Gloria awakened that morning with an erroneous smile on her face. Slowly, reality set-in as she came to accept the fact that Sunday was gone and Monday had taken its place.
Monday meant school.
School meant mean kids and bullies.
Mean kids and bullies meant angry tears that led to more stuttering, which of course, delighted the mean kids to no end. It was exactly what they wanted: ammunition to intensify the fear that had come to define Gloria’s life.
“B-b-b-bloody h-hell…” Gloria mumbled; flinging off the sheet and blankets.
She shuffled to the bus stop, dreading the inevitable. From a block away, she could see them standing in their usual circle, discussing their respective weekends and comparing notes.
Gloria wished a giant sinkhole would suddenly appear and swallow her up, right then & there. Albeit unpleasant, death by sinkhole was certainly preferable to waiting for the stupid school bus with a bunch of über-thugs.
But, alas! This was not to be.
Jimmy Swanson saw her first: “H-h-hey, G-g-g-gloria!” Jimmy taunted. “H-h-how’s it g-g-going?”
Predictably, the rest of the gang followed suit and a cacophony of pseudo-stammering peppered with cheerleader-giggling commenced.
Gloria didn’t even bother retaliating. What was the point? She was outnumbered, ill-equipped and browbeaten. Instead, she stared down at her scuffed penny loafers through a familiar blur of tears.
Their teasing roared like a train about to derail, but Gloria refused to acknowledge it. She clenched her jaw and jammed her trembling hands in the pockets of her red windbreaker. In the right pocket, wrapped in her grandmother’s handkerchief and secured with a rubber band from The Arlington Gazette, were two quarters, a nickel and a dime—lunch money that would likely be stolen within the next few minutes. Gloria clutched it; rubbing the coins together repeatedly between her thumb and index finger while the other hand was balled into a tight and tiny fist—so tight that her fingernails left crescent moon imprints on the heel of her palm.
Motionless, hyperventilating, and numb, Gloria prayed for the school bus to pull up, for the taunting to stop, for a meteorite to fall from the sky and squash them all like cockroaches beneath somebody’s boot.
She prayed, and waited for something, anything, to change.
And then, something did.
An unfamiliar silhouette appeared on the horizon and the teasing came to a screeching halt. It was a boy of approximately twelve — the same age as Gloria and her poopy-assed peers. He struggled toward the bus stop; both arms full of textbooks, spiral notebooks — and a tell-tale pencil case.
Clearly, this was a new kid.
A new kid.
Gloria could not believe her luck! According to The Mean Kids’ Guide to Bullying, the arrival of a new kid trumps a speech impediment any day of the week.
True to form and without missing a beat, the mean kids turned their attention from Gloria and set-upon the newcomer, knocking his books from his arms and then booting him in the rear as he tried to pick them up.
Having been the receptacle of mean-kid-terror for years, Gloria watched in anguish, accurately predicting each sequential move.
Finally, it became too much. She couldn’t take it anymore.
“S-sss-stop it! L-l-l-leave h-him a-l-lone!” Gloria roared, and rushed to the new kid’s aid.
Shocked, aghast, and put in its place, the band of bullies deferred.
Gloria helped the boy collect his books. “A-a-are y-you okay?”
Without looking at her, the new kid nodded his appreciation.
“I-I-I’m G-g-gloria. W-w-w-what’s your n-n-name?”