[This is the 5th and last post in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”. To start at the beginning of the story, click this link.]
Edit: To assuage the fears of some of my readers, the title is metaphoric. I was not an accomplished arsonist in 2nd grade.
Week 7, Day 1, Hour -1 My sister and I were waiting at the bus stop. I had my minutes sheet in my hand, staring at what I’d accomplished. Two thousand minutes in a week wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my best. My sister had actually beat me this time, with her two thousand three hundred minutes. Her goal was to beat my total, but that was her being my adorable little sister. She never liked being younger, and would often try to do what I was doing just to prove that she was my equal or even superior. There she stood, smiling away because she liked to read and she’d beaten her big brother at his own game. She was so proud of herself, and I was a bit proud of her also. I couldn’t believe the girls were willing to destroy an innocent bystander in order to win a reading competition.
I had a lot of time to think my situation over. I wasn’t responsible for the actions of the girls. If they decided to start treating my sister terribly, that was all on them. The trick of the girls’ hostage situation is that they tried to make it look like it was my fault if they decided to be monsters. I wasn’t going to take responsibility for their actions. Still, the girls had an objective, which was no longer to win the reading competition but to make me give in to their bullying. They had one move left, and they would play it if I didn’t look like I’d surrendered. I didn’t want to set the stage so the girls could release their inner demons on my sister.
So I told Kristen about what was happening. She listened, tilting her head to the side as I explained the finer details of what was going on. She looked very solemn during the entire story, until I finished with the threats made to her in the girls’ bathroom.
Kristen nodded twice when I finished, than dug around in her backpack, pulling out her minutes sheet. She looked me in the eye and tore the sheet down the middle, folded it, then tore it again. I tried to grab her hands to make her stop, but she wouldn’t, she crumpled them up and threw them in the air like confetti.
“Kristen! You can’t just throw away your minutes! You worked hard for that. You poured everything you are into getting those minutes. You gave up cartoons and playing with friends and recess for that. You can’t just throw away everything you’ve earned just because some girls threatened your brother.”
Kristen walked up to me and poked me in the chest, locking eye contact with me. I was short enough that she was about the same height, and I felt the need to step back, but I didn’t dare. She uttered a single word with all of the wisdom her tiny self could muster.
I nodded. She was right.
I knew what I had to do. “Can you put up with some trouble for the next two weeks?”
“If you’ve been doing it for six, I can do it for two. Girls don’t always need to be rescued. I’ll be fine. You can’t let bad people stop you from doing good things.”
I smiled at her. “Thanks Kristen. It meant a lot to me. But you didn’t have to tear up your minutes.”
She shrugged at me. “I didn’t. Those were the minutes from last week.”
My sister was a genius. I had a plan.
Week 7, Day 1, Hour 0 I had the bus driver sign the minute sheets for my sister and me. Without a spare minutes sheet (I never kept track of old papers), I needed to sneak my minutes past whatever offense the girls launched and get it to Ms Hotchkiss. I leapt from the bus and ran to my school, but was stopped short when a barricade of girls kept the doors shut. Other students were filtering through, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to. The girls had foreseen the obvious move.
“Hey Steve. Have fun reading last night?” It was the leader from the restroom, a girl named Jessica, who I had looked up in last year’s year book.
“Hello Jessica. As a matter of fact, I did. Would you please move so I can get to class?”
She held out her hand expectantly. I looked at it, feigning confusion. Jessica sighed with exasperation. “Hand over the minutes sheet, stupid.”
I turned around and looked behind me. “Is there someone else here that you’re talking to? Because I don’t respond to that. But if you want to stand out here until we both get in trouble for being tardy, I’m happy to wait. I know it’ll be easy for me to explain why I’m out here.”
“Give me the sheet.”
“Where are my books? I’m not giving you the sheet if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain.” The books materialized, each of them in good shape, and held out of arm’s reach. I looked at each of them and nodded. “Good, you brought all of them. Now if you wouldn’t mind, please hand over your reading sheets to me.”
The girls looked confused. Jessica stepped forward. “That wasn’t a part of our deal.”
I shrugged. “We’re negotiating a new deal, a second deal. My deal is that you can hand over my library books right now or I start screaming ‘they stole my books!’ while pointing at each of you. There are too many witnesses for you to back out now, and I won’t take those books from you if you try to thrust them on me.
Jessica stepped on my foot, leaning over me for maximum intimidation. “I’m not going to get bullied by the likes of you.”
I smiled at her, wincing through the pain. “Neither am I. You can either hand over my books or your reading sheets. I don’t care which. One shout from me and it’s all over for you. You’ve still got the books in your hands. I’d hand them over quick before I just change my mind.”
Jessica shoved me and I fell backwards with an undignified yelp. “No one goes back on a deal with me!”
She grabbed my backpack and rifled through it, but it was entirely empty except for one piece of paper. Jessica whipped it out of my backpack and held it up in triumph. I looked up at her from my new spot on the sidewalk.
Jessica threw my backpack back in my face. She sneered at me, finally victorious over this nerd that had defied her for so long. “Give him back the books. I don’t want anyone saying I’m a liar.”
The girls quickly dropped their books off at my feet. I placed each on in my backpack, looking up at Jessica with disdain until I had the last one.
“Alright, you pushed me over and had your fun. I’m going to class.”
Jessica shouldered me as I tried to walk past her, but other than that I wasn’t harassed. The girls watched me go, into the school lobby to take the first right to head to the second grade classrooms. One look down the hallway and I knew my plan was working perfectly. I turned around next to the corner of the hallway. “Oh Jessica, I want you to know that I won this round, and I’m going to win this war. You all just gave me my books back for nothing. I’m not sure what you’re going to do with that drawing, but go ahead and keep it.”
Jessica looked at paper she had stolen from my backpack to see that it was a fake reading sheet I’d made in pencil on the bus ride over with the words “I stole this from Steve” written in the minutes section. She ripped it while shoving her way through the pack of girls. “You get back here and give me the real minutes sheet or I’m going to beat you up!”
I briskly took three steps to get around the corner and then stopped. Jessica careened around the corner unable to stop herself before colliding with Ms Hotchkiss. My sister, who was standing behind Ms Hotchkiss, poorly stifled a laugh. Ms Hotchkiss towered over us all, and she snatched Jessica’s wrist so she couldn’t get away. “Is this the minutes sheet you want him to hand over, Ms Jessica? The one that Ms Kristen handed to me this morning saying ‘the bullies won’t let my brother turn in his minutes so I had to’?”
Jessica turned about face to run but only succeeding in losing her footing to swing by Ms Hotchkiss’s arm back into the grown-up’s legs. The wrath of Hotchkiss was the likes I had never seen before. She strode into the lobby, practically dragging Jessica behind her, and pointed at all of the girls. “You all, in the principal’s office now! Jessica, you’re coming with me. We’re going to see if your mother is still in the parking lot because she’s going to be taking you home right this minute!”
Week 7, Day 1, Hour 1 It was the day of reckoning. Parents were being called, a few of the more active members of the mob had been suspended, and other girls were tripping over themselves to confess so that they could avoid any penalties. The ‘seven books per girl’ plot had leaked to the adults, and everyone had to return their library books immediately. Every girl with seven books was noted as the list of suspects grew and grew. Some tried to deny that they had taken part, but the librarian knew exactly who had seven books and who didn’t. Those that lied got in more trouble. The faculty were in a
PE had been suspended for the school, while the entirety of 2nd grade had been corralled into the gym to watch Reading Rainbow, while all of the 2nd grade teachers were in talks with the principal, guidance counselor, and super intendant. All eyes were on me.
Week 7, Day 1, Hour 2 Recess was interesting. The girls were in their usual reading circle, but none of them were reading. They were terrified. A vicious blame game went back and forth between them as they tried to sort out their stories and organize who would take the fall for what. It took them awhile to realize that I was standing amongst them. Silence fell over the circle as they looked at me with wide and frightened eyes.
“Hi ladies. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
A few nodded. The rest froze like deer in headlights, with a rapidly approaching and unclear doom hurtling towards them just down the road. No one moved, and the spectacle became eerie. Cassie was the first to respond. “I heard that you’re going into the principal’s office after recess.”
I nodded. “Yes. They wanted to talk to me about the past few weeks.”
Cassie looked at her fellow girls. I could feel the air saturate with fear. “What are you going to do?”
I stood there and absorbed the moment. I had them, and they knew it. I’d beaten everybody. If I played my moves correctly, the entire school would be under my control, and whatever I decided to do next would shape the girls’ destiny. I’d thought about it long and hard, and while it was appealing, it wouldn’t work. I’d read too many books.
I shifted in my stance. “What you all put me through was miserable. I couldn’t sleep, my friends are all mad at me, and I’ve been incredibly lonely ever since school started. You’ve all made me very sad. Now when the principal calls me in, I could tell on every last one of you and get you in trouble. Your parents will get called and you’ll probably be in detention for a week.”
The girls shuddered at that idea, a surge of panic running through the gaggle of girls.
“But,” I continued, having given them a moment of panic they so richly deserved, “I’m not going to get you all in trouble. Throughout all of this, I’ve been the good guy, and I’ve tried hard to stay the good guy. You ganged up on me, you fought me, and you tried to crush me. You all were the bad guys from the very beginning. I’m not going to sink to your level. I’m not going to become the bad guy now that I’ve won, not at the very end after I’ve come so far. I’m going to win, I’m going to end this, and I’m going to do that on my terms.”
Cassie swallowed hard. “What does that mean?”
Week 7, Day 1, Hour 3 In the principal’s office, I had some explaining to do. After the second time that a large group of girls had gotten in trouble for picking on me, the school had to take action. Mr. Paul sat across his desk from me with a yellow legal pad and pen. A taskforce of teachers were around his office, most leaning against his book shelves. My sister sat next to me, swinging her feet high above the floor she couldn’t reach.
Mr. Paul was going through a long explanation of various ‘feel better’ and ‘this isn’t the way it should be’ messages designed for someone identifying as a victim in a situation that they couldn’t control. I didn’t care to listen too much because I wasn’t a victim. I had controlled the competition quite nicely. Very soon, I would be the victor. Still, I looked very pleased with what he was saying, waiting my turn to speak.
After a good five minutes of Mr Paul talking to some victim that I just couldn’t locate in the room, he finally asked me what I’d like him to do to make the situation better. My sister looked at me, I could tell that she had been drowning out the victim conversation with her own thoughts as well. I found my voice. “Mr. Paul, what is the minute count for our school?”
Mr. Paul blinked at me, the sudden conversation change catching him offguard. “Uh, it’s right on track for a million. Just a few hours shy.”
“I think what would really help is if you stopped the reading drive right now. It’s done nothing right, and so many people have done things wrong. It’s gotten out of hand.”
Mr. Paul blinked again. “Steve, you worked so hard to gain so many minutes for the school. Why would you want to give all that up?”
“Things have gotten worse every week since this started. Today a pack of girls were tearing apart my homework and trying to beat me up. I don’t want to see how this gets worse a week from now. Either this stops now or I’m not coming back.”
Mr. Paul looked around at the teachers. If he’d been alone, he’d have tried to talk me out of it. With the audience he’d look heartless if he refused the request. The teachers were tired of this and didn’t have the energy to go on; I could read it on their faces. “Steve, that’s what we wanted to talk about. Who are the people specifically that are picking on you?”
I smiled back at Mr. Paul. “I don’t want to get into who did what. That’ll only make things harder for me. I’d be the tattle-tale who had to hide behind the teachers because he got scared. If you want them to stop bullying me, I need to win on my own terms.”
“Steve, we have nine hundred thousand minutes. You’d be losing the reading drive for everyone.”
“I know, but its worth it.”
Ms Hotchkiss stood up from her spot, leaning against the bookshelf. “Dave, can we just do it? My class is going to be a nightmare if we don’t.”
Mr Paul sat still, thinking hard about what to do next. “I think you’re right. We’re going to stop it as of this minute. Book reading was never supposed to cause this kind of behavior.” Mr. Paul looked into my eyes, searching for my thoughts. “Steve, is there anything I can do to help?”
“There is one thing. Can you subtract my minutes from the school before you end the competition? Those are mine, and I don’t want anyone else to have them.”
My sister was quick to join in. “Me too. I want my minutes to go with his.”
Mr. Paul looked at the two of us. “I can do that. You two are dismissed to your classrooms.”
Walking down the hallway, my sister grabbed my hand and skipped along. “You won. You could have done anything. You could have gotten everyone in trouble, but you didn’t. Why not? Why not beat the bad guys?”
I smiled at her. “I did beat the bad guys, but picking on them after I won is something that a good guy doesn’t do. I just had to beat them by doing to them the one thing they couldn’t do to me.”
Kristen looked puzzled. “what’s that?”
“I took away every single last one of their minutes. Those girls you saw picking me, they sold their souls for nothing. Nothing. And I want them to know that forever.”
Week 7 Reading List: Nothing. I played soccer all week.
Final Count: Team Steve & Kristen with 29,682 worthwhile minutes out of 1,000,000.
Sunnyside Elementary with 0 worthwhile minutes out of 1,000,000.