Authors: Jenny B. Jones
At lunch I take my tray and sit next to Lindy Miller and Matt Sparks. My salad tastes like grass, and I look longingly at Matt’s cheese fries. The boy plays football and basketball and works out about four hours a day. He could eat a whole vat of cheese sauce if he wanted to.
I pick at a purple thing in my salad. “Did you guys know Luke Sullivan has a girlfriend?”
“Dude, she’s hot.” This from Matt, who probably thinks anything with boobs is hot.
“Did you know she goes to Harvard?” asks Lindy.
I stab a bite. “Yeah. Seems like I heard that.”
“Luke said she’s going to be in soon for Christmas break,” Matt says.
“Hey, guys.” Anna Deason slides her long, chocolate-colored legs into the last remaining seat at the table, her cheerleading skirt fanning around her. “Lindy, when are the nominations open for prom queen? I think this could be my year.” Anna is a grade older than us and has been talking about her senior prom since August. Or maybe since kindergarten.
Lindy bites into an apple and shrugs. “I don’t know. I, um . . .”
“The race for prom king and queen is not something to put off. It’s important to this school. It’s a long-held tradition that must be continued.” Anna grabs a carrot stick. “Plus my Grandma Ruby’s already bought me a dress.”
Lindy looks to me for help. I focus on squeezing more ranch on my salad.
I’m Sure “We’re having a class meeting next week. We’ll get some prom details settled then. We have plenty of money to work with, so you know it’s going to be a sweet event.” Lindy proudly nods at her first official statement as class president.
“And make sure there’s some good food there.” Anna scrunches her nose. “None of the pizza roll things like last year. Those things are just nasty.”
The entire cafeteria grows quiet, and I lower my fork. Mr. Sutter, the principal, walks down the rows of tables, eyeing every student.
“Uh-oh.” Matt frowns. “He never comes in here. Somebody’s in some deep dookie.”
My pulse speeds as the principal comes closer and closer to where we sit. I scan my brain and review the last month. Does he know I used my cell phone this morning? Is calling Barney’s in NYC to hold a pair of shoes really a crime? Because if it is, I would totally suffer detention for it.
Mr. Sutter stops at our table. He eyes every one of us, and I feel my skin grow hot. I might’ve clogged the toilet yesterday and not told a janitor. Sometimes I use too much toilet paper and don’t know when to stop.
“Anna Deason, you need to come with me.”
Anna’s dark cheeks stain pink. “Why?”
“Because I asked you to, that’s why. You have some explaining to do, young lady, and I don’t think you want to do it in front of two hundred witnesses.”
“Anything you have to say to me, you can say right here. I didn’t do anything. I’m a straight-A cocaptain of the cheerleading squad. I don’t do bad stuff.” Her voice is rising. “I made a thirty-four on my ACT. I’m in select choir. I did
do anything wrong.”
The principal lowers his voice to a growl. “Miss Deason, right now you are doing something wrong, and that is disobeying my directive. I have asked you nicely to follow me to the office. If you refuse again, my next option is to have you physically removed.”
“Lead me there.” Anna grabs my arm on her way up. “But I’m taking representation.”
“Me?” I squeak.
“I have the right to my own counsel, and you’re it.”
The principal rolls his eyes and storms ahead.
“Sit down,” he orders as we enter his cave-like office. You’d think the top dog of the school would at least get a window. No wonder he’s in a bad mood all the time. He never gets to see the sun. He’s like a character from
“Miss Deason, the funds in the junior class account are missing. Would you like to tell me what you know?”
“How should I know? I’m a senior.” Anna stands up. “They’d better find them though, because I’ve been waiting my whole life to be Truman prom queen.”
Mr. Sutter drums his knobby fingers on the fake wood desk. “I had a nice long conversation with the president of the Truman National Bank this morning. He informed me that yesterday evening one of our accounts was cleared out to the tune of seven thousand dollars. And do you know where the money showed up?”
Anna and I both shake our heads.
“In a personal account under the name of Anna Deason.”
“What?” she gasps. “That’s a lie! How would I get the money out of the school account?”
“You did make a thirty-four on your ACT.”
“It was luck! So did Brian McPhearson, and he wears his shoes on the wrong feet and drips snot!”
“The money was in your account only a matter of hours before disappearing.”
Anna blinks a few times. “Where did it go?”
Mr. Sutter steeples his fingers. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
Anna throws her purse on the desk. “You open that bag. I don’t have any money in it. I can barely fit two lipsticks and a Summer Fresh pad in there.”
Summer Fresh would be the local factory here in Truman. They make feminine products. I happen to be the proud stepdaughter of the maxi-pad line supervisor. Between his spandex tendencies and extensive knowledge of female business, some days I can hardly hold my head up.
“The bank says a girl went through the drive-thru and wrote a seven-thousand-dollar check on your account.”
“Well, it wasn’t me!”
“She was able to produce a driver’s license.”
I can’t help but chime in. “What bank employee would be dumb enough to hand over seven thousand dollars in the drive-thru?”
Mr. Sutter shifts in his chair. “That’s a detail we’re also working on. The teller has since been let go. Her supervisor’s in some hot water too. Anyway, Miss Deason, where were you at four o’clock yesterday afternoon?”
“I . . . um . . .” She turns tortured brown eyes to me. “I was at the coffee shop.”
“Was anyone with you?”
“No. My boyfriend and I had gotten into this big fight, and I just needed to clear my head before I did anything drastic like punch his lights out.”
“Or rob a school blind.”
“I didn’t do it! Somebody is setting me up—because I
my driver’s license. Maybe the money will show up. It’s a bank error! It’s the Communists! It’s aliens! It’s those Scientologists!” Some of Anna’s bravado slips, and tears begin to fall down her cheek. “I would never steal money. I don’t know how to break into a bank account. You’d have to be a computer wizard for that.”
Like Budge. My stepbrother. If I didn’t know he worked every Thursday afternoon at the Wiener Palace, I’d have to wonder about his involvement. The dude is a serious genius. Not that you can tell by his grades.
“Is this your signature?”
Mr. Sutter passes a piece of paper across the desk. With trembling hands, Anna looks at a copy of the check from her account. “I didn’t sign that.”
“But is it your signature?”
Her bottom lip wobbles. “It looks like it.” She drops the paper. “I don’t understand. Is this some sort of sick joke? Because I am not laughing.”
“And neither are we. You should probably clean out your locker, Anna. You might be staying home for a while. As in the rest of the year.”
“But I have a game to cheer tonight!”
“And you probably should get that lawyer.” Mr. Sutter’s face softens just slightly. “This is a serious crime. I want you to think long and hard about this situation. If you have any information, you need to call me as soon as possible. If you’re covering for someone, your consequences could be lessened if you just tell us the truth.”
“I don’t know anything about your money. All I know is that I’m innocent.”
Our principal stands on his loafered feet. “Your parents are on their way. I’ll just leave you two girls here until they arrive.” He exits into the main office.
Anna melts into her seat and clutches my hand. “I didn’t do it. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Though it’s all very weird. Too weird.
“I knew you would.” She exhales a tired breath.
“You still need to get a really good lawyer.”
“Yeah, to prove you’re innocent.”
“I don’t need an attorney.” She slaps her other hand over mine. “
gonna prove I’m innocent.”
t LaGuardia airport, I walk into my dad’s waiting arms. I inhale his familiar scent and feel that old pang for how things used to be. Before Dad decided to give up family life for a dating marathon. Before Mom turned to the Internet to find her new husband—in Oklahoma. Before I found out my stepdad likes to body-slam people.
“So . . . money troubles?” I broach the topic in the cab, hoping Dad will laugh and tell me it’s all a funny joke.
“Things are tight right now, but we’ll find my accountant
my money. I will make a comeback.”
My dad is
plastic surgeon in Manhattan. Through hard work, long hours, and the occasional butt implant, he has made quite a name for himself. But the fact that we’re riding in a yellow cab instead of being chauffeured by his usual driver makes me wonder if Dad’s financial forecast is gloomier than he’d like me to believe.
“Bella, your grandparents are in this weekend for a little visit.” Dad doesn’t even look at me. He
how I feel about his parents. It’s like God went out of his way to
give me any semblance of a normal family. My mom’s parents died before I was born, but I hear they were amazing people. My dad’s parents on the other hand . . . um, amazingly obnoxious. Actually just Grandmother Kirkwood. My grandpa is okay. He can’t help his weirdness—he has dementia. This means he’s cuckoo in the cranium a majority of the time.
“Oh, well. How nice.” This is all I can come up with. Last time I saw Grandmother Kirkwood, she eyed my chest and told me if I was lucky, I might get a boob job for next year’s graduation. I wanted to tell her it was too bad Dad didn’t have a machine that would suck out her horrible personality.
“We’re having dinner at the house tonight. Christina is cooking.”
I blink in the dark taxi. “Who’s Christina? You didn’t replace Luisa, did you?” Luisa was my nanny my entire life and pretty much raised me. Now she raises my dad.
He sighs. “I told you about Christina.”
“No. You didn’t.” But Dad forgets a lot of things. Like calling on a regular basis.
“She’s a friend—you’ll like her. You’ll meet her tonight. I think she’s cooking some Brazilian food. Your grandmother will hate it.” He laughs.
This would be girlfriend number 1,235,984,103 since my parents split. The ladies usually look like they’re fresh off the stage of Miss USA and have an IQ slightly higher than a schnauzer.
Inside my room at the brownstone, Luisa waits for me. She hugs me in her ample arms and talks
in Spanglish. “Your father is very taken with this Christina de Luna.” Luisa’s brown face is impassive, but her voice carries an edge. “She could be the one.”
I flop onto my bed and stare straight up at the angry cherubs painted overhead. One of my dad’s old girlfriends called herself a decorator and redid his house with every room having a theme. Nothing matches or makes sense. Dad says it’s symbolic. I say she must’ve hated him.
“You must change for dinner. Your grandmother will be rising from her evening nap any moment looking for you.” Luisa clucks her tongue and mutters something about an old dragon.
I stay out of the kitchen and avoid meeting my dad’s new girl until I go downstairs for dinner. I beg Luisa to join us, but this is bingo night at the Catholic church, and nothing comes between Luisa and her daubers.
“There’s my girl.” Dad beams at the head of the table. A tall, dark-complected woman stands at his side. Her black hair cascades down her back and stops at her small waist. Her sleeveless shift dress shows off her toned arms. Not only is she beautiful, but she works out. Ick. The worst kind.
“Bella, I feel like I know you already!” The woman comes to my side of the table and intercepts me, kissing the air beside each cheek. I resist the urge to wipe her fake kisses away. “Your father talks of you often,” she says with a light accent.
“That’s funny.” I smile. “He hasn’t mentioned you.”
Dad pulls her back to his side. “I’m sure you’re wrong, Bella. I’ve mentioned Christina many times.” He smiles big, revealing his perfectly white teeth. “And this is Christina’s sister, Marisol.” Dad gestures to a girl who appears to be close to Robbie’s age. “Christina and Marisol’s parents died when Marisol was just an infant. Christina raised her all by herself.”
Christina’s manicured hand lands on my dad’s chest. “That is what you do, no? You take care of your family.”
He squeezes her tight. “Isn’t she amazing?”
“She’s something.” I greet my grandparents, then pull out a chair and sit down. I don’t get too wrapped up in my dad’s girlfriends’ lives. These ladies are just passing through. Next week he won’t even remember Christina’s name.
She claps her hands. “Sit, sit, everyone! Marisol and I will bring in the food.”
Marisol bounds up with a cheerful grin.
“Such a delicate, graceful girl, that Marisol.” Grandmother cuts her eyes at me.
“Like a fawn.” I reach for my water glass and take a long drink.
“I used to have an old girlfriend named Fawn,” Grandpa says to no one in particular. “She could dance the jitterbug like nobody’s business.”
Grandmother taps my elbow. “I see farm life has already influenced you.”
I remove my arms from the table. “I hang out with cows a lot.”
My dad clears his throat, a silent warning.
I try niceness again. “So, Grandmother, how was your flight from Connecticut?”
“It was bumpy, it ran ten minutes behind schedule, and the flight attendant did not have the brand of tomato juice I prefer.”
“I hate it when that happens.”
Grandmother purses her lips. Well, as much as one can purse with a face that has been nipped and tucked until it’s stretched to the point of snapping.
“I used to be a pilot.” Grandpa laughs. “Flew right over the president’s house one day. Landed in his yard, and he said I had arrived just in time for his daily yoga session.” He winks at me and pats my hand. “I can still do a mean downward dog, though your grandmother doesn’t like me sticking my butt up in the air, as I’m a bit gassy.”