“My teacher said you have to call her,” Jason told his mom.
“She didn’t like my drawing.”
Jason’s mom looked directly at him. He felt squirmy.
“What did you draw?” she asked.
“Just our house.”
His mom relaxed a little. “Well, why didn’t she like it?”
“I don’t know,” Jason said. He threw his backpack on the couch and went to look for the TV remote.
His mom picked up the black and gray Batman bag by its wide mesh straps. It was almost empty; they didn’t give many books in first grade. She pulled out the lone folder and found the drawing. There were recognizable stick figures in the forefront, brown curls for mom and spiky zigzags for dad. He’d drawn himself and his sister standing next to them in pint-sized replicas, like in the decal on the back of their minivan.
He’d spent the real effort on the house. It was packed with gray penciled-in faces, five or ten peeking out of every window and a whole crew of them with round eyes and flat mouths looking out the door.
“She said I wasn’t supposed to draw ‘maginary people, and I asked her what that meant,” James said. “She said they were pretend people, and we were only supposed to draw real people who lived with us. I told her they were real, so she made me put the picture away and said you had to call her. Then she talked about aliens.”
“Like space aliens?” his mom asked.
“From Mexico,” Jason replied. “She was pretty mad.”
His mom sighed. “Jason, I thought you were over all those imaginary friends like Jim. I haven’t heard you talk about them in a long time.”
“That’s because Jim disappeared,” Jason replied. “But there are new people, like Katie and Zach. They – “
His mom interrupted. “Jason?” she said. “This has to stop. You’re going to get yourself in trouble.”
He closed his mouth. Katie was standing next to his mom shaking her head at him.
“Ok,” he said.
The next day at school, Omar was waiting for him in the playground.
“Why did you draw all those people in your house yesterday?” he asked.
Katie appeared next to Omar. “Tell him you were messing with the teacher,” she said.
“I was messing with the teacher,” Jason said, grinning.
Omar smiled back. “Oh, cool. She’s kinda mean.” He looked sideways at Jason. “So, you only live with your family?”
Katie said, “His grandma died last week. They have a bunch of relatives in their house for the funeral and some of them are hiding from the police.”
Jason nodded at both of them. He found it best not to talk.
“OK…” Omar was waiting for something but Jason couldn’t figure out what he wanted.
“Sorry about your Grandma,” Jason said.
Omar looked at him suspiciously. “Where did you hear about that?”
Katie said, “She was hiding too, before she died. No one outside Omar’s family knows about her.” She put her finger to her lips.
“I think my mom told me,” Jason said.
The bell rang and they lined up to enter their classroom.
Their classmate Holly was in front of them. She turned around and whispered in Jason’s ear.
“I’m having a birthday party at Pump-it-Up!” she said. “I get to invite 10 people, and you’re included.” She tucked her chin into her neck and pursed her lips, trying restrain her excitement. “Can you keep a secret?”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Jason said. “I’m good with secrets.”