The principal watched Charissa swagger into his office. Her face was red and blotchy and her hand was still pumped into a fist, but her demeanor remained cool and slow despite the adrenaline rush that Mr. Timberlane knew was coursing through her.
“Hey, Mr. T,” she said in a low voice.
Mr. T. studied the girl in front of him. She wore heavy black eyeliner and had dyed her hair pitch black as well. Even without the clownish make-up, she was an unattractive girl with beady eyes drowned in make-up and a sallow complexion that seemed to emphasize her plain, flat features.
“Take a seat, Charissa,” Mr. T. instructed as he waved his hand toward the chair at the edge of his desk. She flopped down and let her eyes roam around the room. She feigned interest in the plant on a shelf to his right and kept her gaze there.
“I hear you got into another fight.”
Charissa wriggled in her seat and opened her mouth to protest, but the principal stopped her. “I don’t want to hear it. We’ve been through this before. I warned you last time that if you got a referral again, it would be 5-day suspension.”
Charissa grunted her dissatisfaction. In truth, Mr. Timberlane wished this wasn’t the next course of action. He knew that Charissa’s home life was contributing to her disciplinary problems at school. She lived with an abusive stepfather and an alcoholic mother. Her brother was serving time in prison for beating his girlfriend. Her real father had been missing from her life since she was three. Sending Charissa home for five days would be punishment, but would do little to improve her behavior. He would rather send her to talk with the counselor again, but his hands were tied. Disciplinary actions were progressive.
“I’m going to—“
The principal stopped midsentence as his cell phone rang. He lifted it from his desk and stared at the display. “I’m sorry. I have to take this,” he told his student as he swiveled away from her in his chair.
“Hi Beautiful," he smiled into the phone. "How was school? Everything okay? Do you have homework? Okay. Well, get started on that, Good Girl, and I’ll be home in a little bit. You know the rules. I love you. Bye.”
He flipped his phone closed and set it back on his desk as he returned his attention to Charissa. The girl who sat before him was a different girl. Her defiance deflated, Charissa sat slumped, shoulders drooping and arms folded into her chest. Her mouth hung open as she stared at Mr. Timberlane with round eyes.
“Was that your daughter?” she asked in a small voice.
Mr. Timberlane nodded. “I apologize for the interruption, but she’s supposed to call me when she gets home from school.”
Charissa stared at the phone on his desk. Mr. Timberlane saw tears form in Charissa’s eyes and run along the black kohl rimming them. She bit her lip and struggled to keep her chin from quivering. She looked longingly at the silent cell phone.
“I wish my dad talked to me like that,” she said with a voice barely above a whisper.
Mr. Timberlane glanced at the diminished girl in front of him, her vulnerability palpable. Then he followed her lead and turned his gaze toward the cell phone. He nodded.
“I wish he did, too.”