The 2nd Grade Mafia: Burning Down The School

[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.

“Exactly.”

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.

The End

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Getting In Trouble Is Great Practice For Staying Out Of Trouble

Week 6, Day 1  When I got back to school, my books hadn’t magically reappeared like I hoped they would have.  The girls had them on lock-down somewhere.  I could feel their eyes probing my expression as I searched for them.  I shut my desk and smiled up at everyone.  It was the best tactic I had.  I wasn’t going to worry about those books.  The girls had them and there was no guarantee that they’d ever turn in my books even after I stopped reading.  They might keep them forever out of spite, and based on their recent switch from normal to evil, I dismissed those books as collateral damage in their misguided war against me.  The difference between the girls and I is that I was used to being in trouble.  The punishments looming over my head were annoyances, but I could deal with them.  There was no use worrying about that now because it was out of my hands.  I was going to forget about it and be happy, because that was the only way I knew how to conquer their fear tactic.

It was time to fight back.

One thing I learned from reading is that bullies don’t like an enemy.  So far I’d managed the damage they threw my direction, but this only encouraged them to throw more trouble my way.  If this kept up, they only needed to overload my life with misery until I couldn’t manage it.  A school of 200 girls would eventually win, so ‘ignoring the bully’ was out of the question.  I needed to go on the offensive.

Fighting back would be difficult.  I lived in conservative Iowa, which is protected as a time capsule by the rest of the world.  Things were backward here.  The girls were immune to any penalty for their crimes unless their crimes were severe.  Previously this year I had been attacked by a girl who just started punching me repeatedly, the first two sucker punches in the face.  I slapped her hand hard to make her stop.  A teacher saw this and immediately came to stop the fight.  The girl was coddled for being so innocent and defenseless; I was punished for hitting a girl and had all my recesses taken away for the day to think about what I had done.  I did think, confirming over and over that I had done the right thing.  The reason I was in trouble was twofold.  The first reason is that I didn’t tell on her first, because the first person to tell doesn’t get in trouble.  The second thing I did wrong was that I was born a boy.  Girls and boys were treated differently, I had noticed over the course of three years in school.  Girls were always innocent no matter how malevolent.  Boys were always guilty and were expected to just take any abuse.  Getting the teachers involved in this would be difficult, because I couldn’t be the first one to tell,  it had to be a girl.

I had one advantage.  The girls didn’t know that I was fighting back.  I’d played possum long enough to surprise them when I turned lion.

First recess came around and the girls all formed their reading circle.  I approached their circle, my own book in hand.  “I want my books back.”

The girls didn’t answer me, they just stared at their books.  It was a free chance to read each of their expressions.  A schism was forming, like I thought would happen.  Girls tended to follow the rules, be nice to everyone, and be much better human beings than boys.  Three out of five of the girls looked nervous and reluctant.  This shift to organized crime was out of character and they didn’t like it.

“I said I want my books back.”

Megan was the first to answer, talking in an angry and sarcastic tone.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I laughed.  Laughs can convey a great range of things.  I felt like mine conveyed victory.  The girls all looked up from their books.  Speaking couldn’t break their obvious attempts to ignore me, but laughing could.  They were expecting anger.  Jubilation from their victim was something that scared them.  “That’s funny, Megan.  It’s funny because everyone here knows that you are lying.  You don’t have to admit it, we all know it.  That makes you a liar, Megan.  You’re a bad guy.  A villain.  A cheat.  A sneak.  The problem with liars is that they can’t be trusted.  Maybe one day they’ll say something like ‘I promise that none of you will get in trouble for stealing Steve’s books’, and the next day they are telling the principal exactly who did what, because the first person to tell won’t get detention.  The first person to tell is a good guy.  Liars aren’t, and will say anything they need to in order to save their skin in that moment.  The only question is, which of you is going to tell on the others first?”

I walked away.  I could hear Megan scramble to her feet, as she got up to go tell on me, exactly as planned.  I imagined that she was going to tell on me for calling her a list of bad names, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on.  I turned around and said to the girls, “looks like she’s beating you to the punch.  She’s probably ratting you all out right now.”

The girls looked scared now.  I walked away.  Any moment a teacher would come swooping down on me, and I needed to be out of earshot when that happened.  I needed the girls to think that Megan had told on them and not me.

Sure enough, Ms Hotchkiss came stomping my direction with Megan in toe.  Megan was behind the teacher and was smiling with such vehemence that I knew I wasn’t wrong to call her a villain.  “Mr. Steve.  Megan tells me that you called her a liar in front of all of her friends.”

“Really?”  I asked innocently.  “What was she lying about that would make me say such a thing?”

Hotchkiss turned her attention to Megan.  Megan wasn’t ready for this.  Her plan was to tell on me and get me in trouble and that’d be the end of it.  My plan was to force her to confess.  I had to tread carefully here; one wrong move and I’d be in trouble for name-calling.  Megan was caught off guard, assuming she was in trouble because of Ms Hotchkiss’s sudden attention, when really Ms Hotchkiss was waiting for her to clarify what I was supposed to be in trouble for.  Good kids tend to get really nervous when it comes to the recess authorities.  I had plenty of experience with them and knew how to keep my cool.  I needed a loaded statement that either confirming or denying would still land her in trouble.  Megan looked infuriated at me before yelling “nevermind!”

“Because what I asked her was if she knew which of the girls stole books from my desk in order to frame me with the library lady.  Megan said she knew who it was but that she wasn’t going to tell me.”

“I did not!”

Megan didn’t even see the trap.  She had denied a detail of a story, which still left her guilty.  She needed to deny the entire story to stay in the clear.

“Ms. Megan, do you know who stole Steve’s books?”

Tears welled up in Megan’s eyes.  It was too late.  I was dismissed from the conversation, as Ms Hotchkiss liked to deal out verbal scoldings one on one, something I was very familiar with.  I smiled and walked over to the old slide.  The girls in their reading circle were frozen in fear.  I winked at them.

“I don’t know who has the books, but the safest place to hide them right now is in my desk.”

Week 6, Day 1, Night 1  The fallout from Megan’s capture was severe.  Megan couldn’t keep quiet.  She’d never been in trouble before and didn’t know how to navigate the principal’s office.  She was scared.  Everyone is, their first time in the principal’s office, but there are a few rules you don’t break, such as telling on one of your friends and dragging them into your misery.  Megan did herself no favors by ratting on everyone she knew who was involved.  Ms Hotchkiss called together a parent meeting with all of the girls’ parents to talk about bullying.  So many grounded with so little effort.  To top it off, each of them had to write me a letter of apology, which meant that ten minutes of reading time was wasted on a letter I probably wouldn’t even read.  That’s one hundred and forty minutes right there.

The school did still see fit to hold me responsible for the books I’d checked out.  There wouldn’t be the usual threat of detention, but I needed to be responsible for the property I borrowed.  I’d have to pay for it with my allowance, but that was a small price to pay to get out from under the girls’ current form of blackmail.

Week 6, Day 2  It happened suddenly.  I was walking on my way to TAG (talented and gifted) when a hand reached out and pulled me into the girls’ restroom and pinned me against a wall.  There I was, surrounded by a host of my classmates and a couple of larger fifth graders for muscle.  The girls from my class were red-eyed from crying, and looked particularly cross with me.  I didn’t expect them to call in reinforcements.

I didn’t recognize the girl who was holding me against the wall.  She was much larger than I was, but as a very short kid (the shortest in my grade), this wasn’t an accomplishment.  Maybe a third grader?  Either way she had too much muscle backing her up for me to break free.  She spoke with a tone of bullying authority.  “Hey Steve.  We noticed that you’re still reading.  We already told you what would happen if you didn’t stop.”

“You sure did.  Can I go now?”  I tried to sound dismissive, but this unexpected show of force had me nervous.

Their leader pushed me harder against the wall.  “It’s not funny.  We’ve still got the books.  You’re still in trouble if you don’t return them.”

I looked up at the ceiling and made a face of exaggerated thinking.  “Not really.  Hotchkiss knows that they were stolen.  The library lady likes me.  I call her ‘Book Worm’ to her face and she likes it.  She got me a book for my birthday and Christmas last year.”

The girls all looked at each other, unsure of how to proceed.  This wasn’t going to plan.  I imagine they thought I’d cry and wet myself, but that wasn’t what they got.  No one had told them that the school had forgiven my future crime of late library books.  The time to strike was now.  I looked back into the eyes of their leader, still holding me against the wall.  “I’m not sure what I’m doing here.  If your plan is to beat me up, you can.  It’s going to be hard explain why all of you needed a hall pass at the same time to go to the bathroom once they find a boy bleeding on the floor of the girl’s bathroom, but I’m sure that all of you combined could actually beat me up.  I’m not even going to swing back, because I’d hate to crowd the detention hall with you.”

A scared voice from the back whispered “what are we going to do?  He’s going to get us all in trouble again.”  It was Megan.  She looked miserable, probably staying up all night crying about getting caught.

“You’re right, Megan.  I am going to get you all in trouble.  I just haven’t decided how yet, but I’ve got options.”

This wasn’t going as planned.  I refused to be afraid and they only had fear tactics.  Their leader snared “get one of his books out.”

To my surprise, they had it.  I recognized the cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I watched the book carefully.  I didn’t see whose bookbag they pulled it from, which was disappointing.  Their leader turned to look at it, then sneered back at me.  “Throw it in the toilet.”

I couldn’t see, but I heard the splash.  My mind raced to keep ‘unscared’.  The best I could do was formulate half a joke about the Island in the toilet.   Still, that was a week’s worth of chores down the drain.  Their leader turned back to me.

“This is what is going to happen next.  You can read all you want to.  Next week, if you want your books back, you’re going to give me the slip of paper with your minutes on it before you turn it into Hotchkiss.  I’ll keep your minutes, and you get your books back.  If you don’t do this, you’ll never see your books again.”

“Fine.  It’ll cost me two months of allowance, but it’ll cost you your character.”

“That’s not all, pipsquek.  Think long and hard before you try to defy us again.  We can get to you in more ways than this.”  The leader fished something out from her pocket.  I recognized the tiny salmon colored lunch ticket, because I had drawn a Viking on the back of mine.  It looked like I was going hungry for the next few days, but that also gave me more time to read.  “We can get your lunch tickets, we can get your homework, we can make you miss the bus, we can tell on you for all sorts of things, we can make the boys hate you, we can make you unpopular, we can spread rumors, and we can keep this up forever.  Who are you going to take to the dances in High School when all of the girls hate you?  Who are you going to go on dates with?”

I smiled at them all.  “None of you deserve me.”

A punch landed soundly in my stomach, knocking the wind out of me.  I collapsed to the floor, fully expecting to get kicked next.  Nothing happened.  I decided to risk another quip.  “You know something?  I’m glad you did this, because now I know that I’m the good guy in this story, and that each and every one of you is the bad guy.  You’ll know it when you look in your mirrors tonight while brushing your teeth.  You’ll think ‘I’m a bad guy’.  You’ll know I’m right because you’ll be angry with me or angry with yourself, but either way you’ll be an angry bad guy.  You can’t win.  Even if you win the competition, that ice cream won’t even begin to get rid of the taste of turning into a monster.”

“Get me that minute’s sheet or your life is going to be miserable forever!  You see, you might be acting strong now, but you won’t be.  The library books were just the beginning.  What will you do when your sister comes crying to you because everyone decided to stop being her friend?  We can get her too.  If you turn in another minutes sheet, you and your sister will see just how bad things can get.”

The girls filed out of the restroom and all went back to their classes, leaving me alone in the girls’ bathroom.  I let out a sigh that went from relief to despair.  I wasn’t holding up well.  I was a social kid.  The isolation of Read A Million Minutes was taking its toll.  I didn’t want to be the nerdy kid that had to sit by himself at recess.  I wanted to be the kid that got to do what he loved and still had people like him for who he was.

Threatening my sister, Kristen, was taking this fight to a whole new level.  She was leading her Kindergarten class, putting up more minutes than her entire class.  Effectively, she canceled me out in the school competition.  It wasn’t fair for her if she was punished for reading.  I couldn’t do this to her also.  It wasn’t fair to ask a Kindergartner to be a social outcast in her second month of school.

Maybe it would be easier to just give up.  I could recapture soccer, the friendship of the boys, the neutral tolerance of the girls, hours of free time, and peace of mind.  For the first time I considered quitting.

I got up and looked in the toilet.  The girls had made a mistake here.  Explaining how my library book wound up in the girl’s bathroom wouldn’t be easy.  The hall passes contained the list of possible suspects.  The trouble was that I couldn’t be the one to tell anyone about the book, because I had a hall pass also and it might look like I was dumping my own books to frame someone.  Instead, I just left.

Week 6 Reading List: The Beast, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Swiss Family Robinson, Johnny Tremain

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Just Because Your Little Girls Are Angels, It Doesn’t Mean They Came From Heaven

[This is part 3 in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”.  The first post in this series can be found by clicking on this link.]

Week 5, Day 2 Once a week we had library time, which was a chance for us to check out a book from the school library.  I loved this time of the week because I could pick up more of the authors I liked, their books were right on either side of the book I had previously selected.  This week was different.  I quickly rounded the library to the fiction section where I had collected all of my books.  They were gone.  All of the books in the fiction section had been checked out.  That was impossible!  It would take every kid in the school to check out that many books.  Or maybe…

I turned around to see a bunch of girls giggling by the doorway.  They weren’t even in my grade, these were fifth graders.  Each held a stack of seven books, the maximum amount we were allowed.  Their leader mouthed “look in the back”.  I went around to a little bookshelf to see that the only books remaining were the entirety of the Babysitters Club series.  More giggling ensued when they saw my disappointment.  Yet the library was sacred, and I wasn’t going to let them hurt me on my turf.  I approached the librarian to see if there were any books that had been turned in and had yet to be put on the shelves.  The girls bristled, as they hadn’t anticipated this move.

The librarian, a kindly old woman, said “I’d give these to you, but only the fifth graders have been to the library.  These are way too advanced for a second grader.”

With some quick talking and a promise to take care of them, I convinced her that I was up to the challenge, and I checked out all of them.

Week 5, Day 3  It was time for silent reading, a fun ceremony where we all got to read and Ms Hotchkiss got to drink some coffee and grade some papers.  This was the only time that the boys put minutes on the board, it seemed.  I was delighted, because I got to read again.  I was halfway through Hatchet and I wanted to know what happened after Brian had accidently kicked the porcupine.  I went to lift the top of my desk to find that it wouldn’t budge.  I tried again, but nothing happened.  I stood up to give it a good go, but when I heaved with all my might the desk didn’t open, it just flipped over.

Ms Hotchkiss whirled around, “Steve, what is it that you are doing?”

“My desk won’t open.”

“We don’t throw desks around just because they don’t open.”

Julie raised her hand, but proceeded to talk without actually being called on.  “Ms Hotchkiss, the reason his desk won’t open is because Steve glued it shut.”

That’s silly, why would I glue my own desk shut?  Oh you lying jerk!  Ms Hotchkiss zoomed across the room, sailing like a foxtail on the breeze through the maze of classroom clutter.  She descended upon me so swiftly that I was unable to enact any kind of verbal defense of my innocence.  One sniff and she confirmed that my desk was indeed glued shut.  “Steve, it’s very bad that you glued your desk shut.  We also don’t throw our desks.  That’s something bad kids do.  You know what else bad kids do?  They go to the principal’s office.

“But I didn’t do it Ms Hotchkiss!  It had to be the girls-“

“We also don’t tell lies to get out of trouble.  We take responsibility for our actions.  Come along now.”

I had to sit in the principal’s office without a book for all of silent reading, and for the first recess.  All the while I sat, staring at the clock, watching my minutes slip through my hands into oblivion.  I had zero minutes because of this charade.  The girls had two hundred and eighty.  I had to read five hours when I got home just to catch up.

When I got back to class, the janitor had pried my desk open and removed all of the rubber cement.  He gave me a scolding about respecting other people’s property.  I tried pointing out that I don’t even own rubber cement, but that just made him angry, because now he thought I’d lost a bottle of rubber cement somewhere and it was vandalizing some other part of the building.  I didn’t listen to him; I didn’t have to.  Not only was there no rubber cement in my desk, there were no books that I’d checked out from the library.  All of them were gone.  If I didn’t return them by next week I’d get a detention every day until they were returned.  I couldn’t get detention, I had to take the bus home.  The girls had sent their message loud and clear.  I couldn’t even risk telling on them, because sitting on the board was my name with a checkmark behind it.  One more instance of misbehavior and I was in for a detention.  Who was going to believe that the girls were all a part of some massive conspiracy, when I, the class clown was so much easier to blame?

On the bus ride home, Paige sat next to me.  She lived in my neighborhood, and it was especially hurtful that someone from my street could turn on me.  “I’m sorry about the desk and the books.”

“Thanks.  Do you know where they are?”

“No.  They hid them in case you asked Ms Hotchkiss to search all the desks in the room.  I think the third graders have them now.”

“Paige, I’m going to get in trouble if they don’t give me those back!  I told the librarian I’d take special care of them.”

“I know.  I’m supposed to tell you that if you stop reading this week, you’ll get the books back.  We’ll put them in the book return and nothing will happen. You won’t get detention, and you’ll get to catch your bus.”

“Paige, they can’t do this!  This is stealing!  This is lying.”

Paige sighed, because I just wasn’t getting it.  When she spoke next, her voice was curt and condescending.  “If you keep reading, your books are going to stay missing for a month.  Then they’ll show up on the library’s doorstep one day, except they’ll have been washed in a tub, colored with crayons, every fifth page will be missing, and we’ll smear them with mud.”

“Paige, tell them no!  I’ll have to give up my allowance to buy those books back, and I’ll have to miss the Scholastic Book Fair!  They’ll take away my library card.  They won’t let me read anymore.”

“Then you know what to do.”  Paige got up and went to the front of the bus with the rest of the girls.

Week 5, Day 4 I had to borrow a book from my aunt and uncle, my babysitters before school began.  Technically I stole it, but both of them were working on some unrelated project and were unavailable to be asked.  It was the first time I had delved into Stephan King.  The Green Mile started off in a pretty scary place, unlike all of the previous books I had read.  The characters seemed much more mean than they needed to be.  It was an eye opening experience.

At school I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  The boys were jerks and the girls were nefarious.  I just wanted to sink into my shadow and disappear.  That wasn’t going to happen today.  Today was the day that Ms Hotchkiss had updated her bar graph.

I was still in first, but there were more bars.  Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, the girls were in fourth, Paige was in fifth, and the boys didn’t matter.  The girls all collectively bristled.  If Hotchkiss had kept the girls together they would have won, but she didn’t.  Somehow this was my fault, and I could feel the malevolence of their resolve strengthening around me.  The only way they’d win is if Cassie could beat me by herself, otherwise the girls’ bar graph would just keep splitting.

Silent reading approached and I took out The Green Mile,taking a peek at the girls around me.  It was hard to read their expressions.  I hadn’t stopped reading, despite their threats to my library books.
It was a strange mixture of expressions, showing some kind of disappointed respect.  The girls were at a crossroads.  They didn’t really want to steal my books, rip them apart, and frame me for a crime I didn’t commit; they just wanted to win the competition.  I smiled over my book at each of them, because even though they were debasing themselves they still weren’t getting what they wanted.

The problem with silent reading was that it gave the girls a solid 10 minutes to come up with a plan.  Courtney was the first to pounce on my rebellion against the mafia’s tyranny.  “Ms Hotchkiss!  Steve is reading a bad book!”

Ms Hotchkiss stood up and looked at my book.  “What’s that you are reading?”

“The Green Mile by Stephan King.”

“Will you come to the front of the class, Mr. Steve?”

The girls all put their books down, watching what would happen.  They had been prepared to make threats of getting me in trouble, but seeing the consequences carried out was something else entirely.  I gauged their expressions as I approached Hotchkiss’s desk.  Some of them were ready to give in to this, uncomfortable with what they had become.  The others sat resolute in the face of my destruction, determined to finally crush this boy that dared to defy their collective might.

Ms Hotchkiss didn’t have much patience for my surveying of the classroom.  “Steve, have you been faking your reading this entire time?  There is no way that you are reading a Stephen King novel.  That’s way above you level.”

“No it’s not!  It’s about a prison guard in a nursing home. It’s easy for me.”

“Steve, I think that you’ve been pretending to read and putting up fake numbers.  A few of the girls mentioned that you’d checked out books from the fifth grade section, and they think you are faking your reading.  Are you lying just to win?  Are you just pretending to read?”

My voice cracked, as I was on the verge of tears.  The girls weren’t satisfied with trying to stop my minutes, they wanted to wipe away everything I’d done, as if this whole time I’d been sacrificing my recesses for nothing.  “No, I’m not!  I can read it to you!  It’s easy for me.”  I was not going to let Ms Hotchkiss disqualify me from all my hard work.  I opened the book and read quickly and confidently, putting Ms Hotchkiss through one of the most surreal moments of her life as a second grade boy read aloud the story of a botched execution of a prisoner via electric chair.

“Uh…nevermind, Steve.  That was some good reading.  Can we get you a different book?”

From that moment on, for the rest of my second grade career, Ms Hotchkiss would always have a hint of worried panic in her expression when she looked at me.  She also called home to make sure everything was okay.  Mom was furious with my uncle for letting me get my hands on the book, but it wasn’t his fault really.  My uncle switched out The Green Mile for a couple of books from his Doc Savage collection.

Week 5: Voyage Of The Frog, Sign Of The Beaver, Redwall, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Number The Stars, The Green Mile

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IV….