~Asking For a Friend* * *I hit send on the column and stretch my back as I rise from the chair in the campus library. I smile. I’m rolling the dice with Dillon—
The thought is cut short when my phone rings and several students turn to glare at me.
I snatch it up, keeping my voice low. “Serena Jensen.”
“Ah, Miss Jensen, this is Headmaster Roberts at Magnolia Prep.”
His voice is official and stern, and I stiffen. “I see. How can I help?”
“Yes, well, I need you to come in today. Right now if possible. I have Romy in my office. She’s been suspended for two weeks.”
“For what?” I yell, startling students. I’m already shoving my laptop into my bag.
“I’d prefer to discuss it in person.”
I exhale. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Moving through the tables, I take the stairs and dart outside, my mind swirling with what she could have done. My cell pings with another text, and I check it as I walk to my car.
Hey. I’m done early today. Where are you?
I bite my lip. Dillon. It’s been two weeks of us together, nights of bingeing TV shows and video games and sex. Every time he walks in my apartment, I melt into his arms. His kisses are addictive. The sex is mind-blowing. The way he spoons me afterward and traces little hearts on my back makes me weak in the knees. I’m walking a tightrope with him, teetering as I try to keep my heart locked away.
But Romy… Crap! I send him a text explaining what’s going on and that I’ll see him later. He tries to call me back when I’m driving, but I focus on traffic and getting to the school.
I park and enter Magnolia Prep, noting the fancy artwork on the walls, the elegant wallpaper in the office, the plush leather chairs. It’s a far cry from my public school education. “Should be at twenty grand a year,” I mutter.
The secretary buzzes the headmaster, and he opens his door to usher me inside, face unsmiling. Romy sits in a chair, eyes red as if she’s been crying.
Mr. Roberts and I greet each other with pleasantries, which are insincere on both sides. He’s in his sixties, rather cold, and not as personable as you’d expect from someone in a job dealing with students. I thought so the first time I met him. He takes in my boots and curls his lip.
I take my seat just as the headmaster moves behind his desk.
The door opens and Dillon walks in.
My mouth opens.
He moves toward the headmaster and takes his outstretched hand in a firm grasp. “Dillon McQueen, sir.”
The headmaster rears back. “I know who you are. You’ve been here several times for assemblies. Just didn’t expect you to walk in—”
“I’m Serena’s boyfriend. Thought I should be here.” He unleashes a lethal fake smile for him, then gives me a kiss on the cheek. He tugs on Romy’s hair and takes a seat.
“I see,” Mr. Roberts says.
The headmaster sits, clears his throat, and proceeds to explain how Romy was caught skipping classes and smoking an e-cigarette in the theatre room. He slyly mentions her past infraction with marijuana at the public school then pompously outlines their tobacco policy. “It’s not allowed indoors or out at our esteemed institution. Besides the suspension, she won’t be able to compete in her dance competitions during that time,” he says as he wraps up and folds his hands on the desk.
My chest rises. I watched Romy on and off while he talked, her eyes pleading with me, and now she blurts out, “Serena, I swear, I was not smoking! I skipped class, okay, I did that. But someone left the drama room when the bell rang, and the e-thing was just sitting there on the chair, and I—”
“It was in your hand, Miss Jensen,” the headmaster says. “The drama teacher wrote it down on the incident report—”
“Let her finish,” I say quietly, but not meekly. I know when Romy is lying. She gets twitchy and her eyes won’t hold mine. Right now she’s looking straight at me.
“Serena, you know how much hip hop means to me.” Her head dips. “And I know how expensive this place is and how hard you work…” She stops, her eyes filling with tears. “I didn’t do it.”
“I believe you,” I murmur. Yes, we went through a tough time getting her adjusted to Magnolia Prep, but she knows this school is her last option.
Relief floods her face. She turns back to the headmaster and puts her hands together in a praying expression. “Sir, I skipped calculus, that is true, but I wasn’t smoking. My nana quit because of COPD. I know about the evils of tobacco.”
Good, Romy, good.
“Then who was vaping?” he asks, a glower on his face.
Dillon leans forward. “Kids who tattle get labeled and bullied. This is a gray area, and while I understand your concern about tobacco products on school grounds, she’s telling you it wasn’t hers. Case closed in my eyes.”