Greg ran a pondering finger across his lips. Tilting his head to the side, he looked at me intently. “Sounds like this woman’s lies were making things kind of messy for you.”
I raised an eyebrow, mocking his conclusion. “Ya think? She was playing with my life like it was a joke.” Thinking back over my visit with Nadia, I released a deep sigh. “Colleen may have been causing waves and wreaking havoc on our lives,” I acknowledged, “but God was in control. I’m certain of this. It wasn’t an accident that HRS showed up at our house before interviewing Colleen. That was a God thing.”
Greg wittingly smiled, choosing to give me the benefit of the doubt. “That may be true,” he agreed, “but what I’m interested in knowing is how you dealt with Colleen being in your life. Her actions weren’t responsible for minor distractions. Her ‘waves’—as you called them—were more like emotional tsunamis, and those leave a lot of debris in their aftermath.”
“I tried to avoid her,” I expounded, “but she didn’t make it easy. Actually, once Mom and Dad decided it was in our best interest not to talk with their family without attorneys present, Colleen took it upon herself to make up her own rules. Social boundaries and ethical behavior went right out the door.”
Greg looked at me curiously.
“What?” I hastened a grin. “I’ve taken psych classes. I’m familiar with what happened to me; and, if you must know, I passed all my college courses with solid A’s and B’s.” That should give me credibility, I speculated.
Greg smirked, gently cracking his knuckles. “Mad props to you—especially with your childhood history.” His dimples caved. “That couldn’t have been easy.”
I shrugged. “My life was a complete mess, but my grades were one thing I could control. It also helped me focus on something other than my situation at home.”
“And it proved how smart you were.” Greg addressed the unspoken.
I stared him in the eye. “Something like that.”
“So, what did Mrs. Davis’ egocentric behavior lead to?” Greg humored my book knowledge. I laughed at his perceived familiarities with real life. Nothing had prepared him for Colleen.
I let out a sigh. “I was called to the principal’s office.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: …A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; …A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. The familiar words of Ecclesiastes 3:1,5, and 7 held new meaning as I found myself pressed against the damp, pasty skin of Colleen’s forearm, forced into a hug I didn’t initiate or reciprocate. Her closeness caused me to tense, and I strictly monitored every breath.
Principal Murray stood nearby. His tall stature and broad shoulders commanded the small waiting area just outside his office door. “Let’s go into my office and talk there,” he encouraged. “A little privacy might be nice.” His thick Australian accent broke into Colleen’s touchy-feely moment, and I quickly freed myself from her embrace.
Tall, dark, mahogany bookcases rose to the ceiling along the far left wall, lined with books upon books of educational resources inside his office. A professional, highly polished mahogany-stained desk with a plush brown executive chair nestled behind it had been arranged to sit in front of the bookcases. Two additional brown leather chairs properly faced the front side of the desk; and an enormous Lion and the Lamb painting hung on the far wall, opposite the door. Despite the room’s perky, bright beige walls and immaculate tidiness, the room felt cold and uninviting. I understand why kids don’t like being called to the principal’s office, I mentally commiserated. This place is intimidating.
Principal Murray stepped into the room behind us and gently closed the door. “Won’t you ladies have a seat?” He motioned to the chair on the right for Colleen and offered me the one on the left. I promptly sat down, keeping a close eye on Colleen.
Principal Murray observed my discomfort as he lowered himself onto his over-sized chair. Straightening some papers on his desk, he looked at me. “There’s no need to worry. You’re not in any trouble. I just brought ya into my office today because I feel like Mrs. Davis has a genuine apology on her heart. I believe it would do you good to hear it.” I squirmed in my seat, suddenly feeling all eyes on me. “I’ve been talkin’ with Mrs. Davis for the past two hours, and though I’m not privy to everything that’s been goin’ on between the two of you, I do know there’s a serious matter here that needs to be addressed,” he added, resting his arms on his desk.
And how is that any of your business? I wanted to ask. My issues with Colleen are personal. This isn’t a school matter, so why have I been called into your office? And where are Mom and Dad? I’m not supposed to be talking with Colleen without my attorney present. Did she forget to tell you that part? I bit my lower lip, holding back my disrespect. I could feel my heart beat pounding in my ears.
Colleen fidgeted with the black windbreaker draped over her left forearm. She wanted to speak, but pretended to be at a loss for words. I sat tall and stoic, protecting my barriers. You might have succeeded in getting me here, but no one can force me to talk, I mentally played her game. Fixating my stare on the door in the far corner of the room, I used my peripheral vision to watch her pout.
“Why don’tcha start by tellin’ Hope why we’re here?” Principal Murray coaxed Colleen.
Perspiration dampened her brow. Red, bloodshot eyes, ruby nose, and tear-stained cheeks corroborated her neediness. “I’m so glad you chose to come and speak with me. I was afraid you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me after all I’ve put you through.” Her whiny voice oozed patheticness.
I shifted my gaze, glaring at her in disbelief. I don’t want anything to do with you. I’m not here because of you. I’m here because Principal Murray called me out of class and forced me into this meeting. I scowled in Principal Murray’s direction. He flashed an ignorant grin. I would love to give both of you a piece of my mind, I internally fumed, but I know better than to disrespect my elders. Don’t think for one second that I’m here of my own free will, though. This is all your doing, you big bully! Nothing about this is OK.
Stringy, uncombed sandy blonde tresses fell about Colleen’s plump face. Several wet strands clung to her forehead. She swiped at the dampness on her brow then sniffled loudly, running a hand under her nose. Principal Murray pulled a handful of tissues from a box on top of his desk and politely handed them to her. “Thank you,” she exaggerated a sigh. Sensing my apprehension, she continued. “It’s OK, Hope. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m not going to hurt you.” Sweet, syrupy words coated the melodrama. She sniffled some more. “I only want a chance to tell you what I’ve been going through these past few weeks. You can’t even imagine what I’ve gone through!” Selfishness oozed from her words.
My eyebrows rose as she reached her hand across the armrest of my chair, resting her clammy fingers on my forearm. “You have to believe me,” she insisted. “I would never do anything to hurt you.”
I retracted my arm, shying from her touch. What YOU’VE been through? What YOU’VE been dealing with? Do I look crazy? Does it look like I’m buying your charade? My mind spun a myriad of colorful words I wished I could say; but, instead, I gritted my teeth and buried my anger, causing irritation to form a solid knot in my stomach. You’re not here to give an apology. This is just another one of your intimidation tactics. You want me to believe I’m not safe anywhere I go. This is all an act for Principal Murray; and, apparently, he’s buying it!
Colleen pouted with her eyes. “Hope, don’t shut me out. This hasn’t been easy for me, either. I’m human, too, ya know? I’ve been hurt—just like you. You’ve got to believe me.” Exasperation augmented her neediness.
I rolled my eyes. Really? And that excuses your behavior? Two year olds act better than this. Do I have ‘idiot’ written on my forehead? I exhaled sharply, fed up with Colleen’s high highs, low lows, extreme emotions, and unpredictable raging. A simple ‘sorry’ just won’t do. Not this time. Not after all the damage you’ve done. No one can trust you—nor should they.
Colleen studied her hands for a moment, rolling the cuff on the sleeve of her black jacket between her fingers. “I’ve done some things I’m not very proud of—things that have hurt you and your family—things I can never take back. I know this,” she confessed, “but that’s why I’m here. I want you to forgive me—to give me a second chance.” She stared longingly at me, challenging my resolve.
But you can’t be trusted! I wanted to scream. I shook my head and looked to Principal Murray for support. He maintained a goofy grin and nodded for me to accept her apology. Wow! You don’t see Colleen as a threat—that, or you’re purposefully sitting there ignoring reality. Either makes me scared.
“You know we’re never going to make it to Heaven unless we learn how to forgive and forget,” Colleen continued to blubber. “We have to love each other. If we don’t love each other here on earth, how will we ever love each other in Heaven?” She accented her guilt trip with a fake sniffle, her posture transforming into a veiled threat.
The most unskilled actor could dance circles around you, I mentally debased her performance. So how is it that Principal Murray isn’t seeing it? I shuddered at the thought.
Principal Murray pushed back from his desk, standing before he spoke. “Maybe this conversation will go better if I go get Julia and Alicia,” he decided.
I jumped to my feet and futilely grasped at his arm as he walked past my chair. “Please! Don’t leave me alone with her!” Now you’ve gone and done it. Now she knows you’re afraid of her, I scolded my outward reaction.
Principal Murray turned and smiled at me, patting my shoulder with a condescending air. “You’ll be fine. Stay here. I’ll be back in a moment.” He stepped through the doorway and summoned the school secretary. “Marge, will you call Julia Blythe and Alicia Davis to my office, please?” His voice faded as he disappeared around the corner and into the adjoining room.
There I stood, helpless, watching him leave. Sucking in a deep breath, I begged back my tears. You have to be strong. She can’t see you cry. Mind over matter. Mind over matter, I coached myself.
The legs of Colleen’s chair stuttered across the beige Bourbon carpet as Colleen stood. Her windbreaker fell to the chair as she extended her arms to me. “Come give Auntie Colleen a hug,” she crooned. “You know you want to. I never meant to hurt you, Sweetie. You know that.” Big crocodile tears wetted her cheeks and dripped from her chin.
I felt my eyes widen in horror as she stepped toward me, my breath catching in my throat. This isn’t real. This isn’t real. Please, help me God! I braced myself against the inevitable.
“See? Like this.” Colleen wrapped her arms around me, forcing one of my arms around her waist and pinning the other to my side. I struggled to breathe as her embrace squeezed the air out of my lungs.
I’m not going to let you do this—not again, I determined. Finding my voice, I clenched my teeth and demanded, “Let me go! Get your hands off me now!” I wrestled with Colleen’s weight, pushing as hard as I could against her tight grip. “I mean it, Colleen. LET. ME. GO!”
A tiny voice rose above my struggle. “Mommy? Hope?” Colleen immediately released her hold on me, allowing both of us to turn and face the familiar sound. Alicia paused in the doorway. Braided hair. Navy polo shirt. Beige capris. Ruffled socks. Laced-up tennis shoes. She stood there, perplexed and unassuming.
Colleen finally granted me some space, swiping a hand across one of her cheeks then the other. In doing so, she smeared black mascara from under each of her eyes into her hairline. “What is it, Sweetheart?” she chuckled. “Don’t mind me. These are happy tears. It’s all right. You may come in. Come give Hope a hug.”
A wave of dizziness enveloped me, forcing me to sit down on my chair.
“But I thought that you said…. Daddy said….” Confusion anchored Alicia’s feet to the floor.
“Don’t worry about Daddy. Mommy will talk with him later. Just come give Hope a great big hug,” Colleen encouraged. Sniffling back tears, she smiled at Alicia’s hesitation. “It’s OK. I promise.”
“Really?” Alicia squealed with delight and ran toward me, dimples caving in the sides of her cheeks. Her six-year-old enthusiasm overwhelmed the moment. Jumping onto my lap, she threw her arms around my neck and squeezed with all her might. “I love you, Hope! I’ve missed you sooooo much!” She pressed her cheek against my face and hugged even tighter. “Isn’t this wonderful? We can be friends again!”
I numbly returned her hug, saddened by her innocence, and angry at the truth. It’s not that easy.