You Got a Friend In Me
Matthew drew a tiny line in the sand to mark where he would put his sandcastle. Then, just for fun, he added triangles to the top of the line, so it kind of looked like a long row of teeth. It reminded him of the pattern on Mommy's skirt this morning. He liked when she wore skirts. Skirts were easier to hide behind.
He exchanged the twig he was drawing with for a shovel and started filling his favorite red bucket with sand. Matthew was the only one who used the school playground's sandbox, but he didn't mind. Sure, sometimes he got lonely, but what could he do about it? It wasn't like anyone gave him any attention, or if they did, it was usually to knock down the sandcastle he had built.
But Matthew noticed his classmates all too well. It wasn't hard to, they were a small class. There was his brother, Alfred, but he usually kept his distance from Matthew. He was a part of the posse of Arthur Kirkland, along with the Chinese one, Yao Wang, the creepy Russian, and the one with the last name he could never get right, so he just called him Francis. They weren't very nice and they picked on the younger kids, Matthew included.
Then there was the small, but tight trio of kids who constantly baffled Matthew. It made no sense how Kiku, who was always very polite but couldn't say the letter L, the panicky, but social one from Italy with the scary brother and that loud, angry German got along so well. They were almost never separated. He could always hear them laughing across the tables during snack time, and giggling in class. Matthew always longed to be close to someone like that. It seemed like it was fun.
But the group that fascinated him the most was by far Antonio, Gilbert, and sometimes Francis (he hung out with them more than he did with Arthur's gang). Antonio was from Spain, and he was the only one who could talk to the other Italian brother, Lovino, without getting a fist to the gut.
And there was Ludwig's brother, Gilbert. He was pretty hard to miss. For one thing, he was very pale and had white hair and red eyes. Albino, that was the word for it. He always managed to give the teachers a hard time, but Matthew found the jokes he made in class to be quite funny, and would giggle quietly so no one would see. He glanced quickly at Gilbert, who was swinging with Antonio and Francis. He rather liked him, and really wanted to talk to him, but he was far too shy.
Matthew idly doodled more pictures in the sand. He drew a little stick figure Canadian with long hair (Mommy wouldn't let him cut it, even though everybody said it looked girly), and added a maple leaf to the hoodie he was wearing. He gave the Canadian a big, happy smile, and drew lots of clouds above him and poked little dots in the sand to make it look like it was snowing. To finish it off, he gave the happy Matthew a stick figure friend to hold his hand, but he didn't give it a face. After all, who could he draw? He didn't have any friends.
He turned back to his bucket and continued filling it up with sand. Carefully, he made sure the bucket lined up with the lines he drew, then he turned it over quickly. After he had tapped it a few times, he gently took off the bucket for the grand reveal. He gently blew at the top like Daddy taught him to and smiled in satisfaction when he examined the perfect block of sand.
However, his smile fell when he heard familiar giggling not far away, and not the happy kind of giggles he had heard when you're playing tag with your friends. These were the all-too-familiar snarky guffaws of-
"Look at the wanker, making sandcastles all by himself," crowed Arthur, towering over the Canadian. "Yeah, loser!" His posse mimicked. Alfred had the decency to lower his eyes in shame.
No, Matthew thought. He brought his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around his small body, attempting to disappear into thin air.
Arthur glanced at the picture of the happy Matthew in the snow and cackled. He dug his heel into the blank stick figure's face.
Arthur smiled viciously at the younger boy. "Is this your new cry corner? Where you go to whine to the dirt about all your imaginary friends? Like any real person would actually want to be caught dead anywhere near you. "
He knelt to the Matthew's hunched form. "Go back to Canada or wherever you came from. Can't you see nobody wants you here?" He jeered.
Matthew suddenly found it very hard to see. The world had gone blurry. He's right, you know, a little voice in his head whispered. Why do you think everybody ignores you so much? Because they probably care more about the sand you're sitting on than they do about the scum sitting on it.
Arthur smirked in triumph when he watched tears streak down the smaller boy's face. "Pathetic. P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C. Look it up. It suits you."
And with that, he jumped on Matthew's small sandcastle.
"No! Stop it!" He pleaded. The rest of them took his lead, laughing as they demolished his work. The dust rose and swirled, stinging his eyes and throat, the remains of his creation.
Alfred wouldn't meet his eyes, and stationed himself behind Arthur.
"Goodbye, scum." Arthur sniffed. He marched away, victorious, his followers scrambling to keep up.
Matthew ducked his head and turned away from where he knew the teachers were so they wouldn't notice, and he quietly cried. He couldn't seem to stop his tears, even though he was trying really hard.
Two steady streams cut through the dust caked on his face. Arthur's words kept repeating in his head, along with own torturous conscience:
Why would anyone want someone like you?
He hunched over, his shoulders shaking.
You're a Canadian-shaped waste of space.
He placed his hands over his ears, but he couldn't make it stop.
He pressed a hand to his mouth as the quiet sniffles became full-blown, uncontrollable sobs.
You're the reason Daddy left Mommy.
The sand was dotted with dark spots where his tears fell.
"Those guys are meanies." A voice firmly stated. Matthew whirled around and met a pale, frowning face framed with white hair. He looked away and quickly wiped at his eyes.
"G-Gilbert?" He stuttered. "What are you doing here? What about Antonio and Francis?"
He puffed out his chest. "It might be hard, but they can survive without my awesomeness for a while." The albino plopped down on the sand next to the bewildered younger boy.
Did Gilbert choose Matthew over his friends? He couldn't wrap his head around the idea.
"Why do let them be mean to you, Mattie?" He asked, a crease forming on his forehead from his knitted brows.
Let them? It wasn't a matter of whether he let them or not. He didn't let them. They just did it, even though Matthew had never done anything to them. He hiccuped, and waited until he was sure he could answer without his voice cracking.
"I don't let them. They just do it for some reason." He stopped as the question became too much to bear. "Gilbert, why did you leave your friends just to talk to me?"
He cocked his head and grinned at Matthew. The Canadian blushed for some reason.
"Because I like you, Mattie. You're always really, really nice, and you're the only one who thinks I'm funny. Plus, you're hair is cool." He knelt down even more so he was at eye-level with the Canadian. "So, I don't want you to cry. It makes me feel bad, too."
Matthew's eyes widened. He was so shocked, he stopped crying. Nobody, nobody, had ever said anything like that to him. Never had anyone acknowledged him or anything about him. It made him feel warm and happy. He honestly didn't know how to react.
"Plus, those guys are stupid."
He gasped. "You aren't supposed to say that word!"
"So? They are stupid. They made you cry, and they used to make me cry too. They made fun of my eyes and my hair."
Matthew was astonished. Arthur picked on Gilbert? "How come they stopped?"
He straightened up proudly. "I punched Arthur in the gut."
His jaw dropped. "You did?"
Gilbert nodded happily.
"Whoa. I wish I could be strong like that." Matthew murmured, his tears long forgotten.
Gilbert aimlessly kicked his feet in the sand, stirring up a cloud. "I bet you think you're worthless, and I bet you feel really, really alone."
Matthew glanced at him with an unspoken question on his face.
"And I know because sometimes I feel like that too. And you should know that it isn't bad to feel like that, and you aren't alone." He looked right into his bright blue eyes. "Wanna know why?"
Matthew nodded, leaning closer.
"Because now you have me. And I'm not gonna let anybody mess with you anymore." And with that, he stood up and brushed off the sand on his pants.
"Where are you going?" Matthew asked.
He flashed a grin at the Canadian. He had a very nice smile, Matthew noticed. "To mess with them."
He strutted over to where Arthur and his gang were huddled, whispering and giggling. Matthew watched in awe as he tapped Arthur on the shoulder, waited for him to turn around, then yelled in his face loudly enough for everyone in the playground, including the teachers, to hear...
"I think you're stupid!"
A collective gasp rang out among the children, Matthew included. Alfred looked ready to burst into tears.
That was a very bad word. Gilbert would get in trouble for this. But the older boy didn't seem to care. He dipped his body in a fluid bow, smirking at Arthur.
Sure enough, Mrs. Hedervary was already marching towards him. She extended a hand, and although Matthew couldn't hear what she was saying, it was pretty obvious where Gilbert was headed. He didn't lower his head in shame, but rather, he swaggered behind Mrs. H, winking at Matthew as he was led inside the building.
I can't just let him get in trouble for me, he thought frantically. I have to do something!
A word popped into his mind, a word that he heard a guy on television use once, a word that he promised never to say, but the perfect word to describe Arthur.
He got to his feet shakily and hesitantly walked towards Arthur's group. They were furiously whispering with each other, and Arthur glared daggers at Matthew when he saw him coming closer.
His confidence shook, but when he saw Mrs. H and Gilbert almost enter the building, his courage hardened, and, he shouted, perhaps even louder than Gilbert, his word.
He clapped his hands over his mouth. His knew his face was redder than one of Antonio's tomatoes.
Before Matthew could even blink, Mrs. H had him by his collar along with Gilbert and dragged them both inside the building with renewed vigor.
"I expected something like this from Gilbert, but you, Matthew? What on earth possessed you to pull a stunt like this?"
Gilbert beamed at Matthew, almost glowing with pride for the smaller boy. Matthew smiled shyly in return despite his racing heart.
While they were kicking their feet back and forth in the tall office chairs to wait for the principal, Matthew's stomach churned. The big, burly man was in the hallway, speaking in hushed whispers with Mrs. H.
Matthew could barely keep it together when a teacher asked him to speak up in class. He was positively terrified at the thought of going into the big brown doors of the principal's office. The longer they took, the more Matthew was sure that he would just fly apart with the anxiety gnawing at him.
Gilbert, unable to keep it together, burst into laughter. "That was awesome! Did you see the look on Arthur's face? He totally did not see that coming!"
Matthew, although thoroughly frozen with fear, managed a smile. It had been kind of funny.
He met eyes with Gilbert. "Thanks for sticking up for me, Gilbert. I'm glad I don't have to be in the principal's office by myself." And he meant it. He was extremely thankful for another person to be there with him. He probably would have broken down in tears the minute he walked through those scary, big doors.
Gilbert rolled his eyes. "Duh. That's what friends are supposed to do." He resumed kicking his legs, unaware of the meaning of what he said.
Matthew replayed his words. Again and again, just to make sure he wasn't hearing things. "F-friends?" He stuttered.
Gilbert nodded. "Yep. You're stuck with me now, 'cause I won't leave you alone."
A smile blossomed across Matthew's face. He blushed. He hugged his knees to his chest and tried to hide his grin. The anxiety drained out of his system, only to be replaced with a happy, excited feeling that Matthew felt down to his toes. And it wouldn't go away, even when the principal called Mommy to pick him up, not even when she grounded him from watching hockey for a week because it was worth it. He had someone to play with. He wouldn't be alone anymore.
For the first time, Matthew had a friend.