Corey stood outside Halter Lake High School, lit cigarette in hand.
Crighton Anderson, the on-duty security officer, approached Corey.
“Officer Hollett?” Crighton said.
“Off-duty, Crighton. You can call me Corey.”
“Here for a meeting?”
“With that bitch of a principal, yeah.”
Corey took a drag of her cigarette, making sure to blow the smoke away from Crighton. He proceeded to point at Corey’s cigarette.
“Halter Lake is a non-smoking school, Corey.” Crighton said.
“Halter Lake can go fuck itself.” Corey responded.
“Just be careful. The staff tends to get high-and-mighty when they deal with smokers.” Crighton said.
“I’ll tell ’em the same thing.” Corey said.
“How’s Dana holding up?” Crighton asked.
“She’s still pretty upset.”
“I can imagine.”
“She certainly did a number on that girl.”
“Yeah. She did. How did the students react?”
Crighton leaned in to Corey and spoke noticeably quieter.
“…Do you want the canned response or the real one?”
“Come on, Crighton.”
“The students are scared of her.”
Corey finished her cigarette.
Crighton began walking with Corey, who was headed toward the main office.
“I can’t stop thinking about it, Crighton. It’s burned in my fucking head.” Corey said.
“Well, you know what they saw, then. They saw your daughter beat the ever-loving hell out of another student. To see her utterly destroy another student like that is pretty jarring, especially when absolutely nobody expected Dana to react the way she did.”
Corey stopped walking for a second.
“It’s not like she was looking for a fight, Crighton.”
“Of course. It’s just that most of the students didn’t know Dana was capable of that kind of thing.”
Corey sighed. She and Crighton continued walking towards the office.
“So now the entire school thinks my daughter is a monster. Great.”
“That’s not quite what I said, Corey.”
“…I know. Still, though. Goddamn, Crighton.”
“Not a good day, I know.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do if they won’t let Dana back in. I can’t afford a private school, and I don’t want Dana commuting to school on the other side of town.”
Crighton stopped a few feet before the office doors and leaned in to say something.
“I don’t think you’ll have too much of an issue, Corey.” Crighton said.
“…What makes you say that?” Corey asked.
Crighton smiled at Corey as they arrived at the school’s main office.
“Trust me.” Crighton said.
Corey took a deep breath. Crighton opened the door for her.
“The principal will probably see you in a few minutes, Officer Hollett.” Crighton said. He raised his voice slightly so the staff would notice Corey coming in.
Corey walked up to the front desk, where a school secretary was tapping away at a mechanical keyboard in front of a large CRT computer monitor.
“Welcome to Halter Lake High. May I help you?” The secretary asked.
“I have a meeting with the principal in fifteen minutes.” Corey said.
Corey took out her police badge to show the secretary.
“Coriander Hollett.” Corey winced a little bit at having to say her full first name.
The secretary was silent for a few minutes, tapping at her keyboard. After five long minutes, she spoke.
“So. How long have you known Michael?”
Corey gave a blank stare.
The secretary was equally confused.
“…Halter Lake’s patrol officer? He escorted you in?”
It took Corey a second to realize that the secretary was talking about Crighton.
“Oh. Crighton. Forgot that wasn’t his real name.” Corey said.
“How long have you known him?” The secretary asked.
“Christ, about five years. He used to drive Dana to school when I had to be at work earlier in the morning.” Corey said.
Just as Corey finished her sentence, a voice rang out from the other side of the room.
Corey looked towards the back of the room to two wide-open office doors.
“Principal Robertson will see you now.” The secretary motioned Corey towards the door.
Corey made her way back to meet the principal, who happened to be two days into her new job.
“Ms. Gear?” The principal offered her hand for Corey to shake.
“Hollett, actually. Dana’s last name is Gear. Mine isn’t.” Corey shook the principal’s hand.
“My mistake. I’m Meghan Robertson, interim principal for Halter Lake High. Come in, come in.” The principal said.
“Gladly.” Corey said.
The principal shut the door behind Corey, making her way to her desk.
“Sorry for the wait. We’ve had a few shake-ups with our staff this week.”
The principal offered Corey a seat at one of the chairs in front of her desk.
“Apparently.” Corey took a seat.
“I’m sure you have questions.” The principal said.
“One or two.” Corey said.
“Ask away.” The principal said.
Corey took a deep breath.
“What have you decided about my daughter?” Corey asked.
The principal was silent.
“You have come to a decision, haven’t you?” Corey asked.
The principal continued to be silent.
“Come on. You guys have left us hanging for a week. I didn’t get any messages from you until this morning. What the fuck are you doing?”
Corey put particular emphasis on the swear word, which she had a habit of doing from time to time.
“…We’ve had a lot of changes in our staff.” The principal said.
“I noticed. The fact that you’re a completely different principal than the one who ambushed me last week is a pretty dead giveaway that something’s going on behind the scenes.”
“Penny Caldwell is no longer an employee at Halter Lake High School.”
“Did she quit?”
“She was fired, then.”
The principal sat for a few seconds, searching for the words to say. Clearly, this was a delicate situation.
“She was fired, yes?” Corey asked.
“Penny Caldwell is no longer an employee of our school in any capacity.” The principal said.
“Mhm. Got it.”
“I’m acting in the interim until a full-time replacement is found.”
Corey slammed her fist on the desk in front of her.
“Hollett. My last name is Hollett. Every time I come here, I have to correct someone. I understand it’s confusing, but you’d think by now someone would catch on. Don’t other kids who go to this school have names that aren’t their parents’ or guardian’s legal ones?”
“My mistake, Ms. Hollett. Since Dana’s last name is “Gear”, we assumed you’d have it as well.” The principal said.
“Well, I don’t. It was her father’s last name.” Corey said.
“Ms. Hollett. I’m sorry nobody on our staff kept you in the loop.”
“Well, you’d think someone would have. Dana’s been worried sick about all of this. She can barely sleep. I can’t sleep at all. I’m running on police department coffee and unfiltered Camels, here.”
Corey pulled her pack of cigarettes out of her pocket to prove her point.
“I’m sorry for the communication breakdown.” The principal said.
“It’s fine. Please, just tell me what you decided.” Corey said.
The principal took a deep breath.
“The school district came to a decision this morning.”
“Dana Gear is welcome back on our campus on Monday morning.”
“Jesus. Fuck. Was that so goddamn hard?”
“I’m glad you’re… satisfied? You are satisfied, right?”
“Yeah. Sorry for the swearing. This whole situation has both me and Dana on edge.”
“Well, like I said, she’s welcome back on Monday. Free and clear.”
Corey adjusted her position in the seat, hoping to wrap things up with the principal.
“Of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on her. Just to make sure.” The principal said.
Corey looked directly into the principal’s eyes.
“Huh?” Corey asked.
“We’ll be sure to let you know if she happens to act out again.”
“Well, yes. This sort of behavior was highly unusual for Dana…”
“She wasn’t acting out.”
“Technically, no, but-”
“She was acting how I trained her to.”
“…You trainer her to fight?”
Corey cracked her knuckles on both hands, in an attempt to relax.
“I brought her to a few of my self-defense classes. Taught her how to take somebody down. I enrolled her in krav maga lessons and I had one of my co-workers teach her some Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Not enough to compete or to show off, just enough so that some guy doesn’t take advantage of her at a party.”
“That seems excessive.” The principal said.
“Clearly, it wasn’t, otherwise she’d be in the hospital instead of the other girl.” Corey said.
“You have a point. Still, though. That was an incredibly brutal fight.” The principal said.
“Well, i’m proud of her.” Corey said.
“You’re… proud?” The principal was slightly surprised.
“I’m not happy about it, by any means, but I am glad that she used her best judgment and didn’t do anything worse, because she definitely could have.” Corey said.
“High school students generally don’t know when to stop, Ms. Robertson.”
“I see your point.”
“Did anyone here ever tell you why her last name is different than mine?”
“No. Wasn’t even aware.”
Corey gave a sigh that was slightly louder.
“I’ve told a lot of people here because the staff used to have problems sending out Dana’s report cards – they weren’t sending them out because they thought there was an address mix-up. I’ve had to explain the situation to so many people it’s hard to keep track. I guess I was dumb for expecting your staff to fill you in.”
Corey reached for her cigarettes in her front pocket, but put them away immediately. She clenched her fist and took a deep breath.
“Dana’s father was a man named Colin Gear. I met him in early 1997 at a Nada Surf concert. We dated for a while. He knocked me up after a Christmas party in 1999.”
“Oh dear.” The principal said.
“I yelled at him over the phone for ten minutes straight. Told him I never wanted to see him again. I didn’t tell him I was pregnant because I thought he already knew. On his way to the precinct to apologize to me, he was broadsided by a truck in a busy intersection.”
The principal’s eyes widened.
“I was one of the first cops on the scene. I don’t know how. I heard the description of Colin’s car over my squad car’s scanner and I hoped and prayed that it wasn’t him. I pulled him out of the wreck myself.”
“…Was he alive?”
“Barely. I saw Colin get hauled into an ambulance and that was it. Didn’t even see if he pulled through. Hospital staff wouldn’t tell me anything because of privacy concerns.”
“The fucking least I could do for the man was give my daughter his family name. Nobody’s family needs to die off that way.”
“Was that enough? Do you get it now?” Corey asked.
“…I do, Ms. Hollett.” The principal said.
Corey put her hands on the desk and continued to look dead-on at the principal.
“I don’t have much in this world, Ms. Robertson. I have a car, a house, and I have Dana. That’s it. The only other person I truly loved was hit by a truck 16 years ago. More than anything, I want my daughter to succeed. I want her to have a good life. When people are messing with my daughter’s academic career, I’m going to step in. I have to. It’s all I can do.”
Ms. Robertson stood up from her office chair, Corey did as well.
“Well, I hope we can put this incident behind us.” The principal said.
“Well, we damn well better. I don’t know about the other kid’s parents, though.” Corey said.
“You won’t need to worry about that. Rebecca’s family has withdrawn her from Halter Lake.” The principal said.
“Really?” Corey asked.
“Yes. They appear to be avoiding legal action, as well.” The principal said.
“Well, that’s good to hear. They probably realized they didn’t have a case when their attorney walked out on them last Monday.”
The two women walked to to the front of the main office doors to the outside of the school. Ms. Robertson put her hand out for Corey to shake again.
“I hope you can rest easy, Ms. Hollett. Dana has nothing to be concerned about.” The principal said.
Corey took a second to return the handshake.
“I will rest a lot easier when you say those words to Dana.” Corey said, returning the handshake.
Corey opened the doors and walked out of the office and out to the school parking lot. She reached for her cigarettes and found the last one in the pack.
After igniting the last smoke with her windproof lighter, she tossed the empty pack on the ground in front of the school.