Given the limited number of blue tables, Wil was surprised at how long she took to locate one containing the two people she knew would be sitting at it. She was about to give up, in fact, when she remembered the dimmer, less-populated overflow room of the cafeteria.
Sure enough, five expectant faces met her shy gaze when she poked around the doorway. It was enough of a shock to send her scurrying back out of the school, entirely. She was able to convince herself to stay, however; to walk fully into the room, and to sit in the last empty chair.
“So,” Derek said, “You guys all know Wil.” He smiled his kind, shy, hopeful smile around the table. Wil’s heart jumped a bit at the added attention, and especially at the smile.
She tried to look like she deserved to suddenly have people notice and befriend her, though acting was not her forte. As such, she ended up looking confused and nervous.
She knew the others seated by her -or, at least, knew their names. She had been surprised by that. Everyone at the blue table was in at least one of Wil’s classes. Derek was in two. But, so is Reagan, she thought defensively.
“We’ve been watching you, Wil,” Derek explained. This did not reassure Wil.
Art, a large teenage boy who shared her time in Mr. G.’s class, set down a roll and laughed. He had a nice laugh, the kind that came from deep inside and wasn’t too loud. “He means that in a good way,” Art said. Unlike Derek, Art’s voice sounded like it had already transitioned to a deeper tone.
“Oh.” Wil said.
Reagan rolled her eyes. “Derek,” she chastened. “You’re making us sound like stalkers.” She gave him a look, a laden fork dangerously dangling from her fingers.
“The thing is,” Reagan continued to Wil, “We are an elite group of talented teenagers. By ‘watching you,'” she imitated Derek’s voice sarcastically, “we mean that we think you should be part of the group.”
Wil’s face cleared, then clouded again. She wasn’t elite, or talented. She looked quickly at each person in assessment. Derek was kind and not bad-looking. Reagan was clearly very smart and good at acting. She knew Art was observant and intelligent. The other two members, Hope and Stephen, she didn’t know very well. She was naturally inclined to assume they had more to offer than she did.
Derek cleared his throat, attempting to keep its tone level. He leaned forward across his sack lunch, and held his hands out to gesture as he spoke. “Many of us felt left out, and like we didn’t have friends.” The others nodded as they watched him. Hope smiled slightly.
“I sat by Stephen one day, and saw that he drew really cool comics.” Derek looked at Stephen, who grinned and studied the pencil he was twirling in his right hand. “Then, I thought, ‘This is dumb. Stephen is so good at drawing. I get told I’m a good leader. I’m going to start a group of friends who are talented.'” He smiled again. He was good at smiling, too.
“We have a roster,” Hope finally spoke up. Her voice was very soft, in contrast to Reagan’s bold tones. She pulled a list from her binder and set it in front of Wil, between her plate of breaded meat and soggy vegetables. Many of the group looked around to ensure others weren’t watching. Their room was almost entirely empty.
The writing, Wil noticed first, was beautiful. She looked at Hope. “Stephen wrote it,” Hope said. “He’s good at writing and codes.” She pointed to Stephen’s name, down the list. Wil saw that it listed, “Stephen: Penmanship, Cryptography, Cartography.”
She quickly perused the rest of the page.