For the month of February, I will be posting to my blog excerpts from my young adult novel "Norma's Revenge" as I work on character development. Your comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcome. Today, we meet a bully, Harold Gripp.
From Chapter 5 -- Fitting In (continued)
Catherine and Malcolm dropped Luci off in front of Whitney Middle School and she gave a hint of a smile as she waved her hand and abruptly turned her back to begin her first day of school. The school itself was a red brick building that had been constructed in the 1950s but had undergone a recent renovation expanding the number of classrooms, adding a new gymnasium and giving it a new contemporary styled aluminum roof. Classmates were greeting each other with familiarity and the decibel level in the hallway was at an all-time high. Luci walked down the hallway for the most part unnoticed. She looked at the numbers of the classrooms looking for Mr. Davis’s room, number sixteen. At the end of the hall, she took a left and found the classroom, just as the bell rang. She slipped in the door and observed the protocol of the other kids in the room. She placed her backpack onto the peg with her name on it, hung her sweater on the hook above it, and made her way to the desks. They were arranged in groups of six, three facing the windows and three facing the back wall. Her seat was directly in the middle of the trio of desks facing the windows. She slipped into her seat and looked up. Sitting in the desk directly across from her was a redheaded boy with a freckled nose and calculating green eyes. “Who are you?” he sneered.
Luci was saved by the sound of Mr. Davis clapping his hands together to get the attention of his students. “Welcome to the first day of school,” he boomed. “I’m Mr. Davis and I teach fifth grade. If you are not supposed to be in the fifth grade, or if you were hoping for a different teacher, I suggest you leave now. It will be your only chance.” His white hair matched his bushy moustache, and his wire rim glasses only partly obscured the mischief that Luci thought she could see lurking in his eyes. He was of medium height and build, but what stood out, were his rather beaklike nose. He wore a plain navy vest pulled over a blue and white striped shirt, and his khakis looked as if they were a size too large. He had long graceful fingers that were holding a long cardboard tube. As the murmur of the class continued, Mr. Davis lifted the tube and brought it down with force on the edge of his desk. That got the class’s attention.
“In this class, you will be expected to do all of the same Herculean efforts as any other fifth grade student. We will write, take part in the tedious computation of numbers, we will explore scientific endeavors, and we will expand our minds with those of other cultures. That I take for granted. What you will need in order to pass my class is an imagination of the greatest magnitude. If you cannot expand your mind to the 'what ifs,' 'could bes,' or the 'perhaps,' you will fail.” Mr. Davis’s moustache twitched as he delivered that last sentence and he looked expectantly among the class as if he truly expected someone to decide that this was not the fifth grade class for them and make their exit. “All right, I will take that as your acceptance of the Imagination Pact. I agree to expand your horizons, and you agree to explore the territory. You will find a copy of the agreement on your desk, and it requires your signature.” Luci and the rest of her classmates found the agreement and the class was silent as they read through it with curiosity.
I, _______(Student Name)_________ agree on this day, to fully participate in the classroom expectations of Mr. Davis’s fifth grade class. I agree to the following principles:
· To facilitate adventure in the exploration of new horizons;
· To imagine what could be;
· To question what is;
· And to add to the questions of the world.
I also agree that I will combat the many outward influences that are destined to crush the imagination and become the enemy of creative thought. I agree to become an agent to fight these negative influencers and duly pledge:
· To shirk boredom at every turn;
· To avoid the expected in search for the unexpected;
· And to ignore the naysayers of the world in my pursuit.
With my full commitment and scholarship, dutifully signed by
Student Signature Date
Luci wasn’t sure if she should sign a “contract” without her parent’s permission, but there was no way she was going raise her hand to broach the question. She looked around just as the rest of the class nervously looked to each other for advice. Eventually they all scrawled their signatures across the bottom followed by the day’s date. Mr. Davis gathered their contracts and informed them that he would be giving them copies to put in the front of their binders. They were to review their commitment every morning before the day’s instruction could begin. Luci looked up again, to see the redheaded boy leering at her with his intimidating eyes and again he sneered, “Who are you?” She glanced to his desk and was glad she was good at reading upside down as she read his nameplate ‘Harold Gripp.’ She ignored him once again but was horrified when his hand shot into the air turning toward Mr. Davis. “Excuse me Mr. Davis. I think we may have a problem.” He acted innocent, but Luci had a bad feeling about what was coming next.
“Yes, Mr. Gripp. What seems to be the problem?”
Harold smiled devilishly at Luci and adopted the most reasonable voice she had ever heard. “I’m not sure I can keep the standards of this contract, for very obvious and extenuating reasons.”
“Interesting. And just what would those be?”
“I am seated across from the most boring person in this entire class. There is no chance that I can imagine anything except mediocrity. I cannot be inspired, nor can I think outside the horizons if I have to be seated across from her.” At that point, Harold Gripp pointed straight at Luci. Luci felt twenty pairs of eyes staring at her and as much as she wanted to disappear, she was now the center of attention.
Mr. Davis looked over his spectacles at Luci. “Miss Trinity, is this true?” Luci swallowed hard. Her eyes burned and she could feel her cheeks go hot. She would not cry and she would not let Harold Gripp or the rest of the class see that he had upset her. What had she done to him?
“Is what true?” she said trying to calm her voice and not let on that she was trembling inside.
“You have been accused of being unimaginative and a detriment to your classmate -- Mr. Gripp. What is your response?” Luci thought she saw a small flicker of encouragement in Mr. Davis’s eyes; not that she needed much at this point. Once the flame of anger started burning inside her, nothing could extinguish her firestorm.
“First of all, I have never talked to Harold Gripp let alone laid eyes on him before today. That he can tell by a casual glance that I will be a distraction to his imagination is quite foretelling of his own stupidity. I believe his inspiration and sense of adventure are dampened by his own ignorance, and that is not of my doing. My imagination remains intact, in fact, right now I am imagining Harold Gripp falling flat on his face in a large, muddy, foul-smelling mud puddle.” She heard a few stifled giggles and one or two gasps. She did not let her eyes waver from Mr. Davis’s, but the only thing she could hear was the loud sound of her heart beating .
“Very well Luci Trinity. I see that both your imagination and your self-reliance are intact. Harold, I caution you not to seek to bring down others in order to deal with your own insecurities. You will now publicly apologize to Luci Trinity, since you elected to publicly attack her character.” The class went silent. To hear Harold Gripp apologize to anyone would be a first. Suddenly Luci felt even more uncomfortable than when Harold had put her on the spot. Time seemed to have stopped and still Harold did not respond.
“Mr. Gripp, we are all waiting.” Harold glared at Luci as if this was all her doing. She could tell that she had just made her first enemy no matter how this turned out. An almost angelic persona replaced the scheming face that had been staring her down just moments before. He now looked into her face and said in such a sincere tone, that she might have believed it if she hadn’t witnessed the sneering, conniving Harold.
“Miss Trinity, I am very sorry if I under-estimated your imaginative abilities.”
At that, Mr. Davis turned to the blackboard and they began the days’ routine. At lunch, Luci had imagined that she would be surrounded by doting classmates, praising her for her courageousness and begging to be her friend. Instead, she found that her classmates were avoiding her and whispering to other kids from the other fifth grade classes as they unabashedly pointed her out. It was obvious that having Harold Gripp as an enemy was much more dangerous than she had expected. Association with Luci was just as treacherous as inviting Harold’s manipulating ways upon one’s self. Luci noticed that Harold traveled the playground with one or two other boys whom seemed comfortable with being his henchmen, but otherwise everyone else kept their distance.
Luci made it through the rest of the day, trying not to call attention to herself, a new endeavor in her life, and she was relieved when it was time to board the school bus home. The bus stop was a short block away from her house. Catherine’s schedule would allow her to be home just 45 minutes after Luci arrived home, and they had agreed that Luci was old enough to be on her own for that short period of time. Luci agreed to come directly home, no friends were to be allowed in the house without one of her parents being home, and once she had made an after-school snack, she would begin her homework. No problem, thought Luci. I don’t have any friends, I’ve lost my appetite, and the only homework I have today is to have my parents fill out the stack of paperwork that comes with the first week of school. As Luci boarded the bus, she took a window seat near the front and placed her backpack on the seat next to her so she wouldn’t have to make conversation with a stranger. She stared out the window as the bus lurched forward, searching for the corner that would mark her stop. As they rounded the bend she spied her street and glimpsed the flagless pole in her front yard. Trying not to make eye contact with any of the people around her, she grabbed her backpack and made her way to the front of the bus as it came to a stop.
As the bus doors opened, she sprinted down the stairs and through the double doors. She walked slowly as the bus passed her, kicking up dust and gravel in its wake. As the dust and gravel settled, she could hear the crunching of her own footsteps. As she stopped to adjust her backpack, she heard a crunching of steps behind her. She nonchalantly glanced over her shoulder and to her horror she saw Harold Gripp gaining on her with a mischievous smile. Without stopping to think, she took off running toward her house, struggling with the house key that hung around her neck. She could hear the gravel fly as she ran and couldn’t tell if it was from her own feet or because she was being pursued. She darted through the breezeway between the Trinity garage and the house and frantically unlocked her back door. Aria was maneuvering between her feet and they became a tangle of cat, tail and shoes as Luci struggled to get in the door and lock it behind her. Luci inadvertently stepped on Aria’s paw and was met with a pitiful and pain-filled yowl that made Luci jump and hit her elbow against the corner of the doorway into the kitchen. She took a deep breath to calm herself and picked Aria up, stroking and smoothing her ruffled fur.
Bang! Bang! Luci stood up and listened. Something was hitting the front of her house. Quietly she tiptoed to the front dining room and stood behind the drapes as she spied out the window to try and locate the cause of the disturbance. Standing on her lawn was Harold Gripp with a handful of rocks in his left hand. One by one he was tossing them at her house, watching them bounce off the siding and surveying the front windows for a sign of response. “What a menace!” Luci thought to herself, making sure she remained hidden behind the window coverings. She could not believe what she was witnessing. Once his ammunition was depleted, Harold turned to leave. As a second thought he pivoted and stared right into the dining room window, as if he could see Luci hiding behind the drapes.
“I know where you live! Don’t you ever forget that.” There was something in his voice that made Luci shiver. She wished that her mother would drive up right at this moment and put Harold Gripp in his place, but instead he turned and sauntered down the street. It was then that Luci came to a horrible realization. Harold Gripp was her neighbor. He lived on her street and not only had he declared himself her biggest adversary at school; he was also making it clear that she was not welcome in his neighborhood either.
Luci made her way into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of milk and helped herself to a chocolate chip cookie. Before she sat down at the kitchen table, she pulled down every window shade within sight. There was no way she would put up with Harold Gripp spying on her if indeed he was still out there. She heard her mother’s car pull into the driveway and was startled by the sound of the back doorbell moments later.
“Luci, open up. I have my hands full of groceries.” Catherine waited as Luci undid the back lock and opened the door. “Hey, I thought you’d be out of that uniform you love so much by now. And why is it so dark in here? Why are the shades pulled down?” Luci took one of the grocery bags from her hand and ignored the questions as they walked into the kitchen together. Catherine noticed Luci’s silence, but pressed on anyway. “So how was school?”
“How’s your teacher?”
“Strange. He made us all sign an Imagination Pact.”
“That sounds interesting. What about the kids in your class?”
“What about them?”
“Well, are they nice, did you make any friends?”
“Mom, it’s only the first day. They keep you real busy, there’s not really time.”
“How was the bus?”
“Just like any other bus, I guess.” Luci wasn’t sure what was keeping her from divulging the extent of harassment she had already endured from Harold Gripp, but she didn’t offer it up. He was probably just your ordinary neighborhood bully – all talk and little substance. What Luci did know was that she should make her escape now, or else she would have to endure a painful interrogation from her mother on the details of her day. “I’m going up to my room to organize my homework and school binder.”
“Change your clothes while you’re at it.” Catherine decided not to press further, but to give her daughter some space. She had read that at this age they find it easier to open up to you if it’s their idea, not yours.
Luci pulled on a pair of jeans and wriggled out of the jumper that she casually hung on a hook in her closet. She exchanged her polo shirt for her favorite t-shirt that read ‘Teenager in Training’ and flopped herself onto her bed. She felt frustrated and confused; frustrated that she had let some boy get the better of her both in class and out. She was confused by her feelings inside that could only be described as shyness and reluctance. She had always been the first to make an impression, and she had never gone a day without being able to have an adventure or an intriguing social interaction. That is, until today. Her eyes rested upon the long wall that would eventually hold her books and contain her library. Her father was still designing the shelving system, and they had ordered one of those old-fashioned library ladders that could slide from one side of the wall to the other enabling Luci to reach the highest shelves and not sacrifice valuable storage space. For now, her books remained imprisoned in their boxes, stacked from floor to ceiling, awaiting their new home. Luci couldn’t even find solace in her favorite books. Propping herself up on her elbow, Luci continued to stare at the wooden grooved paneling, her eyes following the pattern of the grain as she counted how many shelves would eventually cover the wall. As she stared, she noticed a deeper indentation in the ‘tongue and groove’ near the far corner. Her eyes followed the vertical indentation and detected a faint horizontal line as well. It almost looked like a penciled outline of a window or door. Luci sat up on the bed to get a better look and heard a faint scratching at her window.
“Oh, Aria. What’s wrong with you? You know we’re not supposed to be up on the landing.” Luci slid her window open and Aria sauntered onto the windowsill and jumped onto the sunniest spot on the bed. As Luci climbed off the bed she made her way toward the corner of the room to get a closer look at the illusion created by the grain line of the paneling. As Luci approached the wall, the obvious outline seemed to dissipate, so she relied on her hands to feel if there was a tactical difference in the wood paneling. As she pressed her hands into the paneling and followed the grain vertically up the wall, she could detect a faint break in the smooth surface. Indeed, it looked like it could have once been a small, concealed doorway. The perplexing puzzle was that there was not a doorknob or latch that would allow for an opening. Maybe someone had the intention of creating a doorway or window, but had only traced the dimensions and had begun to make some initial incisions into the wood paneling, but had changed their minds. At least the shelving would cover the imperfection. She sat down on the carpet and pressed her back onto the imperfect paneling for support. Aria came and brushed against her knees, and as Luci leaned forward to capture the cat in her arms, she felt the paneling behind her spring open against her back.
“Wow! It is a door . . .” Before Luci could say another word, Aria had jumped out of her arms and slipped through the small doorway into a dark, undefined blackness. “Aria, come back!” Luci sat there uncertain whether to follow the path of her wayward cat or to call for help. After a moment’s pause, Luci looked over her shoulder at the sunlit rooftop and then carefully climbed through the doorway frantically straining her eyes in the blackness for any sign of her equally black cat.