Like Pinocchio’s Nose

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Okay, I started the buzz about Carmie, but by the time it got back to me, the story had grown like Pinocchio’s nose. My name is Daisy Pratt, and trust me when I tell you that everything I said was true. But right now that seems about as important as a snow shovel in summer.

Sophie, Hannah, JaQuetta, and I are sitting in Ms. Garcia’s office. She’s our guidance counselor. Our fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Vaccarello, is sitting opposite Ms. Garcia, her usually friendly expression a stony mask. “Girls, this is so unexpected.” When she sighs with disappointment, Sophie softly sniffles beside me.

Ms. Garcia nods in agreement as her eyes flick past me and travel around the table. “Do you girls realize that spreading rumors is a type of bullying? Bullying has serious consequences. When it goes cyber, like in this case, sometimes the police get involved.”

Police? Jeez Louise!

Suddenly my stomach is rolling on a stormy sea. And I’m not the only one freaking.  Sophie lets out a soft gasp. Hannah and JaQuetta are both wide-eyed.

I swallow over the lump in my throat when Ms. Garcia’s gaze settles on me. “Carmie believes the rumors began with you, Daisy.”

“But Ms. Garcia, I didn’t say all that stuff! I never said anything about Carmie stealing!” My words spill. “And I wasn’t spreading rumors. Carmie was in the classroom going through Mrs. Vaccarello’s desk. I saw her with my own eyes and—”

When Ms. Garcia’s hand juts up like a STOP sign, I swallow my voice. I’m having trouble controlling myself. I don’t want everyone blaming me for the Carmie catastrophe. It’s not my fault kids started spreading stuff.

“Daisy,” Ms. Garcia’s eyes hold mine, “what you said you saw may have been true. But are you sure it was accurate?”

“Accurate?” I scrunch up my face.

She doesn’t explain. Instead, she addresses the group. “Ladies, gossip is a snowball rolling down a snowy hill. It just gets bigger as it rolls along.”

Mrs. Vaccarello nods. Folding her arms on the tabletop, she leans in. “I’m just wondering. Have any of you thought about Carmie?” Scanning the group, she raises an eyebrow. “How would you feel if these nasty rumors were being spread about one of you?”

Sophie’s face crumples. “Mrs. Vaccarello, I never meant to hurt Carmie!”

“I hope not, Sophie. I hope no one here intentionally targeted Carmie. But deliberate or not, cruel gossip hurt an innocent girl.”

I do a mental eye roll. Innocent?  But I saw Carmie rummaging through your desk.

Mrs. Vaccarello’s grim expression matches her steely tone. “Now girls, you must face the consequences of those actions.”

Ms. Garcia nods. “Yes. We need to comply with the anti-bullying law which states that any incident where bullying is suspected must be investigated. So let’s begin, shall we? The rumors began after Daisy told Sophie what she saw in the classroom. So Daisy,” her gaze locks on me, “when did you discover Carmie behind Mrs. Vaccarello’s desk?”

“On Monday. After band. I have band first thing.”

“So what happened after band?”  Ms. Garcia asks. “Did you go back to your classroom?”

I nod. “My class goes to gym five minutes before band ends, so I usually go straight to gym class. But Monday it was raining, so I wore boots and brought my sneakers. Halfway through band I realized I’d have to go back to the classroom for my sneakers. I asked the band teacher for a classroom pass, in case Mrs. Vaccarello wasn’t in our classroom.”

“And when you got to the classroom…” Ms. Garcia prompts.

“I saw Carmie going through Mrs. Vaccarello’s desk.”

“Going through Mrs. Vaccarello’s desk,” she parrots. “Was she opening and closing all the drawers?”

“Ah…well yeah. She was, you know…looking for something.”

“And then?”

I shrug. “She took something out of a drawer.”

“What did she take?” Ms. Garcia prods.

“Well…” I pause. “I…I think it was an envelope.”

“You think? You mean you’re not sure?”

“Well, she rushed past me so fast…” I do a lame shoulder roll.

“Didn’t you tell Sophie that Carmie took the envelope with the class trip money?”  She pushes.

I slide Sophie an icy glance. “I didn’t say that! I said maybe she took an envelope.”

“Daisy,” Ms. Garcia’s impatient tone is a warning, “did you say anything about Carmie and the class trip money?”

Suddenly I’m a mouse in a trap. “I said maybe Carmie took an envelope. Then I mentioned how a few years ago a kid stole the class trip money from Mr. Chen’s desk. But I never said Carmie stole anything!”

Ms. Garcia swivels toward Sophie. “Do you agree with Daisy’s version of your conversation?”

Sophie shrugs. “Yeah, I guess. But it sounded to me like she thought Carmie took the trip money envelope. The entire class knew that the envelope was in Mrs. Vaccarello’s desk,” she rushes to explain.

Ms. Garcia turns to Hannah. “And you got the story from…?”

“Jamal texted me.” She chokes back a tear. “He said he heard Sophie talking to some kids at lunchtime. He said he heard someone say that Carmie also stole Mrs. Vaccarello’s purse, and her cell phone, too.”

“Jamal.” Ms. Garcia jots down the name before her eyes settle on JaQuetta. “And you got the story from Hannah?”

JaQuetta nods.

Ms. Garcia consults her notes. “Then you posted online that Carmie took the trip money. Mrs. Vaccarello’s purse. Her cell phone. And…her iPad mini, too?” She glances up. “Is that correct, JaQuetta?”

JaQuetta’s voice is a defensive whisper. “Y-yes…because that’s what I heard…”

Ms. Garcia glances at her notes. “Ah…about the iPad. Hannah, did Jamal mention the iPad when he texted you?”

Hannah’s expression clouds as her gaze slides toward JaQuetta.

“Oh.” Ms. Garcia leans back in her chair, taps her pen on her notebook. “I think I get the picture.”

Then Ms. Garcia nods at Mrs. Vaccarello, sending a silent message. Reaching down, Mrs. Vaccarello places her purse on the table. She reaches inside. An uncomfortable silence envelops us when she holds up her cell phone in one hand, her iPad mini in the other. Her voice cuts through the silence.

“On Monday, I was walking our class to the gymnasium when I realized I’d forgotten to bring along the permission slips and money. After dropping off our class, I needed to hand-in our information so the office could arrange for our class trip busses. Since Carmie is our class messenger, I sent her back to collect the envelope from my desk drawer.”

One week later…

Ms. Garcia ruled the gossip as thoughtless and irresponsible, rather than intentional. We all got two weeks detention and spent our class trip day in a fourth-grade classroom. JaQuetta had to post a retraction. Talk about humiliating!

I apologized to Carmie, but she walked away before I even finished. I don’t blame her.  What I said I saw was true; but it wasn’t accurate. The Carmie catastrophe is my fault because I didn’t know the facts.

Glancing at my watch, I realize I need to hit the school store before it closes. The calculator I bought yesterday doesn’t work. As I walk in, Mrs. Bergenstoltz hurries past me.  When I rush to explain about the calculator, she nods.

“I’m very late for lunch duty, Daisy! Just leave that one, take another and close the door when you leave,” she rushes toward the cafeteria.

I’m stuffing the new calculator into my pocket when Mia Jenkowski wanders past. She pauses, stares at me. A soft gasp escapes as her jaw drops open before she rushes away.

I blow out a weary sigh as Pinocchio’s nose starts to grow…

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