The class bell caused me to jump. Lunch time, or as I think of it, the worst time of the day. Slowly, I gathered my books as the rest of the class hurried out the door. By the time I closed my locker, the hallway was nearly empty.
I used to sneak to the library and eat my sandwich there. But, one day I was unaware Mr. Peterson was combing the aisles. Right away, he smelled my peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich.
He caught me mid-bite.
No longer was I allowed to hide in the library during lunch time. I took a deep breath and pushed on the heavy cafeteria door.
Noise surrounded me as I entered. Eagerly, I looked at the teacher’s table hoping there would be reinforcements for protection. No such luck. The only teacher sitting there was Nervous Nelson. He earned his nickname because he just sits and sips his coffee. Even during class.
I walked to my usual table, right next to the garbage and sat in my usual seat. I unfolded my paper bag and lifted out my sandwich.
I started counting in my head and got to 26 just as I took my first bite.
“Hey,” I heard the familiar sneer, “What’s that smell?” Kyle knew the smell. He commented on it everyday. “Brinkerhoff must be here.”
“Don’t you mean Stinkerhoff?” his friend Wade asked and the tables around me broke into laughter. I wondered if I’m the only one tired of the same jokes.
“What kind of sandwich do you have there?” Kyle asked.
I pictured myself standing up and announcing it’s the same kind as always. But instead, I lowered my head and answered, “Tuna fish.”
“What’s that?” Kyle asked mockingly.
The lunch room quieted down to watch the daily show.
“Tuna and peanut butter,” I responded and quickly took two more bites.
“Gross.” I heard a girl say. It sounded like the same girl who said it the day before.
I looked up and saw Kyle and Wade standing above me. I tried to finish my sandwich by shoving the rest into my mouth.
“Geez, Buster,” Kyle said. “Don’t be such a pig.”
My mouth was full and the peanut butter was making swallowing difficult. I reached for my carton of milk. Kyle beat me to it and took a big gulp.
“That’s good stuff,” he said. “Want some?”
It wasn’t a matter of want, I needed it to wash my sandwich down. I couldn’t even chew.
I nodded my head, hoping for mercy.
“Be polite,” he said, “ask for it nicely.”
I tried to swallow but couldn’t. I couldn’t even close my mouth. All I could drool out was “Ees.”
“What?” he asked.
I tried again.
“I still can’t hear you.” He held the carton tantalizingly in front of me.
I tried to ask again, but this time I gagged out my sandwich.
The students started whispering about how gross that was.
“That’s not right,” Kyle said.
“You’re disgusting,” Wade agreed.
They walked back to their table and took my milk with them.
As soon as the bell rang, I ran out. I hate lunch time.
The next day I looked at my watch before entering the cafeteria. Funny how the next 15 minutes seemed to stretch on as long as the day itself.
I opened the door and made my way to my usual spot. But it was taken. A short girl with brown ratty hair sat in my spot. I recognized her as the new girl in my second hour. She was teased for wearing an oversized long-sleeved unbuttoned plaid shirt over her black t-shirt.
I didn’t know what to do and turned in circles looking for an empty seat. It felt like everybody’s eyes were on me. Just when I was about to run out, I noticed an empty seat by the window.
I sat down quickly and looked around. Nobody noticed me. I took out my sandwich and waited.
I heard Kyle’s voice ask, “What is this?” I turned in the direction of his voice and saw him. But he was tables away from me and wasn’t looking in my direction.
He was talking to the new girl.
“Who are you?” he sneered.
I could hear the hesitancy in her voice as she responded weakly. “Dodie.”
“What’s your last name, Dodie?”
I cringed. Kyle was also in our second hour class. He already knew her name.
Say Smith, I thought to myself. Some parents shouldn’t be allowed to name their own children. I knew Dodie’s last name couldn’t be helped, but did her parents really have to make it worse by calling her: Dodie Doody?
“Doody,” she replied softly.
“Dodie Doody?” Kyle asked loudly.
“Dodie did a doody?” Wade asked. Everyone burst into laughing. Even I had to laugh a little. It was nice. For once, I wasn’t the punch-line.
Dodie stood up and ran.
“Where are you going?” Kyle called after her.
“Doody Moody,” Wade shouted and again everyone laughed.
I chuckled. This was my best lunch in a long time.
But when Dodie ran past my table, I saw tears streaming down her face, my laughter stopped.
The next day, I didn’t know what to do. The day before, was by far the best lunchtime experience I’d had since I started junior high. Part of me, wanted Dodie to be the new lunchtime sacrificial lamb. But I couldn’t get her tearful face out of my mind.
With a sudden burst of bravery, I pushed the door. I expected everyone to be waiting for me to see what I’d do.
Dodie was already seated in my old chair. I searched the cafeteria and noticed one spot near the far wall was open. I wanted to go there, but couldn’t. At that moment, I saw Kyle and Wade out of the corner of my eye. They pointed in Dodie’s direction.
I looked longingly at the open chair. But Dodie’s face from yesterday came back to mind. I clutched my paper bag tighter and walked over to her table. My table. I got there just as Kyle and Wade approached.
“Mind if I sit down?” I asked trying to sound cheerful.
She eyed me warily.
I sat down next to her. “My name is Buster Brinkerhoff,” I stuck out my hand. “I’m in your second hour.” I could feel my cheeks turn red because of our two man audience standing behind us.
“Dodie Doody,” she said slowly and shook my hand.
“You’re new here, right?” I was trying to think of something to say.
“Ah, isn’t this cute?” Kyle interrupted and I closed my eyes. “Stinkerhoff has a girlfriend.”
Dodie looked down at her tray. It was one thing to make fun of me, but he was hurting someone else.
“What do you get when you mix a Brinkerhoff with a Doody?” Kyle asked.
I stood up quickly. “A Hoffoody?” I replied.
The cafeteria grew quiet and I wanted to sink into the floor. Kyle stared at me. A low, quiet giggle began to ripple through the cafeteria. It grew into laughter. But this time, they were laughing with me, not at me.
Kyle didn’t know what to say and looked around.
“Brinkerhoff,” he snarled, “I’m going to get you!”
It was a threat. I mimicked his position with my left arm stretched out, my hand in a fist, my right arm bent and my fist close to my right ear. It didn’t look exactly like what he was doing, but close enough. Suddenly I realized, my only knowledge of fighting came from watching the Karate Kid movie on tv. I changed my position and lifted my left leg – keeping it bent at the knee and raised my arms with my hands pointed down. I felt like a deranged flamingo. Then it occurred to me, it had been awhile since I’ve watched the Karate Kid, I wasn’t sure what came next.
Slowly I extended my leg and arms and said, “Whew, that was a good stretch.”
Again, laughter echoed in the cafeteria. Kyle put his arm down, unsure of what to do. “I always knew you were a weirdo,” he scoffed.
But I didn’t care anymore. I looked at Kyle and Wade. They seemed smaller than before.
I sat down and took out my sandwich.
“Florida,” Dodie said to me. “I’m from Florida.”
I smiled at her.
“What kind of sandwich do you have?” she asked.
My smile disappeared. “Tuna and peanut butter.”
Her face scrunched up in disgust.
“I like it,” I shrugged.
“Hmm,” she said softly, “I’ll have to try it sometime.”
I looked at her to see if she was laughing at me. She wasn’t. I smiled and enjoyed my sandwich in peace.