As the class is leaving homeroom, Barry compliments Ishmael on his new girlfriend and shoves Ishmael’s shoulder. James Scobie watches Barry leave and asks if Barry is a friend. Ishmael says no, which makes James smile. Then, the boys head to Study of Society with Mr. Barker, who’s also the vice principal. Barry is also in this class. When Ishmael and James enter the classroom, Ishmael looks for empty desks. One is in the back by Barry and Danny, two are in the middle, and one is next to Bill Kingsley and the teacher’s desk. That one is perfect. And Miss Tarango didn’t stipulate that Ishmael has to sit right next to James the entire time. He doesn’t want to make things even worse for himself with Barry.
Here, Barry combines verbal and physical bullying to torment Ishmael—and send a message to James that he isn’t welcome here. Ishmael seems to be nervous to be more honest, or more open, with James, possibly because he’s convinced that James will instantly become Barry’s favorite target. Friendship, in this situation, isn’t an option for Ishmael because he’s far too focused on just getting through the day unscathed. This is also why choosing a desk is such an ordeal for Ishmael.
Ishmael usually avoids Bill Kingsley, but he’s never wanted to sit next to him so badly. There’s nothing wrong with the guy; he’s just very big and very into sci-fi and fantasy. Fortunately, James tells Ishmael they don’t have to sit together. James takes the desk in the middle of the room and arranges his books and pens. Ishmael stands still, staring at his options—until Mr. Barker tells Ishmael to sit. Ishmael hurries to the seat next to James and gazes at the empty one next to Bill. James gives Ishmael a smile and a nod, as though he knows everything Ishmael has been thinking. Ishmael figures that if he’s going down, he might as well have a good view.
What Ishmael has to say about Bill Kingsley reveals how the social structure at St. Daniel’s works. Ishmael defines Bill by this one characteristic (Bill’s love of sci-fi and fantasy) and, though there’s nothing wrong with Bill, goes out of his way to avoid him. He essentially sees Bill as a one-dimensional caricature, even though he seems to know there’s more to Bill than meets the eye. James’s knowing look suggests he understands how things work at St. Daniel’s—and how difficult this is for Ishmael.