Angie didn’t want to go to school. She liked her teacher, Mr. Miles. She liked the third-grade reading, and she sort of liked math. What she didn’t like was lunchtime.
“You’re crazy,” her sixth-grade brother, Mike, said. “Lunch and recess are the best parts of school.”
“Who do you eat with?” Angie asked.
“Joe, Jerry, Bob, or whoever’s around. Then we play football or soccer.” He pushed back his chair, grabbed his football, and started for the door.
“Don’t forget your lunch,” Mother called.
Mike came back, grabbed his lunch sack, and darted out the door.
“Finish your breakfast, Angie. You don’t want to be late,” Mother urged.
Angie poked at her egg. Her stomach knotted, and her throat felt dry. Who will I eat with today? she wondered. Aloud, she said, “I feel sick.”
Her mother felt Angie’s forehead. “You don’t have a temperature. Are you worried about whom you’ll eat lunch with?”
“Why don’t you call Mary?”
“I did. She’s playing with Shannon after school, so they’re eating together today.”
“Why can’t you eat with them? Is there some law that says only two people can eat together?” her mother kidded.
“No. But I just can’t.” How could she explain to her mother that all the girls in the third grade ate in pairs. Angie felt funny about asking other girls to eat with her. What if they were going to eat with someone else? Or what if they said no?
Angie sighed. Maybe her mother would let her come home for lunch. Sometimes she did. But before she could ask, her mother handed her a brown paper sack with Angie written in purple crayon across it. “Here’s your lunch, honey. I’m playing tennis today, otherwise I’d let you come home for lunch.” She hugged Angie. “If you’re really upset about eating alone, why don’t you eat with Mike?”
“Are you kidding!” Angie wailed. “He wouldn’t like that and neither would his friends.”
At school Angie tried not to think about lunch. But all the other girls in her class seemed busy doing something with a partner. Mary and Shannon were cleaning the hamster cage together. Judy and Susan sat side by side, whispering. Pat and Ashley were working on a picture for the bulletin board. It wasn’t like last year when all the girls did things together. Angie could feel tears prickling her eyes. Maybe she should go to the office and say that she didn’t feel well. The nurse would call her mother, and Angie could go home. No, Mom has a tennis game, Angie remembered, and won’t be there.
Mr. Miles told the class to close their math books and take a surprise quiz. When they were finished, he had them trade papers and correct them while he read off the answers. Lisa handed back Angie’s paper and gave her a friendly smile. “You didn’t miss any, Angie,” she said.
Angie had corrected Lisa’s paper. Lisa had missed five problems because she’d forgotten to carry the number from the first column to the second.
“Oh, thanks, Angie,” Lisa said gratefully when Angie pointed out what she was doing wrong. But she didn’t invite Angie to eat lunch with her.
When the lunch bell rang, Angie walked slowly to the cupboard and took out her lunch. Everywhere she looked on the playground, girls were eating together in twos. Just the boys were jammed together at the picnic tables. She saw Mike at one table surrounded by boys. He sure is lucky, Angie thought. She walked over to the side of the building and sat down on the cement, feeling very left out and alone. She looked up at the cloudless blue sky. Maybe it would rain a lot this winter. When it rained, everyone ate in the classroom together.
Angie pulled out her tuna sandwich. Inside the sandwich bag was a note:
“Look around the playground until you find a girl eating by herself. Go over and ask if you can eat with her. I dare you!
Angie looked around. She saw a girl sitting over by the maple tree. A girl in a pink sweater sat on a redwood bench. And another girl stood by the library door. They were eating alone, just as she was. She’d been so worried about herself that she hadn’t noticed them.
Angie knew the girl standing by the library slightly, so she picked up her lunch and walked over. “Hi, may I eat with you?”
The girl looked up and gave Angie a shy smile. “Sure, I’d like to eat lunch with some one.”
Angie knew exactly what she meant. “Great!” Angie said with a big smile. “Let’s go see if that girl sitting on the bench wants to eat with us too.”