Mentee: Mennen Gordon
Mentor: Judith Roland
“Luca” is an excerpt from a novel that Mennen is working on, set in a new world, a school for paranormal children. We collaborated by identifying this section as a stand-alone reading, then went back and forth with editing, as well as timing Mennen practicing reading it aloud. It was our first experience collaborating in this way.
Luca entered the dining hall when it was about half full, with all the early risers and people who had business to attend to in the morning sleepily spooning cheerios—or whatever else there was to eat—into their tired little mouths.
Luca walked over to the cereal bar and fixed himself a bowl with a combination of Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Raisin Bran, Kix, Lucky Charms, and something labeled “Vegan Alternative,” which made Luca wonder what was in the cereal. And since there was no cereal box to read as he ate, he kept pondering this while he walked to an empty table and spooned Cheerios and whatever else there was to eat into his own tired little mouth.
Luca finished his cereal and began to swirl the grey milk and the leftover raisins and stared into the bowl. It looked foggy, like a crystal ball you would find in a hack psychic’s shop. Luca never understood why there was always this mysterious fog shielding you from seeing into the ball. A real crystal ball was left as clear for the asker to see into as it was for the psychic.
Luca looked up from his bowl, preparing to dump the milk out. He noticed a girl sitting cater-corner to him. She had blonde hair with blue tips, tanned skin, and freckles everywhere. He began to study her face, burning it into his memory. After almost a minute she looked up from her toast and gazed directly at Luca. She gave him an awkward closed-mouth smile and quickly avoided his eyes.
Another minute passed, “I’m Luca.”
She gave him that same awkward smile, “Marina.”
He swirled his milk some more before turning back to her, “Are you a freshman?”
“You don’t have any friends?”
She pulled her eyebrows together, “I’m new.”
“But what about your roommate?” he asked, jumping to the next seat closer to her when he thought she wasn’t looking.
“Well, she’s nice and all, but she’s got her brother and her own friends and stuff, and she sleeps really late,” she looked up at Luca again before clamping her mouth shut.
“I haven’t got any friends,” Luca confessed to her.
“What about your roommate?” she mimicked.
“He’s an asshole,” Luca chuckled to himself.
“Well, I’ve known him since we were freshman, but he seemed a lot cooler before we had to live together. We’ve only shared a room for a night so far, but he’s got all these weird habits. Like, he wears a retainer, but insists on putting it into a glass with water like an old lady with dentures. And, he schedules bathroom breaks for himself when he sleeps. He woke me up three times last night, once at 1:30, and then at 3:30, and then again at 5:30.”
Marina’s eyes grew to the size of saucers, “So if he didn’t he would potentially wet his bed like a child?”
Luca shrugged, “I guess.”
“And you said he’s popular?” she giggled like a little kid.
“Oh my god he shouldn’t be allowed friends!” she squealed, slamming her hands onto the table in a fit of laughter. “You’re funny Luca.”
A ripple spread through the milk.
“Hey Marina!” a female voice called from behind the Luca. He looked over to see a thin, brown-haired girl waving at Marina.
“That’s my roommate, Hanbi,” Marina said, waving back. “She’s irritatingly perky, but she means well.” Marina picked up her plate and stepped away from the chair, “I should probably go sit with her.”
Luca nodded. “Yeah.”
“At least she’s not a bed wetter.”
Luca chuckled, “At least.”
“I’ll see you around I guess, Luca,” Marina said as she got up to leave and Luca stared at her as she walked away from his table.
Luca watched as Marina walked with a pretty girl, and a boy he assumed to be her brother, and another boy who Luca guessed was about their age too. Luca sighed and walked to the compost to pour out the milk. He watched the cloudy liquid fall in a steady stream from the bowl. He waved his hand and the bowl disappeared, and then rematerialized in a stack with the other dishes. His hands turned red because of the heat he needed to make the magic to eliminate as much movement as he could from his daily life.
Luca began to walk across the white-tiled linoleum to the big double doors.
“Luca!” he heard called over his shoulder. He turned to the direction of the voice.
It was Marina, “Do you want to sit with us?”
Luca looked at the other three kids who didn’t seem to acknowledge his existence. “I’m not eating anymore.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she still smiled at him, “See ya!”
“Yeah,” he said, speedily walking out of the cafeteria. He wished he could punch himself in the face. He wished he could go back in and get more cereal mixture and sit next to Marina and make her laugh. But he tried not to wish too hard, because with his iffy magic he might actually find all of these things coming true. So instead, Luca opted to walk up the stairs and sit outside of the building, letting the warm summer air slap him across the face.