“So, you’re sure you’re okay?” Jack asked, as he held the door for Beth.
She went through, and Jack let a couple other girls go through before he let the door go, jogging to catch up with Beth.
“I’m fine,” she said as he drew alongside her. Jack glanced down, saw one of the deep pockets in her coat bulge, heard the muted crinkle of paper.
The Principal was there, at the big green doors. He nodded a greeting and held the door for Jack and Beth, the last two to enter the art room.
"Jack," the principal said in a low voice, “please take your seat. You’ll have to do your moral supporting from the crowd.”
Jack nodded, gave Beth a pat on the shoulder, and then crossed the room. The rest of the class watched and whispered, but Jack ignored them.
“Mr. Richards,” the Principal said, as the reedy man stepped towards his podium. “Before you begin class, Miss Harrison has something she’d like to say.” Jack didn’t miss the not-so-subtle emphasis the principal put into how he referred to Beth. He hoped it would sink into the substitute teacher’s thick skull.
Beth glanced down at the crumpled sheet of paper in her hands. Jack knew it was an official disciplinary form. He’d had to sign one when he got suspended. ‘Offending Party A’ and ‘Undersigned Party B’ indeed. If the fight had been half as boring as the district paperwork made it out to be, he and Kyle would have simply yawned at each other and saved themselves the bruises.
Beth folded the form, smoothing it against the front of her coat. She cleared her throat, and the entire class seemed to lean forward slightly.
“Mr. Richards,” she said, “I’m very sorry I said what I said yesterday. I should not have said it.”
The substitute stood for nearly a minute, blinking slowly. Then he, too, leaned forward. “Was there anything else you wanted to add, Miss Harrison?”
She glanced down at the paper again, then folded it closed, and looked up at the teacher. She smiled brightly, shaking her head.
“No, that’s it,” she said. She turned that smile on the principal, and he took the form from her, folding it again and sliding it into the pocket of his dark blazer.
“Well, that settles that, then. Unless there was something you wished to say, Richard?”
The class sucked in a collective breath, and most of them suppressed the snickering.
“No,” Mr. Richards said, the word clipped, his tone cool. “Nothing to add. Miss Harrison, if you would take your seat, please, we can begin class.”
The principal nodded, gave Beth a pat on the back, and then left the classroom, whistling.
* * * * *
“It’s just not fair,” Jack said, as they worked their way down the aisle to their usual seats on the bus. “If it was anybody else, they would have had detentions for… weeks! Or probably a suspension. But you!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jack. I said the words, and now they can’t do anything to me unless I do it again.”
“I heard what you said, and that was no apology,” he said with a laugh.
“They can make me say it, they can’t make me mean it. Besides, what’s to say in some deep, dark corner of my soul, I don’t really, actually, truly mean it?”
Jack shook his head. “Beth, I don’t think there are any dark corners in your soul.”
“Why, Jack… was that a… compliment?” she asked, blinking slowly at him.
Jack blushed slightly. “Well, actually, I just meant that you couldn’t possibly mean that you were sorry about calling Mr. Richards an — ow!”
Jack rubbed his shoulder. “What was that for?”
“You have a lot to learn about paying a girl a compliment.”
"You have a nice right hook," he said.
She gave him another left in the arm.