Lucy was walking home from school alone somehow, within the group of kids all heading to the neighborhood on a late autumn afternoon. She was the new kid, the catholic school brat, who was suddenly thrown into the completely different world of public school.
It had been a summer of change. Lucy’s beloved grandfather had died, just one week after he had come for his bi-annual visit. He returned to his farm in the country, and keeled over while milking the cow one morning. Grandpa’s farmhand found him lying face down in the sweet hay while Daisy, the cow, bellowed in fear.
The rest of the summer, Mom cleared out the farmhouse while Pops went over the books with the accountants and lawyers. Grandpa had mortgaged the farm heavily to cover his increased costs, and decreasing profits. Dairy farms were no longer profitable. Pops sold the farm for a pittance and paid off the debts.
Pops called Lucy into the living room one night after her bath. Still damp in her pajamas, with the fans cooling her skin, Pops told her that she was going to be changing schools in the fall. Grandpa had paid her tuition, as a promise he had made to Grandma that she would receive a good Catholic upbringing, one that included education from the nuns. The same education Grandma had as a child.
Lucy felt goosebumps on her arms, and a shiver ran along her spine as Pops talked about the changes ahead. She was heartbroken to leave her old school, but she had no say in the matter.
On the first day of school, Lucy watched her friends set off in the direction of Our Lady of Sorrows, uniforms starched and penny loafers shining. She trudged in the opposite direction, with a crowd of kids she knew only from a distance. As she stood sizing up the girls, wondering who would be in her class, a girl yelled out rudely, “what are you staring at four eyes?”
Lucy quickly looked down at her shoes and squeezed her eyelids tight. She had been forced to wear glasses last year, and she hated them. Lucy kept her eyes on the ground until the crossing guard whistled for traffic to stop.
“Come on, move quickly you lazy hooligans!” she called out as she smiled around the whistle between her teeth. “It’s the first day of a brand new school year.” The older children groaned and grumbled, while the younger kids beamed with excitement.
The whole day passed in a blur. Lucy was escorted to room 5-B by the school secretary, who announced loudly to the class that she was new to the school system. The mean girl who called her four eyes was in class, snickering as Lucy stumbled over someone’s feet in the aisle on the way to her assigned seat.
Mrs. Cook was a pleasant teacher. She seemed genuinely thrilled to start another year of school. The nuns were stern and frowned a lot, but Mrs. Cook was jolly. She talked about projects, field trips and her special reading area. She had a comfortable love seat and an over- stuffed chair, along with large pillows around a rug at the back of the room.
“The reading area can be used whenever your assignments are completed,” Mrs. Cook declared. Lucy loved to read and couldn’t wait to curl up with a book on the sofa.
Lunchtime, Lucy sat at the end of a table and carefully opened her new lunch kit. It held a thermos of iced tea, a sandwich, chips and a cupcake. She spread her feast on a napkin and unscrewed the top of the thermos as the mean girl talked behind her hand to a chubby, blonde girl next to her. The blonde girl was staring at Lucy, looking uncomfortable. Suddenly the mean girl turned and hissed, “I’m going to get you after school four eyes.”
The blonde girl laughed nervously, and then began stuffing tater tots in her mouth. Lucy stared down at her lunch, disbelief clouding her vision. What had she done to offend this girl? Why was she picking on her? Lucy’s stomach clenched with anxiety as she stuffed her lunch back into the lunch box uneaten.
For the rest of the day, Lucy sat scrunched down in her seat in order to make herself as small as possible. She hoped to become invisible to the mean girl, so perhaps she would forget her threat at the end of the day.
When the bell rang, Mrs. Cook stopped Lucy on my way out of the classroom.
“Is everything ok my dear?” she asked kindly.
Lucy nodded and smiled, not trusting herself to speak.
“Was it terribly different for you today? Mrs. Cook asked. “I know how strange and confusing new places can be. I will tell you a secret. I went to private school as a child. After eighth grade my parents enrolled me in public high school. I loved my high school, but I loved my other school, too. I hope you will grow to love us as much as your old school.”
“Yes, ma’m, I know I will,” Lucy smiled at Mrs. Cook’s kind face. She already loved her teacher. She thought about asking about the mean girl, but decided to handle this problem by herself.
Lucy pulled on her sweater and walked out into the brisk afternoon. She had to run to catch up to the group as they crossed the intersection. The crossing guard from this morning was back at her post.
“Hurry along, you lollygagging kids,” she shouted. The guard winked at Lucy as she brought up the rear. “Last, but not least,” she joked.
But, Lucy was grateful to be the last one. The crowd of kids ahead were talking loudly, often pushing one other and joking. One bigger boy ran up to three boys, all wearing their pants too short, and knocked their books out of their hands as the others in the crowd jeered and laughed.
At the next corner, an older boy stood with a bright orange patrol belt strapped across his chest. He was watching the group of children turn the corner and stay on the sidewalk. The school did not want the kids running through the neighbor’s yards, or darting into the street. As Lucy walked past him, she glanced at his strong posture- hands clasped behind his back, legs spread and firmly planted on the sidewalk. He glanced briefly at Lucy, and nodded. His eyes were friendly and his mouth curved into a smile.
Lucy blushed and looked back down at my feet. As she walked past the shrubbery that grew near the chain link fence of the next house, she saw someone standing half hidden in the bushes. Her heart began to beat wildly in my chest. Lucy walked slower, but there was no other path to take. She had to walk past the mean girl.
Lucy put her head down and sped up, hoping that ignoring the mean girl would diffuse the situation. As she walked past the bushes, Lucy heard a jumble of words, but the blood roaring in her ears kept her from hearing the words clearly. Lucy kept walking, shoulders hunched and body tense, ready to spring into a run. Her breath was jagged, as her heart continued to pound.
Then something hit the back of Lucy’s head. She stopped and turned around. At her feet lay an old sour, green apple. It was an ornamental apple, not good enough to eat. Grandpa had a few of these same trees on the farm. The cows would sometimes eat the apples, and end up with tummy aches. Grandpa paid Lucy a nickel for each apple she picked up on the ground each summer.
Tears welled up in Lucy’s eyes, thinking of Grandpa and how much she missed him. Lucy was standing with a welt growing on the back of her head because he died. She was forced to leave the place where she felt safe and loved, because he was dead and never coming back. She looked up at the mean girl, who was still waiting to see what Lucy would do. Lucy made a decision. She would not cry. She would not waste her precious tears on this mean girl. Those tears were for Grandpa alone.
Lucy carefully turned and began walking again, this time with her head held higher. She heard a commotion behind her, but she would not turn around. Suddenly footsteps came closer and closer, and Lucy could no longer maintain her calm resolve. She began to run, sure that the mean girl was about to grab her. Lucy ran until she tripped on a raised crack on the sidewalk, and everything spilled out of her arms as she fell to her knees.
Lucy sat dazed, looking at the hole in her brand new pants, blood oozing around the fabric.
“Hey, are you ok?” A voice above her caused Lucy to look up, into the face of the safety patrol.
“Yeah, I think so,” Lucy replied as she struggled to stand. The boy held out his hand and pulled her up.
“I’ll get your stuff,” he said and he picked up Lucy’s scattered belongings.
“Will you be able to walk?” he was looking at the blood still soaking though her pants.
“I’ll be fine. Thank you for picking up my things,” Lucy gathered her books in her arms.
The boy continued, “I will fill out a safety violation report on this incident. The principal will be notified, and so will her parents. Debra Little is a pest. She’s always picking on kids, but she won’t pick on you anymore.”
“Really? How come?”
“Because I will be walking you home everyday. That is if you don’t mind being the last one home,” he said with a grin.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” Lucy blushed and as she offered him a shy smile.
Lucy thought of Grandpa, just then, smiling down from heaven. He was still watching over her.