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Author's Chapter Notes:

Chapter 6: Standing Tall

Summary: Stephanie can't be herself, and her attempts to be Daryl have failed. Desperate times lead to desperate measures. Can a little nine year old survive under all the pressure? Things get complicated as people respond to Elwood's bullying behavior.

Caution: Stephanie finds herself under attack in this chapter from a school yard bully.

 

Costumes

Chapter 6 of 10

Standing Tall

~o~O~o~

     After school at the Sterns', Stephanie was playing with Joanne's Polly Pockets on the living room floor while Joanne and her Mom discussed the day. 

     "There were two school assemblies in the afternoon; one for the little kids and one for us.  The Principal was really mad.  He said ten parents had called him this week complaining about the bullying problem at school.  He said bullying would no longer be tolerated in any form at school.  There was even a policeman there who said the police would not allow bullying away from school and kids could go to jail for bullying."

     "A policeman, really," Mrs. Sterns pondered.

     "Yeah, I think he was some type of Indian," Joanne said.

     "An Indian?  Why do you think that?"

     "Well, all the adults kept calling him Chief."

     "The Chief of Police?"

     "Uh-huh, that's it."

     "Sweetie that is a rank, it means he is the person in charge of all the other police officers.   Interesting, they had the Chief of Police come and talk to you kids.  They must finally be getting serious about these issues," Mrs. Sterns said. "You said ten parents had called?  We only talked to three other parents, I guess the word spread.  Joanne, did the Principal say treating people as a Noper was bullying?"

     "Yeah, he said . . ." Joanne thought for a moment. "Stephanie how did he phrase it?"

     "Uhhhh . . ." Stephanie started, paused and then started again in her best Principal imitation, "giving someone the Noper treatment is considered bullying and will be grounds for suspension just as much as teasing, fighting, and intimidation are. I view Noper treatment as one of the worst type of bullying behavior.  You don't have to like everyone, but you have to treat everyone with respect. Treating someone like they are not even a person is not respectful. Everyone deserves to be respected and treated like a valued individual.  It doesn't matter how someone is different, because the reality is, it is the differences in us all that make this world such a wonderful place to live. Noper treatment ends here and now."

     "Wow Stephanie, you remembered all that."

     "Yeah well, as a Noper, it was the most important part to me."

     Mrs. Sterns looked at the two girls, "And what did you learn from his speech Joanne?"

     "That I am lucky you and Daddy found out about how I treated Daryl before the Principal did."

     "Really Joanne, that is what you learned from the speech?" Mrs. Sterns said raising her eyebrows.

     "I could say that I learned that it is bad to be mean to a freak, because sometimes they can be a good friend who can help you out of a bad situation.  I can't though, because the principal didn't teach me that Daryl did earlier in the day."

     "What did I do," Stephanie asked?

     "You got Gwen talking to me again. She's still mad at me but she is talking to me. Oh, that reminds me," Joanne looked at her Mom.  "Mom, can Gwen and Melissa come over tomorrow after school?"

     Mrs. Sterns turned towards Stephanie, "I'm not sure that is a good idea while Stephanie is here.  She might not be ready for a full girl attack."

     "But it was her idea Mommy."

     "What?"

     "Yes Mrs. Sterns," Stephanie responded.  "I figured Gwen would play with Joanne again and maybe include me at school if she got to know the real me."

     "Stephanie this could go really bad," Mrs. Sterns looked between the two girls.  "Melissa and Gwen might react really bad and stop being Joanne's friend all together.  They might also tell everyone at school about you."

     "I'm okay with it Mom, can they come over?"

     Stephanie took a deep breath and stood up, "I AM STEPHANIE.  I have to wear a stupid Daryl costume to school, and if other people find out . . . they will only be finding out the truth, and Mommy says to always tell the truth."

     "But Stephanie, this is different."

     "No Mrs. Sterns it's not.  I am Stephanie!  Some people are not going to like me because of that, like Mommy, but it doesn't change the truth.  I AM STEPHANIE, and Daryl is just a costume. Melissa said she was my friend today, and no one is forcing her to play with me.  If I want to play with Melissa, I need Gwen and Joanne to like me too."

     "I see," Mrs. Sterns said.  "But what if Melissa stops wanting to play with you once she finds out Daryl is just a costume?"

     "Mrs. Sterns, I am a Noper.  The other kids did that to me, but as Daryl, I let it happen and I let it continue.  You wrecked everything Mrs. Sterns, so now I have to do this."

     "What, how did I wreck everything for you Stephanie?"

     "Mrs. Sterns, I was a Noper for so long I didn't remember anything different.  You forced Joanne to play with me at recess and we had fun.  If I do nothing, next week I will be alone again.  I . . . I don't want to be alone again. I can't be alone again.  As Daryl, I would never fight to have a friend.  As Stephanie, I . . . I . . . I have to be me.  I have to fight.  If Melissa, Gwen, and Joanne don't want to play with me anymore when they find out, then I will be alone again.  If I do nothing, I will be alone again.  But maybe, one of them will want to play with me.  If I don't try, I deserve the Noper label.  Stephanie is going to have friends, so Stephanie has to try!"

     "What about the other kids Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns inquired.  "If they find out, things are going to be hard for you as a boy at school."

     "You mean one of the kids might say something like, ‘I should wear a dress to school and play dollies with Gwen and Joanne.'  Then call me names, insult me, and exclude me from playing with them."

     "Yes Stephanie, that and worse.  Kids can be cruel to other children who are different."

     "Mrs. Sterns, today at recess Elwood said and did all of that. I don't have to let them know Daryl is just a costume to get teased."

     "Wow, that's what happened." Joanne commented.

     Mrs. Sterns looked at her daughter, "I thought you and Stephanie told me that the two of you played together at each recess?"

     "Well, ummm, you see. . ."

     "Mrs. Sterns, it's not Joanne's fault. It's mine.  I told her I didn't want to play with her today and then went to go play soccer with the boys.  Elwood wouldn't let me.  Once he got in trouble for bullying me, Joanne tried to play with me.  I told her to play with her friends not me.  We didn't play together but for the rest of recess she tried to get Gwen to let me play with them.  Melissa came over and swung with me."

     "I see," Mrs. Sterns said while staring at her daughter.  "We will talk about this as a family tonight."

     "Sorry Joanne," Stephanie apologized.  "I won't do it again tomorrow.  After getting Elwood suspended . . ."

     "You got Elwood suspended! So that's why the Principal wanted to see you before lunch."

     "He wanted to know what happened at recess. He then asked a gazillion questions about how the other kids treat me at school.  Some of the parents who called him said their kids had bullied a kid named Daryl. He wanted to know if it was me."

     "Is there anyone else named Daryl in our school?" Joanne inquired.

     "There is a Kindergartener."

     Stephanie picked up one of the Polly Pockets and changed the outfit, "I just hope I don't get beaten up tomorrow."

     "Stephanie, why would that happen?" Mrs. Sterns asked.

     "Some of Elwood's friends beat kids up."

     "I am sure nothing is going to happen," Mrs. Sterns said getting down and hugging Stephanie.  "Especially after the assembly."

     Stephanie played with the Polly Pockets.

     "You know Joanne," Stephanie said while still focusing on the Polly Pockets. "We could follow Elwood's advice.  How many of the girls in our class do you think have an American Girl doll?"

     "All of them.  What advice?"

     "We tell all the girls tomorrow to bring their American Girl dolls on Monday.  I will wear my fancy purple dress.  Monday recess will be lots of fun."

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns inquired.  "Haven't you promised your parents and Dr. Jones that you will go to school in your Daryl costume?"

     "It would be fun though.  A girl can dream, can't she?"

     Mrs. Sterns gave Stephanie another hug, "Dream away little one, but don't actually do it before you get permission.   I also think it is too early to have Gwen and Melissa over.  The risk is too big for potential disaster.  I know you girls don't see it, but I don't think it is time for other kids to find out yet. Your Mom and Dad probably would not want other kids playing over here either."

     Stephanie played with the Poly Pockets for a bit.  Joanne came down on the floor to join her.  Mrs. Sterns stayed for a while but then went off to do her own thing in another room.

     "Joanne," Stephanie said looking at the doll in her hand. "If your Mom won't let Gwen and Melissa come over because they do not know the secret, then I just have to tell them the secret."

     "But Mommy said . . ."

     "Your Mom just doesn't want to get in trouble with my Mom and Dad.  If I tell them at school while wearing my Daryl costume, your Mom will have no reason why Gwen and Melissa can't come over. Then if my Mom and Dad get mad, they will be mad at me. Not your Mom."

     "Don't do something Stephanie that gets you in trouble."

     "My Mommy already hates me Joanne, and they are punishing me by making me wear the Daryl costume.  Don't worry, I have been a Noper and forced to wear a Daryl costume for years. I can handle whatever they do to me, but I have to fix what I did to you.  You lost Gwen as a friend because of me. It doesn't matter what happens to me, but I don't want to be why you lost your friends."

     The girls continued to play for over an hour before being told to work on their homework.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Joanne and Stephanie were trying different hair styles in an effort to find what Stephanie would wear when she met Gwen and Melissa. They were not sure when it would happen, but Stephanie was certain that it would be soon and wanted to be ready.  Some that they tried made it too easy for someone to tell she was wearing a wig, and others didn't work at all with the wig.  They did manage to find a few that would work.

     "Girls," Mr. Sterns said coming into Joanne's bedroom.  "Time for dinner."

     "I'm eating dinner here?"

     "Your Dad called and said their appointment with Dr. Jones lasted longer than they thought, so they will pick you up after dinner."

     Joanne quickly finished braiding Stephanie's high pigtails and they both went to dinner. 

     "That's a good look for you Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns said as the two came to the dining room table.  "It reminds me of when Joanne was little and let me do her hair like that.  She always insisted on ribbons and bows to tie off the pigtails.  I think we still have them if you want me to put some in your hair after dinner."

     "MOM!   We're not six."

     Stephanie, with a big smile, was in her own little world as they all sat down to eat.

     "Stephanie . . . Stephanie," Joanne repeated. "Earth to Stephanie."

     "What?" Stephanie said looking around at everyone.

     "If you want to look like a Preschooler, the dress Grandma gave me for my birthday would be perfect for you."

     "Joanne! The dress isn't that bad," Mrs. Sterns reprimanded.

     "Mom, it has puffy sleeves."

     "You looked soooooo cute in it."

     "Seriously Mom?"

     "Maybe," Stephanie hesitantly said. "I could try it on."

     "Sounds like something fun to do tomorrow afternoon," Mrs. Sterns said.

     "Don't do it Stephanie," Joanne warned.  "She'll want to take pictures of you looking like a little kid."

     "I don't have any pictures of me as a little girl.  Mommy wouldn't take pictures of me in my Halloween costumes over the years."

     "Not one picture," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "Nope, not one.  Mommy and Daddy always said I could only be Stephanie on Halloween as long as no one found out.  Stephanie had to stay hidden away in the Halloween box.  I could only open the Halloween box on Halloween, so they said there was no reason to take pictures."

     The room went silent.  After a few minutes, Mr. Sterns started dishing up the food. It was a while into the meal before the silence was broken by conversation.  Stephanie stayed silent, except when she was asked a direct question. Shortly after dinner, Stephanie's dad showed up to take her home.

      "Thanks Sarah," James said as Stephanie got on her coat.  "Your help in watching Stephanie is greatly appreciated. Dr. Jones wants to see us together the first Thursday of each month, are you sure that will be okay?"

     "It's not a problem James.  Stephanie is a sweet girl to have around.  Whenever you need a sitter, just let me know."

     "I'll keep that in mind.  We have certain problems getting sitters for her," Mr. Meyer's said before turning to Stephanie. "Come on Princess, let's go home."

     "Mommy in the car?"

     "No, Stephanie.  She decided to go visit Aunt Jennifer for the night."

     "Will she come back if I put Stephanie back in the Halloween box?"

     "Oh Stephanie," Mr. Meyers said getting down on his knees in front of her and taking her two hands.  "Mommy loves you.  She loves you with all her heart. It doesn't matter if you are dressed as Daryl or Stephanie, she loves you. You be who you are, and Mommy will love you. She is just going through some hard times at the moment and needed to talk to her sister."

     "Will she come back if I put Stephanie back in the Halloween box?"

     The adults looked at each other as Mr. Meyers stood up and took Stephanie's hand, "Come on Stephanie. Let's go home."

     Mr. Sterns held Joanne close as they waved bye.

     That night, Stephanie silently cried herself to sleep while holding Melanie.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Friday morning started with Stephanie looking at her dresses. 

     "Melanie what am I going to do?  To have friends at school, where I have to dress as Daryl, I need to be Stephanie.  To have Mommy at home and love me, I have to stop dressing as me and stay in my Daryl costume. What am I going to do? I can't make anyone happy."

     "Stephanie," Dad yelled down the hall.  "Hurry up, Breakfast is on the table."

     Stephanie sat down on her bed looking at her closet.  Taking Melanie onto her lap, a tear came down her face.

     "Stephanie," Dad said walking into the room.  "Breakfa . . . Are you okay sweetie?"

     Dad sat down next to Stephanie and hugged her, "What's wrong Stephanie?"

     "I can't win Daddy.  I can't win.  I can have friends at school if I am Stephanie, but you say I have to be Daryl.  The only place I can be Stephanie is at home, but Mommy only wants me in my Daryl costume.  Why can't I just be me?"

      "What do you want?"

     "I want to go put on that dress, go to school, and tell everyone I am Stephanie Marie Meyers.  I want Mommy to love me, not my Daryl costume.  I want to be me.  I want pictures of me as a little girl, and school pictures of me in pretty dresses. I want to wear pretty Christmas dresses and fancy Easter Dresses.  I want to be a ballerina. I want long hair I can put in pigtails, braids, and a pony tail.  I want to stop pretending to be Daryl. I want Santa to know me as Stephanie, not Daryl. I am Stephanie. Why can't I tell and show everyone?"

     "Stephanie Marie?"

     "It's Grandma Eaton's middle name.  I always liked it so I took it as my middle name too," Stephanie said without looking at Daddy.

     "Does Mommy know you chose that as your middle name?"

     "No."

     "I am sure Grandma Eaton will be honored that you picked her name to be one of yours.  That was your Great Grandma's first name," Daddy hugged Stephanie.

     "I can't do it Daddy.  I can't be Daryl for Mommy.  I am not sure I can keep being Daryl at school.  Daryl is a Noper.  He has no friends.  He will never have friends.  Even when I try to be like the other boys, they won't let me.  I'm not like them Daddy.  I don't like doing the things they do.  I like what the girls like, but they will not let me play with them because I am wearing my Daryl costume.  I want friends Daddy.  Stephanie can have friends, so why can't I be Stephanie all the time?"

     The two just hugged each other.

     "I don't want to be a freak anymore Daddy.  I just want to be a normal little girl like all the other girls in my class."

     "I'm sorry Stephanie.  It's not easy, is it?  I'll see what I can do to make things easier, but we can't make these changes overnight. The world only knows Daryl Eric Meyers.  We will introduce Stephanie Marie Meyers to people, but not everyone will accept you as a girl.  This is not going to be easy Stephanie.  There is nothing I can do . . . nothing to make it easy and pain free.  Growing up is hard.  Switching from a boy to a girl is not something that happens every day, so people are scared by it.  It is going to make growing up for you even harder. I love you Stephanie.  Boy or Girl, you are my precious child."

     Dad hugged Stephanie and wiped away her tears, "Right now, I need to get my precious child ready for school. Mrs. Farren is expecting Daryl to show up in her classroom this morning.  I am sorry, but I need you to get dressed up in the Daryl clothes and go to school."

     "Will Stephanie ever be able to go to school?"

     "Maybe, but not this school year.  You need to stay Daryl at school this school year."

     Dad helped Stephanie make the transformation and the two of them went off for breakfast. Afterwards, Dad drove Stephanie in her Daryl costume to school.  He brought her inside the school and sent her off to class, telling her he needed to talk to the Principal. 

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "Stephanie we can't," Joanne said while swinging on the swings during morning recess.  "Mommy said no."

     "Your Mom said we couldn't have Melissa and Gwen over while she is babysitting me.  This would be them coming over when I am not there."

     "Will you get in trouble if we do this?"

     "Probably, but . . . I have to do it Joanne.  If we don't do it now, they will find out.  You just called me Stephanie, and I am wearing my Daryl costume.  If you do that in front of them, they will find out.   Gwen will not go near me because all she can see is the Daryl costume.  Look at her over there, she is having fun with Melissa, but she keeps looking over here at you.   You two need to be together, and this is a way I can still play with you."

     "I'll invite them," Joanne agreed.  "But don't blame me if things go wrong."

     "That's okay. It won't be my fault either.  We can blame Daryl.  We already know he is a trouble maker.  He got Elwood suspended."

     Joanne giggled as she started to pump harder.

     "Did your mom come back and make you breakfast this morning," Joanne asked?

     "No, Dad made me breakfast and then brought me to school.  He said he had to talk to the Principal."

     "Probably about Elwood teasing you yesterday."

     "Yeah, maybe."

     "I'm sure she will pick you up at my house this afternoon."

     "I hope so, but she doesn't li. . ."

      "Hey faggot," Frank said as he approached the swings.  "Elwood told you to wear a dress to school and play dollies with the girls.  I don't see a dress on you sissy, and where is your dolly?"

     Daryl turned to Joanne and quietly said, "Go play with Gwen and Melissa till he leaves. You'll be safe with them."

     "Get over here dweeb.  You got Elwood suspended, and now you are going to pay for it."

     "Do you want something Frank?" Daryl kept swinging.

     "I want you dead.  Elwood got in a ton of trouble because of you, and now you are going to pay big time. No sissy Noper can get away with what you did."

     Daryl looked at Frank and then back to Joanne who was still on her swing. In a much more forceful tone he said, "Go!"

     Joanne got off her swing and ran away.

     Daryl turned back to Frank, "All I did was try to play soccer."

     "You know very well Nopers are NOT allowed to play soccer.  If you had stayed in your place Elwood would not be suspended. It is time someone taught you a lesson. As a Noper you are to have no friends, you aren't allowed to play, and you're not allowed to talk to people."

     "I am Steph . . ," Daryl looked down at himself and then back up at Frank.  He got off his swing and stood straight in front of Frank.  Daryl, practically screaming, said, "I will not be a Noper anymore! Now get out of here Frank!"    

     Frank took a swing at Daryl, but missed due to Daryl taking a step back.

     "Do that again sissy, and I'll break both your legs," Frank said as a crowd started to gather.

     Frank's second attempt got Daryl in the gut and knocked him onto the ground.  Daryl tried to block the attacks but did not fight back. Frank kicked some woodchips all over Daryl before kicking him again.

     "FRANKLIN, STOP IT NOW!" the recess monitor said approaching the two with Joanne by her side.

     "You don't get off that easy you wimp," Frank said kicking Daryl hard in the side and going down on the ground to throw a few punches.

     Daryl was in tears as Frank was forcibly removed from him.  Joanne was quickly by his side with Melissa joining shortly afterwards.  The Principal and Mrs. Farren promptly showed up to help deal with the situation.  Daryl was escorted down to the nurse by Mrs. Farren, Melissa, and Joanne.

     "Girls, thank you for helping Daryl down to the nurse, but she needs to examine him now.  Which one of you was with Daryl when Frank started the fight?"

     "I was Mrs. Farren," Joanne said raising her hand.

     "Joanne the Principal will want to talk to you. Go out into the office and wait.  Melissa, please go back outside to recess."

     "But . . ."

     "Melissa," Mrs. Farren said. "It is nice that you are concerned about Daryl and Joanne, but I need you to go back outside till recess is over."

     Melissa looked at Daryl who nodded for her to do as Mrs. Farren instructed.  Slowly she headed back outside.

     Daryl was questioned and examined by the nurse.  Then he was questioned by the Principal, after which he was returned to the nurse.  She again examined Daryl, paying close attention to where he was kicked in his side.

     Daryl was laying down on one of the beds when a police officer came in.

     "Is," the officer looked at Daryl before turning back to the nurse "he okay?  Do we need to get him to the hospital?"

     "I think he will be fine with some rest.  He is going to have some bruises and sore muscles.  There do not appear to be any broken bones, and no obvious signs of damage to internal organs."

     "That's good.  His father will be here in a few minutes and then I will want to talk to him.  Can he do that in the Principals office, or do we need to do that here?"

     "I see no reason why he can't move.  He has already made one trip to the Principals office with no serious impact. . ."

     "Daryl," Dad said coming around the corner and seeing Daryl lying in bed.  "Are you okay?"

     "I'm fine . . . owwwww," Daryl grabbed his side as he sat up.

     Mr. Meyers was quickly at Daryl's side and giving him a big hug, "What happened Daryl?"

     "Mr. Meyers," the Police Officer interrupted. "I need to get a statement from Daryl about what happened.  If it is okay with you, let's all move to the Principal's office and talk in there."

     Daryl, with help from his Dad, moved to the Principal's office with the Police Officer following.  The Principal, Mr. Meyers, the Police Officer, and Daryl all sat down.

     "Mr. Meyers," the Principal started. "After we talked this morning I talked with the district Superintendent about steps we should take if or when problems started with Daryl and the other kids.  I did not expect things to start this early, but due to the nature of Daryl's issues, this could be viewed as a Hate Crime.  It is district policy to immediately involve the police with any Hate Crime.  Officer Owen has worked with the school district for many years and is here to help."

     "Hate Crime?" Mr. Meyers looked at the Principal, Officer Owen, and then at Daryl.   "What happened Daryl?"

     Daryl started his story with the event yesterday with Elwood and ended it with Frank being pulled off of him by the recess monitor.

     "Mr. Meyers," Officer Owen started.  "With Daryl having gender identity issues, and both Elwood and Frank talking about him dressing as a girl, this must be investigated as a possible Hate Crime."

     "If we do that everyone will know about Stephanie.  Daryl will immediately be a target and any chance of him having a normal life would be over.  I can't do that to him.   She deserves a chance to get a start without being at the center of a scandal.  She is just nine years old. She wants friends to play with, and wants to take ballet lessons. She wants to be a normal girl, wearing pretty dresses for Christmas and having other girls over to play with her dolls.  We have to give her at least a chance of making friends before she is thrown into the middle of a hate crime investigation."

     "Mr. Meyers," Officer Owen replied.  "You want your child to lead a normal life. You want her to have friends.  As Daryl does she have any friends?"

     Mr. Meyers looked at Daryl and then back to Officer Owen, "No."

     "At pure minimum, Stephanie has been the target of significant bully behavior and assault. From what I hear, this has been going on for a long time. I will hold off on any Hate Crime charges till after I have talked to the other children.  If they knew about Stephanie, then it would be a disservice to her not to press charges for hate crimes," Officer Owen stated.

     "No one likes me.  No one wants me, not even Mommy.  If I am going to be hated by everyone, I want to be me.  I want to be Stephanie.  I am Stephanie!  Daddy, it doesn't matter what Officer Owen says or does. Daryl has to die, so Stephanie can live. Anything Officer Owen does will just help kill Daryl.  That is a good thing.  Daryl is a Noper, always will be a Noper.   I am Stephanie.  I am NOT a Noper.  I confronted Elwood.  I stood up to Frank.  Not Daryl, me, Stephanie. I have friends, something Daryl has never had.  I am going to go tell them Thank You, and let them know I am okay," Stephanie using her arms for support, got up and headed for the door.

     "But . . ." Mr. Meyers started reaching out to stop Stephanie.

     "Let her go Mr. Meyers," the Principal stated.  "She needs to do this."

     "She seems to have a better grasp on all of this than we all do," Officer Owen stated as Stephanie hobbled out the door. "Nothing we say or do is going to slow her down. Our job now is . . ."

     Stephanie didn't hear the rest, as she made her way out of the office.  The pain was getting worse as she made her way down the hallway.  By the time she was half way to Mrs. Farren's room, she could only go a few steps without holding on to the wall for stability.  

     One of the classes from the older grades was walking the other direction.  The teacher stopped the class and looked at Daryl, "You okay?  Do you need any help?"

     "It hurts but I am okay.  I just have to get back to class to tell my friends thank you."

     "Are you sure?  One of my students could escort you down to the Nurse's office."

     "Was already there. Just have to tell friends Thank You."

     "Who's your teacher?"

     "Mrs. Farren.  I okay.  Thank You," Stephanie said fighting the pain.  She continued down the hallway.

     "As soon as I drop my students off I will be right back to help you," the teacher said as they parted ways.

     Stephanie's pace was slowed as the pain increased, but she finally reached the room.  Standing in the hallway outside the classroom, she heard Mrs. Farren talking to the class about bully behavior and how she was disappointed in how the only one in the class to come to Daryl's defense was Joanne.

     "A bully gets away with the inappropriate behavior because whoever they are picking on has no one to come to their defense," Stephanie heard Mrs. Farren say.  "Has Daryl ever done anything to anyone in this room?"

     The class was silent.

     "Has Daryl ever been mean to anyone?  Said something inappropriate to any of you?  Hurt any of you in any way?"

     The class was still silent as Stephanie stood in the hall listening.

     "He couldn't really," Mike said. "He's a Noper."

     That was enough.  Taking a deep breath, Stephanie stood tall and made her way around the doorway into the room, "I let you all turn me into a Noper.  I didn't fight it. No more!  I am a person!  I have likes and interests.  I have things that I am good at and things I am not.  You don't want to be my friend, fine.  You don't have to be. I've never had friends before anyways. But I will NOT be a Noper anymore!  I am here.  Live with it."

     Stephanie stumbled a bit. In an attempt to prevent falling to the ground, she reached out to the bookcase next to her and used it for support.

     "Daryl," Melissa called out.

     Stephanie looked at Melissa and smiled, "All I did was try to play soccer with all the other boys yesterday.  Elwood would not let me because I was a Noper.  He was suspended for being a bully.  Today I was just on the swings, nowhere near Frank.  I did nothing to Frank, said nothing to Frank, and I never have.  He wanted to beat me up because I tried to play soccer and Elwood got suspended for being a bully."

     Mrs. Farren had moved from the front of the class to the back where Stephanie was.  She took the child under the arm and supported her over to Daryl's seat.

     "I will NOT be a Noper anymore! I . . . I am . . .," Stephanie was in tears.

     "You are Daryl Meyers and you are my friend," Joanne stood up and went over to Daryl's desk.

     Stephanie smiled at Joanne and said, "Thank You."

     "And you are my friend," Melissa stated also standing and going over to Daryl.

     The rest of the class was not sure what to say or do.  They were all silent just looking at Daryl.

     "Daryl," Mrs. Farren said.  "Welcome back. It looks like you have two good friends and I am sure more students in here will be your friend soon. As the Principal stated yesterday, Noper treatment of any student is over.  I don't care what your reason is, there is no excuse for bully behavior. No reason, none at all."

     Squeezing Daryl's hand, Joanne looked up to the teacher, "What if a boy dressed up as a girl?"

     The class all started to giggle.

     "Okay, settle down everybody," Mrs. Farren looked at Joanne and then at Daryl with a quizzical look. "I said there is no excuse to tease anybody.  Yes, a boy wearing a dress is a little unusual, but how does that hurt any of us.  When you see someone that does not fit into your perfect image of the world, I want you all to ask the question, ‘How does that person hurt you?'  A boy wearing a dress is no more a threat to you as a kid in a wheelchair.  They are just like you and me.   They have dreams to have friends and fit in just like everybody else. There are girls who act and behave more like boys and boys who are more like girls.  That does not make them a freak, it just means they are following who they are. Everyone is different. Look around this room.  John is an amazing artist.  Candice is outstanding at sports.  Zoe has an incredible singing voice.   Each one of you has something that makes you different from everyone else."

     "Mrs. Farren!" Melissa screamed.

     Everyone looked at Melissa. She was looking at Daryl who was grabbing his side and had his head down on his desk with an expression of pain.

     "Candice! Go get the nurse now!" Mrs. Farren said as she got down on her knees next to Daryl. "Everyone stay in your seats, and I need it quiet."

     Mrs. Farren lifted Daryl's shirt where he was grabbing it, and saw a huge bruise on his side.  Many of the children close by also saw it and gasped. In a few moments the Nurse, Principal, Officer Owen, and Mr. Meyers came into the room.  After a quick examination, Mr. Meyers carried Stephanie back to the Nurse's office.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, you will never guess what happened at school today," Joanne said as she came barging into her house.

     "Did Frank beat up Stephanie? Then Stephanie collapsed in your classroom, and the Principal, the Nurse, Officer Owen, and Mr. Meyers carried her out?"

     "No, Stephanie was beaten up . . . wait a minute," Joanne dropped her backpack and looked at her mom standing in the middle of the living room.  "How did you know?"

     "Sorry Joanne, but Stephanie got here a little after lunch time."

     "She's here? How is she?  Where is she? Can I see her?"

     "Slow down little one.  Stephanie is asleep in your bed, and you are not going back there to wake her up. The doctor said she needs to get her rest, and a hyperactive little girl waking her up is not exactly restful."

     "Ohhhhhh, Mom! I'll be quiet. Honest.  She won't even know I am in the room."

     "Get your coat off and then into the kitchen.  We are going to let Stephanie sleep."

     Thirty minutes after getting home, Joanne finally got to peak into her room after telling her Mom she needed to go to the bathroom.  Before she got all the way into the room however, her Mom pulled her out and scooted her down to the bathroom.  On the way back to the kitchen, Joanne did manage to get into her bedroom and sat down on the floor next to her bed.

     "You awake Stephanie?  Stephanie, you wake?" Joanne said getting right into Stephanie's face.

     "Joanne Elizabeth Sterns," Mrs. Sterns said in a loud whisper standing just inside the door pointing out into the hallway. "Out, now!"

      "But look Mom, she is waking up?  See?"

     "Joanne?" Stephanie said without opening her eyes. "You have a comfy bed."

     Joanne jumped up and down, "She's awake! She's awake!"

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns said coming over to the bed.  "How are you feeling?"

     "My side really hurts," Stephanie said hugging Melanie tight. "Is there any more of the medicine?"

     Mrs. Sterns looked at her watch, "Not for another half hour Stephanie.  Sorry sweetie.  Stay there, I'll go get you something to drink."

     "Mommy, I'll watch her."

     "I am sure you will.  Be gentle."

     Joanne sat at the end of her bed and stared at Stephanie. 

     "Thanks for getting the teacher Joanne.  You didn't have to do that."

     "Yes I did.  You . . . I have been mean to you all week, but you keep trying to be nice to me.  When Frank came up to us, you sent me away so I wouldn't get hurt too.  Thank You," Joanne went in and gave Stephanie a hug.

     "Owwwwwww," Stephanie moaned while being hugged.

     "Sorry, sorry, sorry," Joanne said backing off holding her hands up.

     "What did you do now," Mrs. Sterns asked as she walked in?  "I told you to be gentle."

     "I just tried to give her a hug for making sure Frank didn't hurt me."

     Mrs. Sterns handed Stephanie a lidded Disney Princess cup with a straw coming out. She then helped Stephanie sit up more and adjusted the pillows behind her. As Stephanie starting drinking, Joanne just couldn't hold it in anymore.

     "Stephanie, Mom, you wouldn't believe what happened this afternoon.  By the end of lunch recess, the story about you almost dying trying to tell everyone you were not going to be a Noper anymore was all over the school.  All afternoon kids from different classes kept coming in with stacks of cards for you.  Mrs. Farren couldn't get any lesson in without being interrupted," Joanne chuckled.  "Your desk is overflowing with cards.  Finally Mrs. Farren let us make you cards instead of doing the Social Studies lesson. In fact . . ."

     Joanne jumped off her bed and ran out the door.  Mrs. Sterns and Stephanie looked at each other confused.

     "I almost died?"

     "Not that I know of Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns got out before Joanne came charging back into the room holding her backpack.

     "I didn't put mine on your desk.  I was going to bring it over to your house.  Melissa found out and told me to bring her card to you too," Joanne said while digging through her backpack.

     Stephanie took the cards and opened up Melissa's first.


Deer Daryl,

I was reely scard. I hope you ok. You told bullys day all idee ots. No Noper do dat befor. You stood up to Frank. I prod of you. All kids in my speshel ed class are. You are hero to me and dem. You my frend. Tank You

Melissa

 

     "What she say?" Joanne asked.

     Stephanie looked at the pretty picture on the cover, of flowers and butterflies, "She . . . hopes I am okay."

     "The next one's mine."

     Stephanie took the next card and looked at the picture of two girls swinging on the front, one with high pigtails and a pink dress, the other with hair like Joanne's and wearing the same outfit she had on.


Dear Stephanie,

Everyone is talking about what you did. Your a Noper and a girl in a costume, but you stand up to Frank and Elwood. The principal tell class you left his office without permishen to say Thank You to the friends who helped you. He say you okay, but you get hurt more coming to say Thank You. Why you risk your life to thank me? Why Stephanie? Get better. Get better and be my friend.

Joanne

 

      Stephanie was in tears by the time she reached the end of the card. 

     "Joanne, what did you say in that card to make Stephanie cry?"

     "Nothing Mom, honest."

     Stephanie handed Mrs. Sterns Joanne's card.

     After a quick read and a proud smile to Joanne, "Well Stephanie needs to stay in bed, but Joanne you can stay in here and play with her.  Drink your water Stephanie. I'll be back in half an hour to give you more medicine."

     Mrs. Sterns gave the card back to Stephanie, gave Joanne a hug, and left the room.

     "So what happened when you left class?" Joanne inquired.

     "Daddy took me to the doctor.  She took pictures of my insides and sent me home.  Daddy and I had lunch together, and then he had to go back to work so your Mom said she would watch me.  The doctor said the medicine would make me tired, so your Mom said I should lie in your bed and she would read me a story."

     "She does that when I am sick too," Joanne smiled.  "She always brings me that cup too.  Different lids can go on it.  One of the lids is a sippy cup lid. It was my favorite sippy cup when I was a little girl."

     "I must have fallen asleep during the story. I remember her starting it and then you were asking if I was awake."

     "Stephanie, you wouldn't believe it. At lunch all these sixth graders wanted to see me."

     "Why?"

     "They wanted to know what I did that made you go back to class in so much pain just to say Thank You. They saw you walking back to class and said you were in a lot of pain, but you had to get back to say Thank You to the friends that helped you."

     "Yeah there were some big kids in the hall when I left the Principal and Officer Owen."

     "Somehow their teacher heard you tell our class you were not going to be a Noper anymore.  She gave her class a half hour lecture on treating people with respect and what a true hero is.  She told them you were a true hero. When you sent me off to safety before Frank beat you up, that is something a Hero would do. You cared more about the safety of your friends than you did yourself. Then afterwards, you were in so much pain, but you had to go back and say Thank You for getting help.  The sixth graders all said you were a true Hero today and a true friend."

     "I am not a Hero Joanne," Stephanie looked down at Joanne and Melissa's cards.  "I was really scared today.  I can't protect you like a Hero would. I'm just a scared freak. I got beat up today and I will get beat up again.  The only way for you to be safe is to stay away from me. I can't have friends Joanne."

     "Don't be silly Stephanie.  Didn't you listen to what Mrs. Farren said about friends needing to stick together to be safe from bullies? Maybe you weren't there when she said that.  It doesn't matter.  To be safe from a bully you need more friends, not less."

     Stephanie started playing with Melanie's hair while listening to Joanne.

     "I didn't let Melissa stop being my friend when she tried.  I am not going to let you.  Don't worry Stephanie, none of the bullies are going to beat you up.  You got two kids suspended in two days.  They are all scared of you."

     "They are not scared of me."

     Joanne chuckled, "After what the Principal said they are."

     "What did he say?"

     "He said bullying will not be allowed and he will not tolerate groups of kids targeting one student or a particular group of students. He then explained how the police are investigating the two attacks on you and if anyone else does anything to you the police will immediately be called. He wanted to know if anyone had anything to add about what happened between you and Elwood, and between you and Frank."  Joanne looked at Stephanie for a minute before continuing, "But Stephanie, that's not why the police are involved, is it?"

     "No," Stephanie said not looking at Joanne.  "It's because I am Stephanie. Officer Owen said Frank's attack could be a Hate Crime."

     "What's a Hate Crime?"

     "I don't know, but Daddy, the Principal, and Officer Owen were all very concerned Frank's and Elwood's bullying were Hate Crimes.  Daddy really didn't want Officer Owen to call Frank's attack a Hate Crime."

     The girls were silent. Joanne watched Stephanie playing with Melanie's hair, "I have a doll like that, but mine has black hair."

     Joanne went over to her pile of dolls and stuffed animals, returning with a doll looking a lot like Melanie.

     "They could be sisters," Stephanie said holding Melanie up next to Joanne's doll.  "What's her name?"

     "Cindy," Joanne said.

     "Melanie, this is Cindy.  Say Hi to her," Stephanie instructed her doll. Stephanie had Melanie try to hide and sheepishly waved Melanie's hand at Cindy.

     "Oh Melanie," Stephanie said. "Don't be shy.  I am sure Cindy is very nice and you two will have fun together."

     "Me nice. Me big girl," Joanne had Cindy say.

     "Me big girl too.  Me fwee," Stephanie had Melanie say while getting a little closer to Cindy.

     The dolls played together till Mrs. Sterns brought Stephanie her medicine.

 



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