Up to this point, nothing all that bizarre had occurred since I arrived to my new school. Sure, I had the whole diaper-wearing fiasco with Mom earlier that morning, and then the issue briefly came up again during break when I discovered that everyone in school wore them but me. But that aside, things seemed pretty normal. It wasn’t until lunch that the weirdness really took off.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
Nothing special happened in my next two hours. I went through the same routine as the previous two classes, introducing myself to the teacher and immediately getting a sense of where I was at. In French, the class was currently learning the imperfect tense, meanwhile in my old class we were already dealing with several verb tenses. Even Madame Martin was impressed by my French skills. The class after that was United States history, in which I discovered they were already learning about the Cold War, whereas I had only reached World War I. Luckily Mr. Valismo did not call on me, and I figured I could easily catch up by just reading the textbook… if it even mattered all that much. Even though all he did was lecture, it was a fun class. Plus, Linus was there to keep me company.
After history class, Linus and I waited for Kamila in the hallway. After a few minutes of waiting, she finally showed up.
“Sorry 'bout that, guys,” she said. “I had to get changed.” It took a few seconds for that to click in my head.
“Whatever,” said Linus. “Ready for lunch?”
“You bet, I’m starving,” she replied.
As we entered the cafeteria room, I saw my next surprise of the day. Every single student coming out of the lunch line was wearing a trash bag around his or her neck. A few seconds later I realized what it actually was: a bib. Okay, it wasn’t much of a bib; just a cheap plastic disposable thing that reminded me of those toilet seat covers. But I knew it was still a bib.
“For real?” I said in awe. I almost wondered if students had to sit in high chairs while being spoonfed by teachers.
Kamila looked at me strangely. “What?”
“Uh, nothing. Never mind.”
I followed Kamila and Linus into the lunch line. At the beginning of the line was what looked like a giant tissue box. Only instead of tissues, it contained the plastic bibs. I saw Kamila and Linus each take one. “Are these necessary?” I asked.
“They’re to keep our clothes clean,” Kamila said as she placed hers over her neck.
I looked around at the other students. “I don’t exactly see anyone making a mess,” I pointed out. “Doesn’t the school realize that teens can keep clean while eating?”
“It’s just to be safe,” Linus reassured me, not realizing that wasn’t much of an excuse. “You need to take one, you know. School rules.”
“No thanks,” I said. “I can live without a bib.” I passed the box and took a lunch tray instead. When I reached the front of the line, I looked up at the giant lunchlady who spooned a big square of lasagna onto my tray. As I moved on along the line, I noticed the drinks were not placed in Styrofoam cups like in my old cafeteria, but rather they were in sippy cups. Like what toddlers use.
“Let me guess,” I said. “So we keep our clothes clean, right?” Kamila and Linus nodded back at me. I rolled my eyes as we took our cups.
I finally made it to the end of the line where the woman behind the cash register stood. “ID number, please?” she asked, in a sweet yet shrill voice.
“Uh…” I knew it was written on my schedule, but I didn’t have access to it at the moment.
“She’s new here, Barbara,” Linus said to the woman. “She doesn’t know it yet.”
“Your name then?” the woman said.
“Amber McCormand.” I began to take money out of my pocket to pay for lunch, but Barbara stopped me.
“No need to pay,” she said. “It gets charged to your family account.” Even though I didn’t know anything about this account, I decided not to question it and walk on.
After we all paid—or I suppose—“charged” our accounts, we sat down at a long table. There were other people around us on both sides, but they were all talking with their own friends. Once seated, I tried to take the top off my sippy cup, but I failed badly.
“No use trying,” Linus said. “They got those things on tight.”
“I hear that the only way to take the lids off is by a machine they have in the kitchen,” Kamila said. “I also heard that one kid stuck his head in the machine and it got pulled off.”
“That’s just a myth,” Linus argued. “That didn’t really happen.”
“Oh yeah? Then how come we’ve never seen that kid since?”
“How do you know you haven’t seen him if you don’t know who it was?”
They continued to argue, and I continued to struggle with the lid. Finally I gave up and set it on the table. I figured I could just take a drink from the water fountain later. I began to dig into my lasagna. For mediocre cafeteria food, it was actually pretty good. I guess they care more about what the students eat in a company town than they do in a regular public school.
As I ate and my friends bickered, I suddenly heard a deep voice behind me. “Excuse me,” the voice said. I turned around to see a giant man staring straight at me. The man was elderly, but he looked fit enough to be a professional boxer, or at least his trainer. “Where’s your bib?” he said to me.
“Um, uh…” I stuttered. I was too scared to say anything.
“Sorry, Mr. Kleenly,” Kamila spoke up, with a hint of fear in her voice. “She just moved here. She didn’t know.”
The man grunted and pulled a plastic bib from his pocket. “Don’t let it happen again.” He handed me the bib and walked away.
“Who was that?” I asked when the man was out of earshot.
“That’s Mr. Kleenly,” Kamila explained. “He’s the cafeteria monitor. He’s not really that mean, but scares everyone.”
“He’s given people detention for stupid reasons though,” Linus added on. “Remember that one kid who got in trouble for throwing away a half-eaten sandwich?”
“Oh yeah,” Kamila said. “Poor Reggie. Wonder what ever happened to him.”
“I heard his dad lost his job and they had to move to Boston or something.”
I unfolded the plastic and placed it over my head, observing how it hung down my neck. “I guess it’s no different than putting a cloth napkin on my lap in fancy restaurants,” I commented.
“Exactly,” replied Kamila. “No big deal, right?”
I smiled. “Still think it’s kinda unnecessary though.”
“Yeah, unless you’re Mac Peters over there,” said Linus, motioning to his right. I turned and saw a huge guy in a letterman jacket wolfing down his lasagna like it was the first time he had eaten in months. I swear there was more slop on his bib and his face than what was entering his mouth.
I turned back. “Eww, that’s so gross.”
“Right?” agreed Kamila. “And to think he’s our quarterback.”
A short while later the bell rang. As we cleared our trays and exited the cafeteria, I took my schedule out of my pocket and glanced at the next subject. It said NAP.
“That’s not an acronym, is it?” I asked Linus.
“Nope,” he answered. “It says nap, as in the time of day for sleeping.”
“You mean you guys take naps during school?”
“You mean you didn’t in your old school?” Kamila mocked me.
“I mean, I used to… in kindergarten. But definitely not in high school!”
“Well we have naps here,” Linus said. “It keeps us refreshed for the afternoon.”
“What room you in?” Kamila asked me.
I glanced at my schedule again. “The small gym.”
“Oh that’s too bad,” she responded. “Linus and I are in the big gym.”
When we reached the gyms, I parted from my friends as they entered the big gym. I walked into the small gym and saw a bunch of mats scattered in neat rows across the floor. They were the same type as the ones we had in preschool, except I could tell they were a bit thicker and were large enough to accommodate teens.
Students continued to pile into the room, and I noticed people just set their bags beside a mat and then lay down. I figured I should probably do the same. It occurred to me I wouldn’t know anyone else in the room. There were probably people in here that had been in my earlier classes, but I hadn’t really paid attention as I had really just been either focused on the teacher’s lecture or talking with Kamila and Linus. So instead of searching for someone to sit next to, I chose a random mat in the middle of the room, set my tote bag next to it, and lay down.
Now it wasn’t exactly the mattress I slept on last night, but at least the mat was thick enough so it didn’t feel like I was laying down on a hard gym floor. Almost as soon as I had hit the mat, I felt a rush of sleepiness come over the body. Perhaps a nap was a good idea after all. I knew it was silly for a teenage girl to fall asleep in the middle of school, but if everyone around me was doing it, why couldn’t I?
I was about to shut my eyes when I heard “What do you think you’re doing?” from up above. I looked up and saw a blond girl with a perfect tan hovering over me.
“I’m… lying down,” I said nonchalantly.
“Yeah, on my mat.”
“Yeah, my mat. I take a nap on this mat in this spot every day and you have no right to be sleeping on it.”
I raised my eyebrow. “Is it really that big a deal?”
“Yes! Give me my mat!” The girl stomped her foot on the ground. I wanted to burst into laughter; she seemed a bit too old to be throwing a temper tantrum. But people were staring at us, and I didn’t want to make a scene.
“Fine, if you want it so badly go ahead,” I said, getting up and walking over to the other side of the room. I didn’t turn back to see if she was still looking at me or not. Instead, I spotted an empty mat and went to go lay down. To my surprise, this mat was not as thick and much less comfortable. No wonder that girl wanted that other mat so badly! Compared to that one, this felt like I was lying on the floor with just a thin piece of paper separating me from the ground.
As I fidgeted to get comfortable, I heard a voice from the side. “Don’t mind her. Alexis is a spoiled brat.”
I turned my head to see a boy with messy brown hair lying on the mat beside me. “Excuse me?” I asked.
“Her dad’s head of one of the departments, I don’t know which one… anyways she thinks she owns this school. Hell, she probably thinks she owns the town. Don’t let her get to you.”
“Naptime begins now!” I heard a woman cry out. That’s when I noticed there were several adults scattered around the room, which I assumed were teachers just watching the students. All conversations around the room immediately ended. The silence was almost scary.
“I’m Cameron,” the boy whispered.
“Amber,” I replied.
“I know. I saw you in French. You’re the new girl.”
“Shhhhh!” I heard from afar.
“Dorme bien, Amber,” Cameron whispered gently with a smile.
“Toi aussi,” I whispered back, and then I shut my eyes. I don’t know if the chaos of moving had made me exhausted, or if my brain just told my body “when in Rome”, but almost instantly I drifted off to sleep with the other hundreds of students in the room.