That Left-Out Feeling

“Awww, yeah, a BATTLE!” said Wyatt, pulling back his arm to give me a fist bump. “You see that, Rian?”

I looked up from my desk to see Ms. Chow writing on the board: “Battle of the Books!” She smiled while the class settled down and then said, “Are you ready to go into battle? Get prepared for this next month!”

“Is it a reading contest?” I was so curious that I forgot to raise my hand first.

“Good question, Rian!” said Ms. Chow. “It’s not a race—you’re not going to try to beat each other. We aren’t going to see who can read the fastest or the most books, but you’re going to be in teams of three, and you’re going to set a reading goal for your team. Every team that meets their goal by the end of the month gets…wait for it…a prize!”

Even if the prize was something silly, that sounded pretty good to me. I turned to finally return Wyatt’s fist bump, saying, “Teammates?”

“Oh, for sure!” he said. Wyatt and I liked a lot of the same books, so we could set a goal like reading every graphic novel in a series, or something like that.

The lunch bell sounded before Ms. Chow could explain any more rules, but as I gathered my things, Liya passed my desk and said, “Teammates?” to Wyatt and me. Liya was another good friend of ours. She and I took Hindi language class together and I knew she could read super-fast in both languages! If we set a goal like reading books by authors from different countries, she could help the team for sure.

“Yeah, teammates!” Wyatt chimed in, and I was both relieved and excited. I had my team, and we could spend lunch figuring out what we needed to do to get a Battle of the Books prize. We got to the cafeteria and quickly threw out a bunch of ideas at our table.

“We could read books with covers for every color of the rainbow,” offered Liya.

“Or maybe start in alphabetical order and see if we can get all the way to an author whose name starts with H,” suggested Wyatt.

I looked to our fourth friend at the lunch table, Kash. “Do you have ideas for us?” I asked him.

Kash picked at his bento box. “Why would I give you guys ideas?” he said gloomily. “I’ll save that for my team…. whoever that is.”

Wyatt blew air out of his mouth really fast while Liya muttered, “Oops….”

“Kash, come on,” I said. “It’s teams of three. If Ms. Chow said teams of four, then the four of us would be together, but she didn’t.”

“I see how I rank in the friendship lineup,” Kash muttered.

“No, dude!” I felt awkward and frustrated. “Wyatt and Liya said something to me first. If you had, then it would be different.”

“The three of you said something to each other pretty fast, huh?” Kash retorted. He scooped the rest of his lunch into his bag and stormed off.

“It’s teams of THREE,” I insisted to Wyatt and Liya.

“I know, but…. I can see his point,” Wyatt said. “What if I’d been sitting next to Kash and the two of us formed a team right away? Or if you and Liya picked another kid you go to temple with? One of us would probably be pretty mad. You know that the four of us always do stuff together.”

He was right. Not only would I think that I ranked last in that group, but I’d also be panicking about what team I could join. But in this case, I was on the inside and Kash wasn’t. I felt like the only way to fix this would be if four people could be allowed on a team. So, as Ms. Chow walked by our table, I got her attention.

“Hey, Ms. Chow! Do you think we could have a team of four? We want Kash on our team too.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Rian,” she quickly replied. “I didn’t get a chance to say before lunch that I was going to draw names to assign random groups.”

“UGHHH,” I said as she walked away. “So Kash is mad at us for nothing?”

“It’s not for nothing,” Wyatt replied. “Even if Ms. Chow had let us form a four-person group with Kash, he knew that we had first teamed up without him.”

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t like Kash,” I protested.

“Yeah, but I bet that’s what it looked like to him,” Liya added.

As I thought about it, I knew we—especially I—had a lot of work to do to convince Kash that he was an equal friend.

“Rian, I feel like making this up to Kash is going to be a lot harder than any Battle of the Books,” said Liya.

I agreed. But I really liked Kash, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any prize if one of my best friends felt bad about being left out.

That night in my room, as I read a graphic novel I had borrowed from Wyatt, I had an idea. I sat at my desk and got out my art supplies. Using the style of one of the graphic novels that all four of us had read and liked, I drew a few scenes of how I wished things had gone down that day. I finished with a panel of the two of us, Kash and me, with me saying that he was a special member of our group of friends, and the three of us were really sorry about the way we messed things up.

At the beginning of the next school day, I handed the pages to Kash in an envelope. He took it, looking surprised. I worried what he would think.

Later that day, Wyatt, Liya, and I were talking at our usual spot in the lunchroom. Kash came by, smiled, and said, “Hey, guys, is this seat available?”