By Rachel Barnard
Nichole’s waiting for me in line at the food cart. She grabs a Snickers bar from the display rack and points to a larger slice of pizza.
I follow her to our usual table and Nichole’s friends trickle in to sit down around us. Becky sets down her bento box and unpacks its contents, pulling out a shiny silver chopstick set that has a pink ornamental flower to match. Anja got the pizza, but she pulls off the crust and sets it beside her plate with satisfaction. Becky nods her head approvingly at the move.
“Did you talk to Kenny today?” Nichole asks, digging into her pizza.
“Huh?” I ask.
I’m trying to figure out what the heck is in my lunch bag.
The other girls perk up at the mention of a boy’s name. I blush and pull the items out of my bag in rapid succession. Celery. Sardines. A Ziploc baggie full of misshapen crackers. The girls stare at my lunch in fascination. I peer into my bag as if something more appetizing might be stuck at the bottom.
“No. I had to return some of those books,” I say.
“One of these days you’re going to have to talk to Kenny, and not just about a lab project or a Spanish assignment. You can’t hide behind your books.” Nichole laughs, taking smaller bites of her pizza slice, up the side. I’ve never met anyone who eats pizza like corn the way Nichole does.
“Besides, lots of people write notes in books.”
“Did you rob a Whole Foods?” Anja interrupts.
I look down at my assortment of lunch items.
“No. It wasn’t written in the book, it was a note inside the book,” I clarify and glare, not at Anja, but at Nichole. She said she’d have my back.
Becky snickers and shares a look with Anja.
“Never mind. Are those sardines?” Nichole asks, squinting at the table in front of me.
I hold up the unopened package of sardines. The other girls eye it warily. A phone beeps and Becky pulls out her cell.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to open it,” I say to the table.
I actually like sardines, but not enough to be the table pariah who brings smelly fish to eat. There aren’t enough Tic Tacs in the world to fix sardine breath. I push the package to the side and open the crackers. I pull one out and hold it up to the light. It’s dense and filled with flattened seeds of all colors and shapes. I take a bite of one cracker and it half crumbles into my lap. It tastes like bad tofu and flavorless vegan cheese, but I’m hungry. Mom must be trying out a new recipe. I pop another one whole into my mouth, letting it crumble into dry flakes of cardboard that stick to the back of my tongue. Mom didn’t pack any drinks for me and I try to swallow the rest of the cracker dry.
The other girls talk about some boy or movie or something. Beck gets up. “Be right back,” she says.
Anja shrugs and takes a picture of her nails using her phone. Nichole turns to me, opening her Snickers bar. She hands me a piece and I take it, popping it into my mouth and savoring the chocolate.
Nichole stares off into the distance behind Anja. Becky walks up to the table, Ben in tow.
Why can’t Ben sit with his own friends? I grind my teeth together in frustration. It would be easier if I could forget he ever existed.
“Becky, can you get me a soda?” Nichole asks.
“Uh, sure, Pepsi?”
Nichole nods and hands Becky a dollar.
Becky walks off with her Ben shadow.
“We need to instate a rule that no freshmen are allowed at this table,” Anja says as soon as the siblings are out of sight.
“Ugh, right?” Nichole agrees with a disgusted sound in her throat.
I remain silent.
“Hey, want to go to that new movie this weekend?” Anja asks, perking up as she turns to Nichole for approval.
“Can’t. Sorry, chica. I’m taking Vanessa out.”
Anja’s eyebrows shoot up and she barks out a laugh.
“Not like that,” I protest. “Where are you taking me?”
“I got special tickets to the new restaurant opening. Allen Williams will be filming his show there. The local news channel is going to be there.”
“And we’re not invited?” Anja asks.
“Sorry, they sold out of seats.”
“Sold out of what seats?” Becky asks as she sets down a perspiring can of soda in front of Nichole.
Nichole stares at the soda can. Ben hovers at the end of the table as Becky sits down.
“Some restaurant opening and a food challenge. Isn’t Allen Williams that guy who does the Been There Ate That show?” Anja says.
“Yup,” Nichole corroborates.
“Wait, you mean my parents’ restaurant? The one they’re re-opening as a bar and grill?” Becky asks.
Anja looks at Becky and then turns to look at Nichole and I.
“Yeah,” Nichole says.
“Stay away,” Ben says, his voice deeper than I expected. The other girls look at him, but Nichole doesn’t budge in her stare at Becky.
“We’re going,” I declare.
For more information on this excerpt please see Rachel’s website.
About The Author
Rachel Barnard’s greatest accomplishments have been eating an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting, winning a boot toss, and writing a novel about herself. Rachel Barnard wishes she were taller, that chocolate had no calories, and that books could be eaten after they were read. Rachel Barnard resides in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dress up, talk about writing and books, and dance. Rachel Barnard primarily writes young adult books, including Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams, At One’s Beast, and Donuts in an Empty Field (For the Love of Donuts Book 1).