*Warning: This story describes an offensive event, and so language and situations may be offensive to some and are not intended for young children.
Part I is here.
Budo 101, Continued:
Mr. Merckle looked up from his computer with a ponderous sigh, his face red before he even said a word. His lower chin wobbled as he pushed himself back as far into his chair as he would go. “What is it now?”
“Fighting in the hall,” Mr. Sink, the English teacher, delivered up his captives.
Mr. Merckle sighed again and shook his head, causing fluid waves in the loose flesh under his jaw. Jack watched the ripples with amusement. How hard would he have to shake his head to get a ripple to go all the way around his neck and come back on the other side?
“John Snyder and Ashley Tildford.”
Mr. Merckle made a note. “You both understand that we don’t tolerate fighting in this school?”
“I wasn’t fight...”
“Quiet, both of you!” The principle had a way of booming his voice and leaning his head forward with little eyes glaring out over cherry red cheeks. It worked every time, and had been known to stop cafeteria food fights dead in their tracks. The two teenagers in the tiny office were no match for it. Even Mr. Sink jumped.
Jack subsided into his resentful thoughts.
“I am too busy to deal with you two at the moment. Ms. Hagg will telephone your parents and we will discuss what is to be done with you later. In the meantime, both of you will sit out in the office and Ms. Hagg will keep an eye on you until your parents get her. You may work on homework if you like. Dave, let Ms. Hagg know on your way out, would you?”
He thrust himself forward to his computer again. Clearly they were dismissed.
Damn it, Jack thought. They’re calling dad.
He didn’t think his dad would care too much about him fighting at school, but he would never hear the end of getting beaten by a girl. Well shit, how was he supposed to know she was into freakin’ karate or kung fu or whatever? And she didn’t beat him, he just wasn’t expecting it. She just surprised him that’s all.
And anyway, what was her problem? It was just a joke. It was just a little boob grab. He knew guys like Deek who did that all the time. Walk down the halls, grab an ass, feel a girl up. Those chicks always giggled and maybe shoved back a little, in a playful way. They didn’t go berserk and turn into vengeful teenage warrior goddesses.
Ashley, that was what Mr. Sink had called her. She was curled up in a chair on the far side of the office, as far away from him as she could get, almost with her back to him. A cell phone chimed some synthesized classical music, and she fished a flip phone out of her butt pocket.
She did have a nice ass, Jack thought.
A fast, shrill buzz sounded on the other end of the line.
Buzz buzz buzz.
“No, I’m okay. I know. No. I’ll see you tonight. No, Mom, I’m okay.” She gave a short, nervous laugh. “I beat the snot out of him.”
“Bitch!” Jack muttered, “You just got lucky. I wasn’t trying to fight cause I don’t hit girls.”
She ignored him.
“I know. I’m fine. Love you too. See you tonight. Bye.”
She snapped the phone shut and put it away, turning even further away from him. He pulled out his phone and started playing “Angry Birds.”
Five minutes later he heard a Bruce Lee kung-fu yell coming from her pocket. It was her cellphone again. She answered, “Hey Dad,” without checking the number.
This buzz was deeper and slower. The girl hugged herself and sank even more deeply into her chair. Jack, for his part, lounged even more emphatically, stretching himself further out into the office. Phone calls from two parents? What a momma’s girl!
“Yeah. I’m okay,” but she sniffed back a tear.
The phone buzzed a question.
“He...” she swallowed. “He grabbed me.”
“Around my chest.”
“But it’s okay, Dad.”
“No, I know, but I got him good. Then the jerk tried to come after me again. I hip tossed him really hard.”
“Me too.” Her voice got lower and quieter. “I wish you were here, Dad. I need a hug.”
The buzz was deep and soothing. Jack found himself wishing he could hear what it was saying, in spite of himself.
“Really?” Ashley said. He could hear the smile in her voice. “When? Okay. I will see you when you get here. Thanks, Dad. Love you too.” She closed the phone with a smile.
About an hour later a tall man in his mid-forties walked into the office. Jack didn’t like the look of him. He was wearing khakis, button up shirt and tie, but he didn’t look like someone you messed with. He looked like he was over six feet tall, with wide shoulders and long arms. His hands were slender, but looked strong. He carried himself like an athlete with upright head, alert eyes, moving from his hips like the guys on the wrestling team. Not the kind of guy Jack really wanted to have pissed off at him.
But Mr. Tildford did not even look at him or at Ms. Hagg. He walked straight towards Ashley’s chair like a man on a mission. She didn’t hear him coming until he was almost there, but when she turned and saw him she leapt up and jumped into his arms in a flying hug. He caught her and hugged her back, holding her face against his chest and smoothing her hair. “Hey Ash,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
How long were they going to hug, Jack thought. Was she crying? What a baby! He rolled his eyes and looked away with burning cheeks.
“You okay?” Mr. Tildford said.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She nodded and brushed her hair back behind her ear.
“What are we waiting for?”
“Mr. Merckle said we had to sit here until he was ready to deal with us.”
“Oh, really? The message I got was you were suspended.”
“What!?!?” Her jaw dropped and she clasped her hands to her cheeks. “Suspended? I didn’t do anything. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.”
Jack sighed and dropped his head in his hands. Suspended. Now his dad was really going to blow a gasket.
“Right. Well, I think we should have a talk with him, shall we.” Mr. Tildford stepped over to Ms. Hagg’s desk. “Could you let Mr. Merckle know that Dan Tildford is here to see him.”
“Certainly Mr. Tildford.” She relayed the message into her phone.
“Send him in,” boomed back, cracked and staticky but clearly audible.
“You may go in, right through that door, Sir,” Ms. Hagg pointed with her pen.
“Thank you. Come on Ashley.”
Jack watched them go in and lounged as far back as he could in his chair. His butt was hanging off the seat and his legs were stretched out into the aisle. Back to the Angry Birds, then. He didn’t expect his dad to be around any time soon. He didn’t get off shift until 4:00.
About ten minutes later, Ms. Hagg got a call. She looked up and called Jack’s name. “Please go into Mr. Merckle’s office. He wants to talk to you.”
What did they want with him? Jack slouched to his feet.
“Mr. Snyder, come in, sit down.” Mr. Merckle pointed him to a chair. “Mr. Tildford thinks you should be here for this. Now, continue Mr. Tildford.”
“Call me Dan.”
“All I’m saying is, I really think you should listen to what these two have to say before suspending them.”
The principle shook his head and smiled condescendingly. “Dan, do you know how many troubled students come through this office on a weekly basis? Do you know how much time it would take for me to listen to every single one? Our policies are very clear, fighting is not tolerated. The penalty is suspension. I really am not interested in what they have to say. They will be given a letter explaining the policy and terms of the penalty.”
“So you are not interested in, say, who started it?”
Mr. Merckle sat up stiffly and frowned. I guess he’s not used to being argued with, Jack thought. “Excuse me, but I don’t think it matters who started it.”
“Oh excuse me, but yes it absolutely does.” Dan scooted his chair forward a couple of inches closer to the desk. “If my daughter is attacking random people and abusing her karate skills then I need to know so I can ground her and remove her from karate class. If, on the other hand, she is defending herself or someone else from bullying or sexual harassment...”
“Really, Mr. Tildford...”
“As I said, if she is defending herself or someone else as I have taught her to do, then we are going on a father-daughter date this weekend, wherever she wants.”
Jack almost snorted but silenced it. It wasn’t that he was afraid of Dan, but he didn’t feel like drawing attention to himself.
“Mr. Tildford,” the principle shifted and glanced at the clock on the wall. “I understand that teenagers can sometimes be insecure about some peer interactions in school. We have school counselors who are trained to assess and intervene in situations like that. However, we do not believe in using violence to solve our problems.”
“Who is ‘We?’” Dan looked irritated. He was leaning back in his chair with his hands folded in front of him, tapping his index fingers together, and the muscle in his jaw was bulging.
Why the hell do I need to be here to listen to this, Jack thought.
“Who is ‘we?’” Dan repeated. “You said ‘we’ don’t believe in violence. Do you mean the people in this room? Or maybe us as a society? Or are you just using the royal we?”
“Mr. Tildford! If you are not going to discuss this in a reasonable fashion I will have to ask you to leave. My time is extremely valuable.” He was using his food-fight stopping voice.
“So is mine,” Dan shot back, not the least bit phased, “I had to reschedule two patients this afternoon to be here and you will damn sure do us the courtesy of listening to both sides of this story before you pass judgment on my daughter.”
Jack raised his eyebrows and allowed himself a little smirk of satisfaction. It was good to see someone put the principle in his place for once.
Mr. Merckle swallowed a shocked expression. “All right, fine. What do you two have to say for yourself?”
Dan looked at Jack. “Go ahead, son. What happened?”
I’m not your freakin’ son, Jack thought. “It was just a joke!”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I just, like, touched her a little.”
“How did you touch my daughter?”
Jack shut his mouth. Something in the tall man’s eyes made him extremely reluctant to answer that question.
“He grabbed my... breasts. From behind.” Her face was scarlet.
“Is that true?” Dan turned a clenched jaw towards Jack.
“It was just a joke. She didn’t have to freak out about it.”
“No? And why didn’t she have to freak out about it?”
“Shit, that stuff happens all the time. Everybody does it.”
“Who is everybody?” The questions came at him almost before he could finish his replies.
“All the guys. It’s just, like, I don’t know, flirting.”
“Hell no, it is not flirting! Do you know what that’s called in the workplace? Or anywhere else in the real world outside this school? That’s called sexual assault, and it’s a crime. It results in fines, jail time and potentially being labeled a sexual predator for the rest of your life.”
“Come on!” Jack’s voice cracked. He suddenly remembered horror stories he had heard about guys getting put on watch lists for silly things like peeping in windows and stuff. Sweat was breaking out all over his back. “Come on, I’m not a predator! It was a dare. I didn’t even want to. A friend made me do it.”
“Do you think that will hold up in court in the real world,” Dan’s voice wasn’t loud, but it was hard as ice, and his eyes were blazing.
The principle broke in. “Mr. Tildford, aren’t you being a little severe? You cannot threaten this boy with being labeled as a sexual predator, ruining his life forever, because of a harmless prank.”
“Mr. Merckle, I am not planning on ruining anything or labeling anyone. We have no intention of seeking legal action. I am doing this kid a favor by reminding him that outside the narrow walls of this school, actions like that have consequences.” Dan was leaning forward, stabbing his finger into the top of the principle’s desk to emphasize his point. “He had better wise up before that real world catches up with him.” He sat back again and turned to Ashley. “What happened, Ash?”
“He grabbed my breasts from behind. I elbowed him and knocked him back with a mae giri. I yelled, ‘back off creep,’ like you taught us. He tried to grab me again so I knocked him back again. But then he tried to grab me again with both hands, so I took him down and dropped a knee on him. Then I got away. That’s what you taught, right?”
“Yep,” Dan’s face seemed to smile in spite of him. “You did good.”
“Mr. Tildford, I repeat that this school cannot condone fighting. There are other ways of settling our conflicts.”
“No offense, Mr. Merckle, but that is the dumbest thing I ever heard. You just heard this boy confess to sexually assaulting a girl half his size, and not only that, but he boasted that this is a normal occurrence in this school. It ‘happens all the time.’”
The principle’s face was glowing red and a vein was pulsing on his forehead. “Don’t you think ‘sexual assault’ is a harsh description for a teenage prank?”
“Not at all. I think that is the technical legal description. I am a fourth degree black belt in Shotokan Karate, and I teach a self-defense course for women and minors every week. Placing your hands upon another person against their will is technically considered assault and battery, under law. Doing so for the purpose of sexual gratification is sexual assault. That is what he would be charged with if he did that in a military unit, or an office, or on the street somewhere.”
“This is not a military unit, an office, or the street. This is highschool...”
“A highschool that is failing royally in not preparing this boy for the real world.” He turned to Jack. “How old are you, son?”
“Fifteen,” Jack muttered, “And I’m not your freakin’ son.”
“I am sorry. Fifteen? You look older. I would have guessed 16 or 17,” Dan turned back to the principle. “In three years, he is going to be a legal majority and something like this will get him put in prison for a long, long time.” He stabbed his finger into the desk with every word, and then paused to let that thought sink in. “Not to mention it will ruin his life afterwards, being put on a sexual predator watch list. ‘Harmless pranks’ like this have a way of sticking with you.”
“Your opinion is duly noted,” Mr. Merckle snapped. “Did he do wrong? Yes. That does not justify the use of violence.”
“There we will have to agree to disagree. What you are telling me is that sexual harassment and abuse is rampant in this school, that the young girls here are powerless to protect themselves, and that the school faculty does absolutely nothing to protect them or put a stop to it.”
Mr. Merckle was silent.
“Can you understand why this is frustrating to me? As a father of a teenage daughter?”
“I understand that this is emotionally disturbing for you...” the principle began.
“Don’t give me that. Emotionally disturbing? Hell yeah it is emotionally disturbing!” He sighed and rested his chin in his hand, propped up on the arm of his chair. “I am not going to change your mind, am I? I think we’re done here. I’ve made my case and you have confirmed my opinion of this school. What is your decision?”
Jack was watching the exchange, almost holding his breath. And this dude was a black belt in karate? Shit! I hope I never piss him off. Wait, I already have. Way to go, me!
Mr. Merckle shrugged and held out his palms, helplessly. “The policies of this school. We cannot tolerate violence.”
“So you are suspending these two?”
“I have no alternative. I cannot make exceptions for one student that I will not make for another.”
Dan sighed. “For how long.”
“Our policy for first time offenders is three days.”
“Well, Ash, looks like you’ll just have to go help Tanner Sensei at the dojo for the next three days, after your homework is done, of course.”
“Bummer,” Ashley said, trying not to smile.
“You have a nice day, Mr. Merckle,” Dan shot straight up to his feet and strode out the door, followed by his daughter. He stuck his head back in. “Oh, and one more thing. My brother in law is editor of the Summersville Dispatch. If I ever hear that my daughter was sexually harassed in this school again, you can bet he will be hearing about it. And that goes not just for my daughter but any other girl in this school. And you can also expect to hear about this at the next school board meeting. I suggest you come up with a plan to do something about it.” The office shook as he slammed the door.