Another social gathering, attendance mandatory - no begging off this time. Wandering around aimlessly, forcing smiles and responding politely to the parents, darting indecisive, envious glances at the other kids, running around and shouting and playing. Find a quiet corner somewhere no one's looking, watch everyone for awhile - adults talking, youngsters having fun. Loners aren't noticed. Wander off away from all the people, bitter of spirit - too shy to join in the games, lonely, sick of being shy and lonely. Unusually, one of the others comes up, extends invitation. Polite declination - "Not right now, thanks," unconvincing smile. They run away, back to the game - they didn't mean it, anyway. Curl up on a bench and mope.

Mothers yelling - "Come and get it!" Vacillate a moment, would appearing on the scene after being absent so long raise eyebrows? No one noticed anyone missing, no one would notice a reappearance. Join the food line, in the back. Smiling, well-intentioned woman asks, "Having fun?" Plaster on artificial smile, bob head, assure her, yes, yes, quite fun. Sit with family, eat the hotdog quietly, avoid everyone's eyes. Claim tiredness, headache, when urged to go join the others. Sip at third soda, already feeling jittery from taut nerves and too much sugar.

Picnic over, finally time to leave. People calling out merry farewells. Another social survived. No one saw past the plastic smile, the plaster mask.