Steve couldn’t believe it. He actually couldn’t believe it.

He had been a straight-A student. He was in all AP classes. He was always considered the brightest guy in the class.

And then the law had changed.

The grade he had skipped, all the way back in third grade, was now invalid. Steve was supposed to be going into his senior year at high school, but he wasn’t allowed to. You can’t go into twelfth grade if you haven’t finished third grade.

So here he was, on the first day of school, sitting at a tiny desk in a tiny chair, surrounded by eight-year-olds.

Mrs. Reeve didn’t look surprised to see him when she walked into the classroom, just as the bell rang. She had likely been warned about Steve beforehand. As her eyes ran over the students, one by one, they seemed to go straight past Steve, as if he weren’t even there.

There had to be some way out of this. There had to be. When Steve first went into high school, he’d been able to skip straight into pre-calc by convincing the algebra teacher that he knew all of the material. His algebra teacher had let him take the final exam, and he aced it. Just like that, he’d been allowed into pre-calc. Maybe there was some sort of quiz he could take, proving that he knew literally everything a third grader would know.

Just as Mrs. Reeve was about to open her mouth, Steve said aloud, “Is there any way that I could, like, not be here?”

Mrs. Reeve narrowed her eyes, and the kids around him snickered. “When you speak, you have to raise your hand first,” Mrs. Reeve told him. She looked impatient already.

With a grunt, Steve raised his hand.

She didn’t call on him. “Welcome to your first day of third grade!” she said, suddenly wearing a brilliant and cheesy smile. “Don’t any of you worry. Things won’t be too difficult on our first day. We’re just going to play some games to get to know each other.”

One of the girls in the back row asked, “Who’s the big guy?”

Steve hissed at her, “You have to raise your hand!”

He was ignored. Mrs. Reeve answered, “This is Steve. He’s one of our older students. He had to be held back, due to complications he had with his high school.”

“That’s not really how—” Steve started, but he was drowned out by the muttering and giggling kids all around him. Why had he decided to sit right in the center of the classroom? He should’ve sat in the back, so he didn’t feel so surrounded. And that way the boy picking his nose behind him could actually see the board.

Do they care that a boy his blatantly picking his nose in the middle of the classroom? No. They care that the really big kid forgot to raise his hand.

“Everybody,” Mrs. Reeve said. “We’re going to go around the room, and I want everybody to say their name and something special about themselves. We’ll start here.” She pointed.

“I’m Jessica,” a girl said. “I have a horse!”

“Excellent!” Mrs. Reeve said, wearing her cheesy smile again.

“I’m Toby,” a boy said. “My dad has a motorcycle!”

“Great!” Mrs. Reeve said.

The activity continued predictably, but Steve actually felt nervous as his turn approached.

“My name is Susie, and I can make cookies!”

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Reeve beamed.

Steve cleared his throat. “I’m Steve. I’m seventeen years old.”

“Mmhmm,” Mrs. Reeve grunted, turning to the next student. Apparently the special fact wasn’t special enough.

“I’m Cody,” the next boy said. “I can do a somersault!”

“Lovely!” Mrs. Reeve said cheerily.

Steve couldn’t help but roll his eyes, yet as soon as he did, he felt embarrassed. He found himself hoping that the teacher hadn’t noticed.

After they’d finished the activity, every kid got a piece of paper and was told to draw a picture of themselves. What? Seriously? Steve had finished elementary school so long ago, he’d forgotten how stupid this stuff was. Like, he knew it’d be kinda stupid, but but this was ridiculous! He was bored out of his mind.

Two hours passed. The monotony finally stopped when their first recess started, at ten thirty. Steve dragged his feet out to the hall while the kids swarmed around him, threatening to knock him to the ground. Steve seemed to be the last person to make it to the playground while other classes spilled out of the school. Fourth graders. First graders. All of them. The play structure was coated with children.

“Who’s the big kid?” one girl asked a friend, too loudly.

“I dunno, but he looks gross,” her friend answered.

“You don’t think he’s stupid, do you?”

Steve spoke up. “It’s not because I’m stupid. I’m actually quite—”

But the girls screamed and ran away.

Somehow that was the best thing that happened during recess. A kid followed Steve around making faces. One boy called him a “baby adult.” A few of the kids thought that he was some kind of undercover teacher, and kept trying to figure it out in the least subtle ways imaginable. A couple of girls decided that he had cooties, and Steve thought it would be funny to tell them what an STD was, but a teacher overheard him and made him stand in a corner for half of the recess.

It was insane. It was impossible. How could the highest achieving student in an entire high school be reduced to this? How was he being treated like a disrespectful idiot? And… were these kids bullying him? Was that what this was? The teachers seemed to loathe the mere sight of him, so he got the feeling that he would be getting into trouble a lot more he already had.

But at least there wasn’t going to be much homework. At least he didn’t have to worry about grades at all.

It was a whole year. An entire year of third grade.

Steve wasn’t going to survive.