Cole refused to acknowledge the itch growing between his shoulder blades. People were looking at him, wondering what he was going to do. The scrutiny pressed through the din until he wanted to snap. He told himself it didn’t matter; that he’d done the right thing. And he believed it, but it didn’t make the stretching seconds under the lunch yard sun any easier.
The tables were sovereign to themselves with students sitting, leaning, and lounging across the baked metal. Little kingdoms arranged in complicated tribes of grade, income, activity, and ethnicity. The crash of their constant chatter filled the open space. There were no open tables.
This is what it felt like, Cole thought. He remembered watching similar scenes from his own table, wondering if he should break rank and move to make room. Cole winced internally. Usually he hadn’t.
He glanced towards two tables set near the lawn. The occupants there enjoyed one of the most privileged spots in the yard. No one there moved for him. His normal spot beneath the shade contained his replacement, their back towards Cole. He didn’t know who it was, he told himself he didn’t care.
Months of subtle repulsion had done its work. It started naturally. No longer part of the team, Cole wasn’t privy to the in-jokes that replaced those he’d known. Slowly the group turned from his side of the table, silent exclusion turning soon to weighty unsaid messages. He didn’t belong there anymore.
Cole left the loud tables for the outskirts of the lunch yard. Here individuals sat against library walls and next to classroom doors. They did homework, scrolled through phones, and read by themselves. Occasionally a small cluster formed against a wall, their soft discussions too quiet to overhear.
He was out of alternatives. Cole found an empty spot of wall and slid down to sit on the cool cement. A ham and cheese sandwich later, he crumbled the brown lunch bag it’d come in and pulled out his homework.
When the bell rang it caused a cacophony of movement from the yard. Cole gathered his things. As he walked towards his next class Cole decided he didn’t mind the silence as much as he had before.