The receptionist, Mrs. Grieves, glared as Miranda walked in the office, like she’d committed a crime just by being there. “Ms. McGee, why aren’t you in class?”
“It’s lunch break.”
“Don’t speak back to me!”
Miranda stood still. Tears welled on the edges of her eyes. What could she say to not get in even more trouble.
There were no other students in the office, which was strange, usually someone was copying something or using the phone. Now the office had a long uncomfortable-looking bench by the front door.
She almost forgot herself and asked Mrs. Grieves how she was feeling today, but Mrs. Grieves looked so tense that Miranda just handed her the note.
“Sit, Ms. McGee.”
She sat on the bench and stared at the floor.
Mrs. Grieves let her sit there for a full ten minutes before saying, “Ms. McGee, you may approach the counter now.”
Why had she made Miranda wait just to acknowledge the note?
Miranda sprung up and stopped at the counter, still too frazzled to look Mrs. Grieves’ in the eye. “I’ve apparently … committed an infraction twelve.”
Mrs. Grieves looked down at the paper and let out a little gasp. “Sit.”
She rushed into Mr. Wodzinski’s office.
The office was strangely empty and quiet while she was gone. Miranda wondered if they were calling her dad. Had Dad changed too?
She shook her head. If things were different, she needed to collect information.
The office looked more or less the same. There were still posters on the wall. They’d been reading and anti-drug posters before. Now they had no writing on them, each was just an idealized drawing of a child. Each child had perfect hair and wore modest clothes. As far as Miranda remembered, no one in the whole school dressed that way.
She waited another two minutes before Mrs. Grieves came out. Looking like she was summoning Miranda to an execution, she motioned to the office.
Mr. Wodzinski normally looked pretty dour, so that hadn’t changed. Miranda waited in the doorway for him to tell her to sit, but he just stared at her till she fidgeted in place.
Finally he said, “Ms. McGee. I had been expecting you to be a source of great honor for our school. Mr. Hanson was going to recommend you for the early college program.”
Had? “Mr. Hanson still supports me. He just–“
Mr. Wodzinski went red. He vibrated.
He jumped up from his chair. “You will not speak until spoken to!”
Everyone was crazy.
“Wait, stop. I don’t understand.” Miranda put her hands out.
Principal Wodzinski slammed his hands flat on the desk. “Ms. McGee. You of all people know the rules of this school.”
She was about to speak, but she finally caught herself. She held her mouth shut and stared at the floor. She shook a little bit, afraid he’d yell again.
After a moment he sat. A long moment after that, he said, “You may speak.”
She let out the breath she’d been holding. “I’ve always followed the rules. I memorized the rules.”
If she had the guidebook, she’d show him. She’d read it twice and carried it in her bag for another three months. She could visualize it filed next to her science books on the shelf next to her desk in her bedroom.
Principal Wodzinski slid his hands back from the desk, his face unreadable, like the police officers on television shows. She shivered again.
“Sit down, Ms. McGee.” He opened the center drawer of his desk and pulled out a worn and weathered copy of the exact booklet she had at home. She quickly sat in the chair.
He stuck a finger in the center of the booklet, like he knew each page. Miranda herself knew the middle pages were concerning dress code and conduct. There were many students who dressed on the edge of the code, but she’d always made sure she was well within the rules.
She was about to say so, when Principal Wodzinski opened the book flat and turned it around to her.
Just from the font and the layout, the page was obviously different than what she remembered.
The text was harder to read, smaller and broken into two columns. There was a title at the top of the left page that read Communication Guidelines. She bent in closer and read the first lines, but couldn’t make sense of them.
“You say you memorized this booklet.”
She said, “This is different…”
Within the tight blocks of text below were subheaders. One read Infraction 11.
Principal Wodzinski leaned back. “We’re very clear here Miranda, students are not allowed to have private relationships with our teachers.”
“I … didn’t. I ….” She shut up and waiting to be yelled at for speaking without being spoken to.
But Principal Wodzinski didn’t yell. He got a condescending look on his face. “I know it’s hard to be a teen these days.” He reached across the desk and patted her hand. “I had my own infractions when I was your age, but the rules are for your own protection, Ms. McGee.”
It was confusing. She wasn’t allowed to talk to teachers one on one, but Principal Wodzinski could pat her hand? Maybe that’s why his office door was open. Her mind flew a million miles per hour. What were the new rules and how had everything changed so quickly?
She raised her hand. He looked at it, confused. “Yes, Ms. McGee?”
“May I ask a question?”
“Don’t get sarcastic with me, young lady.”
She took a breath. “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m just confused.”
He waved his hand. “Go on.”
She tried to order her thoughts. “I’m, sorry I broke a rule. I … I wasn’t allowed to speak to Mr. Hanson because that’s having a person relationship with a teacher, even when there were other teachers there?”
“You broke three rules.” Principal Wodzinski stuck out a finger as he listed them. “You disturbed the teacher’s sacred space.”
“You initiated a relationship.” He touched his last finger. “And most importantly, you spoke without being spoken to.”
She still wanted to argue, but the look on Principal Wodzinski’s face made her stop. Without anything else she could say, she said, “I’m sorry.”
Principal Wodzinski leaned back in his chair. He rolled his shoulders. “You’ve always been a perfect student, Ms. McGee. Normally this many infractions would be an automatic expulsion.”
Miranda gasped. She bit her tongue to keep herself from speaking.
“But I’m going to let you off. This will, of course, go in your record.”
Miranda breathed. That didn’t sound so bad. “I … may I speak?”
Principal Wodzinski nodded.
“Thank you. I’m very sorry.”
“You are welcome.” He called out the door, “Ms. Grieves, get Ms. McGee’s father on the phone. She’s suspended for two days?”
Miranda just stopped herself from yelling, “What is happening?”