The cafeteria was full of a thousand conversations about a thousand different things. However, one theme happened to be more dominant than all else.
The adjacent seats, with Jade and Priscilla's sweaters on them, were empty. And thus, the conversation and the game of Euchre had been put on hold. Fern had turned away from the guys to talk with some of the tenth graders at a nearby table, leaving Markus, Ben and Nate alone.
In Nate's busy mind, Ben was the next best confidant to Ricky. However, Rick didn't have this period free. And so, worse had come to worse, and Nate was beginning to wish Markus wasn't there.
"I dunno, man, it's like she's emotionally closing up on me."
"That sucks," Ben acknowledged, "I mean, is she giving any signals as to what's wrong?"
"Yes, it does suck. Well, actually, heh... it doesn't and that's the probl--"
At that moment, Markus interrupted Nate, "Yo, what the fuck do you care about friggin' emotional intimacy for?"
Ben burst into hysterical laughter, barely struggling to swallow his spoonful of soup beforehand.
Nate, however, became red in the face. I should have asked a girl for advice instead.
"Dude," Ben said as he came to, "you sure this isn't too personal?"
Nate smiled, "What I just said went right over Markus' head. So.... no, it isn't."
Ben grinned, "So she is giving signals?"
"You know as well as I do," Nate struggled not to smirk at the awkwardness. "Her clothes."
Ben could recall one of the vice principals, just yesterday, speaking to Priscilla about showing too much cleavage. "Oh, yeah, I think I see what you're getting at. She wants you to make a move. And I bet you're hesitant because--"
"She's my best friend's sister!" Nate finished Ben's sentence.
"Dude," Markus whispered, sounding stoned. He leaned in close, "You don't need Ricky's permission or blessing or whatever to make a move on his sister."
Nate intoned a flustered response, "Look, Markus, I'm not like you. I'm not like Priscilla."
Ben frowned, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Yeah," Markus added. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"It isn't part of the plan, for me," Nate's face became red again.
"Sex?" Ben asked, needlessly. "You're a teenager. How is it not in your plan?"
"This is Priscilla Douglas we're talking about." said Markus, "Tapping the hottest shit on the market."
"Don't make me hit you," said Nate, pretending to be serious as he finished his sandwich. "Don't think I won't."
"You've got no experience," Ben pointed out. "And she does."
Markus nodded, "She does."
"Who?" Nate asked, with mocking confidence. "Name one guy."
"Fine," said Markus. "I don't know anything more specific than that."
"Well, got any advice?"
There was a pause in the conversation.
"You'd have to tell us just how far you've gone," said Ben.
In the distance, Clarice and Lucia were approaching their table.
"Not much further than you've seen here in the cafeteria. Apart from--"
"Clare, skipping at just the right moment it seems!" Markus exclaimed. "You see, Pea has been a little closed lately, and Nate here was just telling us all about how--"
Ben's elbow nudged Markus firmly in the side.
Markus bit his tongue as he struggled to stay seated.
Clare looked from Ben to Markus to Nate for a long, silent moment. All that could be heard was Lucia and Fern discussing an episode of Heroes amongst the dim roar of the noisy cafeteria. Then, when she had all three of them ready to say something, she broke the local silence herself, "You'll have to ask Ricky first."
Ben hit his fist against the table, "Damn, she's good."
"Lucia, c'mon," Clare said. "I need to see my sister. She's probably in the hall or the bathroom. Then, we've gotta hustle back to Music."
Nathan stuttered, "Y-y'aren't gonna--"
"No, Nate," she assured him, "I need to talk to her about the new kid, not about getting your relationship off the rocks."
Markus became a loud-mouth once again, "Oh, you mean about Ricky's not-so secret admirer? Geez, what a faggot!"
Ignoring Markus, Ben turned to Fern, "How does she know these things?"
"They're twins, Ben," Fern simpered. "Plain and simple."