Samantha – Dwayne

It didn’t take long for Samantha to talk herself into seriously considering applying to military academies, at least the Air Force and Naval Academies. After researching both schools, she decided to go ahead with the applications. She had already given Renee an indication of her thinking. Now she wanted to inform Dwayne.

I had been wrapped up in my research for a few days, and I hadn’t noticed I’d only seen Dwayne in the classes we shared. Once I made my decision, I looked for him at lunch. He wasn’t in the lunchroom, which struck me as odd. When I finished my lunch, I had time so I checked out the front lawn.

Dwayne and Renee were sitting on the grass under one of the trees. They didn’t notice me until I walked up and said, “Hi, you two. I missed you at lunch today.”

They both snapped their heads around as if I had startled them. Then they scrambled to their feet. Dwayne kept his eyes on the ground as he said, “Um. Hi, we were just felt like enjoying the nice weather…” He trailed off for a moment. Then he added, “We haven’t seen much of you since the meeting with Ashworth.” He still hadn’t looked me in the eye.

Okay, what was going on? I hadn’t done something, had I?

Renee looked at her watch. “Hey, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go in. … See you later.” She Hurried off before I could even say, “Later.”

Alright, this was strange. I turned my attention back to Dwayne. “Did I interrupt something?”

He glanced at his watch. “You Know what? I need to get inside too. Talk to you later.” He turned around and walked away. He hadn’t yet looked me in the eye.

I reached for his sleeve but stopped without touching him. I didn’t like the feeling I was getting. They were both obviously avoiding me, but why? Renee had been my best friend for the past three years, and this wasn’t like her. I stood there feeling numb. When I heard the class change bell, I shook my head and hurried inside.

After school I made a point of finding Dwayne on his way out. I had no trouble catching up with him, but he still was unwilling to look at me. I got in front of him and forced him to stop. “Dwayne, please … tell me what’s going on.”

He appeared pained. “What’s to tell? You’ve been occupied but life goes on.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alarm bells were going off in my head.

He hung his head, another bad sign. I lifted his chin up. He spoke in a monotone. “Let’s get out of traffic so we can have some privacy.”

I wondered why we needed privacy, but I followed him off the walkway to a big tree far enough away that the kids rushing out the front entrance wouldn’t hear us. As if it were an omen I heard a clap of thunder, and when I looked up I could see threatening looking clouds towering in the west. I stopped and turned to face him. “Alright, we have privacy. Spill.”

He started to hang his head again, but he stopped and looked me in the eye. “Remember when we first decided to play our pranks. It disturbed me that you took over without waiting to get a consensus.”

“The group needed a leader, and I was the one who started it. It was my project.”

He nodded. “Yes it was. I think that was the problem.”

“Problem?”

He gave me a look which I can only describe as dead serious. “Yes, you’re a control freak.”

That was a shock. My first thought was to deny it outright, but I hesitated.

He continued, “You took control our group very smoothly, but it was very clear that you weren’t about to let anybody else lead it.”

“Why should I let someone else take over what I had started? Wait a minute, you wanted to run the group? Is that it?” I paused. He started to object, but I pressed on. “So, it became a competition between two control freaks. You resented when I made it clear I was in charge.”

“Actually, Renee resented it too. We’ve been talking quite a bit since then. We both felt it should be more democratic. We came up with some good ideas, but you had to be the one who approved them. And then there was your one-sided decision to confess to Ashworth. …”

“I noticed that you and Renee joined me when I went to Principal Ashworth. I told you I would try to keep you out of it. I didn’t force you. Were you unhappy with the outcome?”

“Of course not, but …”

At that instant something clicked. I wasn’t getting the whole story. I focused on his eyes. “Alright, what aren’t you telling me?”

“You and I didn’t really have anything going. I mean, we only had one date, the Homecoming Dance …”—Here it came—“Renee and I … We’ve been spending a lot of time together, and … Well, we’ve made a connection.”

I gasped. That was it, and I hadn’t seen it coming. He was right; we really weren’t dating, but this announcement felt like he was twisting a knife in my stomach. I hadn’t realized how attached to him I had become, and here he was telling me had fallen for my best friend. Tears filled my eyes and I turned away from him.

He touched my arm and said, “I’m sorry.”

I turned back to him and snarled, “You’re sorry? You made me think we had something and then you not only …” I couldn’t continue. Tears streaming down my face, I spun around and ran.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, ominously near.

Samantha – Decision Time

Instead of handing out serious punishment to Samantha, Renee, and Dwayne for their pranks, Dr. Ashworth put them to work. Speaking separately to Samantha, he suggested she should consider applying for a military academy. At first appalled by the idea she began to give it some serious thought.

Despite Brian losing his life to an IED when he was really not cut out for military service, I couldn’t get the idea of going to an academy out of my head. It might have been that I was flattered by Principal Ashworth saying I was leadership material. I know that service was and is important to me. My parents – mostly my dad, of course – had drilled it into me all my life. I had to take the next step, at least finding out what was involved.

The internet was a big help. The service academies had reams of information on their websites. Okay, that was both a blessing and a disadvantage. Wading through all that data gave me a pretty good picture of what I might be getting into, but it also ate up a lot of my time. I spent most of my free time for several days researching both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. I know, Dad was an admiral, but I looked at the Air Force because I really liked the idea of becoming a pilot, and I figured that even between the Navy and the Marine Corp, the odds of becoming a flier were better with the Air Force – after all, that was their job.

When I talked to Dad about it, he surprised me by suggesting I apply to both schools to increase my chances of being accepted. The remaining question was did I really want to go to an academy. I asked Mom and Dad to sit down with me to help me decide. We met around the kitchen table.

Dad started. “You know this has to be your decision, right?”

I nodded and looked at Mom.

She was frowning. “You were so upset when Brian died. Are you sure you want to put yourself in the same situation? You’d probably end up in a combat zone.”

Dad shook his head. “There are a few Navy and Air Force members on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, but most of them are shipborne or on bases outside either country.”

I considered that for a second. “If I’m going into this business, I’ll serve where I’m needed. The risks might be lower in the Navy or the Air Force, but I wouldn’t avoid duty on the ground or flying over either country.”

Mom didn’t look happy with my response. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but I realized she was concerned about losing another child, me, to war. I spoke to her fear, “Mom, my risk would be really low. Women aren’t allowed in combat. Yes, if I get to fly, I might have to fly over places where fighting is going on – search and rescue, that sort of thing. I don’t know what kind of jobs I might end up with on the ground, but they would be away from the front line.”

She continued to frown. “I would still worry.”

“I know.”

When we adjourned, I hadn’t come to a definite decision, but I was definitely leaning toward applying for an academy, either the Navy or the Air Force. I went up to my room to think about it some more. It may seem funny, but I kept thinking that a combat role was appealing. Was it the idea that women could serve but couldn’t fight that was challenging me? I think that was what finally made my mind up.

Yes, I’m going to apply, and I’m going to learn all the combat skills better than the boys I’ll be going to school with. I’ll prove women can serve in combat roles.

Samantha – “The Suggestion”

Dr. Ashworth had surprised everyone by recognizing the courage, responsibility, and integrity the three pranksters had shown when they stepped forward and admitted their part in the pranks taking place at the school. His punishment – being a teacher’s assistant instead of having study hall – was light enough that Samantha was looking forward to it. That is, until Ashworth pulled her and her family aside.

When everyone else had left, Principal Ashworth gave the three of us a quick glance and settled on Dad. “I’ll be brief. I believe that Samantha has great leadership potential, but she needs discipline. I suggest you seriously consider having her apply for one of the military academies. I’d be more than happy to write a letter of recommendation.”

Dad turned and looked at me. He raised his eyebrows as if to ask what I thought of the idea. I’m sure he was thinking of how I had reacted to Brian’s death. Was I willing to put my life on the line if need be? That had to be my decision, and he knew it.

I was dumbfounded. My first thought was Where did he come up with that? I’ve had enough of the military.

Ashworth continued, “I don’t mean to be overstepping my bounds, but we had another student with similar talents last year. You may remember Kathryn Foxx.”

He looked at me. I nodded. She was a petite black girl and faster than anyone else in the state. As a sprinter she set more than one high school record. We were both on the track team. I can remember cheering her home more than once.

He added, “She was not only a champion athlete. She was clearly meant for a leadership role. I recommended she try out for one of the academies. She was accepted to the Air Force Academy and is there right now. From what I hear, she’s doing quite well. I believe you have that same quality.”

When he put it that way, I felt complemented, but still … The best I could say was, “Thank you, sir. I’ll have to give that serious consideration.” Mom gave me a look that said, “Really?”

––– # –––

As we pulled out of the school parking lot, Mom turned around in the front passenger seat and asked me the question out loud, “Did you really mean you’d give a military academy serious consideration?”

“I don’t know. At first blush I was ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I couldn’t think of any other way to answer him. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe I should give it some thought.” I didn’t know why but the irony appealed to me.

Dad looked at me in the rear view mirror. “If you want to serve, I’m with you all the way.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.” What was I doing? Service, was that it? Dad had always been all about service. Had his attitude worn off on me?

I thought about it all the way home. What was I going to do? After what had happened to Brian, I should be terrified of going into any branch of the military – Okay, maybe not the Coast Guard. No, come to think of it, they could be on the front line for drug runners and terrorists.

Yeah, I know, the “It’ll never happen to me” syndrome. It’s the reason smart people do stupid things, like smoking, or drinking and driving. So, if I signed up for an academy, would I be doing a stupid thing?

By the time we arrived at the house I was no more clear about what I was going to do than I was when Ashworth made the suggestion. I sat down in the living room and called Renee.

When she came to the phone, I started with, “Hi. Wow, was that different from what I expected.”

She agreed, “I know. I thought detention for sure for the rest of the year and maybe a delayed graduation. Scared the bejesus out of me, I’ll tell you.”

I had gone in expecting the worst, so I was resigned. But I couldn’t say that to Renee. “It was scary for sure … Guess what Principal Ashworth had to say after you left.”

“He didn’t tack on more punishment for you, did he?”

“He wants me to apply for a military academy.” I emphasized the punchline.

The silence on the other end of the line only lasted for a couple of seconds. Then “What!”  exploded from the phone. “Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I called you. What do you think?”

“I think you’re crazy for even considering it.” She was still loud. “You’re lined up to go to MIT. With your GPA you might even get a scholarship.”

“MIT’s not exactly cheap, you know. Maybe with a scholarship, but I don’t want to get saddled with a humongous student loan.” I considered that. Another reason for a military academy: I’d get paid instead of incurring a debt. That’s not quite true. Academy graduates have a service commitment, but if you’re in to serve, it’s just part of your service.

“You sound like you’re actually thinking about this.”

I realized she was right. “I guess I am. At least I don’t hate the idea.”

“Well, good luck. You’re going to need it.” She almost sounded disgusted.

“Does that bother you?”

“Not really. I simply didn’t expect it.”

I hadn’t actually made up my mind. There were too many factors that I didn’t know about. “It’s not a done deal yet. I have to do some research before I make a final decision. … This is all going too fast for me.”

“Speaking of going too fast, this evening is going too fast. I still have work to do on an English paper. I’ve got to get to it. Talk to you later, and seriously, good luck with whatever you decide.”

With that she hung up, and I headed upstairs. I had some crucial thinking to do.

Samantha – The Verdict

Samantha had admitted to Dr. Ashworth that she had perpetrated several of the pranks that the detective had blamed Ingrid for. She tried to take full responsibility for them and keep Renee and Dwayne out of it, but they both showed up and admitted their parts. Ashworth had Ms. Farrow call their parents.

The first thing I thought of was being thankful that Dad was at work. I wondered if any of Renee’s or Dwayne’s parents were home at this time of day. I guessed we’d find out soon enough.

Principal Ashworth pointed us to the benches in the reception area. “While we’re contacting your parents, you can sit over there.” He ushered us out of his office and closed the door.

We sat and looked at each other, wondering what was going to happen. I realized that he hadn’t said we couldn’t talk, but I figured it would be safer to keep it quiet. I leaned toward Dwayne and Renee and spoke as quietly as I could, “Thanks, guys. That took guts.”

Dwayne retorted softly, “What you did took guts. We just figured Dr. Ashworth would worm it out of you eventually, and we’d be better off telling him ourselves. That doesn’t look like it made a whole lot of difference to him.” He nodded toward the closed door.

We sat in silence for an indefinite time. I could swear I heard to class change bells, although I know it wasn’t that long. I think we were all stewing over what type of disastrous punishment was coming our way considering that Ashworth had planned to suspend Ingrid for the rest of the semester. I had done the right thing, but it broke my heart to see tears running down Renee’s face. I wrapped my arms around her and let her bury her face in my shoulder.

Finally, Ashworth opened his door and walked over to us. “Not unexpectedly, your parents were unable to get here right away. So you three have a few hours to think about what you’ve done. Then you will return with your parents when they come in at 7:00 p.m. this evening. Now, Ms. Farrow will provide you notes for your teachers and you will rejoin your classes.”

I wondered how much of our minds would be on our classes.

––– # –––

Mom met me as I came in the door. “Honey, what have you done?” Her expression said she was really alarmed.

I stumbled through a clumsy explanation of what had been going on and went to my room without being told. I sat down at my desk but left the computer off. It was all I could do to keep from bawling. I realized that I had jeopardized not only my own chances at a good college but also Renee’s and Dwayne’s. Worse, I knew I had to face Dad, and that scared me more.

He surprised me when he got home. He apparently talked to Mom before coming up to my room. He knocked on the closed door. “Samantha, may I come in?”

“Yes, sir.” I got up and faced the door at attention.

He stopped about arm’s length in front of me. Astonishingly, he wasn’t scowling. Instead, he merely looked concerned. “So you’ve really gotten yourself in a fix. Contrary to the Klingon saying, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold,’ revenge is not something to serve at all. It only brings more trouble with it. I hope you can see that now.”

He sat down on the bed and patted beside him. I joined him. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I truly am … more for the trouble I got Renee and Dwayne in than for what might happen to me.”

A faint smile flickered on his face. “That’s the reason I’m not yelling at you, sweet heart. You did the right thing by admitting your fault instead of leaving Ingrid blamed with what you did, and I was especially proud to hear that you tried to take full responsibility. I’ll see if there is any way to minimize the repercussions when we meet with your principal tonight.”

He stood and offered me his hand. “Let’s go down to dinner.”

We suffered through dinner in silence. I had absolutely no interest in eating. I simply shoved my food around on my plate. Mom kept looking at me without saying anything. Nelson watched me too. He started to ask a question, but Mom shushed him.

At last it was time to go back to school. We met the Williams and the Lindquists at the steps to the main entrance. Mr. Lindquist frowned and growled, especially when he looked at either me or Dwayne. Mrs. Williams had tears in her eyes. Mr. Williams seemed to be dealing with it unemotionally. And Mrs. Lindquist kept cringing away from her husband as he ranted.

Together we shuffled down the hall to the reception room. Principal Ashworth was waiting for us. “Good evening. Will you follow me please.”

He led us to the lunchroom. I hadn’t thought of it until then, but there was nowhere near enough room for all of us in his office. To my surprise all three home room teachers were in the lunch room, and they were all smiling. Were they there to enjoy hearing our punishment?

Ashworth had the parents and teachers sit down and left the three of us standing. He took a position in front of everyone. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a few words to say.” He beckoned Dwayne, Renee, and me to join him. Her it comes, I thought.

He cleared his throat. ”These young people have presented me with a conundrum. They performed a number of shenanigans over the past month or so. A detective I hired found evidence that Ingrid Hoffman had perpetrated the bulk of them, and I made ready to exact a suitable punishment on her. While I was doing so I apologized to Miss Pederson for having accused her of one of the pranks. This afternoon Miss Pederson came to me and admitted to a number of the tricks that Miss Hoffman was purported to have engineered.”

He looked around the room. “She also told me that she accepted full responsibility for those pranks. However, these two”—He pointed toward Renee and Dwayne.—“came into my office unbidden and admitted to assisting her.” Once again he paused.

“Technically I have every right and perhaps an obligation to punish them severely.” He peered at me as if he was thinking in terms of fifty years to life. “But a funny thing happened. As this all came together I understood why it had all happened. I’ve been a martinet and a pompous ass.” He let that soak in. My mind was spinning. What was going on here?

He continued, “The stunt Miss Pederson engineered at the football game thoroughly embarrassed me. I was so angry I would have gladly throttled the culprit. But when I faced that culprit and her laudable defense of someone who had caused her great pain and discomfort ­– and then her co-conspirators came to her defense, I began to realize what this was all about. I at least bore some of the responsibility for what had happened, and these three young people hadn’t done anything that really harmed anyone, not even me. I was embarrassed because of my own arrogance.”

Dad was the one who broke the silence. “So what are you going to do about these kids?”

Ashworth faced the three of us. “That’s my conundrum. They did cause several disturbances, and they shouldn’t get off scot-free. On the other hand the responsibility they showed needs to be recognized. I want them on my team. Therefore, I’ve established a new position for this school. The three of them will be assigned to serve as teachers assistants in place of study hall for the remainder of the school year. Miss Pederson will help Mrs. Cable, Miss Williams will help Ms. Foy, and Mr. Lindquist will help Mr. Yoshimoto.”

I knew what the punishment was. We couldn’t schedule last period study hall and leave school early. But compared to what he could have done to us, it would be painless and might actually be fun. I almost smiled.

Ashworth looked at our parents. “Kids will sometimes get into trouble. That’s life. You should all be proud of the responsibility and integrity your children have shown. I consider this matter closed … and please keep my admission to being a pompous ass to yourselves.”

He turned to me. “Miss Pederson, could I speak to you and your parents before you leave? I have one last – call it ‘suggestion.’”