Rose McKenna stood against the wall in the noisy cafeteria, having
volunteered as lunch mom, which is like a security guard with eyeliner.
Two hundred children were talking, thumb- wrestling, or getting
ready for recess, because lunch period was almost over. Rose was
keeping an eye on her daughter, Melly, who was at the same table
as the meanest girl in third grade. If there was any trouble, Rose was
going to morph into a mother lion, in clogs.
Melly sat alone at the end of the table, sorting her fruit treats into
a disjointed rainbow. She kept her head down, and her wavy, dark
blond hair fell into her face, covering the port- wine birthmark on
her cheek, a large round blotch like blusher gone haywire. Its medical
term was nevus flammeus, an angry tangle of blood vessels under the
skin, but it was Mellys own personal bulls-eye. It had made her a
target for bullies ever since pre- school, and shed developed tricks to
hide it, like keeping her face down, resting her cheek in her hand, or
at naptime, lying on her left side, still as a chalk outline at a murder
scene. None of the tricks worked forever.
The mean girls name was Amanda Gigot, and she sat at the opposite
end of the table, showing an iPod to her friends. Amanda was
the prettiest girl in their class, with the requisite straight blond hair,
bright blue eyes, and perfect smile, and she dressed like a teenager
in a white jersey tank, pink ruffled skirt, and gold Candies sandals.
Amanda wasnt what people pictured when they heard the term
bully, but wolves could dress in sheeps clothing or Juicy Couture.
Amanda was smart and verbal enough to tease at will, which earned
her a fear- induced popularity found in elementary schools and fascist
It was early October, but Amanda was already calling Melly names
like Spot The Dog and barking whenever she came into the classroom,
and Rose prayed it wouldnt get worse. Theyd moved here over
the summer to get away from the teasing in their old school, where it
had gotten so bad that Melly developed stomachaches and eating
problems. Shed had trouble sleeping and shed wake up exhausted,
inventing reasons not to go to school. She tested as gifted, but her
grades hovered at Cs because of her absences. Rose had higher hopes
here, since Reesburgh Elementary was in a better school district,
with an innovative, anti- bullying curriculum.
She couldnt have wished for a more beautiful school building,
either. It was brand- new construction, just finished last August, and
the cafeteria was state- of- the- art, with modern skylights, shiny tables
with blue plastic seats, and cheery blue- and- white tile walls. Bulletin
boards around the room were decorated for Halloween, with
construction-paper pumpkins, papier-mâché spiders, and black cats,
their tails stiff as exclamation points. A wall clock covered with fake
cobwebs read 11:20, and most of the kids were stowing their lunchboxes
in the plastic bins for each homeroom and leaving through the
doors to the playground, on the left.
Rose checked Mellys table, and was dismayed. Amanda and her
friends Emily and Danielle were finishing their sandwiches, but Mellys
lunch remained untouched in her purple Harry Potter lunchbox.
The gifted teacher, Kristen Canton, had emailed Rose that Melly
sometimes didnt eat at lunch and waited out the period in the handicapped
bathroom, so Rose had volunteered as lunch mom to see what
was going on. She couldnt ignore it, but she didnt want to overreact,
walking a familiar parental tightrope.
Oh no, I spilled! cried a little girl whose milk carton tipped over,
splashing onto the floor.
Its okay, honey. Rose went over, grabbed a paper napkin, and
swabbed up the milk. Put your tray away. Then you can go out.
Rose tossed out the soggy napkin, then heard a commotion behind
her and turned around, stricken at the sight. Amanda was dabbing
grape jelly onto her cheek, making a replica of Mellys birthmark.
Everyone at the table was giggling, and kids on their way out pointed
and laughed. Melly was running from the cafeteria, her long hair flying.
She was heading toward the exit for the handicapped bathroom,
on the right.
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