October is National Bullying Prevention Month; I’m coming in late to the game, but better late than never, eh? This is a topic that’s actually very, very important to me for several reasons. Gay, straight, white, Asian, young or old, whatever – bullying is an ugly factor in many people’s lives. There are different kinds of bullying in my opinion, too – not just physically hurting someone, but you can flat out ignore someone or gossip behind their back with mental bullying.
While I was never a direct victim – I went to the beat of my own drum for sure but had too much confidence and sass for anyone to ever try it on me, later finding my niche in the band geeks – you would always find me sitting with the loner kid at the lunch table or helping the handicapped person with their schoolbooks while going up the stairs. When I switched high schools, I didn’t care about being the new girl – I stood up to the school bullies in kindergarten and I’d do it in high school too. I was a quiet introvert, but I refused to be seen as spineless. On more than one occasion, I gave bullies a piece of my mind in the midst of their attacks and they usually backed down very quickly when I made it clear I wouldn’t stand for it. I do not believe in, support, or think in any way that bullying is okay, to any person OR animal. To pick on those weaker than you is a disgusting, cruel habit and I hope karma bites those jerks in the ass so hard it hurts when they sit down.
Bullying is actually a pretty broad theme in my book Gifted, a Donovan Circus Novel. It’s one of the main reasons my villain is as vicious as he is – years of torture led him down a path he might not have originally taken had the situation been different. My main character Lucy is an advocate of those less brave to stand up for themselves, even when she herself is a victim. I wanted to share a particular scene with you from Gifted – I wrote this piece almost as soon as I decided how to tell this story, because I knew it would show who Lucy is and how she perceives the world no matter the circumstance. Essentially: Lucy does not negotiate with bullies.
Brief intro: Lucy is introduced to her first day at the circus. The Donovan Circus is a very tight-knit group, a family of unique individuals and creatures that are protective of their clan and do whatever they can to prevent outside threats. While there are several chapters dedicated to Lucy overcoming their coldness towards her (and yes, in some cases after she’s accused of murder, their brand of bullying), this is one particular flashback she has that helps define who she is, even if she doesn’t quite know it yet. When Lucy bumps into someone and feels like people are staring at “the new girl” she has to fend off a panic attack; she hides and the flashback comes without warning…
I motioned to Delia that I needed a second. I stumbled into the first tent I found, blessed the heavy fabric for its cool shade and noise solution. I opened my eyes for a brief second. I’d found a small saving grace for the moment in an empty white tent. I closed my eyes again and had a sudden flashback to freshman year of high school.
My friend Rachel and I had attended a Friday night football game. I had paid for a soda while she got some popcorn. We stood in front of the concessions stand, observing all the people. The crowd gave a disappointed sigh at a play on the field.
“Think we have a chance at winning the game?” I asked her.
“Not a chance,” she said. “We haven’t won a game in like two years and we suck worse than last year.”
“Oh, well. I’m only here because my parents thought it’d be a good experience for me. Mom actually kind of kicked me out of the house. I didn’t realize they disliked me so much,” I replied.
She had laughed and scooped another handful of popcorn into her mouth.
“How are those carbs treating you, Rachel?” a voice had slithered in. Laughter had followed. I turned to the voice—it belonged to Cassie Johnson, queen bee of the popular girls at school. She was also a raging bitch.
Rachel had frozen, her hand halfway back into the bag. Not a week earlier, she’d told me how Cassie had been her bully since first grade.
“Keep it up and you’ll have the freshmen fifteen before college. Or in your case, fifty,” Cassie continued. Her group of like-minded blonde wannabes giggled behind her.
Rachel looked down at her bag of popcorn, her plump cheeks growing bright red. She let her mousy brown hair fall in front of her face to hide the shamed blush. My temper flared and I took a deep breath to stay in check. Heat rose to my cheeks and my free hand gripped into a fist.
“What’s the matter, stuffed too much popcorn in your mouth to respond?” Cassie asked.
“I didn’t do anything, Cassie. Leave me alone,” Rachel muttered. She kept her head down but I saw tears gathering in her eyes.
“That much is obvious. Your lazy, fat ass never does anything—if you did, you wouldn’t weigh as much as a hippo,” Cassie sneered. Her gaggle tittered again.
“Back off,” I snapped. “Go impress your lemmings elsewhere, preferably near a large cliff.”
“And the new girl speaks,” Cassie replied. “I thought for sure you were a mute. How sweet to defend the fatties and losers.”
“Take your fake blonde hair dye elsewhere. We can’t breathe with all the toxins you’re producing,” I seethed. Her friends had grown quiet in astonishment.
She took a step towards me. “What did you say to me?”
My feet didn’t budge. “You heard me. I told you to leave her alone.”
“I can make your life hell. I’m going to let this one go since you’ve just now left your dungeons and dragons. But I’m telling you right now—mess with me again and I’ll make you pay.”
“Gee, that’s super nice of you. Don’t insult Rachel again. Just because you’re insecure in your own skin doesn’t give you the right to torture others. Now go get your broom and take your flying monkeys with you.” My face felt hot. Too hot.
“You’re not even worth my time. You’re a freak,” she sneered.
My palms itched to set her trashy attitude on fire. Heat had flooded through my limbs; I wasn’t talented enough to keep it together much longer. I needed to get away from her. I turned, took a long sip of my drink and walked the three steps to the trashcan. Cassie and her vultures watched my every move. I threw the drink away, my palms burning. As I turned back to face Rachel, I saw her eyes glance behind me and grow wide. I turned back around to see smoke exiting the trashcan. Flames had erupted and I’d quickly crossed my arms across my chest in case they still flamed.
“FIRE!” a nearby girl shouted. The crowd scattered while someone behind the concession stand ran over with a fire extinguisher.
No one could prove or explain it, but I was rumored to be a firebug from then on. Cassie made sure to spread the news, with a gleeful smile each time, no doubt. That had been my last football game. The whispers and stares had kept me from most school events.
I hadn’t had a panic attack in years, had trained myself to prevent emotions overwhelming me. I would not let this overtake me and spoil the first day of my new life. I shook my head and opened my eyes. The comfortable darkness of the tent put me back in the present.
“I will not panic. I am in control.”
It was a mantra I had repeated a lot, especially after that Friday night incident.
I reminded myself to lock up the emotion as I had done my entire life. Now should be no different. I took a slow, deep breath, which calmed my nerves. The heat left my hands. Then I added a new line to my pep talk: “I do not need to hide who I am anymore!”
Hopefully that gives you a good idea of who Lucy is and how she reacts to those who pick on others. To read more about Lucy’s stand against bullies (including the villain), you can get your own copy of Gifted on Amazon for paperback, Amazon for Kindle or Barnes & Noble for the Nook. As for the real world, I say we all stand together to unite against bullying!