Penelope Pepper and the Big Bully

by Helen Stanphill

“P-I-O-N—” Dylan paused as he spelled in front of the class.

We held our breath to see if Dylan would win the Frontier Day spelling bee. Dylan didn’t have many friends. But now he and Pierce, the class bully, were the last two spellers.

“E-A-R.” Dylan finished. “Pioneer.”

“I’m sorry, Dylan,” Mrs. Croft said, “but that is not correct.” Everyone’s breath came out with a big whoosh. “Pierce, can you spell pioneer?”

“Of course.” Pierce smirked. “It’s P-I-O-N-E-E-R. Pioneer.”

“Congratulations, Pierce. You’re the winner of our Frontier Day spelling bee.”

The class gave a weak round of applause. We knew Pierce would soon be bragging about his victory.

At lunch, I ended up across the table from Dylan. He looked pretty glum, but he perked up when he pulled a brownie out of his lunch box.

“My mom makes the best brownies,” he said as Pierce walked by.

“Look at that.” Pierce sneered. “Penelope Pepper is hanging out with Dylan the Dumbhead.” Pierce eyed Dylan’s brownie. “Hey, that should be my prize for winning the spelling bee!”

With one quick stroke, Pierce grabbed Dylan’s brownie and gulped it down. By the time Mrs. Croft looked our way, Pierce had walked to the trash can and thrown away his trash.

“Hey, Pierce!” I called, but the lunchroom noise drowned me out.

Dylan shook his head. “Thanks for trying, Penelope, but you’ll only make it worse. I can get another brownie at home.”

Days later as Dylan walked over to sharpen a pencil, Pierce stretched out his foot. Dylan tripped over Pierce’s shoe and landed hard on his knees. His Spider-Man pencil broke in half.

“Dylan, are you all right?” Mrs. Croft asked.

Dylan bit his lip, nodded and picked up his broken pencil.

Mrs. Croft needed to know the truth. I raised my hand.

“Yes, Penelope?” Mrs. Croft said.

“Pierce stuck his foot out in the aisle to trip Dylan,” I said.

Mrs. Croft looked at Pierce for a long moment.

“I didn’t see him coming,” Pierce said. “It was an accident.”

“Keep your feet out of the aisle, Pierce,” Mrs. Croft said. “And never, ever trip someone on purpose.”

Later, I gave Dylan one of my new, shimmery silver pencils. “I know it’s not the same as Spider-Man, but it looks pretty flashy.”

“Thanks!” Dylan smiled for the first time that morning.

At recess the next day, Jamal and I searched near the swings for good rocks.

Dylan came up quietly and pulled a round black stone from his pocket. It was smooth as silk and filled the center of my palm when he let me hold it.

“Wow, Dylan,” I said. “That’s a beauty!”

“I keep it in my pocket,” he said. “When everything else goes wrong, I like knowing I’ve got my favorite rock.”

As I handed it back to him, Pierce suddenly ran into me, knocked me into Dylan and sent the black rock sailing under the swings.

Dylan’s cheeks turned red, and his eyes narrowed as Pierce ran toward the rock.

“That’s it, Pierce!” Dylan shouted. “You stole my brownie and made me break my favorite pencil. You cannot knock over my friend, and you cannot steal my favorite rock!”

While I brushed the grass off my clothes, Pierce picked up the black rock. There was no lunchroom noise to drown me out this time.

“Give it back,” I told Pierce.

“If you don’t,” Jamal said, “I’ll get Mrs. Croft.”

Pierce looked across the playground and saw Mrs. Croft looking right at him.

“All right, all right.” He handed the rock back to Dylan. “I was just looking at it.”

Pierce took a step back and squared his shoulders. “You should watch where you stand, Penelope. And you should choose your friends more carefully, Jamal.”

I wanted to say something mean to Pierce, but I just shook my head.

Dylan turned to Jamal and me. “Thanks for sticking up for me.”

“That’s what friends are for,” I said.

At lunch, Marisol and Jamal came over to where Dylan and I sat.

“Can we sit here?” Marisol asked Dylan.

Dylan was so surprised he couldn’t speak. No one ever asked to sit with him.

“Jamal told me how you stood up to Pierce,” Marisol said. “I was hoping I could see that cool black rock.”

Dylan nodded, and I grinned.

“Who would have thought a rock could change the world?” I asked.

“Rocks are cool,” Dylan said, “but friends are even better.”

This story first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Clubhouse Jr. magazine. Copyright © 2012 by Helen Stanphill.