What a welcome back. After Blackwell's breakdown I'd heard the new interim Principal didn't tolerate bad behaviour. I even thought things would be different. So much for that. Even with him taking Gladly's lesson I wasn't getting a break from the bullies. Madison had knocked my books on the floor four times already. This time, as she came innocently back from the bin, I moved them out of the way and put my arms across my work to block her. She just smirked at me, and emptied her pencil shavings over my head.
"Miss Clements!" I jumped, knocking my own books to the floor as Madison flinched and whirled. The bellow from the front silenced the class instantly. "Detention." The new Principal hadn't even turned round from the board, still writing.
"What for, sir?" she simpered. A mistake. The chalk stopped scratching. I sank down in my seat, wishing I wasn't next to her as the teacher turned round. The class was absolutely still, waiting eagerly for the axe to fall as he began to walk through the tables.
"There are pencil shavings in your hand and in Miss Hebert's hair." Seizing the excuse, I reached down for my books, ducking out of the line of fire. I knew the new Principal by reputation only, and it was more than enough.
"But-" I could see his boots approaching, a steady pace. After Blackwell's breakdown, the gangs at Winslow had laughed at the thought of a new Principal straight out of retirement and a bit of prissy private school teaching. Some old guy they could roll right over, with no idea what he was getting into. I'd been in hospital so I missed the first few weeks. Thank god.
"Do you think I am stupid, Miss Clements?" No one in the class would have answered yes. I knew that theoretically he couldn't actually kill us, but part of me wasn't sure that, in practice, he cared. "Do you think I did not notice your sadly broken pencil, requiring four different sharpenings? I suggest you replace it before your detention this evening. If it is not up to the full five hundred lines, you will repeat the detention from the beginning until it is. Sit. Down."
Madison did. I didn't dare look up. His boot was by my hand.
"Miss Hebert, are your books now in the correct order?" Dire consequence threatened if they weren't. I squared them quickly and put them back on my desk, turning to the correct page. It was safer to look at the words than to look up.
"Do not drop them again." He turned on his heel, walking back to the front, and I breathed again. I'd been wrong, he did allow bullying in his class. He just didn't allow competition.
"Page thirty-four exercise three in your books. No talking. Class discussion shall follow." Glad I was spared group work for the lesson, I bent my head down and began to make notes. I didn't need to look up to know he was sitting at the desk at the front, back ramrod straight as he surveyed the class.
The door squeaked open, audible over the sound of pens scratching. I sneaked a glance over my writing arm as Mr Gladly looked in. The teacher stood up, picking up his papers from registration.
"Mr Gladly, your class is in order. I shall be taking detention tonight, which Miss Clements will be attending. Should she cause further disruption, I expect you to inform me."
"Yes, er, thank you." Gladly looked uncomfortable.
"Should the inquiry require me, I shall be overseeing the renovations on the third floor." With a professional nod, and a last forbidding glare across the class, the new Principal walked out. As the door shut, there was an audible release of breath. A hand shot up. "Yes, Emma?"
"Mr G, is it true they found a boy dead in his car?" Mr Gladly went pale and stuttered. I sat up straight. I hadn't heard that rumour.
"That's not part of World Studies, Emma, and we're not here to gossip about the Interim Principal." It was the closest I had come to seeing him shut her down. He was terrified, and moving quickly on to cover it. "How far did you get in your classwork?"
"Good, then form into groups and you can discuss the question and present your work." I sighed. Group work. There went my chance of a good lesson. Sparky and Greg, so I would be doing all the work again. As Madison sat down by my group, I wasn't really paying attention to her. Greg was closer. Normally I'd have hated it, but he was a useful source of information.
"He killed someone?" I asked, keeping my voice low.
"The police said it was an accident. Natural causes," Greg said, just as quietly, eager to share the gossip, "but the boy had been giving him trouble for a year and then got found dead in his car. Who believes that?" He stopped, significantly and I nodded. I didn't believe in co-incidence. So the Principal had got away with murder? What was he, a supervillain or a common or garden killer?
"What happened to him?" Teachers didn't just kill their pupils, but I could see him shouting at the police until they were scared into letting him go. "How's he teaching here?"
"He retired. He was teaching Latin and French part-time at Immaculata. After Blackwell cracked, he was the only one who'd take the job." I'd heard he used to teach at Arcadia, not Immaculata. If the rest of the teachers there were like him, I wasn't sure I wanted to go there any more.
He was standing outside the door, talking to someone, and I strained my ears trying to hear the conversation.
"-don't see the problem." Was that Miss Knotts? The insects I used landed on a knitted cardigan, like the one she'd worn this morning. The others found tweed.
"The doors on those toilets require reversal. It is too easy for children to be trapped inside by those who wish them harm." That voice I knew.
"I think you're over-estimating the problem. Can't it wait until next year's budget?"
"Miss Knotts, I suggest you examine the stains on the floor and partitions of the cubicles."
"Accidents?" she suggested, not believing it herself. There was a pause, and if his voice was softer it was more menacing.
"Perhaps. Please inform me if any teachers report a pupil's assignments or clothing damaged by such unpleasant means." When I'd imagined a teacher coming to my rescue, they'd always been more like Mr Rogers and less like Adolf Hitler.
"Hey!" Greg complained. My attention snapped back to the table as Madison smirked. She'd passed our notes to Julia's group, turned her chair round to join them, and now they were presenting our work to the class. Julia finished, looking at Gladly piously.
"Mr Gladly, Taylor's group hasn't presented yet." I drew my breath in, as Gladly looked at our table. I knew he'd just ignore my protests, Sparky was snoring, and Greg was stuttering uselessly.
"Oh, I thought your groups were working together? I've marked both groups down for split credit." I closed my mouth. It was weaselly and cowardly, but it was so much more than I'd come to expect from him. Madison looked confused. Julia looked furious.
As the bell rang I gathered my books, hoping to make a break for it before they could catch me. Madison had got into trouble and Emma and Julia would never let me get one over on them. I slung my backpack over my shoulders and hurried out, pushing past the crowd at the door while Greg was still sorting his books.
The crowd of girls by the door closed up, blocking me. It had to have been planned. Pushing through got me into the corridor outside before Sofia pushed me back against the wall. Emma and Julia came up behind me with a few more of their hangers on. I was surrounded, and Emma leaned in close. Behind her I saw Gladly walk out and stared at him, begging silently for rescue. How could he not see what was going on here? He had to help. I stared in shock as the teacher looked straight at me and then turned his back as he finished fiddling with the door. Emma smirked as he walked away, her expression fading to feigned sympathy.
"Bad lesson, Taylor? You look like you're going to cry."
"Just let me get to-" The crackling in my ears was growing louder. I pushed it away, but as she carried on I gritted my teeth.
"Did you cry yourself to sleep-"
"You, girls!" I flinched and so did Emma. Mr Gladly didn't have the volume, or the guts, for that shout. As Gladly jumped and scurried off down the corridor, the girls at the back of the group began to shift away. The crackling stopped, drowned out. "No loitering in the corridors! Get to your classes." The group broke up and fled. I looked up to my rescuer who glared down with no hint of recognition and a lot of impatience. My eyes fixed on the bad wig first and the glare under it a second later. "Well, girl?"
I cringed and fled.
If there was work going on in the fourth floor toilets, that area should be safe to eat lunch in. When I got there, there were no workmen, just a sign saying out of order. I slipped inside and closed the door with relief. If no one was allowed in, I should be safe.
Julia's smirking face over the partition and the cascade of juice ruined that idea. Madison's head popped up over the other side, her bottle of grape juice joining Julia's. I struggled, shouting as I tried to force the door open, but there was too much weight on it. Sophia and Emma were leaning on it, giggling. Juice splashed into my eyes, soaking my hair, as I lowered my head trying to keep my face clear. Didn’t work, and I just knocked my glasses away, shielding my eyes.
There was a deafening crash. The giggling stopped dead.
“You girls!” Shit, I'm deaf. I cringed in my stall as the echoes died away. That shout must've been heard by half the school. A juice carton dropped to the floor by my feet as I wiped my eyes clear. Above me Julia's face was a blurry picture.
"Release. That. Door." Each word was enunicated with cutting precision. The faces above moved away, and I heard them climbing down to the floor in the stalls next door. The stall door rattled loosely as Emma let go, and it was tempting to just stay in here. Nothing would be done, but then, lets see him ignore this. Reluctantly I pulled the door open. Juice had made sticky trails down my face. I was standing in a cold spreading puddle of the stuff, and my bag was drenched. My art project!
His eyes swept over the scene, and ended on Emma. I knew what she'd say, it was just a prank. Her confidence was recovering already and he'd just ignore it like the teachers always did. She'd get away with it, again. She drew breath, but didn't get to speak.
“My office.” I felt that growl in my bones.
"But Mr. - " I knew not to argue with that tone. She didn't. He wasn't impressed.
"Now." The girls filed out passed him, as he obviously and deliberately memorised each face. Maybe something really would be done this time. I stood up, picking up my glasses and wiping them uselessly on my soaked T-shirt. Picking up my bag, a wash of juice ran out. They must have aimed for it. The art project? Soaked and running. Ruined. I shouted, screamed in frustration as I threw it against the wall.
A hand fell on my shoulder. "And you."
With my head down I made the walk of shame, bedraggled and dripping, through the corridors to his office. Ahead the four girls were trying to keep their heads up, smirks on their faces. I couldn't see them, but Sophia's swagger said it all. Our procession drew all the eyes, but any giggles or catcalls were cut off immediately by the glare from behind me. In the quiet of the corridor it was easy to hear the boy's voice ahead round the corner.
"He's Kaiser's father." I stopped, staggered to recover my pace as the Principal kept walking. A supervillain at Winslow?
"Nah, Allfather's dead."
"Then he's Kaiser's grandfather." Emma and Sophia had reached the corner, but now they were keeping their heads down. I envied them. When it all went down, they were far enough ahead to run.
"He's too old!" A younger voice protested. As we reached the corner I saw the group, bald heads and leather jackets. All white. Empire pretenders, since none of them would have the guts to actually join.
"You going to tell him-" The gaggle of Empire wannabes shut up as they saw who was behind me. They scattered. Behind me there was ominous silence. If our Principal really was Kaiser, he didn't think much of them.
"Ms. Yin, tell the office to fetch some newspaper, and a change of clothes from lost property." The unfortunate student he'd singled out nodded and left as fast as she could without running. He stopped at the reception desk.
"Classroom 6b renovations are completed?" The secretary nodded, peering too curiously at us. Her disapproval was focused on me, again. I was covered in juice, how could she be blaming me? "Then please allocate it to Detention this afternoon, and fetch me twelve biros and six casebound books."
Two days later I was sitting in the waiting room for the office, with Alan Barnes, Emma Barnes and the Clements, looking too young to be parents. Sophia was there with someone who had to be her social worker. The woman looked upset and Sophia was glowering. We were still waiting for Julia.
We'd spent two hours that afternoon in dead silence, writing out our accounts of what occurred in the toilet at lunchtime. Julia had told him this wouldn't stand, an old perv in a room with five girls, threatened him with a false report, backed up by the others. He had broken her statement down, made her admit everything she would planned to do, that she would be deliberately lying to ruin him and that she knew what the consequences were, and then told her she was a despicable waste of space and placed her on in-school suspension.
Sophia had been oddly silent, and then I saw what she was looking at. The red light on the security camera in the corner of the ceiling was on. If that recorded sound -
I'd kept my head down until we were let out at the end of the day. Strange thing was I'd put an insect on him to track him, but when I was finally let out there was no sign. My fly was on the back of a tired old man in a silly hat riding his bicycle away from the school. I must have got the wrong person, or Principal Kaiser was his cape identity.
We were kept outside until whatever they were setting up was ready, or they just gave up waiting for Julia. The meeting table was egg-shaped, and the Principal had taken one of the ends, positioning himself like a judge. The trio and their aduts took seats facing us, forcing the teachers, Quinlan, Gladly, and Knotts, to take seats on our side. I didn't think that meant they supported us.
"Where is Julia?" Mr Barnes began, reasonably enough.
"I understand that she and her parents are discussing matters with the local police," the Principal replied, "and will not be joining us."
"Police? Is that really necessary?" Mr Barnes said reasonably. "It was just light teasing."
"I am not discussing another pupil's private record, Mr Barnes," the Principal said dismissively. I knew the camera had been working. Could that be why she wasn't here? Barnes didn't look thrown. "Now, Miss Hebert has made some serious allegations. If she would please repeat them?"
I did, keeping my voice as level as I could. Emma smirked at me and the crackling rose in my ears. It was difficult to concentrate, but I wasn't going to let her get the better of me. I managed to get through a summary of the last two years, and as I finished the Principal nodded.
"Thank you Miss Hebert. So, I understand this has apparently been a two year campaign. Miss Barnes, Miss Hess, Miss Clements, what do you have to say?" Emma lowered her hands, an absolute picture of tolerance.
"Miss Hebert's always been highly-strung, sir." Somehow I couldn't imaging calling him anything else. "After her mother died, she spent so much time with our family." My father stiffened, glaring at Alan, but I only had eyes for Emma who smiled sweetly at me. "And then I made new friends and she couldn't accept it. She just wants attention." I was shivering, trying to ignore the crackling in my ears. I wasn't going to call the insects. Not if I might get to go to Arcadia.
"If, after so much provocation," Barnes slid in, the trial lawyer and I gaped stunned, "my daughter and her friends may have played a harmless school girl prank on Miss Hebert -"
"They ruined my art project!" I shouted.
"Unfortunate and unintended, and I am sure they will apologise." he was ignoring me, talking straight to the Principal. Sophia scowled, but nodded. Madison had a much more innocent look on her face, and her parents seemed relieved. "As you can see Miss Hebert is highly-strung -" He repeated the words Emma had used. Guess where she got them from. "- and doesn't handle stress well. Making up these allegations was a way of getting some attention when her father wasn't providing it." The betrayal hurt, this man had been like a father to me when Danny collapsed after my mother died.
"So I understand that you are saying Taylor is making this 'campaign' up."
"That's right," Emma said, triumphant.
"And these repeated complaints would mean she was bullying you." My jaw dropped. This could not be happening! I'd thought he was on my side. Emma looked down, all innocence, as I stood up to protest.
"Sit down, Miss Hebert, we will get to you," the Principal said. He couldn't be listening to her. Not again! "Miss Barnes?"
"Yes." She looked to Madison and Sophia, who backed her up. "We've never done anything to her." But the juice? He couldn’t ignore that!
"Then we come to the problem." That was what Blackwell had said, that it was my word against theirs. This stunk. "Two days ago I personally witnessed Miss Clements throw Miss Hebert's books to the ground repeatedly and drop pencil shavings in Ms. Hebert's hair." My jaw dropped and I sank back into my seat. Madison's parents stiffened and looked at their daughter, and I saw the older woman cast a glance at Sophia, who was scowling.
"Your back was turned." Madison seemed sure of that, but it just drew his attention to her.
"My back was turned precisely when, Miss Clements?"
"When..." she stuttered and looked at Emma.
"When you were teaching," Emma said, brightly. She hadn't even been paying attention in the class.
"I see. Because when Miss Clements was walking towards Miss Hebert from the front of the class, for the fifth time, her back was most certainly turned to me." Madison's parents looked at her as she cringed in her seat. I kept my mouth shut and hoped he wouldn't notice me. How could someone who seemed to be on my side be this scary?
"That was Madison. Emma and Sophia were not involved in that event," Barnes cut in smoothly. I stared, and Madison's jaw dropped. Was he cutting her loose? It didn't feel like a win, even as she started protesting to her parents that it had just been a prank. She knew better than to implicate Emma and Sophia, and they'd find another tag-a-long quickly.
"Surely it was just a prank?" her mother asked. She looked too young to be Madison's mother, unless she'd had her right out of high school, and as afraid of the Principal as I was.
"That was prior to taking Miss Hebert's classwork and passing it to her friend's group, then claiming it was their own, and preceded her pouring juice over Miss Herbert's art assignment." Madison's parents were glaring at their daughter, and the look on her face nearly put a smile on mine, until Barnes spoke up.
"Well, if the bully has been identified, I don't see what this has to do with Emma and Sophia." He slid in smoothly. So that was what was going on. This was a set-up. Madison was the sacrificial lamb and Emma and Sophia were going to get away with it all. I shot to my feet, pointing at them furiously.
"But it wasn't just her. It was them." I pointed at Emma and Sophia.
"And you have proof of that?" Barnes said tolerantly. I dug into my back, produced my bound diary. The thick set of pages banged on the desk.
"I kept a record. I logged everything for the first six months." Then I gave up because they wouldn't do anything.
"That's quite a lot. Why don't you read a few selections?" Mr. Quinlan said, and I took a breath and opened it, reading the first six entries.
"Well that's quite a lot for a term-" Quinlan cut in and I glared.
"That was the eighth September. On the nineth-" The Principal held up a hand.
"If I may?" I passed the notes across. He leafed through the files, barely looking at them. There wasn't even a raised eyebrow, before he closed the cover and pushed the file back towards me.
"Do you have any witnesses who are prepared to corroborate your complaints?"
"No," I admitted. Emma was smirking at me across the table, hiding her expression behind her hand so the Principal could not see it. The Principal looked unimpressed.
"Written evidence is of little value in a bullying and educational hearings. Physical evidence or direct witness testimony is required." I'd spent all this time gathering evidence and he just ignored it? He'd seen them tipping juice over my head. My father leaned forward, furious.
"There are seventeen email accounts filled with those utterly horrific emails, sent while Taylor was in class. She didn't send them to herself!"
"Mrs Knotts?" The Principal pushed my papers across the table to the teacher next to me. She opened them, flipped through the pages. "Oh dear. These are unpleasant but they've been sent from throwaways. There is no way to prove who wrote them."
"Some of them came from Emma's address!" My father was furious, but Barnes wasn't flustered.
"She could have left it logged in," the lawyer said, "or shared her account with a good friend." Madison opened her mouth, looked at Sophia and sank down in her seat.
"That is possible," the Principal allowed.
"But you saw them!" I protested, seeing my chances crumbling. Emma was looking delighted. The Principal looked straight across at me and instinctively I looked down.
"And what do you believe should be done about this?" he said crushingly. I answered anyway, unable to keep the hate out of my voice.
"They should be put in in-school suspension. For the rest of the year."
"No." That would just give them more time to think up ways to torment me and the freedom to get to me outside school.
"If they were genuinely bullying you, you should want them removed," Barnes said, reasonably. The tone reminded me of my mother reproving a student who had said something stupid. I bridled, looked Barnes straight in the face for once.
"If they are suspended, that's not a punishment. It's a reward. They'll just get more time to bully me." Emma was smiling tolerantly. Sophia just looked bored. "And if they're expelled, they get to go to Arcadia."
"And Miss Barnes, Miss Hess? What do you think should be done about Miss Hebert's allegations?" He held up a hand before Barnes could speak. "Wait your turn."
"It is unpleasant, but we can't hold it against her," Emma said, the mature big sister. "After this meeting, she should have learned not to make accusations." I looked away bitterly. Nothing was going to be done, was it? As he surveyed the table, the light made his little round glasses a mirror. I couldn't see his eyes.
"So, Miss Hebert, you believe being expelled would be a reward?" he asked. I nodded bitterly.
"They'd get to jump the waiting list into Arcadia."
"In that case, I believe we have our solution." The Principal picked up the phone, dialling the number without ever taking his eyes off us. "Principal Howell, we have a situation in our school with certain troublemakers." I looked at Danny, confused, as the Principal continued. "You may accept either three or one. The three could not on their best day aspire to the standards of your institution." Alan Barnes made a sharp protest, which was utterly ignored. "The fourth did, and qualified for entry on merit prior to selecting Winslow." He paused, listening. "The one claims she is being bullied, the three that she is bullying them. She was locked into her locker in January. I believe you are familiar with the case?" He was looking at me over his glasses, and I found it easier to stare at his wig than try to meet his eyes. "You have the papers? Thank you." He put the phone down.
"Taylor Hebert, you are immediately expelled from Winslow High School pending an investigation into your alleged bullying activities. You will be transferred to Arcadia under exigent circumstances, beginning your studies on Monday. If the results of the investigation clear you, you may elect to return to Winslow if you so desire."
"No, sir," I said. I was expelled. I was out of Winslow! Arcadia on Monday and my brain was still trying to put it together. I was being punished. With what I wanted. "I mean, yes, sir."
"You can't expel her. Taylor's the victim!" My Dad sounded furious.
"Then, Mr. Hebert, she will be cleared. My concern is the smooth running of this school. Incidents such as the locker will no longer be tolerated." He was glaring at the three of them, and I felt a sudden giddy relief. He believed me. "Should something similar happen again, Juvenile Detention will be a far more likely result than a transfer."
"Do you know who I am?" Sophia shouted, ignoring the woman with her who said something that was drowned out by Sophia.
"You are a pupil at this school, Miss Hess, and you will conduct yourself accordingly," he said, quellingly.
"Ms Hess is one of your best Track stars," the social worker said.
"And in two years, one if her academics continue to slip, there will be another." Sophia subsided, glaring.
"You can't do this!" Emma exclaimed "You're rewarding her!"
"Miss Barnes, do you consider being expelled a reward?" I was glad I wasn't the subject of that glare, and Emma sat back.
"I consider it an overreaction," Barnes said. He was trying to keep me here? Why? If he wanted me to stay at Winslow, the transfer was definitely in my best interests. The Principal tapped his blue pencil on the top of my notes.
"Either she is due a transfer or they are. Should those three be expelled and transferred to Arcadia they could never keep up with the academic rigor of the institution." Something was wrong, Sophia looked bored rather than worried. "Rather than destroy their futures by having them expelled twice, I shall advise that they be assigned directly to a Transfer School."
"That is utterly unacceptable." Alan Barnes had half-risen from his chair. It was so good to see him on the back foot. "More students drop out of Transfer Schools than graduate. Emma has done nothing wrong."
"Then there will be no need to transfer her." The Principal steamrollered Barnes' objections. "Arcadia has far greater resources to prevent a recurrence of these problems regardless of the culprit. And you may rest assured that I shall find out who placed Miss Hebert in the locker, if I have to question every pupil in this school." The horror on the faces of the trio said it all. No one would talk, they'd be too scared of him, but everyone knew who's fault it was they were being dragged in by the Principal and I wouldn't be here to take it out on. The trio were going to be unpopular. "You may leave. Miss Hebert, remain."
Barnes stood, glaring at the Principal.
"This isn't over. I will see you in court!" He'd won. Why did he seem to think he'd lost?
“Because I expelled Miss Hebert after three upstanding pupils, including your own daughter, made allegations she was bullying them?” The Principal barely turned a hair. "I suggest, Mr Barnes, you remain within the practice of divorce law."
“But it isn't that serious.” Emma protested.
“You have made the allegations, Miss Barnes. The judgement is not your concern.” The others stood up, Sophia and Emma shooting glares at me. I didn't care. This was unfair. I was the victim, but I was going to Arcadia! I was being expelled, and Alan Barnes didn't want it. What was happening?
Madison's shoulder was being gripped by her father as she was pushed out, her parents' faces drawn and angry. She looked terrified, carefully not meeting Emma and Sophia's eyes. She was about to get some of what she'd dished out to me, and I didn't feel sorry for her at all. Barnes stalked out with Emma and Sophia. Sophia's social worker seemed troubled as she followed but didn't say anything.
Once they had finally left, the Principal stood, going to the cabinet in the corner and pulling out papers. They were already complete. An expulsion notification with my name on it, for "disruptive behaviour", another set for a transfer to Arcadia, and a third, for an "emergency transfer" to Arcadia. Had this been a set-up?
"I require you to sign these." This felt like being on trial. I took the papers to read through them as my father stood up.
"Taylor is the victim in this. I'll take you to court." Danny leaned over the desk, threateningly. The Principal looked at my father like something he'd scrape off his boot.
"Mr Hebert, you could indeed sue the school. In this case, I have not followed procedure in any way."
"Then I'll have your career for this." Danny deflated slightly. I watched the Principal under my eyelids.
"My career is already over, Mr Hebert. Must I remind you that I am retired?" The Principal was far too calm. "Your daughter's expulsion would be struck down immediately by any Board of Review. That would result in Miss Hebert's transfer being immediately overturned and her return to this school."
"Leave it." I caught Danny's arm. "Please." If expulsion was the only route out, I'd take it.
"If you want to remove it from her permanent record, it would be wise to wait thirty days before challenging it. By that time the irregularities will most certainly have come to light. Once the review process is complete and the expulsion struck down, Miss Hebert will be deemed to be settled in her new school and reversion to Winslow would be considered too disruptive to her education." He'd set this up. I didn't care why. I picked up the pen, scrawled my name on the three documents as fast as I could.
"So why don't you just transfer her?" Danny asked.
"I wished to ask you the same question." The man's mouth was a flat line. "Mr Hebert, the fact the locker incident occurred was sufficient to merit an emergency transfer order under extenuating circumstances. It takes four weeks to take effect, and she need never have returned to this school. That my predecessor did not request one, I put down to her failing faculties. Why you did not, the very second your daughter was removed from the locker, eludes me."
"The school said they would keep her safe." Danny's voice was a confused protest.
"Principal Blackwell had already failed in that duty," the Principal said in disgust. "A failure of that magnitude does not merit a second chance for any educator." My father scowled. Before he could say anything I pushed the pen and the stack of papers in front of him.
"Sign them. Please."
"Taylor? Are you sure?"
"It gets me out of here." I wasn't sure what an expulsion under false pretences would do to the Principal's record, but I wasn't asking. He'd probably glare at the review board until they gave him a raise.
Reluctantly my dad signed receipt of the papers, confirming he understood his daughter had been expelled from Winslow. Then the second forms, that confirmed it: I was going to Arcadia! I couldn't see the catch. There'd be a black mark on my record, but no bullies.
"This is necessary?" Danny said uncertainly and the Principal inclined his head.
"Were she older, I would have suggested a G.E.D. Taylor is capable enough. You may consider it as an alternative." Suddenly I was Taylor.
"I am still signing under protest." I didn’t care as long as he signed.
"Agreed," the Principal said, detaching pink file slips from the back and handing Danny the signed copies. The older man stood up, opening the door.
"Good day, Mr Hebert. I will have full copies of the paperwork sent to you." Danny stepped out and I followed. The Principal's voice lowered slightly, awkwardly.
"Miss Hebert? Good luck. No slacking." Gingerly I shook the hand he held out, looking up at his face for the first time. I was actually slightly taller, to my shock.
"No, sir," I said, and walked to the school door. Was this man actually on my side? He'd manipulated the system, had an actual soft side. He had wished me luck -
"You, boy!" I froze. Everyone did. Even my Dad. The unfortunate gangmember in ABB colours skidded to a halt and actually flinched as the Principal strode out of his office. "No running in the corridors!"
"No, Mr. Bronson."