The Julian Chapter, p.1R. J. Palacio
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2014 by R. J. Palacio
Cover art copyright © 2014 by Tad Carpenter
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Dr. Jansen’s Office
Out of School
After Summer Vacation
About the Author
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Perhaps I have created the stars and the sun and this enormous house, but I no longer remember.
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The House of Asterion”
Fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.
—William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Okay, okay, okay.
I know, I know, I know.
I haven’t been nice to August Pullman!
Big deal. It’s not the end of the world, people! Let’s stop with the drama, okay? There’s a whole big world out there, and not everyone is nice to everyone else. That’s just the way it is. So, can you please get over it? I think it’s time to move on and get on with your life, don’t you?
I don’t get it. I really don’t. One minute, I’m like, the most popular kid in the fifth grade. And the next minute, I’m like, I don’t know. Whatever. This bites. This whole year bites! I wish Auggie Pullman had never come to Beecher Prep in the first place! I wish he had kept his creepy little face hidden away like in The Phantom of the Opera or something. Put a mask on, Auggie! Get your face out of my face, please. Everything would be a lot easier if you would just disappear.
At least for me. I’m not saying it’s a picnic for him, either, by the way. I know it can’t be easy for him to look in the mirror every day, or walk down the street. But that’s not my problem. My problem is that everything’s different since he’s been coming to my school. The kids are different. I’m different. And it sucks big-time.
I wish everything was the way it used to be in the fourth grade. We had so, so, so much fun back then. We would play tackle-tag in the yard, and not to brag, but everyone always wanted a piece of me, you know? I’m just sayin’. Everyone always wanted to be my partner when we’d do social studies projects. And everyone always laughed when I said something funny.
At lunchtime, I’d always sit with my peeps, and we were like, it. We were totally it. Henry. Miles. Amos. Jack. We were it! It was so cool. We had all these secret jokes. Little hand signals for stuff.
I don’t know why that had to change. I don’t know why everyone got so stupid about stuff.
Actually, I do know why: it was because of Auggie Pullman. The moment he showed up, that’s when things stopped being the way they used to be. Everything was totally ordinary. And now things are messed up. And it’s because of him.
And Mr. Tushman. In fact, it’s kind of totally Mr. Tushman’s fault.
I remember Mom made a big deal about the call we got from Mr. Tushman. At dinner that night, she went on and on about what a big honor it was. The middle-school director had called us at home to ask if I could be a welcome buddy to some new kid in school. Wow! Big news! Mom acted like I won an Oscar or something. She said it showed her that the school really did recognize who the “special” kids were, which she thought was awesome. Mom had never met Mr. Tushman before, because he was the middle-school director and I was still in the lower school, but she couldn’t stop raving about how nice he’d been on the phone.
Mom’s always been kind of a bigwig at school. She’s on this board of trustees thing, which I don’t even know what it is but apparently it’s a big deal. She’s always volunteering for stuff, too. Like, she’s always been the class mom for every grade I’ve been in at Beecher. Always. She does a lot for the school.
So, the day I was supposed to be a welcome buddy, she dropped me off in front of the middle school. She wanted to take me inside, but I was like, “Mom, it’s middle school!” She took the hint and drove off before I went inside.
Charlotte Cody and Jack Will were already in the front lobby, and we said hello to each other. Jack and I did our peeps’ handshake and we said hello to the security guard. Then we went up to Mr. Tushman’s office. It was so weird being in the school when there was no one there!
“Dude, we could totally skateboard in here and no one would know!” I said to Jack, running and gliding on the smooth floor of the hallway after the security guard couldn’t see us anymore.
“Ha, yeah,” said Jack, but I noticed that the closer we got to Mr. Tushman’s office, the quieter Jack got. In fact, he kind of looked like he was going to blow chunks.
As we got near the top of the stairs, he stopped.
“I don’t want to do this!” he said.
I stopped next to him. Charlotte had already gotten to the top landing.
“Come on!” she said.
“You’re not the boss!” I answered.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes at me. I laughed and nudged Jack with my elbow. We loved egging Charlotte Cody on. She was always such a Goody Two-shoes!
“This is so messed up,” said Jack, rubbing his hand over his face.
“What is?” I asked.
“Do you know who this new kid is?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“You know who he is, right?” Jack said to Charlotte, looking up at her.
Charlotte walked down the stairs toward us. “I think so,” she said. She made a face, like she had just tasted something bad.
Jack shook his head and then smacked it three times with his palm.
“I’m such an idiot for saying yes to this!” he said, his teeth clenched.
“Wait, who is it?” I said. I pushed Jack’s shoulder so he’d look at me.
“It’s that kid called August,” he said to me. “You know, the kid with the face?”
I had no idea who he was talking about.
“Are you kidding me?” said Jack. “You’ve never seen that kid before? He lives in this neighborhood! He hangs out in the playground sometimes. You have to have seen him. Everyone has!”
“He doesn’t live in this neighborhood,” answered Charlotte.
“Yes he does!” Jack answered impatiently.
“No, Julian doesn’t live in this neighborhood,” she answered, just as impatiently.
“What does that have to do with anything?” I said.
“Whatever!” Jack interrupted. “It doesn’t matter. Trust me, dude, you’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Please don’t be mean, Jack,” Charlotte said. “It’s not nice.”
“I’m not being mean!” said Jack. “I’m just being truthful.”
“What, exactly, does he look like?” I asked.
Jack didn’t answer. He just stood there, shaking his head. I looked at Charlotte, who frowned.
“You’ll see,” she said. “Let’s just go already, okay?” She turned around and went up the stairs and disappeared down the hall to Mr. Tushman’s office.
“Let’s just go already, okay?” I said to Jack, imitating Charlotte perfectly. I thought this would totally make him laugh, but it didn’t.
“Jack, dude, come on!” I said.
I pretended to give him a hard slap in the face. This actually did make him laugh a bit, and he threw a slow-motion punch back at me. This led to a quick game of “spleen,” which is where we try to jab each other in the rib cage.
“Guys, let’s go!” Charlotte commanded from the top of the stairs. She had come back to get us.
“Guys, let’s go!” I whispered to Jack, and this time he did kind of laugh.
But as soon as we rounded the corner of the hallway and got to Mr. Tushman’s office, we all got pretty serious.
When we went inside, Mrs. Garcia told us to wait in Nurse Molly’s office, which was a small room to the side of Mr. Tushman’s office. We didn’t say anything to each other while we waited. I resisted the temptation to make a balloon out of the latex gloves that were in a box by the exam table, though I know it would have made everyone laugh.
Mr. Tushman came into the office. He was tall, kind of thin, with messy gray hair.
“Hey, guys,” he said, smiling. “I’m Mr. Tushman. You must be Charlotte.” He shook Charlotte’s hand. “And you are …?” He looked at me.
“Julian,” I said.
“Julian,” he repeated, smiling. He shook my hand.
“And you’re Jack Will,” he said to Jack, and shook his hand, too.
He sat down on the chair next to Nurse Molly’s desk. “First of all, I just want to thank you guys so much for coming here today. I know it’s a hot day and you probably have other stuff you want to do. How’s the summer been treating you? Okay?”
We all kind of nodded, looking at each other.
“How’s the summer been for you?” I asked him.
“Oh, so nice of you to ask, Julian!” he answered. “It’s been a great summer, thank you. Though I am seriously looking forward to the fall. I hate this hot weather.” He pulled his shirt. “I’m so ready for the winter.”
All three of us were bobbing our heads up and down like doofballs at this point. I don’t know why grown-ups ever bother chitchatting with kids. It just makes us feel weird. I mean, I personally am pretty okay talking to adults—maybe because I travel a lot and I’ve talked to a lot of adults before—but most kids really don’t like talking to grown-ups. That’s just the way it is. Like, if I see the parent of some friend of mine and we’re not actually in school, I try to avoid eye contact so I don’t have to talk to them. It’s too weird. It’s also really weird when you bump into a teacher outside of school. Like, one time I saw my third-grade teacher at a restaurant with her boyfriend, and I was like, ewww! I don’t want to see my teacher hanging out with her boyfriend, you know?
Anyway, so there we were, me, Charlotte, and Jack, nodding away like total bobbleheads as Mr. Tushman went on and on about the summer. But finally—finally!—he got to the point.
“So, guys,” he said, kind of slapping his hands against his thighs. “It’s really nice of you to give up your afternoon to do this. In a few minutes, I’m going to introduce you to the boy who’s coming to my office, and I just wanted to give you a heads-up about him beforehand. I mean, I told your moms a little bit about him—did they talk to you?”
Charlotte and Jack both nodded, but I shook my head.
“My mom just said he’d had a bunch of surgeries,” I said.
“Well, yes,” answered Mr. Tushman. “But did she explain about his face?”
I have to say, this is the point when I started thinking, Okay, what the heck am I doing here?
“I mean, I don’t know,” I said, scratching my head. I tried to think back to what Mom had told me. I hadn’t really paid attention. I think most of the time she was going on and on about what an honor it was that I’d been chosen: she really didn’t emphasize that there was something wrong with the kid. “She said that you said the kid had a lot of scars and stuff. Like he’d been in a fire.”
“I didn’t quite say that,” said Mr. Tushman, raising his eyebrows. “What I told your mom is that this boy has a severe craniofacial difference—”
“Oh, right right right!” I interrupted, because now I remembered. “She did use that word. She said it was like a cleft lip or something.”
Mr. Tushman scrunched up his face.
“Well,” he said, lifting his shoulders and tilting his head left and right, “it’s a little more than that.” He got up and patted my shoulder. “I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear to your mom. In any case, I don’t mean to make this awkward for you. In fact, it’s exactly because I don’t want it to be awkward that I’m talking to you right now. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that this boy definitely looks very different from other children. And that’s not a secret. He knows he looks different. He was born that way. He gets that. He’s a great kid. Very smart. Very nice. He’s never gone to a regular school before because he was homeschooled, you know, because of all his surgeries. So that’s why I just want you guys to show him around a bit, get to know him, be his welcome buddies. You can totally ask him questions, if you want. Talk to him normally. He’s really just a normal kid with a face that … you know, is not so normal.” He looked at us and took a deep breath. “Oh boy, I think I’ve just made you all more nervous, haven’t I?”
We shook our heads. He rubbed his forehead.
“You know,” he said, “one of the things you learn when you get old like me is that sometimes, a new situation will come along, and you’ll have no idea what to do. There’s no rule book that tells you how to act in every given situation in life, you know? So what I always say is that it’s always better to err on the side of kindness. That’s the secret. If you don’t know what to do, just be kind. You can’t go wrong. Which is why I asked you three to help me out here, because I’d heard from your lower-school teachers that you’re all really nice kids.”
We didn’t know what to say to this, so we all just kind of smiled like goobers.
“Just treat him like you would treat any kid you’ve just met,” he said. “That’s all I’m trying to say. Okay, guys?”
We nodded at the same time now, too. Bobbling heads.
“You guys rock,” he said. “So, relax, wait here a bit, and Mrs. Garcia will come and get you in a few minutes.” He opened the door. “And, guys, really, thanks again for doing this. It’s good karma to do good. It’s a mitzvah, you know?”
With that, he smiled, winked at us, and left the room.
All three of us exhaled at the same time. We looked at each other, our eyes kind of wide.
“Okay,” Jack said, “I don’t know what the heck karma is and I don’t know what the heck mitzvah is!”
This made us all laugh a little, though it was kind of a nervous type of laugh.
I’m not going to go into detail about the rest of what happened that day. I’m just going to point out that, for the first time in his life, Jack had not exaggerated. In fact, he had done the opposite. Is there a word that means the opposite of exaggerated? “Unexaggerated”? I don’t know. But Jack had totally not exaggerated about this kid’s face.
The first look I
I totally would have walked out the door after I saw him, but I knew I would get in trouble if I did. So I just kept looking at Mr. Tushman, and I tried to listen to what he was saying, but all I heard was yak yak yak yak yak because my ears were burning. In my head, I was like, Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude!
Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude!
I think I said that word a thousand times to myself. I don’t know why.
At some point, he introduced us to Auggie. Ahh! I think I actually shook his hand. Triple ahh! I wanted to zoom out of there so fast and wash my hand. But before I knew what was happening, we were headed out the door, down the hallway, and up the stairs.
Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude!
I caught Jack’s eye as we were going up the stairs to homeroom. I opened my eyes really wide at him and mouthed the words, “No way!”
Jack mouthed back, “I told you!”
When I was about five, I remember watching an episode of SpongeBob one night, and a commercial came on TV that totally freaked me out. It was a few days before Halloween. A lot of commercials came on during that time of year that were kind of scary, but this one was for a new teen thriller I’d never heard about before. Suddenly, while I was watching the commercial, a close-up of a zombie’s face popped up on the screen. Well, it totally and completely terrified me. I mean, terrified me like the kind of terrified where you actually run out of the room screaming with your arms in the air. TERRRRR-IFFF-FIED!
After that, I was so scared of seeing that zombie face again, I stopped watching any TV until Halloween was over and the movie was no longer playing in theaters. Seriously, I stopped watching TV completely—that’s how scared I was!
Not too long after that, I was on a playdate with some kid whose name I don’t even remember. And this kid was really into Harry Potter, so we started watching one of the Harry Potter movies (I’d never seen any of them before). Well, when I saw Voldemort’s face for the first time, the same thing happened that had happened when the Halloween commercial came on. I started screaming hysterically, wailing like a total baby. It was so bad, the kid’s mother couldn’t calm me down, and she had to call my mother to come pick me up. My mom got really annoyed at the kid’s mom for letting me watch the movie, so they ended up getting into an argument and—long story short—I never had another playdate there again. But anyway, between the Halloween zombie commercial and Voldemort’s noseless face, I was kind of a mess.
The Julian Chapter by R. J. Palacio / Young Adult / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes