Chapter 3.5

The cafeteria was louder than usual at lunch that day. Tessa took her seat on the bench across from Annie, who sat at the end of one of the many long lunch tables scattered throughout the cafeteria. Those tables sat a few hundred of students eating and laughing during one of the only times of the school day that they could socialize and just be teenagers.

“Thank god, homecoming is finally this Friday.” Tessa celebrated, clasping her hands together in an exaggerated fashion before picking up her fork to eat. She continued talking in between small bites of her pasta salad. “It’s supposed to be cold though, so I think I have to rethink my outfit. If only they had the game last week, it was so nice out!”

Annie didn’t interject, allowing Tessa to ask for probably the fourth time since last week.

“You sure you still don’t want to go? I don’t care much ‘bout football either, but everyone gets so psyched, the game is actually a lotta fun. It’s just gonna me and Katie and them, if you wanna join?”

“No, I’m good…” Annie replied. She was leaning on the palm of her hand while poking listlessly at a sad baked potato. Tessa knew Annie was disinterested in most of Homecoming week, but she looked particularly gloomy today, which was not a common occurrence.

“You ok?” Tessa asked sincerely.

She waffled a bit, trying to find the right words, “It’s just… Jonah is acting weird.”

“Jonah? Isn’t he always acting weird?”

“No, not like this.” answered Annie, her tone was very serious. “I felt like we were making progress, and now he’s pushing me away.”

Tessa hummed a laugh, shaking her head—she was not convinced, but she let it go. She had some other two cents to give, after all. She waved her fork around as she spoke. “Well if you ask me, I think you’re putting too much energy into him. But! I am your friend and I support you and your slightly incomprehensible decisions.”

“Thanks..?” Annie stammered cautiously.

“So what did he do?”

“He told me to stay away from him. He says he’s dangerous.”

“Well, he’s right about that!” Tessa scoffed in reply. “Maybe you should listen to him.”

Annie became more disheartened, asserting quietly, “He doesn’t have to be that way… I don’t think he wants to be.”

Tessa ruminated for a second. In the few years since she met Annie and quickly became tight friends, she had seen Annie go down this path before. Annie was smart, but sometimes her compassion went into overdrive and excused the otherwise inexcusable. Tessa had been worried this whole time, and now seeing Annie get sucked in deeper, she felt it was necessary to finally get real with her friend.

“Annie, you can’t work miracles. You always think the best of people, but some people don’t change. You’re only gonna be disappointed.” Annie’s face went crestfallen, her bottom lip protruding in an awful frown and her eyebrows turned near upside-down. Even with Annie’s pleading eyes, Tessa continued her case unswayed, “Remember that time, in seventh grade, when you offered Maryjane your notes because she missed class and then she plagiarized your whole paper?”

“How is that the same?”

“Maryjane was a selfish bitch and everyone knew that, but you were nice to her anyway and it bit you in the ass!”

Intransigent to a fault, Annie defended, “I don’t think it’s wrong to try to help people…”

“Girl, that’s awesome, really. It is.” followed Tessa’s heartfelt reply. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

Suddenly there was a commotion happening around them. Faint shouting could be heard from nearby, so students close to the door darted out of their seats to check out the riot in the hallway outside the cafeteria. 

“What’s going on?” Annie queried Tessa, as if she’d have any clue. The two of them followed the other students out of the cafeteria to see what was causing such a disruption.

Entering the crowded hallway, it was hard to quickly deduce what was going on. But as students began encircling the scene, it became immediately evident to Annie what had happened. Further down the hallway was the tail-end of a fight being broken up by two teachers who had arrived on the scene. One teacher was handling a tall boy wearing a Brooksburg varsity jacket, and the other was restraining Jonah.

Annie’s stomach sank, overwhelmed with powerlessness and despair. Seeing the events unfold, Annie had gotten a firsthand taste of the violence and confronted for the first time that maybe Tessa was right. Maybe Jonah was like a dog that couldn’t be tamed. Maybe she couldn’t work miracles. Annie stood there amongst the incited peanut gallery of students, with their electrified whispers, as if watching a slow-motion car crash. All she could muster up was a broken-hearted mumble. “Jonah…”

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