Okay, so imagine the day your great-great-grandmother was born. Got it? Now go back another hundred years or so. And then another hundred. That's about when they built Hills Village Middle School. Of course, I think it was a prison for Pilgrims back then, but not too much has changed. Now it's a prison for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. (2.1)
We're going to go out on a limb and say that Hills Village Middle School probably never was a prison. (And that it's not really that old.) Rafe actually has a pretty vivid imagination. It's what makes him such a good artist and helps him get through his year in prison—er—middle school.
[Jeanne] leaves the mike and comes over, right in front of where I'm sitting. Then she looks straight at me and says, "Are you Rafe?"
Suddenly, I'm feeling about as talkative as Leo, but I manage to spit out an answer. "That's me," I say.
"Do you want to maybe split a large fries in the cafeteria later?" she asks.
"Sure. I'm buying," I say, because there's a twenty-dollar bill in my pocket that I just found that morning.
"No," she says. "The fries are on me."
Meanwhile, everyone's watching. The band starts playing, the cheerleaders start cheering, and Miller the Killer chokes to death on a peanut M& M. Then I win the lottery, world peace breaks out everywhere, and Mrs. Stricker tells me that based on my all-around awesomeness, I can just skip sixth grade and come back next year. (4.14-19)
Right in the middle of Jeanne Galletta's student council speech, Rafe imagines that she walks up to him and asks him out in front of everyone. Hey, a boy can dream, can't he?
I'd be the first kid to ever play Operation R.A.F.E., but not the last. Someday there could be Operation R.A.F.E. video games, Rafe Khatchadorian action figures (okay, so it's not the best action hero name), a movie version (starring me), and a whole amusement park called R.A.F.E. World, with sixteen different roller coasters and no height requirements to ride any of the rides. The whole thing (R.A.F.E. Enterprises) would make me the world's youngest million-billion-trillionaire, or maybe some kind of -aire that doesn't even
exist yet. And I'd pay somebody to go to school for me.
What kid hasn't wanted to invent something and become the world's first teenage trillionaire? The marketing possibilities really are endless here.
"Have a seat," she tells me.
"No," I say. "YOU have a seat!" My sword rings in the air as I pull it out of its sheath.
The Dragon Lady's eyes turn yellow. A long stream of fire comes shooting out her nose. I dive over a burning desk, roll, and jump back onto my feet.
Already her tail is whipping out in my direction. Just before it can stab through my ear and into my brain, I clip off the end of it with my sword. Green blood sprays me in the face. She howls in pain.
"Get back!" I yell at her. I can see the fear in those yellow eyes. (22.7-11)
Rafe sees Mrs. Donatello as the Dragon Lady and he's the fierce knight who has to fight her off. Of course, in reality, his teacher just wants to talk to him about his feelings. That's almost as horrible as being attacked by a dragon, right?
"For all these points. They've got to be worth something, right? What do I win?" I said.
"Depends on how many points you finish with," Leo said. "You need at least a million."
"For what?" I said.
He thought about it for a second. "A week of base jumping at the Grand Canyon, all expenses paid."
"I'll need training," I said.
"No problem. We'll get you the best."
I liked the sound of this. For starters, anyway.
"Then white-water rafting," I said. "All the way down the Colorado."
"And rock climbing, back out of the canyon," Leo said. "Where your Lexus SUV and a fake driver's license are waiting for you." (23.4-12)
What is the point of Operation R.A.F.E anyway? Why keep track of all the points? Leo tells Rafe that's he's going to get tons of trips and prizes and everything's gonna be awesome. Even Jeanne Galletta's going to love him. All his problems will be solved. Of course, none of this stuff is actually going to happen.
So, why is Rafe doing Operation R.A.F.E.?
I just want to say, it's not like I was trying to hide Leo from you— or at least the part about his not exactly being real.
I know, I know— what kind of sixth grader still has imaginary friends? But I don't really think of him that way. It's just that he's always been around, and there's never been a reason to stop talking to him.
Hmmm… maybe I'm not doing too good a job at explaining this. It's not like I think Leo's really there.
It's more like, what if someone was there, talking back and helping me figure out stuff? Someone who's always on my side, you know? (25.2-5)
Okay, so it turns out that Leo isn't Rafe's best friend from school. He's actually Rafe's imaginary friend.
But, like Rafe says, Leo is just a voice inside him that helps him figure stuff out. We can all relate to that, right? Even if we don't have a name for it.
The Lizard King runs up the wall and across the ceiling. He hangs there, upside down, ready to deliver my sentence.
"Three rounds in the detention chamber with the Dragon Lady!" he yells. "Or until someone ends up dead, whichever comes first!" (29.10-11)
The Lizard King is the school principal, Mr. Dwight, and he slithers around his office passing out detentions and trying to slurp up Rafe. Truly terrifying.
Sergeant Stricker leans in close. I can see her face now, and the long, jagged scar down her cheek. They say she used to do cage fighting before she worked here.
"Listen up, kid. I'm on your side," she says, like I'm supposed to believe that. "I just want you to live up to your potential, that's all." (46.14-15)
Who else would you find in a maximum-security prison but the evil Sergeant Stricker? We seriously doubt this bad cop is on Rafe's side. She just wants to lock him up in juvie for good.
I turned thirteen in that
room. Winter ended, and then spring came and went. Wars happened. Trees grew. Babies were born and people died. (50.3)
We'll take Rafe's word for it that in-school suspensions are super boring. Here he's using a whole lot of hyperbole to get his point across, but we get it. It was a long day in the Box.
"Rafe also had a twin brother."
Now I just wanted her to stop talking, but of course she didn't. She kept going.
"His name was Leonardo," she said.
"For Leonardo da Vinci?" Donatello asked.
"That's right. Unfortunately, Leo died very young," Mom said. "He got sick with meningitis when the boys were just three, and we lost him."
Donatello put a hand on Mom's shoulder. Mr. Dwight and Mrs. Stricker looked like they didn't know what to say.
"It was a long time ago," Mom said, looking at me now. "But even so, Leo's still with us in spirit. Isn't that right, Rafe?"
I just nodded. It was true, after all. (73.14-21)
The truth about Leo comes out finally. This explains why Rafe is so attached to him and why Mom doesn't mind that he still hangs around. Leo is Rafe's twin brother. It seems natural that Rafe would lean on his memory in times of trouble. He'll always be a part of Rafe's life—even if he's not an imaginary friend anymore.