The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (7 page)

“It’s not your fault, honey,” answered Mom. “They have it in for us.”

“Melissa!” Dad yelled, which surprised Mom a bit. “Yes, of course it’s his fault. This whole situation is his fault! Julian, what the heck were you thinking, writing notes like that?”

“He was goaded into writing them!” answered Mom.

We had pulled to a stop inside the garage. The parking-garage attendant was waiting for us to get out of the car, but we didn’t get out.

Dad turned around and looked at me. “I’m not saying I think the school handled this right,” he said. “Two weeks’ suspension is ridiculous. But, Julian, you should know better!”

“I know!” I said. “It was a mistake, Dad!”

“We all make mistakes,” said Mom.

Dad turned back around. He looked at Mom. “Jansen’s right,
Melissa. If you keep trying to justify his actions—”

“That’s not what I’m doing, Jules.”

Dad didn’t answer right away. Then he said, “I told Jansen that we’re pulling Julian out of Beecher Prep next year.”

Mom was literally speechless. It took a second for what he said to hit me. “You
what
?” I said.

“Jules,” Mom said slowly.

“I told Jansen that we’ll finish out this year at Beecher Prep,” Dad continued calmly. “But next year, Julian’s going to a different school.”

“I can’t believe this!” I cried. “I love Beecher Prep, Dad! I have friends! Mom!”

“I’m not sending you back to that school, Julian,” Dad said firmly. “No way am I spending another dime on that school. There are plenty of other great private schools in New York City.”

“Mom!” I said.

Mom wiped her hand across her face. She shook her head. “Don’t you think we should have talked about this first?” she said to Dad.

“You don’t agree?” he countered.

She rubbed her forehead with her fingers.

“No, I do agree,” she said softly, nodding.

“Mom!” I screamed.

She turned around in her seat. “Honey, I think Daddy’s right.”

“I can’t believe this!” I yelled, punching the car seat.

“They have it in for us now,” she continued. “Because we complained about the situation with that boy …”

“But that was your fault!” I said through clenched teeth. “I didn’t tell you to try and get Auggie thrown out of the school. I didn’t want you to get Tushman fired. That was you!”

“And I’m sorry about that, sweetheart,” she said meekly.

“Julian!” said Dad. “Your mom did everything she did to try and protect you. It’s not her fault you wrote those notes, is it?”

“No, but if she hadn’t made such a big stink about everything …,” I started to say.

“Julian, do you hear yourself?” said Dad. “Now you’re blaming your mom. Before you were blaming the other boys for writing those notes. I’m starting to wonder if what they were saying is right! Don’t you feel any remorse for what you’ve done?”

“Of course he does!” said Mom.

“Melissa, let him answer for himself!” Dad said loudly.

“No, okay?” I yelled. “I’m not sorry! I know everybody thinks I should be all,
I’m sorry for being mean to Auggie, I’m sorry I talked smack about him, I’m sorry I dissed him
. But I’m not. So sue me.”

Before Dad could respond, the garage attendant knocked on the car window. Another car had pulled into the garage and they needed us to get out.

I didn’t tell anyone about the suspension. When Henry texted me a few days later asking why I wasn’t in school, I told him I had strep throat. That’s what we told everyone.

It turns out, two weeks’ suspension isn’t so bad, by the way. I spent most of my time at home watching
SpongeBob
reruns and playing
Knights of the Old Republic
. I was still supposed to keep up on my schoolwork, though, so it’s not like I totally got to goof off. Ms. Rubin dropped by the apartment one afternoon with all my locker stuff: my textbooks, my loose-leaf book, and all the assignments I would need to make up. And there was a lot!

Everything went really well with social studies and English, but I had so much trouble doing the math homework that Mom got me a math tutor.

Despite all the time off, I really was excited about going back. Or at least I thought I was. The night before my first day back, I had one of my nightmares again. Only this time, it wasn’t me who looked like Auggie—it was everyone else!

I should have taken that as a premonition. When I got back to school, as soon as I arrived, I could tell something was up. Something was different. The first thing I noticed is that no one was really excited about seeing me again. I mean, people said hello and asked me how I was feeling, but no one was like, “dude, I missed you!”

I would have thought Miles and Henry would be like that, but they weren’t. In fact, at lunchtime, they didn’t even sit at our usual table. They sat with Amos. So I had to take my tray
and find a place to squeeze in at Amos’s table, which was kind of humiliating. Then I overheard the three of them talking about hanging out at the playground after school and shooting hoops, but no one asked me to come!

The thing that was weirdest of all, though, was that everyone was being really nice to Auggie. Like, ridiculously nice. It was like I had entered the portal to a different dimension, an alternate universe in which Auggie and I had changed places. Suddenly, he was the popular one, and I was the outsider.

Right after last period, I pulled Henry over to talk to him.

“Yo, dude, why is everyone being so nice to the freak all of a sudden?” I asked.

“Oh, um,” said Henry, looking around kind of nervously. “Yeah, well, people don’t really call him that anymore.”

And then he told me all about the stuff that had gone down at the nature retreat. Basically, what had happened was that Auggie and Jack got picked on by some seventh-grade bullies from another school. Henry, Miles, and Amos had rescued them, got into a fight with the bullies—like with real punches flying—and then they all escaped through a corn maze. It sounded really exciting, and as he was telling me, I got mad all over again that Mr. Tushman had made me miss it.

“Oh man,” I said excitedly. “I wish I’d been there! I totally would have creamed those jerks.”

“Wait, which jerks?”

“The seventh graders!”

“Really?” He looked puzzled, though Henry always looked a little puzzled. “Because, I don’t know, Julian. I kind of think that if you had been there, we might not have rescued them at all. You probably would have been cheering for the seventh graders!”

I looked at him like he was an idiot. “No I wouldn’t,” I said.

“Seriously?” he said, giving me a look.

“No!” I said.

“Okay!” he answered, shrugging.

“Yo, Henry, are you coming?” Amos called out from down the hallway.

“Look, I gotta go,” said Henry.

“Wait,” I said.

“Gotta go.”

“Want to hang out tomorrow after school?”

“Not sure,” he answered, backing away. “Text me tonight and we’ll see.”

As I watched him jog away, I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Did he really think I was
that
awful that I would have been rooting for some seventh graders while they beat Auggie up? Is that what other people think? That I would have been that much of dirtwad?

Look, I’m the first one to say I don’t like Auggie Pullman, but I would never want to see him get beat up or anything! I mean, come on! I’m not a psycho. It really annoyed me that that’s what people thought about me.

I texted Henry later on: “Yo, btw, I would
never
have just stood by and let those creeps beat Auggie and Jack up!”

But he never texted me back.

That last month in school was awful. It’s not like anyone was out-and-out mean to me, but I felt iced out by Amos and Henry and Miles. I just didn’t feel popular anymore. No one really ever laughed at my jokes. No one wanted to hang out with me. I felt like I could disappear from the school and nobody would miss me. Meanwhile, Auggie was walking down the hallways like some cool dude, getting high-fived by all the jocks in the upper grades.

Whatever.

Mr. Tushman called me into his office one day.

“How’s it going, Julian?” he asked me.

“Fine.”

“Did you ever write that apology letter I asked you to write?”

“My dad says I’m leaving the school, so I don’t have to write anything,” I answered.

“Oh,” he said, nodding. “I guess I was hoping you’d want to write it on your own.”

“Why?” I said back. “Everyone thinks I’m this big dirtbag now anyway. What the heck is writing a letter going to accomplish?”

“Julian—”

“Look, I know everyone thinks I’m this unfeeling kid who doesn’t feel ‘remorse’!” I said, using air quotes.

“Julian,” said Mr. Tushman. “No one—”

Suddenly, I felt like I was about to cry, so I just interrupted
him. “I’m really late for class and I don’t want to get in trouble, so can I please go?”

Mr. Tushman looked sad. He nodded. Then I left his office without looking back.

A few days later, we received an official notice from the school telling us that they had withdrawn their invitation to re-enroll in the fall.

I didn’t think it mattered, since Dad had told them we weren’t going back anyway. But we still hadn’t heard from the other schools I had applied to, and if I didn’t get into any of them, we had planned on my going back to Beecher Prep. But now that was impossible.

Mom and Dad were furious at the school. Like,
crazy
mad. Mostly because they had already paid the tuition for the next year in advance. And the school wasn’t planning on returning the money. See, that’s the thing with private schools: they can kick you out for any reason.

Luckily, a few days later, we did find out that I’d gotten into my first-choice private school, not far from where I lived. I’d have to wear a uniform, but that was okay. Better than having to go to Beecher Prep every day!

Needless to say, we skipped the graduation ceremony at the end of the year.

“That is only tears such as men use,” said Bagheera.
“Now I know thou art a man, and a man’s cub no longer.
The jungle is shut indeed to thee henceforward.
Let them fall, Mowgli. They are only tears.”
—Rudyard Kipling,
The Jungle Book

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