All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

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Our Lips Are Sealed

It’s all over the school by lunch.

Someone must’ve gotten Mr. Gardner to confirm it.

I pass the table full of jock girls - the kind who play five sports a year - and they’re all whispering and scowling at me. My guess is, they’re pissed I’m on the team when I’ve never showed any signs of being athletic. If any girl was going to make the team, it obviously would be one of them.

Don’t hold your breath, honeys. Just because I don’t play volleyball-basketball-soccer-tennis-field hockey doesn’t mean I’m no good at them. I just don’t want to. I only like football. I’d be good at all the others, probably, if I tried. But then I’d have to associate with y’all.

Of course then there’s the cheerleaders’ table, and they’re all glowering at me, too. I’ll bet it’s because they think I’ll get all the attention of two-dozen guys. News flash: they all hate me. There will be no flirting pointed at me, I promise. Their focus will still be on your mini-skirts and breasts. I’m no competition.

As I cross the cafeteria, I spy the long table stocked with football players - juniors and seniors, the very boys whose team I’m on now. Part of me wants to sit with them, just to rub it in their faces that I won. If they say “team members only”, I can say, “It’s a good thing I’m on the team this year.” But then again, do I really want to dine with those meatheaded gorillas who mix revolting concoctions of everyone’s food and pay Tim Gibbley to eat it? Um, no thanks.

I take the loser table by the garbage cans, in the back corner of the caf. It’s almost always empty, which is lucky for me, because usually when I sit down people pick up their lunch trays and move away. Even the weirdos have a hierarchy, and I’m at the bottom of it. There is no one lower than me. Well, except maybe -

“C-c-c-can I s-s-s-sit with you?” Angus appears behind me. He’s holding a paper bag, and those poor brown doe eyes are pleading with me. It’s social suicide to have Angus hanging around you. But where else can the kid go? The bathrooms? Or worse, the guidance counselor’s office? Now that is social suicide. Eating lunch in the counselor’s office, I mean. Put on a diaper and suck on a binky, why don’t you, at that point?

“Yes,” I sigh, looking down at my food. It’s a tin of spam. We didn’t have anything else. Except more cold cereal. I peel the top off and stick a fork in it. Mmm. Raw spam. Delicious.

“Hey,” Cal says breathlessly, running up to our table. He leans on a chair for support. “I’ve got two other guys who want to sit with us. If that’s okay with you?”

“Yeah...that’s fine...” I reply, confused.

“Kay, good. Just wanted you to save them a seat. Be back in a few.” He dashes off to the lunch line. I’m disturbed by the outburst - since when do I need to save seats for people at the loser table? Usually people are running away from us, not joining us.

Sure enough, Joshua, the kid who helped Cal get Eddie off me during the I’m-Not-Leaving-This-Spot debacle, slides into a chair across the round table from me.

“Mm-mm! Let’s see what Mama made for lunch today!” he grins, stressing various words. He’s got the widest, whitest smile. He throws a brown paper sack onto the table and peeks inside. “Bread-crumb coated, homemade mac’n’cheese! Man, I love that woman.” His dark eyes are perpetually laughing. They are large, perfectly round, and bright with chestnut irises. They’re the same hue as his complexion.

“Lucky,” I grumble.

“Whutchu got?” he asks. He’s looking at me. It’s a weird thing. Being addressed by someone in a friendly way, I mean. I almost don’t believe it. Pinch me, I’m dreaming.

I motion to my tin of spam in response. He busts out laughing. He grabs his stomach and wipes an eye. I’m rather offended.

“I never seen that before. Ha!” He smacks the table. It startles me. “That’s a good one. You’re funny, you know that?” I don’t see how a can of spam with a fork stuck in it makes me funny. It just means I’m dirt poor or lazy. Or have an interesting palate. Maybe that’s why he’s laughing.

“Comin’ through,” I hear the gruff drawl of Gunner behind me. The big guy I hid behind at practice is hip-checking people out of the way. He’s carrying two lunch trays, one in each meaty paw. He barrels past the football player table and seems to be heading straight for -

“Howdy,” he nods at all of us - Josh, Angus, and I - and seats himself to my left. He picks up one of his burgers and rams it into his mouth. It’s horrifying. He’s making nom-nom-nom sounds. He looks back at me. “What?” he says through a mouthful. I can see the chewed meat in his mouth. “I was starving.”

Just then Cal plops down down in the seat to my right. He, too, has a burger-topped lunch tray. There’s a neat-looking apple sitting beside his milk carton. I purposely knock it to the floor. It rolls under the table.

“Hey - ” he starts, but I kick him sharply. “Ow! What the - ” I glare at him, motioning down with my eyes. “I’m sorry. Shouldn’t you get that?” I growl.

“Um, yeah...” He ducks under the table, and so do I. It’s kinda gross down here, what with all the gum stuck on the underside of the table and all the crushed food and crumbs on the linoleum floor. I’m worried if I lift my head even a little, I’ll get gum in my hair. The thought makes me shiver. “Okay, what’s up?” he whispers.

“Why the hell are they sitting with us?” I interrogate. “Did you invite them over here?”

“Yeah, I did. It’s not a big deal, Stevie. They just didn’t want to sit with the numbnuts at the football table. Believe it or not, there are good guys in the world besides just me.”

I scrutinize his face.

“What made you think this was a good idea?” I ask finally. He stares hard at me.

“You’re outnumbered. You need allies if you’re gonna survive the season. These guys are gonna have your back. You need them.”

“I don’t need anyone,” I insist.

“Ha,” he hiccups. “Yes, actually, you do.” He ploinks me on the nose. I scowl. “No one is invincible.” I continue to scowl. He sighs. “Just trust me on this one. Okay?”

My face softens a little. He’s just trying to help.

“Fine,” I comply. “But don’t expect me to smile about it.”

He grins. “That’s too bad. You’re pretty when you smile.”

“Shut up.” I roll my eyes. He grabs the apple, and we both move our heads up, simultaneously smacking them on the table.

“Ow!” we say in unison. We come up from our crouch like divers coming up for air.

“Got it!” Calvin cheers, holding up the (now bruised) apple. “Kept rolling away, nasty little bugger.”

The three boys stare at us like we’re soft in the head. To be fair, though, Angus gives everyone that look. It’s perpetually on his face.

“Hey, I got good news,” Cal says, breaking the awkward. You can always count on him to settle a tense situation. God, he’d make a great lawyer.

“W-w-w w-w-what’s that?” asks Parrot. I mean Angus.

“Oasis is coming to Cleveland in October!”

“Dude! No way!” I exclaim. “That’s awesome! We have to go!”

“Nah, man, that’s not my style,” Josh replies. I want to say I didn’t mean “we” as in all present at the table. But I’ll let him think that if it makes him feel better. “Now if it was a Eazy-E concert, then I’d be down. Or Busta Rhymes. That shit’s fly.”

Tractor shakes his head and speaks through another burger mouthful, spewing food.

“Naw, y’all gotta go to a Garth Brooks concert. Ain’t no one better’n him. ’Cept maybe George Strait.”

Josh blanches.

“Man, you listen to that shit?”

“Excuse me? The stuff you listen to don’t even involve real instruments.”

Ten minutes here and they’ve already dominated our lunch table. This is why I don’t like making friends.

“Hey, Angus.” I interrupt their bickering. “What music d’you like?”

We’re gonna be here for a while.

“Well, uh, I l-l-l-like t-t-to lis-s-s-sten to the S-s-spicegirls.”

Huh. I nod.

“Okay, cool. So, like, I’ll tell you what I want what I really really want and stuff, yeah?” I say.

He laughs. “Yeah! And s-stuff.”

“Anyways,” Cal brings us back, “are you down? D’you want me to buy the tickets?”

Josh nods. “Yeah, I’m down.”

Again, I don’t think he was talking to everyone, but whatever.

“Me, too,” Gunner says.

“M-m-me th-three,” Angus says.

I want to, but will Zennen let me go is the question. Maybe he’ll be fine with it. And if not, he doesn’t have to know about it. I can just...pretend like I’m working late or something.

“Let’s do it,” I commit.

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