“She’s getting her tray now. You’ll like her.” June takes a bit of her burger, leaving a stream of ketchup dribbling down her chin. Around us, the cafeteria bustles as the smell of bulk bought and prepared food fills our nostrils. “She’s like you. A loser.”
“Well, ok then.” I say. In front of me, spread on the lunch table like a dark buffet, is Nazi Ideology by Vasey, The Holocaust by Gilbert, and Five Chimneys by Lengyel, all evidence that the demands of Mr. Singer’s AP World History II class have permeated every aspect of my life, including my lunch break. I don’t mind. It’s done wonders killing my appetite. “Whatever you say.”
June eyes my research, substance for an MLA style fifteen page report due the middle of March. It’s a way, Mr. Singer says, to separate the wheat from the chaff, those with bright futures from those destined for life in retail. “Anything good?” she asks.
I turn a page in Vasey, reveling a chart of human heads, each with its corresponding race captioned underneath. “Well, I’m sure I would’ve been safe but I’m pretty confident you’d been turned into chimney smoke.” Then pointing to a head labeled Native American, “You’re Untermensch, subhuman. And being Mexican, about the closest thing to Cro-Magnon man the world has left.”
June sticks out her tongue, and I return the gesture.
“Can I sit here?” Behind me stands a short, plain girl with mouse brown hair and pale, almost olive colored skin. Her eyes are grey and taken as a whole she would have, in the eyes of the Nazis, been considered of the Alpine Race, that’s tough peasant stock, mostly from central Europe.
“Ok.” I say, shifting some of the books around.
She sits, smiling at June.
“Mable this is Grace Laurent.” June gestures with her hand, as if she were P. T. Barnum introducing a new species of tortoise to the Queen of England. “And Grace, this is Mable Nolan.”
“Are you new here?” I ask. Other than the basic’s- a boring girl in her Economics class with a penchant for ankle length skirts and mild to moderate OCD- June has left much about Ms. Grace Laurent a mystery. “I haven’t seen you before.”
“No, I’m not new.” She looks insulted, “I’ve been here for almost two years. I’m in your American Lit. class?” She studies my reaction. “We go to the same church?”
I draw a blank.
“We’re in the same Sunday school class?” She says this last part slowly, as if I were a toddler or something.
“It’s a big church…” I mumble, cheeks red, eyes averted. I bit into my burger.
June laughs and more ketchup moves down her face. She wipes it away with a napkin. “You have to forgive Mable, ella es retardado! She’s a retard!”
“Su retardo madres! Your mother’s a retard!” I throw a fry, embedding it in her hair.
“Yo sé eso! So’s yours! ” June throws the fry back. It goes wide, hitting a chair behind us and skimming along the tile floor. We leave it for a janitor.
“You both speak Spanish?” Grace asks. She’s placed her tray squarely in in front of her, her fork, knife and spoon lined up neatly on one side and milk (with a smiling cow icon declaring it’s freshness) on the other. “I know a little French from my old school.” She opens a napkin and places on her lap like Eliza Doolittle. “Bonjour, mon nom est Grace. Le ciel est bleu.”
“French?” June grimaces, then gestures towards me with her fork, “Mable will fix that.”
“June says I’m going to be your project.” Grace gives air quotation marks with both hands. I didn’t think anybody actually did that. “You’re going to teach me Spanish.”
“Ok.” I mutter, not knowing what else to say.
We sit for a few minutes, June eating like a hog, every so often spearing a few of Graces fries with her fork. Grace pretends not to notice. I read more into Gilbert, large numbers followed by the names of towns and cities followed by more of the same. Rinse, wash, repeat. German efficiency that would eventually translate into fuel efficient BMW’s and the world’s forth largest economy. You’d think the whole Holocaust thing was just a dry run.
“How’s Moby Dick coming along.” Grace asks. She takes a bite of her burger, her short, thin fingers pressing on the bun, careful to avoid the mustered dripping from of the side.
“Slow.” I say. Turkey’s given us ’til April to finish the book, not long enough it seems. “I’m a hundred pages in, and they’re not even on the boat yet.”
“I know.” Grace moans. “I like the writing, but Melville needs to censor himself. The first thousand word’s were about how people like water…” She rolls her eyes. “Come on, pick and choose, think of your fan base…”
She goes on and on like a cooped up puppy finally let into the yard and I nod rhythmically at details of her life; a love of science fiction, a second hand Cannon Rebel Ti (that means 8 mega pixels and a stock 55mm lens to those of us who don’t know) and a brother just back from the oil fields of Williston, North Dakota, his pockets full of money.
June, chewing the last of her burger, eyes us, carefully gauging the match. She’d mentioned that she and I needed a third, someone for me to annoy and take the pressure off her for a while. Besides, my Republican ways are starting to piss her off anyways and Grace will give me someone to talk conservative crap with. The purloined fries are just a bonus.
“Are you going to the True Love Waits dance next week?” Grace asks. She’s finished eating and is folding her napkin into an impossibly small square. Her empty milk carton has already been broken down and placed neatly underneath her silverware. The rest of her tray is spotless.
“Yes. I went last year too. Didn’t dance with anyone but it was fun.” I don’t tell her that after thirty embarrassingly lonely minutes I slipped out the emergency exit with a hand full of cupcakes and a two liter of Mountain Dew and hid in the stairwell. Morgan found me there two hours later, sweat beading on her forehead and staining her blouse. She’d danced enough for the two of us.
“I didn’t dance either.” Grace says, shrinking back a little, and I wonder where she was hiding; behind the baptismal pool or in the first floor janitor’s closet? “But I really loved to watch everyone else dance. It was sweet.”
“It was.” I say, feeling something that I haven’t felt since meeting June last Spring and (vague memories bubbling to the surface) a girl named Eloise at Camp Onotobie Lake the summer before seventh grade.
“You two really are losers.” June grunts. She wipes her mouth on an already stained sleeve. “A match made in Heaven.”