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The Cafeteria This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      I dig around my impractical-but-really-cute-so-
I-shove-all-my-books-into-it-messenger bag and whip out my lunch schedule. I discover that I have math right after lunch and, by moving my finger through the intricate chart created by the librarians solely to strain my eyes, I discover that I have first lunch. Okay, I think, let’s assess the situation. The positives: My stomach won’t be eating itself as I sit through pre-calc. The negatives: After lunch I will have an entire hour of math, but, worst of all, I will have to venture into the cafeteria alone. Rule #23 in the Cafeteria Etiquette Handbook: “You can head to the cafeteria with whomever is available to latch onto until you find the friends you truly want to eat with.” But going to the cafeteria alone, with not even an acquaintance by your side for protection, is like flying to the moon without a space helmet - or something equally dangerous.

The bell rings and I sling my bag over my shoulder, puff out my chest, and traipse into the hallway with an air of confidence. How to pull this off? Rule #67: “Try with all your might to solve any cafeteria conundrum by attempting to find friends.” Maybe I will run into a friend in the hallway who also has first lunch? Sadly, that doesn’t happen; everyone is walking away from the cafeteria, or the “cafe,” as the administration has dubbed it. Please, this is not a Parisian street, my friends. This is a large, fluorescently lit, locker-lined school that happens to be centered, both physically and mentally, around a cafeteria.

I continue to trudge down the hall, my confidence deteriorating as I approach the linoleum jungle. I dodge groups of hooting sophomore boys and slide past the spacey headphone-clad kids who are moving slower than old men with walkers. During my travels I pass a particularly short freshman girl with an unsightly puff of hair atop her head. Actually, I hear her before I see her. At the sound of sneakers slapping the floor, I turn to see her bent beneath the weight of her backpack, running to class. Rule #3 in a different handbook, Hallway Etiquette, states the following: “Running in the hallway is like wearing a huge red sticker on your forehead that says ‘Freshman.’ Do not do it.” I feel sorry for her, really I do, but I admit feeling a tiny tinge of relief that at least there’s one person who will have a harder time in the cafeteria than I.

I have made it to my destination. Nonchalantly, I meander through the cafeteria with a pleasant smile. Rule #22: “Don’t let fellow diners note your unease.” Now, here’s the complicated part. The Cluster of Tables for the Juniors Whom I Sit With is approaching on my right. The trick is to look for people without blatantly planting yourself in front of the tables and squinting your eyes to find a familiar face. As I walk, I steal a glance and then turn my head straight. Repeat. Repeat. I am almost past The Cluster of Tables for the Juniors Whom I Sit With and at this point, am considering Rule #15: “If all else fails, hide in the bathroom for a minute or two, then return and repeat the entire process.” Suddenly, just as that option is becoming appealing, I catch a glimmer of promising brown hair. Yes, I recognize that hair, that shirt ... it is! It’s her! A familiar face! A friend I can sit with! The clouds disappear, bells ring, angels sing, birds holding a fur cape in their beaks fly beside me and drape it over my shoulders in a queen-like fashion. I skip over to my friend, thinking, That was so painless. What was I worried about?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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