“No, I’m not.”
“There’s no such place!”
“Yes, there is.”
“No way. You’re a liar. Liar! Liar!”
Julia sighed. The second graders had only just started their lunches and she already needed to quiet them down.
“Brock, Aiden, inside voices, please.”
“Miss Hulbert,” Brock whined (she was pretty sure he only spoke in whines), “tell Aiden to stop lying.”
“I’m just telling him about my fall break,” Aiden said.
“There’s no place called Broccoli World!” Brock yelled. “You’re just tricking me. He’s being mean, Miss Hulbert. Tell him to stop being mean.”
“I’m not being mean,” Aiden said.
Aiden was a sweet kid with worn, out-of-style clothes. Julia saw his parents more than most at school events, looking tired but happy. “Is Broccoli World one of the stories you’ve been writing, Aiden?”
“No. Everyone went on vacation last week. I went to Broccoli World.”
“I went to Disney World,” Brock said importantly. “We go every year.”
“I’m sure you do.” Julia returned her attention to Aiden. “I’ve never heard of Broccoli World.”
“That’s because it’s in Minnesota.”
“It’s just starting up, too. My dad really likes broccoli, that’s how he heard about it. Broccoli’s like his favorite vegetable. I like it, too, even without dip. It makes you feel big and important, like you’re a giant chewing up trees.”
“Broccoli’s gross,” Brock said. “My mom never makes me eat broccoli.”
Julia ignored him. “But what is Broccoli World? A museum?”
“Yeah, there’s a museum. It was boring. Too much to read and mostly a lot of black and white pictures, like of Chinese people farming and stuff. Did you know China grows the most broccoli in the world? But there’s a big indoor play area with slides and rope bridges and lots of tunnels, in this giant, like three-story tall, broccoli. The best section’s up in the floret—that’s what you call the forest-y part. There’s a big ball pit and lots of springy floor. And next to that’s this thing like a botanical garden, with all three types of broccoli in it dyed or painted or something all kinds of colors to make shapes and characters, like Minions and Groot and My Little Ponies.” He made a face. “My sister loved that.
“There’s a hotel, too, and the carpet’s all green and trippy. Dad says it was like watching Fantasia the way some people did back then, whatever that means. Dad made us try some of the chocolate-covered florets. Not good.
“But the indoor waterpark was awesome. There was a lazy river dyed yellow to look like cheese and it had one of those big funnel slides, but the funnel was done up like a toilet. It was hilarious! I thought it was because sometimes kids try to dispose of their broccoli, but Mom said something about it helping with constipation. Anyway, it was great. I rode it like a hundred times. When Dad said it was time to go home, I was really mad. It ended up being a pretty cool place.”
“Yeah, well, I saw Darth Vader,” Brock said.
“Everyone’s been to Disney World,” Aiden said. “I’m the only one who’s been to Broccoli World.”
“You’ve never been to Disney World,” Brock said. “You told me so last week.”
“Well, it’s really cool. Way better than Broccoli World.”
“Brock,” Julia said sharply, seeing the look in Aiden’s face. He was fighting back tears. “Take your tray and go sit over there. And no more talking. Now.”
With a huff and a sneer, Brock did what he was told.
Julia sat next to Aiden. “Now, Aiden, tell me the truth. Is there really a Broccoli World?”
“Miss Hulbert, there’s all kinds of crazy places out there. There’s a museum about Ramen Noodles in Japan and a place called Dollywood. Why can’t there be a Broccoli World?”
“Aiden, no one likes broccoli that much.”
“No one should like spam, either, but there’s still a museum for that.”
“It’s okay if you didn’t go anywhere special during break. I didn’t go anywhere.”
“My dad’s really good at making up stories. He does it all the time when we’re taking a walk or driving around. It makes life great.”
“You’re not too bad at it either. But you can’t lie to your friends.”
“Brock’s not my friend.
“You know what I mean.”
“Okay, Miss Hulbert.” He smiled at her. “I’m going to bring one of my pictures in from Broccoli World in tomorrow.”
“Just for fun, okay?”
And, she had to admit the next day when he showed her the picture of them at the entrance to Broccoli World, all smiling, Aiden had a quite a talent for Photoshop for a second grader.