My name is Jack and I know kung-fu. That’s the line I rehearse in my mind 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 you get for falling 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. It’s like I expect them further down the circular building, even when I count room numbers as I pass. No one sees the Room of Requirement unless you’re hungry, I guess.
Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me, I scope out the cafeteria for a spot where “accidents” are least likely to happen. Yesterday I had a little mishap with a carton of milk. I sat at my usual table on the edge of the room, close to the doors, and next to a row of white pillars. It’s much easier to blend into the surroundings over there, well away from all the drama.
Thing is, I was too concealed. As I swung my legs into the bench seat, a small square object hurtled in my direction. Its intended destination was the trash cans nearby, but the pillar I leaned against was in the way. Instinctively, I ducked, but it made no difference. A cold, wet sensation seized my upper body. Liquid oozed into my shirt, pooled in my bra, and headed further south. Totally violated.
I stood up, and within seconds, everyone in the small cafeteria gawked at me—the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy brown hair.
At the other end of the lunchroom, Samantha Gross smiled 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 shouted from across the room. Everyone was silent while they waited for my answer. I think I heard a “Sorry” after that, but it could have been my imagination.
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, and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes.
She maintains that I did it on purpose. I’ve always argued it wasn’t my fault—I’m a musician, not a dancing robot. Still, I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since. Even when I quit band, she acted like I should have been kicked out anyway. I might have been easily ignored by her, 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 Gross and her minions insist on being cliché as they gather at their table across the cafeteria, waving their cartons at me. I realize that my role in this high school drama is to Dodge the Milk.
It’s times like this that I wonder what Mr. Miyagi would say to Daniel-san. Actually, he doesn’t say much at all in my imagination. It’s Bruce Lee who does all the talking. “Just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming…ready for whatever may come.”
Bruce is right. And no matter how threatening, Samantha will 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. When 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.
The William Blake, who is 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 has successfully prevented any hint of a boyfriend. Not that I haven’t had my fair amount of crushes. But boys and crushes? They’re my kryptonite.
Will is alone at the table and I wonder where all of his jock friends have gone. Even though Will was the new kid last year, it didn’t take long for him 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. 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 tight 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 today Will and I are eating lunch in (what our biology teacher would call) a symbiotic relationship. Now that I’m welcome at his lunch table, I’ve 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.
My heart unsqueezes. “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 me any attention to our conversation. I think for a moment. “Should I bring June?”
“Your sister?” he asks.
I nod, and say, “She is the reason you’re asking me, right?”