“She’d heard that older guys collected pics of girls
and swapped them like trading cards.
It was pretty gross.
But also a little flattering.
Like it might be nice to be asked by the right person,
even if the answer was still definitely no.
Some girls said it was no big deal,
that sharing a photo was the new first base.”
In this scene, early in Upstander, Mary is visiting at Chantel’s house. Readers of Bystander should recognize Chantel Williams as the name of a character who was on the receiving end of some internet bullying. In Upstander, we meet her as a fully-formed character. An athlete, an older sister to three brothers, a friend.
Chantel’s phone buzzed. She glanced at it and shook her head. Mary sensed the message had upset Chantel, because she grew quiet and had a far-away look in her eyes. Chantel held out her phone and said, “He keeps asking me to send a picture.”
At that moment, Mrs. Williams entered the kitchen. Chantel hurriedly pocketed her phone. “It looks great, girls, thank you. Mary, you are welcome to stay if you’d like. I believe Chanti had her hopes on a horror movie. I’d be happy to drop you home if you can’t get a ride.”
Mary looked at Chantel, who smiled and nodded.
“That sounds great, Mrs. Williams. I’d love that!” Mary replied. “Thank you very much.”
Mrs. Williams pointed two index fingers toward the ceiling, reminding Mary of an old Western gunfighter. “Listen, I’ve got the three amigos up there. Jamel and Keyon are in the tub. I have no idea on God’s green earth what Darius is up to. I think he’s building a Lego space station or alien prison or some such folderol.” She waved a hand, amused by it all. “We haven’t had any drownings yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I can help—” Chantel began to offer.
“No, Chanti, you entertain our guest while I wrestle those rascals into bed.” Mrs. Williams made a loud whew sound, as if she was exhausted, but her eyes told a different story. They twinkled brightly. Maybe she didn’t mind all that mothering after all.
The girls didn’t pay close attention to the movie, except for the really good parts. They’d both seen it already. Instead, they huddled close, sharing one light blanket, and talked.
“Who is asking you for a pic?”
“Hakeem,” Chantel answered, her voice barely above a whisper. “Promise you won’t tell. It’s so stupid.”
“Of course,” Mary said. She paused a beat. “What did you do?”
Chantel craned her neck to make sure her mother wasn’t nearby. “I didn’t even understand him at first,” she admitted. “I was like, a picture of what?”
Both girls cackled.
“You didn’t, did you?” Mary asked.
“No!” Chantel answered. But after a pause, she admitted, “I didn’t say no, either. I made excuses like, ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I look bad right now.’ You know?”
Mary nodded. She didn’t know, she’d never been asked before, but it was exciting to think about. Mary wondered if Hakeem had asked Alexis or Chrissie. Some boys were like that. She’d heard that older guys collected pics of girls and swapped them like trading cards. It was pretty gross. But also a little flattering. Like it might be nice to be asked by the right person, even if the answer was still definitely no. Some girls said it was no big deal, that sharing a photo was the new first base.
“I like him,” Chantel said. “Hakeem’s nice and funny and—
“—kind of good-looking,” Mary added, exaggerating slightly.
Chantel let out an embarrassed laugh. “I guess, yes. But he keeps asking me. ‘Send a pic, send a pic. You look so good.’ All that stuff. Persistent, you know? I’m afraid if I shut him down, he’ll stop talking to me.”
They both stared at the movie for a few minutes.
Someone was getting stabbed with scissors. “Lupita Nyong’o is so beautiful,” Mary said, admiring the actress on-screen.
“I know,” Chantel agreed. “Her skin is perfect.”
“Boys can be such idiots,” Mary said.
“Are they all like that?” Chantel asked.
Mary shrugged. She didn’t know. “It seems like a lot of them are, maybe. Like it’s normal for them.”
Chantel shook her head. “He says the pictures fade away after seven seconds . . .”
“Yeah, but they can take screen captures,” Mary warned.
“Hakeem keeps saying he’s not a screenshotter,” Chantel said. “And you know what? That makes me think he is. If I sent him something, he’d have it forever.”
“Yeah,” Mary said. “And who knows what he’d do with it after that.”
UPSTANDER IS A 2021 JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION!
Addendum: In order to write this scene, or even to imagine it, I had to do a lot of reading, reflecting, digging around for stories, experiences, attitudes. Most if not all of what appears in the above scene is a direct result of things I “overheard” in my research.