There was just one problem with that plan, and his name was Miller. Miller the Killer, to be exact. It's impossible to stay off this kid's bad side, because it's the only one he's got.
But I didn't know any of that yet.
"Sitting in the back, huh?" he said.
"Yeah," I told him […]
"This is my seat. Understand?"
I understood, all right […]
I decided to move to some other part of the room. Like maybe somewhere a little less hazardous to my health.
But then, when I went to sit down again, Miller called over. "Uh-uh," he said. "That one's mine too."
Can you see where this is going? (2.4-7, 12-16)
Let's talk about power—because Rafe just doesn't have it. From the first few minutes of middle school, Rafe learns that he's going to be at the bottom of the food chain. Miller the Killer and bullies like him are in charge. Rafe is just going to have to slink along with his head down all year…or is he?
I couldn't believe this was all because of me! I kind of felt guilty about it, but it was kind of… amazing. To be honest, only half of that sentence is true. It was more like I knew I should feel bad, but I didn't. (7.6)
So, Rafe isn't used to being powerful, right? Maybe that's why it feels so good when he pulls this fire alarm. Sure, he probably should feel bad about breaking a rule, but he just feels so alive. He caused everyone to leave the gym. He caused all these loud noises. Instead of feeling guilty, he feels awesome.
I knew I was in trouble, but I'll tell you this much: It was totally worth it. Everyone besides Donatello was still laughing, including Jeanne Galletta.
And the thing was, nobody was laughing at me anymore. Now they were laughing with me. That's like the difference between night and day. Or wet and dry.
Or in this case, losing and winning. (15.21-24)
Another powerful moment for Rafe. He's used to getting laughed at, but this time everyone is totally laughing with him and his funny Shakespearian rhymes. Sure, Mrs. Donatello isn't too happy, but he's got the love and admiration of his peers. Who cares if a teacher lectures him after class a little?
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" he yelled.
Then I heard Georgia. "Nothing," she said. "I just wanted to—"
"I'm watching that! Don't change the channel."
"But you were sleeping!"
"No buts!" he yelled. "You can watch the game with me, or you can get out of here. What's it going to be?" A second later I heard footsteps, and then Georgia's bedroom door slammed. (17.3-7)
At home, things are really different for Rafe. There, Bear has all the power. He totally hogs the remote control—even when he's asleep. Rafe hates it, but what can he do? He's powerless to stop his future stepfather/current stepbully.
He bent down and picked up something off the floor. It was my Operation R.A.F.E. notebook! I hadn't even realized it had come out of my backpack— until then.
"It's nothing," I said. "Give it back."
Miller already had it open to the first page. "Operation R.A.F.E.?" he said. "What are you? Six years old?"
"I told you, it's nothing," I said. I reached, but he pulled away.
"If it's nothing, why do you look like you're going to wet your pants?" Miller said.
I couldn't believe this was happening. This was supposed to be Normal, Day 1, and all of a sudden it was more like Worst Nightmare, Part 13.
Miller was flipping through the pages, looking at everything I'd written, and smiling like he'd just found a box of money. (35.15-21)
Miller the Killer strikes again. Seriously, this kid does not quit. The one thing Rafe does not want him to get his hands on is his notebook and Miller takes it. Rafe is pretty much powerless to get it back. He has to do what Miller says, which means paying to get the book back one page at a time.
"Watch your mouth, Squirt."
"That's another thing," I said. "Don't call me Squirt."
"Don't tell me what to do," Bear growled. "Squirt." (44.22-24)
How much do you want to bet that Miller grows up to be just like Bear one day? The kid is totally going to be a jerky stepdad in a Chicago Bears sweatshirt about twenty years from now.
"So here's the deal," Miller said. "New year, new price. It's a dollar fifty a page from now on. And if you're lucky, I won't show your girlfriend Jeanne Galletta how you like to draw little pictures of her all the time. Got it?"
He didn't wait for an answer, though. He just pushed me straight down, hard enough for a full face-plant in front of everyone.
"Watch your step, Picasso," he said. (45.4-6)
Miller isn't content just to get his money and be done with Rafe—no, he has to read through his notebook and threaten him. And push him, too. Is it any wonder that Rafe gets in a fight with Miller?
"Rafe Khatchadorian, what in heaven's name is that supposed to be? Take it off immediately!"
I did, but when I handed it over to her, something totally unexpected happened. She looked down at the mask (it was just a piece of paper with a string, really), and her face started getting all weird. Her eyes squinched up. Her cheeks got kind of twitchy. At first I thought something was wrong, but then she just burst our laughing. (50.8-9)
This is just a cute little moment when the power dynamic between Rafe and Mrs. Stricker shifts. Usually Mrs. Stricker is this buttoned up teacher who's always telling Rafe how to behave. Here, she sees his mask and bursts out laughing. Rafe is kind of proud of himself for catching her in an actual human moment. Maybe Sergeant Stricker isn't so bad after all?
It wasn't like I expected people to actually buy this idea, that Miller was any kind of chicken, killer or otherwise. Still, I had a feeling the nickname was going to stick for a while.
That took care of the offense part of my plan. Now it was time to switch to defense.
I hadn't laid eyes on Miller since homeroom, but it didn't take a genius to know I'd be at the top of his suspect list. In fact, he was probably looking for me right then. (55.2-4)
Rafe finally gets some revenge on Miller (even if it's only a little bit). He hangs up his "Miller the Killer Chicken" posters all around school, but Miller comes after Rafe anyway. Luckily, Rafe's a whole lot smarter than Miller, so he manages to worm his way out of it. Basically, he learns that the only power Miller has over him is brute strength. Brains? Not so much.
I jumped off the porch and pushed Bear away from Mom as hard as I could.
"Get out of here!" I yelled at him. His mouth was hanging open, and his eyes were kind of blank, like he wasn't even there. I'd never seen him like that before. He just backed away without a fight and stood in the driveway, not leaving, but not coming any closer either. (69.10-11)
Well, the power certainly has shifted at Rafe's house. As soon as Bear pushes Mom, he knows he's in the wrong. Rafe acts to help Mom and even Bear can't say anything in his defense. He doesn't fight or argue. He just backs away. Finally, a bully gets his just desserts in this book.