A sadistic boy is isolated at school.
The outdated film projector displayed an equally outdated war movie. Any chance of the class paying attention was destroyed by the production’s terrible quality. Even Lucas Amory, the boy in the back who had some sort of passion for World History, wouldn’t have been able to name which war the movie was portraying if his life depended on it.
It was only when the movie’s first gunshot sounded that anyone offered their attention at all. The entire class let out a collective gasp at the sight of a bullet penetrating a soldier’s torso, ultimately killing him. This, however, excluded Lucas.
He did not gasp, but rather smiled to himself. Anyone idiotic enough to be killed, he believed, deserved whatever came to them. To many, having such a mindset might have been unimaginable. To Lucas, it was a necessity of survival.
“What's so funny, Luke?” Mr. Kinsley—the World History teacher— asked once the film had ended, obviously having noticed the huge smile on his student’s face.
Luke immediately reddened despite the fact that he had expressed these beliefs both publicly and loudly on numerous occasions.
“Nothing,” he answered quickly, noticing each of his classmates turning to look at him.
“It can't be nothing,” the teacher pressed. “Please, enlighten me.”
His fellow students began to laugh, which made the situation ten times worse. Luke hated them for doing what they'd always done, humiliating him.
“It really is nothing, sir.”
“You've got a lot of nerve, you know, plastering a big smile on your face when we're learning about those who died for our country.” Mr. Kinsley eyed him one last time before jumping into a class discussion about the film.
Luke’s dislike for Mr. Kinsley grew. Wasn’t he aware of the pure beauty that was natural selection? What a stupid man; so stupid, for not seeing what Luke saw. In fact, the entirety of his History class was made up of senseless morons. They were the type of people dumb enough to get themselves killed one day. So what, though? The sooner, the better.
Because of similar situations, Luke found himself seriously lacking in the friend department. And while he knew he only had himself to blame, the isolation he'd suffered throughout the majority of his academic career was near enough to drive him mad. The twelve years of schooling he had to suffer through felt more like a twelve year prison sentence. Although, time in prison might have consisted of less ostracization.
Lunch had to be one of the worst aspects of the school day.
Not only did the room smell absolutely terrible, but the entire period was just another punch in the face by isolation itself.
As always, Luke trudged into the cafeteria alone with his brown lunch bag. And as always, he made his way to the only empty table in the entire lunchroom, which happened to be placed directly in the middle of everyone else. He might as well have spent each lunch period standing on his empty table and screaming, “Look at me, everyone! I'm Lucas Amory, and I have no friends!”
The worst part was he didn't even have to yell for people to look at him. They always did, pointing, laughing, or getting in their daily dose of school shooter jokes. He despised each and every one of them.
Because of the incident during World History, he received extra stares today. To keep himself from completely losing his mind, he had a daily routine of counting each crack in the wooden lunch table as his unopened brown bag sat beside him. Luke had spent over two and a half years in high school, and the number of cracks hadn't changed once. He recounted all forty-five nonetheless.
He was on twenty-two when someone cleared their throat. It was most likely one of the football players, as they always found fun in approaching him now and again, so he decided not to look up.
“Hey,” a girl’s voice said. Luke looked up. Strawberry blonde hair, and a smile that was quite big, as smiles go.
“Hi,” he mumbled, going back to counting. He knew this was a joke, and he hated her for it. She sat across from him and folded her hands on top of the table.
“How are you?”
Keeping his head down, Luke replied, “Listen, I know this is some sort of prank you got put up to, but these have gotten old. Find something else to do, please.”
“What? This isn't a prank. I'm Jupiter, and I thought you seemed lonely.”
“I know who you are,” he said, finally meeting her eyes. “You're in a few of my classes. And for the record, Jupiter is one of the dumbest names I've ever heard. It's like if my parents named me Mars.”
She ignored his comment about her name.
“Do I seem like the kind of person who would play a prank on you?”
“Honestly? I wouldn't put it past you, or almost anyone else. Besides, I know for a fact you've got friends who would put you up to this.”
Jupiter rolled her eyes and jabbed her thumb towards the lunch table directly behind her.
“Does it look like they want me talking to you?” Luke looked over her shoulder to see an entire group of people frowning in their direction. He sighed.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Exactly. And those are my friends. I don't think it's fair for anyone to say things about you when they don't even know you. I’ve had enough of it.”
“Hard to believe you think any differently than the rest of them,” he murmured, his gaze falling to his hands. “Why shouldn't I assume you don’t see me as a big fucking joke when almost every other person does?”
“Because none of them have ever gotten the chance to get to know you. If anything, it’s hard to believe anyone could be so close-minded.” She pushed a lock of ginger hair behind her ear. “So, tell me, Luke, what's your favorite color?”
“I want to know more about you. Like your favorite color, for instance. I don't think there's any reason to believe you're not as interesting as everyone else.”
“You're kidding. There is no way someone did not put you up to this.” He looked back at Jupiter’s lunch table. Miraculously, the group still frowned at both of them. It almost upset Luke, how genuinely angry Jupiter’s friends appeared to be. “Okay, fine, uh, it’s red.”
After each excruciating school day, Luke sought solace at his local Burger King.
Along with near daily trips to the fast-food restaurant came one of the only friendly human interactions Luke could look forward to every day. This source of communication came in the form of a sixteen-year-old girl named Maureen; someone who happened to be an employee at the very place Luke considered his safe haven.
Since Luke began frequently visiting Burger King during his freshman year, the two hit it off immediately. Conveniently, despite the fact both shared the same hometown, as well as age, they did not attend the same school. Maureen belonged to a private school, which basically meant Luke was in no way obligated to share the awful reputation he carried at his own school.
Without exceptions, he purchased the same menu item each time; three orders of fries. Following routine, he would take his tray of fries and bring them to the same booth in back of the restaurant. It wouldn't take long for Maureen to find him and strike up a conversation after that.
Today, though, Luke felt strange. The whole ordeal with Jupiter had left him utterly confused. Why had it taken nearly three years for anyone to approach him so kindly? Long after the bell had rung, and throughout their last classes of the day, Jupiter had remained nice to him. Was it just a very dedicated joke?
When Maureen approached him, he merely picked at his fries, unimpressed with her presence. Normally, he’d have loved to talk to her, loved to secretly admire her chocolate-colored eyes, caramel skin, and head of dark brown curls, but Jupiter had temporarily changed him today. He was much too confused with the day’s events to give Maureen a good amount of his attention.
“Have I changed at all?” The question was sudden, but it felt necessary to ask. He kept his head facing downwards, still too overcome with thought to do much else.
She slid into the seat across from Luke, the sound of it causing him to look at her. Maureen folded her hands on top of the table. The way she did so allowed Luke to think back at how Jupiter made a similar motion with her hands earlier. He proceeded to go back to facing the table.
“To be honest, not really. Why? Were you trying to?”
He ran a hand through his straw-colored hair. The two’s lack of eye contact was becoming uncomfortable, but Luke continued to stare at the faux wooden surface his food was resting on.
“I don't know,” he mumbled to the table. “It's just, life events have been unfolding so strangely lately. People I never talk to are talking to me. . . It's stupid, I know.”
“It isn't stupid,” Maureen assured him softly. “Just because new people are coming your way doesn't mean you've changed. Maybe it's them who’ve changed.”
Luke frowned. Her way of thinking was even worse than his.
“You don't know me,” he said in an almost accusing tone. “I must've changed. Why would someone just suddenly feel the need to approach me? Someone I don't know, someone who doesn't know me. . . They must have seen something different.”
“You asked for an opinion, I gave you one.” She shrugged. “People can change their points of view. It isn't impossible. Why is a new person talking to you so surprising, anyways?”
Momentarily, Luke had completely forgotten that she didn't know about his reputation at school. He exhaled heavily.
“Let's say, this is the type of person who I don't typically interact with. I know that, this person knows that, but one day they decide to change things up and, you know, interact with me. Would you think it was a joke, or. . .?”
The type of people Luke didn't typically interact with technically was his entire school, but he decided that Maureen didn't need to know that.
“God, I don't know. A joke? What kind of joke would that be?”
“It could totally be a prank or something.” He finally met her eyes, giving her an impatient look. “You know, just forget I said anything. It's stupid.”
“People can change, Luke,” she said softly. “Maybe this person just wants to switch things up. You don't know. Why would anyone want to play a joke like that on you? That doesn't even sound like it'd be funny.”
Luke thought of similar jokes classmates had played on him before. He felt his face heat up slightly, causing him to look down again.
“Some people might find it funny,” he murmured. “Maybe even whole groups of people.”
A confused expression spread across Maureen’s face. Luke immediately knew he shouldn't have said that last thing, but he made no effort to take it back. Instead, he fiddled with a random french fry on his tray, waiting for her to say something.
“Are you okay?”
“Are people. . . being mean to you?”
Mentally, Luke panicked. His entire appetite disappeared. Scenarios of losing his only friend ran through his head, which only contributed to his anxiety. He wanted to slap himself. Why couldn't he just have shut up?
He forced himself to laugh. Even to him, it sounded forced, but he figured he could pull it off.
“No.” He forced a laugh again. “What do you mean?”
“Something's wrong. Do people normally play mean jokes on you? What do you mean, whole groups of people might find those kinds of pranks funny? I'm serious, Luke.”
“I mean, who doesn't get a joke played on them once or twice?” he asked, standing abruptly, tray in hand. He laughed nervously. “But no, no one’s playing mean jokes on me. Absolutely not.”
Maureen raised an eyebrow as he made his way to the trash with his leftover food.
Aside from Luke and Maureen, only one other person sat in the dining area of the restaurant, so it only took Maureen a moment’s hesitation to shout after him.
“Luke! Get back here!”