“Ha! I got your horse!”
Allie triumphantly snatched the chess piece of off the board and put it next to the others. “I’m totally gonna win,” she teased. “Hey now, don’t get cocky before actually winning,” I warned jokingly, “you might be the smartest kid in class, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, as well.”
I was totally bluffing. Allie was so freaking smart, it was crazy. Top grades in all of her classes and miles ahead of her classmates. Evie and I didn’t know where she got it from. We were very proud of her, but it also made it difficult to make friends. Eight year olds could be pretty cruel to kids who were smarter than them.
“Hey, daddy, look! That’s the boy from my class. The one I’m doing the science project with!”
I turned around and saw a little, slightly shy brown-haired boy standing a few steps away from the chess table. “Hi Philip!” Allie waved. “Can I go talk to him, dad?”
“Sure, honey. Introduce me to your friend.” This boy was one of the only kids in class who wasn’t giving Allie a hard time for her big brains, and I was grateful to him for it. I decided I might as well meet the kid, as Allie hardly shut up about him and their project lately.
She jumped up and walked over to him. I followed her, keeping a bit of distance so the little boy wouldn’t get too shy.
“What are you doing here, Philip? Don’t you live all the way across town?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “but mommy had to work today, and the babysitter couldn’t watch me, so she brought me with her. Her work is right across the street.”
He pointed at a little, run down grocery store. “Oh, cool,” Allie said happily, “now you can meet my dad!”
I smiled and waved at the little boy. “Hi, Philip,” I said, “it’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Fiore,” the boy said politely. “You can call me Matt. How is the science project going? Are you enjoying it?”
Philip shrugged. “It’s fine. I like working with Allie, because she doesn’t make fun of me like the other kids do.” “The other kids make fun of you?” He nodded, avoiding my gaze and looking at his shoes. I decided not to push the matter any further. “Well, I’m glad my daughter is nice to you,” I smiled, while stroking Allie over her hair. “It’s good to have at least one friend, isn’t it?”
Philip looked up, his face beaming. “Yeah!”
“Daddy, can Philip and I play on the pirate ship?” Allie asked, tugging on my shirt. “Please?”
“Sure, honey, go ahead. I’ll be over there.” I made my way over to a little bench as the kids sprinted toward the pirate ship and climbed on it. I smiled. All those worries about whether I’d be a good dad, if I’d be able to raise my kids right… Turns out Evie and I did a pretty good job. Allie had become friends with a kid who was being bullied by all his other classmates. That meant more to me than any grade or science project could.
It soon became clear that Allie and Philip got along great. We found out his mom was a single mom, his father had died before he was born. She had to work a lot to make ends meet, so he was over at our house all the time after school and during weekends. They spent hours making up stories and talking about their dreams in Allie’s room.
Philip was a bit quiet, but very polite. He always thanked us for dinner and never complained about eating vegetables or fish. As he came by more often, he got used to our family and his shyness faded away. He was very clever and funny, and he and Allie hardly ever had disagreements. He even played with Enzo every now and then, even though he wasn’t even going to school yet.
At first, Evie and I thought their friendship might die down after a while, but over the next year, they became even closer. They quickly declared themselves ‘Best Friends’ and later even ‘Best Friends Forever’. Allie didn’t really seem interested in being friends with the other girls from school, who only liked playing with dolls and make up. So, I was glad she had at least one friend who she could always fall back on. I just wasn’t looking forward to them locking themselves up in her bedroom when she became a little older…