It’s in the 7th grade that Toby makes his declaration known, loud and clear:
“Jimbo, I think it’s high time I went on a diet.”
Jim, his dearest best friend, turns in his seat to give him a patient smile. “Didn’t you say that last year? And the year before that? And the year before – “
“I mean it this time,” Toby huffs indignantly.
That’s the thing with best friends: they’re supportive, encouraging, and they know too much. Plus Jim isn’t just his best friend; he’s his bestest of all best friends, which also means that Jim has an arsenal of humiliating information about Toby that he can easily use to ruin Toby’s life forever. How Toby didn’t stop wetting the bed till they started elementary school, for example. Or how Toby cried like a baby for three days straight when he had to move in with his Nana.
Toby’s glad his bestest of all best friends also happens to be a very good person.
“I don't think you need a diet,” says Jim the Very Good Person, “But let me know what I can do to help.”
The first diet is simple: pure calorie counting.
By the end of three days, Toby is clutching to Jim like his best friend is the very air that gives him life, begging the other boy to put an end to his misery.
“Slow down,” Jim says, grabbing Toby by the shoulders, “I can’t understand a word you’re saying. You want me to what?”
“Jim, Jimbo, Jimmy Neutron, I’m dying,” Toby moans dramatically. “Just stab me with a butter knife and be done with it.”
“Why a butter knife?” Jim says, looking bewildered for a second, before shaking his head. “No, not important. Tobes, how many calories have you had today?”
“500, I’ve only had 500 every day – “
Jim’s eyes widen. “500? Isn’t the recommended daily intake about 2,000 for boys our age?”
Toby stares at him. “2,000? Well no wonder our nation’s got obesity problems.”
“Do you even know what calories are?”
“Sh’yeah,” Toby scoffs. He pushes himself off Jim and rears up in an attempt to look offended, wobbling slightly. “It’s those things in food that make us fat. Like the bad kind of fat, the uh, the Saturday fats.”
“Saturated,” Jim corrects.
“What,” says Toby.
Jim inhales deeply before dropping a hand on Toby’s shoulder. “Tobes,” he says gravely, “Come over after school. I’m feeding you today.”
“’kay,” says Toby, already salivating at the mere idea of food.
So the first diet is a fail, but Toby feels this one is entirely Jim’s fault for cooking him an amazingly scrumptious mushroom tortellini full of rich cheese and cream. It’s like alcohol, after all – you’re a goner the second you fall off the wagon.
The second diet is some sort of detox diet that Toby finds online.
As he downs his specially blended fruit juice, Jim looks at him like someone’s punched him in the gut. “It’s very, um… green,” Jim remarks.
“It’s supposed to be healthy,” Toby says with a shrug.
“Well at least you’re having something every meal,” Jim says, still blanching.
“It’s every two hours, my friend,” Toby says, flashing the number two with his fingers. “S’why I got all my tumblers with me, ready to go.”
Toby finds out then that he is, quite literally, ready to go – almost every few minutes, in fact.
The thousandth time he has to get a hall pass from Miss Janeth, the Math teacher shoots him a glare, eyes narrowing fiercely. “What are you really doing, Mr. Dolzalski?” she demands, arms crossing. “No one has to go to the bathroom this often.”
“This is real, Miss Janeth,” Toby gasps, hopping from one foot to another. “This is so, so real.”
“Ha,” Steve says loudly from the back of the class, “Look at the loser doing a pee-pee dance!”
In unison, the rest of the class burst into laughter.
Toby would cower in sheer embarrassment, except he has to center all his concentration into not leaking very publically into his pants. Got to keep his priorities straight, after all.
“Leave him alone,” Jim says over the noise, rising from his seat. “Miss Janeth, he really does need to go; he’s just been drinking too much juice. I can vouch for him.”
The Math teacher hesitates for a moment. Then, turning her nose up, she drops the hall pass into Toby’s hands.
Instantly, he bolts out of the classroom, running faster than he ever had in his twelve years of existence.
Diet number two is also a fail, but Toby learns later that Claire, Jim’s biggest, deepest crush ever, actually came up to Jim after class to tell the boy how brave he was to stand up for a friend.
So, Toby decides, gazing at Jim’s love-struck grin, not a total fail.
Toby is struck dumb when Mary Wang – Mary, fricking popular-girl-in-school-though-not-as-popular-as-Claire, Wang – approaches his desk after school.
“I can’t believe you tried the juice cleanse diet,” she says, lips curling. “You know that’s total bogus, right?”
“Uh,” says Toby. Really, what does one say to a pretty girl when they actually deign to speak to you on their own accord and not because you just cracked some ridiculous one-liner at her? Also, where the hell is the bestest of all best friends when you need him?
“Mary,” Claire says nearby, “Be nice.”
“Fine,” Mary sighs exasperatedly, flipping silky, raven hair over her shoulder. “Look, if you’re going to try a diet, at least do it right. Look up the military diet. Not that I’ve ever tried it myself, mind,” she adds quickly, scowling. “Just that I’ve heard it’s the best way to go.”
“Um, okay?” says Toby.
“See,” says Claire when the Asian girl sweeps away to join her at the front of the class, “That wasn’t so hard was it?”
“Ugh,” Mary replies, shuddering wildly.
Jim shows up a few minutes later to find Toby still frozen in place, delight written all over his face.
The military diet ends up being a fail as well – not enough real food: saltine crackers, broccoli, and carrots? – but November 8th will go down in history as the day Mary Wang spoke to him openly in class.
“Well, I tried. Moving on.”
“We’ve only been running for ten minutes, Toby.”
“Jim. Moving on.”
Jim frowns at the phone screen, swiping upwards now and then. “I don’t know, Tobes…”
“Come on, Jimbo, it’s perfect,” Toby exclaims, snatching his phone back. “All the protein and fats I can eat, and all I have to avoid is carbs! They’ve got scientific explanations and diet recommendations and even recipes I can ask my Nana to make!” He pauses. “Or, well, maybe you could make them, ‘cause Nana’s eyesight isn’t so great anymore. You remember that one time she misread ‘salt’ as ‘sugar’ – “
“Your source of information is reddit,” Jim points out.
“Hey, don’t knock reddit, they’re a vital source of information!” Toby protests.
There’s a beat as Jim watches him contemplatively, arms akimbo. “All right,” he sighs then, dropping his arms in defeat. “Hand over those recipes.”
“Yes,” Toby jabs his fist into the air.
The ketogenic diet (or keto for short) ends up being a bust, too; Toby realizes belatedly that it’s really not that easy to give up on carbs. (“Potatoes are carbs?” Toby yelps, spewing out potato chips, “Since when were potatoes carbs!?”) On the other hand, this diet lasts for much longer than his other attempts – a whole two weeks! – and Jim tells him that’s something to be proud about.
“Just tacos every day?” Jim asks, smiling.
“Every single day,” Toby spreads his arms wide, a taco in each hand. “I can’t believe I never found this one till today! Apparently,” he continues, taking a huge bite out of a taco, “The tortilla is super cleansing or something. Who knew?”
“News to me too,” Jim agrees.
“Just watch me, Jimbo, I’m gonna lose weight so fast, you won’t even recognize me in a week!”
“Looks like you found something that works for you,” Claire says as she glides by their desks with Mary and Darcy.
“H-Hey Claire,” Jim squeaks, chair clattering as his back shoots straight as an arrow.
“Hey Jim,” Claire responds with a radiant smile, while Mary tosses Jim a knowing look, snickering behind a hand.
Grinning, Toby stuffs the rest of the taco in his mouth. One day, his best friend is going to succeed in finally asking Claire out, just as he’s succeeding – no, killing this taco cleanse diet.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.