I am sitting in what sounds very much like a rock concert, minus the music, as I eat a salad and burger. Every single person around me in the cafeteria during fifth-period lunch is talking as vociferously as they possibly can, and the amount of noise that is being produced is inconceivable.
My name is Margo, and this is my first day of public school. Goodbye, homeschool. Hello, hell.
I push the limp mess of alleged salad—which consists of bedraggled lettuce and a few pieces of tomatoes, olives, and croutons—and set my fork down, disgusted. I was expecting fire and brimstone after all the horror stories I heard of public school. Fire and brimstone may have been too polite. Between the chaos and confusion of trying to find my different classes, the not-so-covert giggles and whispers about me, and the bathroom/brothel that I oh so unfortunately had to use between second and third period, it has been quite a day. And to think it’s not even over. Oh, the joy.
“You, my friend,” a voice that resonates clearly over the loud din in the cafeteria says, “you look as though the one you loved used the f-word on you.”
I jolt, surprised. First, who has just called me a friend? Second, I notice that the person said “look as though” instead of “look like.” And yes, I am into grammar. I then look up to see who is standing next to my table.
It is a boy, seemingly towering over me, wearing a grin, glasses, and a plaid shirt and jeans. His hair and eyes are brown, but his skin is slightly pale. He pulls out the chair opposite of me and sits down with his tray, uninvited.
“So I look as though the love of my life cussed me out?”
He shakes his head and sighs. “No, the other f-word: friend.”
“Ah. That one.”
“Indeed. Might I have the pleasure of knowing your name?”
“Allen Stevens. Lovely to meet you.” He takes a bite of his personal pepperoni pizza. “Dearest,” he goes on, “you must never, ever, ever get a hamburger here, unless you have confirmed its provenance. If you are certain it has come from either McDonalds or Burger King, you may eat it. Otherwise…” he shakes his head, but does not finish the sentence.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but did you just call me dearest?”
He pauses for an infinitesimal moment before nodding slowly. “Indeed, Ms. Palmer. I believe I did.”
“And why, if I may ask?”
Instead of answering my question, Allen Stevens narrows his eyes, as if he is deep in thought, and then switches trays with me and eats my hamburger, his face revealing just the briefest flicker of distaste.
“I’m sorry?” I say.
“No need to apologize,” he says, dismissing what he thinks is an apology with a flick of the wrist. “It’s your first day, am I not correct? I simply cannot stand for the cold indifference and heartless antipathy our fellow attendants of this fine education of institution show towards the newcomers. Therefore, I take it upon myself, Ms. Palmer, to guide the neophytes who so happen to wander into my path.”
“My gosh,” I say, “you’re the first person I’ve met all day whose vocabulary includes words besides hot, cool, dude, like—“
“—bro, chill, babe, God, and the like?” He smirks ever so slightly.
“Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. You have no idea how annoying it is when teenage couples stare deeply into the screen of their phone, texting their significant other with insanely meaningful phrases like, ‘love you babe xoxo.’ The facileness of it all is so…depressing.”
“‘I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach’ has now become ‘u mean so much 2 me, bae.’”
“Oh, my gosh, bae?”
Allen shakes his head. “Don’t even ask. The slang expressions and solecisms of our current time is disheartening.” He takes one last bite of the hamburger, then works his way around the mess that is ostensibly salad. “What I find to be even more disturbing is the taste in music that many of the others have. They frequently listen to such drivel without the slightest compunction.”
“Boy bands and generic pop are as entertaining as having a hemorrhoid.” I launch into a list of popular bands that, for the most part, annoy me. “One Direction, Ke$ha, Justin Bieber.”
“Eminem, Bruno Mars, Carly Rae Jepsen.”
“Glee, John Mayer.”
“I loathe John Mayer,” Allen says. “If I say that I enjoy listening to 65daysofstatic, or Boney M, or 12 Stones, I get blank stares. I used to say that I frequently listened to Bastille, but not since it became the new thing.”
“Precisely!” I almost exclaim, perhaps a little too thrilled at the prospect of finding someone who shares such similar tastes. “You say Blind Boys of Alabama or Guided by Voices or The Boy Who Trapped The Sun, an—”
“What do you believe is The Boy Who Trapped The Sun’s magnum opus?”
“There is but one answer to that: ‘Dreaming Like a Fool.’”
“I like you already,” Allen says emphatically. “Though our knowledge of each other is, at the moment, but incipient, I do not believe that this will be an ephemeral friendship, Ms. Palmer.”
“Indubitably,” is all I can say. If someone had come up to me a few days ago and said that I would meet someone—and I cannot call Allen Stevens a friend yet, because the term friend is gravid with meaning—who readily seemed to both understand and commiserate with me, I would not have believed them. And yet, here am I, a fresh junior on her first day of high school in Missouri, sitting with that someone. It is unbelievable.
Allen Stevens takes my tray and dumps the leftovers into his tray while saying, “Dearest, we are such snobs.”
“Oh, I know,” I reply, already having gotten used to his calling me dearest. “We sit here and criticize the others while doing nothing to rectify the situation.”
He shrugs, just barely. “To each his own, I say. Regardless, who would have fathomed that I would have the distinct pleasure of sharing lunch with such a sophisticated and, if I might add, attractive snob?”
“Did you just call me attractive?” I demand.
Allen doesn’t answer me; instead, he slings his brand-new green backpack onto his shoulder, grabs our trays, and starts making his way through the tables. “The bell will be ringing in precisely three and a half minutes, Ms. Palmer. I suggest we prepare to depart from this room before this already dissonant cacophony becomes even worse.”
I shake my head and follow him as he empties our trays and sets them done. When he sees me standing next to him, he grins crookedly, and oh, my gosh, did I just say that his grin was crooked? But, in my defense, it honest-to-God is. And while I will most certainly not admit it to this new acquaintance of mine, Allen Stevens is also attractive. “You do know, Mr. Stevens, tha—”
“Please, call me Allen.”
“Right, Allen. You don’t even know what grade I’m in and what’s my next class.”
Unfazed, he pushes open the swinging cafeteria doors and says, “Well, Ms. Palmer, what grade are you in, and what is the class you are currently heading to?”
“11th grade and government with Mr. Hayes.”
“Lovely,” he says, linking my arm into his and walking down the hall. “It appears as though we shall share a class together. Is there need to stop at your locker in the event that you should have to retrieve some items before class?”
“I believe not.”
“Very well then. Mr. Hayes taught my geography class last year. He is the archetypal “Mr. Know-It-All” of the school, I believe. But worry not. Notwithstanding his seemingly infinite knowledge, he is not in the least patronizing to his students. I believe you shall enjoy his class.”
Before I can stop myself, I am saying, “If I were to be in your presence while under the instructions of aforementioned lecturer, I’m certain that it would be an enjoyable experience.”
A barely perceptible smile flashes over Allen Steven’s face as we arrive in front of the classroom. “This way, Ms. Palmer.” He opens the door for me, and continues to speak, his voice hushed. “Mr. Hayes allows the students to be seated at their own discretion. Sit wherever you please. I shall escort you to your next class at the end of the period.” He sits in the row closest to the window, in the third to last seat.
For a moment, I am tempted to sit elsewhere, to not look like the clingy girl. I hardly know Allen Stevens, and he hardly knows me. But still, I find myself sitting directly behind him, staring at his closely cropped brown hair.
Allen turns around in his seat and winks at me. The other students are filing in, talking somewhat more quietly than they were before. He whispers, “Hello again, Ms. Palmer.” Then he turns around, rummages through his backpack, and pulls out his textbook and phone, which he inconspicuously places in his lap.
Suddenly, fifty minutes seems much too long.
To be continued.
Less than three,