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"Wow, it's crowded!" Jenna exclaimed when she and Peter stepped through the open cafeteria doors. It was surprising to see so many students staying after school voluntarily, no matter how good the reason. "Where do you want to sit?"
Peter shrugged. "You pick. Anywhere's fine with me."
Jenna wove through the long crowded tables until she found two places near the front of the room.
She and Peter had just taken their seats when the meeting was called to order by Hank Lundgreen.
"Okay, people, listen up!" Hank bellowed from behind a podium brought in for the occasion. The school hadn't provided a microphone, but from what Jenna had heard so far, that wasn't going to be a problem. "We've got a lot to do this afternoon, so sit down and let's get to it."
Hank paused maybe three seconds, barely long enough for anyone still left standing to drop to the floor, before resuming his address. "Okay. First, thanks for coming out today. The team's put a lot of planning into this carnival, but we wouldn't be able to pull it off without the help of the cheerleaders and the support of all of you."
A wild, spontaneous cheer sounded from the left side of the cafeteria. Jenna turned her head to see the cheerleaders gathered there, sitting with the football team.
"So, here's the deal," Hank continued. "Everything's all planned. We've already figured out all the booths and rides and ordered what we need. We're getting a free ad in the Clearwater Herald, and I think the local TV news is going to pick us up too. We're expecting a huge crowd, so now we need to man those booths."
There was a loud, disapproving hiss from the cheerleaders.
"What?" Hank protested: "Oh, come on. Woman the booths? Person the booths, all right?"
The cheerleaders applauded.
"Anyway," Hank continued, shaking his head, "there's a player or a cheerleader or both in charge of every concession. I'm going to call the booth leaders up here one at a time to say what they're working on and how many helpers they need. If you want to volunteer for that booth, stand up. The booth leaders will pick out the people they need, then take their groups outside to discuss the details. Okay? Any questions?"'
No one said anything.
"All right, then." Hank consulted a wrinkled sheet of notebook paper. "Josh Stockton."
Jenna watched as Josh swaggered up to the podium. His size was amazing for a high-school kid, and he was clearly proud of it. "I've got security," he announced importantly. "I only need a couple more guys, because we're using mostly players. Big guys," he corrected as boys leapt to their feet like crazy to grab that prestigious assignment.
"I guess that lets me out," Peter quipped to Jenna. He clenched his fists and tightened all the muscles in his skinny torso, as if showing off a bodybuilder's physique.
"You're as tall as he is," Jenna returned loyally.
Peter laughed. "I'm sure they're dying to have me on security, but I'd rather do something with you." Josh eventually selected two imposing candidates, then herded his group out of the cafeteria.
Hank consulted his list again. "Jesse Jones!"
A tall, brown-haired guy Jenna couldn't remember seeing before took the podium, along with Melanie Andrews, the new sophomore cheerleader.
"Melanie and I have the main food concession," Jesse announced. "We'll be cooking and serving hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as chips and lemonade. We're going to be busy all day, so we'll need six people. Any volunteers?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Jenna saw a girl with blond hair spring eagerly to her feet, her arm stretched high in the air. No one else stood up.
"Yeah, okay, Nicole. Anyone else?" The confident expression on Jesse's face eroded somewhat as he looked repeatedly back and forth across the room for additional volunteers. No one else was standing. Jenna glanced at Melanie Andrews. The popular blonde usually seemed too cool to let anything faze her, but now her exceptionally pretty face was starting to mirror the strain on Jesse's. And there was still nobody standing. Jenna was glad Kurt wasn't there to see such a lack of enthusiasm.
"No one else wants to volunteer because cooking hamburgers is probably the worst job they've got," she whispered to Peter. "Hot and greasy and plain hard work."
Peter nodded. "I know. Want to do it?"
At times like this Jenna remembered why Peter was her best friend. "Sure," she said with a smile.
Peter and Jenna stood up.
"Oh, good." Jesse was clearly relieved. "Come on up, you two."
They had just finished crossing to join their new group when someone else stood up. "Okay. You," Jesse called gratefully, pointing.
"I've seen that girl before," Peter whispered to Jenna as the new volunteer walked toward them. "What's her name again?"
Jenna tried to remember. The most recent addition was tall and willowy, with shoulder-length brown hair and light olive skin. She crossed the room gracefully, her head held high. "I think it's Leah," Jenna whispered back.
"Great! Thanks, Miguel," Jesse said loudly, causing Jenna's attention to whip back to the podium.
Was it possible? It was! She hadn't even seen him in the room, but now Miguel del Rios was coming to join them.
What incredible luck! Jenna thought, an ache in her cheeks from smiling too hard. This must be my reward for doing the right thing!
"Hi," Miguel whispered to them all as he reached the growing group.
"We need one more person here," Jesse announced. "Come on, people, this is for Kurt."
"I'll do it!" a boy's voice piped up. "I'll join."
The group turned in unison to see its final member--a nerdy-looking kid with straight blond hair parted down the middle and thick horn-rimmed glasses. He looked at least two years younger than any of the rest of them and he stumbled clumsily as he made his way through the tables, tripping repeatedly over feet, books, and backpacks.
"Oh, perfect," Jenna heard the girl named Nicole mutter under her breath. "It's Screech from Saved by the Bell."
"Screech is taller," Miguel whispered back.
The girl smiled appreciatively. "And a snappier dresser."
"Hi!" the kid said when he finally reached their group. He thrust his right hand out in front of him, a shy, embarrassed smile on his face. "I'm Ben Pipkin."
Everyone froze and stared in horror--everyone but Peter. "Hi, Ben," he said, stepping forward to shake Ben's hand. "I'm Peter. And this is my best friend, Jenna."
"Leah Rosenthal," the tall girl said, stepping forward to shake as well.
"Miguel del Rios." Miguel didn't shake.
They all turned expectantly to the blonde. "Nicole Brewster," she said automatically, barely looking at them. Her almost unnaturally blue eyes were fixed instead on Jesse and Melanie, who were just walking over to the group.
"Okay, everyone. Thanks for helping," Jesse said. The way he looked Ben over while he said it seemed to imply he wasn't too sure about his final volunteer.
Jenna felt a stab of sympathy for Ben. He hadn't even said anything yet, and half the group was already against him. Ben wasn't the coolest guy Jenna had ever seen--and he certainly wasn't the smoothest--but he still deserved a chance. Jenna decided to be extra nice to him, to compensate for the others.
"Let's go outside," Melanie suggested. "There's a good spot behind the cafeteria."