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Lunch Time

When Peter arrived at the store, he heard a familiar song. As soon as the off-key notes hit his ears, he knew who was there. Nana!

Peter watched Papa bending down to pick a piece of trash off the floor to throw it away. Papa pushed his glasses back up on his nose again when he turned to face Peter. Peter thought Papa really should tape those things to his ears. It may look a little funny but at least he wouldn’t have to keep fixing them all day.

“I hear Nana’s song.” Peter smiled.

Papa chuckled. “Yes, she is in the back. She has brought us a nice lunch.”

“Lunch?” Peter thought he might get sick. Hopefully it would be for much later.

Peter handed his grandfather the money for the birthday cupcakes and found Nana in the back room, unpacking a large blue carrying case.

Oh no! Peter’s head screamed. I’ll just tell her I am not hungry. No, I can’t. She might catch on. I could still have room to eat…not a lot of room.

“Peter, come over here and give me a hug. I missed you!” Nana shrieked with joy.

Nana always said she missed him even though she had seen him just two days earlier. Peter wrapped his arms around his grandmother. He still couldn’t touch his hands together. He figured one day his arms would be long enough to do that.

“I have made lunch for us all: turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, carrot sticks, and milk.” Nana beamed.

Peter smiled back and said, “Thanks, Nana,” even though he wished she hadn’t brought anything.

“Now go and wash up so we can eat,” she ordered.

Peter stood there for a moment. How could he eat all that? He knew he would have to because Nana always made him clean his plate. She would say that a growing boy needs his energy.

Papa interrupted his thoughts when he stuck his head in the doorway.

“Peter, you have a visitor. Come and see who it is.”

“A visitor?” Peter wondered who it was.

At any rate, he did not really care as long as he did not have to eat right now.

When Peter arrived at the front, he saw a blond man. He did not recognize him. He did not see anyone else. Then Papa moved a little to the right and he saw his visitor. It was Lina Young. He was happy to see her. He really liked Lina because she wasn’t a girly girl. They would hang out at recess sometimes and talk mostly about baseball and other sports if they weren’t playing them.

Lina was pretty tough, too. One time they were sitting on a bench and looking at one of her dad’s sports magazines. An older kid, Harmon, came over and bellowed, “What are you girls looking at? Probably a ladies’ magazine! Hey, Peter, why are you hanging out with a girl, and one who is Asian anyway!”

Hearing that made Peter mad, but before he had a chance to react, Lina had Harmon in a headlock and was shoving the magazine in his face, pointing out, “I don’t read sissy magazines, and even if I did, it is none of your business! What makes me different is what makes me special!” It was funny to see a petite girl holding an older, much taller kid in a headlock. Harmon never bugged them again.

“Hi, Peter. So this is what you are doing on your day off. Cool.” Lina nodded in approval.

Peter saw the blond man moving closer, and he stopped right next to Lina.

“Dad, this is Peter, my friend. Peter, this is my dad,” she said, gesturing to them both. They exchanged hellos.

She must have seen the confusion on Peter’s face. “My mom is Filipino,” she informed him.

Peter nodded in acknowledgement.

“My dad said I could get some stuff that has to last all week. Wanna help me?”

Peter helped Lina pick out a variety of treats while Papa and Mr. Young chatted. Peter made sure to take his time with Lina. Every minute meant he did not have to eat Nana’s lunch. He found out Lina’s favorite sweet shop treat was the Jelly Belly Prehistoric Dinosaur Egg. Peter agreed that they were pretty good, with the speckled outer shell formed into an egg filled with milk chocolate, and the cool surprise inside: a dinosaur-shaped fruit snack candy.

He also found out that Lina did not care for gum. She said she hadn’t chewed the stuff since she was six years old and she fell asleep with a large wad in her mouth and it ended up in her hair and left eyebrow. Her parents had to cut her hair into a bob to get all the gum out and would have had to shave her eyebrow too if the peanut butter they rubbed on it hadn’t worked. That is when she decided to keep her hair shorter because it was faster to get ready for school in the morning and easier to play sports.

Lina made sure to get her mother a slice of dark chocolate fudge. She said, “My dad and I wouldn’t touch this; we aren’t dark chocolate fans.” She stuck her tongue out in disgust.

“I don’t mind it,” Peter said.

Lina grimaced.

After they gathered up what they decided was a good stash of sweets, her dad paid, and Peter and his Papa watched them leave. Peter thought that he wasn’t any less hungry.

Papa looked at his watch and said, “Time for lunch.” He walked to the front door and turned the sign over and moved the red hands of the clock to say, “Be back at 12:30 p.m.”

Shoot, Peter thought.

Nana sat at the neatly set lunch table, knitting something that he was pretty sure was a hat of some kind.

“What are you knitting?” Peter asked her.

“A cap for your new baby cousin, just like the one I made for you when you were a baby,” Nana replied, patting Peter on his head.

He was sick of hearing about the baby this and the baby that. Up until now, Peter had been the youngest grandchild, and it had been pretty cozy. He did not think the baby was all that great, anyway. He had no hair and looked purple and shriveled. Prune Baby.

Peter took his time washing his hands and getting seated at the table, where he fidgeted for a while before starting to eat. The sandwich wasn’t as tasty as usual, not because of Nana’s sandwich-making skills but because nothing tastes as good if you are not hungry. Towards the end of lunch, Peter’s cargo shorts began to get tight around the waist, and he was starting to feel bloated. As usual, Nana made sure he cleared his plate. He did not think he could finish the last bite. He tried to leave it on his plate, when Nana gave him the look that meant, “Finish up eating.” He reluctantly chewed and swallowed it. Thank goodness I am done, Peter thought. Nana got up and went to the front and quickly returned. She had a chocolate chip cookie in each hand.

“Papa and I decided since you were such a good helper today that you could have a cookie for dessert,” Nana said, handing Peter a cookie.

Peter took it even though he did not want it.

“Thank you,” Peter almost whispered. He stared at it and thought maybe if he stared at it hard enough, it would disappear. When he looked up, Nana and Papa had almost finished their cookies. Nana smiled back at Peter. There was chocolate on her front tooth. Peter’s stomach churned. He knew he had to eat the cookie or they might suspect something. He never turned down sweets from Papa or Nana, ever. Maybe they would get up before he was done and he could hide the cookie in his shoe or flush it down the toilet. No such luck. Peter ate small bites in between talking and kept thinking that when his stomach could no longer be controlled by his cargo shorts, the button was going to pop off and hit Nana right in the middle of her forehead. He almost giggled at the thought.

Finally, he was done. No more eating until dinner or maybe not even then. He felt sick, sick like the time he saw Curtis Wheeler throw up in the cafeteria all over Hanna Dell.

“Are you all right, Peter?” Papa looked concerned.

Peter quickly answered, “Yes, I have to burp.” It sounded as good as anything.

“All right then, let’s get back to work,” Papa ordered.

Peter slowly got up and went to the front to say good-bye to Nana.

“I will miss you so much.” Nana kissed him on his forehead. “I will be counting down the days till I see your smiling face in church on Sunday.” He watched her turn the sign over to say “Open” on the way out the door. He wished he was going with her to lie on her cushy floral couch, which swallowed him with comfort every time he visited. That would make him feel better. Why did he have to eat all those sweets? He thought about how he should have paced himself or said, “Yes, it would spoil my lunch,” to Ruthie the carpet lady. He thought about the time: five more hours until Papa took him home. Would he be able to handle it?

Papa’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “I need you to try something for me.”

“Try something?” Peter’s voice had no enthusiasm.

“A new candy I have made,” Papa reported. “I haven’t put it out for sale yet because I was going to present it to your Nana first for our anniversary. It is a chocolate-covered dried mango slice with coconut sprinkled on top. You know how Nana loves exotic flavors. She should really enjoy this. Try it and tell me how you like it.” Papa opened a tissue paper to display the new candy.

Peter’s mind went in two different directions. What a great thing Papa has done for Nana! There is no way I could eat anything else right now!

He heard the door behind him open and saw the new candy disappearing once again into the tissue paper. Saved again by customers!