I was walking toward Tanzanite House for afternoon study time. Ms. Rutherford had held me back a few minutes, discussing my degree qualifications and whether or not I intended to formalize things with an application for graduation. With less than a year of Rosecliff left ahead of me, it was among the top subjects in my thoughts most days, but decisions on the future have a scary element to them after spending so long living day by day. Ms. Rutherford was right though, it was time to start planning for a future beyond the gates of Rosecliff. Such were my thoughts as I walked along the open air path.
Miss Carol approached from behind. She was slightly winded as if she had been running. The thin sheen of sweat on her forehead just beneath her black hair only reinforced my conclusion as it was one of those days when the air carried a chill and only the hot sun in the cloudless sky kept the day from being a cold one. She slowed her pace, grasped my arm and pulled us both to a stop.
She said, “You’ve been running.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I have not, Miss Carol.”
“Why else would I have had to run to catch up with you?” she asked.
It seemed a ridiculous question. If we walked at the same pace and I left before her, she would certainly have to increase her pace, say by running, to catch up with me. And I had left the main building before her, apparently. I possessed a written excuse from Ms. Rutherford for my late exit and it occurred to me that Miss Carol’s even later exit might not have such a valid reason. If so, she was likely looking to use me as an excuse. Wrong place, wrong time, was still seeming to be the story of my life.
“I left before you,” I said.
She stared into my eyes, confident in her superiority. “Don’t get smart.”
I felt like laughing. It would of course be the wrong thing to do. Running on campus came with stiff penalties and I still preferred to avoid them. It was to my benefit to cooperate with Miss Carol and offer her an opportunity that was less burdensome to me and yet still met her needs.
“We both know I wasn’t running.”
Miss Carol raised up on her toes, giving herself a downward vantage into my eyes. “Are you calling me a liar?”
I shook my head, not trusting myself to find the appropriate tone to cool her blood. But we weren’t quite alone. Mr. Boggs had approached us quietly without either of us noticing. When he spoke, I nearly jumped out of my own skin and I think Miss Carol might have, if only for a second.
Mr. Boggs said, “I’m quite certain Britney would avoid saying something so inflammatory. I, however, see no reason to be so diplomatic. You, Carol, were running, not Britney.”
Carol stammered. “I-I-I was only trying to catch up.”
He nodded. “We’ll discuss this more fully after dinner in my office.”
She lowered her gaze, though her eyes were wide open. Her fingers twitched at her sides. “Yes, Sir.”
He pointed ahead toward Tanzanite House. “Move along. If I’m not mistaken you’re late for study time.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said and pivoted toward the house. Her quick pace away was almost a run, but I imagine she just wanted to get away from Mr. Boggs before he changed his mind and disciplined her on the spot. Personally, I was slightly disappointed he didn’t. It did seem I deserved the opportunity to watch her squirm considering she was perfectly willing to do the same to me without any proper reason.
Mr. Boggs turned his attention on me. “Why haven’t you reported Carol for bullying?”
“Sir?” Did he really expect me to explain the way things worked at Rosecliff and why it was never in a girl’s best interest to tattle?
“I’ve been reviewing your record,” he said. “This is clearly not the first time Carol Sato has called you out on failings you did not commit. Why haven’t you reported this to Ms. Chambers?”
“I’ve seen a lot of monitors come and go in my time here,” I said. It was easier to stare at the ground than meet his gaze. “Miss Carol is new to the post and flexing her muscle.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.” He lifted my chin with a finger.
I hesitated a moment. The look in his eyes told me he wanted honesty. I gave it to him. “Discipline is part of life at Rosecliff. Sometimes it is fair, sometimes it is not. I can take it either way and complaining about it is pretty lame. We’re all here for good reason and it’s not because we’re innocent. Sir.”He nodded, apparently pleased with my response. “I want to see you in my office after dinner as well.”