Using only one finger, Mr. Tooke was typing my name into the search window of his computer database. I had to spell Victoria for him … twice. While he was punching the keys, I looked at him. The assistant principal didn’t look like a very happy man. His hair was completely white, but his bright pink skin told me he was younger than his hair would indicate. He wore black shoes, grey slacks, a short-sleeved blue dress shirt that bulged at the belt, and a wide maroon tie spotted with the droppings of many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. He was a very heavy man who wore his trousers hitched high at the waist, his belt circling him almost at his armpits.
“Hmmmm,” he said, “I don’t have any record of you here.”
“I’ve never been to the office before,” I said. “Not for disciplinary reasons.”
He turned sideways in his chair to look at me. “‘Disciplinary reasons’?” he repeated. Those are big words for a little girl.”
“Sorry, should I use smaller ones?” I wished I hadn’t said that, but the words were out before I could recall them. Mr. Tooke, however, didn’t seem to notice my sarcasm.
“So why are you here this time, little lady?”
“I’m not really sure.”
“Are you saying one of our teachers used poor judgment? Didn’t know what he was doing?”
“No. I just am not sure why Mr. Gisborne was so upset with us.”
“With Gil and me.”
“Don’t you mean ‘Gil and I’?” he smiled.
“No,” I said. “It’s ‘with me,’ not ‘with I.’”
“You think you’re a pretty smart one, don’t you?” he snapped. “I think I see what got you in trouble. You got a fresh mouth on you, young lady. You don’t know what’s right in English”—he paused—“or in respectful classroom behavior.”
He was typing again. “What … I’m … doing … here,” he said, saying each word in unison with each letter he typed, “is … entering … you … in … my … database ….”
“… so that the next time you come in here, I can just punch in your name and see what kind of trouble you’ve been in before.”
“I don’t plan on coming here again,” I said.
“Not many people do,” he said. “But you’ll be back. Fresh mouths always end up back here.” He nodded knowingly, staring at me. “Fresh mouths always end up back here.”
I decided not to reply. I’d keep my fresh mouth … fresh.
“And when you do end up back here,” said Mr. Tooke, “let me tell you what’s going to happen, Miss Fresh Mouth.”
He waited for a response, but I didn’t give him one.
“You’re going to regret the day you ever saw this school. You’re going to regret the day you ever saw me.”
I didn’t have to wait any longer to feel that way. I already regretted those things.
“Is that understood, Miss Fresh Mouth?”
“Good. Get a pass from Mrs. Inchbald and return to your class. Oh, wait. What about this Phil character you’re in trouble with?”
He sighed. “A fresh mouth. Nothing but a fresh mouth.”
“Gil is with the school nurse,” I said. “He fainted.
“I do that to guilty students,” he said.
“I’m sure,” I said, trying to sound as if I were agreeing with him.
“And remember,” said Mr. Tooke, “you’re in the computer now.” He patted it like a pet. “You have a record. A history.”
Not for long.
That night I hacked into his database. He had the silliest password: Discipline. And with a couple of quick keystrokes I no longer had a record. Or a history. And neither did Gil.