I stare at my thumbnails, my hands clasped together, my forearms resting on the pew in front of me. Out of boredom, I’m seeing if I can silently recite all the lyrics to “You’re My Way Out” by Naya Bloom. She hadn’t played it at the Spring Fling, which was a bit disappointing, as it features a very cool drum solo. Then again, she hadn’t brought any drums.
I’m almost through to the last chorus when I hear the sound of shuffling shoes echo through the chapel. I slide my eyes to my left slowly, subtly, doing my best to remain looking pious and not look too curious.
Sister Anne is coming down the aisle, and her eyes lock with mine. I duck my head down and clutch my hands together harder, as if that will convince her that I’m definitely praying.
She stops beside my pew anyway. “Miss Reeding, you’re requested in the office.” Her voice is whisper-soft, but the sound in the chapel carries, and I know for a fact at least ninety percent of the students in here heard her. I can feel my ears burn red, but I nod.
Why do they need me in the office?
I stand, and the wooden pew lets out a groan. With one foot, I raise the kneeler, its hinges squealing slightly, but the action otherwise silent. Then I tiptoe out of chapel, knowing full well everyone’s watching me.
I cross Saint Paul’s campus both as quickly and as slowly as possible. I’d like to seem nonchalant, like nothing is wrong--because nothing is wrong--but I also don’t want to seem like I’m dallying. My brain tells me to slow down, but my legs are working on double time, propelling me forward like the chapel behind me has been set on fire.
The outside air is hot and sticky--or maybe it’s just me--as spring is turning into summer. (And today feels a lot like summer.) The bit of grass separating the chapel and the rest of the school is certainly no great distance, but my armpits are wet by the time I enter the school building.
A few more steps and I’m entering the tiny, cramped front office. Miss O’Keeffe, the secretary, gives me a red-lipped smile and points me into the next room, the room with the name ‘Principal Sumner’ plastered across the door’s window.
Oh God. I’ve never been sent to the principal’s office before.
“Miss Reeding, thank you for coming,” Mr. Sumner greets me from behind his desk. He’s cradling a coffee mug between his hands, and through his fingers I can see that it’s a blue-and-green plaid matching the pattern on my skirt.
I sit down across from him, hoping not to look too baffled or too terrified. The chair is wide and plush and the armrests are too far away so I have to spread my arms like I’m doing the chicken dance to reach them.
I nod at him, and my eyes skip around his spacious office. The tall windows on my left offer a surprisingly scenic view of the courtyard, and in front of them is a large wooden table, empty save for a fish bowl full of what could be candy. It’s hard to say.
The wall to my right is lined with trophies and awards and Saint Paul related merchandise, like it’s a gift shop. And the wall behind Mr. Sumner consists of shelves full of dusty books and one shelf of much-less-dusty framed photographs, all of them featuring him shaking hands with someone, both of them grinning ear-to-ear.
My eyes snap back to the real Mr. Sumner, whose expression is eerily similar to the mini doppelgangers’ behind him. “You’re not in trouble, Trinity,” he says. He must have sensed my fear. I wonder how.
I shift my chicken arms on the armrests, and they squeak. Can forearms sweat? “Yeah. Ok.”
He sets down his coffee mug, his fingers settling instead on a manilla folder on his desk. “You remember the… incident that occurred at the Spring Fling? I’d like to ask you a few questions about it.”
I can feel my face scrunching up in confusion. He doesn’t think I had anything to do with it, does he? “Ok,” I say again, my voice dry. Oh my God, do I sound guilty? I mean gosh. God. Yikes.
He speaks over my inner monologue. “We believe it’s a friend of yours after reviewing the tapes. Firstly, we’d just like to ask if you knew anything about this stunt.” He pauses, and his eyes are serious as they meet mine.
“Uh…” I wipe my palms against my skirt, staring at the manilla folder that he still hasn’t opened up. A friend. I only have one friend. I only have one friend. It can’t be. It just can’t.
“You’re not in trouble, Trinity. Anything you say here is to help us. We just want to know who did this and why, and we’re hoping you can help.” Mr. Sumner smiles warmly, and he takes a sip of his coffee. His eyes crinkle into happy little crows feet and he looks again like he does is all his photographs. “Nothing you say will be used against you. Think of it like confession,” he adds.
I always hated confession. It makes me feel worse, not better.
“I don’t know anything about it. I mean, other than what you said at the assembly. I didn’t know it happened. And… and I have no idea who did it.”
Mr. Sumner opens his manilla folder and pulls out a black and white print-out. A still from the security tape. He pushes it across the desk toward me.
My stomach flips as I lean forward and see a girl in the photo. Not Pearl. “Oh,” I breath, touching a fingertip to the picture.
“Your friend,” Mr. Sumner prompts.
I shake my head. “Not really. I hadn’t met her before that night.” I want to sit back and the chair and relax, now that I know what’s going on. It’s Amber. Amber with her shrewd eyes and black dress and manic smile. It’s a fuzzy picture, but I don’t have any doubts that it’s her.
In the photo, she’s standing near the art room doors, a shadow against the unlit hallway. Her short ponytails give her away, that and her long legs. She’s holding a pen or pencil of some kind, her hand hovering over a sign that’s posted on the wall.
People had mentioned it, that they’d taken the sign down. It was a large wood sign, and it had said, “Our God is loving. As His children, we are called to love as He loves, and give as He gives.” I can’t make out from the photograph what Amber had written on it.
I sit on my hands, still leaning forward and looking at the picture. The timestamp in the corner says 8:41. I recall Kelly pointing out the time around 8:30. Amber could’ve easily left the others, gone into the hallway, then come back and found me. I quickly inform Mr. Sumner of these facts.
Principal Sumner takes the photo back and pulls out another piece of paper. A permission form. “Henry Foley brought her to the dance, correct?” I nod. “Do you know why? Or how they know each other?”
I cannot lie to the Principal. According to the bible, I cannot lie to anyone at all, but lying to the Principal seems like an even worse sin. Like lying to a priest. “Maybe you should ask him?” I say with a tiny shrug.
Somehow Mr. Sumner takes that as a satisfactory answer. “Alright. You’ve been a huge help, Trinity. Thank you.” He sticks out his hand to shake, and it’s hot from his coffee mug, and mine is damp from my sweat.
I stand, but before I leave, I can’t help but ask, “What did she do?”
Mr. Sumner eyes me, clearly deciding what to tell me, then sighs and pulls another photograph from his folder.
In ink or marker, Amber had altered the sign to read, “Our God is PREJUDICED. As His children, we are called to DISCRIMINATE as He DISCRIMINATES, and THEN PRAY TO MAKE OURSELVES FEEL BETTER.”
I stare at the page for a long time, my fingers clutching it so tight that the edges of the paper wrinkle. My forehead is similarly wrinkled. Silently, I hand it back.
“I know it’s a bit disturbing, but she might not even be a member of the church. Sometimes outsiders don’t understand until we teach them,” he says, frowning at the words in the photo.
“At least you know who did it,” I say quietly, then I flee the room, hoping never to get called back to the Principal’s office again. My mind is still repeating Amber’s words, over and over again. We are called to discriminate as He discriminates, and then pray to make ourselves feel better.
Mr. Sumner had called her message disturbing, and in a way it is. It is because it goes against everything I’ve been told is right. It is because it feels… a little true. Unsettlingly true. Not always, not about everything, but still. True enough to make my stomach feel like it’s turning over and over.
I wonder if Amber knew. I wonder if she knew that I hated Pearl--part of her--since she’d told me she’s bisexual. Maybe I still do. That I never actually pray, but I had. I’d prayed for her to be fixed, to stop being weird and selfish and confused. I hadn’t said any of it to her face, but I had to God, whoever that was.
Does that make me discriminatory? Prejudiced? A terrible friend at the very least? Definitely that last one. But that doesn’t make Amber right… Right?
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/440682/trinity-13)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/441793/trinity-15)