Resigned, I start the car and pull out of the driveway. My daughter’s staring out the window, headphones on. This is most likely to make sure I don’t try to talk to her on the fifteen-minute drive to school. I remember when Sam was little, and car rides together were our favorite thing to do. We would drive down to check on my stores in the city, and sing songs together while playing road trip games. Her favorite was the one where we would count the number of out-of-state license plates we passed on the highway. There are a surprising number of tourists driving around the Windy City.
I glance at my daughter from the corner of my eye and shake my head. I have so many fond memories. I remember one time when we saw an Alaskan plate and Sammie was so excited that she talked about it for weeks. She even told the cashier at the grocery store. She was telling the kind lady behind the counter that she saw a car yesterday that drove here from a land so far up north it was cold enough to have reindeer like Santa Claus does. I can hear the lady hooting and hollering to this day. She was so touched by the story that she gave Sam a free lollipop. The purity of that little girl got lost somewhere along the years, and I’m not sure how to bring her back. I know she’s stuck in that sullen teenager somewhere, but where? What do I do?
I reach over and pull one of the headphones out of her ear as we pull into the parking lot. Her head snaps so fast that I actually have to stop myself from jerking out of surprise. That’s all I need, to let Sam think I’m scared of her now too.
“Can’t you at least let me finish the car ride in peace, Dad?” she snarls. Clearly, she isn’t enthusiastic about this morning’s agenda either.
“We’re here,” I say roughly. “Get out.”
As we walk to Principal Hartman’s office, I take one last shot at telling Sam how to behave at the meeting.
“You are to be attentive, pleasant, and respectful. You are going to listen to everything Mr. Hartman and the Mortensens have to say, without giving any attitude. Do you understand? You are to show remorse, and you are to apologize to that poor girl! I don’t want any lip from you at all.”
Sam pretends not to hear, but I know she does. I continue.
“I have a lot of work to get to, so this meeting needs to go as quickly and smoothly as possible. And then you and I are going to have a little meeting of our own when we get home today. Clear?”
“Yes, Dad. Clear,” Sam answers me. I’m surprised that she even replied, to be honest.
We reach the administrative building, and grimly, I ask the secretary for Principal Hartman. The elderly lady shows us to the back, and I knock twice on the door to his office.
“Come,” a voice calls. I shoot Sam one more warning glance before pushing the door open to find that the Mortensens have already arrived. I overhear them saying something about “aggression,” “bullying,” and “reprehensible.”
Here we go.
“Knock knock,” I say as we enter the room, hoping the words will break the tension. Luckily for me, Principal Hartman is a kind man, and prone to laughing at corny jokes. He looks exactly like a high school principal, I must say. Most of his hair has left him already, exposing sunspots splattered over the pale dome of his head. He’s a bit overweight, and most of it is in his belly. He wears navy blue slacks, a white button up shirt, and a tie. The skin above his left eyebrow glistens in the sunlight as he gets to his feet to greet me.
“Michael,” the Principal starts while reaching for my hand. “Thank you for joining us today.”
Then he turns to the plump couple already seated in front of his desk.
“William and Gertie Mortensen, this is Samantha’s father Michael Nelson.”
They’re a cute older pair. They remind me of a couple you would see sitting on a front porch drinking sweet tea somewhere down in the open fields of Kentucky, an old lazy dog panting at their feet. I nod seriously, and shake both their hands. Then my gaze swings to the woman sitting to the left of them.
“And this fine young woman here is Miss Tilly Mortensen,” Principal Hartman introduces.
Automatically, I turn in her direction with my hand extended, but then the air leaves my body. This is the girl my daughter is bullying? I think to myself. I had been expecting someone a little bit more homely.
In fact, Tilly Mortensen is astonishingly beautiful. She’s got curly brown hair, sparkling brown eyes, and creamy curves. Her face is that of an innocent Madonna, with pink cheeks, a luscious pout, and a small nose. I feel an immediate attraction to her, and then immediately clamp down on it. This woman is a young adult, only eighteen. Not only that, but my daughter’s been bullying her at school. I force myself back into reality.