name,” said Portia, trying to sound foolish instead of suspicious or hostile or frightened.

                “Why aren’t you in school?” asked the man. He opened his door so casually that Portia may not have even noticed if she hadn’t secretly been on high alert and also, she knew, very bright.

                “I’m skipping,” said Portia. “To go to the store.”

                “Which store?” the man asked again, turning sideways in the driver’s seat, the soles of his shoes on the curb.

                Portia stared at him, committing his clothes to memory, feeling them slip through a crack in her memory she hadn’t known was there, re-committing his clothes to memory, watching helplessly as they slipped through the same crack as before. It was no wonder the other girls had so much trouble describing him to the cops.

                The neighborhood was empty. No one passed on the sidewalk, no one passed in the street.

                The man was out of the car now, standing on the sidewalk ten feet from Portia. “I could give you a ride,” he said.

                Portia knew the moment was coming. She would turn down his offer, try to walk away, he would lunge for her, she would dart out of range, scream and scream as she ran to the nearest house, pounding on the door as he scrambled back into his car and roared off up the street. It was a mean thing to do to her parents, but she would do her best to share the blame. She had deliberately defied their instructions, after all. But she needed to focus on the present. She knew that this could still backfire. Failing to escape the kidnapper’s clutches would be a serious blunder. She looked the man in the face, watching for the slightest flicker of warning. But there were no flickers of anything. How could there be?  It was only the idea of a face. “Sure,” said Portia. “I’ll take a ride. But can you take me to my house?”

                “All right, then,” said the man. “Hop in the back.”            

                The inside of the car looked and smelled and felt like other cars, but not like itself. The man steered it up and down residential streets, aimlessly doubling back, executing three-point turns in cul-de-sacs, circling in subdivisions, constantly encountering new strips of ranch-style homes that Portia would never have associated with Multioak. After a while, she suspected that the man had forgotten she was in the back seat.

                “You’re not even real,” said Portia. “I should have known.”

                The man didn’t say anything. The car bumped through a pothole.

                “Do my parents know?” asked Portia, expecting no answer. “Or suspect, at least?”

                The man met her expectation.

                “Just let me out,” said Portia. “Pull over. What a waste of time.” And she didn’t just mean the car ride.


                At lunch, Lulu said, “I heard your mom dropped you off today, Portia.”

                “Only because I was late,” said Portia. She had written the order in which she intended to eat her food on her hand in red pen. It read, “Patty melt, baked potato, butter bread.” She had also written “green beans” on her hand at the bottom of the list, but there was a line through it to remind her not to eat the green beans at all. She wasn’t a vegetable hater, but school lunch vegetables never tasted right.

                “So you’re still going to walk to school tomorrow?” asked Parker.

                “Yes,” said Portia, hoping it was true. There had been a big blow-up when she’d finally found her way home. After an hour, when Portia’s mom hadn’t called the school office to excuse her absence, the school had called her to make sure nothing had happened to Portia that her mom didn’t know about. They were well aware that Portia walked to school, of course. Portia’s mom had panicked. Portia had gotten home right as her mom was leaving the house to look for her. After making a few calls to cancel her pleas for additional searchers, Portia’s mom had asked her what happened. Portia told her that she’d gotten bored with her regular route, tried a different one, and gotten lost. Then her mom had said that she would tell the school Portia had been a little sick when she woke up but was now feeling better. And then her mom told Portia that she would no longer be allowed to walk to school by herself.

“Mom,” Portia had said. “There’s not even really a kidnapper.” Her mom hadn’t denied this, but she hadn’t agreed with it either. She’d only said, “Getting kidnapped isn’t the only bad thing that can happen to a kid.” But, as Portia took a third bite of patty melt, she was confident she could convince her mom to give her another chance. She was a logical woman. Maybe just a bit overprotective.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the most impactful thing that the sage home-school kid on his or her long lunch break said to you while dispensing mysterious and wise musings on your elementary school playground?

  • What do you call that large, connected piece of playground equipment with towers, slides, tubes, bridges, ladders, monkey bars, etc.? My friend Dave Flowers calls it “the big toy.” He says that’s what everyone at his elementary school called it.

  • Can you be trusted to walk to school or anywhere else by yourself? Please reflect deeply before responding to this question.

  • Based on your extensive knowledge of School Law, could verbal field-trip permission provided over the phone ever be an acceptable substitute for a signed permission slip?

  • If your parents DO care about you, what are some ways you can ensure that everyone you know understands that? If your parents Don’t care what happens to you, what are some strategies for concealing that from everyone you know?

  • Do your parents care what happens to you? How do you know? How do you know FOR SURE?