Discover more from Breanna Leslie
The rambunctious lunch line wound around the cafeteria, snaking by the salad bar, and over to the milk coolers. Randy was behind me. His eyes were hot on my neck. He was staring, but I had no idea why, and asking him would be too awkward to bear. “Ashley ever show?” I asked to break the silence. He scooped a couple of boiled eggs onto his tray and dropped the spoon back into the container.
“Not sure, but I don’t see Faith, so I’d assume that’s why. They’ll probably show up in a minute. I bet they’re in the bathroom fixing their makeup.”
“Bitch, I know I am,” he teased, nudging me, but his playfulness came off as fake. There was a tinge of discomfort behind his eyes that I couldn’t place. I smiled and went on to the container of fruit salad.
By the time we were finished filling our hideous, mustard-colored trays, Faith and Ashley straggled in and found their places at the back of the line. From across the room, I sensed tension between the pair. Neither spoke, a stark change from their usual obnoxious laughter and constantly whispering inside jokes.
“You see that, right?” I asked Randy. He didn’t answer, but I followed his narrowed eyes across the cafeteria. He saw.
We took our seats at the far end of the cafeteria, where no one besides us bothered to venture. Small as our school was, we had a huge spread of long tables with benches. Toward the front of the room, closest to the food, the jocks and cheerleaders sat intermingled. In the middle, you had the smart kids and the band geeks. Closer to the back, maybe three-fourths of the way, the weird kids that played Dungeons and Dragons and the theater kids gathered there. Then, there was us, along with the other outsiders, that didn’t fit into a group.
I guess we could have fit into one of those, but none of us wanted to. Randy handed me his crackers from his salad, and I tossed him my apple. We had a system since we were only allowed one serving of each on the way through the line. When Ashley and Faith came, we’d do another round of trades. I’d give Faith my water, and she’d pass me her milk. Then Ashley would trade Randy his Italian dressing for the chicken on her salad.
We both waited expectantly as the back of the lunch line dwindled. Faith came first, her jaws clenched tight and white knuckles gripping her puke green tray. Her legs bounded through the aisles of tables until she reached us and she slammed her food down so hard, her fork bounced off the tray with a jarring clink.
“What’s wrong?” I said under my breath. Faith glanced over her shoulder, likely to make sure Ashley wasn’t right behind her. Then she sat down and leaned over the table.
“Something is wrong with her. Very, very wrong.” Faith passed me her carton of strawberry milk and I slid her my plastic cup of water.
“What do you mean?” Asked Randy.
“She’s what?” Ashley interrupted, her leggy frame towering over a seated Faith.
“My mom. She’s dieting again.” Faith scrambled for a lie, but she was damn good at it, which I found odd for someone so against the act. Ashley grumbled and dropped her tray on the table, causing her apple to roll off her tray and onto the floor. She didn’t bother to pick it up. I busied myself with opening the plastic fork I didn’t need, and Randy sipped from his milk carton, keeping his eyes glued to the situation unfolding.
Ashley was pale. Her eyes were sunken. She smelled like body odor and eggs, and her normally braided or slicked back hair was a mess of frizz at her hairline. Dark blue veins were pronounced under the delicate skin of her forearms, along with suspicious bruises that dotted her upper arms and wrists.
“What happened to your arms?” I asked, pointing to the bruises. She looked up and snarled. Her raised lip revealed yellow, unbrushed teeth, and the whites of her eyes mirrored the same ochre color. “Jesus…” It seeped out of my mouth, just that little word, but it was like poking a bear. Ashley turned to me with this unexplainable look in her eye. Her irises were black, not the normal brown honey color and when they were on me, it was like my skin might melt away to reveal the tender pink meat underneath.
“What’d you say, you little cockroach?” She hissed. Faith and Randy gasped at the same time, with Randy clamping a hand around my thigh. I don’t know if he wanted to restrain me, protect me, or he was simply too alarmed to react in another way, but his touch grounded me. Had he not been there, I would have shot across that table. Who knows what she would have done? She was unhinged, leaking pure hate all over the table.
The deafening lunch bell rang, with all of us staring across the void at one another as a resurgence of sulfuric stench permeated our area. Ashley grabbed her purse and left without emptying her tray while mumbling obscenities in a low, gravelly voice.