Even though they spent a great deal of time away from each other during the day, the whole gang always got together in the Quad at 12:00 for lunch. Astrid had been looking forward to lunch since she read the menu that morning just after the Pledge of Allegiance—Sicilian broccoli and cauliflower pasta with pine nuts, whole grain garlic bread, tossed salad, and yogurt parfait. Toby, Denise, and Valerie were already sitting at their usual table when she and Christopher sat down.
“So, how’s it going?” asked Toby.
“Fine,” said Christopher and everyone agreed.
“I heard Mr. Kramer is sick,” said Valerie. “I guess we’ll have a substitute today.”
“I don’t like substitutes,” said Denise. “We always end up behind. Then we have to work all that much harder the rest of the week.”
“You won’t get behind today,” said Toby. “My dad is your sub today, so count on extra homework.” He laughed. “I’m glad I don’t have Geometry.”
“You just wait,” said Valerie. “When my dad subs, he’ll have you swimming extra laps.”
At Rachel Carson High School, all parents were required to serve six days a year as faculty or staff members. For Toby’s father, who was a structural engineer, that usually meant teaching Math. Valerie’s father, head of security for Maxxim Industries, usually either taught a Physical Education class or served as a school safety officer.
“Hey, what’s going on over there?” wondered Denise, indicating a table across the Quad from where they sat.
“It looks like Mark McGovern is picking on that kid,” said Christopher. “He picked on me last year because I have dark skin.”
“He picked on me because my mother is from Mexico,” said Valerie.
“He picked on me because I have two dads,” said Denise.
“He calls me a nerd all the time,” said Astrid.
“Well, he never picked on me, because I’d sock him in the teeth,” said Toby. “Do any of you know that kid? He was in my Swimming class last hour.”
“He’s new,” said Valerie. “He was in our Art History Class.”
“I’m sick of Mark McGovern,” said Toby, and picking up his tray, he started across the common area. The others quickly grabbed their food and followed.
“Excuse me,” Toby told Mark.
“You’re in my way.”
When the boy stepped back, Toby sat down next to the new kid. The new kid was a little on the chunky side and had a buzz cut. Christopher, Valerie, Denise, and Astrid filled in the rest of the spaces.
“I didn’t know this was the loser table,” said Mark.
“It was,” said Toby. “But then you left and it wasn’t again.”
The boy balled up his fist and stared at Toby for a moment, but Toby just stared back. Finally, Mark turned and walked away and the gang all turned their attention to their new tablemate.