Henry carried the last of his stuff, a small shoe box filled with toy cars, into Aunt Karen’s house. He didn’t want to be there, but his dad left, and his mom said she needed a support something or other. The box barely fit on top of the tiny dresser. He stepped back and stared at the pile of cardboard boxes in what used to be Uncle David’s closet. Aunt Karen said it was the best she could do for Henry to have his own room.
“Henry, come out here and be with your family,” his mom said from the doorway.
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, Henry, you have to.”
He shuffled across the wooden floor in his socks, down the hall, to a living room with adults. There were no kids like him. Mom said he would get friends when he started kindergarten in the fall, but that was forever from now. He folded his legs to the fluffy rug and leaned forward on his elbows.
In the corner, Uncle David, a large bald man, broke nuts in his lap. Snap, break, crunch, chew. Snap, break, crunch, chew.
“Are you okay?” Aunt Karen knelt next to Henry.
“I don’t have anyone to play with.” His mom said he was a smart kid and that reading was enough entertainment, but he didn’t think so. He was bored. Would be bored. Bored, bored, bored.
A smile spread across the thin woman’s face. Aunt Karen looked a whole lot like his mom with freckles and pale skin, but with orange hair instead of brown. Mom said it was red, but it looked orange to him. Aunt Karen reached in Uncle David’s bowl and produced a peanut. She studied it a moment, nodded, and handed it out. “Here, Henry, meet Petey the Peanut. He can be someone you play with.”
Henry stared at the nut. Outlined in the husk were two eyes and a mouth. He reached for it and grinned. His mind wandered as he imagined Petey and him doing stuff together — reading a book, running through the trees outside, eating a burger at the diner, riding the merry-go-round in town — Petey would be his best friend and he could tell him anything.
Uncle David grabbed the nut from Henry’s hand. “Look, Sport, this is how you do it.” Snap, break, crunch, chew. He then handed out another peanut. “Now, you try.”
Henry’s eyes went wide, his lip trembled.
“David, you numbskull,” Aunt Karen said.
“What? I’m just teaching the kid how to eat a peanut. He was just staring at it.”
Aunt Karen shook her head. She reached for a walnut and held it in front of Henry’s face. “Meet Wally the Walnut.”
Dr. Kimberlee R. Mendoza is the Dean of Languages & Literature at Wayland Baptist University. She holds a Ph.D. in Leadership & Education, a MA in Humanities, a BA in Human Development, and is working on her MFA in Writing. She is a YA author who has published more than 16 novels, 15 plays, and 1 non-fiction book. She is an Army veteran, a cover artist, and moonlights as a stand-up comedian.