Charlie Lee Was Eating Lunch Alone
A Short Story by Lukas Sherman
Written using the suggestion "Lunchroom"
Originally featured on 07-24-2007
As part of our series "Out of the Sandwich"

Charlie Lee was eating lunch alone. It was corn dog Thursday at Bolton Middle School. Charlie wasn’t very hungry though and hadn’t even touched his soggy tater tots or his green jello. He took a forlorn sip of chocolate milk. Jack Lawrence came and sat down.

"Hey Charlie."

"Hey Jack." Jack and Charlie were lab partners in chemistry. Charlie was pretty sure he had been paired with Jack because of Jack’s chemistry impairment. Charlie usually had do to all the lab work, which didn’t seem fair.

Jack was one of the biggest eighth graders in the school and he ate his corn dog, slathered in bbq sauce, in three swift bites. The tater tots were quickly dispatched as well. Charlie poked at his jello with a plastic spoon.

"Why aren’t you eating?" Jack asked, mouth full of chocolate chip cookie.

"I’m not hungry."

"Can I have your tater tots?"

"Sure." Jack reached over and scooped up a handful.

"Thanks."

Charlie took another sip of his chocolate milk and looked at his watch. 10 more minutes of lunch.

"What’s your shirt mean?"

Charlie was wearing a red shirt with a white Q on the front and the words "Knowledge is power." On the back was his last name and the number 16.

"Oh, it’s our quiz team, the Quizards. I’m on it."

"I didn’t know we had a quiz team."

"Most people don’t. It’s not popular like sports or anything. We compete with other schools. We have state next week."

A couple boys in backwards baseball caps walked by and one said. "Nice shirt. You should be the Queerzards!" His friends slapped him five.

Charlie shook his head. "Stupid jerks." He took his tray and stood up. "See you later Jack."

"Bye. Thanks for the tater tots. See you in class."

Charlie dumped his food and went outside to the playground.

 

Charlie was in eighth grade and had been on the Quizards since sixth grade, along with his co-captain, Jennifer Sanchez. They hadn’t done very well their first year, but last year they won their district and were third in state. Mr. Overstreet, their advisor, thought they had a good chance to win state this year. The team was five members, with two alternates. Each member tried to focus on several categories. Charlie was the literature/arts/culture specialist. Jennifer was history/current events.

For practice, Charlie and his parents read three trivial pursuit cards at dinner every night. After dinner, Charlie wrote down the answers in a notebook. He also watched "Jeopardy," read various trivia books, and was working his way through volume 2 of the encyclopedia. Anything he thought might show up in the quiz went in his notebook. Topics ranged from geography to word origins to pop culture.

This year had been going well until Brad Birch transferred in last fall. His family moved here from California and he was immediately well-known and well-liked, especially by the girls. And for reasons unclear to Charlie, he joined the Quizards. Guys like Brad usually played sports or ran for class office. He started as an alternate, but after filling in for Jason Callahan, who got mono, and doing especially well against Athey Creek, he was bumped up to first team. Since then, he had become the undisputed star of the Quizards. Students even started to come to their matches, something that rarely happened.

Charlie had two bad matches in row, nearly losing it for them last week when he incorrectly identified Tom Sawyer as the first book written on a typewriter (It was Huck Finn). After school today, the team was going to vote whether or not to replace Charlie as co-captain. "Brad’s a winner. He should be in the spotlight. He’s cuter too." Charlie had overheard a female teammate say a few days ago.

 

The bell rang and Charlie slowly picked up his books and made his way to Mr. Overstreet’s room. The rest of the team was already there. Jennifer was sitting next to Brad and wouldn’t look at him. Only Andy Bell, a seventh grader, gave him a half-hearted smile.

"OK gang, we’ve got a buy week ahead of us. State’s next week and we’ve got lots of brushing up to do, especially in geography and lit. Those have been our Achilles' Heel these last few matches. Hilltop is very strong all around. I’ve watched the tapes. They don’t miss many. So Jennifer I want you to do extra duty on geography. They like to have questions related to current events, so spend more time on the middle east."

Jennifer nodded. "I have a map up in my bedroom. I’m copying out all the major cities and rivers."

"Good work. That’s the spirit. Now I know we’re all busy with school too, but every available free minute needs to be spent prepping. Eighth graders, this is your last shot. I know we can do it this year." He cleared his throat. "Now one more thing. It’s been requested that we have a vote about changing co-captains. This isn’t my idea, but this is your team. It’s really only a symbolic position anyway, so it’s not a big deal."

He gave each student a piece of paper. "OK, so if you want Brad to take over for state, write his name. If you want to stick with Charlie, write his name. Charlie and Brad won’t vote, of course."

Charlie shifted nervously in his seat and his watched his teammates quickly write down a name and give it to Mr. Overstreet. He opened each one and then crumpled them up.

"Alright team, we’ve got four for Brad and one for Charlie. So that’s it for today. Go home and study." Brad smiled and Jennifer squeezed his arm.

Charlie wasn’t surprised, but still couldn’t believe he’d been pushed out. At least he got one vote. As he walked out, Jennifer came up to him.

"I’m sorry Charlie."

"I don’t care. Maybe I'll just quit."

"You're a valuable part of this team. We need you. Don’t take this the wrong way."

"What’s the right way to take it? I’ve been on this team since sixth grade. I’ve got to go."

She started to say something, but he was out in the hall and didn’t hear her. He went out to wait for the activity buses and study Trivial Pursuit cards.

Read More By Lukas Sherman

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