Cast of Thousands, Chapter 29
The concrete corridors were empty now. Everyone had been drawn to the multi-purpose room and the tables outside. The lunch line was already at least a hundred students long.
Jessica was glad to forego the long line in favor of her bagged lunch. She scanned the room for a corner in which to sit.
"Jessica! Jess! Over here Jessica!" she heard voices shout. Looking around the vast crowd, Jess saw Tomie, Shannon and Deborah sitting together on the edge of the stage. She wound her way around to them. "I didn't know you guys had lunch at the same time as me!" she said excitedly. "How come I've never seen you here before?"
"Well," Shannon said frankly, "you always run off and disappear somewhere when I see you. And Tomie just got her schedule changed so she has lunch now and French after instead of lunch second and a bunch of stupid electives and no French first."
"Yep," Tomie said helpfully, biting into a granola bar. "Wanna trade sandwiches? Anything's better than peanut butter and jelly."
"I have peanut butter and jelly too," Jessica said apologetically as she wedged herself into their circle.
The four of them had all been in Spanish Immersion together, and used to spend a lot of time playing during recess and after school. Jessie was glad to see them, despite being so caught up in the new school and the changes in her own life that she had nearly avoided them for over a month.
"So what classes are you taking?" Deborah asked her.
"Algebra I, German I, English, Social Studies, um, lunch of course..." She chewed her thumb, trying to line it all up in her mind. "Art, P. E. and Chorus," she finished triumphantly.
"Oo, I wanted to take Chorus too," Deborah said. "But my mom said I had to learn about computers instead. Maybe I can take it next year though."
"So what's French like? Have you started it yet?" Jess leaned back, pressing her palms against the cool wood of the stage, and listened.
"Oh, yeah, it's rad. It's not hard to jump in late like I thought it would be, I think cause it's all really beginner's stuff."
"Her family went to France for the summer," Tomie chirped helpfully.
Deb blushed. "Not the whole summer. Just five weeks of it. My older sister is going to college soon and my parents thought she should see the Louvre first." This was greeted with impressed and sarcastic murmurs from the others.
"So, did she?" Shannon asked.
"Yeah, but it's just a big museum. It wasn't like really a big deal or anything," Deborah replied.
"Yeah, except you had to go to whole nother country to see it," Tomie teased her.
"Well, anyway. What did you do over summer vacation, Jess?" Deborah turned to her.
"I, uh...." Jess hesitated. What had she done all summer?
Shannon began humming the "Jeopardy" theme song, counting down the seconds, and the other two joined in.
"I don't know, I don't know, you guys!" Jess squealed quickly. "Just lay around and did nothing, I guess. Oh, I think we went to Yosemite for a couple of weeks. We did a lot of hiking and camping out and making smores and stuff."
"See, that wasn't so hard, now, was it?" Deborah laughed.
"What was France like?" Jess tried to imagine being in a country where they didn't even speak the same language. So far, the farthest she had been was Canada, which she wasn't sure even counted.
Being with her friends felt surprisingly cozy. She had been holding herself apart from all of the people and activities that reminded her of elementary school, she thought suddenly. It all seemed so very far away, as though it had happened to a different person. She sat up, looking at each of their faces in turn as if she could recall it all better, bring the past back to her that way. Everything seemed sharper, more real, with them; they made the rest of junior high school fade from her mind.
It came as something of a shock, therefore, to hear an almost unfamiliar bell ring and know somehow that she had to get to class. Jess looked down at her lunch bag and realized that she had eaten everything without noticing it. She felt pleased that she wouldn't go hungry for want of time, at least, and waved goodbye to her friends as she headed for Art class.
She sat down on a stool, pressing her hands against the worn wooden table to ground herself in the present.