Rule number one: never be noticed
Salman Page chose a table in the far corner of the Springfalls Junior High cafeteria, next to a mural of brown and purple swirls--ugly, but he'd be harder to see against it. He kept his back to the wall and his head down, letting his shoulder-length hair hide most of his brown face. He wanted to be, to the casual observer, a kid intent on his meal of meat loaf and mashed potatoes. A few kids sat two tables away, not talking much. This part of the cafeteria was for losers. Salman thought that was just fine.
He glanced around once before he unscrewed the silver cap from his juice bottle, wiped it with his napkin, and slid it into his breast pocket. A skinny girl approached. She was midsized with short, light brown hair and a friendly face. Salman concentrated on his mashed potatoes. The kids at the other table must know her.
"Hi," she said.
She was talking to Salman. He raised his head slowly. She smiled and pushed her glasses up her nose.
"Are you Salman Page?"
Who was this kid?
"Salman," he said, emphasizing the L. He wasn't some kind of fish.
"Sorry." She paused. "I'm Lu Zimmer, your designated buddy."
She sat down and placed her lunch bag and a box of chocolate milk on the table.
Salman frowned. Because of a mix-up with his state files, his transfer here for seventh grade didn't happen until two days before school started. No one had assigned him a designated buddy. When Ms. R, his homeroom teacher, had asked him whether he got along with his d.b., he had no idea what she was talking about.
"Deebee?" he said.
"It's short for designated buddy," Ms. R said. "An eighth-grade mentor."
"Don't have one," he said. Ms. R radiated disapproval.
"I'll make the arrangements."
Salman didn't need a designated buddy. He wished Ms. R had never asked him about it.
Lu Zimmer plowed ahead.
"I'm supposed to meet with you, walk you around the school, show you how things work. That kind of stuff." "I've walked around already."
School had started a week and a half ago. What did she expect? Lu hesitated.
"Maybe we can talk about your teachers."
Salman was about to tell her that he didn't need to talk about his teachers when they were interrupted.
A gangly white boy with wiry orange hair and a face full of pimples lurched over, carrying an oversized lunch bag. He towered above them.
"May I join you?" he said.
Before either Lu or Salman could answer, the boy sat down next to Lu and emptied the contents of his sack onto the table.
"I heard Ms. R made you a d.b.," the boy continued in his too-loud voice.
Lu reddened, and her smile strained.
"Salman Page," she said, "this is Blos Pease."
Blos turned to Lu.
"You are his d.b., right?"
"Yes, Blos," Lu said.
Her smile was fading. Blos focused on Salman.
"Did you know Lu and I had the same d.b. last year?"
Salman gave only the slightest shake of his head.
"It is true. We used to have lunch with her, all the time."
This last statement refocused Blos onto his own lunch. He removed the items from each of the four separate sandwich bags and lined them up in front of him.
Blos took a deep breath, hands hovering over the sandwich. He blinked at Salman and let his hands drop.
What now? Salman wondered.
Blos's lower lip covered his upper. He stared hard at Salman. His hands kept approaching his sandwich and then retreating. Salman almost looked forward to what was going to happen next. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Come Fall by A.C.E. Bauer. Copyright © 2010 by A.C.E. Bauer. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.