The next day, Denise and Vannie had the head table to themselves. It had been this way since they got back from Serelia. Denise saw Jack as he limped to his table sporting a nose splint and other bandages.
“I can’t believe he’s back in class this quick,” Denise said. “From what I heard, whoever did this did a number on him.”
“Maybe Madeleine prayed for him,” Vannie mused.
“Go blow!” Denise came back. “You’re the most superstitious person I ever met.”
“Pete still not speaking to you?” Vannie asked, changing the subject.
“No,” Denise replied dejectedly. “He won’t even look at me. He told me Monday ‘I thought you were going with me,’ and that was it. A lot of people aren’t talking with me these days—you’d think I got the plague up there.”
“They’ll come back,” Vannie assured her. “As you always say, they know it feels good. It’s just a matter of time.”
“Don’t remind me of that,” Denise said.
“Denise, did you have anything to do with Jack getting beat up? If you don’t want to answer that, just say so.”
“I talked with Dad about Jack,” Denise answered. “If it were up to me, he wouldn’t be here, you can bet on that. But Dad does what he thinks is best. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not. But I’ve got a hunch that Jack’s a short timer around here, a long with a lot of other people. All of these twits—Jack, Maddy, Carla—they’re all short timers. Like Pressed Rat and Warthog, they’ll never come back. Trust me.”
“We’re supposed to graduate in less than four months,” Vannie observed.
“That’s not short enough for me,” Denise said, “but it’s probably short enough for Dad.”
Carla used her last class to think about tennis practice. She was unbeaten in regular season; only her fall to Denise at Beran marred her record. She was looking forward to taking Denise on again in the Collina Invitational, the unofficial championship tournament of secondary school tennis in the West Island.
With class ending, she left to head to the locker room to change, but was met in the hall by her nemesis, Colin Dirksen.
“The Headmaster would like to see you,” he announced to her.
“Both in the affirmative.” She was mystified but accompanied him to the office.
For reasons that buffaloed parent and student alike, Hallett Comprehensive got a new headmaster at the turn of the year, a Californian in his late twenties named Frank Noll. Noll had long hair and looked every inch of the Cal graduate that he was. Like Hancock, he left to escape the clutches of Selective Service, first to Canada and then to Verecunda when the job he held came open. Noll’s tenure had been a rocky one, and Carla was apprehensive about the meeting.
She came into his office with Dirksen right behind. “Have a seat, Miss Stanley,” Noll said. Dirksen followed suit.
“I understand you’re having quite a season at tennis,” Noll began.
“It’s going well,” Carla said, very nervous and defensive.
“That’s good,” Noll said. “And you’ve kept up your grades as well.”
“I try very hard. It isn’t easy to work, play tennis and do that at the same time.”
“Shows a young woman who is very committed to her future,” Noll affirmed. “Do you remember when Mr. Dirksen here visited your place of work back in December and asked you to join our new Life Identification Society?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“And you declined his invitation.”
“Yes, sir, I did,” she replied repetitiously.
“And why did you do that? I don’t think even your father liked your rejection.”
“Because I understand that the activities of the Life Identification Society are not proper for a Christian woman such as myself.”
Noll shook his head. “I didn’t expect to see this here,” he said. “Back home, we have all kinds of nutcases running around looking for the end of time. But your church attendance figures relative to the general population are about half of what we have in America.”
“In fairness to Miss Stanley,” Dirksen added, “that figure is higher up here in Hallett than in the rest of the country.”
“Of course,” Noll said. “Well, because of your success—you even defeated the daughter of the President—you have become a symbol of success for Hallett Comprehensive. People form their image of the school and community based on the people they see from it. We must have a reputation as a progressive community if we are to grow in this world. That being the case, such a prominent representative as yourself must think of the image that you set forth.”
“So what are you trying to say?” Carla asked, impatient with the rhetoric.
“What I’m saying is that the Life Identification Society is a cornerstone of our programme for well-adjusted young people who will make a positive difference in this society. We cannot have someone representing this community at the level you do unless he or she is a part of it.”
“Well, what’s your decision about it?” Dirksen asked, about as impatient with the speech as Carla was.
“I’m not joining,” Carla replied flatly. “I’ve told you why.”
“Then your time on the tennis—or any other group in this school—is at an end. You’ll report to P.E. tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir,” Carla said. She rose and left the office without being dismissed.
Noll followed her with his eyes as she left, then turned to Dirksen. “Don’t you think it’s a little extreme to do this? She’s going to be out of here at the end of the semester.”
“You’re obviously not as serious about change as you were in the SDS,” Dirksen said. “A state that elects Ronald Reagan as Governor will see the revolution sidetracked. That’s not going to happen here.”
Without an athletic commitment, Carla simply left school without saying anything to anyone. She had a friend who lived near her who was excused from P.E., so she caught a ride with her home. Alice was shocked when she saw her daughter coming up the driveway so early.
“Why are you home at this hour?” Alice asked.
“I was kicked off of the tennis team,” Carla said.
“What have you done wrong?”
“I wouldn’t join the sensual society,” Carla replied. “Mr. Noll flushed me himself.” Carla walked past her stunned mother, went to the bedroom, locked the door, threw her books down, threw herself on the bed, and began to cry in her pillow.
Alice was deterred by the locked door, but only temporarily; she got the door open and sat down by the bed.
“What’s going on at that school?” Alice asked.
Carla lifted her face off of the pillow and looked at her with tear-filled, bloodshot eyes, a sight that Alice had rarely seen with Carla. She gave her mother a desperate, pained look. “You wanted me to be a good Christian. You wanted me to be a good Verecundan, and to have good school spirit. Today I had to choose. I hate this country, and I hate this school, and you can tell Daddy I said so!” She turned and buried her face in the pillow again.
Alice was stunned into silence. “I never thought it would come to this,” she finally said.