A Tasteful Lesson
By Nan Smith
Disclaimer: The recognizable characters and settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions, and anyone else with a legal right to them, and I have no claim on them whatsoever, nor am I profiting by their use, but any of the new characters and situations are mine, and the story is copyrighted to me.
This is a vignette in the continuity of the Dagger Series, and happens a couple of years after Mother's Day.
A Tasteful Lesson
By Nan Smith
"She did it again," Marta said.
"Who did what?" Lois Lane glanced up from her computer to look at her daughter.
"Susie Jones stole my lunch. She comes up every day and makes me hand over my lunch or she'll hit me. If I let her hit me, she's going to hurt herself, and then she'll tell the teacher I hit her. She did it before; remember? I reported her yesterday and the teacher on yard duty told me to ignore it. I've been ignoring it for two months, but she doesn't stop."
Lois frowned. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I did," Marta said. "Last month. You said you were going to call the principal."
Lois gulped. She remembered the incident now, and she had meant to do as she had promised, but then she'd gotten distracted by the little matter of being taken hostage by those bank robbers, and there had been the Superman rescue and the police report, and the problem of her daughter's stolen lunch had slipped her mind. Marta hadn't said anything since, so she had assumed the problem had resolved itself.
"We'll take care of that right now," Lois said. She took out her phone.
Marta shrugged. "It's not going to do any good," she said resignedly.
Lois put down the phone. "Why not?"
"Principal Grandon thinks bullies do things because they have low self esteem," Marta explained. "He makes them go to a special 'self esteem' workshop. It never does any good. Susie's been in it before. Geraldine Foxe had to transfer out of the school because she reported her last time. Susie got her and beat her up after school and her mother took her out of Metro Elementary. It was right after that that she started to take my lunch."
"How do you know what happened?"
"Gerrie told me," Marta said. "Susie's the biggest bully in the sixth grade. Everybody's scared of her."
"Are you scared of her?" Lois asked.
"No, but I sure get hungry by the time I get home!"
"Hmm." Lois frowned at her daughter, trying to decide what to do. She'd dealt with a bully years ago in elementary school and knew just how frustrating it could be when the adults didn't treat such a situation with the attention it deserved. Statistics said that the bullies in school didn't change as they got older, and were frequently the ones who ran afoul of the law as adults. She'd read a study on the subject a few years ago, where the investigators had followed the records of elementary school bullies into their adult years, and it hadn't surprised her in the least. If someone didn't start taking Susie's behavioral difficulties seriously, the girl was probably in for more problems down the line. Maybe she should dig up that study again and any other ones she could find on school bullies and do a series on it in the Daily Planet. It was time that someone paid more attention to the problem. Self esteem notwithstanding, bullies made the lives of their victims miserable, and sometimes the victims got so desperate that tragedies resulted -- like that incident last year in New York, when a boy had hung himself to get away from the bullies that were harassing him.
Lois frowned as she recalled the story. Yes, she thought. That was definitely a very worthwhile project for her to pursue -- but in the meantime, her own daughter's problem needed to be addressed. If the school wouldn't deal with it effectively, she was going to have to do it in her own way, and maybe it would manage to get the attention of the school authorities. She might be doing Susie a favor in the long run, although the girl undoubtedly wouldn't see it that way...
"I have an idea," she said. "Would you like to teach Susie that stealing your lunch might not be so smart?"
"Sure," Marta said. "Just as long as I don't get in trouble. I've got better things to do than waste my time in self esteem classes."
"I don't think your self esteem is in need of any help," Lois agreed. "I think we can set this up so they won't be able to blame you. How's your invulnerability coming along?"
"Pretty good," Marta said, watching her mother curiously. Lois gave her a conspiratorial smile."Good. Then here's what we're going to do ..."
Marta glanced nervously at the wall clock for the fourth time in ten minutes. The lunch bell was going to ring any second, and then she was going to face her moment of truth. Mom was pretty smart, she thought. And if the price she paid to get rid of the Susie problem meant eating something a little unpleasant, it was worth it.
The bell rang and Marta picked up her backpack. Maria, her best friend, was getting up from her desk and she glanced worriedly at Marta. "What are you going to do?" she asked. "Susie's going to be waiting for you."
"Nothing," Marta said. "If I do anything, they'll blame me again."
"Mr. Grandon's dumb!" Maria said bluntly. "That stupid class of his never does any good."
"My dad says Mr. Grandon has too much respect for authority," Marta said, trying to look resigned. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Susie glance meaningfully at her and head for the door. Yep, Marta thought. Susie was right on schedule. She reached into her backpack and took out her bag lunch. Taking her time, she started toward the classroom door.
Susie was waiting right outside, a smirk on her face. Her two satellites were loitering behind her, both of them grinning faintly as their leader stuck out her hand. "Hand it over," she said.
Marta walked past her, out toward the playground. It wouldn't look good to seem too eager. "Leave me alone," she said.
Susie followed her, the two subordinates trailing along in her wake. Maria gave Marta a worried look but said nothing.
They emerged into the bright sunshine of 11:30 in the morning and Marta started toward her usual spot, followed by Maria: an area of the blacktop shaded by a large tree that protruded from an opening made for it in the asphalt.
Susie stepped in front of her. "Give it here," she commanded.
"This is my lunch," Marta protested. "You probably won't even like it!"
"Do you want a punch in the face?" Susie asked, balling up a fist.
Marta sighed and reluctantly extended the bag. Susie grabbed it and walked over to Marta's spot. She sank down on the stone bench and opened the bag, removing the first of the two sandwiches that Marta's mother had made. Marta went to sit on the edge of one of the planters that graced the sides of the building, surreptitiously watching Susie from the corner of her eye. Maria glanced questioningly at her and followed.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Just wait," Marta said.
The larger girl was talking to one of her friends as she unwrapped the sandwich. The second girl glanced at Marta and snickered. Susie took a large bite and began to chew.
Her jaw stopped moving. Even from this far away, courtesy of her enhanced vision, Marta could see her face turning red and tears starting from her eyes. Not a surprising fact, Marta thought with satisfaction, considering what the contents of that sandwich included.
Susie spit out the bite on the ground with a howl of agony. Her friends stared at her with their mouths open, and Marta saw the yard duty teacher turn to look for the source of the screams.
Susie twisted around, and then headed straight for the nearest water fountain, her followers trailing along in confusion. Susie was gulping water as Marta calmly retrieved her lunch bag from the ground.
"What's the matter, Susie?" Miss Watkins asked, laying a hand on the girl's shoulder. Susie was slurping more water. Marta could see the tears streaming down the other girl's face as she swallowed the liquid frantically. It wasn't going to do much good, however. As her mother had said, water only spread the fire.
Marta took a bite of the remaining sandwich, which was as spicy as the other one had been. Mom might not be much of a cook, but she made one heck of a sandwich. And if Susie complained that the sandwich she had stolen from Marta had burned her mouth, Marta was quite able to demonstrate that the one she held in her hand, and that she was slowly and happily savoring, was equally as hot as the one from which Susie had taken a bite. She had tried to tell Susie not to take her lunch, after all. It wasn't Marta's fault, was it, that the cheese in the sandwich, covered with hot mustard, Cayenne pepper, chili sauce, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, chopped jalapeno peppers, and fresh habanero relish didn't bother her at all?
Miss Watkins was still attempting to get an answer out of Susie. One of Susie's sidekicks pointed at the sandwich that lay on the ground, and then at Marta, who was leaning against the tree, chewing slowly and happily on her lunch. Miss Watkins went to the sandwich and picked it up. She sniffed experimentally and jerked her face back.
"Marta Kent!" she snapped. "Did you do this?"
"Do what?" Marta asked. She took another bite of sandwich, chewed and swallowed.
"Let me see that sandwich!" Miss Watkins extended a hand and Marta gave it to her. The teacher sniffed it and again jerked back her head with an involuntary gasp.
"See," Marta said. "Mom made me my favorite cheese sandwich, and Susie stole it. I tried to tell her not to. Didn't I?" she added, turning to Maria.
Maria nodded. "She sure did."
Marta extended a hand. "Can I have my lunch back now, please?"
Miss Watkins handed it back to her and watched with a faintly bemused look as Marta took a huge bite. "You mean you really eat that?" she demanded.
"Sure," Marta said, rather thickly, through the mouthful of food. "It's my favorite."
Miss Watkins turned to Susie. "Come on," she said, "I think crackers will help a lot more than water."
Susie glared at Marta.
"I'm gonna get you for this," she said.
Marta looked at Miss Watkins and raised one eyebrow as she had seen her father do. "I guess," she said a little sarcastically, "I'm supposed to ignore that, too?"
Miss Watkins heaved a sigh. "Both of you come with me to the office," she said. "I'm going to call your parents."