She had a look of shock on her face, but after a moment let out a screech and the whole class turned to look at us. I saw a glint of silver as she flicked something onto the floor. A needle?
“Did anyone see that!?” She screeched at the class. “That psycho just hit me in the face!”
She burst into tears. How could she even do that?
“Alexis! Is that true?” The teacher, Mrs Holland, put her arm around Haley’s shoulders. “Did anyone see?”
A few students put their hands up, I couldn’t blame them. I did actually punch her in the face. I considered what this looked like, from someone who wasn’t paying attention, Haley had walked past me and I’d just lashed out at her.
I scanned the floor for the needle but I couldn’t see it anywhere, I doubted anyone would believe me over Haley anyway – plus why would she ever do something like that? She was such a nice girl. Ha.
So I didn’t say anything. Mrs Holland asked a few people what they had seen, which agreed with my predictions, supporting Haley’s account. I didn’t want to lie, but really wasn’t going to pronounce my innocence and start telling people why – that would make things worse for everyone. Haley would think of some way to punish me, no one would believe me anyway and the school would end up punishing me more for making up stories and not just owning up.
It was a no-win situation. I figured the best action was to sit there and wait for whatever was going to happen to happen. I could deal with the consequences.
So that’s how I ended up standing outside the door for the rest of the class, which didn’t trouble me. When it was over I got an escort from Mrs Holland to the principal’s office, which I spent some more time standing outside as Mrs Holland talked with him.
I paced up and down a few feet of corridor wondering what was going to happen. I’d always worried that if I ever retaliated Haley would do something like this and accuse me of something. She was popular, pretty and had a carefully constructed public image of a nice caring girl. I wouldn’t be surprised if she volunteered and did charity work.
Where did that leave me? I was royally fucked. Goddammit I hated being this powerless. There was no conceivable defence against her. With this she had more than just physical power over me, I can take her beatings – it doesn’t bother me. But this? She could twist the school into punishing me with three words:
‘She hit me’
My thoughts were going round in circles as I paced. What would be the consequences of this? It was a first time offence, so I was going to expect at least an after-school detention. Not that it was any punishment for me as I usually stayed a few hours after school anyway. Worst case scenario? I could get suspended, or expelled. Even if they didn’t this time I was going to have that hanging over my head. Haley could say anything at any time and I’d be gone.
The first thing to come into my head: How am I going to eat? I could manage a few weeks off in the holidays, I could do it again. Beth might even help me. The second thought?
I can’t get a scholarship with an expulsion on my record.
It would destroy everything I’d been planning for the last few years. My way out would be ruined. There was no way I could afford to go to college without a scholarship. I’d never become a pilot.
When Mrs Holland came out I looked at her confused before I realised what I was actually here for. She told me to go in.
Our principal, Mr Phelps was a young man for the job. I guessed not many were happy to take a job of school principal in an inner city school in Montreal. He was a man with ideas. I remember when he took over our previous aged principal. We’d had an assembly. He hadn’t talked in the dry monotone of our his predecessor but animated, walking round and jabbed at students to wake them and directing questions at us urging us to answer with shouts.
Personally I thought it was all very gimmicky. However it went down ok with the students and, crucially for him, very well with the school governors.
I’d imagined his office full of motivational posters with cheesy slogans but when I walked through the door I was greeted with a much more muted affair. Contrasting with his extravagant way of dealing with pupils the décor was modern. It had sleek plain furniture and blocks of colour on the walls. It surprised me in actually being tasteful.
“Alexis. Sit down.” He indicated one of the moulded plastic chairs in front of his desk.
I sat. He stood at one of the shelves, looking at a book. I waited what felt like a minute before he spoke again.
“Alexis, I’d like you to tell me what happened today. We take bullying very seriously in this school, students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.”
I nearly laughed out loud; I remember the last time they ‘took bullying seriously’. I was forced into a room with Haley and her gang to ‘make friends’. It was after that when everything got worse.
He said again: “Tell me what happened.”
I’d decided not to lie, and I was going to keep that up.
“I hit Haley Baxter.” I said. Deal with that.
“Where did you hit her?” He said, without raising his voice.
“In the face. Sir.” I replied, keeping my voice as natural as his.
“Why?” He said it like he was asking something profound. I couldn’t think of an answer that was honest, and didn’t get me in a worse position so I kept quiet.
He stood there looking at me across the desk, waiting for my answer. Minutes passed. Under my defiant glare he gave up.
“At least you aren’t lying to me.” He gave a genuine sigh. “I’m going to be honest with you Alexis. You have no history of anything like this, no violence – hell you haven’t even had more than a handful of detentions for late homework. I’m not stupid. I don’t think you would just hit someone without any reason, which begs the question – what was the reason? If you won’t tell me I’ll have to deal with this like any normal case of bullying.
“Since this is the first time you have done anything like this, you will have a week of after-school detention. Any further behaviour like this and things will get a lot more serious, we are talking a week exclusion, repeated cases will result in expulsion from school. I don’t need to tell you that this doesn’t mean a nice holiday – it means a flag on your permanent record that can have consequences.” He sat down and looked over his desk at me.
“There is also a requirement for sessions with the school councillor.”
“No.” I said, before I had a chance to think about it.
“It’s the only part of this process I think would help you Alexis. You clearly aren’t going to talk to me, anything you tell a councillor is confidential – she isn’t going to come telling me anything.”
Somehow I didn’t believe that.
“You don’t actually have to say anything. Just get the form signed that you were with her for one to two hour sessions each week, that’s all that’s required.”
God damn it. Fine, it was better than I feared anyway. I wouldn’t be getting excluded until Haley decided to drop the axe. I had another chance at least.
“Ok, fine. I’ll go.” I said.
“Well, that’s all. Report to detention with Mrs Holland at four for the rest of the week. I’ll contact the councillors and they will arrange a time to suit you. You had better get back to class.”
I stood up and left.