During the days that followed, Anna did her best to follow her father's advice. She avoided Sinead's gaze in class or at recess. She endeavoured to remain deaf to her insults and cackles: refusing to react to them, or even acknowledge them - hoping her unjustified enemy would tire of taunting her. Instead of growing bored, however, Sinead only seemed to grow angrier, and even more determined to hit Anna where it hurt.
Four days into Anna's schooling, the whole horrific affair came to a head. As the quiet, curious girl examined the class ant farm, the blonde bully came up behind her, seized her shoulders, and whirled her around - forcing her victim to face her.
"Hey, freak!" she snapped. "Why are you ignoring me? Can't handle the truth, is that it?"
Anna said nothing. Merely looking Sinead up and down, she turned her attention back to the ants.
Sinead didn't like being snubbed. Groaning, she shoved Anna violently with both hands - almost causing her classmate to lose her balance, and forcing her to give her attacker her full attention.
"Don't ignore me, weirdo!" she shouted. "I'm going to tell the whole school about your freaky family, and your skirt-wearing daddy with the stupid voice. Then no-one will want to be your friend, and you'll have to go back to that weird monster country your daddy came from in the first place. Nobody wants you around here, anyway."
With a confident, sly smirk, Sinead turned on her heel, and strolled away - a cocky bounce in her step.
Disheartened, Anna sighed deeply. It was no use. She'd tried to rise above it, just like her daddy had wanted, and things had only got worse. She was going to have to put up with Sinead and her terrible taunting for years to come.
And she wasn't sure if she could cope with it.
As the school bus pulled up outside the Crosswire-Sparx household, Jack was spending his day off work indulging in his favourite hobby - catching up on the TV dramas. Still, the fact that his eyes were glued to the screen, and that he was about to learn what exactly the mad professor was hiding in his locked basement, didn't stop him from greeting Anna as he heard her footsteps approaching across the carpet.
"Hey there, rugrat. How was school?."
Anna made no reply: she merely slumped herself down on the sofa beside him. She looked at the TV screen for a few moments, trying to forget the terrible events of the day... but the distraction did little to stop the cruel insults swirling around in her mind. As she heard Sinead's words echoing again and again, she broke down into soft, strained sobs.
Jack's ears pricked up at the anguished sound. Switching off the TV with a rapid press of the remote button, he turned towards Anna - wrapping a supportive arm around her shoulders.
"Anna?" he asked. "What's wrong, sweetheart? Is it that girl at school again?"
Blinking, Anna looked up at him.
"How do you know about that?"
"Archie told me," Jack explained. "Please, don't be mad at him. He wanted me to keep an eye on you - make sure you were OK. Although, clearly, you're not. So... is it because of her?"
"She says she's going to tell the whole school I'm a freak and make everyone hate me," she croaked. "I tried to ignore her, like Daddy said, but it just made everything worse. I don't know what to do, Uncle Jack. I just want her to leave me alone."
Jack pondered the problem for a few mere moments. That was all he needed to reach what was likely a foregone conclusion.
"Do you know what I would do?" he asked - suppressing the urge to chuckle.
As Anna shook her head, he grinned.
"Kick her butt."
"What?" gasped Anna, stunned.
"Yeah," Jack replied confidently. "Kick her butt. In front of the whole class. Prove to everyone just how awesome you are."
"But - but Daddy said I should - "
"Archie's problem," Jack went on, "is that he's a man of great ideas, but not necessarily action. Ignoring an issue doesn't make it go away. You have to tackle it head-on. And that's exactly what you need to do, Anna. You need to show this girl who's boss."
As Anna pondered Jack's advice carefully, it slowly started to make more and more sense to her.
Of course. He was right. If she showed Sinead and everyone else that she was a force to be dealt with, then she'd never have trouble from her or anyone else again.
"Do... do you really think I can do it, Uncle Jack?" she asked.
"I know you can," Jack replied, wiping away her tears with his hand. "I believe in you, kiddo. When you go into class tomorrow, you go in there fighting."
Beaming, Anna threw her arms around her "uncle", hugging him tightly.
The bell rang for the start of morning lessons. As Anna stepped into the classroom - a proud confident smile on her face - Sinead was waiting in her usual spot by the bookcases. Seeing her target approach, she started to shoot venom-loaded words in her direction.
"Hey, freak. Your skirt looks old. Did you borrow it off your daddy? Did it bring it over from Freakland? Or maybe it belongs to your mummy - oh, wait, you don't have - hey!"
Before her taunting tirade could continue, Anna had grabbed hold of Sinead by her pigtails, pulling on them with a forceful tug. As Sinead rapidly slapped at Anna's arms, desperate to free herself. Anna used the opportunity to grab hold of her wrist, twisting it sharply.
The bully charged at her, pushing her backwards, but Anna swiftly steadied herself and bounded forward with even greater force. Within seconds, a full-on fight had broken out.
As classmates gathered around them in an excited frenzy, chanting and cheering, both girls used every trick in the book to try and best the other - slapping, shrieking, name-calling, hair-pulling, tripping, and many other forms of mischievous violence.
Fuelled by a longing for vengeance, and a need to prove herself, Anna summoned up all of her strength, and very soon, she was the victor - throwing her beaten rival into a crumpled heap on the floor as she towered over her proudly.
Elated cries from Anna's hugely entertained classmates washed all around her in waves, like a proud symphony. Alas, the joyous rhapsody was swiftly silenced by a sharp shout from the classroom doorway.
"ANNA CROSSWIRE! PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE! NOW!"
"Yes, sir... yes, I have explained to Anna that behaviour like that isn't appro - !"
It was late evening. As Jack passed Archie in the living room, he stopped - intrigued by the frantic mumbling coming from the other end of the phone line.
"Yes, I can understand why you want to discuss... Look, would it not be easier for me to come down to...? Yes, sir, very well. Yes... Tuesday at 7 would be fine. Good night."
As Archie hung up the phone, he struck Jack with a glare that, were he human and not machine, would have surely killed him from a thousand yards away.
"Well, I hope you're proud of yourself!" he barked. "Thanks to your "good advice", not only has my daughter been suspended from school for a week, but now the principal wants to come over for dinner and discuss her academic future!"
Jack tried to respond, but Archie was in no mood for excuses.
"By Asimov himself, Jack!" he went on. "Don't you know how prestigious St. Macrina's Academy is? Anna was extremely lucky to be admitted there in the first place! Now, there's a good chance that they might expel her - and it's all your fault!"
"Anna had to defend herself!" Jack insisted. "Or did you want that little witch to go on tormenting her day after day?"
"I would have intervened!" Archie replied. "I was going to ask her to tell a teacher about it, or maybe talk things over with the girl's parents myself! Anything but violence, Jack! It's solved nothing, and has only caused more problems!"
"Look, I'll tell the principal that I'm the one to blame!" Jack told him. "That Anna isn't normally violent, and that it was a mistake to encourage her to act like that! I won't let him think you're the reason behind any wrongdoing that Anna may have done!"
"But she's still my responsibility!
Wailing in frustration, Archie buried his head in his hands.
"You don't understand humans, Jack," he muttered. "Single parents are always judged more harshly than your traditional nuclear family. Not to mention, the principal will undoubtedly think our living arrangements are very unorthodox - lodger or not. I've tried so hard to be a good father to Anna... to raise a daughter I could be proud of, and to be a father she could be proud of, too. Now, I'm so scared that people will think I'm unfit to bring her up."
His voice faltered.
"That... that they'll try to take her away..."
In one quick movement, Jack took hold of Archie's hand - wrapping his fingers around it with the gentlest of touches. As Archie lifted his head up, he found himself looking deeply into the red-headed robot's shining eyes.
"Everything will be fine, Archie," Jack said to him - softly, yet adamantly. "When that principal comes over for dinner, he'll eat his fill and leave this house thinking we're the best family in the world. And as for me... I'll help you out however I can. That's a promise."
As he watched a tender smile appear on Jack's face, a familiar phenomenon arose deep down within Archie's cladded casing.
His gears - whirring ever faster.
Somehow I think that the situation of Jack being "just a lodger" is going to bring up more questions than answers the longer it continues.ReplyDelete
Oh man, I can't blame Anna for wanting to take that girl down, but probably were better ways. Still, it might have caused her uncle to play his cards a little differently. :)ReplyDelete