By Andrew Knott
A father and his son walk into a coffee shop. As they approach the counter to place their order, the boy, three years old, hides behind his father’s leg, his eyes cast down at his feet.
“Hi there! What can I get for you this morning?” the girl at the cash register greets them.
“A latte, please. And a blueberry muffin,” the dad says.
“You like muffins, little guy?” the girl says to the boy.
The boy doesn’t speak. He keeps his head down, his dark black hair shagging over his eyes, safe behind his dad’s leg.
“Sorry,” the dad says to the girl. “He’s just shy.”
The boy listens.
The boy, now four, is playing with his mom in their front yard. He laughs and squeals as they chase each other, taking turns pretending to be monsters. His legs, pudgy and soft just a year before, are now lanky and strong.
A neighbor walks by on the sidewalk. She stops and smiles.
“Hi! You guys look like you’re having fun,” the neighbor says.
“Yep. But watch out, there are monsters on the loose,” the mom replies.
“Oh no! You’re not going to get me are you, buddy?” the neighbor asks the boy.
The boy stops, suddenly quiet. The laughter and squealing stop. He turns away and looks down at the grass, thick and long from the recent rain.
“I’m sorry,” the mom says. “He’s just a little shy.”
The boy listens.
The boy starts school. On the first day of kindergarten, he is sitting at a square table with three classmates: two girls and one boy. There is a canister of crayons in the middle of the table and multi-colored construction paper carefully stacked in a neat pile.
The teacher tells the children to choose a piece of paper and draw a picture of their favorite animal.
The boy lets the other kids at the table choose first, before selecting a piece of yellow paper and a blue crayon.
“I’m drawing a kitten. What are you going to draw?” one of the girls says.
“A snake!” the other boy exclaims.
“Ew,” says the other girl. “I’m drawing a giraffe.”
“What about you?” the first girl says to the boy.
The boy stares down at his paper, thinking. He doesn’t speak quickly enough.
“I think he’s shy,” the second girl says.
“How do they know,” the boy thinks. He concentrates on his drawing and decides to remain quiet.
The boy is in third grade. He loves music. Over the past two years, every day after school and almost every weekend, he has spent hours in his room teaching himself to play the small guitar his parents gave him for his seventh birthday.
For once, on this cold and rainy day in March, he is excited to be at school. Today is sign-up day for the school talent show. He is going to do it. When the teacher asks who wants to sign up, he is going to raise his hand. He is going to say, “I would like to play my guitar.”
Last night, instead of practicing his guitar, he stood in front of the mirror in his room and practiced this line. He said it over and over, making adjustments. He tried speaking faster or slower, louder or softer. He watched his face, checking for any odd movements or expressions when he spoke. Finally, after many tries, he was satisfied.
He is ready. I would like to play my guitar.
The day passes by at a crawl. At last, two o’clock comes: time to wrap things up before dismissal. The boy sits nervously at his desk, staring down at his hands, picking at the base of his fingernails. His heart starts to beat faster and his face feels warm.
“OK, class. It’s a special day today. It’s time to sign up for the talent show. Who has a talent they would like to share? Please raise your hand,” the teacher says.
Several hands go up, but not the boy’s.
After the bell rings, the boy stays in his chair. I’m still going to do this, he says to himself. I would like to play my guitar.
When the other kids are gone, he stands up and walks toward the teacher’s desk. She has her back to the room, shuffling papers.
“I would like to play my guitar,” the boy blurts out.
The teacher spins around, startled.
“I mean, in the talent show,” the boy stammers.
The teacher stares. She squinches her eyes and studies the boy’s face.
“Are you sure?” she asks. “Do you think you could do it in front of all those people? Or would you be too shy?”
The boy doesn’t speak, he just shakes his head and turns to walk away.
The boy is sixteen. The softness around his face is gone now. His face is dotted with acne and his shoulders are often slumped. He keeps to himself a lot. Being alone makes him feel neither happy nor sad. He still plays his guitar, but only in his room.
He is sitting on a bench outside the cafeteria at school. Alone. The air is cool, but the high sun warms his bare arms and face.
He is eating peanut butter crackers, deep in thought about nothing, when a girl walks up and sits down at the other end of the bench. She is small and quiet.
The boy flicks a cracker crumb from his lap and glances toward the girl without turning his head.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to bother you,” the girl says.
“No, it’s fine,” the boy says hesitantly. “Sorry, I’m shy.”
“That’s okay,” the girl says. “People say I am too.”
The boy nods and returns to his crackers. They sit and eat, together, in silence.