A Mouse with a Loud Voice


Laughter echoed around the cafeteria, seemingly bouncing along each table as creamy potatoes slid down her ebony locks. Layla Kirks, the typical blonde and model figure, cackled the loudest, ensuring that her victim knew full well just who had thrown their lunch at her.

Jamie huddled into herself, anything to make her appear smaller than she already was, and adjusted the pink-framed glasses back onto her thin nose. Glassy emerald eyes threatened to shatter into a million pieces as she focused on her forgotten plate of sausage pizza. If she didn’t look up, didn’t react, didn’t show any kind of emotion, then maybe just maybe, Layla wouldn’t come over to rub it in her face. She wouldn’t be jeered at how much of a nerd she was for liking history and English. Or how she always stuck around after class to ask the teacher questions about college, which wasn’t for another three years.

She debated whether it was worth coming to the cafeteria anymore since none of her more outspoken friends had lunch the same time as she did due to their conflicting class schedules. Not even Jonas, her older brother by a minute, was here to protect his twin. He’d been at home sick for over two days with the flu, the brutal north winds having very little concern over Jamie’s state of mind. A stuttered sigh, one that was close to being a teary hiccup, slid past her lips as she stood up from her table at the corner. She thought it was the furthest from Layla’s group, but maybe they had decided to take it upon themselves to move closer to the residential geek.

Mr. Joffrey, their supposed “supervisor” for lunch period was too busy looking down at his phone to check the football stats for his favorite team. She was positive that in a few short minutes he would glance around the room to make sure no one was starting anything before heading to his office. It should’ve been another obvious reason why she shouldn’t bother to come to the cafeteria anymore. Just as she was finishing that thought, Mr. Joffrey stood up from his seat and headed out the door after pocketing his phone.

Her eyes cut to the left and met a pair of hazel from another low-ranking student, their attention immediately skirting toward somewhere else. She understood that it wasn’t out of spite that the boy had turned the other way at her abuse. Anyone who tried to stop Layla was the next to meet her wrath—slowly at first, but eventually there was nothing left to do but to endure the torture.

About a month or so ago, Jamie had stopped the blonde swimmer from bullying a foreign exchange student after an unintentional insult had been blown at Layla’s face. It wasn’t like the foreign girl knew any better—her English wasn’t really that good considering how very little schooling she had back home. It was only natural that she flub her words when talking to a native speaker, and it wasn’t fair for Layla to scream at this poor girl’s face, so Jamie had stepped in.

While her words were stern and filled with confidence, she couldn’t believe what on earth she’d just done. There wasn’t any reason to help the foreign transfer when the other girl didn’t even know what Layla was saying, but Jamie had acted on instinct and refused to just watch. She wasn’t going to be like one of those people who became observers to bullying in the commercials. Her parents’ had always taught her that everyone should be treated equally and with the same respect as anyone else despite race, color, and religion. It was reckless, but she hadn’t regretted her decision.

Now, that foreign girl was one of Jamie’s best friends who’d done everything in her power to comfort her. Megan Park, a Korean immigrant from the southern end of the island, had taken it upon herself to call Jamie the “Brave Mouse.” She explained the strange nickname as a compliment when the brunette stared dumbly at her.

“Mice are tiny. Big-eared giants step on mouse. Such loud voice makes big-eared giant stop.”

Jamie threw her bag over her shoulder, gathering the plate in one hand and her Coke can in the other as the memory crossed her mind’s eye. She still wasn’t quite sure what her friend was getting at with the whole mouse and elephant thing, but she guessed it had to be some kind of proverb Megan had back at home. Whatever the case, she figured the name appropriate with her tiny size and meek appearance.

With white oozing down her back and caking in raven strands, she headed for the nearest trashcan with a brisk pace. A thin curtain separated her from the rest of the world as she focused straight ahead. She could throw away her food and make a run for the doors without anyone talking to her. Layla wasn’t one for open confrontation. She preferred private fights, just in case if she became the loser then no one would ever know except for her entourage.

Just a few more precious feet—!

Hard and unforgiving, a shoulder slammed into her collar and successfully sent her tray, bag, and drink to the ground. Books with notes tucked neatly between their pages flew around her, the soda’s dark pool instantly staining her hard work, and she cracked her head on the corner of a nearby chair. More laughter reverberated around the room as she desperately snatched up her notes before they completely mopped up the spill. Heavy streams fell from her eyes in a trail down her dirtied cheeks. She truly felt like a mouse now as everyone’s gaze looked down upon her with cruel eyes as she grabbed her notes and books.

She reached out for her bag and pleaded with everything she had that they would just leave her be. That the monstrous beasts with white tusks and large feet wouldn’t stomp her while she scurried under them. Was it so hard for them to take the time to see her here? To know that she was just under their foot, hurrying across to the small burrow that was nearby? She may have been tiny and gifted with a squeaky voice, but they could still see her, right?

Sniffling, Jamie huddled on the floor with one of Layla’s boy toys grinning triumphantly over her. As if he had accomplished some difficult athletic feat that not even the best of the best could handle without giving up. Coke was beginning to dry along her calves, the sticky coating making her flesh itch uncomfortably as heavy footsteps wrapped in warm UGGs hurried over for a closer look. She cringed as manicured nails raked through her tangled hair to peer past the makeshift curtain. Layla smirked, baby blues like two chips of ice gleamed with satisfaction. Turning to the boy, she whispered something Jamie couldn’t quite make out as more people—Layla’s group of friends—clustered around them. Jamie’s shoulders threatened to snap under the pressure of all the eyes watching her.

Almost like the herd of elephants that gathered around in a large circle to protect their young. Instead of feeling safe, like the baby elephants, she was absolutely terrified of the gray giants bearing down on her. Surely they would trample her to death with their words of abuse and shower her with more food that she most definitely didn’t have the stomach for at the moment.

“Hey, Jamie, wanna play a game?” Layla grinned, winking toward her friends.

Jamie shook her head. “N-no, I think I…I’m going home.”

Tyler, Layla’s current boyfriend for this month, sneered, “What was that? Couldn’t hear you, shortie.”

“J-Jonas is sick…” Again, her voice died before it had even begun and Jamie bit her lip, looking down in order to hide her face.

Tsk. How annoying. You never speak up when someone’s talking to you!”

“Yeah, just spit it out!”

“You too scared now that you ain’t got no one here to back you up?”

“What’s wrong, Jamie? Cat got your tongue?”

All at once they began to taunt and jeer at her. Their voices combining and rising in overpowering crescendos that blocked out anything else as they trumpeted to everyone in the room that she was nothing but a tiny mouse. It was better if she was mute, they said. Better if she didn’t have a voice to speak with at all. She could barely talk with it so what was the point? The teachers always had to ask her to repeat what she said in class. Everyone had to basically wait for her to find the courage to talk period. She didn’t look anyone in the eyes. She only stared. Always listening like some kind of freak…

Her books, the precious worlds she chose to fall into oblivion with were clutched tightly in her fingers against her chest. Pale fingers whitened completely, the knuckles nearly bursting from the thin skin, and she clenched her eyes shut. The people in between these binders of leather and dust, whether they were fictional or real, were the ones who she wished she could’ve been. The kind of characters who fought against tyranny for freedom, who saved innocent people every day by sacrifice, who protected the princesses they eventually fall in love with, who slay dragons and lead armies into battle, who speak out against those that wrong them. Oh, how she wished that she could be like them. Even her friends, who always shielded her from what they could, and her twin, who’d done everything he could to convince their parents to transfer Jamie out, were more like the characters in her books than she was.

Megan had called her “Brave Mouse,” but was she truly brave? She scoffed inwardly. How can a mouse be brave? They’re tiny and helpless. They can’t fight wars or save damsels. They can’t even eat unless someone else drops a crump for them. And they certainly can’t stand up against an eight-ton elephant.

That day in the hall was nothing more than a fluke—a happenstance that Jamie just gained the courage to tell Layla off. If she could do it once, then couldn’t she do it again? It shouldn’t be just a one-time sort of thing. She should be doing it all the time as easily as breathing air.

Something wet and cold fell on her head, flattening her hair to her face and sending a chill down her spine as roaring laughter sounded above her. The cup of sweet tea soaked her to the bone, including the History and English books she held to her chest like a precious treasure. Her notes were falling apart the minute she tried to wipe off the droplets, and more tears of frustration and despair fell to join them. These weren’t even her books! They belonged to the school, and if the teachers knew just how bad their little angel was then the torture would only get worse. No one ever questioned that innocent smile or honeyed words, not even the teachers who absolutely adored her. They would no doubt blame Jamie for ruining the textbooks than punish Layla for it.

Jamie shuddered against the cool breeze emanating from the door opening and bit back a sob at the ruined textbooks. Not even the best liar could excuse themselves out of this tragedy. Someone else grabbed a nearby bowl filled with ranch and dumped it unceremoniously on her head, forcing it to mix with the inky strands of her hair. Another boy she recognized as Rainer Hayes, one of the football jocks, snatched some ketchup from a passing student and added it to the growing colors meshing into her dark strands.

The intense smell of ranch and ketchup made her stomach flip sickeningly; her mouth watered as acid rose from the depths of her abdomen. She covered her mouth with a sticky hand, willing herself to keep what little she ate down. It would be more humiliating if she blew chunks across the floor. Or even worse, they’d make her clean it up with her backpack.

Layla knelt, careful to avoid the mess she helped create and folded her hands on her knees, a sinister smile cracking her squared jaw. “Do you regret it?”

Do you regret it? The words seemed so cliché, like out of a movie or line from a book. They were delivered with the means of making her blame someone for her problems. To force her down to the blonde’s level of human character. To make her realize that if she hadn’t stopped her from doing her “queenly duties” then she wouldn’t be in this mess. To tell her that it was best to give in. To stop believing in the knights or patriots who fought for their princesses and freedom. Layla wanted to, in that one tiny sentence, show that it was Megan’s fault for putting her in this mess. That if Megan hadn’t insulted her in the first place then Jamie wouldn’t be suffering so.

To regret helping someone who’d come to America for a better education and new life but failed to learn the language. It was, after all, Megan’s fault for not taking lessons in English before she came. For not even grasping the basic understanding and culture of American society. If she had just learned a few more words, recognized which ones were unacceptable to use toward strangers, and remained silent like the good outsider that she was then Jamie could scurry along the path under the thunderous steps of the big-eared giants.

And yet.

Jamie didn’t regret it. She couldn’t bring herself to hate the decision she had made that day in the hallway. That was the right thing to do even if it meant she would have a target on her back because of it. Even if it meant that she was probably setting herself up to become an outsider. What else could she have done? She certainly wasn’t going to just watch. It wasn’t right and Jamie refused—refused to allow Layla Kirks to terrorize another new girl.

Megan deserved a chance at making friends here in a foreign land. She was so kind and sweet, even to Layla who had screeched at like her some wicked banshee on her first day. She always greeted the blonde with a smile and a wave even though the bully was hurting her friend. It was just the kind of person Megan was. Jamie couldn’t believe she had met someone as pure and innocent as her, and she thanked God every day for meeting her, for giving her the courage to step in on her behalf that day.

So, no. Jamie Phillips didn’t regret shouting at the elephant for her cruelty.

For the first time in the months she’d been bullied, a strength she hadn’t felt since meeting Megan blazed within her like a wildfire. It burned and charred all forest of doubt and fear that had taken root in her soul. A spark settled in her drying eyes, as if the sun had come out with a fiery heat that instantly evaporated all traces of water. Her glasses, sticky and covered in an assortment of caked food, slipped from its perch and landed on the soggy sheets of paper.

Layla was trying to see into her face, tilting her head to the side and leaning carefully to the left. With a deep, steadying breath, Jamie pushed away her hair and met her torturer’s gaze unflinchingly. Twin glaciers shuddered against the searing emeralds that were quickly melting the teenage ice queen’s armor.

Jamie climbed to her feet, nearly knocking Layla over as she scrambled away. Had Tyler not been quick to see that his girlfriend was about to take a nasty fall in a pit of food, she would have to throw that glaringly white skirt away. The brunette held her books against her chest like an anchor, the confidence and calm burning throughout her gut seeming connected to the pages within these textbooks somehow. Maybe—and this was simply her creative imagination here—the past lives and fictional characters in these books were allowing her to draw from their strength. It didn’t matter much to her at this point; she was just glad to know that she could raise her voice above its normal squeak.

She and Layla stood eye-to-eye; her gaze filled with determination while the beauty queen’s confident glare faltered. Her heart remained a steady beat in her chest, and she used its rhythm to keep her own voice calm. “I don’t regret it.”

“What?” Stacy asked, Layla’s “bestie”, completely bewildered that Jamie disagreed, let alone had the courage to stand up with all of them surrounding her like this.

Jamie glanced over to the taller girl, gaze steady and face calm despite the cluster of food drying to her face like war paint. “I don’t regret stopping Layla.”

Dots of rouge spread across the rest of the girls’ cheeks at her blatant response, and they seemed ready to pounce on her at the first word from their pack leader. Jamie didn’t care. They could trample her, impale her with their tusks, and throw her around with their thick trunks all they wanted. None of it would make her change her mind. Megan was and would always be her friend, her courage, and her reason to keep moving forward despite all the negativity around her.

Layla released a puff of air, the sound almost like Jamie had punched her in the gut. Tyler, startled, pulled her closer to his chest, but she refused his touch and stepped closer to slap Jamie across the face with enough force to knock her head to the right. A hiss whispered across her teeth as the sting grew worse. Jamie put a hand to the injured cheek, pulling it away to see a small slice of blood coating her palm. Before she could say another word, the rest of Layla’s girlfriends latched onto her with nails scratching and hands yanking. Pain erupted from all parts of her body as they shoved her back to the ground, screaming and kicking and pulling and clawing.

And yet, despite all the hate and the pain they inflicted on her, Jamie found it in herself to smile. Because even though they were bigger and stronger than her, even though they could get away with a punch or scratch, and even though they could torture her like this because she was smaller, it didn’t mean that her voice had to be tiny.

“Mice are tiny. Big-eared giants step on mouse. Such loud voice makes big-eared giant stop.”

Jamie never really understood why Megan nicknamed her “Brave Mouse,” not even after she explained in her heavily accented and terrible English. But, now that she finally opened her eyes and decided to listen to what Megan had meant, she kind of liked the name. Because even though she was merely a tiny mouse against a herd of elephants, her loud voice made up for her size.