The cafeteria was filled with a half-dozen half-hundred students. After all, the school served three villages and the rural farmland in between and around. That made for almost four hundred students. However, the kindergarten kids ate in their classrooms, and some children chose to go home for lunch. They seemed to all be talking at once, filling each other in on their summer vacations.
Cassie and Dan sat perpendicular to each other, at the corner of a long table that was occupied mostly by fellow eighth graders, and by a few stray seventh graders. None of them were wearing much white, except Cassie's dress.
"When are they issuing the new uniforms?" Cassie asked.
Dan shrugged, "I dunno. But I hear they've picked out new school colours."
"Well," she said. "It is nice to be casually dressed for a few days, at least."
He thought, then, of her shoeless, sockless feet beneath the table.
A cat lay purring in her lap, and he knew they'd have to walk the feline home during recess. Between them, was the smell of his apple sauce and the scent of her curry. Spoons rose and fell, shining against pink lips.
Dan wanted to mention the man who came to his door on Friday. He also felt an urge to ask about what he was certain had been shoplifting. Or perhaps why her eyes, once a greenish blue, were now a shade of blueish purple. Instead, he asked a very different question.
"Why do you like to go everywhere bare foot?"
Cassie linked the last drop of spiced sauce from her spoon, looking thoughtfully back at him. Then she answered, "Because in a day and age where we treat our bodies and out planet like a hunter treats a pelt, I like to have some nerves close to the ground. There's an energy to it. Something magical."
"Oh," was all Dan found that he could say in response.
"Look," she told him, "is this what I think it is?"
Oh, gee. "Is what what you think it is?"
"Us," she said, the word hanging loosely between them with unbreathing pause. "Because if it is, there's something I need to know." Another pause. "And something you should know."
Dan could almost picture her asking, voice languid, "Are you a good kisser?" And then taking him firmly, before he could answer, into a merciless lip-lock. But that was just in his mind.
"Trust is important, Dan," she said. "In any relationship, it's a solid foundation. I have many secrets, and I'm sure you do too."
"And what are we?" he asked, tightening the lid back onto his container and sliding it back into his lunch bag.
"A budding friendship," Cassie told him, one hand petting Bobby in her lap. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm sorry," Daniel said, pushing his chair back and standing up. His bags and books remained upon the table. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"I'll be waiting," she told him, looking at his back as he walked off. Her bare feet rubbed against each other. And she continued eating, with a cat purring in her lap. Once he had left the room, she began to pour milk from carton to her spoon and offer it to Bobby. And she cooed, "How do I tell him, Bobby? How? Oh, sometimes I wish I wasn't what I am."
Dan walked through the halls, as tears welled up, unfallen, and distorted his vision. Then, he bumped into someone. He rubbed his eyes.
It was Robert. His pale face bore a weak smile. And he whispered something in Daniel's ear as he passed him by, "Daddy told me you'd go for her."
Dan turned around, but lost sight of the white-clad boy in the thick mass of people that bustled around the front of the office area. So, he kept walking towards the bathroom.
He joined a friend, in his year, at the urinals. As he unzipped, the other boy, Jake, turned to him, "How's it going with Cathy? You told me on the weekend you had a crush. Well?"
Daniel turned his head to Jake, and let the tears on his cheeks speak for themselves. Then he glued his eyes back onto the wall before him and urinated.
And another boy came out of a stall, letting the door slam behind him. He wore a foolish grin, and spoke to them, "Hey Dan, if you're gonna tap that chick, make sure you wear a rubber!"
As the third boy walked off, without washing his hands, Dan and Jake both uttered, in unison, "Shutup!"
Washing their hands, Jake said to Dan, "Cheer up. She'll come around. You've got charms. And you're smart, like me. Girls like smarts."
"I dunno, Jake. I think she's bound us with the eff word."
The other eighth grader had short brown hair and sparse freckles. Nondescript glasses sat on his nose. He frowned sarcastically, pronouncing slowly, "Friendship?"
"We're just thirteen! Of course I mean that eff word."
Jake laughed, "Damn that pervert."
"I hate him." Dan triggered a motion sensor, and warm air began to jet onto his hands.
"Well, don't give up so soon. And, I wish you luck."
"Thanks," said Dan. And he walked out, to make his return to the cafeteria.
"Anytime, man. Anytime."