Chapter no 19

If He Had Been with Me

When the weather turns cold, The War breaks out.

On a Monday in mid-November, as I enter the cafeteria, Angie rushes up to me with her eyes narrowed. “They’re at our table,” she says. I know who she is talking about without having to ask.

“What?” I say. I follow her through the crowd to an unfamiliar table. Jamie, Alex, Brooke, Noah, and Sasha are all already crowded around the small square. “I cannot believe this,” I say as I sit down. I glance over to where Alexis, Jack, Josh, and Victoria are sitting, with ample room about them. Alexis waves to someone in the crowd. I follow her gaze to Sylvie and Finny, weaving their way toward them. Finny and Sylvie pull up chairs at the round table.

“This is not cool,” Noah says. Jamie shakes his head. “No,” he says, “it is not.”

The table they took was inarguably ours; no one changes tables halfway through the school year. This is an act of hostility. But it must be ignored on the surface. To actually confront them or admit that we’re angry would give them the chance to roll their eyes and say, “What? You’re upset about a table?”

“Well, they’re not sitting there tomorrow,” Alex says. “I will run from chemistry,” Noah says.

“I’ll beat you,” Jamie says. We are livid for the rest of lunch. I’m not the only one who glances over their shoulders to watch our table being defiled. They laugh and toss things at each other and act as if they have sat there every day. As if they will, every day.

The boys make good on their promise, and Tuesday the table is ours again. We foolishly think that this will be the end of it; we have staked our claim again. Surely they will back down now that they see we are not going to give in to them.

On Wednesday, we are back at the tiny square table, our knees knocking against each other.

I actually run on Thursday, but Alex is already there, his book bag on the center of the table, leaning against the side, his arms crossed over his chest as he stares out defiantly at the rest of the crowd.

“Go, Alex,” I say. We high five. I look across the room and see Alexis and Sylvie staring at us from what used to be their normal table. I smile and wave and sit down.

When we win the battle again on Friday, I think that it is over; we’ve surely won The War now. They cannot possibly have the gall to keep this up on Monday.


They do. They do have the gall.

We reacquire the table on Tuesday and there is celebration all through lunch. Part of me says that it is just a table, but if I were certain that there was no hostility, then it would be nothing more than an annoyance to sit at one of the square tables.

But it is hostility; we are halfway through the semester, every other group has claimed their table and stuck to it, just like last year. Sasha and I left them and we’ve carved a niche for ourselves with a new group. We are tight-knit. We get good grades. Our boys are handsome and our girls are pretty.

For a year now we have been their foil and they have been are ours. This is about more than a table.

On Wednesday people stare as I run through the halls to get to the cafeteria. My green bag bounces against my leg; I ignore it and the people

around me. I am visualizing the empty table in my mind.

My vision is nearly true. The table is empty for a moment. Then Finny steps out of the crowd and lays his bag on the table. My feet come to a stop as I watch him standing there. Across the room I see Jamie and Noah slow to a walk. Sylvie and Alexis are crossing the room too. They have also slowed to a walk, their smiles triumphant as they look at Finny. Jamie’s gaze meets mine. He rolls his eyes and scowls.

For the past week I had not included Finny in my anger. I had somehow thought of him as blindly following his friends without realizing the implications of their actions, the meaning of securing the table. But there he is, claiming the table as if it has always belonged to him. Suddenly it feels as if someone has placed their hands flat on my back and pushed me forward.

I walk in a straight, steady line up to Finny, to our table. I toss my bag on the table next to his and tilt my head up to look at him.

“Are you sitting with us today?” I say. He does not answer me immediately, and for a moment I have lost my words as well. It’s been a long time since I have looked directly into his face.

His blue eyes have flecks of gold in them; it’s hard not to stare at the strange combination. I want to reach up and brush his blond hair away from his forehead so that I can see his eyes better. His face flushes pink, and— before I can remember that I shouldn’t feel this—I am thinking he is beautiful. I know it embarrasses him when he blushes, but I can’t help but think it is nice. It makes him look so innocent, as if he has never done anything wrong in his whole life.

“I—um-” Finny says. He stares back at me. I wonder what he is thinking. It feels like we have been staring at each other for a full minute, but surely it has only been a moment. I take my first breath since speaking and I am filled with his familiar smell. Part of me wants to close my eyes and focus on the scent; another part just wants to keep looking at him.

“Sylvie asked me to save us a table,” he says. Her name breaks my trance. I pull out a chair and sit down.

“Oh. Well,” I say, “this is where we usually sit.”

Jamie comes up behind me and pulls up a chair. “Hey, pretty girl,” he says. “How’s your day going?”

“Okay,” I say. Noah sits down on the other side of Jamie. They both ignore Finny. Finny picks up his bag and turns away. Sylvie is only a few feet behind him, but she does not look at him as he approaches her; she looks at me. Her eyes narrow. I only hold her gaze for a moment before turning back to Jamie.

This is just about a table, I tell myself. It isn’t anything personal. It’s just a table.

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