It had been this way for as long as T.J. Detweiler had remembered… Shay Steele was always the one girl on the playground most of the kids couldn't keep their eyes off of. She had shiny chestnut hair that was pulled back into a ponytail while the rest of her bangs hung messily around her face in a charming way. Her lips were full and pink, and her eyes were wide with long eyelashes that always seemed to be looking far away. She usually wore a purple V-neck t-shirt with aqua green shorts that had two purple stripes on the side, as well as green jelly shoes.
All of the boys noticed her, from the shy first grade ones who admired how she would sometimes play with them to the six graders who wanted to get to know their mysterious peer.
Shay had never had any close friends on the playground, and was mostly seen on her own just staring at the sky, drawing, or reading. She was seen as aloof and unapproachable, though when she was around others she was always friendly and sweet, but she just preferred being on her own during recess. Despite her seemingly strange personality, she was most kid's first crush on the playground, but few dared confront her.
Only T.J. had ever had the guts to do so and walk away unscathed.
One day it was a usual recess, and T.J., Spinelli, Gus, Vince, Mikey, and Gretchen were walking out the doors of 3rd street School.
"Well you are technically a girl Spinelli…" Mikey said sheepishly defending Vince's point.
"Yeah I know, but you don't have to go saying it all the time!" She said grudgingly crossing her arms in annoyance.
"You make it sound like being addressed in the category of the female species is an insult." Gretchen stated as they strode over towards the playground.
"Hey guys look!" Vince proclaimed, pointing in the direction of Shay. She was just leaving the building like they were, and she gracefully exited as they boys of the group let out sighs of distant admiration.
Every boy at 3rd Street had a thing for Shay, either because of previous kindness she had shown them, or just because she was so mysterious and pretty.
"She's like a blooming flower in the midst of us all…" Mikey whispered dreamily.
"You said it man…" Vince smiled, staring along with the rest of them.
"Yeah, I wish she wasn't a sixth grader…" T.J. added.
"Ugh why are you guys always gawking at her! Makes me sick…" Spinelli muttered.
"I don't get it, who's that?" Gus asked, still being new at the school.
"You mean you've never heard of Shay Steele?" Vince asked in disbelief.
"Shay is a beautiful girl… So kind to kids of all ages, always staring at the sky leaving everyone wondering what exactly goes in her lovely complex mind…" Mikey responded poetically, inspired by Shay's entrance.
"Let's just say that she's a well-liked girl around here… but no one can exactly figure her out." T.J. nodded.
"Well-liked is far from an exaggeration… My statistical knowledge of the playground indicates that over 93% of the boys of 3rd Street school 'admire' Shay very much." Gretchen pointed out.
"Yeah yeah, well she's just another girl. Don't know why all you dumb guys go googley when she's around!" Spinelli complained.
"Why don't you we go up to her and talk?" Gus asked.
Vince, Mikey, and T.J. all gasped in horror. "Gus… You don't just go up to a girl like that and start talking like old time pals!" Vince explained.
"She's a girl of high stature and quality, not to mention she's a sixth grader." Gretchen said.
"Oh come on! You people treat her like she's some sort of movie star. She's just a normal kid! So what if she's kinda pretty and a little bit nice… She's weird! She doesn't even hang out with other kids most of the time; just sits by herself. I'm telling ya, something's wrong about her…" Spinelli said loudly.
"Hey guys… Spinelli might be right! Not about the weird part… But how about we go up to her and ask her to hang out with us? What do ya say?" T.J. proclaimed boldly.
"Uh, T.J. … Nice as that sounds, I think it's a bit risky." Vince said warily.
"Most attempts to confront Shay end in disaster. The subjects tend to sweat and stutter, losing their focus and embarrassing themselves so much they walk away…" Gretchen concluded.
"Well I think it's worth a shot. I'm gonna go for it." T.J. declared, heading towards the place were Shay was sitting on the grass.
"Good luck T.J. …" Mikey called, as the rest of the gang just stared to see what would happen.
Shay was reading a book on the soft grass as T.J. approached her cautiously, reminding himself to stay confident and focused.
"Hey there Shay, whatcha doin?" He laughed nervously.
"Oh T.J.! Hi, I was just reading this old thing…" She replied happily, shifting her focus to him and turning his way.
"Calm down T.J. … You got this… She's just a normal girl…" He thought trying to calm himself down.
"What brings you over here?" She smiled, sending T.J.'s heart into overdrive practically thumping out of his chest.
"Maybe I shouldn't have come over here at all…" He thought in a panic, knowing he couldn't turn back now without looking like a fool.
"Well I was just thinking that maybe…" He started, but was interrupted by one of King Bob's cronies with sunglasses and a black vest over a white t-shirt.
"Detweiler, the King wants to see you. Now." He ordered with his arms crossed from a few feet away.
T.J. stole a glance back at Shay and then followed the kid with sunglasses, half-way relieved that the previous stress was gone, but then replaced by a new one as he faced King Bob. When he climbed to the top of the jungle gym, the King was glaring down at him from his throne.
"You wanted to see me sire?" T.J. asked respectfully, wondering what he did wrong.
"Ah T.J. Detweiler… I've heard a lot about you… Popular among your peers, a leader and trendsetter… truly a fine example of what a kid today should be… but I must ask you something… What were you doing talking to Shay Steele?" King Bob asked blatantly.
T.J. felt a twinge of fear, like he might not have known about some unknown rule of talking to Shay so he responded carefully, "I was… uh… just going to ask her to hang out with me and my friends…" He stuttered.
"You're close friends with her?" Bob asked, intrigued.
"Well I wouldn't say that… but I guess she…" T.J. started but was cut off in mid-sentence.
"Detweiler, this isn't easy for me to ask, but I need to speak my mind here…" King Bob started, almost nervously. T.J. waited in scared anticipation and was shocked at what the King said next. "Can you talk to Shay and get her to hang out with me sometime?" He muttered shyly.
"What was that your highness…?" T.J. asked in quiet surprise.
"Just say good things about me in front of her! Try to get her to like me." He whispered, embarrassed.
"But you're King Bob! You rule the whole playground and you're asking me to talk to this girl about you?" T.J. asked confused.
"Yes, I am the ruler of recess… Kids fall under my authority and power, as it is my solemn duty to provide justice and stability to the kingdom of the kids… But in normal situations like this where it would be inappropriate to use my authority for regular things… I am stumped in how to go about it! How would I, King Bob, approach someone I like without bringing about all of my royalty into it? People just see me as different… and they're right but… I'm just asking you to do this." He explained in shame.
"I can understand your dilemma your majesty, but I must ask… Why me?" T.J. questioned.
"You're one of the few kids I've ever seen approach her, and you seem close enough. I know if I sent one of my closer subjects to her, it would only make her see me as a King and not as a normal kid." He admitted thoughtfully, and looked up at T.J. in hope.
"Alright, I'll try… But I'm just telling you I've hardly talked to her before!" T.J. said in defense, but Bob still looked happy as he sent him off.
"What have I gotten myself into..?" T.J. muttered.