Of all things, the inept detective had gotten one thing right. Ingrid had painted the graffiti on the school. That relieved Samantha immensely, but it didn’t last. He had also blamed Ingrid for the other pranks, and Dr. Ashworth had accepted that as fact. The more Samantha thought about it the more it made her feel guilty, especially since Ashworth was going to suspend Ingrid. Samantha’s moral code wouldn’t let her just walk away. She informed Dwayne and Renee that she was going to take sole responsibility for the pranks she was involved with.
Here I was standing across the counter from Ms. Farrow again. This time I was in real trouble. It seemed odd that she had actually smiled at me and seemed to think Principal Ashworth would be pleased to talk to me. I doubted it very much. To tell the truth I expected to be raked over the proverbial coals.
She walked over to the Principal’s door and rapped on the frame. “Miss Pederson to see you, sir.”
“Send her in.” It almost sounded jovial.
My knees went weak, and sweat formed on my forehead. I wished there were something to hold onto as I walked to his door. I stopped barely outside the door and stood there paralyzed.
“Come in. Come in.” He beckoned to me. “What can I do for you, Miss Pederson?”
I stood directly in front of his desk, and my words stuck in my throat. I was committed. I had to get them out.
He must have noticed my distress. “Is something wrong?”
I swallowed hard and said with a catch, “Yes … sir.”
He frowned. “Is it something I need to take care of?”
I realized I was slouching and straightened my back. My voice seemed to be coming from someone else. “No sir, it’s something I need to take care of.” My voice speeded up as if of its own accord. I reeled of the list of pranks I had been involved with, starting with the broadcast booth incident. “Sir, Ingrid had nothing to do with those. I take full responsibility for them. …” A tear ran down my cheek.
He leaned back in his chair and interlaced his fingers over his stomach. His expression was bland, almost as if he hadn’t heard me. I kept waiting for the explosion, but he sat in silence. Finally he leaned forward. “You realize that stunt with the broadcast booth was one of the most embarrassing experience I’ve ever had?”
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I stood there frozen, waiting for what came next.
He studied me for what seemed like forever, that same bland expression on his face, and my heart kept sinking the whole time. Finally, he spoke. “Miss Pederson, you have presented me with quite a conundrum.”—I did a quick check of my mental dictionary: a complex puzzle.—“First of all, you deliberately played a malicious prank on me. Then you had the courage to come forward when someone else was blamed for it. Moreover, that person had deliberately placed the blame for a prank she did on you. And I took her planted evidence over your word.”
He paused and stared at me again. “What should I do with you?”
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
I spoke hesitantly, “Sir, I expect the … appropriate punishment for … what I did, … whatever is standard. I expected that if I was caught going in.”
“I see.” He frowned slightly. “In other words you thought what I had done to you warranted your actions.” He didn’t say it as a question, but he seemed to be waiting for a response.
“I was angry. I had been blamed for something I hadn’t done, and my word had been doubted. Sir, I was brought up to believe that I should never tell a lie, and I don’t.”
Again he frowned slightly. “For that I apologize. But there is another point. I noted that you said you take full responsibility. Some of your pranks appeared to require more than one person. Did you have help?”
There it was. Was he going to keep pressing the issue of my helpers or would it stop with my admission there were others? Still, I wasn’t going to lie. “Sir, I’d rather not answer that.”
“Ah, but I must know your answer. Of course, the fact that you don’t want to answer clearly implies you’re protecting someone else.” His eyes bored into me.
I frantically tried to think of something to say that would clear Dwayne and Renee, but they had both volunteered. “Sir, as I said, ‘I accept full responsibility.’”
“So you refuse to implicate anyone else?” This time the frown had turned serious.
“Sir, I’d rather not …”
Ms. Farrow interrupted with a loud, “You can’t go in there.”
Principal Ashworth and I both looked at the door. Dwayne came through first, and Renee followed. Dwayne stopped on my right, and Renee stopped on my left. They both stood at a rigid attention.
Ashworth pushed his chair back and stood. He seemed to take on a force of authority. “What is this?” he growled.
Dwayne was first to speak. “Sir, Samantha didn’t do all of the practical jokes she’s admitting to by herself. We helped.” I could have kissed him.
I turned to him. “You didn’t have to do this.”
He and Renee responded at the same time. “Yes we did.”
Ashworth spoke in menacing tones, “Then you’re both going to share in her punishment. Is that what you wanted?”
I made one last try. “But I was responsible.”
It was as if Ashworth didn’t hear me. “Ms. Farrow, please contact Samantha Pederson’s, Dwayne Lindquist’s, and Renee Williams’ parents and ask them to come to the school right away.”
Well, I had tried.