* * *
“Oh, crappage,” said Kelsey. “I think this is the same fake chicken they served yesterday.”
Joan, Kelsey and their friends were sitting at their usual table for lunch.
“It is,” said another. “Just the sauce is different. Today it’s barbeque chicken because of the barbeque sauce. Yesterday it was teriyaki chicken because of the teriyaki sauce. Tomorrow they’ll throw spaghetti sauce over it and call it…” she couldn’t think of the name. “What do they call it?”
“Chicken parmesan,” Joan said.
“It’s the same stuff they use to make meatballs and rib patties,” Kelsey continued. “They just add flavoring and color.”
“What’s in it?”
“I hear they take all the parts nobody wants—bones, guts, feathers, hooves—and blend it all together,” said one of the others. “Yum!”
“Stop talking or you’ll gross out Kelsey,” said Joan. “Let her eat her random-animal-parts patty and enjoy it.”
“I know why you don’t eat this junk,” Kelsey said to Joan. “So when you meet Chaz in a few minutes and get all kissy face with him, you won’t have random-animal-parts breath.”
“Eww!” they chorused.
“You know,” Kelsey continued. “Chaz eats this same stuff. Think of that the next time you two smooch.”
“This is a nasty conversation,” Joan laughed. “Are you trying the make me barf the next time I kiss him?”
She looked over to the doors that led to the hall and the stairwell where she’d meet Chaz between lunch periods. She saw Tim walk by. He glanced in without slowing and then bolted up the stairs. Joan suddenly became curious; she never saw him in the cafeteria and not outside either. In fact, she never saw him anywhere except in English class. As a sophomore he must have first lunch period, so why wasn’t he eating?
“I’ll be right back,” she said.
“You’re going to eat this stuff?”
“I don’t know,” Joan replied. “I’ll see what they have.”
With her bag, she made her way from the table.
Joan didn’t head toward the lunch line, but straight out the door and up the stairs. Besides the cafeteria, the only other place a student could go during lunch was the library, so that’s where she went. As she entered, she glanced over at the large tables that dominated the center, but she knew Tim well enough to know he wouldn’t sit at these. There were smaller sitting areas here and there, tucked behind bookshelves along the walls; that was more Tim’s style. Joan circled the library but didn’t find him. She stopped in front of a side room where class sets and reserved books were stored. Students didn’t go in there. She didn’t know if it was a rule or not, but they just didn’t.
Where did he go? she thought.
Not far away sat Tim in his library corner. He was shaking his head with a look of annoyance at his latest attempt of Tim and the Giant. Tired of all the running and hiding, he had tried a number of times to force his character Tim to face the colossus. Over the course of the last few days, Tim had found a variety of weapons to use. On one occasion he stabbed at the creature with a spear, but the beast simply reached out and snapped it like a twig between his enormous thumb and forefinger. Both a sword and a mace had bounced uselessly off the monster’s thick hide. In this installment, an axe had been flicked aside by an impenetrable finger nail. Tim ripped out the pages and wadded them up so he wouldn’t have to write another running-away scene.
“There you are.”
Tim had been so deep into his story that Joan’s voice startled him. He was stunned to see anybody else there.
“Uh,” Tim awkwardly greeted her.
“You’re hard to find.”
“Uh,” he said again, trying to recover from the surprise. “No one ever looks for me.”
“Cozy here,” she commented with a glance around the little alcove.
Joan had come looking for Tim, wondering why he wasn’t in the cafeteria, but now that she was here, a dozen questions popped into her head. She knew very little about him and had no clue what to ask first. His last story was still on her mind, so she decided to start with that.
“Your stories never go the way stories should.” Joan began. “I guess I should’ve expected that.”
“Hey,” Tim defended himself. “You got a perfect kingdom, a castle in the sky and a unicorn. I even threw in a happy ending. You can live happily ever after in Hillvaleham.”
“Every girl’s dream town,” she said. “I suppose you’d write a nice story if I asked for a horrible one,” she observed.
His eyes narrowed. “You don’t want to ask me for that,” he said, shaking his head.
She saw the dark undercurrents beneath his gaze. “No. Maybe not.”
Tim’s fairy tales did not follow the rules. Joan understood his writing so much better than at first. She didn’t mind seeing herself or Chaz or even Tim in the stories anymore. They were just characters. And Tim would include whatever he thought a story needed. He was very bold in his writing and often funny.
She laughed. “I’ll never think of marshmallows the same way.”