Read Our Song Online

Authors: A. Destiny

Our Song (4 page)

BOOK: Our Song
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here were two vegetarian tables
in the dining hall. They were marked by cardboard signs emblazoned with big green
s. I thought the signs were mortifying, but as people started to find their places at the big round tables—adults gravitated to one of them, kids to the other—I could tell they were proud of those green
s. Even smug.

As I stood next to the table, I bit my lip and placed a hand on my growling stomach. I was the kind of hungry that would
be satisfied by a salad.

My yearning for protein was only made worse by the aroma beginning to waft out of the kitchen—salty, earthy, and greasy in the best way.

Fried chicken.

Add hot sauce and you had my favorite food in the world.

I tried not to inhale too deeply. Why torture myself?

This turned out to be a good tactic for another reason. The wonderful aroma from the kitchen was suddenly replaced by another scent—acrid and musky.

What is that?! Burnt seaweed? Charred kale?
I thought desperately.
Is that what the vegetarians have to eat?!

“Hi, roomie!”

Annabelle practically skipped up to the table and smiled at me.

I should have known that someone like Annabelle—with her long, earth-goddess ringlets and her jangly third-world jewelry—would be a vegetarian. And not just an “oh, burgers make me bloated” vegetarian. No, she was definitely going to be one of those “save the world with soy!” types. With her willowy, muscular limbs, she looked like someone who existed on a diet of Swiss chard, quinoa, and yoga.

“Oh, hi,” I said, smiling weakly. “So you're a vegetarian? I mean, er, you're a vegetarian too?”

“Of course!” Annabelle said. “I mean, how could you

Then she launched into another cheery diatribe, her pretty brown eyes sparkling.

“. . . and oh my God, the
subsidies . . . and methane gas . . .”

As she went on (and on and on), Annabelle tossed her hair back over her shoulder. Another wave of the smoky smell hit me.

“Um, did you just do that smudging thing in our room?” I asked her.

“Yesssss!” Annabelle said rapturously. “It was incredible, Nell. I wish you'd been there. Talk about a total melding of the spirit, the corporeal, and nature, you know?”

No, I really,
I thought.

I must have looked grossed out in addition to confused, because Annabelle lifted a hank of her hair to her nose to give it a sniff.

“I know,” she admitted. “I totally reek.”

I laughed. “I wasn't going to say anything, but . . .”

“Whoa, what's that smell? Is that burnt sage?”

Annabelle and I both pivoted as a boy approached our table with a wrinkled nose. He was tall and lanky and had sand-colored curls that were just a little too long. His face was tan and freckly and pretty cute.

Annabelle jumped to her feet to face him. I braced myself. Was she going to launch into a lecture about respecting nature (even when nature smelled like overripe shoes)? Maybe she would try to explain that spiritual-corporeal melding thing to

But instead Annabelle just said, “Um, sorry about that.”

Then, after giving the boy a long look, she added, “I'm Annabelle.”

She pulled out the chair next to her, inviting the boy to sit down.

He smiled, big and toothy.

“I'm not a vegetarian,” he said. “So I don't think I'm supposed to take a spot here. But I wish I could have some of that sage dish
I smell. It reminds me of this butternut squash soup my grandma used to make.”

“Oh, so you
that scent?” Annabelle asked.

The boy shuddered. “No way! My grandma was a terrible cook. But she was the
grandma. That smell makes me miss her.”

The boy looked at the ceiling, his eyes a little distant as he clearly lost himself in some happy, if foul-smelling, memory.

When he came back to earth, he seemed to really
Annabelle for the first time, instead of just smelling her. His eyes went from murky to riveted. There was another long pause before he seemed to realize that he needed to say something. Anything.

“I'm”—the boy's eyes flickered to the big green
on our table—“not a vegetarian.”

He'd said this once already. But this time, his voice was full of regret.

Annabelle's shoulders sagged a bit too.

“Well,” she said, “I guess you better find a seat then. . . .”

“Owen,” the boy said.

He stuck his hand out, and Annabelle looked at it in surprise before giving it a shake.

Owen laughed self-consciously.

“Sorry,” he said, “that's another thing my grandma did—made me shake hands whenever I met someone new. I know it's kind of dumb, but I can never seem to lose the habit.”

“Oh,” Annabelle breathed.

I frowned at her back. Where was her lecture about honoring one's heritage or whatever?

As Owen headed across the dining hall, Annabelle watched him go with eyes as soft as melted chocolate.

“Annabelle,” I whispered to her. “Did you hear what the guy said? He's
not a vegetarian
. Don't you have some, y'know,
about that?”

“Hmmm?” she said vaguely. She was still staring after Owen, still speechless.

I noticed people starting to walk through the dining hall and remembered how meals worked at Camden. A few people from each table fetched big platters of food from the kitchen's service window. Then we ate our meals family-style off handmade crockery dishes and rustic cloth napkins. The idea was that tablemates would get to know one another more easily if they were constantly passing the potatoes.

When I was a kid at Camden, everybody at my table quickly learned that Nanny took her iced tea with a brimming tablespoon of simple syrup, that my little brother lived on bread and butter alone, and that I would hog the drumsticks on fried chicken night.

Today I figured I would hear everyone's vegetarian backstories. They'd probably talk about caged chickens and overfed pigs and insist that tempeh tasted even
than steak. After that, skulking away to eat meat at one of the other tables would become an impossibility, or at least, incredibly awkward.

With a sigh of resignation, I stood up to go fetch one of our
table's sad, tasteless, not-meat dishes. But as I turned to head to the kitchen, I narrowly missed crashing into a platter full of gloppy broccoli casserole.

“Ah!” I said, jumping backward.

That's when I saw who was holding the platter.

It was that fiddle student, Jacob.

“Oh, hi,” I said. “So you're a vegetarian too.”

Jacob cast a fishy glance at the giant green
that marked our table.

“Yeah, but what's with the scarlet letter?” he whispered. “I mean, even if it's not red, it's kind of in your face, isn't it?”

“Isn't that the point?” I replied, also whispering. “You know, to make people think twice about eating meat?”

“Well, if that's
point . . . ,” Jacob said. Now he was directing his fishy look at

“No!” I blurted. “Not even close. I'm not even veg—”

I clamped my mouth shut just in time. I glanced over Jacob's shoulder at the kitchen.

“There's more food up there, I hope?”

“Yup,” Jacob said, putting his casserole onto the table with a thunk. “I'll help you.”

As we walked toward the window, he added, “I'm glad it's not just, like, salad, aren't you?”

“I'm going to reserve my answer until after I've tasted the casserole,” I said. We reached the kitchen. The vegetarian food was placed on the left edge of the window's counter, far from the
platters of crispy chicken parts. I gave the fried meat a longing stare before grabbing some coleslaw and a basket of rolls. Jacob got a bowl of pickled beets and some deviled eggs.

“So, Annabelle's your roommate, right?” Jacob asked as we began wending our way back through the crowded dining hall. At this point, the torturous smell of the chicken was practically tangible. I found myself dodging plumes of the aroma, the way you sidestep travelers in a busy airport.

“Yeah,” I answered. “She seems cool. Very . . . informative.”

“She kind of reminds me of my older sister,” Jacob said. “Last summer, before she started her freshman year at Cornell, she acted like she had a PhD in life. It was like she knew everything about everything. One month in, she started calling my parents and crying about how dumb she felt.”

I snorted. “Well, that story's encouraging-slash-discouraging,” I said.

“I was going for funny-hyphen-sympathetic,” Jacob said, “but I'll take encouraging-slash-discouraging.”

Then he smiled at me.

It was such a bright smile, it made me wonder if he'd stopped thinking of me as my grandmother's handbag.

Just before we reached our table, I glanced at the basket of fluffy Parker House rolls in my hand.

“White bread,” I reported to Jacob. “I have a feeling Annabelle's not going to like this. She seems like a sprouted wheat kind of girl.”

“Maybe it would help if she made a sandwich out of these,” Jacob said, holding up his tray of deviled eggs. “If you ask me, mayonnaise makes everything taste better.”

“Then you'll feel right at home here,” I said. “We definitely have a bit of a mayo fixation in the South.”

“I guess it goes with the twang?” Jacob said.

I wouldn't know,” I said. “Since I don't have a twang.”

We'd arrived at our table. As he put down his serving dishes and took a seat, Jacob raised one eyebrow at me.

“What?” I demanded, sitting down myself. Only after I scooched my chair in and grabbed my napkin did I realize that I'd plunked myself into the chair next to Jacob's, even though there were three other open seats at the table, including one next to Annabelle. It had felt so natural, I hadn't even thought about it.

Meanwhile, Jacob was still doing that skeptical eyebrow thing.

me, I do
have a twang,” I said. “Twangs are country, and I've lived in a big city my whole life. Now Nanny—
got the twang.”

“Listen, I love Southern accents,” Jacob said, unfolding his napkin. “They're kind of musical, aren't they? There's a rhythm to all those extra syllables. And ‘y'all.' How awesome is ‘y'all'?”

I grinned and rolled my eyes.

“Oh, you Northerners,” I teased. “You think we're so quaint, don't you? Never mind that that's kind of

“Well, why do y'all care if y'all don't have a Southern accent?” Jacob said. He gave me another sly glance as he scooped broccoli casserole onto his plate.

This time, I laughed outright.

“Um, that's not exactly how you use it,” I said. “Y'all is plural, and
am singular.”

“But you
say y'all?” Jacob asked.

I say y'all,” I said with a shrug. “How else am I supposed to talk to people?
people, that is.”

“Up north we say ‘you guys,' ” Jacob said.

“Well, that's just
,” I said, giggling.

I turned away from him to check out the other vegetarians at our table. Most of them were girls whose style echoed Annabelle's. They had hair that tumbled romantically down their backs and bohemian clothes. Their eyes were alert, almost hungry. I wondered if they were on the lookout for cute boys and if they counted Jacob as one of them.

There was also a younger girl, maybe eleven, but you could tell she wanted us to think she was older. She wore a tank top and cutoff jeans and boots laced up to the knee. She'd chalked an electric-blue stripe into her shiny brown hair. She was listening intently to Annabelle, clearly trying to look like she knew what my roommate was talking about.

“. . . and Sadie, don't even get me started on GMOs . . . I mean, really, it's an issue of public
, don't you think?”

” Sadie said.

The corners of Jacob's mouth were doing that twitchy thing again.

“Annabelle,” he said, after taking a big bite of his lunch, “I'm not sure what public health officials would say about this broccoli casserole. There's a
of cheddar going on in there.”

“Oh,” Annabelle said, her face falling.

She looked like she'd never even used the word “casserole” before, much less eaten one.

“I hate to break it to you, Annabelle,” I said, “but you're in the South now. It's not tofu country.”

“What about salad?” Annabelle asked desperately. “Is it salad country?”

“Sure, there's gelatin salad, ambrosia salad, Waldorf salad, that coleslaw,” Jacob said, motioning to the creamy cabbage that was being passed around the table. “Is that what you mean? You
like mayonnaise, don't you?”

As Annabelle's caramel-colored cheeks went a little pale, Jacob laughed.

“Sorry,” he said. “My mom's always on a diet. The only mayo in our house is this really gross, fat-free goop. She won't even
cheese. So I'm kind of in love with this lunch.”

“Just add it to the list of stuff you adore about this place,” I said with a little laugh.

love it,” Jacob replied. “I bagged about two tons of groceries to pay for it.”

BOOK: Our Song
4.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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