Everyone in fifth period lunch is on their feet, and they’re all more or less looking at me—the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy hair. At the other end of the lunchroom is Samantha Gross, smiling 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. Everyone is silent, waiting 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. My lunch table is about eight steps away from the trash cans lining the wall, and there’s this huge pillar that I lean against for camouflage. The same pillar that Samantha's milk carton smashed into.
It’s a semi-long history, Samantha Gross and I, which involves middle school marching band, but specifically me tripping into her and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes. I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since, but for one week in seventh grade, we were best friends. We had necklaces and everything until she flushed her half down the toilet.
We’re sophomores now so you think she’d have gotten revenge out of her system. And destroying her band solo is not the worst thing I’ve ever done, just like Samantha is always going to play second trumpet to the real enemy in my life. He who shall not be named.
The janitor follows me with a mop as I slog down the hallway to the main office. He’s catching up, so I walk quicker and listen to my jeans slap together at the ankles where most of the milk has ended up. Thank you, Gravity.
In the office, the home-perm queen of secretaries waddles over and tells me that I can wait for my mom to pick me up outside if I like.
Oh, I like.
Outside in the fresh air, I realize how bad I smell. This sucks. I decide I’m never going back to school again.
Too bad my dad doesn’t agree. He sends me back the next morning, and like Groundhog Day, I’m repeating fifth period lunch. Samantha Gross and her minions gather at their table across the cafeteria, waving their cartons at me, and I realize that my plan for surviving high school is to Dodge the Milk.
It’s times like this that I imagine 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.”
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. I pass through the lunch tables when I hear, “Hey Jack! Got Milk?” My first instinct is to ignore it, but the voice is familiar. I stop in front of William Blake’s table. The William Blake, who is not the poet, who I haven’t spoken to other than occasionally in English. Most of the time, I try not to interact with him. My strategy with boys has always been to ignore the ones that I really, really like.
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 my little sister. 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?”
His eyes go all shifty-like, and he says, “Yeah, sure, bring anyone you want.”
Suddenly, I feel my chair being yanked back. I jump to my feet and spin around to face a burly junior, who looks confused, like he might not have actually seen me sitting there. Man, he’s gigantic. His eyebrows raise up when he’s realized this short, frizzy-haired girl ate all his porridge, broke his chair, and is now napping comfortably in his bed. Will looks horrified at his idiot friend, and says, “Rudy! Watch it!”
That’s funny. Rude-y. Because what else would you call him? I laugh to myself.
“What’s funny?” Rudy demands.
Immediately, I remember that it’s wrong to laugh at big people. I want to shrug like Junewind and say, “A name’s a name,” but I don’t think I can pull it off.