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When Brad got to the lunchroom, he found Chris waiting for him at a table. He smiled at his friend as he went to get his food. On his way back across the large room, one of the girls stopped him.
"Thank you for explaining that Math problem the way you did," the girl smiled. "It just didn't make sense the way that Mrs. H told us to do it. Your way is so much better."
"Well, actually, my mom told me how to do it that way," Brad told her. "I'll tell her it helped though."
"Would you like to sit here?" the girl asked.
"Umm, I got to talk to Chris about some homework for another class," Brad lied. "Maybe another time?" The girl nodded, but he could see her facial expression change. "Sorry, got to go," he mumbled as he walked away.
"Dude, you turned down the cutest girl in the whole school to sit with me," Chris said as Brad plopped down across the table from him. "I'm honored. I think you're crazy, but I'm honored."
"Well, now that I have graced you with my presence, maybe you can tell me some more about this job I now have with you," Brad told him as he bit into his soybean burger. He screwed up his face as he struggled to swallow the mouthful. "Why does school food have to be so terrible?"
"I think it's great," Chris told him. "Dad can't cook his way out of a paper bag if his life counted on it. Unfortunately it doesn't stop him from trying. Lunch is my best meal of the day."
"I thought you wanted to talk me into coming over to your place someday, not out of it," Brad teased.
"Romeo and Juliet sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G." The boys looked up to see the bully from the hallway laughing at them. "Hey, I hear Romeo and Juliet has been a ballet before. I can get my kid sister's tutu for you to wear for the performance, Juliet."
"Ronnie, I'm impressed," Chris said back quickly. "I didn't know you knew that much about ballet. You must have really studied up on it."
"My sister takes the class," Ronnie snapped back. He must have known that Chris was up to something, but he was too dense to see it coming.
"Yeah?" Chris asked. Without waiting for a reply, he spoke again. "If you know her tutu will fit Brad, you must have tried it on, since you guys are about the same size."
"I ain't never put that thing on!" Ronnie yelled. The damage was done though. The kids closest to them were erupting in laughter at him. He moved away quickly, leaving Brad and Chris giggling with their classmates.
"Can you imagine Ronnie wearing his sister's tutu around the house when nobody's home?" Chris asked, still laughing.
"EEWWW!!! Thanks for that mental image," Brad scolded as he too giggled. "A boy in a frilly thing like that...." He shook his head in disgust.
"I don't know, maybe some guys like that kind of stuff," Chris pointed out. "There are men in the ballet, you know."
"Are you saying you want to be in the ballet?" Brad asked him seriously.
"Well, now that you mention it, the idea has its advantages," Chris replied thoughtfully.
"Get serious!" Brad snapped. "Name one."
"Well, the guy in the ballet gets to put his hands up a girls skirt and lift her high up over his head," Chris pointed out. "That would certainly be cool."
"Yeah and he gets to wear tights so that everyone in the audience can see his equipment," Brad reminded him.
"Hey, if you got it, flaunt it, right?" Chris beamed proudly.
"Yeah but you got to have it first," Brad said trying to keep a serious expression. He lost it when he saw the look of shock on his friend's face and started laughing.
"You know, for a preacher's kid, you can be cold blooded," Chris pouted.
"I'm sorry," Brad apologized as sincerely as he could manage, which wasn't much help since he was still grinning. "How can I make it up to you?"
"Let's read some of our lines for English," Chris suggested. "She wants us to be able to act them out instead of just read them." He opened his mouth to speak again, but no sound came out. "I've got it!" he practically yelled. "I know how you can come over to my house. We'll tell your folks that we need to study together for the English class."
"My Dad doesn't know what part I've got yet," Brad said sadly. "Once he finds out, he may pull me out of school or something. He is not going to want me to study with anyone. He doesn't want us to read the play in the first place."
"Do you have to tell him what part you got?" Chris asked. "Tell him you got a different one. Say that you're Romeo."
"He wants me to discuss everything with him," Brad pointed out. "He'll ask about my lines." He paused as he thought for a moment. "Of course, if we practice together, I could learn your part and mine maybe. When he asks, I'll quote your lines instead of mine."
"Why don't we just ask Miss Switch to change our parts?" Chris asked.
"I will assume that you mean that as a compliment, Christopher, since that fictional character was a beloved children's teacher." The two boys looked up to see Ms. Phillips standing over them. "I chose the roles very carefully. I considered the exchange you propose, but feel that this is the way things must be."
"I still trust you, Ms. Phillips," Brad told her. "I hope you know what we're doing though."
"So do I, Brad," the woman said uncharacteristically nervous. "So do I."
"It really creeps me out when she does that," Chris whispered as he watched her walking away. "I swear she does it just to get me."
"You are an easy target, Christopher," her voice floated back to them.
"You are so going to get yourself in trouble with her one of these days," Brad smirked at his subdued friend.
"My aunt won't let her do anything to me," Chris said confidently. "Aunt Bambi loves me. I'm her favorite nephew."
"You are her only nephew, and she has no nieces." Ms. Phillips had walked back over to them, now carrying a tray with her lunch on it. "I would hardly think that qualifies you as a favorite, since there are no other options from which to choose." She looked around the room for a moment and somewhat loudly announced, "Since the principal, in his infinite wisdom, has decreed that we eat with you children, I am in need of a seat. This one is not taken for your friends, is it, Christopher?"
"What friends?" the boy mumbled with his head down. "The only friend I've got is already here," he said a little louder as he looked up at Brad with a smile. Brad happily returned the smile.
"Did you say your aunt's name is Bambi?" Brad had to ask as Ms. Phillips sat down.
"Is there something wrong with being named Bambi?" Ms. Phillips asked pointedly.
"No, of course not," Brad blushed suddenly. Being cornered by a teacher was embarrassing. "I've just never met anyone with that name before."
"It is an Italian name meaning child," Ms. Phillips explained. "She was her mother's first child, and her mother was Italian. The name fits."
"Dad says it fits in a lot of ways," Chris added with a grin.
"Your aunt is a few minutes more mature than your father, however," Ms. Phillips said flatly.
"That's because they're twins, and she snuck out first," Chris informed them. He saw the look on his teacher's face and hurriedly explained, "Dad said that's what happened."
"They may be twins, but I don't think that's what she meant," Brad said thoughtfully. "I think she means that your Dad's not exactly the model grown-up either."
"You are very perceptive, Brad," Ms. Phillips told the two boys. "You are correct in your interpretations of my statement. Benito once tried to get me to date him. He got the same response as your coach and gave the same reaction. Typical males are a bother to me."
"If we bother you, why did you sit with us?" Chris asked her.
"If you listened properly, you heard me say that typical males are a bother," the woman replied. "You two are not typical males which is one of the reasons you were assigned the roles you were in the class readings." Here she looked directly at Brad and said, "I will write a note to your parents instructing them that I believe it to be a good idea to have study partners for the project. Yours will of course be Christopher."
"Why are you being so nice to us?" Brad asked her directly.
"Perhaps I am breaking a cycle that I was unable to escape myself when I was your age," she said mysteriously and suddenly stood up. Her food hadn't been touched. "Perhaps I just like to annoy your father. You may choose your own answer. They both have the benefit of being true." She smiled as she walked away.
"What did you guys say or do?" The two boys looked up to see several students standing around them.
"The witch has never smiled before."
"She never smiles."
"She just did. You saw it. We all saw it."
"She says she likes annoying my dad," Brad answered truthfully. "She knows he doesn't like her."
"Why doesn't your dad like her?"
"Nobody likes her."
"I like her," Chris told the group. "A little," he added as they stared at him open-mouthed.
"I like her too," Brad announced. "My dad doesn't like her because he's a preacher, and he thinks she represents a bad influence on the impressionable children of this town." He realized that his voice sounded like his dad as he said that. He blushed a little as he looked at the kids staring at him. "What can I say; he's a preacher."
"Sucks to be you," someone said as the group dispersed when the bell rang ending lunchtime.
"You have no idea," Brad whispered. He didn't think anyone heard, but Chris had. The dark haired boy determined to get some fun into his friend's life no matter what it took.