The cafeteria clamored with murmurs and chair scraping as students settled in for their lunch, laughter and voices regaling the events of the morning, as well as smiles, and grimaces alike, at the food about to be eaten, all while sitting at large, round tables, encircling various clicks.
Tina Kurt settled in with her fellow cheerleaders, glancing this way and that, she had yet to glimpse the boy who saved her the previous weekend. Not that Tina wanted to see him, he was regular, extremely regular and remarkably unremarkable… looks anyways, but she still found it weird that he rescued her without even trying to cop a feel.
Though she meant to keep the whole incident to herself, the very next day she managed to tell her two best friends, Alice and Jennifer (also cheerleaders), who she made swear to secrecy, and soon after that she started to tell everyone and by the end of the week everybody from the cheerleaders to the mathletes knew what happened.
It was all she could talk about; she could not keep her mouth shut about the short, scrawny, pale kid who saved her life and didn’t even try to get to first base with her.
“I’m beginning to think you want him to make a move on you,” said Alice, a girl with short, dark brown hair, a coy smile spreading across her face.
“Of course I don’t!” said Tina, incredulously, “I’m way out of his league! I’m the hottest girl in school and captain of the cheer squad! I have higher standards than that.”
“All I know is,” said Jennifer, a pale girl with dark eye-liner and long, dirty blond hair, “If some guy saved me from some pervert, I’d have put out right there.”
Alice and Jennifer laughed. “I hope you wouldn’t, Jennifer,” said Tina, “You’re a cheerleader; you can do better than that.”
The two rolled their eyes. Tina was a good friend, but she was really clueless about the real world.
“You should look for a guy like Aaron Thompson. He’s the coolest, smartest, most athletic, most popular guy in school,” said Tina, “Notice I said like Jennifer, like! Aaron Thompson is mine!”
“I don’t know,” said Jennifer, giggling, “He’s always checking me out in math class.”
“Well, I’m not worried,” said Tina, “A boy like Aaron needs the hottest girl in school… and that’s me.”
Once again, they rolled their eyes. She meant well. “Tina,” said Alice, “Aaron is a senior. There are plenty of attractive senior girls. Just because you somehow got the captain position of the cheer squad, doesn’t make you the hottest girl in school.”
“Sounds like someone is jealous,” said Tina.
“Speaking of jealous,” interrupted Jennifer, trying to avoid an argument, “It looks like your plan to make Aaron jealous by flirting with his best friend didn’t work.”
“Yeah,” said Alice, “It only worked against you. You’re lucky that Byron kid was around to help you.”
Tina fell silent. Alice was right, as always. What would have happened if Byron wasn’t there? She would have been raped. It wouldn’t have changed anything; most kids thought cheerleaders were sluts anyway, but she wasn’t. She couldn’t speak for anyone else, but she wasn’t!
“It seems,” said Jennifer, “that you’ll have to come up with another plan.”
Meanwhile Russell sulked at his table of football friends. “I can’t believe you got beat up by that kid,” said Hector, a dark eyed, dark haired boy with a tiny dark moustache, “What is he? A buck ten?”
“Shut up, Hector,” said Russell, “He took me by surprise, and I got dirt in my eyes.”
“That rhymed,” said Ted, a tall brunette boy, smiling at his latest discovery.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Aaron as he combed his fingers though his dark, brown hair, “It’s alright man. It could have happened to anyone.”
“What are you talking about?” said Russell, “I got beat up by a little kid… A little kid!”
“It really is amazing, isn’t it,” said Howie Nelson, a tall boy with sandy-brown hair, “A little kid like him taking on a goliath like you. It’s poetic… disarming really.”
“Don’t start, Nelson,” said Russell.
“You know what you have to do, right?” said Hector, “You have to have a rematch. Your reputation is on the line. If anyone from anywhere else hears about this, the team will be a laughing stock.”
“You know we could always just ask him to join the team,” said Aaron, jokingly.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Russell, “He’d get murdered.”
“I doubt there’s any chance of that,” said Howie.
“Well tell you what, tall freak,” said Russell, (Howie was 6’6”) “You go ask him and if he says yes, I’m going to break him in half.”
“Yes,” said Aaron, “Go talk to him, Howie. Tell him about the rematch after school on Friday at the flag pole. Tell him he can back out if he doesn’t think he can do it. I don’t think there is any way he can beat Russell again. This time.”
“Are you serious?” said Howie.
“Of course I am,” said Aaron running his fingers through hair again, “Go tell him. Either way, things will be as they should be.”
Byron sat at his own table, alone. He could feel the eyes of everyone upon him, but it was different than any other time; though there were always eyes on him, the feeling of these eyes was different. He could feel fear, anger, hatred, sadness, admiration, jealousy and so many other feelings that he was sure he had never felt before—from the eyes of peers anyway. It was certainly different than the usual feelings of apathy he had grown accustomed to. He longed for those feelings to return, these other ones made him sick.
He closed his eyes like he typically did at lunch and shoveled down his food. Sometimes he would take his pencil and jot a note down in his notebook if he thought of something funny or just draw after he ate, but now he felt like getting out of the cafeteria as fast as he could. However, before he could stand up, toss his trash, and set his tray on the washer carousel, he was interrupted by some… idiot.
“Hi,” said a large boy with glasses. “My name’s Todd Muckleroy,” he extended his hand to shake Byron’s.
Byron glared at him. Todd was a chubby kid who looked like he just got out of a very important meeting. Dressed in a blazer and tie, with pleated dress pants, he made Byron cringe, mostly at the thought of this kid trying to have a normal school day.
Aside from the business attire, he had a thick pair of glasses and a bowl cut of shiny, brown hair that added to his awkwardly, nerdy appearance.
It was highly irregular for anyone to approach Byron in school; no one talked to him and, personally, he wanted it to stay that way.
“You are Byron Lucas right?” Todd asked sheepishly.
Not wanting to be friendly, Byron raised an eyebrow and said, “How do you know who I am?”
“I heard you beat the snot out of Russell Brown. Is that true?”
Byron was silent. He hadn’t told anyone. He was certain Russell wasn’t bragging about it, so… “What did you hear?” Byron asked.
“Only that you beat the snot out of Brown. What happened? Did he give you a wedgie?”
Byron laughed. Everyone turned to see the face of this kid, who moved to their town over the summer, who never spoke or smiled; this kid was laughing. No one had ever given him a wedgie; he was surprised they even existed. “Nope,” said Byron smiling, “Did he give you a wedgie?”
Todd glanced around the cafeteria. It was too late; everyone in the cafeteria was staring at them now, listening. “Well,” said Todd, “Yes, but it’s not just him. It’s all the jocks. They pick on me and my friends all the time.”
“Why?” said Byron, “Other than being kind of goofy and a little overweight.”
Todd blushed as he adjusted his glasses. “Because I’m a nerd slash geek slash dork. I guess the things that come out of my mouth often go over everyone’s heads.”
“Sounds to me,” said Byron, “You bring this on yourself. Now I’m going to leave this very awkward situation. Bye.” Byron grabbed his belongings and tray and headed towards the washer carousel.
“Wait,” said Todd, “I want to ask you something.”
Byron winced and turned around. “What?” he said, trying not to lose his temper.
“Will you teach me how to defend myself?” Todd asked.
Byron’s face softened. What was this? Feeling sorry for someone? Byron didn’t teach anyone anything. He didn’t talk to anyone. He liked his life simple, without people.
“I think you got the wrong guy,” said Byron, “I don’t know if you know this, but I’m not a big fan of people?”
“Well, everyone needs friends,” said Todd, adjusting his glasses, “I know I’m not the coolest guy, but if we can take anything from the Space Files episode 77 when Gerald and Makison have to set aside there differences and defeat a squad of Leathamites in a small shed on the planet Wardorf, that you can’t always be choosy on who you pick as an ally.”
Byron and everyone in the cafeteria stared at Todd. “This is exactly why you get wedgies,” said Byron, “Go talk to the emos if you want a shoulder to cry on.” He pointed to a table full of kids wearing black and chains.
“Um,” said Todd with a nervous laugh, “Those are the punks. The emo table is over there.”
Sure enough the table where Todd was pointing had a lot of students crying because Byron hadn’t known who they were.
“I can’t believe you don’t know who we are!” one cried.
On the flip side, the punks were giving him the finger, and the Goths, who were in between the two tables, hissed at Byron and Todd.
“We should probably leave now,” said Todd, his expression turning apprehensive.
“Whatever,” said Byron, “They’re lucky I was on my way out anyway.”
The two walked towards the staircase. Byron was walking to his locker; he didn’t know why Todd was following him. “Is there a reason why you’re still following me?” said Byron, not bothering to turn around.
“Well,” said Todd sheepishly, “You never answered my question.”
“Oh,” said Byron, “I guess I thought it was obvious. No.”
He continued on his way. “Wait,” said Todd, “I want you to take my card. It has my cell, my home number, my email, my student email, my blog email, my screen name and my fax number on it.”
“You have a fax?” said Byron, “Rewind that. You have a card?”
“Well,” said Todd adjusting his glasses again, “I am going to be a splendid business man someday, so I think it’s good to start now, you know, get used to doing things like that.”
Byron smiled. And his smile turned into a laugh. “You know what kid?” said Byron.
“It’s Todd,” said Todd interrupting.
“Whatever,” said Byron, “I am going to teach you how to defend yourself. You’re going to need it, if you keep doing stuff like this.”
Todd blushed. “Thanks,” said Todd, “Call me when you want to start!”
“Sure,” said Byron as Todd walked away. “What. A. Freak,” he said.
Byron finally made it to his locker. As he shuffled through his notebooks and papers, he felt another new person standing behind him.
“Hello,” said Byron as he pulled out a novel from the bottom of his locker, “What do you want?”
“Hi,” said Howie, “You are Byron Lucas, correct?”
“Pretty formal for a jock, don’t you think?” said Byron, not turning around, “Shouldn’t you say something like ‘Hey dude, you’re Lucas right?’”
Howie was caught off guard. “Oh… uh… well, Russell wants to have a rematch after school on Friday at the flag pole,” he said.
“Uh huh,” said Byron, “And if I say no?”
“Well…” said Howie, “It’s ok if you say no; they actually expect you to.”
“Well,” said Byron, “If Russell wants a rematch, he should come and get it, not ask someone who doesn’t agree with him to ask for it.”
“What do you mean?” said Howie.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re not like those guys,” said Byron, “You want to be; you act like them, talk like them, but you’re not like them. You’re different. I feel that about you.”
Howie was silent. Then he said, “That sounds kind of gay, dude.”
Byron smiled, “It does, doesn’t it? Well, I have somewhere I’d rather be. So like I said, if Brown wants a rematch, tell him to come get it.”
Howie turned and walked away. Byron thought to himself, ‘There sure are a couple of weirdoes at this school. I guess this could get interesting. Something to tell Alisa later… We’ll see what happens.’