Home > Meet Cute(15)

Meet Cute(15)
Author: Helena Hunting

He takes a deep breath. “Of course not.”

“Do you want to upset Emme more than she already is? Make her feel worse?”

“What kind of asinine question is that?”

At my unimpressed stare he sighs.

“Of course not. I just want to find out what happened and fix it.”

“Then act like a lawyer, not a brother. You can be that later, when you’re not here dealing with this situation. You must go in with a good argument to get Emme out of whatever shit she’s stepped in, instead of throwing insults at the one person who’s here to help you. Which is me, by the way.”

He runs a frustrated hand through his hair. It stands up on end instead of falling back into place like it usually does. “Fine. Okay. Sorry. Just . . . fuck. I’m calm.”

“Really? You’re calm?” I’m still blocking the door.

“Yes. Totally calm,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Are you sure you don’t need to do a few sun salutations before we go out there again? Some breathing exercises?”

“Neither are necessary.” His face isn’t quite as red as it was before, but I don’t know him well enough to be able to tell one way or another if he’s going to go off again.

I’m feeling petty, so I root around in my purse and produce a pack of mints. “Here.” I slap them into his palm. “I don’t know what you ate for breakfast, or for dinner, but your breath smells like stale coffee and garbage. Are you ready to calmly discuss what happened with Emme?”

He puts his hand in front of his mouth, probably checking to see if I’m right. His breath doesn’t smell horrible, yes a bit like coffee, but not like garbage. Still it makes me feel mildly better. Before we leave the office, I reach up and fix his hair, smoothing it out. It’s irritatingly soft. I might happen to do a little extra smoothing just so I can keep touching it, but I frown the entire time, as if it’s a chore I’m not enjoying.

Mr. Proctor takes us to Emme. She’s in a small, windowless waiting room, a pile of used tissues in her lap, and her shoulders are curled forward, her long hair hanging in her face.

A woman I presume to be Aunt Linda, whom I spoke with briefly, has barricaded her in the corner of the room by pulling a chair up in front of her. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be helpful or intimidating. As soon as Emme sees her brother, she shoots out of the chair and rushes over to him, tissues scattering on the floor.

She throws her arms around him. “I thought you weren’t coming. It wasn’t my fault. I’m sorry.”

Daxton freezes for a moment, possibly taken aback, but he quickly wraps his arms around her. “It’s okay. I’m here. We’ll figure it all out.”

While this is happening, Linda skirts around the used tissue bombs. “I need to speak with you, Daxton.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen without our lawyers present.” He turns to Mr. Proctor. “Are we having this conversation here or in your office?”

“My office would be better.”

I nab a tissue from the box, sweep all the used ones in the garbage can, pick up Emme’s bag from the room, and follow them down the hall, Linda on Daxton’s heels, trying to find a way to walk beside Emme. This is going to be a tense meeting.

Once the door to Mr. Proctor’s office closes, he motions to the small table. “Why don’t we all have a seat?”

Daxton tries to position Emme so she’s not seated beside Linda. He pulls out a chair for Emme and she drops into it, head bowed, eyes on her hands. I take the seat next to Daxton, prepared to mediate however necessary. I really wish I’d had a minute with Emme, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.

“Thank you so much for coming in, Mr. Hughes and Ms. Flowers. I’m aware this is a special situation and a difficult time—”

“Can we skip the formalities and get to why we’re here?” Daxton snaps.

I shift my foot under the table until I find the toe of his shoe with my heel. He presses his fingertips against the top of the table, but doesn’t look my way.

Mr. Proctor steeples his fingers. “Emme had an altercation in the cafeteria in which she physically assaulted another student.”

“I was there. I saw Emme punch Billy.” Linda’s tone is puzzling. She turns to Daxton and continues, “Until today Emme hasn’t had so much as a detention.”

“She also lost both of her parents not long ago,” Daxton replies.

Fantastic. They’re going to attack each other, as if Emme’s not sitting right here while they talk about her. Someone needs to keep this meeting on track, and apparently it’s going to be me. “Since this is atypical behavior for Emme, it would be helpful to know what events precipitated the violence,” I break in.

Mr. Proctor’s smile is forced and polite as he addresses Emme. “Would you like to explain what happened in the cafeteria?”

“Billy Horton made a cartoon of the car accident.”

“Excuse me?” Daxton frowns and looks to Mr. Proctor.

He smooths his hand down his tie. These men and their fucking tells. What a bunch of amateurs. “Well, that’s not exactly accurate.”

Emme’s fists clench in her lap and her angry, despondent glare darts from Proctor to Daxton. “Yes it is. Billy drew a cartoon about two people being blown up in a car accident and he made Jordan Carpenter give it to me. He’s been calling me Orphan Annie all week and then he posted that stupid crying meme of you on Snapchat for everyone to see.”

“Emme, you need to calm down,” Mr. Proctor says, and Daxton tenses visibly. I like seeing his protectiveness; it makes me second-guess his motives for wanting to keep her in his life. I remove my heel from the tip of his shoe and nudge his knee with mine, hoping he understands what the gesture means.

He clasps his hands on the table. “Why is this the first I’m hearing about this Billy Horton kid?”

“Because he’s an idiot and he bullies everyone. Usually I just let it roll off me, but he wouldn’t leave me alone today, and everything in the house is changing and I just couldn’t take it.” She dissolves in a fit of tears.

“So a known bully is targeting my sister and she’s the one sitting here in the office?”

“Billy is being disciplined for his actions, just as Emme is being disciplined for hers.”

“He pulls my hair all the time! And he trips me in the hall!” she shouts.

“Emme, don’t yell at Mr. Proctor. He’s trying to help you,” Linda says.

Before Daxton has a chance to cut in with some scathing, thoughtless remark, I offer my opinion. “Emme, would you like a break from the meeting?” I turn to Mr. Proctor. “I think under the circumstances, it might be best for this to continue with just the adults. If we need Emme for any further questions, we can call her back in.”

Emme nods, looking relieved.

“You can have a seat in the front office, unless you’d rather go back to the waiting room,” Mr. Proctor offers.

Emme grabs her bag and heads for the door. I wait until it closes behind her before I turn back to Proctor. “Is Billy in Emme’s class?”

“He is.”

“Then we need an action plan to address how to move forward. Emme has gone through a very traumatic event, and being taunted with drawings that make light of what happened to her is absolutely unacceptable.”

“We’ll have the seating chart revised.”

“I’d like that taken care of before she returns to class tomorrow,” Daxton interjects.

Mr. Proctor adjusts his tie nervously. Again. “Emme is not permitted to return to school tomorrow.”

Daxton’s face goes stony. It’s an expression I’m unfamiliar with, and it makes my insides a little zingy.

“Excuse me?”

A bead of sweat works its way down Mr. Proctor’s temple. He may be older than Daxton by a good fifteen to twenty years, but when it comes to power dynamics, Daxton wins. I hate that I find that a little hot.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for violence.” He clears his throat before he continues. “Emme has a mandatory three-day suspension.”

“I wonder what the superintendent would think about this situation. Especially with how much my family has been in the media. It seems with a little more attention and care, this entire thing could have been avoided. Aside from Linda, who else was on duty in the cafeteria? Surely you have more than one adult supervising all of those students.”

And there he is. Daxton the lawyer, using whatever means necessary to get what he needs for his sister. I might be warming to him just a little.

“Mr. Hughes, I assure you, the staff did everything they could to keep things under control.”

“Apparently not, since Billy got punched in the face and my sister has been bullied by this boy on several occasions, which brings me back to the issue of the suspension.” Daxton taps on the arm of his chair, waiting.

“Protocol deems that there must be a punitive course of action.” Before I can cut in, he continues, “However, under these circumstances, Emme could work on projects from home for the next two days, not including this afternoon, without a formal suspension, provided she’s willing to talk to her guidance counselor on a weekly basis, as well as the school social worker.”

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