(Continued from Part I last week)
Back in my office, I sat down to my late breakfast–coffee and a croissant. I had my door cracked open and not latched, which is my signal that only our secretary Mrs. Cooper should enter, and she should enter only in an emergency. My breakfast and my crossword puzzle represent my only treat to myself all day. I should never be interrupted. Ever.
And would it not make perfect sense that just as I poured my coffee, just as I placed my lovely little croissant on its plate, just as I sat down at the round table opposite my desk, just as I took up my pencil to complete 1-across…Mrs. Cooper should barge in?
“So what on Earth was all that about?” she asked.
“Do you mind?” I protested. “This is my time for–”
“Mrs. Holmes just called the office to make sure you wouldn’t be coming back to her room. She said you wound the kids up again.”
“What does she mean, ‘again’?” I asked.
“And dragging Mr. Paltjon over to that room? Really!”
“Well, he had to see what his granddaughter was doing! And who is winding whom up? Come on!”
“Oh, pu-leeze, Mr. Fornale! You’ve been teasing those kids forever. They’re just getting some of their own back.”
“Unfair!” I retorted. “I simply brought Mr. Paltjon over to witness those girls’ unprovoked behavior, and–”
“After you tried to steal Isabella’s water bottle.”
“I never touched it!”
“Are you interested in anything I have to say?”
Mrs. Cooper folded her arms and looked up to the ceiling.
“Now,” I continued, “Mr. Paltjon and Mrs. Holmes saw those little girls hold Beanie Boos up to my face, point to articles of clothing that were pink or that they thought were pink, and grin with glee as they did so! Mr. Paltjon left the room laughing, and Mrs. Holmes took the girls’ side. Now, I finally am supposed to have some peace in my office, and I can’t even get started on my crossword puzzle…or my coffee…or my croissant! Can’t the principal get a little respect around here?”
“Are you finished?” asked Mrs. Cooper.
“I can’t even get started until you leave me in peace!”
“I mean, are you finished talking? If so, I need to point out that there is neither policy nor regulation against cute things, so you can’t punish these girls. And what the heck is wrong with the color pink?”
“It is a color that tries to be cute,” I grumbled.
“Mr. Fornale, colors don’t try to be anything. They just are.”
“Well, pink just is evil. How about that?” I said. Then, returning my attention to my table, “Oh, for crying out loud! My coffee is getting cold!”
Mrs. Cooper turned to leave.
“Wait a moment,” I commanded. “I need help with 1-across–it has ten letters: ‘Familiar name for Kiti Howaito.’ How on Earth would I know what that is? Can you help me?”
“Oh, come on!” Mrs. Cooper looked back on me, an ironic crack of a smile creeping onto her face. You don’t know that? I can’t even. I can’t even!”
“What? I have no idea what the answer could be.”
“Come on, Mr. Fornale!” she said, bursting into laughter. “The answer is ‘Hello Kitty’! Of all the things!”
I snapped my pencil in half and bit into the eraser end, trembling with rage and scowling at her as she walked out of my office and closed the door.
Everyone knows I do not approve of Hello Kitty!
I spent the rest of the morning in my office reviewing policy and regulations. Mrs. Cooper was right–there are no rules against cute things or the color pink. Fine! But the girls were clearly trying to upset me. I suddenly had an idea: our guidance counselor Mrs. Casazza is also our school’s anti-bullying specialist. I picked up the phone and dialed her extension.
She answered after one ring, “Hello?”
“Ah! Hello! Mrs. Casazza?”
“Hello, Mr. Fornale. What can I do for you?”
“Yes, I’d like to talk about those girls again from Mrs. Holmes’s class”
I heard her snickering on the other end of the line.
“What? Oh, no!” I whined. “Don’t tell me you’re on their side, too!”
“No,” Mrs. Casazza started, still chuckling a little, “but don’t you think you’re getting a little too worked up over all of this?”
“Exactly!” I said. “Harlynn, Jolie, and Ava are–”
“Are, what, Mr. Fornale?”
“…Are bullying me! See? That’s why I’m calling you. You are the anti-bullying specialist. You can put a stop to all of this.”
“Hmmm,” I heard Mrs. Casazza say, “I’ve never heard of a principal being bullied by students.”
“See? That’s what makes this so mean! They know how sensitive I am, and–” just then, I heard giggling…multiple voices…all sounding suspiciously like fourth-graders.
“Am I on speaker?” I demanded.
“Actually, yes. I have Jolie, Ava, and Harlynn in my office with me now.”
“I’m coming over. Don’t move!”
I hung up the phone and opened my door to see Mrs. Cooper standing with Rebecca, who was holding a hand-made card to present to me. She had colored it burgundy–my favorite color. And behind Rebecca was Andy, holding his Beyblade.
“Mr. Fornale,” Rebecca started. “I’m here to give you this card to make up for the way you were treated earlier.”
“And, Mr. Fornale,” Andy broke in, “Here’s a Beyblade for you. It’ll take your mind off things. Keep it. It was only distracting me from my work, anyway.”
“Gee, kids,” I said, “That’s awfully nice of you both.” Then I had an idea.
“Rebecca, would you come with me to Mrs. Casazza’s office? You can be my witness.”
“Sure,” she said. “For what?”
“It’ll become clear when we get there.”
“What about me?” asked Andy.
“You?” I replied, “You should go back to class. And thanks for the, uh, spinny thing.”
“It’s a Beyblade.”
“Nice!” I said. “I’m taking it home with me.”
As he left, Rebecca and I started toward the hallway when Officer Chris Auriano entered. He is our school resource officer. This was getting good.
Rebecca and I looked at each other. Then I advanced toward Officer Chris.
“Officer,” I said, “it’s wonderful to see you today!”
“And it’s great to see you, Mr. Fornale. What’s all the excitement about?”
Officer Chris is an imposing figure. Just over six feet, he wears the sleek, modern uniform of the Green Brook Police Department. His bullet-proof vest makes him look all the more impressive. I asked him to come with me and Rebecca, and he followed us out of the office and down the hall.
In a minute we were at the door of Mrs. Casazza’s office.
“Now, Officer Chris,” I said. All I need you to do is look very stern. I’ll do all the talking. But whatever you do, don’t smile.”
“Now, Mr. Fornale,” the officer began, “you know how friendly I try to be with–”
“Please, Officer, I need you to help me here.”
“Are you going to tell me what this is about?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll hear the whole thing unfold once we enter this office.”
And those girls will see their whole plot unravel, I thought. I rubbed my hands together in anticipation, then I opened the door.
We all entered–Rebecca next to me, and Officer Auriano behind us. The girls had been laughing with Mrs. Casazza as they sat around the small table in the middle of her office. They actually had their Boos with them, but they all fell silent when they saw the officer.
Jolie and Harlynn looked at each other with mouths wide open; they stashed their little stuffed animals in their laps discreetly. Ava dropped hers on the table, and it bounced off to the floor. She slid it beneath the table with her foot and smiled sheepishly.
Mrs. Casazza folded her arms, sat back in her chair, and rolled her eyes.
“Really?” she said. “You brought the police?”
I crossed my arms, took a confident step forward, and glared around the table at them all. Then I looked back toward Officer Chris, and again to the girls.
“Really!” I returned. “I brought the police. And with him will come justice.”
To be continued…