In the first e-mail Lucia wrote, “Daisy, how is it going over there. Things are the same here. Worse really. Martin is still out of control. It seems he has a grudge against me now. I think even though you got in a lot of trouble, he must have gotten in some trouble too. Everyday he says something about what I’m wearing. He says I’m too skinny. He says I have a flat chest. His remarks are disgusting and getting worse. I don’t dare take books out of my backpack till I’m actually seated in the classroom because they will end up on the floor. Yesterday, after school, when I was walking between two busses, Martin surprised me and pulled my whole backpack off while everyone just stared. What I don’t get is, why me? How did this happen?”
In the next e-mail, Lucia wrote, “Daisy, I haven’t heard from you. Are you okay? I miss you so much. Nobody at school talks to me anymore. They don’t dare because Martin will start in on them like he does me. And now Michael Cornish and David Pebblestone have joined Martin in calling me tard-o-girl and Lucy-loser and stuff like that. I don’t feel comfortable saying ugly stuff back so I just try and avoid their eyes and ignore them. They are very sneaky about it too, so the teachers never seem to notice. I tried telling Mrs. Guffelenta about it and she said, “I’ll look into it” and then did nothing. I don’t dare cry because it just makes them worse, but I feel like crying all the time. It’s all I do. I go to sleep crying and I wake up in the morning and cry. I can’t think while I’m in class anymore and when I get home, doing my homework just makes me think of them so I don’t do it.”
Then she wrote, “Daisy, are you even there? Or have you decided not to talk to me either. Maybe I shouldn’t blame you. These are just my problems anyway. You are far away in beautiful, wonderful Paris. I think about you a lot, having a good time, enjoying the French food and going up in the Eiffel Tower. But maybe you don’t even want me to do that. Maybe you don’t want me thinking about you because you think I’m such a loser like everybody else. I understand if you don’t like me anymore because I’m such a loser. There must be something wrong with me that everyone hates me.”
I didn’t know what to write back. I climbed into bed and pulled the covers over my head, but I couldn’t sleep. I just cried. After awhile Aunt Mill knocked on the door and came and sat on the edge of the bed. She left the light off so the room was shadowy. I tried to pretend I was asleep. “Daisy, are you all right?”
I didn’t look. I just nodded from under the covers.
“You want to talk about it?”
I shook my head.
“Daisy, listen, I’m sorry I was harsh with you. I get testy sometimes. Occupational hazard. I just know your mom really worries about you. More than you know. Your dad too. This probably all seems very strange to you, them sending you here and all, but someday it will be clear. Someday, maybe years from now, but someday, you’ll understand.”
She thought I was crying because of what she’d said to me earlier. I was tempted to tell her about Lucia, but I didn’t. I think if I’d started it would’ve been like a sadness-balloon letting go, sputtering around the room. Aunt Mill didn’t know Lucia and didn’t care about her and wouldn’t get how I felt responsible. She’d just tell me to stay out of it.
She said, “It’s not a perfect situation, but for right now, let’s make the best of it, okay? I’m actually rather glad you’re here. Believe it or not.” She rubbed my shoulders through the blanket. “Tomorrow is Saturday so let’s do tourist stuff. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Gallery La Fayette, whatever comes into our heads. We’ll go anywhere we want to go. We’ll have crepes and roasted chestnuts and a fabulous lunch at La Coupole or anywhere we want. Okay?”
I nodded from under the covers.
“Get some sleep now. Everything will work out.”
I nodded again. She patted my shoulder, adjusted my covers and left, clicking the door behind her.
I listened to her footsteps. The floors were noisy and I was already learning what squeaks meant what. I could tell she’d gone into her office. Her chair creaked as she sat at her desk. Somehow her off-target pep-talk made me feel better. I hopped up, grabbed the laptop, climbed back into bed and adjusted the covers as the computer woke up.
I wrote, “Dear Lucia, how dare you think you are a loser or that I might not want to talk to you and how dare you think that there is anything wrong with you. You are wonderful and beautiful and smart, much smarter than Martin Blindenbok or Michael Cornish or David Pebblestone can every hope to be. They are worms, Lucia, and they prove their worminess every time they call you something disgusting or crude. Someday we will look back and pity them, that is, if we don’t destroy them first.
“I am not the best friend, I know. I have been having a giant pity-party ever since I got here and not looking at my e-mails. I wish I was there to stand beside you, but I’m not. But you don’t really need me anyway.
“This is a game of chess, Lucia. And as we both know, you are a great chess player. I doubt Martin even knows how to play. So first thing, learn the board you are playing on.
“What are the squares? Think about where he lives and how he moves to get to school and were he hides. You already know there are places he doesn’t dare bother you, like in the classroom and in front of certain teachers, so start remembering every last one of those places. Those are your safe zones. There is nothing cowardly about using these zones wisely. It is strategic. No one moves their king out into the middle of the board to get captured. So, between the school busses is obviously a place to avoid. We learned that the hard way. But you can learn all the ways to avoid Martin, even if he tries to set traps.
“Next, learn the pieces. Who are his pawns? Who are his bishops? How do they move? You know David and Michael are his pals, so maybe you wait and take them out when he is not around. Plus, who else does he pick on? You maybe haven’t even noticed them because you are so worried about yourself. But they are there and if you keep your eyes up, you will spot them. Those are your potential allies. Find any person who is being picked on by Martin and make friends with them. Collect them. Tell them how great they are. Say hello to them in front of everyone. If you get picked on for it, so what, you’re getting picked on anyway. Before long, you will have an army.
“David and Michael might even be your pawns. They pick on you because they don’t want to get bullied by Martin. You will find them in a corner some day, without their king (or queen) and you can capture them. Who is the smallest of them? Who is the stupidest of them? Is there one of them, if you got them alone, that you could say something back to? Maybe you will need to rehearse your words, but I think maybe David especially you could take out. All he seems to do is repeat what everybody else says so you can come up with something like, ‘are you just Martin’s brainless butt-puppet or can you actually think for yourself?’
“Now who are your queens and rooks? Think about it. Duh. The teachers. Okay, so maybe they are really only pawns in this game. But there is no shame in using all your players. That’s how you play chess. I admit, Mrs. Guffelenta is as helpful as a giant turnip, but what about Mr. Reese, or that new art teacher, Ms. Cunniff? Talk to them. Make them listen. Even Mrs. Guffelenta. Go back to her. Go back every day if it takes that. Be dramatic. Say, ‘I am losing my hair. I cannot sleep. They pick on me every day.’ Even if you don’t like to think about it, tell the teachers exactly the words Martin uses. Do it over and over until the teachers have to pay attention. Even go to Principal Smootin. Better yet, write him. Write him every time Martin does something.
“It is very late here and I feel like half of what I’m writing sounds like crazy stuff, but I’m serious. Most of all I am serious that you can stand up to him. You are better than him. Someday, this will be so apparent that he won’t even dare come up and speak to you, but for now, stand up straight, have courage, yell your lungs out when he comes near you. And don’t you dare think there is anything wrong with you, don’t you dare.”
I hit send. I didn’t even reread it. Maybe it was crazy stuff to write. But it made me feel better. I hope it had the same effect on Lucia. I closed down the laptop and went to sleep.