The next morning carried on as usual, both Bob and Shay reporting to their 6th grade class almost with a new-found glow about them. All throughout the morning they exchanged shy glances, unsure exactly what to do now. Clearly they didn't want anyone else to know.
It was common knowledge at 3rd Street School that getting involved in some sort of romantic endeavor was bound to cause social ostracization, not to mention extreme teasing. If it wasn't already forbidden enough, King Bob was the ruler of the playground, and couldn't be seen ignoring such a critical standard.
Somehow though, that was just fine. As long as they could keep on as they were, that would be enough… no one had to think that they were anything beyond friends.
Classes continued normally, the test taken in one of the first periods and as soon as the recess bell rang, everyone got up eagerly to head to the playground.
"Oh hold up a moment, Robert and Shay." The teacher pointed out as they were about to join their peers outside.
Fearing the worst, Shay tensed up and clasped her hands together hoping they weren't in trouble for passing notes again. Bob just calmly approached after giving her a reassuring look.
Flattening out the papers in front of him, the adult glanced up from his desk and beamed, "Congratulations! Out of everyone in the class you two did the best, especially you Shay, what an improvement." He praised.
Feeling her heart jump in excited relief she smiled back bashfully, "Thanks… I had someone who really helped me study…" She giggled, sparing a playful glance at Bob, who pulled at the collar of his jersey in embarrassment.
"Well if that's it, I guess we'll be going." Bob shrugged, and guided Shay out of the classroom.
"Keep up the good work!" The teacher once again called out, and then got back to his grading.
"I can't believe it… me, one of the best in the class… In math?!" Shay squealed, holding her hands up to her face.
Walking tall, Bob interjected, "What did you expect? You were studying with the best." He smirked, winking.
"That might be true… well Scribe kid technically gets the best grades, maybe I should go to him next time and I'll get a perfect score." She teased, laughing.
His proud stride was thrown off by that comment as he glared at her flustered, "He's nowhere near as advanced as I!"
"Hehe I was kidding. But really… thank you so much." Shay giggled, smiling sweetly at him in true gratitude.
Bob didn't reply to that but instead glanced up and down the long hall to see if anyone was there, and after seeing everyone had gone to recess, he stared down at their hands and in a sporadic moment of chance, he brushed his against hers and looked away nervously.
"Curses… I don't know if I should…" He thought, feeling his face flush.
Noticing the brief contact, Shay looked down at their hands as well and carefully interlocked her pinky finger with his and looked away; equally embarrassed she'd done something so bold.
He was shocked at the sudden almost hand-holding but smiled as he retaliated, neither looking at each other. They wouldn't have mind the walk lasting a little longer, but the outside doors were soon upon them, as they let go and pushed open the way to the playground.
The pair strode over to their usual spot at the top of the jungle gym, but Shay noticed something very strange. Usually kids either ignored or humbly watched King Bob and his ascension to the throne, but today they were… almost like they were watching in horror, whispering things to each other as they passed.
Bob didn't notice, as he usually walked with the grace of a king, expecting all eyes on him without him returning the favor.
They were almost at the structure when Shay was about to tap him on the shoulder and point out the odd mood when Randall Weems burst through the crowd and pointed wildly at the pair saying, "See! Just as I said, I saw it with my own two eyes! Down with the king!" He called, urging on the others.
"What is this nonsense…" Bob uttered, noticing the atmosphere. "Weems, what is the meaning of this?"
"You see 'Your Majesty,' I just so happened to see you and Shay together last night… Kissing!" He pointed out loudly, causing a series of gasps to immerge through the masses.
King Bob's eyes widened and then narrowed to a deadly glare, while Shay stood horror struck that the news had already spread throughout the entire playground.
"You'll pay the price for this Snitch Boy. Guards! Take him to the Dodgeball Wall…" He ordered, gesturing for his minions to come forth. When they stood by without moving, Bob gasped, perplexed and about to repeat his demand and rebuke them for their disobedience.
"You don't get it do you?" Randall cackled, fiddling his hands together in smug victory. "How can they listen to you after you've done something so vile? You have no right to be King anymore!"
The sixth graders jaw dropped, feeling the urgency and desperation of the situation he hadn't before. Could it be this offense would strip him of his title?
"Hold up a second guys!" A voice called out from a distance, and a path cleared for T.J. Detweiler and his crew as they made their way to the middle. Shay and Bob watched curiously, hoping for some good news in this.
"I have to ask you, would you really de-throne old King Bob here just because he likes a girl? Yeah it's pretty gross… and weird… but is that truly a reason to kick him out of his position? Isn't that a little harsh? C'mon guys, I say we cut him a break and let this mull over, what'dya say?" T.J. announced, trying to win the kids over to his side.
A few of them nodded and considered it, but seeing the confliction Randall pulled ahead once more.
"Are you all out of your mind?! He kissed a girl! Are you forgetting the sacred code of the playground? Are we all as mindlessly mushy-gushy as teenagers? No!" He yelled, starting to win the crowd back over. "I say… Throw these heretics to the farthest corners of the playground! Down with King Bob!"
T.J. and his friends knew the crowd was too worked up for his normal convincing methods, and the storm of kids now chanted, "Down with King Bob! Down with King Bob!" and took a hold of T.J. and the gang to cast them away.
The group struggled angrily, Spinelli trying to punch a few kids that grabbed a hold of her, and Mikey just standing saying, "Oh the humanity!" while kids attempted to push him away in vain.
King Bob himself was losing all hope, never thinking that his reign would end like this. He looked over to apologize to Shay for everything, but saw she had disappeared from the chaos.
Glancing around frantically, he finally saw her just reaching the top of the jungle gym. "Listen up everyone!" She called from the highest point, drawing all the kid's attention upwards at her.
She cleared her throat and glared down in determination. Shay was not an authority type, and hated demanding attention, but from being around Bob for so long, she knew what she had to do.
"Please, hear me out. I'm speaking to all of you as your fellow kid…. Not as a sixth grader, not as a girl, and not as the 'Queen of the Playground' that some of you have been referring to me as." She started, gesturing to herself.
"I've been here as long as anyone… I've seen a lot of you grow up from Kindergarteners… watched you guys learn how to play kickball, get some of your nicknames… and even watched generations leave this school… as well as new Kings being crowned. Now I know as well as everyone how kings are chosen. Before I came to the top of the jungle gym, I was down there with all of you, and I want you to ask yourself… Has King Bob been a good ruler? Has he personally treated you unjustly with this 'unspeakable crime' you claim he's committed?"
"I know it seems strange… what happened between us that is." She looked down nervously, "But regardless of that, I want you to tell me if King Bob has treated you differently because of me in a bad way? No! He's always been a good ruler…"
Gesturing over to Bob she continued, "As I've been with him, I've seen just how important following the playground rules is to him! He lives and breathes authority… so much that he often doesn't get to be a normal kid… But he's always done his best for everyone. I don't think that because of what happened between him and myself… He should be despised by all of you. He's not just a king… he's a normal kid, like you and me. I know you don't like what happened, but please just let him continue his rule… I promise it's for the best and I beg of you as my fellow classmates to give him another chance." Shay concluded.
The kids below took her words to heart, and pondered them as she watched pleadingly. Randall didn't like where this was going, and in protest he shouted, "But… He kissed a girl! Isn't that gross?! Right guys? Down with King Bob!" He tried to chant out, but more and more kids began taking Shay's side, and turning on Randall.
"Uh oh…" He mouthed, trying to shuffle out of sight but was surrounded on all sides.
Worriedly, he screamed out in a panic, "Mrs. Finster! Mrs. Finster! How much longer till recess is over?" and absconded in her direction.
Bob just stared up at Shay, astonished that she had done such a thing… for him. She climbed down and asked the kids to release T.J. and his friends, and they abided, only one kid losing a tooth for messing with Spinelli.
Shay walked over to them and said, "Thank you for the help T.J. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to say all that if you hadn't given me a head start." She admitted, and chatted with all of them for a little bit before everyone but her and Bob dispersed back to their normal recess activities.
The two sixth graders looked at each other and silently stared for a while before Bob said, "Shay… that was amazing. Thank you for doing that."
She blushed shyly and said, "No, I should be thanking you. If I hadn't gotten to know you…. There's no way I would have ever dreamed of being that bold. You taught me how to voice what I'm feeling… and I'm so happy for all of your help."
Bob felt some heat rising to his cheeks as well as she complimented him, and instead of replying he gestured to the top of the jungle gym again. The pair climbed up to the top and sat at their normal places, overlooking the playground. Before anyone else came up, Bob quickly leaned over and kissed Shay on the cheek, blushing immensely as he did, and the pulled away quickly before anyone else could see.
Shay giggled and reached over to place her hand on his own as the two of them enjoyed this true moment of peace and fulfillment. Really… what a year…