October 2020’s short story of the month
She was the new girl. The one who sat in the cafeteria at lunch alone. Maybe she was from the next state over. Maybe she was from another country. I wanted to know everything about her: her mother’s name, her favorite movie, if she had brothers, sisters, what she ate for breakfast—in other words, everything.
In my ten years going to this school, we’d never had a new person. No one ever moved to this town. They moved away and never came back. Well, there was that one family, but they were weird, even for this town.
If I wanted to make friends, I needed to move fast. Every kid in the school would be chomping at the bit to get to know her, my sisters included. My family was well liked in town and my younger sisters were considered popular, but everyone, including my family, considered me an odd duck. If I wanted a chance at a new friend, I needed to make my move now.
She’d already been here for a week, and every day she sat in the cafeteria alone. No one had invited her to sit with them. See how weird we all were. We didn’t even have the decency to invite a newcomer to share a meal.
I got up from my seat and grabbed my tray. I walked slowly over to where she was sitting. I didn’t want to move too fast and draw attention. If the others knew what I was up to, they might suddenly become interested. I also didn’t want to run up to her and seem like a lonely weirdo.
When I got to her table, I stopped and waited standing across from her. She slowly looked up at me. She didn’t say anything. I guess I was going to have to break the ice.
“Mind if I sit here?” I asked, indicating the seat across from her.
She shook her head causing her messy up-do to slip a little. Several pieces of hair fell out of her tie and brushed her shoulders.
“My name is Mary,” I said, hoping it would prompt her to talk, but she just sat there. She stared at me for a while then went back to eating her sack lunch. It looked like a ham and cheese sandwich, and she was piling the crust directly on the table and only eating the middle.
I wasn’t going to let her shyness prevent me from making a friend. I needed a friend. In this small town, you didn’t get many chances to make them, and this late in high school, it was almost unthinkable to gain anyone into your social circle.
“So…you like it here so far?” I asked.
She just shrugged.
“Yeah, that’s how I feel too, and I’ve lived here my whole life.” I wasn’t giving up.
She finished shredding her sandwhich and reached into her bag for something else. She pulled out a juice box and inserted the straw. She drank it until it slurped loudly and then flattened it on the table and put it back in the bag.
Meanwhile, I was taking small bites of what our cafeteria considered spaghetti and trying to think of something else to say.
“Do you like your classes?” I asked. She just shrugged again. “I haven’t seen you in any of mine.” I waited, hoping it would prompt her to say something about her teachers. I was determined to get something out of her. “I have English right after lunch. What about you?”
She shook her head.
That didn’t really answer my question. “Well…” I was running out of ideas. I looked up at the clock and saw that lunch was almost over. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said gathering my tray and heading to my locker.
The next day I went straight to her table. This time I didn’t say anything. She had a sack lunch again, and I had what the cafeteria considered a hamburger. There were large chunks of orange in it, which were obviously carrots. They weren’t subtle about hiding vegetables in the food.
She ate her sandwhich just like she had the day before. She pulled the crusts off and dropped them on the table. Then, she pulled her jucice box out and emptied it then proceeded to flatten it. She finished by putting all of it back in her sack to be thrown out. Then she just sat there watching me eat.
I didn’t speak. I thought maybe if I just sat there smiling, she might be tempted to say something. She didn’t. We ate in silence, and just before the bell, I left and went to English.
The next day I decided on yet a third tactic for getting her to talk. When I sat down with my chef’s salad from the cafeteria, and she opened her sandwich, I just started talking. I didn’t wait for her to answer this time. If she couldn’t be bothered to speak, or was too shy, I was still going to make her my friend.
“I’ve lived here my whole life. I have two sisters. You might have met them. I’m nothing like them. They are kind of popular, and I’m more like you,” I paused realizing she might have taken what I’d just said as an insult, but she didn’t say anything or even react. I kept talking. I told her about my parents and my grandparents. I told her about what I liked to eat, when I wasn’t at school. I told her about my favorite movie, and retold it scene for scene. Just before the bell, I cleared my tray and went to English.
As I sat down in English, Tracie tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see what she wanted. She rarely spoke to me because she was part of the more popular crowd.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Why do you keep sitting alone at the first table and talking to yourself during lunch?” she asked.
“What are you talking? I’ve been sitting with the new girl.” I thought maybe they hadn’t seen her. But she had sat alone for a week before I’d joined her.
“There is no new girl,” Tracie just stared at me.
I turned around but all through class I sat there wondering if she was just messing with me. At the end of the day, I went to the office. I knew how I could learn the new girl’s name. I asked the secretary but she told me there hadn’t been any new students this school year.
The next day at lunch, I sat with the new girl again. I didn’t speak this time. I just watched her as we ate. She watched me back. I didn’t smile at her this time. When I stood up to go to English, she winked at me.