“Mr. McQueen, I’m a fan of yours, very much so, but I fail to see how your input matters.”
“It matters,” Romy snipes.
“Romy…” I warn.
Dillon straightens his shoulders, his eyes hard. “I just want Romy to get a fair shake.”
This is a gray area, but she can’t get suspended. Her grades will suffer. Her college applications… I exhale. “Romy, do you know who the e-cigarette belonged to?”
Romy crosses her arms. “I’m no snitch, but I also don’t know who left it. Yes, I picked it up and looked at it. Did I put my mouth on someone else’s nasty germs? No. Gross! There is no reason to suspend me!”
“Lower your voice,” I tell her.
“Is there proof?” Dillon asks. “Perhaps video from a security camera?”
Romy nods eagerly. “Yeah!”
“Unfortunately, no, not in that section of the theatre,” the headmaster says. “But in her past, she’s been known—”
“You’re basing her guilt on an incident that occurred at another school—over a year ago,” I say. “Mr. Roberts, my sister may not have the best grades, but she is honest. She owns up to her mistakes. It wasn’t hers. Therefore, the only consequence she should face is the fact that she skipped a class, which I would imagine happens frequently with teenagers. Don’t you agree?”
He frowns as he squints at Romy’s magenta-streaked hair. “Your sister has a history with drugs.”
Why can’t he let that go? Everybody makes mistakes!
“But your board gave her a second chance, and we appreciate that. That said, a headmaster who declares someone guilty without proof, well, that’s extremely unfair,” I say.
“Life is often unfair, Miss Jensen,” is his curt reply. “Perhaps you’re too young to realize that.”
He wants to patronize me? I lost both parents on the same day! I know how life can suck. My hands clench, annoyance ratcheting up. What would a mom do? How do I handle this? My instinct is to jump over his desk and shake him, but…
“Are you aware I write for the Gazette?”
Dillon nods, catching on. “She’s a great reporter. She uncovered a secret leather cult at the Piggly Wiggly.”
I told him how I imagined him that night in the Pig.
“PETA was involved,” I add. “I would, of course, be reluctant to write anything troublesome about this fine, prestigious school. However, the owner of the paper is Warren Bryson, an old family friend. One mention of this, and I may not be able to stop him from asking me to investigate other incidents here.”
If the headmaster believes I’d write him in a bad light, he’s damn right I would, but I’m not sure Warren would publish it. We aren’t that tight. I’m grasping at straws, but keep my face flat as I stare at Mr. Roberts. My eyes say Just try me. I may be young and small, but I will come at you like a mama bear if you mess with Romy.
The headmaster sputters, and before he can answer, I stand up and clear my throat. “Go to class, Romy. I’ve got this.”
She hesitates, giving me a harried, worried look, then scurries out of the room, her skirt swishing as she shuts the door.
Dillon stands with me. “Anything else, Headmaster?”
He blinks, darting his eyes from me to Dillon. He opens his mouth, shuts it. “Fine. I’ll compromise. Five days of detention after school. She’ll have to sit out this week’s competition.”
I’ll take it.
“Thank you,” I say to the headmaster as Dillon opens the door for me.
We don’t speak until we’re outside on the sidewalk.
“We work well together,” he murmurs. “By the way, you’re badass. The way you told Romy to go to class, the way you tossed in the reporter thing—”
“Why did you come?” My head spins, reeling from the confrontation and the fact that he showed up to help. I shouldn’t be surprised since he came to the tryouts, but this feels different.
“Because I care, Serena.”
My heart skips a beat. I lick my lips as my eyes dart over to him, taking in his chiseled jawline, those broad shoulders, his searching eyes.
“Where’s your car?” I ask, my voice low.
His breathing deepens. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“In the back of the lot. My windows are tinted super dark. Like pitch black. No one can see a thing. It’s probably illegal for them to be that dark.”
“Lead the way.” My legs move faster, following him.
We reach his car and I fidget as he pops the locks. I jump in the passenger side and unbutton my shirt with fingers that shake. My skirt is off in five seconds. I leave my underwear and boots on, impatiently watching as he whips his shirt off and unbuttons his pants. He doesn’t get them down fast enough, and I pull at them, jerking his underwear and shoes off and tossing them to the floor. He undoes the laces on my boots and throws them over his head.