Phoenix slid out bed, blinking sleepily. He hadn't slept very well during the night, having kept himself awake with thoughts of this morning.
Tired as he was, he still remembered to make his bed before heading to the kitchen.
Rachel had already dressed and prepared breakfast by the time Phoenix joined her at the table.
"So, are you excited about starting school today?" she asked as he pulled up his chair.
"Sure, mom," he was really curious more than anything, but he supposed that he was at least a little excited to find out what it was going to be like.
Rachel finished her cereal and got up to wash her bowl.
"I'm sorry I won't be there to see you off on your first day," she told him over her shoulder, "but I talked to the Jacobs and they said it's fine if wait over there and take the bus with Paulie."
"Mmkay," he replied, shoving more sugary flakes into his mouth.
When he was dressed and ready, Phoenix walked with his mom out to the car.
"After school you can can either come home or go to Paulie's," Rachel instructed her son, "Don't go anywhere else, and call me if you need anything."
"I'll be fine, mom," he promised.
Phoenix watched her drive away in the patrol car before dashing across the street to the Jacobs' house.
He rang the doorbell and was let in by Cemre Jacobs, who directed Phoenix to his son's room.
Paulie wasted no time in elaborting on the horrors that Phoenix was sure to experience at school: strict teachers, grueling homework, and, the most dangerous, playground bullies.
"What you really need is to be prepared," Paulie grinned, "and I just thought of what you can do!"
"I'm not scared," Phoenix protested.
Paulie ignored him and started rummaging through his toy chest.
"I know it's in here somewhere," he mumbled, throwing toys out of the way as he searched.
"There, now you're protected! Even if they can fit your head in a toilet, you'll at least have the goggles to see while they try to flush you down. Maybe I should get you a nose plug, too?" Paulie pondered as he admired his handywork.
"No way!" Phoenix was not impressed with this plan.
Before Paulie could argue, his dad joined them in the room.
"It looks like you boys are having fun, but the school bus just pulled up. Better hurry!"
Phoenix shed his helmet and goggles before following Paulie out the door.
"I hope you know what you're doing," his friend warned.
Phoenix glanced at Paulie as the bus drove into town. Why was he always trying to scare him? Phoenix Keatts was not afraid. Then again, Paulie had been telling the truth about the hot dogs...
Soon, they were pulling up in front of the school, where a large crowd was gathering on the steps. Maybe, Phoenix admitted to himself, just maybe he was a little nervous.
Luckily, it turned out that Paulie seemed to be wrong this time.
"And there's this really cool glass cage with these bugs in it, and we all have to take turns taking care of the bugs and clean the cage and stuff," Phoenix had gone back over to the Jacobs' house after school, where Paulie's dad had gotten home from work and made a snack for the boys. Phoenix could tell that Paulie was getting annoyed with his enthusiastic rambling about school, but Cemre seemed interested, so he kept talking anyway.
After they were done eating, Cemre insisted that they do their homework, despite much grumbling from Paulie.
"It's not that bad," Phoenix thought aloud.
"Maybe not for you, you have first grade homework. I'm in second grade, that means my homework is two times as hard."
They were just finishing up when Emily Jacobs returned home from the fire station.
"I just saw your mom's car driving up, Phoenix," she said when she saw that her neighbor's son was visiting. Phoenix quickly answered the last questions in his notebook and gathered his things together to go home.
Rachel had stopped by the grocery store on her way home after the gym to pick up some fresh vegetables for Phoenix. She was glad that she was able to share her favorite meal, macaroni and cheese, with her vegetarian son, but now that she was cooking for more than just herself, she thought that she should probably try to aim for a more varied and balanced diet.
As she chopped, she heard the front door open and slam shut, "Don't slam the door!" she called out, "And go wash up, dinner's almost ready."
"So, how was it? Did you have fun?" Rachel asked as they sat down to eat.
"Yes!" Phoenix happily repeated everything he had already shared with Cemre to his mom.
Rachel smiled as she watched her son chattering away and eagerly munching on autumn salad. At least I'll never have to argue with him about eating his veggies, she thought.
After dinner, Phoenix did his chores, washing the dishes and taking out the trash, and still had a little bit of free time before it was time to go to bed. Rachel was grateful that he was finally getting old enough to help out around the house.
After Phoenix was asleep, Rachel poked her head in to check on him. He was growing up so fast, he wasn't going to be her little boy for much longer. She suddenly realized that this meant that she had been getting older, too. She look at the back of her hand; did it look a little more wrinkly than it had been before? She was thirty-five years old now, and she hadn't even managed to make it into the branch of her career that she had been striving toward all this time. Had it really been fifteen years that she'd been working, with so little to show for it? Sighing, she left her son to go to bed herself.
That last picture is Rachel aging up to adult without sparkles. I have a mod that disables a bunch of little effects like musical notes and Zs while sleeping, and I've been meaning to fix it so it doesn't disable the aging sparklies, but I keep forgetting about it. She started a midlife crisis as soon as she aged, so we'll see how that affects things next chapter. :)