Title: A Girl Named Jack
My name is Jack, and I know kung-fu. Of course it’s all in my head: my killer moves, my Training Field of cherry blossoms, Bruce Lee and Mr. Miyagi dispensing offensive and defensive lessons. Still, this is what I think about as I navigate the high school hallways of mass self-destruction. Nevermind that I stick to the lockers and flow around the students stopped in bubbles of conversation. Nevermind that the soundtrack in my mind this morning is from the musical Pippin, with the jazzy addition of the zither. That’s what happens when you fall asleep to House of Flying Daggers after viewing karaoke covers of “Corner of the Sky” on YouTube with your little sister.
The never-ending hallway rounds off in the distance. It’s like old-school cartoons, the way the scenery seems to scroll by and repeat, and I’m always surprised when I stumble upon the glass doors leading to the Dreaded Cafeteria. No one sees the Room of Requirement unless you’re hungry.
Hungry for battle.
Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me, I scope out the cafeteria for a good spot to hide. I listen for a word from Mr. Miyagi, but he’s silent, preferring to pop up at seemingly random times. I know he must have his reasons. In my left ear, Bruce Lee whispers, “Just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming…ready for whatever may come.”
I sit at a table on the edge of the room, close to the doors, and next to a row of white pillars. It’ll be easier to blend into the surroundings over here, well away from all the raging conflict of adolescence. Thing is, I might be too well concealed.
As I swing my legs into the bench seat, a small square object hurtles in my direction. Its intended destination is the trash cans nearby, but the pillar I’ve been leaning against is in the way. BAM! Security is breached. A cold, wet sensation seizes my upper body. Liquid oozes into my shirt, and pools in my bra.
I stand up and within seconds, everyone in the small cafeteria gawks at me—the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy brown hair. At the other end of the lunchroom, Samantha Gross smiles sweetly like I shouldn’t be bothered about it. But she’s never had a milk carton explode over her head. Just a guess.
“It was an accident,” she shouts from across the room. I think I hear a “Sorry” after that, but it could be my imagination. Most things are.
An accident? I guess that’s probable, except there’s a semi-long history to Samantha Gross and I. Mostly it involves middle school marching band. Specifically me tripping into her during her important trumpet solo (she should stick to second trumpet), and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes.
She maintains that I did it on purpose, and I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since. Even when I quit band, she acted like I should have been kicked out anyway. But there was one week in seventh grade when we were best friends. We had necklaces and everything until she flushed her half down the toilet.
Samantha may have it out for me, but she’ll always play second trumpet to my real nemesis—He Who Shall Not Be Named.
This thought gives me the strength to pass through the lunch tables toward the bathrooms with my head held high. It helps with the dripping too. Somewhere close, I hear, “Hey Jack! Got Milk?” My first instinct is to ignore it, and my second is to jab with my crane’s beak move. But the familiar voice stops me…in front of William Blake’s table.
It’s William Blake—who’s not the poet—who I haven’t spoken to other than in English when he needs to borrow a pencil. Or paper. Or my notes. Most of the time, I try not to interact with him. My strategy with boys has always been to ignore the ones that I like. It’s for the good. Boys and crushes? They’re my kryptonite.
Will offers me some napkins—it’s a fair exchange for all the homework I’ve lent him this year. I smile in thanks, and work on drying my hair and neck. I notice that Will is alone at the table, and wonder where all of his jock friends have gone.
Even though he was the new kid last year, it didn’t take long for Will to become a celebrity around Ypsilanti—the “Brooklyn of Michigan.” He plays varsity for every sport offered, except for football. Great Lakes boys are big, but Will’s not so much.
But even if his friends make me intensely aware that I’m athletically challenged, having some extra people around would take the focus off me. What does Will want and why is he pointing to a seat across from him? Surely he knows that’s Milk Suicide.
Suspiciously, I sit, telling myself that it will only be for a moment. I slide my belongings onto the table. Will smiles, and it hits me that his neatly styled hair and sad blue eyes are only a fraction of his beauty. I have, of course, noticed his Hollywood good-looks before.
He comments on my lunchbox. “Chuck Norris? Really?”
I can’t believe he recognizes The Norris. I study his expression—slighty admiring, slightly amused—and mention, “My little sister made it for me.” I try to sound like it wasn’t my idea in case he thinks it’s lame, but I would have cut, pasted, and shellacked that sucker if my sister wasn’t superior at craft-making things.
Will’s eyes light up at the mention of my sister. My heart squeezes closed as I realize now why he wants to chat. Junewind is the hot freshman that every guy is lusting after this year. It’s only been a few weeks since school started, and I’m already used to the trying-to-be-casual questions. “June’s your sister? Oh. Well, tell her I said ‘Hi.’” “Do you think she likes me? Could you ask her?”
Junewind doesn’t like this any better than I do. Only this morning she was saying to me on the bus, “Why don’t they just ask me out themselves?”
Maybe she doesn’t know how intimidating hotness can be.
I love my sister, but I hate how she’s so much better equipped for social experiments than I am. Even though Junewind’s name is as crazy as mine—Jack Li Garcia—she embraces hers. “A name’s a name,” she says and shrugs. Not much fazes my little sister.
So, it seems that Will and I have another exchange. We are eating lunch in (what our biology teacher would call) a symbiotic relationship. I’ve now got an extra set of eyes scanning for rogue milk cartons and he gets information about Junewind. Though, I can’t decide which is worse: getting doused with milk or having to listen to Will skirt around the subject of my sister.
“So…Jack.” Will’s voice is golden. It makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve just had a giant gulp of hot chocolate that’s still fairly close to scalding, and my taste buds kind of burn off. And then I think all day about how I’m not going to be able to taste anything until they regenerate. It’s that golden.
“What are you doing this weekend?” he asks.
“This weekend? Catching up on the Monty Python movies I missed last weekend.” I laugh to hide how nerdy I sound.
Will leans forward and lowers his voice. “You like Monty Python?”
I lean in too. “You’ve got no arms left!”
Will mocks seriousness, and an English accent. He says, “Yes I have. It’s only a flesh wound.”
My heart starts beating again. It’s official. I’ve just fallen in love with this guy. We laugh for the first time together—crucial in any relationship—and then notice a few football players grabbing chairs at the other end of the table. Will tenses up and changes the subject.
“The new Under 18 club opens this Friday. A bunch of us are going.” He gestures with his head, nodding towards his friends. “You in?”
I glance at the guys wolfing down their food, thankfully not paying any attention to our conversation. I think for a moment. “Should I bring June?”