By Nathaniel Bronson
I would not have met Emani if she had not forced the issue. I was perfectly content to glance over at the ambiguously attractive girl in my Algebra II class every day and go about my social isolation. It was the first Friday of the school year, and it was also the first time I was able to push through my fight or flight adrenaline and make it into the dining hall. The hall was quite large, but the circular wooden tables were arranged to force everyone to weave and wind around the entire student body to get their food. On the left and right were floor-to-ceiling windows that showed off the White Mountains for which the school was named. I was finally able to drop enough apologies and “pardon me”s to make it to the other side, through the variety of cliques, regional enclaves, and international exchange students.
I arrived at the heat lamps and was greeted by a man in tie-dyed pants, a chef’s apron, and gray, tattered oven mitts.
“I don’t think I’ve met you yet, you can call me Wonder,” he said, extending a mitt to his forehead in the manner of a salute.
“I don’t think so, no. I’m Nathaniel,” I said, bringing my hand flat against my chest to remove any confusion. Wonder crouched down and brought his head closer to mine.
“Daniel?” he said with slight exasperation.
“Nathaniel,” I said, making intense eye contact with the potato salad.
“Good to meet you, Emmanuel,” he said as he turned to return to the kitchen.
I looked down at my empty plate, realizing that I had devoted all my brain power toward remembering how to pronounce my own name, leaving none to get my lunch. I saw a small line of mildly irritated upperclassmen behind me, quickly grabbed a plain hamburger without a bun and a scoop of potato salad, and promptly scuttled away from the food. I quickly rushed past the drink station, scanning the crowd of the hall for a soft spot to settle. Miraculously, I saw a sanctuary in the midst of the chaos, a completely empty table right by the window. I briskly walked in a straight line to the closest stool and dropped my bag between my legs.
It was not long before my only friend at the school, Liana, was able to locate me. She sat down to my right and sarcastically complimented my choices in both friends and food. I looked up to respond, but I noticed that the girl from Algebra II was also walking over. She sat down across from both of us. “Hey, Liana,” she said. “I’m Emani by the way,” she said, glancing over at me with a half-wave and cocked head.
“I’m Nathaniel, I think we’re in Algebra together,” I said, mirroring her wave. “Yeah, you sit by my roommate, Ana,” she said, nodding her head and pointing at me with her fork.
“Sorry to kill your whole angsty teen vibe by coming over here. We can leave if you want,” Liana said, giggling to herself and pretending to reach for her backpack.
“No, that’s alright. You’re always welcome here,” I said, smiling and glancing over at her. “You’re always welcome too,” I said, slanting my head toward Emani with a nervous smile. She looked up and laughed, then she looked down at her plate and smiled for the first time in front of me. I looked down at my plate as well. There was no more ambiguity—she was the cutest girl I’d ever seen.