Title: The Cafeteria Conundrum
Fandom: The Baby-sitters Club
Word Count: 1,115
Summary: On the first day of her freshman year, Janine dreads facing the long, lonely lunch hour in the SHS cafeteria.
Author’s Note: Written for the delay prompt for my 2016 Summer Mini Challenge table. Written for Table 5 at babysitters100. Further author's notes can be found here.
DISCLAIMER: The Baby-sitters Club concept, storyline, and characters are © 1986 – 2000/2010 Ann M. Martin/Scholastic Corporation. No money is being made from the creation of this material. No copyright infringement is intended.
Janine Kishi was so lost in thought that the shrill, piercing ring of the school bell startled her, causing her hand to reflexively lurch across the page of her notebook. She frowned, slowly upending her pencil, pressing her eraser to the paper and methodically removing the dark streak of lead that trailed off the edge of the sheet.
She was disinclined to follow the lead of her classmates, who had been all too eager and ebullient to gather their belongings and escape into the hall; it was only after they’d all left that she finally stood, draping her backpack over her shoulders and moving with great reluctance to join the sea of humanity that now filled the SHS corridor.
It was the moment that she’d been dreading all morning, and – if she was truly honest with herself – that she’d been dreading ever since she’d received the freshman welcome package from the high school the week before. Among the various handbooks, permission slips, and school spirit knickknacks had been a generic daily schedule, marking the times for homeroom, class changes, dismissals…and lunch.
She hated lunch, and she especially hated the way it was set up at Stoneybrook High School. Instead of being arranged by class, as it had been at SES and SMS, it was scheduled by grade – and as such, lasted an entire, excruciating hour instead of the mere twenty minutes she was accustomed to. The first hour was designated for freshman and sophomores, while the second hour was for the upperclassmen.
Her fellow freshmen were very excited by the extended lunch period – an hour meant they could leave the campus, which opened up a wider variety of food choices than what was present in the cafeteria. Of course, in order to take advantage of this option, one had to have friends who were old enough to drive, and who had access a ready means of transportation.
Janine Kishi had neither of those things.
She also didn’t have the option of requesting a library pass during her lunch hour for the first week of classes, or attending the extra-credit mini courses she planned to sign up for to stave off the boredom of an entire hour at rest; those wouldn’t start until the week after next. She couldn’t even take her break on the quad instead in the cafeteria – only students who had left school grounds were allowed to eat out there.
So, for the moment at least, she was stuck in the noisy, crowded, overheated lunchroom.
She dawdled at her locker as long as she dared, packing and re-packing her backpack in preparation for her afternoon of classes. As the last of her classmates drifted towards the cafeteria, she placed her bag in her locker and pulled her pre-packed lunch, before spinning the lock and reluctantly following them down the hall.
Her heart slipped to the lower reaches of her stomach as she neared her destination. She hovered in the doorway, wrinkling her nose at the faint scent of grease that lingered in the air, and took in the scene before her.
It was total chaos: the cavernous room was filled to the brim with students rushing between the tightly-packed tables as they called out to each other. Lines snaked along both walls towards the far end, where the food was being served. A low din of mixed conversations filled the room, echoing through the entire space, making it sound twice as loud as it actually was.
She scanned the tables, valiantly looking for an empty one. She was keenly aware of just how alone she was at that very moment; her best friends were either still in middle school or were at college, and she’d never really been one for friendly acquaintances. Most of her classmates shunned her outright, and she felt far too shy to walk up to a bunch of strangers and ask to join them, no matter how approachable they appeared.
No, her strategy was to find some quiet, empty, unobtrusive spot to pass the time until her next class. She’d tucked a paperback into her lunch bag for that very reason.
She whirled around, clutching her lunch bag to her chest, and was surprised to see Charlie Thomas, who had suddenly materialized at her side. “Hello,” she squeaked, her throat suddenly dry, her face flooding with color as she gawked at him.
He smiled at her. “How’s it going?” he asked, apparently oblivious to the fact that she’d turned into a wordless ripe tomato.
“O-okay,” she managed to choke out, forcing herself to relax. She took a deep breath, and offered him a tentative smile in return.
“Cool,” he returned, tucking a hand casually into his pocket as he turned towards the crowded cafeteria. He searched the crowd for a long moment, then shot a sidelong glance at Janine. “My friends usually stake out a table near the window,” he told her, pointing to the far corner of the room. “You’re welcome to join us, if you want.”
Janine’s heart skipped a beat. “Are you sure they wouldn’t mind?” she asked skeptically. Charlie Thomas was nice enough, but the table of kids he’d pointed out looked pretty raucous and intimidating.
He shrugged. “Nah,” he contended, “but hey, we could sit by ourselves, if you’d rather.” He scrutinized the nearby tables, and suddenly grabbed her arm when he spotted a group of kids standing up, trays in hand. “C’mon, we can grab that table!”
He took off like a shot, and Janine followed him, albeit hesitantly. He was quick to claim the small round table before another cluster of kids could, sliding into one of the seats with unassuming grace. He looked back at her, beckoning for her to hurry up and join him.
She approached the table, delicately setting her lunch bag down. “Why are you doing this for me?” she asked as she lowered herself into the chair beside him.
He tilted his head. “Hey, we’re friends, right?” he said by way of reply. “Besides,” he added, slinging his own brown bag onto the table, “great minds think alike, eh? All the smart kids bring their lunches.”
She smiled at him. “Is that so?” she intoned drolly.
He grinned back. “Yeah – the food’s pretty good, and there’s no waiting in some endless line.” He pulled a sandwich from his bag and took a big bite. “Plus it gives us more time to hang out, talk, catch up, you know – whatever.”
She nodded, taking a bit of her own sandwich, and turned her gaze out towards the rest of the cafeteria.
Maybe enduring the SHS lunch hour wasn’t going to be such a terrible ordeal after all…