The cafeteria is bustling with activity. The special today is pizza.
Enter Todd Ryan. Popular sophomore basketball player, a two year varsity athlete. On his right is his girlfriend, Alyssa. He smiles and pretends like he's listening to her as they walk down the aisle towards the front counter. Alyssa talks and talks, unaware that for a moment, Todd's confident smile falters.
"Todd?" she looks up at his face. "Are you listening?"
"Oh. Yea." The smile returns as he puts his arm around her and holds her close. "What about Jonete?"
As Alyssa continues to tell her story, Todd looks away, his eyes searching through the crowd for the floor-length windows along the back wall. Through the windows he could see the neighboring orchards past the chain link fence marking the edge of school property. Then past that, the green rolling hills that Poulber Valley was known for. In his mind at that moment, Alyssa didn't exist. No one did, except for him. And he was running, free, through the orchard and then over the hills. Free.
"Do you want some?" Alyssa held up a pudding cup for Todd.
His eyes snapped back down to her small round face, away from the window. "Sure." He took it and put it on his tray, realizing he was in the food line already.
Watching Todd and Alyssa was Mary. Sophomore band geek. A flute player, and proud of it, band was the extent of Mary's extracurricular activities.
Mary watched Todd's face as Alyssa talked. She could tell he wasn't listening to Lyssa. His eyes seemed distracted, continually glazing over as he became lost in thought.
The line moved forward.
Mary wondered what was wrong. He was hurting, she knew that.
Why didn't Lyssa notice this? As she took a slice of pizza, she watched Lyssa, who was now paying for her lunch.
Maybe the reason why Mary could see that he was hurting was because she was hurting too.
Enter Jeremy. To his right and left were his teammates, all wearing their jerseys. Big game that night, against their rival high school. They laughed boisterously as they walked through the cafeteria, not caring if they walked into people or whos conversations they interrupted. Jeremy carried his soccer ball under his arm, anxious to get his pizza then head out to the field to play a quick game during their lunch break.
As he walked through the room to the back wall where the counters were, he passed Zoey.
He didn't notice her; no one ever did.
She was sitting alone against a side wall, her long black bangs covering her face as she changed the song on her iPod. The song changed, and she leaned her head back against the wall, settling in for another three minutes until it was time to change the song again. She quickly brushed her bangs back out of her face with the back of her hand and let her eyes scan the cafeteria.
Being ignored had its advantages, she had decided. You could stare and laugh at the stupid cheerleaders and the clueless boys gushing over them. You could hum along to your iPod without anyone noticing. Life is easy when you don't have to worry about what everyone is thinking about you.
Or at least that's what she kept telling herself.
Libby, Claire, and Maddy walked past, and Zoey watched closely.
These triplets were best friends, sharing clothes and makeup and secrets to the point it could make one nauseous. But still, Zoey found a part of her wishing she was walking beside them, and that she was in on the joke that Maddy was laughing hysterically at right then.
Byron, Claire's boyfriend, came and stole her away from her sisters. He was tall, muscular, smart, and sweet. The perfect guy. Still Zoey watched, wishing that she was in Claire's place with an amazing boyfriend and two best friends.
Byron whispered something in Claire's ear that made her eyes light up as she giggled happily.
Zoey would kill to be that happy.
Over the loudspeaker, an announcement.
"Sophomores! Don't forget that Friday is the last day to turn in your permission slips for the trip to Yosemite over ski week!" the secretary's voice announced.
Zoey shook her head. She wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near that trip. The only reason any one was going were those sluts that wanted to sneak out of their cabins at nights to be with their boyfriends.
Like them. Zoey watched their class's most popular couple, Todd and Alyssa, strut past with their trays filled with food.