Alex walked out of the change room and dragged his feet down the hall. His mind was flooded with the look on Henry’s face after the viscous conversation they had just moments before. It was hard to be so cold...so mean, but Alex somehow knew he had no other choice. Rudy was probably right. Marks didn’t really matter in the sixth grade. It's all about survival.
“Hey, watch it buddy.” A large muscular boy plowed around the corner, grazing Alex’s arm. “You almost hit me man.”
Alex’s face heated up. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Next time, you will be sorry,” the guy grunted.
Alex marched quickly down the hall toward his locker, not daring to look back. He knew who the kid was. He knew who he almost bumped into. He just didn’t want to think about it. The last thing he needed was to make a critical error like that on his first day.
"I almost died....I almost died,” Alex muttered, slapping his forehead. “What was I thinking? Be smart, don't get eaten.”
The smell of pizza filled the air around him as Alex walked into the junior wing. He opened up his locker and for a brief moment, he felt comfort in the aroma of his mom’s homemade pepperoni pizza. She made the best pizza...by far, and as he sniffed the freshly made crust, the crazy day he was having was on pause. “I can do this,” he said to himself. “I can totally do this.”
Alex shuffled into the cafeteria with a faint glimmer of happiness...and hope. He was starving and couldn’t wait to shovel his delicious lunch into his empty stomach. At the same time, he felt like he might be able to survive the sixth grade after all. He just needed to think and be careful.
And maybe have eyes on the back of his head.
Alex puffed out his chest and gripped tightly onto his lunch bag. The cafeteria was quite large, and like last year, Alex found a table near the back corner by one of the big windows. It was a great spot. Whenever he was caught staring at someone, like the beautiful Daisy Darlington, he could always quickly look away outside.
“Pizza and Daisy...two great parts to my day.” Alex closed his eyes and imagined the moment when she would walk into the cafeteria.
He couldn’t wait.
For a second, Alex felt time stand still. That important moment where his problems disappeared.
The room seemed silent.
He inhaled and slowly breathed out.
However, when he opened his eyes, Henry shuffled into the room. His massive body and ridiculous purple overalls stood out like a hippo in a hamster’s cage. A lot of the kids from the other grades hadn’t seen the giant kid yet and like Alex’s class they pointed and whispered to each other.
A little first grader screamed, sprinting out of the cafeteria. “There’s a purple Ogre-Beast in the school!”
Henry sat at the table in front of Alex with his back to him. His tall frame took up half of the lunch table and his seat looked like a tiny doll’s chair.
“My new gym partner,” Alex mumbled. “This is all Finley’s fault. What kind of person would just ditch his best friend and move to Boston? Now I’m stuck with...a giant purple monster.”
The sunlight from outside beamed through the large window onto the back of Henry’s head, as though the world wanted to put the spotlight on him, to show everyone how strange he was.
“Why me? Why did it have to be me?”
The muffled sounds of kid’s voices entered back into his head. He eyed the entrance in time to see Daisy gracefully step into view with her lunch tray. Beside her, were her two closest friends, Lisa Weatherly and Darla McGregor.
“Hello. I’ve been waiting for you.” Alex rubbed his hands together. “The goddess of Timpleville, at last. Your hair looks a little different than it did last year, but I like...me likes a lot.” Alex opened up his lunch bag and pushed half a slice of pizza into his mouth. The thick sauce dribbled down the side of his face.
Daisy elegantly walked down the stairs toward the junior tables. Every step she took was like an artistic movement in a classical ballet.
Alex wiped the sauce from his chin and ripped off another piece with his molars. He grabbed a couple more pieces and flopped them down in front of him.
The light from the window brightened Daisy’s face, creating a warm angelic glow around her.
Alex pulled out some napkins, listening to her gentle voice tickle the insides of his ears as she talked to her friends. For a second, Alex was positive she looked directly at him. “Does she want to talk to me? Does she like the smell of my lunch?” Alex licked his teeth, cleared his throat and smiled.
“Hi Daisy, how are you?” he whispered to himself. “Would you like some pizza? It’s homemade I made it just for you.” He shifted his chair and leaned back. “Hi Daisy...care for a bite of my saucy pizza? No...um, Hi Daisy, wanna join me for a glorious pepperoni ride?”
As Daisy walked closer, Alex noticed some kids at his table.
“Who are you talking to?” Rudy flicked his hair back and nudged his friend Satbir.
“Um, nobody,” mumbled Alex. He lowered his head and shoved some crust into his mouth.
“Loser,” laughed Rudy. “Were you practicing what to say to Daisy Darlington?”
“Um, no, I was...working on...a thing.”
“A thing? Whatever dude, you’re weird.” He snorted and picked a piece of pepperoni from Alex’s slice.
“I’m not weird.”
Rudy shook his head and walked with Satbir to an empty table a few rows away.
“I’m not weird.” Alex wiped his pizza slice where Rudy had touched and glanced back over to Daisy. Her long brown hair was like silk, perfectly placed on her head.
Her eyes glowed.
Her face glowed.
“O...M...G.” Alex sighed.
Daisy stopped at the table in front of him and put down her lunch bag. She looked over to Henry and smiled.
She was actually smiling.
What was worse, she sat down right beside him. Not two seats over, not on the other side of the table, but right beside Henry Greenfield.
Alex clenched the napkins and dropped them onto the table. “What? What is going on? Why is she sitting with him? She doesn’t even know him.”
Alex shook his head and sighed. He stared at the corner of his pizza and dug his teeth into the cheesy dough. Marcos Rudyard, the captain of the boys’ basketball team glanced over while Alex picked off a piece of pepperoni.
Alex dangled it in front of him, wiggling it from side to side. “Hi Marcos. Want some?”
Marcos turned up his nose. “Who are you?”
“Alex. I’m Alex. Do you want some pizza?”
“No. Don’t talk to me.” Marcos kicked the chair and walked past.
Alex shrugged it off and picked up his napkins, waving them at his slices, pushing the aroma out into the maze of hungry children. A couple of second grade kids watched, and slyly moved another table.
“Wow, this is soooo yummy!” Alex shouted. He lifted a slice above his head, twirled it around in circles.
Janey Blondeski, a girl who lived on his street stopped at his table. She turned up the corner of her mouth and frowned. “Um, like, are you okay?”
“Yup. Want some?”
“Like no...gross. Your hands are all over it.”
Alex lowered it to his mouth and took a bite. “Holy cow, this tastes magical!”
“It’s pizza,” Janey replied.
“Magical!” Alex shouted. He stood up with a slice and stepped past Janey. “Your loss.” He walked over to a table of fifth graders where Bradley Blunker, was sitting. “Hey neighbor!” Alex lifted his chin and stood in front of him waving the napkins at his slice. “This pizza is soooo good.”
Bradley took a swig of his milk and placed it onto the table. “What are you doing Alex?”
“I’m eating this delicious pizza. Do you want some? You can even sit with me at my table.”
“No thanks.” Bradley shook his head and flicked his friend Simon in the ear. “We’re good.”
Simon rubbed the side of his face and punched Bradley in the shoulder. “Your neighbor is weird.”
Alex crumpled the napkins and dropped them on the floor. He turned around and pulled himself back to his table. He tossed his pizza into his bag and slumped down in his chair. Maybe it just wasn’t the right day. Maybe he just needed more time...more ideas...more confidence. Whatever he needed, Alex was pretty sure his day wasn’t going to get any better. He folded his bag and stared up at the big clock at the back of the caf. The best thing he could do was just keep his mouth shut and wait for the day to end. His brother used to always tell him, ‘it’s better to quit while you’re ahead.’
Alex was pretty sure he wasn’t ahead, but quitting was probably smart anyway.
He flopped his head down onto the table. Daisy’s voice paraded through his ears. He looked over to her between his bag of pizza and juice box. Her hand was touching Henry’s shoulder. The two smiled at each other, laughing and joking about something.
“I don’t get it. You’re not even in the same class as that ugly beast.” Alex inched his lunch bag over slightly. Daisy brushed her hair back and delicately sipped from her pink water bottle. “What are you talking about? That’s supposed to be me sitting there, talking, giggling, laughing, touching my shoulder...not him.” Alex banged his head on the table. “Hi Daisy, why are you talking to this giant freak? Do you feel sorry for him? Are you trying to make me jealous? It’s working.”
Since moving to Timpleville a couple years ago, Alex had promised himself that he would one day talk to Daisy. The goal was more of a long term plan, but he spent most mornings on the bus ride to school imagining how the conversation would go. He figured it would likely be another year or so before he would commit to the big event, but maybe it was better to bite the bullet and just go for it.
His brother used to tell him that as well.
Or was it Finley?
Maybe he had a goal after all. Maybe Mrs. Oxford would understand that his mission that year was to talk to Daisy Darlington.
“You’re so funny Henry.” Daisy’s voice slipped through the buzz of conversations still filling the cafeteria.
Henry’s giant head vibrated as he laughed about something.
Alex ripped strips of paper off his lunch bag and flicked them on the floor. He stood up and marched over to her. His heart pounded hard against his chest. Standing directly behind her, he cleared his throat.
“Um….uh….um.” The blood rushed out of his head. “Um...ah.”
Daisy pulled her hair to the side and lifted her head up to Alex. “Hi Alex.” Her piercing blue eyes sparkled in the light.
Alex took a big breath and opened his mouth again. “Um...um.” A white haze coated his vision. His body wavered from side to side. “Um.” Alex stepped back, and hustled over to his table and ducked down behind his pizza bag. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists.
Laughter bounced around the cafeteria.
The blood returned to his head, heating up his face.
He opened his eyes, plucking off strips from the napkins.
His neck trembled.
His hands trembled.
His right eye twitched.
“Henry Greenfield,” he muttered, rising up to his feet. He reached into his lunch bag and weaved through the leftover slices of pizza and pulled out the biggest piece. Sauce dripped down the side of his hand as he stomped over to Daisy’s table. He lifted the thick cheesy, pepperoni crust high above his head and tossed it straight into the back of Henry’s giant orange head.
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