Read Auggie & Me Online

Authors: R J Palacio

Auggie & Me (8 page)

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I really liked your class, though. You were a great teacher. I wanted you to know that.

I thought it was good that I hadn't named “names.” But I figured he'd know who I was talking about. I really didn't expect to hear back from him, but the very next day, when I checked my in-box, there was an email from Mr. Browne. I was so excited!

To: [email protected]

Fr: [email protected]

Re: re: My precept

Hi, Julian. Thanks so much for your email! I'm looking forward to getting the gargoyle postcard. I was sorry to hear you wouldn't be coming back to Beecher Prep. I always thought you were a great student and a gifted writer.

By the way, I love your precept. I agree, sometimes it's good to start over. A fresh start gives us the chance to reflect on the past, weigh the things we've done, and apply what we've learned from those things to the future. If we don't examine the past, we don't learn from it.

As for the “kids” you didn't like, I do think I know who you're talking about. I'm sorry the year didn't turn out to be a happy one for you, but I hope you take a little time to ask yourself why. Things that happen to us, even the bad stuff, can often teach us a little bit about ourselves. Do you ever wonder why you had such a hard time with these two students? Was it, perhaps, their friendship that bothered you? Were you troubled by Auggie's physical appearance? You mentioned that you started having nightmares. Did you ever consider that maybe you were just a little afraid of Auggie, Julian? Sometimes fear can make even the nicest kids say and do things they wouldn't ordinarily say or do. Perhaps you should explore these feelings further?

In any case, I wish you the best of luck in your new school, Julian. You're a good kid. A natural leader. Just remember to use your leadership for good, huh? Don't forget: always choose kind!

I don't know why, but I was so, so,
so
happy to get that email from Mr. Browne! I knew he would be understanding! I was so tired of everyone thinking I was this demon-child, you know? It was obvious that Mr. Browne knew I wasn't. I reread his email like, ten times. I was smiling from ear to ear.

“So?” Grandmère asked me. She had just woken up and was having her breakfast: a croissant and
café au lait
delivered from downstairs. “I haven't seen you this happy all summer long. What is it that you are reading,
mon cher
?”

“Oh, I got an email from one of my teachers,” I answered. “Mr. Browne.”

“From your old school?” she asked. “I thought they were all bad, those teachers. I thought it was ‘good riddance' to all of them!” Grandmère had a thick French accent that was hard to understand sometimes.

“What?”

“Good riddance!” she repeated. “Never mind. I thought the teachers were all stupid.” The way she pronounced “stupid” was funny: like stew-peed!

“Not all. Not Mr. Browne,” I answered.

“So, what did he write to make you so happy?”

“Oh, nothing much,” I said. “It's just . . . I thought everyone hated me, but now I know Mr. Browne doesn't.”

Grandmère looked at me.

“Why would everyone hate you, Julian?” she asked. “You are such a good boy.”

“I don't know,” I answered.

“Read me the email,” she said.

“No, Grandmère . . .” I started to say.

“Read,” she commanded, pointing her finger at the screen.

So I read Mr. Browne's letter aloud to her. Now, Grandmère knew a little bit about what had happened at Beecher Prep, but I don't think she knew the whole story. I mean, I think Mom and Dad told her the version of the story they told everyone else, with maybe a few more details. Grandmère knew there were a couple of kids who had made my life miserable, for instance, but she didn't know the specifics. She knew I'd gotten punched in the mouth, but she didn't know why. If anything, Grandmère probably assumed I had gotten bullied, and that's why I was leaving the school.

So, there were parts of Mr. Browne's email she really didn't understand.

“What does he mean,” she said, squinting as she tried to read off my screen. “Auggie's ‘physical appearance'?
Qu'est-ce que c'est?

“One of the kids that I didn't like, Auggie, he had like this awful . . . facial deformity,” I answered. “It was really bad. He looked like a gargoyle!”

“Julian!” she said. “That is not very nice.”

“Sorry.”

“And this boy, he was not
sympathique
?” she asked innocently. “He was not nice to you? Was he a bully?”

I thought about that. “No, he wasn't a bully.”

“So, why did you not like him?”

I shrugged. “I don't know. He just got on my nerves.”

“What do you mean, you don't know?” she answered quickly. “Your parents told me you were leaving school because of some bullies, no? You got punched in the face? No?”

“Well, yeah, I got punched, but not by the deformed kid. By his friend.”

“Ah! So his friend was the bully!”

“No, not exactly,” I said. “I can't say they were bullies, Grandmère. I mean, it wasn't like that. We just didn't get along, that's all. We hated each other. It's kind of hard to explain, you kind of had to be there. Here, let me show you what he looked like. Then maybe you'll understand a little better. I mean, not to sound mean, but it was really hard having to look at him every day. He gave me nightmares.”

I logged on to Facebook and found our class picture, and zoomed in on Auggie's face so she could see. She put her glasses on to look at it and spent a long time studying his face on the computer screen. I thought she would react the way Mom had reacted when she first saw that picture of Auggie, but she didn't. She just nodded to herself. And then she closed the laptop.

“Pretty bad, huh?” I said to her.

She looked at me.

“Julian,” she said. “I think maybe your teacher is right. I think you were afraid of this boy.”

“What? No way!” I answered. “I'm not afraid of Auggie! I mean, I didn't like him—in fact, I kind of hated him—but not because I was afraid of him.”

“Sometimes we hate the things we are afraid of,” she said.

I made a face like she was talking crazy.

She took my hand.

“I know what it is like to be afraid, Julian,” she said, holding her finger up to my face. “There was a little boy that I was afraid of when I was a little girl.”

“Let me guess,” I answered, sounding bored. “I bet he looked just like Auggie.”

Grandmère shook her head. “No. His face was fine.”

“So, why were you afraid of him?” I asked. I tried to make my voice sound as uninterested as possible, but Grandmère ignored my bad attitude.

She just sat back in her chair, her head slightly tilted, and I could tell by looking into her eyes that she had gone somewhere far away.

Grandmère's Story

“I was a very popular girl when I was young, Julian,” said Grandmère. “I had many friends. I had pretty clothes. As you can see, I have always liked pretty clothes.” She waved her hands down her sides to make sure I noticed her dress. She smiled.

“I was a frivolous girl,” she continued. “Spoiled. When the Germans came to France, I hardly took any notice. I knew that some Jewish families in my village were moving away, but my family was so cosmopolitan. My parents were intellectuals. Atheists. We didn't even go to synagogue.”

She paused here and asked me to bring her a wine glass, which I did. She served herself a full glass and, as she always did, offered me some, too. And, as I always did, I said, “
Non, merci.
” Like I said, Mom would go ballistic if she knew the stuff Grandmère did sometimes!

“There was a boy in my school called . . . well, they called him Tourteau,” she continued. “He was . . . how do you say the word . . . a crippled? Is that how you say it?”

“I don't think people use that word anymore, Grandmère,” I said. “It's not exactly politically correct, if you know what I mean.”

She flicked her hand at me. “Americans are always coming up with new words we can't say anymore!” she said. “
Alors
, well, Tourteau's legs were deformed from the polio. He needed two canes to walk with. And his back was all twisted. I think that's why he was called
tourteau
, crab: he walked sideways like a crab. I know, it sounds very harsh. Children were meaner in those days.”

I thought about how I called August “the freak” behind his back. But at least I never called him that to his face!

Grandmère continued talking. I have to admit: at first I wasn't into her telling me one of her long stories, but I was getting into this one.

“Tourteau was a little thing, a skinny thing. None of us ever talked to him because he made us uncomfortable. He was so different! I never even looked at him! I was afraid of him. Afraid to look at him, to talk to him. Afraid he would accidentally touch me. It was easier to pretend he didn't exist.”

She took a long sip of her wine.

“One morning, a man came running into our school. I knew him. Everyone did. He was a Maquis, a partisan. Do you know what that is? He was against the Germans. He rushed into the school and told the teachers that the Germans were coming to take all the Jewish children away. What? What is this? I could not believe what I was hearing! The teachers in the school went around to all the classes and gathered the Jewish children together. We were told to follow the Maquis into the woods. We were going to go hide. Hurry hurry hurry! I think there were maybe ten of us in all! Hurry hurry hurry! Escape!”

Grandmère looked at me, to make sure I was listening—which, of course, I was.

“It was snowing that morning, and very cold. And all I could think was,
If I go into the woods, I will ruin my shoes!
I was wearing these beautiful new red shoes that Papa had brought me, you see. As I said before, I was a frivolous girl—perhaps even a little stupid! But this is what I was thinking. I did not even stop to think,
Well, where is Maman and Papa? If the Germans were coming for the Jewish children, had they come for the parents already?
This did not occur to me. All I could think about were my beautiful shoes. So, instead of following the Maquis into the woods, I snuck away from the group and went to hide inside the bell tower of the school. There was a tiny room up there, full of crates and books, and there I hid. I remember thinking I would go home in the afternoon after the Germans came, and tell Maman and Papa all about it. This is how stupid I was, Julian!”

I nodded. I couldn't believe I had never heard this story before!

“And then the Germans came,” she said. “There was a narrow window in the tower, and I could see them perfectly. I watched them run into the woods after the children. It did not take them very long to find them. They all came back together: the Germans, the children, the Maquis soldier.”

Grandmère paused and blinked a few times, and then she took a deep breath.

“They shot the Maquis in front of all the children,” she said quietly. “He fell so softly, Julian, in the snow. The children cried. They cried as they were led away in a line. One of the teachers, Mademoiselle Petitjean, went with them—even though she was not Jewish! She said she would not leave her children! No one ever saw her again, poor thing. By now, Julian, I had awakened from my stupidity. I was not thinking of my red shoes anymore. I was thinking of my friends who had been taken away. I was thinking of my parents. I was waiting until it was nighttime so I could go home to them!

“But not all the Germans had left. Some had stayed behind, along with the French police. They were searching the school. And then I realized, they were looking for me! Yes, for me, and for the one or two other Jewish children who had not gone into the woods. I realized then that my friend Rachel had not been among the Jewish children who were marched away. Nor Jakob, a boy from another village who all the girls wanted to marry because he was so handsome. Where were they? They must have been hiding, just like I was!

“Then I heard creaking, Julian. Up the stairs, I heard footsteps up the stairs, coming closer to me. I was so scared! I tried to make myself as small as possible behind the crate, and hid my head beneath a blanket.”

Here, Grandmère covered her head with her arms, as if to show me how she was hiding.

“And then I heard someone whisper my name,” she said. “It was not a man's voice. It was a child's voice.


Sara?
the voice whispered again.

“I peeked out from the blanket.


Tourteau!
I answered, astonished. I was so surprised, because in all the years I had known him, I don't think I had ever said a word to him, nor him to me. And yet, there he was, calling my name.


They will find you here
, he said.
Follow me.

“And I did follow him, for by now I was terrified. He led me down a hallway into the chapel of the school, which I had never really been to before. We went to the back of the chapel, where there was a crypt—all this was new to me, Julian! And we crawled through the crypt so the Germans would not see us through the windows, because they were looking for us still. I heard when they found Rachel. I heard her screaming in the courtyard as they took her away. Poor Rachel!

“Tourteau took me down to the basement beneath the crypt. There must have been one hundred steps at least. These were not easy for Tourteau, as you can imagine, with his terrible limp and his two canes, but he hopped down the steps two at a time, looking behind him to make sure I was following.

“Finally, we arrived at a passage. It was so narrow we had to walk sideways to get through. And then we were in the sewers, Julian! Can you imagine? I knew instantly because of the smell, of course. We were knee-deep in refuse. You can imagine the smell. So much for my red shoes!

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