The Monae High School engineering club didn’t know what to make of Simon at first. His first day in the workshop was filled with the scratch of sketch pencils and the occasional buzz of machine while the members cast silent glances behind their glasses. Simon ignored the quiet and sat down to begin his design.
Eventually the club relaxed and chatter returned. Even if the varsity soccer player didn’t add much to their discussions of anime, message boards, and obscure video games, Simon was always willing to look over a sketch or muscle open a broken saw. Hunched over the workbenches, the club could forget the separate lunch table Simon frequented during the day.
Simon’s projects joined the others, their portfolios expanding over the year in preparation for the summer fair. The mix of robotics, electrical circuits, and civil planning models, grew in the locked cage in the corner of the workshop. Colleges and companies paid attention to the fair’s competitions, a winning design could do wonders for a career. Frustrated outbursts became common place in the workshop as the members perfected their entries.
Simon alone was largely immune to the tension and the resulting tantrums played out in those weeks. His project was finished, and while solid and well-made, everyone knew Simon was entering it for solidarity’s sake. Now he spent his time helping others work through last minute bugs and malfunctions. Outside the club, he finally joined them on the weekend for the newest superhero movie and attempted a cameo role in their dungeons and dragons game.
A week before the fair, the club left the locked workshop on a Friday afternoon, gently ribbing Simon for getting stuck going to prom. While he was imprisoned in a tuxedo amidst an exhausting crowd of drunk peers, they would be enjoying themselves in the final session of the D&D campaign.
The weekend passed and Monday morning brought disaster. Everyone in the club received text messages. They arrived at the trashed workshop and stepped in with choked horror. Shattered bottles covered the floor with sticky glass, ripped design books littered the tables and the project locker had been pried open. Their projects were played with, broken, and discarded around the lab.
Simon didn’t swear or rush to his ruined work like the other distraught members. He walked to the white board to read the inebriation fueled messages. The scrawl accused promiscuity, crudely discussed people’s sexuality, boasted the superiority of their graduating class, and announced exactly who’d been here two nights before.
The members shuffled around Simon, picking up the remains of their shattered work. As they cleaned someone managed a joke, a few laughed, albeit hollowly. They gathered and put away their projects to be scavenged from later, the fair would come again next year for most. Eventually, someone left to find a teacher.
Among them, only Simon was new to the casual cruelty that had invaded their workshop, painful now but ever present in the world outside the diversions they built and cultivated for themselves. The rest of the club picked up the pieces while Simon could only stare at the whiteboard and the names there, the tips of his fingers digging into his palms.
Simon might have been unfamiliar with the cruelty inflicted on the workshop and his friends’ work, but he knew things they didn’t. They didn’t have older brothers that dragged them from bed for early runs, or soccer practice after sixth period, or boxing matches on weekends. They didn’t know where the school elite, the people who’s names marred their whiteboard, went to smoke at lunch.
Simon left the workshop the way he’d entered it a year ago, silent and immune to the worried glances thrown at him.
The resulting fight was all anyone talked about for a long time. The engineering club even experienced a brief flash of popularity that none were comfortable with. Expelled, Simon never was allowed to come back to the workshop, but he caught a movie with the club occasionally over that summer.