No Substitutions

@ernie

Look at Jan 2.0. The jockettes are all over him, oohing and awing and squeezing his biceps, palpitating his pecs, literally absorbing him like two giant girl-shaped amoebas. I’ve let them have that side of the table—not because they ousted me or anything, but because I prefer this side. Always have. And anyway, I don’t need to be all up in Janny Boy’s shit. So with his fancy new skin he’s ditched his ridiculous orange frizz for a natural brown buzzcut. So he’s sporting a pair of earring studs. So his physique is all American Ninja Warrior. I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s not like he can turn water into soda or feed the entire cafeteria with a single loaf of Hawaiian bread.

Crap. I could go for a loaf of Hawaiian bread right about now.

“Are you bigger than before?” I ask, watching Jan’s shoulders flex obnoxiously as he squirms between Summer and Lily’s incessant coddling.

“A little,” he replies. “I think Beta exaggerated whenever he wasn’t sure about something. Plus, he seems to be a fan of big muscles in general.”

“I hope he gave you a nice foot-long, at least.”

“Sandwich or wang?” Mini asks, having crawled from out of nowhere to perch on Theo’s shoulder.

“Both.”

“I’m happy with my current size,” Jan says.

Mini adds, “Six inches and a Brad Pitt.”

Summer and Eva blush.

“Who’s Brad Pitt?” Lily asks.

“You do not have six inches,” I insist—wait. That sounds like I’m jealous. “I mean, only six inches? I guess it’s a start.” I nudge Eva. “You two have fun breaking in the new skin tonight.”

Eva’s blush goes full-tomato.

I wink at Jan. “Oh, you are so getting laid tonight!”

“Why, are you offering?” Jan says to me in a moment of uncharacteristic cunning, diverting attention from the smoldering Eva.

“I’m not gay!” I shout—

—just as an older student happens to walk by our table. He gives the six of us (especially me) a curious look before moving on.

“I was joking,” Jan assures me.

“I know,” I lie.

Theo snickers. “This is your head.” He grasps the top of my head with his hand. “This was the joke.” He mimics hurling a baseball over it.

Everyone laughs.

“Yeah, yeah,” I say, unwinding my middle finger and presenting it in panorama. “Fat kid doesn’t get anything that’s not food or porn-related, or otherwise doesn’t power his fat. Har-har.” I dig around in my backpack for dessert: a box of Junior Mints that won’t talk back.

Mini nudges Eva when he thinks none of us are paying attention. “So, you’re here.”

“Yeah, I’m here,” Eva replies, quietly.

“I would’ve thought you’d be eating lunch in the gym or something after last night’s shenanigans.”

“What shenanigans?”

“You know, you and Theo making out in your bedroom.”

Theo suddenly forgets how to breathe, goes into a choking fit.

“We didn’t make out—is that was he told you?” Eva glares at Theo. “Is that what you told everyone?”

Theo waves his hands back and forth—as much a gesture of denial as an urgent visual plea for someone to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him.

“Ugh. Don’t answer. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve decided not to hide from my embarrassments. Once you’re finished dying, you might want to take a hint and do the same.”

“Wow,” Mini says to Theo. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think she just called you an embarrassment.”

Theo gets to his feet, and, taking several controlled breaths to restore proper respiration, starts digging around in his pants. “I’m going to the vending machine. Does anybody want anything?”

“Potato chips,” Eva says, and starts to reach into her backpack for change.

“My treat,” Theo clarifies, holding up his wallet.

“I’ll have a Coke,” I say. “Skittles, too—and some Funyuns.”

Theo nods and holds out his hand. “Change, please.”

“But you just said your treat!”

“Jan’s going through some tough times. Summer and Lily are guests—”

“And so that leaves the fat kid to fend for himself?” I bang my fists on the table, throw my head back. “Reverse racism!”

Mini sighs. “Here we go—”

“Once again an ordinary white boy is discriminated against because of the color of his skin, the notches in his belt!”

“No,” Theo says, “I’m discriminating against you because I know you. If I buy you snacks once, I’m going to be doing it every day for the rest of the school year regardless of whether or not you have change on you. You just want free snacks, or double the snacks.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing! “Okay, Jan I get. He’s poor and pixelated and totally fucked. But Summer Breeze and Butt Crack? Jockettes don’t snack! And Bug Eyes here…” I narrow my eyes at Eva. “What unholy hold does she have over you? I’d say it’s a good pair of tits, except she hasn’t got any.”

Eva glares at me with all the intensity her bulbous chihuahua eyes can muster. “Not everyone is lucky enough to be as big-bosomed as you.”

“I don’t have breasts!”

And fuck me, that same student who’d overheard me deny my homosexuality a few minutes ago is passing by our table again—and is now no doubt thinking I’m a flaming fat-ass wallowing in denial.

“Context!” I bark over my shoulder as I dig around in my pockets, finding a fiver with a piece of bubble gum stuck to it. I peel off the gum and hand the money to Theo, who holds it at arm’s length, between thumb and index finger. “I want all my change!”

Summer and Lily mention something about vitamin water and granola bars.

Jan requests a “Mr. Goodyear or Babe Ruth. Anything with peanuts.” Friggin’ Czech.

Theo nods and, stuffing Mini into his pocket, leaves the table.

I turn to Jan. “What happens to the food you eat?”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Does it upload back with you, or do you leave behind a pile of poop whenever you go virtual?”

“How about I sit on your lap, and we can find out?”

“Oh, you’re hilarious, pixel boy.”

“And you’re gross,” Summer replies on Jan’s behalf.

“You’re just jealous because I can do this…” I empty the box of Junior Mints into my mouth. “…without having to vomit afterward.”

“Whatever. You’re still gross.”

“She speaks the truth, Leviathan,” Jan chuckles, and gets to his feet. Prying the girls from his torso, he sets them down, one at a time; their bodies morph from chibi form back to regular ol’ gurl form.

“Where are you going?” Lily asks.

“Bathroom break,” Jan answers. He leaves the table.

I give Summer and Lily an annoyed look. “Why are you two even here? Boca Linda is a closed campus—and a high school. This is no place for little kids unless you’re special, like us.”

“Oh, you’re special, all right,” Summer says.

Lily giggles.

“What’s so funny?”

She giggles some more.

Eva sighs. “Head. Joke. And so forth.”

I chew my Junior Mints with extreme prejudice.

It takes forever, but Theo eventually returns bearing an armful of junk food. On noticing Jan’s absence, he asks, “Where’d Jan go?”

“To the shitter,” I reply, beckoning for my snacks with both hands.

Theo dumps everything onto the tabletop—and it immediately becomes obvious that he does not know how to take people’s orders. I specifically asked for Coke, Funyuns, and Skittles, but did he get me Coke, Funyuns, and Skittles? Fucking nar! He got Pepsi, Lay’s sour cream and onion, and M&Ms!

“What’s this?” I hold up the bottle of Pepsi. “What are these?” I wag the Lay’s and M&Ms in the air.

Theo glares at me. “Dude, they didn’t have exactly what you asked for, so I substituted.”

“No substitutions!” I wail.

“What do you care? You’re going to eat it all anyway.”

“That’s beside the point! If I’d sent you to the pharmacy for toothpaste, would you have come back with Bengay?”

Theo shakes his head, flings a dollar and some coins at me. “Here’s your change. Next time get your own junk food.” He sits, takes out his wallet, starts organizing his own change.

“What’s that for?” Lily asks, noticing the folded pink slip hiding between a pair of dollar bills.

“While I was buying food for five,” Theo replies, “Thrill-Kill happened to be standing in line behind me, and decided that I’m trying to fill some kind of bottomless emotional void by overeating. She wants me to come see her tomorrow afternoon. So, thanks for that, Your Fatness.”

“Hey!” I yell. “I’m not the only one you were getting snacks for!”

“No, but you definitely put me over the top.”

“You guys get pink slips for counseling stuff?” Summer asks.

Theo shrugs, pulls out his phone to answer an incoming call. “Hey. What? Where are you calling from? I thought you were just going to the bathroom. How come you’re in my room? Oh. Um…sure. No problem.” He ends the call, pockets his phone, and face-palms himself.

“What was that about?” Eva asks.

“Jan dropped his phone in the toilet, and he wants me to go get it for him.”

My arm drops onto the table and, of its own accord, starts moving slowly toward the Baby Ruth.

Advertisements

Published by

jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.