Nina perched her chin on her hands as she lay on the living-room floor and stared at the television. Talk-show hosts bantered playfully and then introduced their guest.
Jacob, a medium-built boy with big brown eyes and a sharp chin, ambled in and flopped onto the couch. “Whatcha watching?”
The two sat and stared at the television as the discussion between the host and the guest grew heated.
Nina peered back at her brother. “What’s intolerance?”
Jacob shrugged one shoulder. “When you don’t like someone for a stupid reason.”
Nina returned her gaze to the television.
A short, heavyset woman, Belle Truman, strode into the living room with a mixing spoon in her hand. “Nina? I thought I told you to wash up for supper. We have to hurry.”
“Cool off, mom. You’re being tyrannical.”
Belle’s gaze hardened, and her scowl swung to Jacob.
Jacob’s eyes widened as he lifted his hands in self-defense. “Wasn’t me. Must be something she picked up at school.”
Belle strode over and stared down at her daughter. “Get up and do as I say, or you’ll find out what tyrannical really means.”
Slowly, Nina climbed to her feet, her cheeks turning pink. “What’s wrong?”
Her mother shook the spoon at her. “Don’t go around using words you don’t understand, hear me?” Belle turned and stalked out of the room.
Nina stood by her brother.
He put his arm around her shoulder. “Don’t take it hard. She’s just tense because they’re going to fire the principal at the meeting today.”
Nina stared up at Jacob and chewed her lip. “Why? What’s he done?”
Jacob started for the door. “Everyone says he’s too strict and old-fashioned. He’s kicked more kids out of school this semester than any principal in history. One kid painted a Hitler mustache on his picture in the hall.”
Nina squinted. “What’s wrong with mustaches?”
Principal Steven Croix was printed in bold, black letters on the gold doorplate. Behind the door, Steven sat staring down at a single sheet of paper. A knock forced his gaze upward. “Yes? Come in.”
Blithe Comfrey stepped in, her shoulder length, black hair, and straight bangs framed her petite face. “They’re all assembled. You’re coming now?” Her small eyes creased at the corners and matched her forced smile. “Don’t want to keep ‘em waiting.”
Steven lifted the paper and gave it a little shake. “You knew about this?”
Blithe stepped the rest of the way into the room. “Well, it was pretty obvious. You toss out their kids — they’re going to react.”
“So they toss me out, is that it?”
“You know perfectly well that I had more than enough justification for every single expulsion. I never wanted to do it. I took no pleasure—”
Blithe tapped her watch. “They’re waiting.”
As Belle seated herself in the back row, she patted Nina’s shoulder. “You go and have a good time with the other kids at the gym, okay? I’ll be along shortly.”
Nina wiped her bangs out of her eyes. “You going to help fire Mr. Croix?”
Belle’s eyes widened. She glanced quickly around. “Don’t talk like that, honey. It’s not nice.”
Nina shrugged. “Jacob says that everyone is an expert, but no one knows anything.”
Leaning in, Belle whispered in Nina’s ear. Nina trotted away.
Later that night, as Belle tucked Nina into bed, she ran a gentle finger over her little girl’s lips.
Nina yawned and snuggled under her blanket. “Are we going to get a new principal?”
Belle shook her head. “Nope.”
Nina squeezed one eye shut as if to focus her gaze on her mom. “Why not? I thought everyone said he was tyrannical?”
Belle stifled her laughter with one hand. “You say the oddest things, kiddo.” Her smile faded. “When it came down to it, the parents had not a shred of evidence that Principal Stevens had done anything wrong. There were really only two expulsions, and they were both justified.”
“Jacob says that everyone’s a critic but not many people really care. He says that if you care, you see things through instead of tossing people out.”
Standing up, Belle clasped her hands in front of her, a soft smile glowing in her eyes. “You know, I need to find out who’s been teaching that boy all these radical ideas.”
Nina slipped her hands under her head and closed her eyes. “You, Mom.”
Copyright 2018 Ann K. Frailey