Bryce couldn’t figure out Meagan. She was easily the smartest student in Mrs. Garcia’s sixth grade class, and yet she never seemed to understand any of Bryce’s jokes. She rolled her eyes at his puns, heaved sighs at his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and never even cracked a smile when he let loose an epically loud burp.
Bryce had nothing against Meagan, but he couldn’t imagine how or why they would ever become friends…until last Saturday.
It happened at the skate park. Bryce was trying to stay on his board for more than fifty seconds without falling. It was a feat he’d need to master if he ever hoped to win five gold medals at the Olympics. He had just kissed the pavement for the twenty-third consecutive time when Meagan zoomed past him riding a vintage single kicktail with fifty-four millimeter wheels.
She reeked of confidence as she rolled directly into the half pipe and dove out of sight. An instant later she shot into the air and performed a backside 360 tail grab that displayed the sick, hand-painted graphic on the bottom of her deck.
Bryce gasped. Nothing made sense anymore. Up was down. Right was left. The Earth went around the sun. Only one thing was certain. Bryce’s whole life depended on making Meagan his friend.
For days Bryce tried desperately to start a conversation with Meagan, but he fell mute whenever he got within six feet of her. It was as if she radiated an impenetrable force field that wouldn’t allow anyone with less than a B average to speak to her. Bryce was pondering ways to crack that invisible barrier when Mrs. Garcia’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Are you sure about this, Bryce?”
Bryce had no idea what Mrs. Garcia was talking about. That was not unusual. However, Bryce also had no idea why his hand was raised above his head.
“Bryce, the science fair is three days from now. Are you sure?”
The horror of what was taking place slowly dawned on Bryce. Without his guidance or permission, Bryce’s arm had raised his hand and volunteered him for an extracurricular activity.
Bryce looked around the room. His classmates were wide-eyed and slack-jawed—anxiously awaiting the punchline for what could only be a joke.
Among those wide eyes were Meagan’s. And for the first time they were filled with something other than annoyance or impatience. Bryce had surprised her. Her shields were down. He seized the moment.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
The fact that Bryce was earning a solid D in science didn’t worry him. He had once wowed his first grade glass with a sprouted potato in a Mason jar and he was certain a recreation of that exhibit would thrill Mrs. Garcia and, more importantly, Meagan.
The only obstacle was time. No student had ever sprouted a prize-winning potato in just three days. If Bryce was going to pull this off, he’d need help. So he turned to the internet.
After consulting a website filled with innovative hacks for growing potatoes, Bryce combined common household cleaning products with WD-40 to create a powerful fertilizer. The website also advised Bryce to form a personal bond with his potato, so he named it Nick.
Nick received all of Bryce’s attention. Bryce read to Nick, sang to Nick and did his Schwarzenegger impression for Nick. And Nick thrived.
Three days later, Bryce stood proudly by his fully-sprouted potato exhibit in the school’s gymnasium. Mrs. Garcia gave him a quick glance and promptly awarded him one of several highly coveted “Participant” ribbons.
Bryce smiled broadly as he pinned the tiny green ribbon to his shirt and hurried away to impress Meagan with what he had achieved.
Suddenly, Nick’s companion was gone. The wave of loneliness that washed over him was incredibly painful and it grew worse with each passing minute. When the solitude became too much to bear, Nick flexed his roots, pushed himself out of his Mason jar and went in search of Bryce.
Nick wandered through the gym on his tender roots—hopping from table to table and dodging the feet of students who took no notice of him. He moved past a frightening “Is The Cafeteria’s Pizza Killing Us?” exhibit and finally saw his only friend.
Bryce stood six feet away from Meagan and her trophy-winning exhibit on bioluminescence in terrestrial invertebrates. His fingers smoothed the tiny green ribbon on his shirt as he took a step closer to her. Bryce was about to speak when, from the corner of his eye, he spotted a scale model of the planet Jupiter flying towards his head.
Bryce was not a good student. He had never distinguished himself in any class or subject. However, he was one of the finest dodgeball players the school had ever known. He sidestepped the incoming planet and it crashed through Meagan’s exquisite, hand-carved models of Photinus carolinus.
Bryce and Meagan both turned to face their attacker. They were shocked to find themselves staring at a sprouted potato resting next to an incomplete model of the solar system.
Meagan had no idea how a potato had become sentient or why it had hurled a planet in her direction, but experience had taught her that circumstances such as these required only one question.
“Bryce, what have you done?”
There was no time to answer. Nick’s stems were already reaching for Neptune. Bryce grabbed Meagan by the hand and pulled her along behind him as he ran.
Nick pursued them—fueled by a jealous rage unlike anything a potato had ever known. He had been used—coaxed into sprouting so that Bryce could charm a new and better friend. It was a betrayal and insult that Nick could not abide.
Bryce pulled Meagan through the double doors that led to the school’s swimming pool. The two of them immediately lost their footing on the wet floor and tumbled into the water. It was then that they discovered what they had in common: neither of them could swim.
Nick stood idly by as they thrashed frantically in the pool. It was a fate they deserved.
But the hours Bryce spent with Nick had germinated more than stems and roots. Nick possessed a full range of emotions; and his anger was quickly quelled by his compassion. The feeling was new and unfamiliar to Nick, but he didn’t hesitate to act upon it.
He could feel the hyper-chlorinated water leeching the life from his stems as he plunged them into the pool and reached for Bryce and Meagan. His young leaves withered as he took hold of Bryce and Meagan and pulled them to the pool’s edge. And his tender roots weakened and withered as Bryce and Meagan climbed out of the water and fell to the floor.
Bryce and Meagan stumbled to their feet and cautiously approached the small spud that had become their savior.
Meagan lifted the lifeless tuber from the floor and held it in her cupped hands.
“This was no ordinary potato.”
Bryce opened his mouth to explain what he’d done and inadvertently let loose the loudest burp he had ever emitted. The sound of it was still echoing off the walls as the faintest of smiles appeared on Meagan’s face.