“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Agent Rider.” The vice-principal had greeted Richard at the door with a grim smile and a firm handshake. “Please, come in. Can I get you something to drink? Tea? Coffee? Water?” Cordial, reassuring, bordering on warm.
This was not a good sign.
Richard returned a polite smile and a light squeeze of the hand – not enough to be considered a threat, but instead an acceptance. “Of course, Dr. Christian. Thank you for reaching out to me.” He stepped into the room, ignoring the offer for drinks. “What has Jo done this time?” It seemed best to cut straight to the chase. “Can’t be anything too bad as she’s not actually standing here.” And he hadn’t seen anyone bleeding or broken on the way in, so no fights.
Lawrence Christian sighed, rolling his neck, his shoulders, as he headed around his oversized, overpriced desk to take his seat. He didn’t say anything, simply drew a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he sank into the leather, elbows settling on the desk, fingers steepling before him.
It was definitely a feeling Richard himself knew all too well.
At a nod from the other man, he settled into one of the far less comfortable chairs across the desk from him, unfastening his suit jacket as he did so to let the folds fall open. Still nice – all wood and leather – but intended purely to make the person sitting in them to feel uncomfortable.
Resting his ankle on his opposite knee, Rich folded his hands neatly in his lap, preparing for the long haul. Whatever had perturbed this fellow – and he could come up with a good dozen possibilities off the top of his head – he was fully prepared to wait it out. There was no need to volunteer information and possibly stack the deck even further against his sister.
“I’m worried about your sister,” the administrator said at last.
And Richard’s breath caught in his throat. Fantastic. He had to settle up with child protective services just last month, now another complaint? He was going to have to take some social worker on a walk thru of their daily lives just to prove that he wasn’t beating his sister – he paid other people to do that. An explanation of why she needed self defense was easy enough – there were numerous news articles that outlined the worst of it, even if not all of it. Meeting of the bodyguards, et, one bodyguard – he didn’t need Hunter freaking the chap out. So meeting Dirk, let him show some of Jo’s training regiment, then a tour of the gym where she’s been training, again, easily enough done. Damn, he was going to have to call Franklin, their other brother, to keep him on retainer.
This was going to suck.
Closing his eyes, he began slowly counting backwards from ten, focusing on his breathing.
He had only gotten to ‘four’ when that caveat was offered, and Rich peeked one eye open. “Pardon?”
Dr. Christian nodded, lips pursed to a thin line as he reached for a manilla folder resting at his elbow. “Jocelyn is an incredibly clever girl,” the man pointed out, flipping it open to begin skimming the pages within. “Very bright.”
Richard’s eyes narrowed – this was the primping before the other shoe dropped. He could hear the ‘but’ in the other man’s voice. Flatter and reassure before telling you how terrible things actually were. But still, he waited, biting the insides of his cheeks to keep himself from losing patience.
“But…” There it was. Dr. Christian drew a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “She seems hellbent, pardon my language, on self-destructing.” The first of the many sets of papers in the folder was handed over to Rich as if this would explain it all.
It was a test, and he immediately recognized Jo’s neat script. World history, and she had a whopping eighty percent, and noted in green below the grade “Speak with me after class.” He frowned, as he began to thumb through the pages to see what she did wrong. She should have easily pulled in a perfect score on this kind of test – it literally required her to regurgitate facts, and with that ridiculous memory of hers, that should have been the easiest thing in the world for her to accomplish. But for the first three pages, she had every answer correct. “Did she get in a fight with the instructor?” he asked without looking up. “I should have been called immediately if…” he trailed off.
“Flip to the last page.”
But he already had.
The last page were short essay questions, three in total. The first two were answered thoroughly enough, no marks there, but it was the last one that must have pushed a button. Had clearly pushed a button. It was over the discovery and settlement of the Antilles, and how Columbus’s journey West was significant.
Jo had certainly been thorough in her answering of the question, not only using up all of the space allotted but also the bottom of the page itself and the entirety of the back. But clearly, words such as ‘genocide,’ ‘subjugation,’ ‘disease-ridden,’ and ‘torture’ were not words the instructor had expected, and there was a very large green ‘x’ slashing through the work and a “-5%” with a slash over it, followed by “-10%,” and ending on “-20%.”
“So one essay question is worth twenty percent of the grade?” Richard mused as he skimmed his sister’s emphatic denials to any contribution Columbus might have made to history.
“What? Oh, no. That’s…” the vice-principal paused, his fingers steepling before him once more. “She was very much out of line with the way she answered, Agent Rider. The instructor felt it was the only way to-”
“To chastise her for being aware of the repercussions of historical figures?” Rich interrupted, handing the test back once he was done. “At best it looks like the question was worth ten percent. She got everything else right, and even then, the details were correct in her answers.”
“But they weren’t what the instructor was looking-” The administrator cut himself off, closing his eyes as he took a deep breath. “I will speak with her instructor about her score,” he said at last. “But the point is, she was very aware she was writing what would be considered the wrong answer.”
“But it wasn’t wrong. I can send you a number of historic periodicals with the latest research to prove it as well.” He canted his head to one side, brows arching. “Now, if that’s all…”
“I wish,” the man behind the desk said with a sigh. “But you have to see that was out of line,” he practically begged as he reached for the next paper, staring down at the face of it with a white knuckle grip on the edges.
“I can see how that was not the information a high school teacher would want to see on a test,” he allowed instead.
But it was close enough to get a bob of the head from Dr. Christian who handed over the next paper. “I can admit her grade on her test was… off, but this?” he shook his head slowly. “She ignored the directions altogether and answered what questions she wanted as opposed to what was on there.”
Which was absolutely true. Richard hummed softly to himself as he began reading over what he had been handed. It was an analysis over a number of Shakespearean plays. At the very top, above the various questions, was a special note from his sister in her neat script. “There are literally thousands of historically relevant authors, and I am frankly tired of only discussing this one British playwright year after year. Subsequently, all questions on this report are being answered referencing other noted authors throughout history.”
And right next to that declaration, this time in blue ink and in a different hand, a note from the teacher “Ms. Rider – This assignment was specifically over Shakespeare you cannot change the assignment on a whim” and a zero next to those words, circled several times.
His sister did precisely as she had stated she would do. The only time Shakespeare was mentioned were in the questions themselves – two per page – but her answers referenced Home, Hesiod, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Machiavelli, Dickens, Poe, even Sun’Tzu. The questions themselves were answered, but for the myriad of different authors instead of anything even remotely relevant to the playwright in question.
Richard found himself biting down on the inside of his cheeks once more to keep from grinning as he flipped through the pages. As with the last example, she had not only filled up the entirety of the space provided, but also wrote on the back of each page, using as much of the space as possible. The last page read, he could only continue to stare down at the work, clearing his throat.
Must. Not. Laugh.
Closing his eyes, he worked on his breathing, counting back from ten to get his emotions properly under control. No doubt the man across from him fully believed that he had won Richard over to his side as he sat proudly in his fancy chair. Only once Rich was positive his voice would not crack or otherwise give away his thoughts did he open his eyes and offer the report back with a simple “I see.”
“I thought you might,” Dr. Christian said with a knowing nod as the report was replaced in the folder. “She managed to crash several computers in her class by writing a simple script, on repeat,” he paused, lifting a print out. “Of the ‘Song That Never Ends.’ Without closing out the tail end of the code so that it would run on a continuous loop. Then she sent it to others in the class to help her test the code.”
“You lost me at ‘coding.’”
Aggravated, the administrator set the paper down on the ‘reviewed’ side of the folder, pinning Richard with a dark look. “This is no laughing matter.”
“Did it cause permanent damage to the computers? Or anyone in the class?”
The other man paused to consider. “No…”
“Then you have to admit, it’s a little funny…” But clearly, the amusement was not shared. Richard coughed, shifting in his seat as he schooled his features. “Please continue.”
The vice-principal gave a firm nod, flipping to the next paper – a single legal-length, yellow sheet of paper. “This is a…” he trailed off, frowning for a moment before color flushed his features and he flipped that page onto the ‘reviewed’ stack to move onto the next. “And the counselors have some-”
“No, no. What was that last one?”
The color grew darker along with the man’s embarrassment. “It’s from her speech and debate class,” he muttered.
“Ah, good. How is she doing in there? More complaints.”
A long pause as the man wet his lips, considering the back of the page. “It’s a petition,” he said at last.
“To…?” Richard’s mind was filled with countless possibilities about the types of petitions his sister could have begun in that particular class, a class she hadn’t wanted to take to begin with but had been forced into. There were mumbled words as more papers were shifted about. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that…”
“It’s from the rest of the class,” Dr. Christian blurted. “They want her to go back… to go back to napping through class.”
That had been an unexpected response.
“Want to run that one by me one more time?”
Closing his eyes, the administrator sighed. “Apparently, your sister spent all of last semester napping through class instead of working on research or building arguments or briefs.” He drew a deep breath, gaining the necessary courage to open his eyes. “The coach had a talk with her, and… and he said…” the man trailed off, glancing again at the form, pursing his lips to a thin line. “He told her she needed to participate. So she… she started doing so. But…”
He was having a great deal getting through this one, and Richard had no intention of helping. Instead, he arched brows high, smiling pleasantly as the other continued to flounder.
“She keeps correcting the other students,” he managed at last. “About legislation and policy. She argues, tears down briefs, finds the loopholes in… in everything.”
“You realize, don’t you, that we come from a family of lawyers and politicians, don’t you?” Richard shook his head. “The whole point of being in speech and debate is not only to learn to build arguments but also respond when someone else tells you you’re wrong. If she’s finding loopholes, that’s rather the entire point, isn’t it?” He gestured with his chin towards the sheet. “So basically, the class doesn’t like my sister’s ‘assistance,’ and they want her to go back to sleeping through class?” He snorted, shaking his head. “Pretty sure you should just remove that from the folder altogether, don’t you?”
“It shows how she is exhibiting antisocial behavior.” Ah, there was the bit of backbone the man had been displaying when Rich had first arrived. “It’s something to be concerned about.”
“That would be true except for the fact that she is perfectly capable of maintaining relationships with her peers. She has friends, Dr, Christian, and a number of them even go to this school.”
“But a handful of outsiders-”
“Are still friends,” Richard interrupted. “And not all outsiders. Bea Jacobs and Jake Donovan are both members of a number of different organizations, if I’m not mistaken. They also hang out with my sister on semi-regular basis. I can think of at least three other people she interacts with on a daily basis, and that’s not even counting those she deals without outside of the school system.” He shook his head slowly. “Sorry, but no. If you are going to throw around psychological terms, at least make them appropriate. This is an example of a teenager girl being cranky about being stuck in a class she doesn’t want to take then being forced to actually participate. She is actively giving everyone what they want, but in a way that, well, frankly is just pissing people off. It’s a common tactic that my sister has managed to perfect.” Another gesture with his chin to the stack. “Next?”
The vice-principal’s eyes had narrowed sharply during the explanation, color remaining high in his cheeks. Silence swelled between them for several beats before, without looking, the man slid the next sheet of paper forward along the desk. “This is a form required to be completed by all graduating seniors. It is passed out in their study hall, and the students are asked to take the time to review each answer and submit the information back to the counselors. It’s to make sure they are on the right track. Her answers here left… Let’s just say the counselors are concerned about her future wellbeing.”
Again, Richard found himself biting down hard on the inside of his cheeks as he read over her answers. He drew a deep breath in through his nose before providing a wide smile to the other. “I’m not sure I see the problem,” he lied. He knew exactly what the problem was – Jo was bored and they started asking her silly questions.
“She says, under possible future careers, she simply said ‘wealthy.’”
“Don’t tell me she’s the only senior who said that,” Rich countered. “Under her second possibility, she also says archeology.”
“No, Agent Rider, she said ‘Indian Jones.’ That’s not an occupation.”
“But he was an archeologist. And a teacher. Really, you should be taking that as a compliment.” He wasn’t sure where that last line came from, but he regretted it as soon as the words fell from his lips.
“Agent. Rider.” Each words was spit out in disgust as the man’s temper had finally popped, his hand slapping down on the remainder of the folder. “Every instructor has voiced concerns about her conduct in class and how she doesn’t take this seriously. She acts out, talks back, and takes instructions entirely too literally.”
“Have any of her actions been actively malicious?” Rich asked easily, returning the counseling questionnaire.
His question gave the administrator pause as he considered. “Well, no, but-”
“Has anyone been hurt beyond general annoyance?”
“Good heavens, no. But-”
“Does she disrupt class with her antics?”
“Well, no, except debate, and even that’s part of what they are supposed to be doing, but she’s-”
“Are there other students here who behave worse?”
“Oh. I suppose so, yes, quite often, in fact. But-”
“Is she getting detention?”
A frown here. “No. She isn’t actually breaking rules, per se, but-”
“Then why am I here?” Richard asked the question at long last. Considering what he had been reading, he had a fair idea of why he was there, but he was tired of pussyfooting around the issue.
“Because she has so much potential, and it’s obviously being wasted. The girl has no discipline, and this, sir, is something that begins at home. You need to enforce rules at home, and that is the only way she will follow them here.”
“She doesn’t act like this at home.”
A pause. “I beg your pardon?”
“I mean, she acts out,” Richard allowed. “Like every teenager throughout the history of time. But this?” he gestured to the stack. “She doesn’t do this kind of thing at home. Now, if that is all,” and he rose to his feet, holding out his hand to the other.
The vice-principal rose at the same time, slipping his hand into Richard’s own. “Sir, I believe you need to be-”
“I was asking for the folder,” Richard cut him off. Again. “I will speak with her, but I’m fairly certain she’s bored. And the more the professors, pardon, instructors react to her antics, the more she’s going to do them. But I will speak with her.”
Relief flooded the doctor’s features as he bobbed his head enthusiastically. “Oh, that’d be perfect! Thank you, Agent Rider. We appreciate any assistance you can give to this end. We’d hate to see so much potential lost. She’s a bright girl and has an excellent future ahead of her if she could just take things a little more seriously.”
“Jocelyn Felicia Dunham Rider!”
The voice came drifting from downstairs the moment Richard entered the house, and Jo stiffened. She had already finished her first round of hand-to-hand practice with Hunter and Dirk in the basement so it was time to work on homework. She had been working on an experiment submission for her psychology class for the past fifteen minutes like a good student, following the guidelines outlined in her text book and everything, but now she was getting her full name tossed at her?
“I didn’t do it, Richard!” Jo bellowed back, turning in her seat to glare at the door.
It opened a few minutes later, and there stood her brother, dressed to the nines as he was everyday, though the tie had been loosened. His hair was slightly mussed, and his jacket had already been removed, revealing his shoulder holster and pistol tucked therein. His hands were tucked neatly into his pockets as he leaned a shoulder against the door frame as he studied her.
Only, he didn’t look as angry as he had sounded when he dropped the two middle names upon entering the house.
“Stop being such a little asshole at school,” he said at long last.
Jo could only blink at him, considering his words carefully. “Want to be a tinsy bit more specific than that?”
“To your teachers. I’ve seen your assignments, Jo. Maybe take it down a notch or two, hm?”
Her gaze flitted towards the experiment submission, and she casually slid her arm over what she had written thus far before returning her full attention to him. “So you want me…”
“To not be such a smart ass when you’re working on your assignments. Maybe take them halfway seriously, hm?” he suggested. “I get that you’re bored. I had hoped this place would challenge you a bit more, but don’t your after school activities do a fair job of making up for all of that?”
She clicked her tongue softly, trying hard not to look again down at her paper. “So… playing nice.”
“Yes, playing nice.”
“Am I getting detention?”
“Not yet, but after they call in the guardian, that’s generally the next step. You’d start missing out on some of those lessons if that were the case, wouldn’t it?” She could only bob her head. “And I know you might not care all that much about it, but I assure you, if you think your world history class is dull, detention is going to be worse.”
“All of my teachers complained about me?” She couldn’t quite keep the pout out of her voice. “I thought I was being clever…”
“That’s part of the problem. Though your Latin teacher didn’t have any issues, and your PE coach just thinks you need to work out a bit more. He’s tired of the fact that you keep getting ranked dead center of the class.”
“It’s average,” Jo muttered darkly. “Average isn’t bad.”
“No, it’s not,” he agreed readily enough. “It’s just not you. So how about we add in another extracurricular after school or on the weekends? Would that be enough to keep you distracted?”
Sad as it was, Jo found herself perking up. “What kind of extracurricular…?”
“Hmm…. driving lessons?”
“Jo, that’s not what you think it is.” To which she promptly wrinkled her nose, pulling a face. “Alright, physical or mental? Let’s start there.”
“Phys- er, uh… damnit. Mental?” she ended in a small voice. She was practically vibrating with excitement.
“Alright. Tutors it is.” He was pretty sure he could find some PhD students looking to make a few extra bucks by working with a high school student one-on-one. Find a few different subjects to rotate through, and they’d be set. He arched both brows at her ear-to-ear grin. “We good?”
“We’re good. Can we get a Korean tutor?”
Maybe not all PhDs then. “I’ll ask around and see what we can find.” He jutted his chin towards her assignment. “So whatcha working on?”
The paper was instantly crumbled beneath her hand without a single look down and flicked from her desk. “Trying to come up with an idea for an experiment to submit for psychology. She wants us to follow the standard protocol in writing up a mock proposal.”
Rich nodded slowly. “That looked done.”
Blanching, Jo cleared her throat. “Uh, probably… not… so much…”
“I wanted to see if we could convince a couple students that they were actually trapped inside a virtual reality video game and the rest of us were just constructs,” Jo admitted in a rush.
Another nod, and Rich straightened up. “Of course you were. Good luck on finding a new topic.” And with that, he left her room, closing the door quietly behind him.
Now to just figure out a less assholish topic for an experiment. Crap. Maybe this was going to be harder than she had originally thought…