The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (6 page)

“I’m not defending the notes!” answered Mom. “I’m just reminding you that it was a two-way street. You have to realize that Julian was obviously writing those notes as a reaction to something.”

“Look,” said Dr. Jansen, holding his hand out in front of him like a crossing guard. “There’s no doubt there’s some history here.”

“Those notes hurt my feelings!” I said, and I didn’t mind that I sounded like I was going to cry.

“I don’t doubt that their notes hurt your feelings, Julian,” Dr. Jansen answered. “And you were trying to hurt their feelings. That’s the problem with stuff like this—everyone keeps trying to top one another, and then things escalate out of control.”

“Exactly!” said Mom, and it almost sounded like she screamed it.

“But the fact is,” Dr. Jansen continued, holding up his finger, “there is a line, Julian. There is a line. And your notes crossed that line. They’re completely unacceptable. If Auggie had read these notes, how do you think he’d feel?”

He was looking at me so intensely that I felt like disappearing under the sofa.

“You mean he hasn’t read them?” I asked.

“No,” answered Dr. Jansen. “Thank goodness someone reported the notes to Mr. Tushman yesterday, and he opened Auggie’s locker and intercepted them before Auggie ever saw them.”

I nodded and lowered my head. I have to admit—I was glad Auggie hadn’t read them. I guess I knew what Dr. Jansen meant about “crossing the line.” But then I thought,
so if it wasn’t Auggie who ratted me out, who was it?

We were all quiet for a minute or two. It was awkward beyond belief.

“Okay,” said Dad finally, rubbing his palm over his face. “Obviously, we understand the seriousness of the situation now, and we will … do something about it.”

I don’t think I’d ever seen Dad look so uncomfortable. I’m sorry, Dad!

“Well, we have some recommendations,” answered Dr. Jansen. “Obviously, we want to help everyone involved.…”

“Thank you for understanding,” said Mom, getting her pocketbook ready as if she were getting up.

“But there
consequences!” said Mr. Tushman, looking at Mom.

“Excuse me?” she shot back at him.

“As I said in the beginning,” Dr. Jansen interjected, “the school has a very strict anti-bullying policy.”

“Yeah, we saw how strict it was when you
expel Jack Will for punching Julian in the mouth,” Mom answered quickly. Yeah, take that, Mr. Tushman!

“Oh, come on! That was completely different,” Mr. Tushman answered dismissively.

“Oh?” answered Mom. “Punching someone in the face
bullying to you?”

“Okay, okay,” said Dad, raising his hand to keep Mr. Tushman from answering. “Let’s just cut to the chase, okay? What exactly are your recommendations, Hal?”

Dr. Jansen looked at him.

“Julian is being suspended for two weeks,” he said.

“What?” yelled Mom, looking at Dad. But Dad didn’t look back.

“In addition,” said Dr. Jansen, “we’re recommending counseling. Nurse Molly has the names of several therapists who we think Julian should see—”

“This is outrageous,” interrupted Mom, steaming.

“Wait,” I said. “You mean, I can’t go to school?”

“Not for two weeks,” answered Mr. Tushman. “Starting immediately.”

“But what about the trip to the nature retreat?” I asked.

“You can’t go,” he answered coldly.

“No!” I said, and now I really was about to cry. “I want to go to the nature retreat!”

“I’m sorry, Julian,” Dr. Jansen said gently.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Mom, looking at Dr. Jansen. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little? That kid didn’t even read the notes!”

“That’s not the point!” answered Mr. Tushman.

“I’ll tell you what I think!” said Mom. “This is because
admitted a kid into the school who shouldn’t have been admitted into the school in the first place. And you broke the rules to do it. And now you’re just taking this out on my kid because I’m the one who had the guts to call you on it!”

“Melissa,” said Dr. Jansen, trying to calm her down.

“These children are too young to deal with things like this … facial deformities, disfigurement,” Mom continued, talking to Dr. Jansen. “You must see that! Julian’s had nightmares because of that boy. Did you know that? Julian has anxiety issues.”

“Mom!” I said, clenching my teeth.

“The board should have been consulted about whether Beecher Prep was the right place for a child like that,” Mom
continued. “That’s all I’m saying! We’re just not set up for it. There are other schools that are, but we’re not!”

“You can choose to believe that if you want,” answered Mr. Tushman, not looking at her.

Mom rolled her eyes.

“This is a witch hunt,” she muttered quietly, looking out the window. She was fuming.

I had no idea what she was talking about. Witches? What witches?

“Okay, Hal, you said you had some recommendations,” Dad said to Dr. Jansen. He sounded gruff. “Is that it? Two-week suspension and counseling?”

“We’d also like for Julian to write a letter of apology to August Pullman,” said Mr. Tushman.

“Apology for what exactly?” answered Mom. “He wrote some stupid notes. Surely he’s not the only kid in the world who’s ever written a stupid note.”

“It’s more than a stupid note!” answered Mr. Tushman. “It’s a pattern of behavior.” He started counting on his fingers. “It’s the making faces behind the kid’s back. It’s the ‘game’ he initiated, where if someone touches Auggie he has to wash his hands.…”

I couldn’t believe Mr. Tushman even knew about the Plague game! How do teachers know so much?

“It’s social isolation,” Mr. Tushman continued. “It’s creating a hostile atmosphere.”

“And you know for a fact that it’s Julian who initiated all this?” asked Dad. “Social isolation? Hostile atmosphere? Are you saying that Julian was the
kid who wasn’t nice to this boy? Or are you suspending every kid who stuck his tongue out at this kid?”

Good one, Dad! Score one for the Albanses!

“Doesn’t it trouble you at all that Julian doesn’t seem to be showing the least bit of remorse?” said Mr. Tushman, squinting at Dad.

“Okay, let’s just stop right here,” Dad said quietly, pointing his finger in Mr. Tushman’s face.

“Please, everyone,” said Dr. Jansen. “Let’s calm down a bit. Obviously, this is difficult.”

“After all we’ve done for this school,” Mom answered, shaking her head. “After all the money and the time we’ve put into this school, you would think we’d get just a little bit of consideration.” She put her thumb and her index finger together. “Just a little.”

Dad nodded. He was still looking angrily at Mr. Tushman, but then he looked at Dr. Jansen. “Melissa’s right,” he said. “I think we deserved a little better than this, Hal. A friendly warning would have been nice. Instead, you call us in here like children.…” He stood up. “We deserved better.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” said Dr. Jansen, standing up as well.

“The board of trustees will hear about this,” said Mom. She got up, too.

“I’m sure they will,” answered Dr. Jansen, crossing his arms and nodding.

Mr. Tushman was the only adult still sitting down.

“The point of the suspension isn’t punitive,” he said quietly. “We’re trying to help Julian, too. He can’t fully understand the ramifications of his actions if you keep trying to justify them away. We want him to feel some empathy—”

“You know, I’ve heard just about enough!” said Mom, holding her palm in front of Mr. Tushman’s face. “I don’t need parenting advice. Not from someone who doesn’t have kids of his own. You don’t know what it’s like to see your kid having a panic
attack every time he shuts his eyes to go to sleep, okay? You don’t know what it’s like.” Her voice cracked a bit, like she was going to cry. She looked at Dr. Jansen. “This affected Julian deeply, Hal. I’m sorry if that’s not politically correct to say, but it’s the truth, and I’m just trying to do what I think is best for my son! That’s all. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Melissa,” Dr. Jansen answered softly.

Mom nodded. Her chin quivered. “Are we done here? Can we go now?”

“Sure,” he answered.

“Come on, Julian,” she said, and she walked out of the office.

I stood up. I admit, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on.

“Wait, is that it?” I asked. “But what about my things? All my stuff’s in my locker.”

“Ms. Rubin will get your things ready and she’ll get them to you later this week,” answered Dr. Jansen. He looked at Dad. “I’m really sorry it came to this, Jules.” He held out his hand for a handshake.

Dad looked at his hand but didn’t shake it. He looked at Dr. Jansen.

“Here’s the only thing I want from you, Hal,” he said quietly. “I want that this—all of this—be kept confidential. Is that clear? It doesn’t go beyond this room. I don’t want Julian turned into some kind of anti-bullying poster boy by the school. No one is to know he’s been suspended. We’ll make up some excuse about why he’s not in school, and that’s it. Are we clear, Hal? I don’t want him made into an example. I’m not going to stand by while this school drags my family’s reputation through the mud.”

Oh, by the way, in case I hadn’t mentioned it before: Dad’s a lawyer.

Dr. Jansen and Mr. Tushman exchanged looks.

“We are not looking to make an example of any of our
students,” Dr. Jansen answered. “This suspension really is about a reasonable response to unreasonable behavior.”

“Give me a break,” answered Dad, looking at his watch. “It’s a massive overreaction.”

Dr. Jansen looked at Dad, and then he looked at me.

“Julian,” he said, looking me right in the eye. “Can I ask you something point-blank?”

I looked at Dad, who nodded. I shrugged.

“Do you feel at all remorseful for what you’ve done?” Dr. Jansen asked me.

I thought about it a second. I could tell all the grown-ups were watching me, waiting for me to answer something magical that would make this whole situation better.

“Yes,” I said quietly. “I’m really sorry I wrote those last notes.”

Dr. Jansen nodded. “Is there anything else you feel remorse for?” he asked.

I looked at Dad again. I’m not an idiot. I knew what he was dying for me to say. I just wasn’t going to say it. So I looked down and shrugged.

“Can I ask you this, then?” said Dr. Jansen. “Will you consider writing Auggie a letter of apology?”

I shrugged again. “How many words does it have to be?” was all I could think to say.

I knew the moment I said it that I probably shouldn’t have. Dr. Jansen looked at my dad, who just looked down.

“Julian,” said Dad. “Go find Mom. Wait for me by the reception area. I’ll be out in a second.”

Just as I closed the door on my way out, Dad started whispering something to Dr. Jansen and Mr. Tushman. It was a hushed, angry whisper.

When I got to the reception area, I found Mom sitting on a chair with her sunglasses on. I sat down next to her. She rubbed
my back but she didn’t say anything. I think she had been crying.

I looked at the clock: 10:20 a.m. Right about now, Ms. Rubin was probably going over the results of yesterday’s quiz in science class. As I looked around the lobby, I had a blip of a memory—that day before school started, when me, Jack Will, and Charlotte had met up here before meeting our “welcome buddy” for the first time. I remember how nervous Jack had been that day, and how I didn’t even know who Auggie was.

So much had happened since then.

Dad didn’t say anything when he met us in the lobby. We just walked out the doors without saying goodbye—even to the security guard at the reception desk. It was weird leaving the school when everyone was still inside. I wondered what Miles and Henry would think when I didn’t come back to class. I hated that I was going to miss PE that afternoon.

My parents were quiet the whole way back to the house. We live on the Upper West Side, which is about a half-hour drive from Beecher Prep, but it felt like it took forever to get home.

“I can’t believe I got suspended,” I said, just as we pulled into the parking garage in our building.

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