Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chapter 20: Principal Durham

They talked for a while longer before the first bell rang, and they parted for class. It had become their routine to meet for morning, then head out to lunch together, and then if they could to spend some time talking each evening. She looked forward to it, it had become the highlight of her school days.

She was in history when her name was called over the loud speaker along with several other students. She didn’t recognize the names. She wondered why she was being called. Her grades were good and she hadn’t missed any classes, so it couldn’t be that. The only time she’d ever even gone near a principal’s office was when she was dropping off attendance sheets for a teacher.

She took her seat in the waiting area, along with six other students. Two of the faces were familiar. She recognized Gregory and Deborah, but the other faces she didn’t know. She wondered if she was in some kind of trouble, although she couldn’t think of anything she had done to get that way. A darker part of her mind pointed out that this wasn’t exactly the kind of place you got called to unless you were in trouble of some kind.

One by one, the names were called and the kids disappeared from view. She was, apparently, the last one on the list. The wait made her extremely nervous, and she supposed that just might be the intention. Nobody paid any attention to her. No one even looked at her or seemed to care that she was there at all. Finally, Mrs. Hornsby, the secretary, called her back. The door opened and she was escorted to the office of Principal Durham. It was the first time she’d ever met him.

He was a tall, thin man that reminded her a bit of the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. She’d seen it once with her parents when she was very little. The scarecrow, though, had more hair. Principal Durham was completely bald, and the skin on his head practically glistened with oil. He wore a dark suit and a frown to match. He might have been easily at home in a funeral parlor, she thought.

He didn’t speak to her at all for a moment. He seemed very focused on the file in front of her, and she wasn’t sure he even knew she was standing there. She stood silently, waiting for him to finish. Finally, he looked up at her and gestured for her to sit down.

“Kathryn Devries, is it?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Kathryn, I am concerned about you,” he said to her, picking up the file he’d been studying just moments before. “It says in this file that you’ve been using our library’s computers for some personal research, is that correct?”

Kathryn blinked at him. This was not at all what she expected, though she wasn’t sure what she’d expected, really. “Yes, sir, I didn’t know that was against the rules.”

“It’s not, Ms. Devries, but we become concerned when that research is on topics that do not, should not concern you. May I ask what your interest is in the Department of Homeland Security? Or in FEMA camps?” he asked.

“I have a friend, sir,” she started to explain.

“Yes, I know you do,” he interrupted, pulling another piece of paper from his file. “Kevin McConnolly, isn’t it? You’ve been spending considerable amounts of your time before school and during lunches with him.”

“I wasn’t aware that was a problem, sir” Kate said, feeling suddenly very defensive.

“That boy and his family, Kathryn, are problems. They cause trouble for the people who get involved with them. I would hate for a girl like you who has such a bright future ahead of her to get caught up in something that might destroy it,” he said, leaning in to make his point.

“I appreciate your concern,” Kate said stiffly.

“It’s my job, Kathryn, to make sure that all of the children in this building are kept safe from harm, and that includes you. I do not want to see you getting yourself into trouble for the sake of someone like Kevin. He’s a nice enough boy, but some people are just born into trouble and will never be anything but trouble,” the principal finished. His tone of voice oozed condescension and a clear dislike of the McConnolly family.

“I feel it important to warn you, Ms. Devries, that your activities are being monitored. Your access to the computers in the library is restricted to research only on topics approved by your teachers. You are not to use them for personal research without the express permission of a teacher or other employee of mine. I hope you will heed my warnings and that we can avoid any,” he paused and looked directly at her, “further unpleasantries. Are we clear?”

Kate swallowed back the angry retort she felt like giving him. She couldn’t believe her ears. If he had intended to intimidate her with this little talk, he had failed miserably. One thing that Principal Durham obviously didn’t have in his little file about her was that she was not someone who backed down from a fight easily. She might retreat every now and again, but only if she felt she could gain higher ground through it.

“Yes, sir,” was all she answered. She did her best to maintain a poker face, but she was afraid the anger was showing in her eyes. It was rare for her to find something that so provoked her, but this had done it. She was not going to be so easily defeated.

“Good. I hope this talk will have some lasting impression on you. I do not want to think about what might happen to you or to your family should you choose to ignore my advice,” he said. “You are dismissed, madam.”

She collected her backpack and stormed out of the room just as the third bell rang. She couldn’t wait to tell Kevin and her mother about this little interview. She found it so hard to believe, and yet it was undeniably true. She wondered what either of them would think, what they would say. She wondered if maybe Principal Durham had given a similar talk to Greg and to Deborah. It seemed highly likely, although she doubted they were doing the research she’d been doing.

Lunch time finally arrived, and Kevin was waiting for her at the bottom of the steps. He seemed a bit troubled but happy enough to see her. They wasted no time and headed off to lunch together.

“What did Principal Durham want with you, Kate?” he asked, concerned.

“Actually, what he wanted was to forbid me from conducting any personal, non-school related research on school computers and to tell me to stay away from you. It was almost like a veiled threat. He said he’d hate to ‘think about what might happen to you or your family should you ignore my advice’” she said, mimicking his voice as she did.

Kevin glanced at her, but he didn’t seem surprised. “I thought as much. He’s never liked our family, and he likes us even less now that my dad’s gone missing,” he said.

“What has your family ever done to him?” she asked, surprised.

Kevin laughed. “It isn’t what we’ve done. It’s who we are. We’re Catholic, and as far as he’s concerned that means trouble.”

“That’s horrible, Kevin. I can’t believe that anybody would dislike someone just because of their religion, especially someone in a position of authority,” she said.

“Most people like having someone they can blame for all their troubles, Kate. When the economy got tougher after the last election, the government used it as an excuse to blame the Catholics and anyone else who stood in their way. They said it was because we were opposing them that they couldn’t give people more free stuff or do more to help those who were suffering, and people believed it,” Kevin said shaking his head, “the sad truth is that we were fighting for their right to be free, too. We were fighting to stop the government from taking their freedom from them. But that freedom comes at a cost, and most people aren’t willing to pay it, so it’s easier to lay blame on someone else than it is to take responsibility.”

“That’s awful, Kevin. This whole thing is awful. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know the truth because back then it was easier. Really, though, I’m glad I’m finding out so that maybe I can help others find out, too,” she said.

Kevin took her hand as they walked along. The temperatures were cooler than they had been a couple of weeks ago, even, but his hands were warm and his smile pushed back the dark feelings until the earlier events were just a memory.

“Kate?” he asked.

“Yes?” she replied

“Will you do me the honor of being my girlfriend?” he asked, looking at her with a smile.

“Oh, Kevin, I’m so glad you asked. Of course I will,” she said. She couldn’t believe it! She was now officially going out with Kevin McConnolly. She felt like dancing for joy. She settled for squeezing his hand instead.

Kevin seemed as pleased with himself as she felt, and the two walked in comfortable silence the rest of the way. She couldn’t wait to get home and tell her mother. She wanted to tell the whole world, but she didn’t know many people in this town. Kevin, his family, Father Donovan, and that was about it, so her mom would have to do for now.

“Tell me something about you, Kate, that nobody else knows,” Kevin said, as they were waiting to pick up their food.

“I keep a journal,” Kate said. “I have since I was little. Your turn.”

“Hmm…well, I may officially lose my man card for this, but I have to admit that I like classical music,” Kevin said.

“Really? Who’s your favorite composer?” Kate asked.

“Well, Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven is one of my favorite pieces, but I also like Fur Elise,” he answered honestly.

“Oh, my goodness, I love those. Hey, what’s a man card?” Kate asked, raising an eyebrow.

“That’s the card every man gets at birth, Kate. Do anything girly and you lose it,” he said, looking her dead in the eyes.

She laughed. “Seriously?”

He smiled at her and said, “Oh, definitely. It comes with our man’s guide to everything manly. How else do you think we’d know how to act?”

“And here I thought it was all natural,” she said, grinning..

“Well, there is some natural talent involved,” he said, flexing his muscles, “but it’s a lot of hard work being a man. There’s a whole lot to it,” he replied with a straight face.

Kate couldn’t help giggling. “Oh, do tell me more.”

Kevin shook his head and leaned in close to whisper in her ear, “I can’t. I’m already violating the man code by telling you this much. The man police could show up at any moment to yank my card right out from under my nose.” He then mocked looking around furtively to see if there was someone nearby.

They joked like that all the way back to school, and Kate had nearly forgotten all about her meeting with Principal Durham by the time they got there. She felt better than she could remember feeling since her dad died. If there really was a heaven, she thought it must be a whole lot like this. By the time the bell rang for the end of lunch, Kate was positively walking on air. She couldn’t wait to get home so she could talk to him again, couldn’t wait to tell her mother all the good news of the day.

Her mom walked in the door just as dinner was being set out on the table, and Kate gave her a hug and a kiss. Claire smiled at her daughter, “Looks like you had a good day.”

“Oh, Mom, I had the best day. Kevin asked me out today!” she said.

“I thought you two were already going out?” her mother asked, confused.

“We weren’t officially boyfriend and girlfriend before today,” Kate explained.

Her mother wisely nodded. “I see. Well, congratulations. Did anything else exciting happen today?”

Her mother’s question prompted Kate’s memory of the meeting with Principal Durham and she scowled. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Principal Durham called me to his office today.”

Her mother looked at her daughter as if she had announced she had grown three heads. “He what?”

“He called me to his office! He said that I wasn’t allowed to use the school computers for anything other than school work without teacher permission, and then he told me I shouldn’t be hanging out with Kevin anymore,” she said, indignant.

“Tell me everything that happened, Kate,” her mother said.

Kate poured out the whole story to her mom, about the other kids who were brought in and the way he’d treated her. She also told her mother about what Kevin had said about people blaming Catholics for the bad economy. “How did this all happen, Mom?” Kate asked, bewildered.

Her mother frowned at that and shook her head. “I can’t deny that there’s some truth to what Kevin said. A lot of people did blame them, but not all of us did. Your father and I never did,” she said, sighing. “It’s hard to explain.”

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