Alice trembled before the first day at her new school.

“They’ll laugh at me,” she wailed. “I’m different.”

“Everyone’s different,” her mother said, slowing the car to a roll but not a stop. “Out, out. Out you go!”

Alice tumbled onto the pavement. Her mother pulled ahead a few feet then stopped. Alice sighed with relief. Maybe they would would go to lunch at the country club instead. No.

“Your EpiPen!” Alice’s mother shouted in a voice that startled birds in nearby trees. She hurled it out the window and zoomed off. She didn’t want to be late for her Anti Helicopter Parent Committee meeting.

Alice trudged up the steps and through the doors and wandered into the front office. An older girl, maybe a fifth grader, was sitting behind the desk, a wad of tissues in her hand.

“I’m new,” Alice said. The girl sneezed. Then sneezed again. Then buried her nose into the tissues. Finally she gathered herself and pointed to a small door that said COUNSELOR.

“Just go on in,” the sneezing girl said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

“My mother called ahead?” Alice asked, astounded at the Helicoptorian gesture.

“Your old school sent over your paperwork,” the girl answered. Before Alice could press for more details, the girl dissolved into another sneezing fit. Alice pushed her way into the counselor’s office and sat on a tufted chair.

“Welcome, Alice!” the counselor said. “I see you have your bookbag. I trust you have all your supplies?”

Alice nodded.

“Well, here’s your schedule, and a map of the school. Erin can help direct you.”

Erin must be the sneezing girl, Alice decided.

“I need to let you know about my allergy,” she said, fishing the Epi Pen from her pocket.

“Yes?” the counselor said.

“I’m allergic to peanuts,” Alice said. “I can’t eat them or anything containing them. I can’t be in the same room with them. Even the smell…”

“Could kill you,” the counselor finished. “Yes, yes I know. I’m so sorry.”

A gloom came over the counselor then, suddenly, like storm clouds muscling their way into a sunny day.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Alice said, taken with the need to comfort the counselor. The counselor cocked her head to the side and her mouth flattened into a line. She seemed oddly disappointed.

“Really,” Alice reassured. “I just need to make sure I have the permission to carry my EpiPen.”

The counselor seemed done with her all at once, and flushed her out of the office.

“Erin?” she called to the sneezing girl. “Help Alice find Mrs. Ingram’s room. Oh, and Erin? Make sure Mrs. Ingram knows Alice has a peanut allergy. A Pea. Nut. Allergy.”

Erin let out a gasp, which melted into another sneeze. She stood up but Alice put up a hand.

“I’m sure I can find my way,” Alice said, holding the map. She backed out of the office as Erin dug in her pocket for more tissues. The counselor stood in the doorway, shaking her head.

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Outside the office, Alice studied the map. Hallways led off in all directions so she picked the one that seemed right and started down it. Within a few steps she passed a door that said NURSE’S OFFICE and felt comforted. Should her peanut allergy become an issue, medical help was right here. Taking a few more steps she began to hear music. The more she walked the louder it got. She consulted the map. She was headed toward the music room. Wrong hallway.

Alice returned to the lobby and took a different hallway. The map, it seemed, was not much help. Each hallway was identical. Within a few steps Alice heard shouts and then a whistle. The gym must be at the end of this hallway, she reasoned. She took a few more steps before confirming she was once again headed in the wrong direction. Before turning back the lettering on a door caught her eye. NURSE’S OFFICE.

Two nurses’ offices? Alice wondered. She reasoned this one might be part of the athletic program. Athletes were special, Alice knew. They probably had their own nurse.

Once again Alice found herself in front of the office, and chose a third hallway to explore. With relief she saw Mrs. Ingram’s name on a bulletin board. A good sign. The bulletin board was full of essays from students Alice figured would be her classmates. She decided to read a few.

“What I Wish” was the theme of the essays. How dopey, Alice thought. Still, she let her eyes glance over a few of the opening paragraphs.

“I wish I could hear music without crying,” one essay started.

“I wish I could look at people without fainting,” another began.

“I wish I take a deep breath any time I wanted, no matter where I was,” said yet another.

These kids seem awfully dramatic, Alice thought. My peanut allergy really is going to be no big deal.

Toward the end of the hallway Alice saw Mrs. Ingram’s name above a door and headed in that direction, confident she was finally in the right place. When she reached the classroom, she hesitated, puzzled at what she saw across the hall: Another door that said NURSE’S OFFICE.

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