Samantha – Graduation

Samantha had made up her mind to apply to both the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. This is what she had to say about the remainder of her school year.

I’m going to synopsize here because the following eight months were hectic but not exciting. As I mentioned before I turned in my preliminary applications for both schools and applied for nominations in every possible channel. Dad recommended I start a serious physical exercise program before taking the fitness tests. I’m glad I did. I found out from Senator Warren’s staff that I had the highest scores of any woman candidate on every single test. And later at the academy it made the first event of each morning almost a breeze.

The interviews with the Admissions Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy and the Blue and Gold Officer for the Naval Academy were interesting. Both were upbeat and optimistic about my chances for selections.

When the candidate selections came in, I had been selected for both the Air Force and the Navy. It’s no secret that I chose the Naval Academy. That was for two reasons. First and obvious, my dad was a Naval Academy graduate and wanted me to follow in his footsteps, and second, I was having a problem with my right eye at the time and couldn’t pass the vision test for military piloting – At the time I didn’t know it was temporary.

Dad dug into his memorabilia and found his copy of Reef Points and gave it to me to memorize with the caution that it was updated annually. That gave me another head start.

As for school, I kept my four plus grade point average. In track I specialized in cross country. It fit in with my exercise regimen. I could brag about my first place finishes and make excuses for coming in second at state, but I won’t. My social life flourished, but I missed both Renee and Dwayne, and I didn’t make any other serious relationships.

Graduation came, and as one of the three students with the top GPA I got the privilege of speaking. Fortunately, one of the parents, Mrs. Filstrup, was a Toastmaster, and she had conducted a program that taught students public speaking and leadership. Dad had insisted that it would be good training for Annapolis, so I participated. When I learned I would be speaking, Mrs. Filstrup helped me prepare my speech. She even gave me some ideas. You see, my speech was a prank. I couldn’t resist a final one.

When it came my turn to speak, I walked up to the lectern looking as serious as I possibly could. From under my robe I produced a makeup kit and placed it on the lectern. I heard some stirring behind me from the teachers and dignitaries, but I ignored them.

I looked out on the sea of gowns and the friends and family behind them. They hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary … yet. Speaking into the microphone quietly, I said, “As you all know, today is a solemn occasion. Today we commemorate a major milestone in our education. We have all successfully completed twelve years of schooling, some may have taken a few more. Now we’re going out to face a troubled world and try to make a meaningful impact on it. That sounds serious, doesn’t it?”

I paused to look around. Many of the teachers behind me looked tense. Principal Ashworth, however, was grinning broadly. The audience in front of me seemed ready to start yawning. I raised my voice. “Well, I don’t believe in taking life seriously.”

I took off my cap and put it on the shelf in the lectern. I stepped back, grabbed the sides of my gown, and pulled it up and off over my head. The audience gasped. I was wearing a one-piece, white clown suit decorated with random hearts and large red buttons. It had puffy sleeves and trouser legs. I bent over and released the front of my clown shoes so they stuck out like they were supposed to. Then I stepped back to the lectern. “So let’s have some fun.”

Over the next fifteen minutes I applied white face, a painted red smile, and black circles around my eyes, all the while regaling the audience with the need to enjoy life while we could and to share that joy with others. As I got ready to wrap up, I put on an oversized pair of sunglasses and paused briefly. Finally, adding a red sponge nose, I stepped out from behind the lectern. “Class of 2003, here’s my challenge to you. Wherever you go from here, defeat seriousness and spread joy. The world needs you. … Now, who has the beach balls?” I took an exaggerated bow.

I got a standing ovation. Dr. Ashworth led it.

Of course, I only had a rough idea of the work I had ahead of me. Would a cheerful attitude be enough?

Samantha – Mom Time

While deciding whether to apply for admission to a military academy, Samantha had been so wrapped up in the research she hadn’t paid attention to Dwayne and Renee. Once she had made up her mind, she sought out Dwayne to tell him her decision. She found him with Renee on the front lawn, and they both acted sheepish. When she confronted Dwayne, he reluctantly told her that both he and Renee felt she was a controlling personality and that they were dating. Feeling betrayed, she started crying and ran away from Dwayne.

I ran all the way home, blubbering almost the whole way. By the time I arrived at the front door, I had slowed to a jog. On the way I had gone through all the stages of grief and my eyes were dry. Losing Dwayne was painful, but I realized it was nothing compared to losing Brian. And I had to admit it was my doing. I was still angry, but it was more for Dwayne turning Renee against me.

The run had calmed me down, but now I was hot and sweaty. Mom heard me come in. “You’re home early,” she called from the kitchen. I headed that way.

“I ran the whole way.”

She was putting a batch of cookies out to cool. As soon as she looks at me, she knew. “You’ve been crying.”

“Dwayne and I broke up.”

“Ah, teenage romances. They don’t always hold up.” She pointed at the cookies. “I just made these for Nelson’s kindergarten class tomorrow. Maybe a cookie or two would make you feel better. Have a seat.” She pulled out a chair and turned it toward me.

She sat down facing me and pushed the cooling rack over to me. “You want to talk about it?”

Picking up one of the still warm cookies, I stared at it for a moment. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for romance. Bill turned out to be a nice guy but wasn’t ready to commit to anything. Dwayne is terrific, but he’s another Type A personality. He called me a control freak. I hadn’t realized it, but he was right. Of course, he’s one too. That’s why we’ve come to this.”

Mom laughed. “You’re giving up too soon. You’re an intelligent, good looking young woman. The young men in your life will have a hard time keeping up with you. That’s probably what happened with Dwayne.”

“So what am I supposed to do, pretend I’m something I’m not?”

“Good heavens, no. But you can learn to be more subtle in getting your way. Maybe attending an academy will help with that. After all, a good officer gets his or her subordinates to want to perform their duties. You’ve never seen your father at work, have you?”

I immediately thought about how he had handled my insubordination after Brian’s death. He didn’t manipulate me. He let me work out my anger and frustration, even letting me go too far. I smiled. I doubted he’d let his subordinates go that far, but I could see him allowing them to make some pretty caustic statements – as long as they kept calm about it and said sir.

I said, “I have a pretty good idea of what you’re talking about. He handled me despite my best efforts to hurt him.”

“That was self-discipline, definitely something you’ll learn at an academy if you’re going to graduate. … By the way, you did hurt him.”

I looked at her quizzically. “He never showed it. … Well, there was that one time at the funeral. But he handled it.” I hadn’t ever apologized. “I guess I owe him an apology.”

“I think he’d appreciate that, but he probably won’t say so.”

I peered at her for heartbeat. “Mom, how are you handling Brian’s death?”

She frowned regretfully. “It still hurts, but there’s nothing I can do to change what happened.” Her eyes glistened.

“I guess I shouldn’t have brought that up. Sorry. Let’s talk about something different.”

“Such as?”

I had no idea. I needed to take a shower, but no way was I going to leave this conversation now, not after bringing tears to her eyes. We’d been talking about boyfriends, academies, hurting dad … Back up, Mom had gone to college. “Where did you go to college?”

She looked surprised. “Now that’s different alright. University of Maryland, actually, Philip Merrill College of Journalism.”

“You were studying to be a reporter? Why didn’t you become one?”

“I met your father.” She smiled. “Of course, it wasn’t that simple. I got my degree. I even worked as a stringer for a couple of TV stations in Jacksonville while your father was stationed, if you can call it that, at Mayport. I’m not sure which carrier he was assigned to, but of course, he was at sea most of the time. Then you kids came along.” She stopped and shook her head.

I suddenly saw where this was going, another reminder of Brian. Here I was trying to unload my problems on a sympathetic audience, and in the process I was rubbing salt in Mom’s wounds. I hurriedly changed the subject. Standing, I said, “Well, after talking to you, I feel better, but I need a shower. Then I have some things to take care of, like apologize to Dad, get to work on my applications, and let Renee and Dwayne know that I still want to be friends. Since Dad’s not home, I’m going to start on the applications.”

Mom stood and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m glad I could help.”

That evening I apologized to Dad. And over the next several days I scrambled to submit my applications for nomination and complete preliminary applications for both schools.

I was disappointed to find that many of the nominations had already been filled, but Senator Warner’s qualification process and the presidential one kept me busy. Then when both schools accepted me as a candidate, there were interviews, physicals, fitness tests, essays, you name it. With all that I never managed to get back together with Dwayne and Renee.

If I had, I might still be in the Marine Corp.

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.’”

Samantha – Coming Clean

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.

“Well?”

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.

Samantha – Dilemma

Samantha had told Dr. Ashworth that his detective was not only inept but was actually encouraging pranks because the pranksters were treating him as a challenge. Instead of blowing a fuse, Ashworth seemed to like the information. It gave him an excuse to fire a buffoon who obviously wasn’t getting the job done. She was hoping that was the end of it when Ashworth pulled her aside after class.

I hoped my sudden anxiety didn’t show. I was afraid any reason Principal Ashworth might have for wanting to talk to me wasn’t going to be favorable. I joined him out of the flow of students rushing to their lockers. “Yes, sir?”

“I want to thank you again for informing me of Mr. LeClerc’s unintended influence on the tomfoolery going on around the school.” He looked around as if to make sure no one was in hearing distance. “When I approached him to let him go, he had prepared a final report. He had identified the kingpin who was responsible for starting this nonsense.”

My heart thudded, and I struggled to keep a straight face. I was afraid my voice would crack if I asked who, so I waited for him to continue.

He didn’t seem to notice me holding back. “Ingrid Hoffman,” he continued, “According to what LeClerc heard students saying early in his investigation, Miss Hoffman painted the graffiti on the front of the building and followed up with several other practical jokes before I hired a private detective.” He paused. “It appears I owe you an apology. I trusted Miss Hoffman when she accused you of spreading rumors about Mrs. Finch and Mr. Browning and was biased to believe her accusation that you had done the graffiti.” So she was the one.

He continued, “I’ll see that she is suitably dealt with.”

That was it I was off the hook, and Ingrid was going to get hers. “If I may ask, sir, what do you have in mind?”

“I’ll have to confirm it with the superintendent, but I will probably suspend her for the rest of the semester.”

Much as I wanted Ingrid to be punished, I didn’t think the offense justified that stiff a punishment. “Isn’t that a little extreme, Sir.”

He looked at me quizzically. “Considering what she did to you, I would think you’d want a severe punishment.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Wanting her to be harshly punished merely seems vindictive to me I guess. And that’s not me. I mean, wouldn’t that make it hard for her to graduate with the rest of the class?”

He seemed to think about what I said before he said, “Well, in that case I may reconsider my position. Thank you, Miss Pederson.” He turned and walked away, leaving me standing there with my mouth open.

––– # –––

Renee caught up with me on my way out the front door. “What did the dictator have to say?”

I was still dazed. What had just happened? Had I really softened Principal Ashworth? It took me a second to respond.

She studied me. “Well?”

“He said that Sheerluck found out that Ingrid had painted the graffiti and had reported that she was also responsible for the majority of the pranks. He was going to suspend her for the remainder of the semester.”

Renee smiled. “Sounds good to me. She deserves it.”

“I don’t know. You and I both know she didn’t have anything to do with our practical jokes.” I paused. I had finally realized that Ingrid was getting blamed for what I had done, I and Renee and Dwayne. I whispered, “Oh my god.”

Renee gave me and odd look and asked, “What?”

I didn’t respond. I was too deep in thought. Principal Ashworth was going to punish Ingrid for what the three of us had done on top of what she had done. That wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. I had to clear her of our pranks. I mumbled, “I’ve got to do something.”

“What are you talking about?” Renee was staring at me as if I had lost my mind.

“We can’t let Ashworth punish Ingrid for what we did. You, Dwayne, and I have to figure out a way to prove she didn’t do our pranks.”

“That’s easy, confess.”

That hit me like a blow to the solar plexus. I couldn’t tell if she was serious, but it shocked me into thinking some more. I looked around to see if Dwayne remained in the dwindling crowd of students. I spotted him talking to a couple of the members of the basketball team. I grabbed Renee’s arm and pulled her with me. “Come.”

Dwayne saw us coming. “Hi, what’s up?”

I stared him in the eye. “We need to talk … privately.”

He turned to the other boys and shrugged, palms up. “See you guys later.” Then he followed Renee and me.

As soon as we were out of earshot, he asked, “What’s all this about?”

I scanned the area to make sure no one was approaching. Then I told him what I thought the problem was. He nodded and asked, “What do you propose to do about it?”

“I’ve been struggling with that. Renee”—I nodded at her—“suggested confessing. I don’t know how serious she was, but I can’t think of anything better.”

Dwayne shook his head. “I’m not fond of that idea.”

“Can you think of anything better?”

He scowled. “Better than volunteering to be punished? Letting it be comes to mind. After all, if she hadn’t framed you for the graffiti, none of this would have happened.”

I had expected something like this. I pressed the point. “But that would mean letting Ingrid be punished for what we did. Would that be right?”

He continued to scowl, but he said, “No, but I don’t like it. Come up with something else.”

Renee joined the discussion. “I feel really bad about this, but if Ashworth was going to suspend Ingrid, wouldn’t he do the same thing to us? I vote for letting it be.”

I couldn’t accept that. I had one last card to play. “Look, I understand where you’re coming from, but I consider this my responsibility. I can’t let it go. Here’s what I propose: I’ll go by myself and accept full responsibility for the pranks we pulled. If he asks me who else was involved, I’ll tell him it was all my fault and no one else needs to be punished.”

Dwayne had a final comment. “I don’t think he’ll let you get away with that.”

“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something to make it right.”

His shoulders slumped. “I guess we’ll have to risk it.”

No, I’ll have to risk it.

Samantha – Convincing Ashworth

The student council meeting had approved a motion to put up flyers around the school and pass them out to every student. A committee was formed to prepare the flyer and given a short fuse for getting it done. O’Connor, as the president got the job of reporting the decision to Ashworth. Ashworth wasn’t receptive, sending the council back to the drawing board. Samantha offered another proposal.

How did I let myself get roped into this? I wondered. Actually I knew. O’Connor had tried to get school funds to pay for the flyers the student council was supposed to put out. We could have used someone’s home printer or gotten a shop to do it, but no one wanted to cough up the money to pay for it. We all thought it was a school problem, and, therefore, the school should pay. Of course, Principal Ashworth objected. His rational was the school was short on funds, which may or may not have been true. Personally, I thought it was because he didn’t want to publicize that the school had a problem, and our flyers would invariably get out in the public. O’Connor had tried his best to convince him, and when that failed I got elected because I had the most convincing argument.

Now I was standing across the counter from Ms. Farrow. “Let me understand this, Miss Pederson. You want to talk to Dr. Ashworth about the pranks. Are you admitting to doing them?”

I didn’t say anything. I think she read my face and saw the anger there. Yes, I was responsible for some of the better shenanigans, but I wasn’t about to admit to them. I was angry because of the tendency to blame me for just about anything unfortunate that happened that year, and I still wondered if Ingrid Hoffman hadn’t started a rumor or suggested I was a trouble maker.

Ms. Farrow seemed to be determined to get rid of me. “Don’t you have a class?”

“I have study hall this period.” I was tempted to add, “If you’d stop stalling me, I could get this over with and still have time left to study.”

She harrumphed. “I’ll let him know you’re here. Have a seat.”

“I’ll stand, thank you. Tell him I have a solution to the practical jokes.”

She glared at me before walking to her desk and keying the intercom. “Miss Pederson to see you, sir. She claims to have an answer for the pranks.”

There was a pause. Then I heard Ashworth’s voice in the tinny tone of the ancient intercom. He sounded weary and resigned. “Send her in, but she’d better not be wasting my time.”

He didn’t bother to get up when I came through the door. “What do you have to say, Miss Pederson? And please make it brief.”

I got straight to the point. “As you know, the practical jokes have become increasingly frequent recently. In talking to other students I’m hearing that your inept detective is the main cause. Most everyone I know calls him Sheerluck Jones and says that the pranksters are competing by challenging him with their tricks …”

Ashworth exploded. “What? Who said I had a detective?” His face was bright red. He started to rise up in his chair but stopped.

“As I said, he’s inept. He’s obviously not a real cusodian, and his questions are inappropriate for a cusodian. He has to be authorized to be in the building, so you have to know he’s here and not legitimate. Ergo, you must have hired him. No one else would be interested in finding out who the jokers are and have the authority to get him in here. Besides, his secretary told us he is working for you.”

“She what?” He looked apoplectic. I began to be concerned he would have a heart attack.

“Sir, the solution is simple. Get rid of him. It’ll stop the competition. I won’t guarantee it will stop all the tricks, but it should keep them from getting out of hand and getting somebody hurt.”

I almost couldn’t believe it. I swear I could see the light go on. He actually relaxed. He was silent for a moment. Then he smiled at me. I think that scared me more than being taken to the police station. “Thank you, Miss Pederson. I’ll have to seriously consider your advice.”

“Yes sir.” I looked at my watch. “I should get back to study hall now.”

“You do that.”

I headed out the door, wondering if he was pleased or predatory.

––– # –––

As soon as I walked into the library, I was surrounded. “How’d it go?” “Did he buy it?” “Did we get the money for the flyers?”

Ms. Olsen was giving us dirty looks, so I shushed everyone and whispered, “Keep it down. I’ll tell you about, but let’s move into the auditorium first.”

When we arrived, I gave a detailed briefing of what had happened. I finished with, “I don’t know how to read Principal Ashworth, but what I suggested seemed to make him happy. I suspect he was tired of throwing money away on Sheerluck.”

O’Connor asked, “When do you think we’ll know something?”

“I suspect before the end of the day.”

Right then the class bell rang and we all hurried to our next class.

––– # –––

When I came out English class at the end of the day, Principal Ashworth was waiting for me. “Miss Pederson, could I speak to you privately?”

My stomach did a flip-flop.

Samantha – Council Meeting

The prank at the football game had been a tremendous success. It even made the TV news. Samantha had set high expectations, and she had unintentionally recruited a team for more mischief. It didn’t take them long to find out that publishing a website was out of their league, but wiring a cheap CB radio into the school public address was easy. To keep it unexpected but frequent they tuned it to channel 19, at the time one of the most popular. The first transmission was received during second period, and others occurred sporadically during the rest of the day. By the time the public address repairman showed, it was after lunch and even the pranksters were tired of the interruptions.

Other pranks included coloring the shrubbery with a water soluble red paint, spraying the corridors with fake spider webs, putting vinegar in the lunchroom drink dispenser, and other harmless monkeyshines. The police weren’t interested since no one was being hurt, but Principal Ashworth hired a private detective to find the culprits. He turned out to be as ineffective as Inspector Clouseau or Sherloque Tanney.

Here’s what Samantha has to say about it.

Keeping ahead of the detective, Sheerluck Jones, became a game in itself. Unfortunately, other people joined the game and started playing pranks on their own. I could see what was coming, so I got together with Dwayne and Renee to decide what to do about it.

We sat down together in the Exchange snack bar after school. I went right to the heart of the matter. “I think it’s time to get out of the prank business.”

I had expected a “What? Why?” from either Dwayne or Renee, but they both nodded their heads. Dwayne spoke first. “This could get nasty in a hurry. Do you think a police investigation would lead to us?”

I answered, “I don’t know, but it would be best if we can head off a probe. What can we do to put a lid on this prank epidemic we started?”

Renee laughed. “I’m not so sure we started it. Sheerluck’s bumbling is what made it fun and got others involved … Do either of you know who started that nickname?”

Dwayne surprised us with an answer. “Locally, no, but it came from a derogatory name applied to a DC comic character … Getting back to the issue at hand, this is a student issue and needs to be handled by the Student Council. Someone who is obviously alert to the problems this can cause needs to bring it up at the next meeting. I’m already on the council so it should be one of you. I can back you up when the discussion gets underway.”

I glanced at Renee who was looking at her hands. I said, “I started this whole thing, so I guess it’s my responsibility.” Renee looked relieved. “I have one problem … I don’t lie. If they ask me what I know about what’s happening, well, I’m not sure how to address that.” Renee blanched.

Dwayne said, “I agree it should be you. You’ll have to take charge and steer the conversation – aggressively. Make sure it never gets around to what you know about it. Better yet, start off with what you know about the other pranksters but don’t tie it to anything we’ve done.”

I thought about that for a few seconds. “Maybe I could compare what might happen to one of our weaker attempts, say painting the shrubs. That way there wouldn’t be any obvious holes.”

Dwayne had an additional suggestion. “You probably ought to practice what you’re going to say. Renee and I could sit in and offer suggestions.”

It’s never that easy.

––– # –––

From what I understood the Student Council meetings were rarely attended by anyone but the council. When I walked in to the room, people were already standing along the walls. Bill Compton had a seat in the front row. When I walked by he stood up. “Looking for a seat, Sam? You can have mine.”

“Thanks, but …”

“No buts, I can stand.”

All I could say was, “Thanks.”

He walked away and I took the seat.

The sergeant-at-arms rapped the gavel and called the meeting to order. He introduced the council president, Walter O’Connor, and sat down.

O’Connor looked over the room. “Wow, what brings all of you here?”

There were several titters, but Bill spoke up, “We’ve heard that something important is going to be discussed, and the council was likely to blow it off.”

O’Connor started to say something that began with an indignant “How …?” and then stopped. He changed directions. “Does anyone here know what this important subject is?” He looked around the room. No hands went up. He looked at the members of the council. Dwayne frowned and looked at me, but no one else responded. Then, as O’Connor started to say something, I realized this was my turn staring me in the face. I rose to my feet. “I know what it is.”

“Your name and class for the record, please.” O’Connor knew me, but this was supposed to be a formal meeting.

“Samantha Pederson, Senior.”

“And what is this important topic?”

“The pranks that are going on at the school.” I stood taller. “We’re heading for real trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the pranks are getting more dangerous. I mean hiding all the toilet paper in the girls’ locker room was annoying but no one got hurt by it. Someone deliberately blocked the doors to the gym the other day. Glenn Reiser and Andy Carpenter both hit he doors so hard when they raced out of the gym that they were woozy and had to be helped to their feet. Luckily neither was seriously injured, but they could have been.”

“They shouldn’t have been running,” O’Connor said, dismissing the problem.

“I’m not arguing that, but the situation was dangerous. Someone could have been hurt. That’s what is important. Whoever blocked the door would have been more at fault than Glenn or Andy. Those doors have panic bars for a reason – so no one gets crushed if a crowd tries to get through them in a panic.”

“So what are we supposed to do about this problem?” O’Connor was still being dismissive.

“You guys are the council, figure it out, but I would suggest starting by letting the student body know that enough is enough, that if somebody is injured in one of these pranks, the prankster will be held responsible.”

O’Connor stood there open mouthed. I can still remember how funny he looked. Fortunately, Dwayne came to the rescue. “Walt, why don’t we get a consensus of the students in the room and see how important this is to them? That way we’ll know how to proceed.”

It was a totally new idea since there had never been a group this large at a council meeting. O’Connor jumped on it. Before the meeting was over, the council had agreed to take action to shut down the pranks. They recruited a committee from the students in the room to create posters urging a stop to the shenanigans, and another group to urge Principal Ashworth to fire his inept PI, and finally, as the council’s most outspoken member, O’Connor took on the task of putting together a short announcement on the public address.

Naturally, Ashworth was the one who balked.