I marched in the door and threw my Buzz Lightyear backpack onto what used to be a cream rug, but now maintained a sort of brownish color. I sprinted to the back of the room as I had been eagerly awaiting to do since I had woken up that morning. I’d had a rough night. My mother was up to her usual shenanigans and wouldn’t seem to get off my case. Now I was seeking some much-needed support from my best friend.
Once I reached the counter I stepped up onto the stool next to me to get a better vantage point. I pressed my face against the cool glass in front of me. But, when I opened my eyes I was sent into a state of aghast. Albrecht was gone.
I reached my hand into the 20-gallon tank and lifted the wooden dome inside, in hopes that Albrecht had decided to sleep in this morning. But that wasn’t like Albrecht, he was an early bird at heart and always stuck to a strict schedule.
He wasn’t there. My heart began to race, if Albrecht wasn’t home, where was he? Why hadn’t he told me where he was going? Something felt off. Albrecht was a homebody. He would’ve never just left the tank like that. Especially not without me.
I had taken him to the park once. But it was too much for him. He seemed to have a sort of aversion to infants and possibly an allergy to grass. His hands and feet shook as he aimlessly crawled through the weed infested field. I remember the look in his eyes– pure terror.
I imagined that look in his eyes now. He must be petrified, all alone, lost even. Just as a tear began to roll down my cheek, Jessica arrogantly pranced into the classroom. I quickly wiped the tear from my face, turned around, and stared Jessica straight in the eyes.
We made eye contact for thirty seconds before she spoke, “So, Jeremy, I heard you stole Mike’s slot to take Albrecht home over winter break.” Jessica was the type who liked to jump straight into problems; small talk wasn’t really her thing.
“I am taking Albrecht over break,” I said, trying to diffuse the tension.
“Well, Mike’s really upset, and he told Emily, who told Annie, who told me, that you heard him call dibs at recess last week,” she said.
I had heard him too, but I always thought the concept of “dibs” was a little foolish and Mike smelled like pastrami, so I never took anything he said too seriously. Just as I was formulating a response, Kenny walked in. I was relieved.
Kenny was the only kid in my class worth talking to, and even that was situational. He was wearing a crimson cashmere sweater and dark brown loafers, the same pair I was wearing.
“Nice sweater Kenny, what, did your mom get that for you?” Jessica snidely asked.
“My grandmother, actually,” Kenny calmly replied. Kenny was a cool-tempered kid and the smartest kid in our class, not that anyone else was really competing for the title. Had it not been for Albrecht and Kenny, I would have dropped out of school a long time ago. I knew the job market these days was competitive but I just didn’t understand the value of knowing long division in the real world. I tried to signal to Kenny to come over to the corner of the room where I was situated. He looked at me kind of confused.
“What are you two looking at each other for? Are you making fun me?” Jessica interjected.
“I don’t know,” Kenny responded honestly.
“Yes, you do.” The volume of her voice had increased. She gave both Kenny and I both an estranged look. Neither of us knew how to respond. “You’re the worst, I’m getting Ms. Kravitz,” Jessica said as she ran out of the room.
Kenny’s head turned towards me. “Hi Jeremy.”
“Hi Kenny.” I said motioning him over with my hand.
“Jeremy, I don’t like to play with Albrecht in the morning; you know that. Ms. Kravitz hasn’t cleaned out his tank yet.”
“You’re not going to convince me,” he said. Kenny was never one to breach his comfort zone. I became infuriated. Kenny was always difficult, but I didn’t understand why Kenny was acting this way at a time like this. I was clearly worried. Albrecht could be in serious danger, I didn’t have time for Kenny’s irrationally sensitive sense of smell.
“I’m not trying to convince you, I’m trying to get you to come here.” I said, before realizing I had been yelling. Kenny was silent. He looked at me, saw the deep-rooted concern in my eyes, and slowly scuffled to my side of the room. When he reached the counter, I stepped aside and gestured to the tank.
“Jeremy,” he said, annoyed. He didn’t inch any closer to the tank.
I lifted the wooden dome. “Look!” I shouted.
Just then, Kenny walked up and climbed on the stepping stool. He was silent for a moment before saying “Well, where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know…?”
“Well, did you ask Ms. Kravitz?”
“We’re not telling Ms. Kravitz, Kenny. Something is weird about this, I know it. Albrecht would never have run away. I was planning for us to go to Mulligan’s Funland over break; he wouldn’t have done this, not now,” I said.
“Well…” he said, casting his head down.
“Well…” I mimicked.
He took a long a pause. “There’s only one thing to do.” He shuffled to his backpack, unzipped it and pulled something out.
When he returned, he had on his monocle, which he had purchased for his singular near-sighted eye, and his red deerstalker hat.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Very,” he replied.
Jessica came storming in the room, followed by an angry Ms. Kravitz. I couldn’t tell if Ms. Kravitz was upset with me and Kenny, or simply tired of having to do this same little dance with Jessica every morning. Ms. Kravitz placed her canvas Whole Foods tote bag on the ground and plopped down onto her overly-worn pleather desk chair. She started fiddling through a pile of papers on her desk. “Boys,” she said in a disconcerting tone, “Jessica told me that you two weren’t being very nice to her. Is that true?”
“No Ma’am,” Kenny answered without hesitancy.
She gave the two of us a long stare, before I frantically interjected with “I was just trying to show Kenny how long Albrecht’s toenails are getting.”
“That’s interesting. May I see them? I may need to cut them, so no one gets hurt while they play with him,” Ms. Kravitz said.
“Uhh… Well we were just about to give him a bath so—” Kenny shouted, grabbing the empty tank and running out the door before he could finish his sentence.
“Jeremy, sweetie, I thought you gave him a quick wash on Tuesday,” Ms. Kravitz said, apparently suspicious of Kenny’s behavior. I panicked. I didn’t want to be blamed for Albrecht’s disappearance, and I knew my classmates would likely point a finger at me.
“Well you know…Kenny has an intense phobia of germs,” I said hesitantly.
I ran out of the door faster than Kenny had. Once I was in the hallway, I looked around but didn’t see Kenny anywhere. I began to shout his name. I couldn’t afford to lose him too.
I heard a faint murmur that seemed to resemble someone calling my name. I traveled down the long dimly lit hallway before being run over by some large blonde boy that reeked of B.O. and hot Cheetos. I slammed onto the ground cold tile. The boy stared at me a second before angrily yelling “Watch where you’re going dweeb.”
It was then, I realized where I was, the upperclassman quarters. I slowly got up and wiped the various crumbs and dust particles off my brown corduroy pants. Why would Kenny come here? This place spelled out danger, not that I could actually spell it.
I now made out the mumur as Kenny’s voice. He was calling my name. I started running. As I approached the end of the hallway, I found two silhouettes backlit by a large window facing the playground. It took only a second for me to identify the figures.
Mike was standing over a scared Kenny crouched on the floor. Mike was 4’7”, the tallest kid in class by far. He seemed to fit in amongst the older kids. Kenny had always been very intimidated by him; I would have been too had it not been for his pungent odor. Mike always made a point to make fun of Kenny’s clothes, sayings, and general mannerisms; I think just to get a rise out of him. Kenny let it happen, he’s never been one for confrontations. My mother has always said most people are only bad to others to feel better about themselves; this is something I’ve never understood.
But I didn’t have time to mull over the nonsensical jargon that came from my mother’s mouth; I sprang into action. My stride picked up down the hallway. As I got closer, I could make out the words being exchanged.
“Give it to me!” Mike yelled in his unfittingly high-pitched voice.
“Please get away from me, Mike,” Kenny whispered, attempting to mask his fear.
“I just want to play with Albrecht, okay. You two are always hogging him.” Mike’s voice had now taken up a whine. Kenny was balled up in an attempt to hide the emptiness of the tank. He was clutching onto it so tightly that his hands began to shake.
“Why won’t you stand up like a big boy, Kenny?” Mike asked after Kenny’s lack of response. “This isn’t 2nd grade anymore. We’re in 3rd grade now, now stand up and give me the fudging iguana.”
“I quite like it down here,” Kenny replied.
I reached Kenny and Mike just as Mike thrusted his arm towards the tank. I tried to intercept, but I was too late. When I finally arrived at the end of the hallway Mike had the tank in his own hands. The look of sheer panic flooded Kenny’s face, followed by a hauntingly disquiet silence.
Mike’s eyes traveled downward into the tank. He looked bewildered. He lifted the dome inside the tank before looking directly at me and asking, “Is this some kind of joke?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked in the sincerest voice I could muster up in front of such unpleasant company.
Rage had taken over his tone. “This isn’t funny, Jeremy. Where the H-E-double hockey sticks is Albrecht?” I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t sure whether I should tell the truth, lie my way out of it, or just simply run away. I was about to dart down the yellow and red checkered floor, back to our class but then Mike spoke again. “Albrecht isn’t just yours for the taking whenever you want. He’s a class pet, not a Jeremy’s pet. Give him to me! It’s my turn to play with him. I’m tired of you two buttheads hogging him all the time.”
As if the anger in Mike’s voice wasn’t enough of a clue, his harsh language told me that Kenny and I were in serious trouble. I hadn’t heard Mike throw around the word “butthead” since Kevin dropped his meatball sub on Mike’s church pants, and that’s one lunch period we don’t talk about.
I knew what I had to do. “We don’t know where he is, alright.” I said diverting my eyes to the floor.
“You lost him?” Mike exclaimed angrily.
“Well not exactly—” Kenny interjected. I cut him off before he could finish his sentence.
“We’re going to find him.”
“How?” Mike asked mockingly.
“We’re detectives.” I reached into my pocket and flashed my purple construction paper badge. Mike began to laugh. At first, he chuckled, then he began cackling, soon his laugh resembled a roar. “We’re going to find him,” I repeated.
He stopped laughing. “I don’t believe you.”
“We are!” Kenny whined, still crouched on the tile floor.
“Fine then. If you are so sure, then I won’t tell on you.” Mike paused. “Not yet.”
I let out a sigh of relief before I fully registered his sentence. I had bought us time, but I wasn’t sure how much. I was too scared to ask.
Luckily, I didn’t have to. “You buttheads have until the end of recess to find Albrecht, or I am going straight to Ms. Kravitz,” Mike stated, then turned around and marched straight back to the classroom. The smell of pastrami slowly dwindled out of the hallway after him.
“What are we going to do, Jeremy?” Kenny asked.
“We are going to find Albrecht,” I said.
We headed to the playground. It would’ve been an unlikely where-about for Albrecht given his aversion to the outdoors, but it was worth a try. Kenny and I were on the hunt for clues. Anything would help. Right now, we were hopeless.
In the past, the Kidz on the Block, my and Kenny’s mystery club from kindergarten, only solved simple mysteries, the mystery of the missing expo marker, the mystery of who left the milk out at Kenny’s house, the mystery of if who smelt it actually dealt it, etc. We had retired from the detective lifestyle a couple of years ago, and had never taken on a case this big. I was worried, but I knew it was time to grow up, I was in the big league now.
Once we arrived at the play structure, Kenny and I took straight to the ground. Kenny began sniffing the Astroturf in an attempt to sniff out Albrecht’s infamous fecal matter. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but boy was I looking. Kenny and I had chosen to ditch class, our first time. I knew we would get in trouble, but that trouble wouldn’t compare to what would happen if Ms. Kravitz knew the truth.
We spent an hour wandering around, inspecting every inch of the field, monkey bars, swings, even the basketball court! I had become very discouraged. I stopped and sat on a nearby rock. I was exhausted from the day’s work, but knew there was so much more searching that needed to be done. Slouched over, I felt the hot sun scorching my back. I could feel a sunburn slowly forming. I lifted my head from my lap to find Kenny running towards me excitedly. He was holding something in his hand.
“Jeremy! Jeremy! Jeremy!” He was yelling. “He was here! Albrecht! He was here!” My heart began to race. The glimmer of hope that had left my body in the past hour slowly returned. Kenny opened up his palm revealing an oval shaped brown mass. He must have thought that Albrecht excreted it.
“Albrecht’s poop doesn’t look like that,” I said, before Kenny could explain himself. “That must be a rock, or dog poop or something. That wasn’t from Albrecht, I would be able to tell.”
There was a pause. Why was Kenny such an idiot? It was starting to seem like I would be solving this mystery alone.My heart hurt and a tear rolled down my cheek. Kenny dropped what was in his hand and sat next to me on the rock.
“He’s not here. We should just leave,” I said, disheartened.
“But we can’t just give up!” Kenny replied.
“No one said anything about giving up.”
We marched to the cafeteria. A confidence within me had resurged. The only thing Albrecht liked more than sleeping in his tank was eating. He couldn’t resist a good snack, but who could? If he were to have gone anywhere, this is where he’d be.
We had only thirty minutes before the premises would be swarming with kindergarteners shoving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches down their throats.
“We’ve gotta be quick,” I whispered to Kenny as we walked through grey double doors.
We split up. Kenny took the main room, searching for clues among the tables and benches that had been chaotically laid out. I took the more important of the two jobs, the back. I snuck through the side door and wound up in the kitchen. No one was there, not yet. But I knew I would have to be fast.
I began rummaging through the pots and pans, then the cutlery, then the utensils. Again, I found myself confused about what exactly I was looking for. I walked to the freezer. For years, the kids in my class had made up stories about the haunted freezer. I remember Kevin once saying they had found at least six bodies in there.
I opened the heavy metal door. Chills rushed down my spine. It was dark, but I stepped inside anyways. I felt around for a light switch, but couldn’t find it. By this point, I was desperate. I began searching in the dark. I stuck my arms out in front of me and felt around. Though far-fetched, I was hoping my hand would just happen to stumble upon an iguana. I got to the back of the freezer, but still had no luck in finding Albrecht.
I stared at the frosted romaine sitting on the middle shelf. Romaine was Albrecht’s favorite lunch food, followed by iceberg lettuce and kale. The other kids in my class always tried to feed him bits of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or goldfish crackers, but he never once took a bite of their offerings. For the past year I had been bringing two lunches to school, chicken tenders for me, and a Tupperware filled with an assortment of leafy greens for Albrecht. I missed him so much. I needed to find him.
Suddenly, I felt something move by my finger-tips. Then I heard a patter noise. The sound of tiny finger and toenails running across the shelf. I recognized the sound of the run. It was Albrecht! But I couldn’t see him. I tried to follow the sound. But I could no longer tell which direction it was coming from. This was the moment. I was about to solve our biggest case yet.
Suddenly the noise stopped. I was certain he had exited the room. I began to worry. Would I have to chase Albrecht around the school? He had short legs, but he had always been much faster than his appearance let on. I ran out of the freezer, and into the kitchen which was more brightly lit. I positioned myself in front of the freezer door and stared at the cement ground. I was waiting for Albrecht to emerge, the moment I had been waiting for all day. I would finally be with my best friend again.
A shadow by the door began to move. Something was about to walk out of the freezer. And something did. My stomach dropped. A rat. A dumb rat. I had forgotten this dumb school had an under-the-wraps rat problem. I stormed out of the back of the cafeteria and into the main room where Kenny was. I wasn’t sure if I was more disappointed by the fact that the noise in the pantry wasn’t Albrecht, or at my own naiveté of thinking it was.
“Let’s go, Kenny,” I yelled as I barged into the room.
“Why?” he asked.
“I said let’s go.”
The bell rang just as we exited the cafeteria. We were out of time anyways. Recess would have ended just as that tone played. I had failed. Kenny and I hung our heads low, as we returned to the classroom with the empty tank.
When we got back no one was in the room. It would be only seconds before my classmates flooded in. They would want to play with Albrecht like they always did, but this time he wouldn’t be there. It was all my fault. I hadn’t taken him, but I felt responsible. I should’ve known where Albrecht went. I should’ve known if he was unhappy at Webminster Charter Elementary. I was a complete and utter failure. I tried to hide the disappointment on my face from Kenny. I had never meant for him to get wrapped up in this. Albrecht was my best friend, Kenny had never even really liked him that much; and now we would both have to pay the price.
Mike walked in first. He came alone. He didn’t say a word to either me or Kenny, he just walked to the back of the classroom and peered in the tank.
“So… Where is he?” Mike said slowly walking over to me.
“Who?” I asked.
“Stop playing games, Jeremy. Give me the iguana,” he demanded.
“We didn’t find him, okay,” Kenny blurted out.
Then there was a moment of silence. I don’t know how long the moment actually was, but I could have sworn it was at least two hours of complete silence.
“Ms. Kra—” Mike began calling her name but was interrupted by the loud sound of something crashing.
I had spotted something on the rug. There was a small round brown mass. My stomach plummeted. Mike must’ve known where Albrecht was this whole time. I was so infuriated, that without realizing it, I had let go of the tank. The crash was louder than a gunshot. Glass was everywhere. Mike looked down at his glass covered sneakers. He slowly turned around and looked at me face to face, convinced I was aiming the tank at him. I had never seen a look of such pure primal rage than the look I saw in Mike’s eyes in that moment.
Mike was on top of me. We were rolling around the cream rug. We were attempting to fight. I was trying to pull the moves I had seen in the movies, but nothing was working. In an episode of rage, riddled with various roars and yells, Mike and I were just simply rolling around on the floor. He would pull my shirt, or my hair, and I would pull his. No one was winning.
Suddenly, what felt like a car hit the left side of my face. It was Mike’s fist. We had gone from playground fighting to Friday Night Smack Down fighting.
It happened again. Blood trickled down my chin. I hadn’t wanted to punch Mike. We had always played no fists. But this wasn’t playing anymore. If I was going down, I was going down fighting; it was the only way Albrecht would have wanted it. By this point, I was situated above Mike. I closed my eyes, lifted my hand, balled it up and thrust it towards him. A shooting pain shot up my hand, my fist was on fire.
Kenny was standing in the corner hyperventilating. He has never been reliable when it comes to overwhelming situations. He was just watching. I looked back at him and made eye contact with his worried eyes. His facial expression dropped, as if he had just seen a ghost. There was that feeling again. Like a boulder had just hit the side of my jaw. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to speak again. I thrust my arm back at Mike, this time open handed, right across the cheek. He let out a high-pitched yelp.
Jessica walked in the room, followed by Ms. Kravitz. They had walked in on Mike and I quarrelling amongst a sea of broken glass with Kenny crying in the background. I felt a pair of large strong hands grab my shoulders and rip me off Mike, throwing me to the other side of the rug.
I thought I had received the most horrific look of all time from Mike only minutes earlier, until I looked into the eyes of Ms. Kravtiz.
“What is going on here?” she asked trying to keep literal flames from shooting out of her ears. Our entire class marched in, returning from recess, and stopped behind her.
“Jeremy lost Albrecht,” Mike said. I could see the horror in my classmates faces.
I had never felt such failure in my life. I rode home in complete silence in my mother’s Honda mini-van. I had never gotten in trouble at school before. Not once. Not even one late slip to my name. But now? Now, I was at risk for suspension. I was told not to come to school the following day while they discussed how to properly handle such delinquents as me and Mike. They used that word with my mother: delinquent. I think the broken glass really freaked them out.
I didn’t care about being suspended. Like I said, school is stupid. I was upset with myself. Not only had I failed. I had lost my best friend. I didn’t have even the slightest clue where he was. I had never expected this to happen. I was a failure of a detective, and an even bigger failure of a best friend.
When I got home I plopped face-first onto my bed. I had no motivation to do anything. My life had lost its purpose; I couldn’t do anything right. I might as well have given up all my ambitions in that moment; I now knew I would never be able to achieve them.
I didn’t care about being trouble, I didn’t care about the bruises on my face, I didn’t care that I was grounded, I didn’t care that my mother told me Santa would give me coal this year, I didn’t care that my PlayStation was confiscated, I didn’t care that Kenny may never look at me the same, I didn’t care that Mike will beat me up the next time he sees me, I didn’t care, I didn’t care, I didn’t care. I cared that I lost my best friend. I felt empty and alone, without anyone to talk to, utter melancholy.
I unzipped my Buzz Lightyear backpack that lay on the floor of my bedroom, so I could grab the photo of Albrecht I kept with my school stuff. I was going to hang it on my walls, right next my most prized Sherlock Holmes. But when I went to grab the photo, something in my bag poked me.
I unzipped the backpack a little wider, and out crawled a disoriented iguana. He looked at me, and I looked at him. He smiled.
“Albrecht, you bastard,” I said as a tear of relief fell from my eye.
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