Emma nervously entered the classroom and found an empty desk while she felt the burning power of a hundred sets of eyes staring. She expected the teasing and giggles, but she didn't expect silence.
"Class, this Emma. I thought we could say hello, and tell Emma something special about ourselves. I'll start."
Ms. Lawson moved toward Emma; her tallness cast a shadow over Emma's desk.
"Emma, I'm Ms. Lawson. It's so nice to have you in my class. What's special about me is that I'm learning another language, Mandarin. Nǐ hǎo." Ms. Lawson bowed.
"Hi, Emma." A shy hand extended toward Emma. "I'm Milly, and I have a horse."
Emma instantly pictured the red-haired girl riding on a mare.
"Hi, Emma. I'm Thomas. Nice to meet you. I have four brothers and one sister."
Emma could picture a large family crowding a dinner table.
"Hey. I'm Oliver. And I can do wheelies better than most eighth graders."
Oliver exuded something Emma recognized. Confidence, as she'd seen on the faces of bullies. He looked her right in the eyes and said, "I like your backpack."
Emma met twenty-four of her classmates this way. By the time the procession ended, she had learned who had a dog, had kittens, and liked sleepovers. Emma had never been on a sleepover. Emma couldn't know that Ms. Lawson had prepared her students for Emma's arrival. Ms. Lawson had high expectations.
"Well, Emma. Welcome to our school. Was there something you wanted to tell the class about you and what you enjoy doing?"
Ms. Lawson glowed in the light of the morning sunshine, and Emma realized that this teacher was special. She was going to like it here. Smiling back, though a little shaky on the inside, Emma rose. She used her desk for balance.
"Thanks. It's nice to meet everyone. I moved here because my dad got transferred. What's special about me is that I ..." Emma had a million things she wanted to say, but she knew there'd be time enough. Eventually, someone would ask her about her leg. They always did. She would tell them about the accident. She would tell them she had to learn to walk again and use the prosthetic. She would leave off the long list of names kids chose for her.
Emma swallowed and looked at the faces waiting for her reply. "Believe it or not, but I have a raven."
Her answer caused several audible gasps.
"A bird, you mean?" Thomas stared with his mouth open.
"Those big black ones?" Milly scrutinized Emma.
"Yes. His name is Cassidy. I've had him for two years now. He can talk, do tricks, sing, play games, and figure out puzzles."
Emma noticed that even Ms. Lawson's eyebrow lifted.
"Cool. Can you bring him to school?" Oliver believed every word Emma said. Emma's eyes wandered toward Ms. Lawson's for approval.
Unfortunately, the school had a strict rule about bringing pets since the unfortunate incident when Maxi, the four-pound Chihuahua, bit the principal and peed on his legs.
"Oliver. Wasn't Maxi your sister's dog? Ms. Lawson didn't need to finish when the students started to giggle.
"Oh, yeah." Oliver blushed.
"What if you all came to my house? Emma suggested.
They agreed to come on Saturday afternoon. Emma's mother rolled her eyes when Emma mentioned it casually over dinner. They hadn't even finished unpacking.
"We'll make a punch and bake cookies, have a barbecue."
Cassidy spread his wings and mimicked, "cookie."
For the rest of the week, when someone was about to ask her about her leg, one of her classmates would interrupt by coughing, diverting the attention away. Emma was beginning to notice.
On Saturday, they arrived one by one. Emma's mother had set up a table with snacks and drinks. Emma's father grilled kebabs. Her older sister showed everyone around the house and pool. Her brother kicked the ball for some of the boys.
Finally, one of Emma's classmates asked, "where's Emma and her bird?" Emma's father pointed upward. Dressed in yellow and green, Emma blended into the lofty tree. She'd been overwhelmed by the idea of all her classmates coming to her house.
She swung down on the rope, and Cassidy landed on her shoulder.
"This is Cassidy," she stroked the bird who balanced on one leg.
"Boop boop." Cassidy tucked his head toward Emma.
A large circle formed; Emma sensed her classmates wanted two things: to touch the bird and ask, "what happened to its leg?"
"Wow." Cassidy crowed.
To spare them the agony, Emma answered. "I lost my leg in a car accident when I was six. Cassidy, we don't know. Someone found him and took him to the vet where my mom worked. He has no idea that he's different."
"Can I pet him?" Oliver took a step closer.
"Pet, pet, pet." Cassidy craned his neck toward Oliver.
Several of the children dared to stroke Cassidy. The texture of his feather's surprised them. It wasn't soft like they expected, but different.
Emma's sister brought a shoebox and set it on the lawn.
"These are the puzzles Cassidy likes to perform."
Ms. Lawson, who was late to arrive, towered over the circle of children. She carried a large wrapped box.
"Play, play, play." Cassidy squawked and pecked the shoebox.
Emma set out the colored balls Cassidy promptly put into the bowl according to size. The children became quiet.
"Count!" Emma demanded.
Cassidy didn't use words to count. He pecked once on the first ball, then twice on the second, hopping on his one leg until he counted all ten. Everyone laughed when Cassidy pecked the cookie from Thomas' extended hand.
Ms. Lawson waited before setting the box on the ground.
"Welcome to our school." Ms. Lawson laid her hand on Emma's shoulder. "I brought you a gift."
Emma tore the paper, and Cassidy pecked at the box. Inside was a much-loved teddy bear with worn-off fur, a missing eye, and missing velvet from his nose.
It wasn't hard to guess that the gift puzzled the children — an old teddy bear. Only Cassidy took a shine to the bear and tested its substance with his beak.
"Thank you, Ms. Lawson." Emma's rolling eyes made the teacher smile.
"This is Honeybear. He was given to me when I was six. He's been with me ever since. While he might look like an ordinary bear, his magic powers still exist."
Ms. Lawson kneeled clumsily beside Emma on the soft lawn; Cassidy hopped onto her lap. She knew she had the children's attention with the word magic.
"What magic?" Oliver demanded with a curious flicker in his eyes.
"You don't believe in magic?" Ms. Lawson tousled Oliver's curly hair.
"Let me tell you about Honeybear's magic. He was a gift. When I was a little girl, I collected special teddy bears. Most are old and worn like Honeybear, but none are as magical. I started saving my allowance to buy him from a showroom. He was expensive."
"How much?" Oliver was always concerned with facts.
"Three-hundred dollars. I earned my allowance by doing chores like dishes, laundry, vacuuming, and taking our dog for a walk. But three-hundred dollars is a lot."
"How much was your allowance?"
"Five dollars a week. On my way home from school every day, I saw Honeybear on the store's shelf. Sometimes when I was out with my mother, we would stop to see him. The store owner knew I had my eye on him. He said he would negotiate a deal with me if I got all As on my report card."
Cassidy pecked Ms. Lawson's long hair, but she didn't mind.
"I didn't get all As. I got one B in gym class. I was so upset I cried. Though I had saved my allowance and birthday money, I didn't have enough. There was nothing I could do to change my grade."
"So why didn't you study harder?" Millie demanded.
"I couldn't. I did the best I could under the circumstances."
"But you got the bear anyway?"
"I did. The shopkeeper, Mr. Friend, asked me to explain the B. He wanted to consider all the facts before making a decision."
The tension in the yard had become unbearable. Everyone wanted to know what had happened.
"I told Mr. Friend that the B was fair. Some of my friends could do cartwheels and run faster. I knew that."
"Did you try your best?" Mr. Friend asked me. "Yes," I said."
"Ms. Lawson," Thomas raised his hand like in class, "can't you just tell us."
"I'll show you." Ms. Lawson rose. She pulled her pant slack up and exposed her leg. Only it wasn't a leg at all. It was a prosthetic. "I lost my leg when I was a child to cancer. That afternoon, Mr. Friend delivered Honeybear to me. He made me promise that one day I would pass him along to someone who I felt deserved him or needed him."
Everyone's eyes fell on Emma's plastic leg extended on the lawn, covered by her leggings. The adults quietly swiped their noses and eyes. Emma's eyes glistened when she hugged the bear. Cassidy seemed to sense her distress. He said, "there, there."
"Ms. Lawson, thank you. Do you think we could share this bear with everyone? I know I sometimes have trouble with my leg, but everyone has challenges. What if I shared Honeybear with those who needed a friend for a day?"
"I like that, Emma. We can all use a friend who supports us silently without judgment. A friend who's always there. And that's the magic."