Tuesday, October 26
The seventh-grade teachers of Stirling Middle School did not put any thought into the important task of assigning field trip partners. Their poor decision-making had tethered Felix Rannells to Benji Porter for the entire day. When Felix received his assignment at 6:00 a.m., he considered faking an illness—something tough to prove, like a toothache—but his mom had already driven off. And the field trip was to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a place he’d always wanted to go.
So instead, Felix climbed the bus steps and took the inside seat next to Benji. Felix tried to pass the two hours by reading, while Benji tried to entertain everyone by offering to do stupid tricks for money.
“For a dollar, I’ll eat gum from the bottom of the seat.”
“For a quarter, you can draw on my back with a Sharpie.”
“For ten dollars, I’ll moon that tractor-trailer.”
Benji wasn’t making much. He earned a buck off Aidan Rozman and a lot of ew
s from everyone else.
Ideally, Felix should have been paired with someone who respected rules, like a teacher. Or better yet, no partner at all. He liked to be alone, or maybe he was just used to it. Was there really any difference?
Benji and Felix knew each other, of course. They were in Ms. Chenoweth’s homeroom, and they both played basketball—Felix, a point guard, and Benji, a center. Benji’s nickname on the court was Barney (not that Felix would ever call him that) because he was the biggest guy out there, and he was always smiling. Benji had wavy brown hair, braces, and zits and would probably grow a mustache before they were out of middle school. And like the purple dinosaur, Benji was kind of awkward.
“Hey, buddy.” Benji turned to Felix. “I’ll give you
a dollar if you call Ms. Chenoweth ‘Mommy’ for the rest of the day.”
Felix shook his head, regretting again not pretending to be sick when he had the chance. Now it was too late.
The bus pulled up in front of the museum, and the students were reminded to stay with their partners at all times. This resulted in Felix spending the morning as an unwilling participant in a three-hour game of hide-and-seek where he was always the seeker. Benji “accidentally” joined another school’s group. He went into the bathroom—without permission. He even set off an alarm when he tried to duck behind a woolly mammoth. And approximately every thirty seconds, Ms. Chenoweth warned Benji (and by association, Felix) to behave.
By lunch, Felix needed air and a break. Ms. Chenoweth seemed to read his mind, allowing them all to eat across the street in Central Park. The
Central Park—as seen in movies.
A chaperone handed out the bagged lunches everyone had prepacked. Felix’s contained a peanut butter sandwich and saltine crackers. His mom wouldn’t be going to the grocery store again until the end of the month, so they were out of chips and granola bars. He unwrapped the sandwich and ate the larger half in a matter of seconds.
But Benji didn’t have a bagged lunch in the cooler. “I forgot it on the counter.”
Felix offered him his crackers.
“Nah. I’m buying a pretzel.” Benji pulled a wrinkled dollar from his jeans and headed toward a food cart. You’re not supposed to,
Felix thought. The permission slip had clearly stated that students were forbidden to make any purchases.
Felix glanced back at Ms. Chenoweth, who was chatting with the math teacher and not watching Benji’s lunch rebellion. Felix sighed and once again followed his partner.
“How much for a pretzel?” Benji asked.
“Two dollars.” The pretzel man pointed to the sign. “I’ll give you one. It’s all I got.”
“Well, then you ain’t got a pretzel.” The man turned his back like he had another customer, which he didn’t.
“I guess I’ll starve.”
Felix popped the last bite of sandwich into his mouth and was going to toss the plastic wrap when something caught his eye just a foot from the trash can—a red wallet with interlocking gold C
s. Two other kids walked right by it. For a second, he thought about leaving it and letting it be someone else’s responsibility. But he picked it up. The leather was soft and smooth and somehow felt important.
He glanced around the park. No one appeared to be searching for it.
“What’s that?” Benji came up behind him.
“Someone’s wallet.” Felix handed it to Benji. If he’d thought about it for even two seconds, he’d have realized this was a mistake.
Benji immediately unzipped it and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.
“Score! Now we have lunch money.”
Felix flinched. I’m witnessing a robbery.
Tuesday, October 26
Until this point, Felix had not been Benji’s ideal field trip partner. He barely talked. He followed every
rule. And he seemed to be against having any fun. But finding the wallet made up for all that, plus now they weren’t going to starve.
Benji’s stomach growled as if on cue.
“Put it back.” Felix pointed at the twenty.
“We’re just borrowing a few bucks. I’ll return it.” Benji dug around in the wallet. “I’ll mail the money to . . .” He froze, staring at the driver’s license in his hand.
“Whoa. Look.” Benji held the ID an inch from Felix’s face. “Laura Marie Friendly. Do you know who that is?”
Felix squinted at the driver’s license.
“She’s a freaking billionaire!” Benji shouted. Laura Friendly was the founder of Friendly Connect, a social media company that parents and grandparents loved.
“This lady is so loaded she’s building her own rocket ship to Mars. And once, she challenged a family to communicate using only Friendly Messenger for a week, and then paid them a million dollars.”
“That can’t be true,” Felix said.
“Whatever. It’s our lucky day. Pretzels on me. No, hot dogs
on me.” Benji smiled and shoved the wallet into the pocket of his sweatshirt. “Actually, on Laura Friendly.”
He walked back to the cart. The pretzel man—who was also a hot dog man—glared at him until Benji held up the twenty.
“Two hot dogs, two sodas, and two bags of chips,” Benji ordered.
“Anything else?” the hot dog–pretzel man asked.
“Stop. We shouldn’t. It’s stealing.” Felix came up behind Benji. The kid made a great tail—like, FBI-level surveillance great.
The man folded his arms and raised his eyebrows.
“It’s borrowing. Not stealing,” Benji said through gritted teeth. “I’ll pay it back. And I’m starving. A boy’s gotta eat.”
“Well?” the guy asked, growing impatient.
Benji sighed. “Make it one hot dog, one bag of chips, and one soda.”
The man began filling the order while Felix stared at the ground like there were secret codes written on the sidewalk.
“I know you want a hot dog,” Benji whispered. Felix gave him the slightest nod, and Benji clapped him on the back.
“We’re changing our order again. Two of each, and throw in some ice cream bars.”
The price came to eighteen dollars, and Benji handed over the bill and said (for the first time in his life), “Keep the change.”
They found a spot on the grass for their picnic. Close enough to the rest of the class not to be considered missing, but far enough away that Ms. Chenoweth couldn’t see their upgraded lunch. Felix didn’t talk as they ate. He scarfed down his food like he was hiding evidence.
“I bet Laura Friendly gives us a huge reward,” Benji said as he opened his ice cream bar. “Like a million bucks.”
“We need to pay her back and return the wallet.” Felix chewed on his thumbnail. He was a skinny kid with red hair, freckles, and a big forehead. He always looked kind of nervous, but he appeared even shakier than usual.
“She doesn’t need our money.” Benji leaned back on the grassy hill. “I’m going to take the wallet home. Have my parents call her, maybe invite her—”
“No! We need to hand it in now.” Felix’s face was turning the color of the wallet.
give it back, but we have to do it the right way to make sure we get a reward.”
Felix jumped to his feet, and for the first time, Benji was forced to be the tail. They dumped their trash, even though Benji still had a few bites of ice cream left. Felix practically ran to their teacher.
“Ms. Chenoweth, we found a wallet. It belongs to Laura Friendly.”
Benji groaned. No use denying it. Of the two of them, everyone would call Felix the smart and trustworthy one. If it was Benji’s word against Felix’s, Benji wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Excuse me?” Ms. Chenoweth said.
“Yep.” Benji took out the red wallet. “Her address is in here. Felix and I can take an Uber or a taxi to her place. We’ll be back in an hour. You won’t even miss us.”
“Hand it over,” Ms. Chenoweth said, not even considering Benji’s suggestion. As she looked through the wallet, her mouth dropped open.
“Let’s give it to him.” Felix motioned to a police officer waving kids off the sidewalk and into the park.
Ms. Chenoweth agreed it was the best option—though Benji still thought his taxi idea was better. She escorted the boys to the cop, who wasn’t interested in the wallet until the mention of Laura Friendly’s name.
“I’ll make sure this gets returned,” he said.
“You need to tell her we
found it. Benji Porter and Felix Rannells. Partners.” Benji threw an arm around Felix’s shoulder, pulling him closer.
“Sure thing.” “He’s not going to remember. He’s not going to tell her,” Benji complained to Ms. Chenoweth.
“Oh, here.” Ms. Chenoweth sighed. She jotted a message on a piece of paper and slipped it into the wallet.
Found by Felix Rannells and Benji Porter. Students in Julie Chenoweth’s class at Stirling Middle School in Stirling, NY.
“You promise not to take that paper out?” Benji asked.
Benji had no choice but to believe him. And to dream about the inevitable reward.
Copyright © 2020 by Stacy McAnulty. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.