A Fictional Account of Norton life from quite a few years ago. Contains scenes from Norton High School, the outskirts of town, and Rehoboth .
Matt Reid watched the whole scene unfold. The new girl was sitting alone. Sam Pyke and his henchmen made their way down the cafeteria aisle, trays in hand. Just before they got to Rosemary’s table, Pyke pretended to stumble and the entire contents of his tray engulfed the new girl from head to waist in a sloppy mess.
The henchmen erupted in laughter. The rest of the students in the Norton High School cafeteria either gasped, laughed, or applauded.
Mr. Tolbert and Miss Campbell both turned to see what caused the commotion. Meanwhile, Matt Reid sprang from his table and lunged for Pyke and the melée was on.
Miss Campbell ran to get reinforcements while Mr. Tolbert went after the combatants. He yelled, "Break it up, it's over!" Pyke said "Reid started it and I'm gonna finish it." Matt Reid just stood his ground and seethed with rage.
By the time, the Assistant Principal arrived, things had calmed down. Matt Reid and Sam Pyke were removed to the office for the afternoon and earned themselves detention for the rest of the week.
If Mr. Tolbert, the boy’s gym teacher, had his way he would get the boxing gloves out of the supply closet, rope off a ring, and let these two settle things once and for all. Since things didn’t work that way anymore he had a different idea.
Meanwhile, Miss Campbell, the girl’s gym teacher attended to the new girl, Rosemary. She was shy, she was small, and she was poor, a perfect target for Pyke and his crew.
Rosemary had just moved to town with her mother. Her house was little more than a shack on the far side of town where Norton connects with Rehoboth in a narrow little strip. Her father played no part in her life. She had no brothers and no sisters. Her mother left for work before the bus came in the morning and came home well after dinner. Rosemary spent lots of time alone.
Rosemary cared about little else than the Stables. Every day after school she rode her bike across the town line about a mile into Rehoboth. She passed the old shack where she used to live while pedaling herself to her safe place, the Wallingford Stables. She cleaned out stalls, groomed horses and when she was done, she rode Royal Thunder, a massive powerful jumping horse, for as long as she wanted.
The Graysons, the owners of the equestrian center, were very compassionate towards Rosemary and they simply gave her the space she needed. She was a born worker and a natural on the back of a horse. They didn't attempt to change her or "save her" in any way. They knew that they were providing her with something she needed and she more than earned her keep. Rosemary’s world was unknown to any of her classmates and that was just fine with her.
The cafeteria episode was just the latest in a long string of incidents between Sam Pyke and Matt Reid. In fact there had been lingering animosity going back to their grandfathers. Back in the 40’s, Dr. Reid (the town’s prominent doctor) accused David Pyke (owner of Norton’s biggest service garage) of shoddy workmanship and inflated billing on car repairs. The bickering between the two Norton families had gone on ever since for more than 30 years. Matt and Sam were doing their best to keep the Reid / Pyke hostilities smoldering.
Mr. Tolbert hatched a plan to have the boys work out their aggression as part of the Physical Fitness tests now mandated by the federal government. Simply put, whoever did the most pushups got bragging rights for the school year. No punches, a handshake at the end. The terms were non-negotiable with the boys. Miss Campbell got wind of the plan and said she would block it if Rosemary objected. After a half hour private conversation with Rosemary she was satisfied with the response she received. The duel was on.
Pyke and Matt were both strong and fit. Matt was a multisport varsity athlete. Pyke spent his time out of school lugging heavy tires and lifting engines in the family’s expansive auto repair business. Each stepped up their specific training in the week leading up to the showdown.
On the night before the confrontation, Matt started to feel a cough coming on. The timing was bad but he knew he couldn’t postpone or say anything. He would be perceived as a crybaby. He would just have to fight through it. No excuses.
Mr. Tolbert had everything set up. The gymnasium was separated in two halves, about 60 11th grade boys on the left side, and another 60 or so 11th grade girls on the right side. The dividing curtain was pulled right down the center.
The girls wanted to watch but Miss Campbell reminded them they also were required to complete the fitness test and shared some additional information on what was going on. Mr. Tolbert was glad, he didn’t want the distraction. The boys needed to work this out on their own.
The whistle blew. About a third of the boys couldn’t do any more than one or two pushups. Another third could do about ten. After thirty seconds this left less than twenty boys and one by one they began to surrender or have their arms fall out from under them. As each boy dropped out the chorus of the rising push up count grew louder. Initially, it was just Mr. Tolbert keeping count but now he was joined by almost fifty voices. The girls could hear what was going on and they joined the count from the other side of the gym. Miss Campbell watched both sides closely from the opening in the curtain. The janitors and a few teachers on break congregated in the back corner of the gym.
Soon it was just Matt and Pyke left. Matt could feel his lungs burning and his arms weakening from the invasive cold. He didn’t want to give up. His teammates and friends were urging him on just as furiously as the henchmen pushed Pyke. His only hope was outlasting his equally strong rival on sheer will power. The count increased, 60, 70, 80.
Matt didn’t know how much longer he could go and Pyke still looked strong. At 88, Matt’s lungs were getting the best of him. He paused at the top of his form. His arms quivered as he dropped down and he simply could not continue. He was defeated. Pyke was going to win.
Just as the henchmen began to hoot and holler, Mrs. Campbell rapidly drew the curtain right down the center of the gym. The girls were assembled in an arc around a small but muscular figure in the center circle of the basketball court. It was Rosemary.
“Don’t stop, keep going, keep counting, this showdown isn’t over” Miss Campbell shouted as loud as she could.
Bewildered but still in form, Pyke had no choice but to continue. Miss Campbell assured Mr. Tolbert that Rosemary had started on his count just as all the girls had. She had more than 50 witnesses to back her up.
Order had been restored by the time the count reached 95. The counting cadence was back, only now there were new combatants. It was the bully versus the victim. Pyke versus Rosemary. Pyke was sweating profusely. Rosemary was sleek and calm and seemed to have energy in reserve. Pyke had the support of his henchmen, Rosemary had everyone else.
As the count hit 105, Pyke was starting to struggle. He felt he had been cheated. He knew he was beat. He just quit. The gymnasium erupted.
Rosemary kept going through all of the uproar. She regained everyone’s attention by just continuing to deliver one perfect push up after another. The gym grew silent as they watched her in awe. What no one knew until this moment was that ideal genetics and countless hours of labor and hard riding had shaped Rosemary into 105 pounds of athletic muscle.
Once she knew she had everyone’s focus Rosemary made her final point. Staring up for the first time she glared at Pyke with an assassin’s eye. She rhythmically began to speak in a steely voice that did not match the person uttering the words. It was a voice that belonged to a victim fighting back. With each pushup she delivered one word in a short simple message. “Don’t… Ever… Ever… Come… Near… Me… Again…”.
With that she was done. She stood up. She wiped her hands and she walked out of the gym. Left behind were stunned students and teachers forever changed by the courageous little girl who refused to be a victim and settled things on her own terms.