5. The Un-Tradable Lunch
The first half of the day was pretty normal. Miss Weaver continued a lesson on government and only stopped once for a story.
“The legislative branch of the government is important. Probably the most important, if you ask me. As it turns out, a former student of mine is actually a state senator, and since I was his favorite teacher, I can ask him for favors. I don’t want to brag, but he’s gotten me out of at least twenty parking tickets,” she said with a proud laugh.
I always wondered how many parking tickets you could get before they stopped letting you park. I didn’t know how to drive yet, but of all the things you had to do, parking seemed the easiest.
I had been too preoccupied to eat breakfast, so by lunchtime I was starving. Soy and I sat together in the lunchroom everyday, but weren’t picky about which table we used. The lunchroom was long and narrow with a dozen brightly colored tables. Soy and I sat down at the far end of a skinny blue table, as close to the corner as you could get. There were at least ten seats between us and any of our classmates, which was good because Soy’s voice was known for being loud. So loud that after our third grade spelling bee it was agreed, for everyone’s sake, that Soy would never be allowed to speak into a microphone again.
“How are we going to find the frog?” he asked.
“Why are you asking me? I’ve never looked for a talking frog before,” I said.
“Well, I’ve been thinking. Frogs like flies, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied as I started pulling my lunch out of my bag.
“And they like ponds?” Soy added.
“Yes,” I said again.
“Well, that’s something,” he said.
“That’s not a plan though, Soy,” I replied.
“The rest is on you! I spent all morning on that,” Soy shrieked.
When I reached inside my bag again, I stopped trying to think of a plan.
My mom didn’t really know how to pack a good lunch. Every once in awhile, she made one so bad that it was completely un-eatable and un-tradable. Still, she had never given me anything slimy. Never anything wet. And definitely never, ever anything that moved. There was no doubt in mind that my hand was on a frog.
It had to be her. It was the only thing that made sense. Then I reminded myself that none of this truly made sense. I tried not to panic, but knew that I had to warn Soy from across the table. I had to find a way to be discrete. The frog sat still, breathing in and out from inside my hand.
“Sheez een my beg,” I said through clenched teeth.
“What did you say?” Soy asked.
"I said, sheeez eeeenn my beg," I repeated.
“Huh, who’s seen your pig?” he said.
“No, sheeeez eeeeeen myyyy begggg,” I said slowly.
“Wait, when did you even get a pig?” Soy asked with his arms crossed, “You’d better let me ride it…”
Soy was convinced that you could ride any animal larger than a cat. Also, sometimes cats. My mom had made it clear that Soy was the reason we could never own any pets.
“Soy,” I said, unclenching my teeth, “put your hand in my bag.”
As he did, his facial expression changed.
“Ohhh,” he exclaimed, “it’s in your bag!”
The frog must have understood what was going on because she was still waiting patiently.
“Let’s bring it out and ask it some questions,” Soy said.
The bag moved a little bit.
“She, I mean! Let’s bring her out!” he said too loudly.
“Shh, we don’t want anyone to hear,” I whispered, trying to think of what to do next.
Soy was eating make-your-own soft tacos that he'd bought from the cafeteria. They were one of his favorite lunches. He still had the ingredients for two more tacos, with the tortillas waiting on the side. I had an idea, but he wasn’t going to be happy with it.
“Give me your tortillas,” I said.
“What? Why?” he said, almost hurt.
“Soy, I’m sorry," I said, "but I need your lunch.”
“But… it’s soft taco day,” Soy replied sadly, handing them over.
I used the tortillas and our milk cartons to build a small fort for the frog. The opening faced me, so that only I could see inside. I laid my lunch bag down nearby, so the frog could see what I had built.
“Listen,” I whispered at the bag, “when I say so, jump out into the fort, okay?”
There was no reply, but I was pretty sure that she had heard. Soy and I both looked around, trying to seem relaxed. The kids who were sitting closest to us had gotten up to talk to the girls sitting two tables over. Soy looked left, then right, and gave a nod.
“Now,” I whispered.
In a quick green blur, the frog jumped from the bag to inside the fort. She turned around, and I saw her glasses. It was her. She spoke loud enough for Soy and me to hear, but nobody else.
“Are you all right?” she said. “What did the man in the bowtie ask you? What did he do to you?”
“He didn’t do anything to me, but he did ask about you,” I answered.
“Ream has been on my tail for a while now,” she said.
“Frogs don’t have tails,” said Soy.
But I did realize something at that moment.
“I don’t know your name yet,” I said.
“You may call me Delilah, or Deli for short," she replied.
Her face got much more serious (as serious as a frog’s face can get).
“It’s very important that you tell me exactly what you told Ream. Can you do that?” She asked.
“Yes. I, well… I accidentally told him that you and I spoke. I’m sorry,” I said, and I meant it.
“That’s all right," Deli said, “it’s not your fault.”
“Then he asked why you came to talk to me. Why did you come to talk to me?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about that now," she said. "What did you tell him?”
“I told him that Soy and I caught you by accident, and that you told us not to tell anyone,” I answered.
“Brilliant!” she said. "It won’t hold him off for long, but it’ll confuse him. Then what happened?”
“Then my mom saw that he had upset me and kicked him out straight away," I told Deli.
“Oh, she did wonderfully! Your mom is a strong one, you know,” she said.
I wanted to know how she would know that, but there were other things that I wanted to know more.
“Who is he?” I asked.
“That,” she said with a deep breath, “is a complicated answer.”
“He’s an alien, isn’t he?” asked Soy in an excited voice.
“No, he’s not an alien,” Deli replied, but in a way that didn't make Soy feel silly for asking.
It made me like her a bit more.
“Can you tell us who he is then?” I asked.
Deli paused for a while before answering. “He’s a dragon,” she said.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I thought the word must mean something different than how it sounded.
“Technically, he’s the King of the Dragons,” she added.
Soy rolled his eyes.
“Thanks for clearing that up,” he said, “I was going to guess unicorn.” Deli couldn’t see his eye roll, but Soy’s tone made it clear that he thought she was delusional.
“You mean like a dragon-dragon?” I asked.
“Wait, maybe she meant a sea dragon,” interjected Soy, “like this guy Ream must be the dreaded King of the Sea Dragons.”
Deli wasn’t amused.
“I mean dragons!” she said firmly, “as in fire-breathing, hard-scaled, flying-not-swimming dragons,” she rebutted.
“But…” I said like I was breaking bad news, “dragons aren’t real."
Deli brought one of her frog legs up to her head and smacked it.
“Listen to me. There are things in this world that we don’t know, until we do,” she said.
It was a good point, and it was made by a talking frog. If we were arguing in a courtroom, that would have been her “Exhibit A”.
“Okay, fair enough. But if dragons are real, then why hasn’t anybody ever talked about them before?” I asked.
“They have. You can read about them in hundreds of books,” she countered.
“You mean fairytales?” asked Soy as he raised his head above the fort, trying to peek in.
Before Deli could say another word, a hand hit the table and started tapping its nails. Deli tucked herself back under the cover of the fort as far as she could go.
“The bell has rung, boys,” said Miss Weaver. “Lunch is over, and Principal Lance would like to see you.”
I had completely forgotten about the bell, on account of the existence of dragons.
Miss Weaver was not in a good mood. She always got that way when it was her turn to chaperone the lunch room. I assumed it was because it cut into her shoulder pad naps.
"We’re not done with our lunches, Miss Weaver,” I said politely.
“This looks more like playtime than lunch! I can’t have you building houses out of food,” she said, struggling to find a reason, “because… because then everyone would want to do it!”
Soy was nodding in agreement.
“It’s true. I’m kind of jealous of it myself,” he admitted.
Miss Weaver started walking away to grab one of the garbage cans at the other end of the table.
“Deli!” I whisper-shouted, “she’s bringing a garbage can. You’ve gotta hide!”
Without a word, Deli leapt forward. A split-second later Miss Weaver turned around and dragged the trash can over to us. She used one arm to push all of our food into the can. That put Soy in a worse mood than Miss Weaver. His taco lunch was gone forever. Never to be eaten.
“Get moving. Don’t keep Principal Lance waiting,” said Miss Weaver.
At that moment, I didn’t care about the principal or Miss Weaver. I cared about dragons and the frog named Deli inside my shirt.