by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #6 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November, 2017.
Kindergarten,...time to play.
Show your artful heart.
Learn your lessons new each day,
Joy at ev'ry start!
The next two days of the journey were as challenging as the first. Two of the most difficult hours came at the end of this part of the journey for then the father and son had to creep around the edges of town, using the thickest woods they had available to them. Already weary, the hyper-stealth caused them to experience fatigue that was "off-the-charts." At times Casa had to carry Quest, which slowed their progress even more. However, on the third night, the two intrepid wanderers made their bed of sticks and leaves and various sorts of straw in the forest north of Fort Worth.
They were asleep before their heads landed on the makeshift bed. They slept like two rocks throughout the night and into the morning.
Casa jumped to four paws with a start, when he realized that the sun was high in the sky. "Quest! Get up now! I intended to get an early start this morning. This is the first day of Kindergarten at the Play School. We're probably already a couple of hours late."
Tying their few provisions to their backs, and after a few slow stretching steps, the two became to lope toward the school, hoping for the best. Surely, Quest could still start school, today.
Knock. Knock. Knock. The door was quite solid. Casa & Quest rapped together on the door of the school.
Mrs. Blair was a middle-aged hippopotamus with obviously round features and a smile that could light up any room. "Hello. Good Day to you fine gentlemen. What can I do for you?"
"You're Mrs. Blair, right?" Casa asked with a bear-sized smile of his own.
"Why certainly I am," she laughed. "Am I to assume that one of you sirs will be enrolling in my school, today?"
"Yes, Ma'am, that would be my son, Quest, here. From the looks of him, he is about five years old. He needs the education and I need the freedom to work." Casa tended to be so pragmatic as to forget some of the social niceties. "Is it still possible for him to enroll right now?"
"Why, of course. Of course. We never turn down another precious child, who is in search of knowledge about the world, even if is only the knowledge of how to play and to have fun!" Mrs. Blair was positively unflappable. Leading the two to her office, she sat behind her desk, pulling an enrollment package out of her right hand, top drawer. "Please, fill out the front and back of the first sheet. Then, we'll be on our way to Miss Julie Jaguar's class for first-time students to begin your very important orientation.
Quick as a wink, Mrs. Blair was introducing Quest & his Dad to the sleek, blond-haired teacher, who sported the largest freckles that Quest had ever seen. "Meeoww," she purred. "You must be the newest mind for me to mold, Quest. I am so glad you are here."
"I,...I,...I'm glad to meet you Miss Jaguar," Quest stumbled. "You're,...you're,...you're not going to eat me, are you?"
"QUEST." Casa was shocked to hear his son speak this way.
"It's alright, Mr. Bear," Julie Jaguar offered. "I get this question all the time. The truth is, Quest, I am a transformed jaguar. I have personally met The One you call D'Oso Reimi in a most enlightening spiritual encounter. Love is very important to me, now, and it will be for the rest of my existence. I have changed my carnivorous ways. I am completely vegetarian now. I would not think of eating of little bears, like yourself. It is completely safe for you to be in my classroom."
RELIEF was the expression on Quest's face at those cherished words.
"Take a seat, Quest, with those other young bears, who are sitting by those two large Leyland Cypress trees in the corner of the yard. We like to start with the familiar and work out to the animals, who are the most different from ourselves. It seems to be easiest to 'break-the-ice' that way."
Quest lumbered over the meet the other small bears as Dad waved, "'Bye. I'll see you later, Son. Have a great day. I love you."
"He will be fine, Mr. Bear," Miss Jaguar assured him. "Enjoy your day."
A tear trickled down Casa's furry cheek as he walked away, pausing every few steps to see his son enjoying his new friends as he forgot for the moment that he had a father. "Every parent's challenge," Casa thought, "is to let go, while still loving deeply. He will be fine in his 'new normal.' Now, I have to find a 'new normal' groove for myself, too."
Down the road, he loped. Soon he turned the corner. It was time to find work.
Miss Jaguar introduced the children to the class and to each other, showing where the restrooms were located, where to place their belongs in nicely-crafted cubbies and finally, where to find crayons and newsprint for their daily artist creations.
"Now, let me tell you all about a very important aspect of life I learned as a kitten. There are times in life when blending in is not an offense, but an honest necessity. Though large cats of my variety have the nature of stealth for capturing the food of carne in their unredeemed state, today the joy of 'dress up' is important, when animals wish to relate more fully to the world of mankind."
"Why, Miss Jaguar?" asked Quest. "I thought we were supposed to avoid humans at all costs."
"That is very astute of you, Little Mr. Bear," replied Miss Julie. "However, humans have masquerade balls, when everyone is dressed to be someone else. Talking animals like those of us, who have the new blood of D'Oso Reimi coursing through our veins, often go to these 'dress up' festivals 'dressing up' as ourselves with a few variations to our appearance. We have learned to wear shoes, coats, gloves, and hats to seem more human, thus 'blending in' to avoid frightening the humans as we talk to them to learn of their ways at closer range."
"O, I see, Miss Julie. That sounds good. What do I need to learn, first?"
"I think you should probably learn to tie your new shoes, Quest. Yes. Let's start at the very beginning. That's a very good place to start. Grrll." She gave him a playful growl and a wink. "Molly Muskrat is one of our class assistants. Molly, I want you to take Quest to the shoe room to find a pair that fits him, then please take him to the gnarly juniper tree in the far corner of the playground. Teach him how to tie his shoelaces."
"Yes, Ma'am. Will do." And Molly Muskrat was off in a flash, getting to the door of the shoe room in less than two seconds. She looked around and Quest was still standing next to Miss Julie. "Come, Dear Quest. Time's a wasting. I am over here, kind Sir." As soon as Quest saw Molly, off he loped to help her find his shoes.