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The Food Fight Professional

by Angela Ruth Strong

I, Joey Michaels, am the Food Fight Professional.

Basically this means that if food is flying in the school cafeteria, people think I’m responsible.Working at a soup kitchen as punishment shows me how I can use my reputation in a good way—to organize a “food fight” to fight hunger.

Winning the food fight wouldn’t be so hard if I didn’t have the following three problems:
1) The neighbor girl who records all my mistakes and posts them to the internet
2) Her newly adopted brothers from Haiti who don’t think wasting food is a laughing matter
3) A school principal who wants revenge for the pie I smashed in her face

If I can keep from making too big a mess in the kitchen this time around, I just might be able to have my pie and eat it too.

Chapter 1

“Anybody wanna guess what this is?” I peeled the top piece of whole-grain bread from my sandwich, revealing the mystery mixture inside, and held the slice over the middle of the cafeteria table.

“Ew …” Every guy groaned in unison.

“If you can guess what it is, I’ll let you trade me lunches.” I smiled like a game show host as if the offer was really appealing.

“How about if we guess what it is, then you have to eat it,” Chance countered.

Usually my friends worked with me and I could scrounge some kind of meal from them. A Cheeto here, a fruit snack there. Today, it looked like I might have to starve. My stomach rumbled.

It didn’t help that the cafeteria was serving pizza. The spicy scent of pepperoni and gooey cheese permeated the air.

Tristan leaned across the table and pointed at a gray lump in my sandwich. “My guess is fried worms, like from that book we read in English class.”

Austin popped a potato chip in his mouth. “There’s colorful stuff mixed in, too. Maybe it’s all kinds of fish bait.”

“You guys.” I rolled my eyes. “My mom is more likely to serve me fish than fish bait. Think healthy.”

“That’s true,” said Chance. “He doesn’t even get real cupcakes on his birthday. His mom makes him carrot bran muffins.”

A sore subject, as I’d be turning thirteen this month. What kid wanted to become a teenager without ever having had his own birthday cake? I’d rather discuss my nasty sandwich. “No real guesses?”

Tristan wrinkled his nose. “Tuna and spinach.”

“That was yesterday. This doesn’t smell nearly as bad.”

“Broccoli and blueberries,” Austin said. “That’s what my mom is always trying to get me to eat.”

“You’re getting closer.”

They stared at me in horror, which could work in my favor. If I really grossed them out, maybe they would take pity and feed me.

My stomach couldn’t wait much longer. “It’s a chicken and fruit salad sandwich.”

Austin pretended to puke while Tristan made gagging noises.

“I’d rather eat fried worms,” said Chance. This was where he should have tossed me a potato chip.

“I’ll eat it for a dollar.” Desperation got the best of me. See, if they paid me a dollar, then I could go buy a slice of pizza. And I really wanted a slice of pizza.

 “Nobody wants to watch you eat that.” Chance pointed a finger down his throat.

Had the kid never heard of YouTube? “People love watching gross stuff. If you used your phone and recorded me eating this, I’d be famous by dinnertime.”

Austin shook his head. “You want to be famous for eating gross stuff?”

He had me there. “Um … no. I want to be famous for doing cool stuff. Like gymnastics. Or parkour. Or climbing to the top of the flagpole out front.”

Tristan smirked. “I’m sure my mom would love that.”

Sarcasm. Because principals usually weren’t fond of kids climbing flagpoles. But that didn’t have to stop me. “You guys don’t think I could get famous?”

Chance chuckled. “Rich and famous maybe. Then you could take us all to Disney World for Spring Break.”

I narrowed my eyes at my buddies’ disbelief. Why would anybody want to live that way? “Walt Disney once said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’”

Austin raised his eyebrows at Chance before looking at me. “Well, then quit dreaming, Mickey Mouse, and get busy.”

“Ha.” I pushed my sandwich away. “You won’t even offer me one little potato chip, yet I’m supposed to take you all to Disney World?”

“If you get on national television by your birthday, I’ll buy you a whole bag.” Chance tossed me a potato chip.

I reached to grab it, but there was a reason I didn’t play team sports—the reason being that while I’m great at throwing, I’m horrible at catching. Plus, I didn’t want to squeeze the chip too tightly and crumble my only source of nourishment.

It slid out of my grasp and fell to the floor.

Oh well. Chance would prefer to eat fried worms than my sandwich, and I’d rather eat dirty potato chips. Five-second rule.

I dove toward the ground to retrieve the tasty tidbit, and I didn’t even wait to sit up straight before stuffing it in my mouth. Mmm … The saltiness made my tongue water. I licked my lips as I considered Chance’s offer. I had learned my lesson about betting, but this was more of a challenge, right?

A whole bag of potato chips all to myself? And he’d given me almost a whole month to become famous? Piece of birthday cake.

A girl screamed as the entire cafeteria seemed to gasp and freeze. The guys at my table chuckled and the sound of slapped high fives came from over my head.

I’d find out what was going on in a moment, but first I had to see if anybody else had dropped chips on the floor.

Nope, my buddies had been clean eaters for a change.

All except for that bit of chocolate cupcake on Chance’s sneaker, but I couldn’t be sure he hadn’t tracked that in from somewhere else, so I let it be.

“Josiah Michaels!” Isabelle’s sparkly high-top sneakers planted themselves on the floor right in front of my face.

Had she been the girl who screamed? Unexpected.

But maybe she saw what my mom wanted to feed me for lunch. It was certainly the stuff horror movies were made of.

Or could Isabelle be bringing me the other half of her peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on white bread?

I jerked upright, mouth watering. The back of my head connected with the edge of the table and sent brainwaves scrambling in agony for a moment. I rubbed my skull and uncrossed my eyes. As much as I would have loved to see Isabelle holding her sandwich, the sight of my sandwich glued to her face was even more satisfying. I laughed. “Why are you wearing my lunch?”

She growled as she scraped the bread off her face. A few spots of goopy fruit remained plastered to her skin like giant zits.

Awesome. Now I had an excuse not to eat my lunch, plus everybody in the room had seen it get destroyed. Surely they’d send their extra helpings my way. Let the pretzels and Twinkies rain down.

“You know I’m going to get you back,” Isabelle said.

I gave my friends the she’s-coo-coo look, which they ignored. “For what?” It wasn’t my fault if she had done something like trip on her shoelace and land face first in my meal.

She grabbed a napkin from the table and wiped at her cheek. “Ha. It is so like you to act innocent.”

I blinked. “I am.”

“Too late, Joe. You already admitted this is your sandwich.”

Oops. But even if I hadn’t admitted it, nobody else’s mom would have made chicken fruit salad on wheat that day. Or any other day. “Yeah, but—”

“And you were under the table in hopes that I wouldn’t see you?”

“No. I was under the table looking for potato chips.”

She threw her head back and laughed the kind of laugh that made me want to go back under the table to hide from her.

I looked to my buddies for help.

For the first time in the history of middle school, they quietly ate their lunches.

Wait a second. One of them must have thrown my sandwich at Isabelle … but they were letting me take the fall?

Isabelle threw her dirty napkin in the garbage. “You’re not getting away with this, Joey.”

I wasn’t, but somebody was. I used my eyes like lasers to turn up the heat on my so-called friends and make one of them confess.

Chance cleared his throat and Austin peeked over at Isabelle, but none of them said a word.

Isabelle’s voice turned sickeningly sweet. “Hi, Mrs. Lyons.”

Oh no. Not the principal. If I’d known she was in the cafeteria, I would have offered to trade my sandwich for her pizza. She loved Mom’s sandwiches. But it was too late to do so now.

Tristan’s eyes grew huge. “I gotta go to the bathroom.” He stuffed all his plastic wrappers into a brown lunch bag and took off running.

“Slow down, Tristan,” Mrs. Lyons barked. She was usually a nice lady, but as Tristan’s mom, she used a different voice on him.

He disappeared around the corner to the bathroom.

I sighed. I could have really used his help here. Especially if he was the one who launched my lunch.

“Mrs. Lyons, Joe threw his sandwich at me.”

I gritted my teeth to keep from exploding. “No, I didn’t, Mrs. Lyons. Isabelle just thinks I did.” Why wouldn’t Isabelle believe me?

“You are known for throwing things at people,” Mrs. Lyons pointed out.

There is that. But … “Only when it’s business. Do you want me to apologize again for hitting you with a water balloon last summer?”

Mrs. Lyons pressed her lips together as if she was trying not to laugh. “Joey, water fights are fine. Food fights are not.”

Food fights? A brilliant idea! There could be money in becoming a food fight professional. Fifty cents for mashed potatoes, seventy-five cents for spaghetti, and a dollar for a pie. Hmm …

I shook my head. My job right now was to convince the principal I hadn’t thrown a sandwich at my neighbor. “I didn’t start any food fight. I promise.”

Mrs. Lyons tilted her head. “I know you didn’t start a food fight.”

“Really?” Whew.

“Only because Isabelle made the mature choice not to throw food back at you. Thank you, Isabelle.”

The girl, a sometimes business partner but currently nemesis, smiled smugly.

What? Wait. Wasn’t I supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? “I didn’t do it!”

Mrs. Lyons’s eyebrows lifted up to her blonde bangs. “Then who did?”

I looked over to Chance and Austin for help.

Shrugging, they glanced everywhere but at me.

If only I had another couple of disgusting sandwiches for both their faces.

“Don’t try to get them in trouble, Joe.” Isabelle stuck a hand on her hip and tossed her hair as she turned toward the principal. “Joe was hiding under the table when I came over to confront him.”

My mouth dropped open and my arms flew wide. What else could I say? If I told Mrs. Lyons that I’d been eating potato chips off the floor, she’d tell Mom and I’d get in even bigger trouble.

Mrs. Lyons touched one finger to her nose. It seemed she did that whenever trying to reason with me. As if I was so unreasonable.

Just because I’d made money in the past by throwing a snowball or two (ahem) hundred …

“You can either apologize to Isabelle or serve detention during lunch tomorrow, Joey. What’s it going to be?”

Isabelle crossed her arms.

Peanut butter pie. If I was going to serve the time, I might as well enjoy the crime. I glanced down at the smashed sandwich on the table and my fingers itched.

The shrill ring of the lunch bell pierced the air.

Isabelle turned on her heel and strode away, having no idea how close she’d come to getting even more chicken and fruit crammed up her nostrils. “Detention it is.” Mrs. Lyons pulled out a pad of paper from her pocket to write me up. Not the kind of fame I was after. I needed my name in lights, not on Mrs. Lyons’s notepad. “See you tomorrow at noon in room two sixteen. And, Joey, the next time your mom makes you one of these sandwiches, just trade me for my pizza and save us all the mess.”