Just a new bit I wrote for my novella.
I’m not sure why I chose that table. There were empty ones, quieter ones, further back in the cafeteria, closer to the calming authority of the adults than the controlled chaos of my new classmates. Maybe I didn’t want to be the kid who ended up with the teacher’s arm around her shoulders every time an activity required teams of two, as I’d been before. Maybe I thought that sharing a table with another unaccompanied person would make me look more attractive as a potential friend—though the thought of responding to anyone who might speak to me was terrifying in its own right. Maybe it was fate.
I hadn’t spoken since that morning, when Dad had dropped my sister and me off to the care of the principal. It must have hit him that he hadn’t packed us anything to eat, because he stood silent for a moment after being assured that his daughters were in good hands, gave his head a shake, then looked blankly at me and asked “lunch?” I squeezed the folded top of the brown bag I held and nodded toward the one in Rowe’s little hand as I answered “yes.”
The clicking sound of the principal’s pointy heeled shoes on the linoleum floor as she walked us toward Rowe’s new Kindergarten class felt like an announcement of my arrival to the entire school. I could feel my heart start to race as I watched Rowe walk right into the room and immediately join a game of Duck, Duck, Goose in progress. I played with the buttons on my top, bought the very last time I’d been out shopping with my Mom a few months before, trying to avoid thinking about the room full of eight-year-olds I’d soon be faced with.
All other questions that were asked of me by everyone else that day were answerable with a nod or shake of my head as I fixed my eyes to the ground, until he spoke. It took a few minutes, after I’d sat down across from him at lunch. I held a book upright and open in front of my face, like a shield. The one glance I’d been brave enough to steal around the edge of my paper fortress found him staring right back at me. Was it annoyance? Confusion? Wonder? I never could figure out that look.