I grab the carton of milk and take a gulp before she notices, then wipe away my milk moustache with my sleeve. Today I feel dramatic, so I puff up my chest and place my hands on my hips like a superhero before booming, “Annie is the only friend I need!”
If I owned a cape I would make sure it flapped in the breeze behind me the whole time, but capes weren’t on the shopping list for school clothes this year. Mom looks disappointed. I’m disappointed, too. Capes are cool. Not as cool as samurai swords or skateboarding dogs, but still pretty awesome.
“Daniel. Annie is a nice girl, but it’s not healthy to have only one friend.”
Parents always said stuff wasn’t healthy for you. Candy bars weren’t healthy. Staying up all night watching t.v. wasn’t healthy. Now being friends with Annie wasn’t healthy? Unless Mom meant the time Annie sneezed right in my face and I ended up sick in bed for two days, I didn’t understand how having a friend could be bad.
“Really, Daniel. What if Annie moved away? Then you wouldn’t have any friends.”
“She’s not going anywhere. She told me so.”
Her face grows serious. “Promise me you’ll try to at least talk to the other kids.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I roll my eyes, but make sure I turn my back to her first. Mom hates it when I roll my eyes. Only she can roll her eyes and get away with it. “What’s for dinner?”
“Meatloaf, your favorite!”
Gross! I stick out my tongue and make a gagging noise.
“I was going to warn you that Tommy’s in the living room waiting for your sister, but since you’re being a smarty-pants, maybe I won’t...”
My sister Lila’s latest boyfriend was the worst one yet. He plays in a band and has just enough hair on his chin to make it look like he’s super-glued a caterpillar there. Tommy also likes to call me “buddy” and punch me in the arm. I figure he can't remember my name. When we first met, Tommy called me Fritz for an entire day before Lila finally put a stop to it
I tiptoe down the hall past the living room door, but knock into the coat rack with my backpack. Like a hungry lion, Tommy pounces, jumping over the back of the couch and directly in front of me. Great.
“Bud-dy!” He punches me in the arm, as always.
“Ow!” I whine. Before he can hit me again, I slip off my backpack and hide my arms behind it like a knight with a shield.
“What’s up, big guy?”
I try to answer him, but it’s kind of hard since he’s put me in a headlock, his skinny forearm pressing into my windpipe. Up close, Tommy smells like microwave burritos and cat litter. He rubs his knuckles on the top of my head and I yelp. When the torture portion of our meeting ends, he lets me go and acts like nothing ever happened.
“Lila says you’re a draw-er.”
I’m pretty sure he means artist, but my head and arm still hurt so I keep my mouth shut.
“Uh, I guess so,” I shrug.
Tommy smiles, making the caterpillar wiggle. “Well, keep practicing, buddy. Maybe if you get good enough you can draw a cover for Revenge of the Lunch Lady.”
I back around him so I can keep an eye on his hands. “Yeah, okay. Thanks.”
Like that’ll happen. Revenge of the Lunch Lady was the name of Tommy’s band, and their biggest show so far had been at the bowling alley. No one had been able to hear them over the thumps of bowling balls and crash of falling pins.
The rest of the way to my room, I think about Mom’s words, What if Annie moved away?
It’s impossible to imagine life without my best friend. While all the other girls at school dress in pink and smell like flowers, Annie always smells like peanut butter and wears her brother’s old jeans. Back in kindergarten she ate an earthworm and that’s when I knew she was the one.
The other kids tease us and say we’re going to get married when we grow up. They make kissy noises when we walk past together, but that’s gross. I don’t want to kiss Annie. Annie eats earthworms, after all.
Mom’s being silly. Annie’s not leaving.
Once I reach my room, I sit down at my table and get to work. Dad put my table in front of the window so I could look out and draw nice pictures of trees and birds, but mostly I use the window as a launchpad for paper airplanes and plastic parachute men. Instead of trees and birds, I draw animals and monsters and super-awesome machines nobody else has thought of yet. My favorite was a robot named Pi-zzabot that could bake a pizza and do my Math homework at the same time. I drew a toaster that could tie shoes and smear peanut butter on bread for Annie, too, but I still think Pi-zzabot is better.
Today I want to finish the animal I’ve been working on for a few days. I mean, I guess he’s an animal. His head is round and soft like a teddy bear with shiny black eyes, but he’s no ordinary teddy bear. The rest of his body will have long tentacles like an octopus--once I finish.
In the middle of drawing Octobear’s third oozing tentacle, my pencil lead snaps off. I growl and fling my wounded pencil out the open window before I realize that was my last pencil.
Lila’s in her room with her door open when I stomp by. She leans in close to the mirror on her dresser and dabs at her eyelashes with a tiny black brush. Girls are weird. You’d never catch me poking myself in the eye with anything to make myself look pretty.
I peek my head in her room. “Hey, you got a pencil?”
She stops and looks at me with the brush hovering near her eyeball. I flinch and look away. Even though Lila is my sister doesn’t mean I want her to become a cyclops or wear a patch over her eye.
“No, Daniel,” she replies. “I do not have a pencil.”
Who died and made her an English teacher all of the sudden? She probably needed to help poor Tommy out, not me, since he couldn’t even come up with a better word than “draw-er”. I stalk away, taking back all the nice things I’d ever said about her, which weren’t that many.
I want to ask Mom about pencils but Tommy and his fists still lurk in the living room. Octobear needs more legs, but if Tommy punches me one more time my arm’s going fall off. Without my arm, it’ll be hard to draw.
The only other place to look is the attic. I’m not really supposed to snoop around up there because Mom says I make a mess. This one time I found a bunch of brand new action figures Dad hadn’t even opened yet. His face turned purple when he found me playing with them a few days later. Since then, the attic has been off-limits for me. Octobear needs me, though.
It takes a while, but I find a box of old art supplies buried under a fake Christmas tree and a bin of my old baby clothes. The stuff inside the box is mostly junk. I push aside a stack of paper with brown water spots and small containers of dried-up paint until I feel something smooth and wooden. The wooden thing ends up being a case, and when I open it up there’s a half-used pencil wrapped in green velvet. Yes! Why anyone would put a plain old pencil in a box like that, I don’t know, but Dad is weird and keeps his toys in boxes, too. With a shrug, I toss the box to the side and hurry back down to my room.
I finish drawing the last of Octobear’s limbs and start on a cat who will have a jetpack on his back - I’m saving that part for last! - when Mom calls me down for dinner. The meatloaf is extra dry tonight and Dad talks for a whole ten minutes about some market on Wall Street, wherever that is. As soon as I choke down the last awful bite, I run back to my room, ready to send a cat into orbit.
Only one problem. There’s a cat on my desk and he looks kind of familiar.
The cat stands up and puffs his snowy fur. “Hey, pal,” he says.
I rub my eyes and blink, then look over my shoulder towards the stairs where the rest of my family is still talking about James Bond or something. I knew this day would come--Mom’s meatloaf had finally driven me insane.
“Not gonna answer me?” He closes his yellow eyes and shakes his head. “That’s fine. But do me a favor, kid?”
My mouth hangs open. If I try to speak, the words get stuck inside of me.
He turns to the paper lying on the desk next to him and I see an empty space where his back should be. With his paw, he pats my cat drawing on the page.
“Finish drawing me.”
I slam the door behind me and run downstairs as fast as I can. Mom said she wants me to make new friends, and I guess I had.