“Hello, Mr. Archer. This in Principal Bernard Vance calling from-” He yanked the phone away from his ear with a grimace.
AJ rolled her eyes. “I told you not to call him.”
Archer was a highly specialized covert agent; there was no reason his personal cell phone number should be so easily available in her school file. But he never answered, so the point was kind of moot.
Bernard left a message on her dad’s answering machine, which was only further exposed his stupidity.
“Do you think he’ll call back soon?” Bernard asked.
AJ slouched in the stiff-backed mahogany chair and groaned. “Holy balls.”
“Language,” he chastised.
“Pendejo,” she grumbled under breath. The principal’s office was starting to feel like a very annoying, very mahogany second home. Like honestly, the chemistry textbooks were thirty years old, but this asshole could afford to deck out his whole office with mahogany finishes?
Bernard shuffled through her file, which got thicker by the day. “I don’t know what to say, Miss Kane. You’ve-”
“Kane-Archer,” she corrected.
“It just says Kane here.”
“Yeah, Lana was mad at him the day she filled out the forms.” The subject of the fight was long forgotten, but surely justifiable.
He stared at her like it was a joke. It was not. “She could have changed it during the several visits she’s made here since,” he said. “On account of your behaviour.”
“Yeah, and remember how those visits went?”
He looked down, puffy cheeks red, and shuffled some more papers as he, presumably, relived the pure terror that Lana instilled in him the last four time she’d been here. So today he’d tried to circumvent Lana and speak to Archer.
And that was going super well.
It was probably better for Bernard that Archer was ignoring his phone. AJ couldn’t imagine Archer being any more agreeable than her mother.
“Archer will be worse,” she teased in a sing-song tone.
“I’m sure he’ll see it from my point of view.”
She barked a laugh. Her father may be a giant skeeze ball at times, but he wasn’t a perv, so, “I fucking doubt it.”
“Fils de pute.”
He shook his head. “Since your mother requested not to be contacted-” a polite way of saying that Lana threatened to cut off his balls, mince them, and feed them to her dog if he wasted any more of her time by dragging her to his office to reprimand AJ again. She didn’t even have a dog. “-and I can’t get in touch with your father, I may have to call your grandmother.”
AJ’s insides froze up. “Malory? No, no, no.” She fumbled for her phone. “I can get a hold of Archer, don’t worry your balding little head.”
She held up a finger as the dial tone rang in her ear.
Only a few seconds passed before Archer answered the phone. “What do you want?”
“No you don’t, then I’d be out of a job.” She heard some sort of clanking in the background, which could mean he was doing anything from disarming a car bomb to getting day drunk at his house. “And I wouldn’t be able to afford your fancy private school. Shouldn’t you be there?”
“No, because I got expelled from the private school like five months ago.” She hiked one leg over the chair’s arm, her loose nylon gym shorts stretching. “Now I’m at the shitty public one.”
Bernard opened his mouth to protest but she waved him away like a pesky fly.
“Anyway, I’m in the principal’s office.”
“Hm, my bet’s always on the lower left desk drawer for the booze stash,” Archer said. She heard clinking. She was leaning toward day drunk. “You have your lock pick kit, right?”
She laughed. “No, Archer. I got in trouble. The principal wants you to come down.”
He grunted. “Doesn’t Lana usually do that?”
“Considering you didn’t even notice your daughter got expelled,” AJ began, “I think you need to take a more hands-on approach to her education.”
“Wait, so what is Lana doing with the cheques I keep giving her for your tuition?”
“Why were you giving Lana the cheques for my school?” Bernard held out his hand, stretching farther over the desk as AJ questioned Archer. “And who uses cheques anymore? How old are you?”
“How old are you?”
AJ didn’t reply to his terrible comeback, because she was 100% sure he didn’t actually know. “Dad. Can you just come to my school, please?”
He groaned. “I hope you did something good.”
“I may or may not have broken a guy’s nose.”
“Atta girl,” he crowed. “Okay, I’ll be down in, uh.” He paused, swallowing, and yeah, she was settled on day drunk. The only way she could figure it was any different from night drunk was more fruity drinks. Archer also insisted it was more fun whenever she bothered him about it. “Like an hour?”
“No. Sooner. I’m missing chemistry class.”
“I’m not allowed.”
“Because I punched a guy in the face!”
He scoffed. “Yeah, so did I. I’m not getting a medal.”
She squeezed one of her hair buns in frustration. “Neither am I,” she spelled it out for him. “I’m probably going to get suspended. So can you come and do something, please?”
“I’m on my way!” He hung up.
She rolled her eyes.
Bernard was still holding his palm flat.
“The hell you want, a tip?”
“Language,” he said for no explicable reason.
“Testa di minchia.”
Her phone lit up with a call from Archer. She would’ve let the whole song play and force him to call again, like he did for everyone except her, but Bernard’s eyes looked ready to burst out of his head, so she took the call.
“What school do you go to?” Archer asked.
A miraculous twenty minutes later, Archer poked his head through the office’s doorway. "Alright, first try."
Bernard frowned, gaze ping-ponging between AJ, dark brown skin and coiled curls pulled into two cute puffs on top of her head, and Archer, cool blue eyes and skin the colour of a peach.
"This is your father?" he asked sceptically.
"If I was gonna hire a fake dad, wouldn’t I hire a black guy?"
Archer, affronted, said, "Of course I'm her dad. Never heard of biraciality, Dick Nuts?"
Probably not, because it wasn't a word, but Bernard nodded. For some reason he was a lot more polite to the white guy in an expensive suit than to AJ. That never lasted long.
Archer squinted at AJ. "Why are you in your gym clothes?" He accused Bernard, "She punches a guy out, and you won't even let her change out of her disgusting sweaty gym clothes?"
AJ thought she'd impressed upon him that this was not a congratulatory meeting, but perhaps it hadn't sunk in. Or he just didn't listen to her. That was usually the case.
Bernard told him to sit, which he did, in the chair next to AJ. He smelled faintly of scotch, which he always insisted was actually cologne.
"Now, why don't you tell your father what happened, Miss Kane-Archer?"
She tilted her head at her principal with a dangerous little smile. “Absolutely. Absolutely I’ll tell my father how Martin Gordon grabbed my ass in the lunch line and when I responded to his sexual assault with a punch to the nose, you forced me change out of the outfit I was wearing into my disgusting sweaty gym clothes.”
Bernard gaped like a guppy, probably about to re-explain her deviance in terms more palatable to his choices, when Archer said, “What, your overalls?”
AJ rolled her eyes. “It’s called a romper.”
“Yeah, that was cute.” For once he was right. “Did the punk get, like, goop on it?”
“Her shorts were too short,” Bernard explained before Archer could make any more guesses.
“Too short for what?” Archer repeated.
“To uh… be appropriate school attire.” He nodded once he finished, like he was pleased with his defense.
Archer narrowed his eyes at him, opened his mouth, closed it, and then reached into the inside of his suit jacket for his flask.
AJ swiped her phone open and started texting, because this next part wasn’t going to involve her at all.
“Newsflash, asshole,” Archer cut him off. “It’s hot as balls outside and shorts are supposed to be short. And what does her romper have to do with her punching a guy?”
AJ perched her chin on her fist and stared at Bernard. “Yeah, Bernard. Tell him.”
A muscle on his forehead pulsed. “Don’t call me Bernard-”
“Bernard!” Archer yelled. “Do not tell me that I got dragged all the way down here because you’re blaming my daughter for getting her ass grabbed.”
She grinned. “Lie to him, Bernie. Tell him that’s not the case.”
“Uh, her shorts caused a distraction and a temptation-”
“Oh my god,” Archer sneered. “Are you hot for my daughter?”
He stood up. “Then what the fuck is tempting about her? She’s fourteen years old!”
AJ lifted a finger. “Fifteen.”
He looked down at her. “Really? Remind me to teach you how to drive.”
Archer was always teaching her things. Like how to shoot a gun, how to disarm a bomb, how to make a martini. Sometimes it was useful and sometimes it was just his desperate attempt at bonding. Either way she was usually down, but she’d recently been treated to the story of him crashing a literal spaceship on the way back from literal Mars, so her confidence in his driving skills was at an all-time low.
“Mr. Archer,” Bernard began, refusing to quit his futile attempt at making Archer see AJ as a delinquent. “It’s a matter of professionalism-”
“This is public high school. I saw a kid shooting spit balls on my way in here. Are you gonna force him into gym clothes, too?” He didn’t wait for Bernard to respond. “And where’s the guy who groped her? Did his dad have to haul his ass to this gross school and talk to you idiot?”
Bernard’s lips pursed like a puckered asshole. “Martin Gordon is at the hospital. Your daughter broke his nose.”
Archer shrugged widely. “Well.”
“Well what was he expecting, groping my daughter? First of all, she inherited her mom’s man hands.” AJ kicked him in the back of the knee. He stumbled into the desk. “Second of all, I’ve obviously taught her how to throw a punch hard enough to shove your nasal cavity into your rat-sized brain.”
AJ snorted a laugh.
“Mr. Archer,” he said loudly, but not loudly enough.
“I need to meet this weak-ass punk. Because when I put my hands on strangers, I expect a return attack.”
AJ sighed. “That’s what I kept saying.”
“This is-” Archer stopped, his gaze stuck on the speaker on Bernard’s desk.
“Here we go,” AJ muttered. She hooked her knees over the chair and tilted her head over the arm, lifting her phone above her face as she continued texting.
Archer swiped the microphone off the desk. Bernard lunged to stop him. Archer slapped his hands away as he pressed down on the red call button.
“Hello ladies, girls and/or women.” Archer’s voice echoed through the halls. “New rule: if any snot-nosed punk grabs you, you are well within your rights to punch him in the face.” He elbowed the still-struggling Bernard in the chin with a grunt. “Or kick him the junk! Who am I to put restraints on your creativity? So, boys, men and/or idiots: you have been warned.”
He slammed the microphone onto the desk. Self-satisfaction rolled off him in waves. “Problem solved. You’re welcome.”
Bernard gaped at him.
AJ swung her feet off the chair and stood up, swiping her backpack off the floor. She smirked at Bernard. “Told you he was worse than Lana.”
Archer held the door open for her and they walked through the main office to the hall. She wasn’t sure if Archer even noticed everybody they passed was staring at them. “So, chemistry class?”
It ended half an hour ago. And besides, “There’s like half an hour left of school.”
“So you wanna go for ice cream?” he asked, because he’d never figured out what to do with people below the legal drinking age. “You still like ice cream, right?”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Archer. I’m not gonna grow out of ice cream, I promise.”
He threw an arm around her shoulders. “Awesome. You can tell me all about how you got expelled.”
She leaned into his side. Archer was a pain in the ass at the best of times and a deliberate problem at the worst, but he always had her back.