It was painful, but Luke felt proud even as the beating intensified. One of their fists struck him across the face, and he felt his lip begin to bleed freely into his mouth.
“Stop this right now!” Their teacher had finally entered the room. He was an older man with a regressing hairline and protruding belly. “Who started this?”
“Luke sucker punched Brett,” said one of the jocks. “All we were doing was holding him down, he’s fucking crazy.”
“Watch your mouth,” said the teacher. “Luke, detention, now.”
Luke stood up and took a long look around the room as he dusted himself off. The eyes that met his were changed. There was no deprecating humor in them. He was no longer the brunt of a joke but a threat. Their expressions were full of loathing and anger.
Luke represented a kind of solitary strength and resilience that most of them were inherently afraid of and incapable of understanding. The fight was over, and even though he’d lost, he left the room unbroken.
I’ve had worse that this before. Much worse.
The school’s disciplinarian took her time chewing Luke out. He wasn’t overly concerned about her threats of suspension or expulsion for fighting in school, but he kept his mouth shut anyway. Anything he said in his defense would end up sounding as unrepentant as he felt.
He spent the morning in an empty, windowless room that felt a lot like a jail cell. He was allowed out for lunch, thankfully, and he stopped by the bathroom to survey the damage to his face on his way to the cafeteria.
As expected, his lip was badly swollen. There was also a small cut on his forehead and a fist-sized bruise on his right cheek. It was actually worse than what he’d imagined, but he endured the pain of washing his face and tried to forget about the fight.
The cafeteria was already full when he arrived. He walked over to join the end of the line for school lunch before remembering that his account was empty and he had no money to spend on food. Usually, he grabbed lunch from the fridge, but that hadn’t been possible for him that morning.
Luke sighed, and walked over to an empty table and sat down. He didn’t really care about the insults that much, and the fight had been more of a physical inconvenience than anything. Not having lunch after having not eaten breakfast or dinner the night before, now that was real torture.
“Luke…” Sam’s voice came from behind him and he looked over his shoulder in time to see her smile shift into shock when she saw his face. “My god, what happened to you?”
“Oh, you know…” Luke shrugged. “I fell down on my way to my locker.”
Sam rolled her eyes and then sat down next to him. She didn’t say anything for a moment. She just looked at him as though she understood what had happened without needing an honest explanation.
“Where’s your lunch?” she asked.
Luke smiled at her and waved dismissively.
“Don’t worry about me, Sam,” he said. “I’m just having one of those days.”
Sam was quiet as she took her lunchbox out of her bag. It was bigger than the one she’d had the day before, and she set it on the table in between the two of them.
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” she said softly. “Here, have some of mine.”
She opened it. There was a lot of food, and when she handed Luke a fork, something clicked in his head.
“This… looks like it was meant for two people, Sam.”
She smiled at him, blushed a little, and then nodded slightly.
“Well, it was,” she said.
Luke’s heart shifted into a new rhythm. He was suddenly very aware of how close Sam was sitting to him. He suddenly felt the stress of the day melt away. He reached his fork over, stabbed a grape and popped it into his mouth.
“Thanks, Sam,” he said. “This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time.”
“Luke…” Sam had an embarrassed look on her face. She frowned. “I have to be honest, I was going to share this with