This is unedited work in progress.
Max sat down at the second grade table and scanned the lunch line of people with pizza, looking for just the right person to help him sell his sandwich.
He didn’t have to look very long.
Lynette Quillin sat down next to him. Max normally didn’t like Lynette at all. Not only was she the sort of girl who knew everybody else’s business, she was mean and bossy.
Today she was just the sort of person he needed to spread the word around. Excellent. Now he could put his plan into action.
Lynette picked up her pizza and folded it in half. “What do you have for lunch?” she asked.
“See for yourself,” Max said.
She glanced at his lunch. Then did a double take. “Eww, there are rocks in your sandwich!!! That’s gross!”
“It’s not gross, it’s special,” Max said.
“That’s not special, that’s just gross. You put those in there on purpose!” Lynette said, wrinkling her nose.
“My mom put them there. You’re just jealous because your lunch doesn’t have any gravel in it. That makes my sandwich better than your pizza.” Max said. “You don’t appreciate its true value.”
“That’s because it doesn’t have any,” she said, glaring at him. She then picked up her tray and left. She sat down next to Kathryn Olsen instead.
In a very loud voice, so that Max could hear, she whispered to Kathryn, “Max has gravel in his sandwich!!!”
Kathryn wrinkled her nose. “Ewwwwww!!”
Between the two girls, it didn’t take long for word to spread around the table that Max had gravel in his sandwich.
Joel Holt sat down in Lynette’s place. He was a tall boy with bright red hair, pale skin, and lots of freckles. “Why do you have rocks in your sandwich?” He asked. “And why is your shirt inside out?”
Yes! He had people interested. Max had totally forgotten his shirt was inside out until Joel said it, but he could use that to his advantage.
“It’s inside out on purpose. And my sandwich is a collector’s item,” Max said. He held the sandwich to his chest, treating it as though it were glass and could break.
Joel frowned, “A collector’s item?”
“Yes. It’s mint in the wrap, never been opened,” Max said. “See?”
“But you can’t eat it, it’ll break your teeth!” Joel said.
“You’re not supposed to eat it,” Max said, trying his best to sound like Mrs. MacLean when she was trying to explain something that was hard to understand.
“You wouldn’t play with an old action figure that’s in the box, would you?” Max said.
“Well, no,” Joel said. “Of course not, that would ruin it.”
“And you don’t have gravel in your sandwich do you?” Max asked, taking a sip of his juice.
“No,” Joel said.
“See this apple?” Max said, holding it up for Joel to see, waving it under his nose.
“Yes,” Joel said, “What about it?”
“That’s the point. What about it?” Max said, “It’s just like everyone else’s. It’s got red skin and when you eat it, it’s sweet and good for you.”
“But my sandwich is better than yours,” Max continued, “In fact, it’s better than everyone else’s lunch at this entire table. Nobody else thought to put rocks in their sandwiches like my mom did. The school didn’t think to put gravel in your pizza, either, did they? I have rocks in my lunch and you all don’t!”
He began to eat his apple.
Joel paused. He glanced down at his own lunch. As he looked over what he had to eat: a bologna sandwich (with no gravel), a banana, a couple of chocolate chip cookies, and his milk.
Max was right. His sandwich was just like every other bologna sandwich he’d ever eaten. He’d never even seen a gravel sandwich before. Let alone touched one.
He wanted Max’s sandwich.
“Hey Max,” he said.
“What?” Max said, around a mouthful of the apple.
“I’ll trade you something in my lunch for your sandwich,” Joel said.
Max thought about it for a moment, “What do you have to offer?”
“How about a chocolate chip cookie?” he asked, thrusting one of the cookies under Max’s nose.
Max stared at the cookie for a moment then shook his head, “My sandwich is more special than a single cookie.” He continued to eat his apple.
“Two cookies?” Joel said, a hopeful note to his voice.
Max patted himself on the back. His idea was working! Maybe he wouldn’t starve at lunch after all! “Maybe. Depending on what other offers I get.”
Jacob Linder, who was sitting on Max’s other side said, “I’ll offer two cookies and a banana with a green peel on it. My banana is kind of like your sandwich. It’s at least not yellow like most bananas.”
“That’s not the same at all,” Max said, rolling his eyes. “Weren’t you listening? That’s not any different than my apple. It has different skin on the outside. That’s not special. Green bananas turn into yellow bananas. And my sandwich is definitely worth more than two cookies and a banana.”
“How about some twinkies?” a boy from the third grade table had come over to join them.
“Twinkies aren’t worth much on their own,” Max said.
“I’ve got two twinkies and a fried bologna sandwich.” Another third grader joined the first.
Max was tempted by that offer. He loved fried bologna sandwiches. But – he knew he could get more for his money. “No thank you,” Max said, “Why would I want bologna just because someone stuck it in a skillet and heated it before you came to school?”
The two third grade boys looked at each other and then went back to their table. But they were back in seconds and joined by half the other third grade boys.
“How about a whole lunch of candy?” They pooled their resources together and spread them out on the lunch table for Max to look at.
“Candy for lunch, I dunno, I’d take it if I were you,” Jacob Linder said.
Max ignored him, surveying the candy. There were some M&M’s with peanuts, some Rolos, a bag of sour Skittles, and a giant King Size Reeses. “If I give you this sandwich for all that candy what are you going to do with it?”
“We’ll each divide it between us and get a piece to take home,” one of the boys said.
“NO!” Max shouted. He gestured wildly and knocked his apple to the floor. “This can’t be divided!”
“Why not?” the older boy asked. “Diamonds are rocks. They start out like gravel and they’re divided all the time. Why can’t sandwiches with rocks be?”
“Because this is the crown jewel of my lunch! It’s more important than any diamond you’d cut into pieces. I don’t want your candy.” He shoved the candy back at the other boys and held his sandwich to his chest.
Someone shoved their way to the front of the crowd holding a hot lunch tray. “What about for some hot pizza, some chocolate milk, and an ice cream sandwich with some skin flakes on it?”
Max glanced up at that to see who had spoken. It was David Ruffin. David was an African American boy. He wore a blue button up shirt, but his shirt was ripped on the elbow, Max noticed.
“Where’d the skin flakes come from?” Max asked.
“My shirt got snagged as I was getting up from the table and scrapped my elbow,” David explained. “I put the skin on the ice cream bar so it would be different.”
Turning to the crowd he said, “Now that’s a much more compelling offer. See what makes his offer different? It has something special that the rest of yours don’t.”
David looked hopeful, “So you’ll trade with me then, right?”
Max considered. He really wanted pizza. It was pizza day after all. And ice cream with skin flakes on it sounded very interesting. Not to mention gross and cool. But just the same…
He shook his head, “It’s a good try, David, but I really think I can get more for my sandwich than that.”
“What’s better than pizza and an ice cream sandwich with skin flakes on it?” David asked, frowning.
Before Max could answer, Mrs. MacLean came over to their table. “What’s going on here?” she asked, pushing her way through the crowd of boys surrounding Max. Then she saw the rocks in Max’s sandwich.
“Max? What happened? Why are there rocks in your sandwich?” She asked.
“Because I put them there,” he said.
“Well, you can’t eat that,” she said, “Give me the sandwich and I’ll buy you another one.”
“No!” He held the sandwich away from her. “My mom made it like that to make it extra special! Please don’t take it away, Mrs. MacLean!”
His teacher looked at him for a long moment and then said, “All right,” she said, “You can keep it. Just make sure no one eats it. Put it in your bag. I’ll get you some lunch you can eat. The rest of you need to go back to your tables.”
The gaggle of boys surrounding their table left. Max watched them go and with great care he opened his book bag and put the sandwich in the top pocket of his bag. It had a plastic fastener and a zipper so it would be extra safe in there.
When Mrs. MacLean was well out of earshot he said, “See? Mrs. MacLean understands how valuable my sandwich is and why it can’t be cut! Even if the rest of you don’t. And she said no one can eat it so the rest of you will just have to do without.”
Mrs. MacLean was back in just a few minutes with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana, and some milk for Max to have for lunch. “Here, Max. Eat your lunch and no more goofing around.”
“Yes ma’am,” Max said. He began to eat the sandwich she’d brought him. It wasn’t as good as the one that his mom had made, but he didn’t care.
The boys at his table were all looking at him. Max could feel the stares from the third grade table, too.
They all knew he was right. His sandwich was special, better than all of their lunches put together. Right then Max was the winner. And he knew it.
Max closed his eyes, savoring his victory. He’d gotten to eat lunch. Percy hadn’t gotten the better of him. And he was now the envy of all the boys in his class.
It didn’t get much better than that.