The principal’s office was at the top of the stairs by the bus doors. Before you could go into Mr Tucker’s office, you had to stop and see the secretary, Mrs Fielding, who had orange curly hair and always wore bright red lipstick. Bernadine didn’t mind having to talk to the secretary because Mrs Fielding was always happy and had the biggest laugh Bernadine had ever heard. When Mrs Fielding laughed, her belly shook and her eyes watered and you just had to laugh too even if you didn’t think you wanted to.
Mrs Fielding never called the kids by their names. She called them chickadee or honeybuches or sweetie pie. She always came out from behind her desk and gave you a big hug when you came into her office. “Come see Huggy-Bear!” she would exclaim as you came in and suddenly you were engulfed in a big embrace that smelled like chocolate chip cookies and love.
Today was no different. Bernadine barely had two feet in the door when she was swept up in a big hug that made her feel just a little bit better and less alone in the world. “Hello, little bluebird! Why so blue?” Mrs Fielding had stepped back a little and put her hand under Bernadine’s chin, tilting her face up to have a better look at her.
Bernadine felt like she was going to cry again. She didn’t want to tell Mrs Fielding what she did, that she took off her shoe and hit Charlotte with it, even if Charlotte did deserve it. But Bernadine didn’t want to tell Mrs Fielding that, what if Mrs Fielding thought that what she did was bad? What if she took Charlotte’s side? Bernadine’s heart did a flip flop and then, before Bernadine’s brain realized what she was going to do, Bernadine said, “Ummmm. I don’t really feel good. I think I have to go home. The substitute teacher said to call my dad. I’m very sick. And I think I’m contagious.”
Bernadine had lied. Bernadine had never lied before. That was bad, so bad. But it was too late now. The words were already out of her mouth and there was no way that Bernadine could catch them and stuff them back in.
“Oh my poor little chickadee, you do look a little pale” Mrs Fielding put her hand against Bernadine’s forehead to see if she felt hot. Bernadine really did feel sick now but mostly because she felt guilty for telling a lie. The secretary had already sat Bernadine down in the chair beside her desk and was busy looking for her phone book. “Is your mom…” she started to say but suddenly stopped, a funny look on her face, like she just remembered about Bernadine’s mom and that made her look sad.
“Is your dad at work, honey? Do you know his number at work?”
“Dad is home. He doesn’t go to work anymore. He doesn’t really go anywhere.” Bernadine stared at her hands.
Mrs Fielding looked at her silently and sadly for a moment and then dialed the number she found in her little blue book. She spoke quietly for a minute or two, then passed the phone over to Bernadine and said “Here you go, sweet pea. Your dad’s on the line.”
Bernadine took the phone slowly. She was going to have to lie again. Well, except, it didn’t feel as much of a lie this time. Her stomach did really hurt and she really did feel like she just wanted to be snuggled in her warm bed so she could sleep until everything felt better. “Daddy?” she whispered into the phone “Can you come get me? I don’t feel good. I need to come home.”
Her dad didn’t answer right away and Bernadine wondered if he was still there. She could hear him breathing though. Then she heard a sound like maybe his hand was over the phone, his voice got all muffled and she couldn’t make out what he was saying. “Dad? Are you there, Dad?”
“Yeah, sorry, kiddo. Your Aunt Sylvie is here, I was just telling her you weren’t feeling good. I can come pick you up in a little bit, k?”
Aunt Sylvie? Was at her house? Seriously, Bernadine was not sure this day could get any worse. But then suddenly Bernadine thought what if the substitute teacher comes to the office to check on what awful punishment Bernadine was going to get for throwing her shoe and for not listening when the teacher told her to stay outside? Then the secretary would know that Bernadine lied. That would definitely make this day get worse. She had to go home RIGHT NOW.
“Daddy, please come get me now, please, right now, I really don’t feel good. I know I can’t wait.” Her voice was starting to crack because she was trying not to cry.
“Ok, kiddo, OK...I am leaving right now. You watch for me from the bus doors, OK? I will be there as quick as I can.”
Bernadine said goodbye to her father and passed the phone back to Mrs Fielding. “My dad is coming now. I am going to go wait for him by the bus door, is that ok?”
“Yes, sweet pea, of course, of course! Don’t forget to get your jacket and backpack though. Do you feel ok to get your stuff by yourself or do you want me to walk down to your class with you?”
Oh! My stuff! Bernadine thought. She knew she couldn’t let Mrs Fielding come to her class with her because then she might find out the truth, she might find out what a horrible little fibber Bernadine was. “No, I will go get it. I can go get it. I can do it by myself”.
Mrs Fielding nodded her head and said “Okey dokey, sweetheart but you come and get me if you feel worse, ok? And make sure you get some sleep when you get home...sleep fixes everything and I bet you’ll be right as rain in the morning!”
Bernadine left the secretary’s office and started to walk down the hall. She didn’t know what to do. If she didn’t go get her stuff, she would have to go home in her indoor sneakers, which you were not allowed to do and if she did go get her stuff, she might see Ms Crabbe or worse, Charlotte.
She could see her classroom at the end of the hall. The door was closed and everyone was still in class. Maybe nobody would see her if she went super fast and grabbed her sneakers and backpack. She would change her shoes while waiting for her dad at the bus doors and just put her indoor sneakers in her backpack. Nobody would know a thing. She decided this was her only choice, nodded her head once and started walking very fast down the hall but also very quiet on tiptoe. Once she got to her hook, she grabbed her jacket, her backpack and her sneakers. It was a lot to hold all at once. She was scared she might drop something and make a big noise and people would come out to see what was going on. But she took a deep breath and turned to walk back up the hall when suddenly, she heard a small click, like the click of the classroom door opening.
When the door opened to room 3b, she could hear the substitute’s sharp voice droning on about the importance of being neat and then the door closed and the hallway was silent again. Bernadine did not want to look to see who was behind her.
“Are you going home?” she heard a girl ask. Bernadine turned around slowly. It was Charlotte’s friend Sally, who was looking at her curiously. “Yes.” Bernadine nodded. She was having difficulty getting any words out.
“Did you get in trouble? Is that why you have to go home? Are they making you go home?” Sally’s eyes were wide.
Bernadine nodded again because no words would come out. She was still scared she was going to get caught and all she could think about was that she had to get out of there. She had to get to the bus door. Her dad might already be there and she still had to change her sneakers. She didn’t have time to stay and talk to Sally, she had to go right now.
Without saying another word, Bernadine spun around and sprinted up the hallway super quick, but, still super quiet on her tiptoes (and running on tiptoes is very hard to do, you know).
When she made it to the bus doors, she peered out through the glass but didn’t see her dad’s car in the parking lot yet. She still had time to change her shoes. Sitting on her bum on the bottom step, she ripped her indoor sneakers off without even untying them and then jammed her feet into her outdoor shoes just in the nick of time. As she was stuffing her indoors into her backpack, she saw her dad’s blue car pull into the parking lot. Without even bothering to zip up the backpack, she grabbed it and her jacket and ran outside to meet him.
Once she was safely buckled up in the backseat, she felt like she could breathe again. She was going home. Everything was going to be ok. Tomorrow would be a new day and Miss Edwards would be back and Ollie would be on the bus and everything at school would be normal again. Charlotte would still hate her and be mean to her but, that was pretty normal too. Bernadine could handle that.
“You ok back there, kiddo?” Her dad was looking back at her in the rearview mirror. He looked worried. Bernadine felt bad for making him worry about her, maybe when she said she was sick he got scared that she had a ticking clicking heart like her mom. She started to say something to reassure him, maybe even to tell him what happened in the playground but then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something. She looked out the window at the bus doors and saw Ms Crabbe coming outside, walking fast and angry towards the car. She was staring at Bernadine with her glittering, beady eyes and her jacket was unzipped and flying out behind her like two big black wings. Bernadine swallowed hard and said, “Go, Daddy! Go! I just want to go home! I wanna go home!”
Her reaction seemed to surprise her dad into action. He stepped on the gas quickly and the tires even made a funny little squealing noise. As he turned out of the parking lot and onto the road, Bernadine twisted her head around to see if Ms Crabbe was still following, if she was running behind the car, if she was shaking her fist and yelling to come back. But, there was no one there anymore. She couldn’t see Ms Crabbe at all. All she could see was a big black bird with a sharp, pointy beak circling around over the school.