6. Bathroom Break
It would be hard to imagine a better principal than Principal Lance. He had grey hair down to his shoulders, even though he was bald in the front. He was the oldest person at Stagwood, but he didn’t act like it. I had never heard anyone say a bad word about him, and I wouldn’t have either. Every year, on my birthday, he called me into his office and gave me a candy bar. I know he did the same for Soy (who usually finished his before he got back to the class and showed up with chocolate all over his face) and probably everyone else in my class. Still, he had a way of making me feel like I was more than some kid.
Principal Lance’s office was small and crowded with stuff, but felt friendly. He had stacks and stacks of dusty books that looked like they were hundreds of years old. I heard that a girl once sneezed on one of them by accident, and it blew away in pieces. The way the story goes, Principal Lance laughed so hard that he forgot why he had sent for her. But, as Soy and I walked into his office, it seemed less friendly than usual. Miss Weaver gave a small, awkward bow and left us. As it turned out, Principal Lance wasn’t alone. What I saw first in the chair next to us was a yellowish-gold bowtie, and then the large grin of Mr. Ream. My heart sank.
“Have a seat, kids,” said Principal Lance. “You’ve done nothing wrong, but Mr. Ream has insisted that he speak with you. And I insisted on being present. And so, with all this insisting going on, here we are!”
I always enjoyed the way that Principal Lance explained things.
I had expected Ream to speak to me, but he turned to Soy instead.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. Hello, Soy. My name is Mr. Ream,” he said.
“Hello, my name is Soy,” said Soy.
“Yes… as I said, hello, Soy,” said Ream, already losing patience.
Soy had a knack for making people lose their patience faster than anyone I’d ever met. My dad called it “impressive”. My mom preferred not to talk about it.
“Hello,” said Soy a second time.
“Soy, do you know why I’m here?” asked Ream.
“No. Do you know why I’m here?” Soy asked back.
Ream was about to lose his cool. He turned to Principal Lance.
“If you would let me speak with them alone, we could be done with this much faster,” Ream said.
“As I’ve told you, if you’d like to speak with my students, you’ll do it with me present,” said Principal Lance.
“I’m here as a representative of the school board,” Ream said sternly.
“And I am here as caretaker to these children. Unless you are their parent or guardian, you may not speak to them without me present,” Principal Lance said even more sternly.
Soy’s face was already covered in chocolate from a small bowl that Principal Lance had left unguarded. Ream looked over at Soy, shuddering at the thought of being his parent or guardian.
“This will not be brought up in front of the children again,” finished Principal Lance.
“Very well,” resigned Ream. “Soy, I need to know if you’ve noticed anything unusual in the past couple of days.”
The conversation was starting just like mine had, and that got me worried. The longer Ream questioned Soy or me, the more chances we would have to slip up again, even with Principal Lance there. I could still feel Deli inside my shirt, and I didn’t want to think about what would happen if Ream got his hands on her. Or, if we believed Deli, his claws.
“Sir, may I go to the bathroom?” I blurted out.
“Of course,” said Principal Lance.
Ream gave the slightest hint of a smile. He relished the idea of talking to Soy without me around.
“Um, also, I’m not allowed to go without my bathroom pal,” I said.
“Pardon?” said Principal Lance.
"Miss Weaver told us that we have to go with a bathroom pal if we want to use the bathroom. I could get in a lot of trouble if she finds out that I went alone.”
I realized that I was learning how to think on my feet more and more since meeting Deli. It wasn’t the greatest lie ever told, but I hoped it would do.
“Bathroom pal? Seems a little unnecessary at your age. ‘Bathroom buddy’ has a nicer ring, anyway. Well, so be it. Go on then, Soy,” said Principal Lance.
I nudged Soy before he could object.
“Yeah…” said Soy, “I’d better go with him. He always gets lost without me.”
Soy was the one who had walked into the girls' room by accident, not once, but twice that year already. But I wasn’t about to argue with him. Not then, at least.
“You can’t let them both go,” said Mr. Ream, “what if they...”
“What if they run away?” interrupted Principal Lance. “Would you like me to disable their getaway car, just to be safe?” he laughed. “Mr. Ream, when my students need to use the restroom, they use the restroom.”
He rose and ushered us towards the door.
“And that goes for their bathroom pals, as well,” he said, giving me a small wink.
As we walked out I could tell that Ream was upset, but he dared not argue against Principal Lance again. Ream knew that we were up to something, but luckily for us, he didn’t know what. Not-so-luckily for us, neither did I.
Walking through the brightly lit hallway, I didn’t stop at the nearest bathroom. Instead, I kept walking and looked down at the green tiles under my feet, wondering what to do next.
"Where are we going?” Soy asked.
“I don’t know yet,” I told him.
We passed the library, then turned the corner and passed two more bathrooms: one for students and one for visitors. Either one would have done if I was actually looking for a bathroom. At the moment, the last place I wanted us to be was somewhere that Ream expected us to be. I was pretty sure that if there was a book called Dealing with Dragons, Chapter One would be: “Don’t Corner Yourself and Tell the Dragon Exactly Where to Find You”, or some version of that.
“What are we supposed to do now,” I whispered to Deli inside my shirt.
“You need to get home,” Deli answered, “it’s not safe here anymore.”
"What’s she saying?” asked Soy.
"She said we need to get to my house," I told him.
"What’s at your house?” he asked me.
"What’s at my house?” I asked Deli.
A mop splashed onto the floor, and my head shot up to see the custodian, Mr. Salazar, staring at me.
"I sometimes talk to my belly button. Sometimes,” I stammered to Mr. Salazar.
“Me too,” said Soy without skipping a beat.
He pulled his shirt away from his body, stuck his head down, and said, “Hey, little guy, come on out and say hi!”
Soy’s bellybutton was sometimes an innie and sometimes an outtie, so I wondered if this was actually a conversation that he'd had with it before. Mr. Salazar shook his head, and continued mopping in the other direction.
I didn’t want to risk running into anyone else, so we snuck into the empty auditorium. When I got inside, I remembered that there was an exit behind the stage that would lead us straight into the woods. During play rehearsals, when the auditorium got too hot, they opened the door and let the breeze in. “No sense wasting money on air conditioning,” Miss Weaver would say. She was the self-appointed director every year since she, “knew how to deal with talent.”
I was pretty familiar with the stage area. Not only had I been the (first truly) Weeping Willow, I had also been a stagehand. Soy knew a little about the stage, too. He had tried out for the lead once, but was given the role of a crocodile instead. He was mentioned in every review, although indirectly. “Was the crocodile supposed to talk?” and “Why did it have an accent?” were two of his favorite comments.
Now the stage exit was our best shot at escaping without being seen.
“This way,” I said, hurrying down the side aisle.
The set for the next play was still being built. There was a forest, and a small hut with pieces of wood scattered all around it. I hadn’t paid attention to what the production was, since deciding not to try out again. Soy had gotten a lifetime ban* for his crocodile performance and it wouldn’t have been much fun without him.
*Soy had told me that he outgrew the theater. It wasn’t until I saw “BANNED FROM THE THEATER” posters with his face on them that I found out the truth.
I let Deli out onto the stage, and then Soy and I hopped up after her. The glowing red exit sign was in sight when we passed the hut, but a loud noise from the front of the auditorium stopped us in our tracks.
“Get down!” yelled Deli.
We crouched behind the flat wooden hut. Deli instinctively crouched too, which I thought was strange. Then I saw the terrible news for myself through a window in the hut. It was Ream, and he was being escorted down the aisle by Mr. Salazar.
“They came in here. They were acting all odd, talking to their tummies,” said Mr. Salazar.
“Hmm, I see. Thank you, that will be all,” Ream said with a wave of his hand.
“Who did you say you worked for again?” asked the janitor.
“The school board. The one that decides your salary,” replied Ream as he strode down the aisle towards us.
Mr. Salazar mumbled something I couldn’t hear and left the auditorium.
Ream was looking down each row of seats as he walked. When he was halfway down, he started speaking.
“I know that you’re in here,” he said.
“Is he talking to us?” whispered Soy.
“We need to get out of here!” said Deli.
“He’ll see us if we run for the exit,” I said.
“We need to find a way to make him angry,” she whispered.
"If he really is a dragon, is that such a good idea?’ asked Soy.
“It’s the only way. Trust me,” said Deli.
I looked around the set. I’d never set out to make an adult angry before (especially one that worked for the school) but this was cause for an exception. My eyes settled on a handwritten sign that I had seen many times before, attached to the switch beside us. It read: DO NOT TOUCH.
"I know how,” I said shakily, “but he’ll need to get closer.”
“Not a problem,” whispered Soy.
Ream vaulted up onto the stage, apparently finished searching the seats. He was the tallest person I’d ever seen. If we didn’t do something soon, he would find us in seconds.
“I knew he was hiding something. You’ve been following these two for a few days now, Delilah. Have you finally found him?” Ream asked with a villainous grin.
Soy was about to ask a question, but Deli quieted him with one look. Ream was ten feet away, right where the set began.
“Whatever you’re going to do, do it now!” she whispered.
I lunged to the side, tore through the warning sign and flipped the switch. Ream shot his head towards me with a sinister snarl. There was a loud crack from above the stage. A wave of red came crashing down on Ream's head, covering him and the ground completely. I was in shock. The curtain had fallen directly on him, just as I had planned, but seeing it happen startled me.
“Do you think I hurt him?” I asked.
I approached the pile slowly, but Deli jumped in front.
“No! We have to go now!” she exclaimed.
The pile began to rise from the center. It kept growing until it almost reached the ceiling. In a burst, the curtain was split in two by sharp claws. There, standing in front of us, was the King of the Dragons.