Read The New Girl Online

Authors: Meg Cabot

The New Girl (6 page)

RULE #6
Peaceful, Nonviolent Conflict Resolution Is Always the Answer

Even though Caroline, Sophie, and Erica said they’d be my bodyguards, they couldn’t be around to protect me from Rosemary Dawkins and the death warrant she’d taken out against me
all
the time.

They couldn’t be there, for instance, when Mrs. Hunter gave me a note to take down to Mrs. Jenkins, the principal, and I was coming back up the stairs and ran into Rosemary as she was coming out of the girls’ room.

A part of me thought maybe she’d gotten the bathroom pass and was
waiting
for me in the girls’ room.

But another part of me was, like, no way Rosemary hated me enough to do that.

Still, when I came up the stairs, totally minding my
own business, Rosemary was, like, “Oh, hey,
loser.
There you are,
loser.

I looked all around the hallway, wondering who Rosemary could have been talking to. But the only other person there was Mr. Elkhart, the custodial arts manager, who was mopping up some of Morgan Hayes’s throw-up from earlier in the day. I didn’t think Rosemary could be calling Mr. Elkhart a loser, because
It isn’t polite to call adults names.
That’s a rule.

I guess it was lucky for me Mr. Elkhart
was
there, though, because Rosemary didn’t push me down and start whaling on me right then and there or anything, since he was leaning on his mop, watching us. I just went, “Hey, Rosemary,” and made a big wide circle around her so she couldn’t reach me if she swung out her fist.

Still, even though she couldn’t hit me, Rosemary could tease me. So she did, by going, “Whatcha so scared of, huh, scaredy-cat? Huh? Are you an alley cat or a scaredy-cat?”

I just kept walking back into our classroom, because Mrs. Hunter had only given me permission to take her note down to Mrs. Jenkins’s office, not hang around in the
hallway and talk to Rosemary. When I got back to my seat and Erica saw Rosemary come in right behind me and lay her bathroom pass on Mrs. Hunter’s desk, she turned her head real fast to look at me, like,
Are you all right?

But I opened my English book to the page we were all on and made myself look super busy and didn’t say anything to anyone about it (especially since we aren’t supposed to chitchat with our neighbor during class time) until recess, when I told Erica, Sophie, and Caroline about it in the safety of our pretend castle behind the bushes on the playground.

“Something has to be done to stop her,” Sophie said.

“Yeah,” Caroline said. “We should tell Mrs. Hunter.”

“NO!” I cried at the same time as Sophie.

“That will only enrage her further,” Sophie explained.

“There has to be another way,” Erica said.

“What if Allie learned self-defense?” Sophie asked.

“What’s that?” Erica wanted to know.

“The art of defending oneself against one’s enemies,” Caroline said. “And I’d like to register my disapproval.
Peaceful, nonviolent conflict resolution is always the answer.”

That sounded good. That sounded, in fact, like it should be a rule.

Except nobody else seemed to think so.

“My older brother showed it to me once,” Sophie said. “He knows all the most painful places on the human body to register a kick, and I think if Allie just drove her heel into the arch of Rosemary’s foot, she’d disable her long enough to run for help. And that’s really the best strategy in this situation.”

“What if Rosemary’s wearing boots?” Erica wanted to know.

“Her inner thigh, then,” Sophie said.

“I can’t kick anybody,” I said, horrified. I mean, I kick my little brothers all the time when one of them won’t surrender the remote. Not
hard
or anything, but to give them a gentle reminder that
I am the oldest child and so I am the one in charge.
This is obviously a rule. But sometimes they forget.

But I have never kicked a stranger, or even an acquaintance who was not actually related to me. Once, I kicked my cousin Todd. But he is my own age, and also, he completely deserved it for saying our house was old. And that wasn’t even our new house, it was our old house, which was a contemporary split-level and was built in this century so he didn’t know what he was talking about. And he didn’t even cry, so it wasn’t that hard a kick or anything.

“You’re probably going to have to kick Rosemary,” Sophie said. “Because if you don’t kick her, she’s going to punch your lights out. Kicking her, then running away is your only chance at survival. I wish there were some other way.”

“I’m sorry,” Caroline said. “But violence of any kind is wrong, and responding to Rosemary’s violence with violence of your own is
especially
wrong.”

“How come it’s not wrong when we’re playing queens and chopping off the heads of evil warlords?” Sophie asked her.

“Because that,” Caroline said, “is pretend. Allie could really get hurt doing this.”

As if I didn’t know this! Also, if Caroline was so concerned about me, where had she been during the spelling bee, when I really could have used her support? I know she’d felt sick, but fewer cookies and a little more spelling skill would have been helpful.

“All we’re saying Allie should do is incapacitate her enemy, then run for help,” Sophie explained to Caroline.

“What’s ‘incapacitate’?” Erica asked.

“You know,” Sophie said. “Prevent Rosemary from functioning normally for a moment because she’s busy writhing in pain.”

“Oh, dear,” Erica said. “I guess so, then.”

“I don’t know.” Caroline looked doubtful.

I kind of agreed with Caroline. I thought incapacitating Rosemary, just like telling Mrs. Hunter, was only going to make Rosemary madder. The whole situation, really, was turning out to be one where no matter what I did, it seemed like it was going to get me beat up worse than if I continued to do what I was doing now…which was nothing.

Ultimately, I could see I was going to have to consult with someone who actually had experience in this kind of
thing, since it didn’t look as if the situation was going to improve on its own.

And I knew exactly whom to go to.

I found my dad putting together the bed (with Mark’s help) in the guest bedroom after school, in preparation for Grandma’s visit at the end of the week. Dad had just said a bunch of swear words because while he is very good at teaching college kids how to write computer programs, he is not very good at putting beds together. When you say a bad word in our house, you are supposed to pay a quarter. When we get enough quarters, we take Marvin to the dog grooming place and he gets a shampoo and comb out and comes back looking beautiful. Until he rolls in the dirt, which he usually does the first chance he gets, because he doesn’t like the way the dog shampoo smells.

I pretended I didn’t hear Dad’s swears, though, because I wanted to talk to him about something serious.

“Dad,” I said, “how do you fight someone?”

Mark started laughing, although I didn’t really see what was so funny.

“Fight someone?” Dad was putting a screw into the bed frame he was assembling. He had the screw he was going to use in his mouth so he wouldn’t lose it, so he was talking kind of funny. “Why do you want to fight someone?”

“I don’t
want
to fight anybody,” I said. “Somebody wants to fight me.”

“Who wants to fight you?” Mark wanted to know. Mark was holding the nut so Dad wouldn’t lose it.

“Nobody,” I said.
The less your little brothers know about your business, the better off you are.
That’s a rule. A big one.

“The best way to fight someone,” Dad said, taking the screw from his mouth and putting it in the hole, “is to punch them in the nose.”

“Why the nose?” I asked.

“Because,” Dad said while Mark held the nut in place, “it really hurts to get punched in the nose. But the nose is only made up of cartilage, which splinters easily beneath the knuckles, and so you won’t hurt your hand punching it. As opposed to if you punch the guy in his
mouth—then you’d cut your knuckles on his teeth. Or in the jaw or the eye—you’d bruise your knuckles on bone.”

“Gee, Dad,” Mark said admiringly. “You must have hit a lot of guys, huh?”

“Oh, no,” Dad said. “I just got beat up a lot in school.”

I looked down at my fists. I didn’t think I could punch Rosemary. For one thing, she was a lot taller than me. I wasn’t sure I could reach her face.

“No, no, no,” Dad said, noticing what I was doing. “That’s not how you make a fist. Here.”

He put down the partially made bed frame and stood up and came over to me.

“First of all,” Dad said, “never put your thumb inside your fingers when you make a fist. Because when you hit someone, you’ll only end up breaking your thumb. Keep your thumb outside. Like this.”

Dad showed me how to make a fist, keeping my thumb outside my fist. Mark came over to show me, as well, even though I’m pretty sure Mark’s never been in a fight in his
life. Except with me. But the only fights we’ve been in I’ve always won by sitting on top of him and then threatening to spit in his face. This is an excellent way to win fights with your brothers. But only if they are smaller than you are.

“That’s right,” Dad said. “Now, try punching me in the middle of the hand.” He held up his big open palm.

“No, Dad,” I said, lowering my fist. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can,” Dad said. He tapped the middle of his palm. “Right here, as hard as you can.”

I didn’t want to punch my dad. I didn’t want to punch
anyone
!

On the other hand, though, I didn’t want to
get
punched, either. So if it was a choice between learning to punch and getting punched…

I pulled my arm back and punched the center of my dad’s palm, not as hard as I could, because I didn’t want to hurt him. His hand didn’t even move. But my fist bounced right off.

Mark laughed.

“That was all right,” Dad said, giving Mark a disapproving look for laughing. “But I think you could do better.”

I glared at Mark. I couldn’t believe he’d laughed. I’d like to see how hard he’d try to hit his own father.

“Tell me about this guy who wants to fight you. What’d you do to him? Call him a name or something?”

“It’s not a guy,” I said. “It’s a girl.”

“A girl?” Dad looked surprised. “I didn’t know girls fought. I mean, physically.”

“Oh, they fight,” I assured him. As I said it, my stomach gave a twist, the way it always did when I thought about Rosemary. “She says she’s going to kill me.”

“Well,” Dad said, “pretend you’re not hitting me. Pretend you’re punching her.” He held up his hand again. “Now hit me. And don’t hit with just your arm. Throw your whole body behind the punch.”

“Dad,” I said uncomfortably.

“Do it, Allie,” Dad said.

“Just do it, Allie,” Mark said. “Really whale on him.”

I took a deep breath. Then I closed my eyes. I
remembered how scared I’d been in that hallway when it had been just me and Rosemary (until I’d noticed Mr. Elkhart). Then I opened my eyes and punched my dad’s hand, throwing my whole body behind the punch.

“Ow,” Dad said, waving his hand in the air like it stung. “Good one, Allie.”

“Yeah, that was good, Allie,” Mark said. “Did you hear that cracking sound? I think that was Dad’s hand bones. Right, Dad?”

“That’s enough practicing for today,” Dad said. “You’ve got your technique down. Let’s talk strategy.”

“Strategy?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Dad said. He wrapped the hand I’d punched around the cup of coffee he’d been drinking. “When is this fight going to go down?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Whenever she jumps me. It’s her choice. She’s a lot bigger than me.”

“A
fifth
-grader wants to kill you?” Mark asked, looking impressed.

I didn’t want him to know the truth, especially since he knew Rosemary. I mean, he played kick ball with her every
day at recess. I wasn’t sure he especially liked her. Rosemary, unlike Prince Peter, was pretty mean to the kids who were littler than she was. But Mark was a tough kid, so he probably didn’t even notice.

Still, I ignored his question. “What if I can’t reach her nose?”

“A punch in the gut should make her double over,” Dad said, looking thoughtful, “and then you’ll be able to land one on her nose. But, you know, maybe this is something you should talk to your mother about.”

“No!” I said, and Mark nodded.

“Mom’ll just call Allie’s teacher,” Mark explained, “and the teacher’ll say something to the kid, and the kid’ll know Allie told, and then she’ll want to kill Allie even more, for being a tattletale.”

I threw Mark a grateful look. The truth is, even though little brothers can be a pain sometimes, other times they can be nice to have around because they know exactly what you are thinking and feeling. Because they are thinking and feeling the same thing.

“She’ll wait until no one is around,” Mark went on, “and
then when Allie least expects it, she’ll come jumping out from the shadows, and
WHAM!

Other times, though, little brothers go just one step too far.

“So Allie better know what to do,” Mark concluded.

Dad looked thoughtful. “Right,” he said. “But, you know, your mother wouldn’t approve of fighting.”

“But, Dad,” I said, “Mark’s right. Whether or not Mom approves, I have to know how to defend myself, right? Because she’s not going to be able to protect me twenty-four hours a day.”

“Still,” Dad said. Now he looked uncomfortable. “I—”

I gulped. “What’s that?” I said. “I think I hear Mom calling. I better go downstairs and see what she wants.”

I ran out of the room. I didn’t really hear Mom calling, of course. I made that part up. I just didn’t want to think about what Rosemary might do to me if Dad told Mom what was going on, and Mom called Mrs. Hunter, and Mrs. Hunter said something to her about it. I walked into the kitchen just as Mom was hanging up the phone.

“Good news,” Mom said.

I didn’t think the news could be that Rosemary Dawkins had been picked to star in her own Disney series and was moving to Hollywood and I’d never have to see her again. I knew that would be too much to hope for.

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