The cafeteria smells like wet meatloaf. The vocal buzz is interrupted by an occasional scream like some jungle bird. It comes from a table of girls in the back corner. They’re all dressed alike. I get up to toss my lunch that’s too gross to eat into the overflowing trashcans near the girl gang. Carefully balancing my tray on top of the trash mountain, I hear it. The word. Prison.
Without turning, I catch one of them out of the corner of my eye—a girl with her hair tied up in a bun, her shiny forehead framed in a blue headband. She clamps a hand over her mouth and tracks me with her eyes, while her shoulders shake with laughter. I push the double doors open and escape to my locker for an algebra book I need before class.
My favorite seat in any classroom is the one farthest back in the corner, but today some other girl is sitting there, so I drop my backpack on a desk closer to the front. As soon as I sit, the girl with the blue headband comes in and sits behind me. When I lean down to pull the algebra book out of my backpack, the girl leans forward and whispers.
“What did your mom do?”
I’m not sure I heard her right. Or, I can’t believe I heard her right. Gripping the book, my hand shakes. “What?”
“Your mom. What did she do to end up in prison?”
My cheeks flame hot. I slam the book down and sit facing the front.
The girl next to Headband urges her on. She whispers, “Did you ask?”
A finger drills into my shoulder blade. I sit straighter and don’t turn around.
“Hey, no offense, okay?” the poker says. “I was just curious.”
I scoot my desk forward as much as possible before it jams into the back of the one in front of me. The teacher writes hieroglyphics on the whiteboard, and I know this is not going to be a good class for me.
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