“What?” said Mom.
“I wrote those awful notes,” I said quickly. “I did mean stuff. It was my fault! I was the bully, Mom! It wasn’t anyone else’s fault but mine!”
Mom and Dad didn’t seem to know what to answer.
“Instead of sitting there like two idiots,” said Grandmère,
who always said things like they were, “you should be praising Julian for this admission! He is taking responsibility! He is owning up to his mistakes. It takes much courage to do this kind of thing.”
“Yes, of course,” said Dad, rubbing his chin and looking at me. “But … I just don’t think you understand all the legal ramifications. The school took our tuition and refused to return it, which—”
“Blah! Blah! Blah!” said Grandmère, waving him away.
“I wrote him an apology,” I said. “To Auggie. I wrote him an apology and I sent it to him in the mail! I apologized for the way I acted.”
“You what?” said Dad. He was getting mad now.
“And I told Mr. Browne the truth, too,” I added. “I wrote Mr. Browne a long email telling him the whole story.”
“Julian …,” said Dad, frowning angrily. “Why did you do that? I told you I didn’t want you to write anything that acknowledged—”
“Jules!” said Grandmère loudly, waving her hand in front of Dad’s face.
“Tu as un cerveau comme un sandwich au fromage!”
I couldn’t help but laugh at this. Dad cringed.
“What did she say?” asked Mom, who didn’t know French.
“Grandmère just told Dad he has a brain like a cheese sandwich,” I said.
“Maman!” Dad said sternly, like someone who was about to begin a long lecture.
But Mom reached out and put her hand on Dad’s arm.
“Jules,” she said quietly. “I think your mom is right.”
Sometimes people surprise you. Never in a million years would I have thought my mom would be the one to back down from anything, so I was completely shocked by what she had just said. I could tell Dad was, too. He looked at Mom like he couldn’t believe what she was saying. Grandmère was the only one who didn’t seem surprised.
“Are you kidding me?” Dad said to Mom.
Mom shook her head slowly. “Jules, we should end this. We should move on. Your mother’s right.”
Dad raised his eyebrows. I knew he was mad but trying not to show it. “You’re the one who got us on this warpath, Melissa!”
“I know!” she answered, taking her glasses off. Her eyes were really shiny. “I know, I know. And I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. I still don’t think Tushman was right, the way he handled everything, but … I’m ready to put all this behind us now, Jules. I think we should just … let go and move forward.” She shrugged. She looked at me. “It was very big of Julian to reach out to that boy, Jules. It takes a lot of guts to do that.” She looked back at Dad. “We should be supportive.”
“I am supportive, of course,” said Dad. “But this is such a complete about-face, Melissa! I mean …” He shook his head and rolled his eyes at the same time.
Mom sighed. She didn’t know what to say.
“Look here,” said Grandmère. “Whatever Melissa did, she did it because she wanted Julian to be happy. And that is all.
. And he’s happy now. You can see it in his eyes. For
the first time in a long time, your son looks completely happy.”
“That’s exactly right,” said Mom, wiping a tear from her face.
I felt kind of sorry for Mom at that moment. I could tell she felt bad about some of the things she had done.
“Dad,” I said, “please don’t sue the school. I don’t want that. Okay, Dad? Please?”
Dad leaned back in his chair and made a soft whistle sound, like he was blowing out a candle in slow motion. Then he started clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It was a long minute that he stayed like that. We just watched him.
Finally he sat back up in his chair and looked at us. He shrugged.
“Okay,” he said, his palms up. “I’ll drop the lawsuit. We’ll just walk away from the tuition money. Are you sure that’s what you want, Melissa?”
Mom nodded. “I’m sure.”
Grandmère sighed. “Victory at last,” she mumbled into her wine glass.
We went home a week later, but not before Grandmère took us to a very special place: the village she grew up in. It seemed amazing to me, that she had never told Dad the whole Tourteau story. The only thing he knew was that a family in Dannevilliers had helped her during the war, but she had never told him any of the details. She had never told him that his own grandmother had died in a concentration camp.
“Maman, how come you never told me any of this?” Dad asked her while we were driving in the car to her village.
“Oh, you know me, Jules,” she answered. “I do not like to dwell on the past. Life is ahead of us. If we spend too much time looking backward, we can’t see where we are going!”
Much of the village had changed. Too many bombs and grenades had been dropped. Most of the original houses had been destroyed in the war. Grandmère’s school was gone. There was really nothing much to see. Just Starbucks and shoe stores.
But then we drove to Dannevilliers, which is where Julian had lived: that village was intact. She took us to the barn where she had stayed for two years. The old farmer who lived there now let us walk around and take a look. Grandmère found her initials scrawled in a little nook in one of the horse stalls, which is where she would hide under piles of hay whenever the Nazis were nearby. Grandmère stood in the middle of the barn, with one hand on her face as she looked around. She seemed so tiny there.
“How are you doing, Grandmère?” I asked.
“Me? Ah! Well,” she said, smiling. She tilted her head. “I lived. I remember thinking, when I was staying here, that the smell of horse manure would never leave my nostrils. But I lived. And Jules was born because I lived. And you were born. So what is the smell of horse manure against all that? Perfume and time make everything easier to bear. Now, there’s one more place I want to visit.…”
We drove about ten minutes away to a tiny cemetery on the outskirts of the village. Grandmère took us directly to a tombstone at the edge of the graveyard.
There was a small white ceramic plaque on the tombstone. It was in the shape of a heart, and it read:
née le 27 de avril 1905
décédée le 21 de novembre 1985
né le 15 de mai 1901
décédé le 5 de juillet 1985
Mère et père de
Julian Auguste Beaumier
né le 10 de octobre 1930
tombé en juin 1944
Puisse-t-il toujours marcher le front haut dans le jardin de Dieu
I looked at Grandmère as she stood looking at the plaque. She kissed her fingers and then reached down to touch it. She was trembling.
“They treated me like their daughter,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
She started sobbing. I took her hand and kissed it.
Mom took Dad’s hand. “What does the plaque say?” she asked softly.
Dad cleared his throat.
“Here rests Vivienne Beaumier …,” he translated softly. “And Jean-Paul Beaumier. Mother and father of Julian Auguste Beaumier, born October 10, 1930. Killed June 1944. May he walk forever tall in the garden of God.”
We got back to NYC a week before my new school was scheduled to start. It was nice, being in my room again. My things were all the same. But I felt, I don’t know, a little different. I can’t explain it. I felt like I really was starting over.
“I’ll help you unpack in a minute,” said Mom, running off to the bathroom as soon as we stepped through the door.
“I’m good,” I answered. I could hear Dad in the living room listening to our answering-machine messages. I started unpacking my suitcase. Then I heard a familiar voice on the machine.
I stopped what I was doing and walked into the living room. Dad looked up and paused the machine. Then he replayed the message for me to hear.
It was Auggie Pullman.
“Oh, hi, Julian,” said the message. “Yeah, so … umm … I just wanted to tell you I got your note. And, um … yeah, thanks for writing it. No need to call me back. I just wanted to say hey. We’re good. Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t me who told Tushman about the notes, just so you know. Or Jack or Summer. I really don’t know how he found out, not that it matters anyway. So, okay. Anyway. I hope you like your new school. Good luck. Bye!”
Dad looked at me to see how I would react.
“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t expect that at all.”
“Are you going to call him back?” asked Dad.
I shook my head. “Nah,” I answered. “I’m too chicken.”
Dad walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“I think you’ve proven that you’re anything
chicken,” he said. “I’m proud of you, Julian. Very proud of you.” He leaned over and hugged me.
“Tu marches toujours le front haut.”
I smiled. “I hope so, Dad.”
I hope so.
R. J. Palacio
lives in New York City with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. For more than twenty years, she was an editorial director, an art director, and a graphic designer, working on books for other people while waiting for the perfect time in her life to start writing her own novel. But one day several years ago, a chance encounter with an extraordinary child in front of an ice cream store made R. J. realize that the perfect time to write that book had finally come.
is her first novel. She did not design the cover, but she sure does love it.