Dinner time is weird. Georgia tried to ‘go with the flow’ and ‘just have fun’ and ‘meet people’ and…whatever else the adults suggested, but she couldn’t get past the weirdness. Every human being on the farm packed into one room, sat at two long tables, and ate a buffet-style meal. Every. Single. Night.

At first it was exciting, then it was interesting, but now it was just weird. And loud. Very loud.

Georgia’s mom was chatting with some guy with a dragon tattoo on his left arm and a burn mark on his right hand. They’d started an uncomfortable discussion about farm animals when Georgia asked about the burn. She listed to them talk about travel and budgeting and other boring adult stuff – until it became clear he wasn’t going to answer her question. Then she started looking around for someone else to talk to, but the only kid nearby was her brother.

Dinner was some kind of meat in a thick sauce. Georgia thought it might be Bar-B-Que and decided to try the vegan hot-dish instead. It was OK. The salad had crunchy bits and dressing already mixed-in and the fancy desserts looked uninteresting.

Soon, the room would begin to wind down and Georgia could excuse herself, stuff a chocolate chip cookie into her pocket and escape to her room. She was lost in thoughts about the half-read novel sitting on her desk when Jeff, her brother, poked her arm to get her attention.

“Why do we have to sit together?” Jeff asked.

Georgia made a face. They had the same conversation almost every night.

“Families sit together.” She replied. “We have to.” She added, as if that settled the matter.

“I want to sit next to Ryan.”

Georgia made another face. Ryan was Jeff’s best friend. They did everything together. Ryan was OK, for a boy, but his sister, Riley, could be a pain. Georgia did not want to sit next to Riley.

“Charlene likes to talk to Rick and mom likes to talk to Alletta.” Georgia replied. “Alletta doesn’t like to sit next to Rick.”

“Can’t you and Riley just be nice during dinner? This is boring.”

Georgia sighed. Obviously, Jeff didn’t believe the families were required to sit next to mom-friends. This was going to turn into another long family conversation, she could see it in his eyes. Trying to explain that it wasn’t just about being polite or talking nice during dinner. It was about Riley, who could be very mean and sneaky, especially when she was bored. Riley was bored a lot.

“What about Sophie, Olive and Billy?” Georgia asked, latching onto the first reasonably safe family she could locate.

“You’ll be nice to Sophie?” Jeff asked, clearly not entirely believing her.

“We’re in the same class,” Georgia replied, rolling her eyes. “I’m nice to her everyday.” Which was true. Sophie was quiet and like to read, just like Georgia. They never shared a conversation, but they were very polite about the school supplies.

“Mom!” Jeff shouted, reaching across Georgia to grab their mother’s arm and pull, nearly causing a plate of food to fall from the table.

“Jeffery!” Their mother scolded.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

“What?” Mom was now exasperated and Georgia was to shocked and confused to say something.

“Georgia has a friend!” Jeff announced excitedly. “She actually said she can be nice to someone. Can we sit next to Billy next time? Pleeeeaaasee?”

“I…” Mom started, looking at her children in a state of wordless surprise.

Georgia just started at her brother with a mixture of embarrassment and rage. She could feel her face turning bright red, which only made her angrier.

“We’ll talk about this when we get home.” Mom stated, ending the conversation.

“I’m done.” Georgia replied. “I’m leaving.”

Mom paused a moment before agreeing, but made it very clear Georgia was expected to go straight home.

Stomping her feet and pulling apart random weeds that she ripped out of the ground along the path back to their house, Georgia thought about what Jeff said and got even angrier. At home, she dropped on her bed and stared at the chocolate chip cookie for a long time before finally eating it and picking up a notebook to doodle in while she thought and thought and thought.

When mom and Jeff arrived, Jeff was positively bouncing with the good news – they were going to sit next to Billy tomorrow night and Georgia could actually talk to her one and only friend, Sophie.

Mom sent Jeff to his room.

“Alright Georgia,” she said, sitting on Georgia’s bed. “Out with it. What’s really going on?”

It was going to be a long night.

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