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Miss Martha Wright was the meanest lady ever to set foot in the halls of Central Elementary School. She was older than dirt and wore her hair in a bun so tight that the kids whispered it cut off her thinking. Her glasses were always at the perfect angle to glare down at you. Her classroom smelled like old clothes and fish. And she was my first-grade teacher.
Miss Wright hated every last kid in our class with no particular reason, except for a few that completely deserved it. The reason she hated me was because I always knew what we were learning before she taught us. Now that I’m older, people call it “being gifted.” Back then, the words Miss Wright used were “being a difficult child.”
The only kid she really seemed to like at all was Austin, a kid who’d just moved to Grandville. He’d been held back a year, talked really weird, and was almost as mean as Miss Wright herself. If she wasn’t so ancient, I’d assume he was her son.
Even though we were first-graders, she only allowed us to have about an hour or so of freetime every few days. The way Austin entertained himself during this was by seeing what everyone else was playing with and taking it from them. I personally preferred grabbing a book during freetime, since Austin didn’t seem like he knew how to read.
That day, I chose to eat cookies for some brain food. I was building a castle out of blocks and imagining that she was the evil dragon attacking my castle. That, obviously, made me the courageous knight who would bravely strike her down and save the day.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Austin heading my way. I silently hoped he wasn’t actually walking towards me. When I saw him turn to Eva and take a stuffed bear out of her hands, holding it high above his head, I assumed I was safe and turned back to my castle.
I could hear his stomping footsteps coming closer. Maybe if I’m not paying attention to him, he won’t come over here. That worked for about ten seconds as he was temporarily distracted by the toy car Nate was holding. But then I looked up and there he was.
“Whatcha doin’?” he demanded, towering over me (I was the shortest in the class, barely taller than three feet. On the other hand, Austin was taller than some of the sixth graders).
“A dragon just attacked the castle, so I gotta fight it cause I’m a knight.”
“No you ain’t. Girls can’t be knights!”
I picked up the sword I’d made out of Legos and swung it around, nearly hitting him. “Oh, yeah? How do you explain this then?”
“That ain’t a real sword. Real swords are made of metal. You’re s’posed to be the damsel in distress cause you’re a girl..” He made a big show of how a damsel in distress was supposed to act. “Then you gotta find a boy to be the knight.”
“You do a way better job of distressing than I do. Why can’t you be the damsel?”
“I ain’t gonna be a damsel! I’m a boy! Tell ya what, I’ll be the giant that destroys the castle.” And with one stomp, my beautiful castle was ruined. He grabbed my sword from my hand and walked away.
“C’mon, Austin, that’s just plain unfair.” He was already gone, headed to push Anthony off the beanbag. It’d take me too long to rebuild my castle before Miss Wright told us to pack up, so I started cleaning up the blocks.
I was scooping them into a pile and putting them in their container when Miss Wright walked over. She looked so mad, I wondered for a second if she might actually breathe fire at me.
“Jessica! We do not make messes!” she shouted, gesturing to the remains of the castle.
I stood up indignantly, brushing cookie crumbs off my polka-dotted dress. I was going to give her a piece of my mind. “It wasn’t me, it was Austin! He’s an awful bully, Miss Wright, honest!” She frowned at me, but I couldn’t stop now. “He wrecked my castle and said I can’t be a knight cause I’m a girl! And he took Eva’s dolly and Nathan’s car and he pushed Anthony so hard I felt the floor shake! You gotta believe me, Miss Wright!”
“We do not lie, Jessica. Austin’s a sweet boy. This class is always being so mean to him, and you’re the worst of all. You’ve taken it too far this time.”
“But Miss Wright, I’m telling the truth, I swear to you!”
“I’ve had quite enough of you, Jessica. If this is how you act at school, I’d hate to see how you are at home. Go flip your card.”
Oh no, the dreaded cards. At the front of the classroom were cards with names on them, one for everybody. They started the day off at green, but if you turned them upside down (“flipping” them), they’d be yellow. Then if you got in trouble again, Miss Wright would call your parents.
I’d never had to flip my card before, despite all the times she’d yelled at me. I dragged my feet as I walked to the front of the room. The class went dead silent and they all turned to look at me. I figured I was lucky, having a last name at the end of the alphabet. That way, I wouldn’t look stupider by having to stand on my tiptoes to reach my card.
When I got home, Dad asked me what I’d done at school that day. I told him that Miss Wright made me flip my card because I’d been picking up a mess. Naturally, he assumed this was a product of my remarkable imagination, and didn’t believe me in the slightest.
When Mom got home from work, I tried telling her the same thing, but unfortunately, Dad got to her and turned her to the Dark Side before I could explain what had really happened. I stormed up to my room and flopped on my bed, wondering how they couldn’t see the giant dragon that, in my mind, was right in front of their faces.
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