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Roseland, Wendy, and I ate lunch together and played together during recess for a week before she invited us to come over to her house. She said that her mother had wanted to meet us.
“My mom always wants to meet all my friends.” She said. She was absentmindedly chewing on a carrot strip. Wendy was holding the container that held thin strips of carrots all meticulously slice with a peeler and then kept cool in water. Roseland’s mother made all of her lunches. My grandma always made my lunch too, but it wasn’t the making of lunch that was so strange to Wendy, it was what her mother made for her.
“How come you never have any ham and cheese sandwiches or pepperoni pizza or tunafish?” Wendy asked staring at the contents of Roseland’s lunch. There was the cold carrot peels, a baggy of green beans, apple slices, an oat bar that her mother made by hand and an almond butter sandwich. It was the first time either Wendy and I had ever heard of Almond butter.
“Because my mom’s a vegetarian.” She said taking the container of carrots from Wendy’s hand.
I had no idea what a vegetarian was, but I knew Wendy would ask so I waited for her to ask it. She sat quietly her eyes searching my face to see if I was giving any clue to whether I knew what a vegetarian was and then she slowly and innocently asked Roseland, “what’s a vegetarian?”
Roseland sighed, and I got the feeling that she had been asked this question a billion times before Wendy asked it.
“We don’t eat any meat.”
My mouth dropped open, and I couldn’t hide my shock. No meat? How does a person live without any meat? I can’t remember a meal in my life without meat except maybe breakfast.
“No meat?” Wendy’s eyes widened. “Why? What do you eat?”
Roseland screwed up her face and wrinkled her nose at Wendy. “What do you mean what do I eat? Whaddya think I’m doin’ right now? Singing? This is food.” She said pointing to her lunch that was in front of her.
“I know…but I mean, don’t you need meat?” Wendy asked shyly.
“You ever hear of a vegetarian?” She asked looking at me.
I wanted to lie, but decided against it. Roseland seemed like the kind of girl that would call a person out on her lies, and I didn’t want to look like a liar in front of Wendy. Wendy needed people to tell the truth. “No.” I said. I said it like I didn’t really care one way or the other about it, but really I was curious as to why her family didn’t eat meat. I guess I lied a little after all, but people can’t read your mind and I was grateful for that.
“Humans don’t need to eat meat.That’s what my mom says. She says that we shouldn’t eat animals because they are our friends. We eat eggs and my mom says that’s the closest to meat we will ever eat. We have a lot of chickens and that’s where we get our eggs, but my mom says we’ll never eat them because they are our friends.”
“Have you ever ate meat before?” It was too hard to pretend like I wasn’t curious.
“No. And I never even asked or cared about it until I started going to school and kids started buggin’ me about it, and makin’ fun of me.”
“Wow. No pepperoni pizza. Or pizza supreme. I don’t know what I’d do without that stuff.” Wendy said shaking her head as if the very idea was the end of the world.
I didn’t know what she would do either since her mother never made her any food and just bought boxes of microwave pizza. If the microwave and free school lunches had not ever been invented Wendy would probably starve to death.
“I think it’s cool.” I said, looking at my tunafish sandwich that my grandma had made for my lunch that day. I thought about the fish that was once living and swimming around in the ocean one day and getting spread by my grandma over bread the next day. I took a bite of my sandwich. “I don’t think I could do that.” I said, with my mouth full. “My grandma would probably flip out if I asked and I really like to eat chickens, but I think it sounds like your mom is a real nice lady. I don’t know anybody that cares about animals so much they won’t eat a cow or a chicken.”
“Oh, I’d never eat a cow.” Said Wendy. “I like them. They have real pretty eyes. So big like you are looking into the night sky. I saw some cows up close on a farm when I was little. My mom’s mom lives in Texas and they had a farm.” Wendy’s face turned down and darkened a little with the memory of her trip. “That was a bad visit.” She said, “Real bad.” She sat quiet for a second then lifted her head and smiled her face returning to it’s natural sunshine color. “But I sure loved those cows.”
“Wendy,” I said not wanting to hurt her feelings but also feeling like she needed to know, “You eat cows all the time.”
She gasped in disgust. ” I do not. I like cows.”
“Wendy. What did you eat for lunch today?” I said looking at her metal cafeteria tray empty except for the pile of overcooked spinach that Wendy refused to eat. She never ate vegetables.
“I had a hamburger, and fries, and milk, and an apple and some of that weird jello stuff the green color.”
Roseland glanced at me before looking back to Wendy.
“Wendy…” I began my voice trailing off a little.
“Oh I know!” She shouted interrupting me and rolling her eyes. “Milk is from cows. I’m not stupid. But it’s just the milk the cows aren’t killed and it’s not like I’m eating the milk. I’m drinking it.”
I almost hated to tell her the truth. Roseland picked quietly at her food. She had just met Wendy, but it wasn’t hard to understand quickly that Wendy didn’t know very many things, and even when you told her something she usually forgot. She didn’t do very well in school and like I said she had bad luck and always ended up with the worst teachers. The kind that didn’t really like kids and got frustrated and mad and made them do embarrassing things like stand in front of the classroom or miss recess or have the class tell the student what’s wrong with them or call them stupid. There were four sixth grade teachers and three of them were nice, and of course Wendy got the worst one.
“Wendy. Hamburgers are cow.” I said, firmly.
She stared at me. Her face blank then wary. “No it’s not.”
“It’s a meat ain’t it?” I asked.
“What kind of meat do you think it is?” I asked.
Roseland couldn’t remain silent. “You think hamburger is some kind of animal?”
“I guess.” She said, her voice getting quiet.
“All meat comes from animals.” I said, looking at her. It upset me that at twelve almost thirteen that she didn’t know these things. She was older than both of us by almost a year, but she had been held back in school. She probably would be held back more times, but the teachers always moved her forward. She’d go from fourth grade and not know her time tables, then to fifth grade and not know geography, and still not know time tables and then sixth grade. The kept her back in second grade which was humiliating for her because the whole school knows when someone gets held back. How could they not know?
“I know.” She muttered looking down at her plate.
Roseland had a snickering tone to her voice. “What’s a hamburger animal look like? Does it come with fries in the wild.”
I shot a hard look at Roseland and shut her up quick. I like Roseland, but I wasn’t about to let her make fun of Wendy. “Wendy, listen to me, I don’t want you to feel bad. It’s not your fault you don’t know, your momma doesn’t teach you and you have the worst teachers… okay? So don’t feel bad. Hamburgers and stakes come from cows. Pepperoni, hotdogs, and pork chops come from pigs, and tuna comes from fish.”
“I know that!” Wendy snapped at me.
“Okay. I’m sorry.” I said.
Roseland and I looked at Wendy for a moment and then looked at each other, I shrugged at her.
“Pepperoni is from pigs?” She whispered.
“Mmmmhhmmm.” I muttered. I picked at the crust on my sandwich. It made me so mad to tell Wendy stupid things that she should know. I wished that my mom was still alive and that we could adopt Wendy. If my mom was alive I know she’d take her away. I’d convince her that we should save Wendy. I know she would she’d never like Wendy’s mom. But, It was stupid to wish. Anything I wished for was stupid.
Wendy looked at Roseland. “I really like cows. Maybe I can be a vegetarian too.” She said whispering to her.
“Yeah. Why not.” Roseland said.
“I’m going to be a vegetarian too.” She said with determination. “I’ll tell my mom. Maybe we can all become vegetarians.” She said smiling.
“Yeah. Maybe.” I said imagining her mom’s response to Wendy suggesting that her mother cook and stop buying frozen pizzas.
Roseland, cleared her throat. “Um. I’m sorry Wendy. I didn’t mean to laugh at you.”
“Oh that’s okay. People make fun of me all the time. But you’re my friend so it’s okay.”
“I’m your friend.” She said.
Roseland seemed okay in my book.
I hated to eat in the cafeteria. Before everything happened I’d never eat in there because I didn’t have too, unless it was raining and we had to stay inside. I don’t eat the cafeteria food because my mom said that it was not healthy. Too much pizza and hamburgers. I liked that food, but I liked it better when my parents made it or when we took that rare trip to A&W Rootbeer or Burger King. If it was just Roseland and I then we’d probably always eat outside, but Wendy had the free lunch card because she was poor and her mom never her made her any food anyway. The worst part about the cafeteria besides the smell and having to sit in the same place as all the other kids was that the cafeteria monitors always made you eat all your food even if it was from home. Sometimes if it was from home they’d let you pass, but if it was cafeteria food you had to eat it especially vegetables. Wendy was always trying to think of ways of sneaking out without having to eat her vegis. She peeled open her milk cart and then after glancing around the room to make sure the monitors weren’t watching she dumped her spinach into her milk container.
“Wendy,” I said as I watched tiny dots of milk drop onto the table, “if you become a vegetarian you’ll have to eat vegetables.”
“Ewww.” She said, ” I can just eat fruit and bread.” She closed the milk container. “And candy.” She said as an after thought.
“Do you think your parents will let you come over to my house tomorrow after school?” Roseland asked. “You can ride the bus home with me and then my dad said he’d bring you both home after. My mom will make us dinner. If she likes you guys then maybe we can have sleep overs and stuff. My mom say’s that now that I’m almost twelve I can have sleep overs.”
I hadn’t told Roseland that I didn’t have any parents, but I knew my grandma would be really happy to know I had a friend other than Wendy.
“My mom won’t let me. You live too far away she won’t like it.” Wendy said.
“Tell her that your going to my house and that my grandma’s going to make you dinner. She’ll never check.” I knew that was true. “Don’t say anything to her just don’t come home and when you go home later tell her you were at my house.” I said.
“I might get hit.” She said.
“You always just come over to my house before going home.” I said.
“I know.And sometimes I get hit because she wanted me to do something for her and I wasn’t there.”
“So. You’re going to get hit if you’re at my house or at Roseland’s so you might as well just go to Roseland’s.” I said.
“Yeah, but she won’t like that I went to a house in the foothills.”
“Don’t tell her.” I said.
“But, that’s a lie.” She said.
“It’s never a lie if someone is going to hit you.” Said Roseland.
“Really?” Asked Wendy.
“Yeah.” Said Roseland. “Lies don’t count if they keep you from getting hit. It’s in the life rule book.”
“Really? Wow. That’s good.” Wendy smiled. “I think I might lie all the time.”
“Come on let’s go outside and play.” I said nudging Wendy. “Let’s see if your trick works.” I said referring to the spinach in the milk carton.
Wendy picked up her tray and we followed her toward the exit. “I hope she doesn’t make you drink it.”
“Oh god!” Wendy Whimpered.
As we walked toward the terrible cafeteria monitors to see if Wendy passed inspection, I noticed Angel Rogers watching us. Angel Rogers had been staring at as a lot and it was beginning to bug me. If she had been any other girl in the sixth grade I would have walked right up to her and told her she better knock it off or I’d punch her, but Angel wasn’t a Ridge girl. She lived in the foothills at the edge of one of the trailer parks. The Rogers had a house but it was falling apart and had a million cars and trucks in the yard. It wasn’t far from the school and our bus would pass it everyday before turning toward the junior high to pick up the older kids. Everyday one of her brothers or uncles were out there tinkering around the cars pulling out motors and staring at them. Angel’s family was big and well known. They had lived in Ridgeview longer than most families and they had a nasty reputation. There was a Roger in every grade, and they were related to the Bells and the Hansens. The extended family dominated the schools, but usually you stopped seeing them by the tenth grade because they all dropped out. They were bad but they didn’t mess with kids in school like the Ridge kids that use to be my friends did. I’d never seen them making fun of Wendy, but they were known as bad kids. They always mouthed off to the teachers, they didn’t do work, and some of the sixth even the fifth grade kids smoked. The older ones in the junior high were known to fight even the girls fought. It was like fighting was in their family. You just didn’t mess with a Bell, Hansen and especially a Roger. The Rogers were the worst. My mom told me in fourth grade when we had gone by the video arcade to pick up my brother to stay away from the Rogers. My brother was just fourteen when he died. He was hanging out with a Gunner Rogers Angel’s older brother, and my mom about hated that more than anything. She always told me that a person needs to choose their friends wisely because a good friend could lift you up but a bad friend can drag you down, and those Rogers were nothin’ but bad. Bad to the bone she had said. My mom had been born in Ridgeview and she went to school with Connie Rogers and Steve Rogers. Steve was Angel’s dad. Connie had been my mom’s age. She died in a car accident when she was sixteen, my mom said that they had been doing bad things and that was why they died. It was a bad wreck there were four kids that died. Connie, two of the Bells, and a boy that my mom had liked. Steve was also in the car, but he lived. My mom said it should have been his wake up call, but that he just got worse and became the worse Rogers ever and that his kids were the worst. I wasn’t sure how many brothers and sisters that Angel had but there were a lot.
I had heard that my brother had been with one of Angel’s brothers when he died, maybe it was Gunner who was sixteen at the time, and because of that I hated those Rogers more than ever. It made me so mad to see her looking over at me, and I wanted to smash her stupid Rogers face, but I was also scared of her. Those Rogers all they did was fight, and I knew she’d beat me up real good. I stayed clear from her and looked forward to the day that she dropped out of school so I didn’t have to look at her. It was hard not to look at her. I had heard from kids that she would let boys look at her naked and sometimes let them touch her. Maybe, she had already gone all the way. She hung out with older boys. Junior high kids and sometimes high school boys. I didn’t like anything about her. That wasn’t completely true. She was about the coolest dresser in all the school. She had long black hair that she usually wore up in messy hair styles and bows or hats, and other than the hair she looked and dressed exactly like Madonna, and there wasn’t anyone that I loved more than Madonnna.