It was big poobs who first suggested the idea. we were at the International House of Pancakes: Poobs, Marcus, and me. The tables at the IHOP are sometimes sticky with syrup, but it’s the only place around where a kid can order a coffee or soda and nobody complains if he wants to hang out for an hour or two.
The booths were crowded, mostly with Whitestone Prep kids. Stonys, we called them. Even without their green uniform shirts, they were obviously Stonys. They were the ones with braces and designer jeans. The ones with new backpacks. The ones talking about “wild times” at summer music camp in places like Tanglewood or Chautauqua.
Five Stony girls were jammed into the booth next to us. The tallest girl was blond and cute; very. They were talking about college. I heard her say something about coed dorms, which made the other girls giggle.
Marcus spun his fork like he was playing spin-the-bottle, except there was no girl in his near future, and no college either. After (more like if) he graduated from Riverview High, he was joining the Marines.
The three of us leaned back in our seats. We were beyond bored.
Big Poobs sighed. “Let’s do something.”
Poobs was a straight-C student, except for the occasional D. There was no college in his plans either, but he didn’t need it any more than Marcus did. His parents owned Vinny’s, a popular local Italian restaurant. Big Poobs worked busing tables there. In a year he would be a waiter; eventually he would own the restaurant himself.
My grades were actually good, but with Mom gone for over a year now, and no sign of her coming back, I couldn’t picture myself waltzing off to the University of Whatever after high school. I figured I should stick around for my little brother, Cody, at least for a few more years.
When the Whitestone girls got up to pay their check, they left behind a piece of paper on the table. I reached over and picked it up.
“What is it?” Marcus asked.
“Looks like an application to Whitestone. Hey, why don’t you apply, Marcus?”
“Why don’t you eat my shorts?” he calmly replied.
It was mid-August and hot. One good thing about the IHOP: they really cranked up the AC. We had a booth by the window with a view of the street. The cars turning left onto Main Street got blasted by midmorning sun. The drivers all reacted by dropping their sun visors.
“Look: they all do the same thing when they turn,” I said. “They all reach up for their sun visors. What are they, programmed like robots? I swear, people are sheep.”
Marcus added more sugar to his coffee. “Baa.”
That’s when it happened. Big Poobs, who to my recollection had never had one truly original idea in his life, spoke up.
“We should do it,” he said. “Try to get accepted at Whitestone Prep.”
“You, get accepted at Whitestone?” Marcus snorted. “Last time you saw an A or a B, it was in your alphabet soup, genius boy.”
Big Poobs shook his head. “Not us. Somebody else. We could, like, invent somebody. A real smart kid. Like, bionic.”
I stared at Marcus. “Bionic?”
“Yes!” Poobs was grinning like a jack-o’lantern. “We can help him apply to Whitestone, see if he gets accepted.”
Marcus shook his head. “That’s stupid.”
At that moment Darla, the waitress, approached the table. “More coffee, boys?”
“No,” I told her. “Wait; yes.”
Darla peered at me suspiciously but refilled my mug. After she left, I pointed at Big Poobs.
“You are a genius,” I told him.
Poobs blinked. “I am?”
I smacked a fist into the palm of my hand.
“Let’s do it!” I whispered. “Let’s create somebody! Then we’ll take that somebody and get him accepted to Whitestone!”
Marcus hesitated. “Create somebody?”
“Yeah, how hard could it be?” I said, studying the application. It was surprisingly short, a single page, front and back. “first thing we need is a name.”
“Austin? Brady?” Marcus said.
I shook my head. “Those sound like little-boy names. How about Owen?”
“Or Rowan,” Poobs suggested.
“Rowan.” We repeated the name, turning it over on our tongues.
“Sounds like a warrior,” Marcus mused. “I like it.”
“Me too.” Carefully, I printed the letters on the application. “Rowan what?”
For some reason that simple question stumped us, almost derailed the project right there and then. Marcus and Poobs threw out some last names—Smith, Johnson, White, Hoffman—but they all sounded lame.
I glanced at the glass window where the letters IHOP were stenciled. From where we were sitting, inside the restaurant, the letters appeared in reverse: POHI.
“POHI,” I stated. “That’s IHOP backwards. His name is Rowan Pohi.”
Big Poobs thumped the table with his big soft hands. “Rowan Pohi!” He pronounced it like I did: Pohi.
“Rowan should have a middle name, shouldn’t he?” Marcus said. “How about Ian? Rowan Ian Pohi.”
“Bingo.” I nodded.
“We’re in business, baby!” Poobs exclaimed. In his excitement he knocked over the syrup dispenser, causing some syrup to dribble onto the bottom of the application.
“You idiot!” I snapped. “This has to be handed in!”
“Sorry,” Poobs muttered.
I wet a napkin and carefully wiped away the liquid. I did manage to get it off, though it left a faint stain on the paper.
“That will have to do, I guess.” I looked at the application. “Sex?”
Marcus laughed. “Obviously!”
I marked the box for Male.
“They want to know where he went to school last year.” I drummed the table, thinking hard. “If we say Riverview, we’re screwed. If they check for Rowan’s name, they’ll find nothing and realize that the application is bogus. We better pick someplace far away.”
“My mom used to live in a tiny town in Arizona,” Marcus put in.
“Yeah?” I looked at him. “Got a name?”
“Piñon,” he said. “I went there once. It’s really the boonies. Indian country. No green anywhere. Nothing but desert, scorpions, cactuses.”
“Cacti,” Poobs corrected him.
I wrote it down. “Rowan went to Piñon High School . . . home of the Stingin’ Scorpions.”
Poobs rubbed his hands together. “Oh yeah!”
“What’s Rowan like?” I said. “We’re gonna have to know him real good if we’ve got any shot at getting him into a school like Whitestone.”
“He’s a dweeb, like you,” Marcus replied.
“I’m serious, numb-nuts.”
“Remember Terry Lernihan?” Marcus said.
I nodded. “He moved after fifth grade.”
“Lernihan didn’t say jack,” Marcus remembered. “I ...