Alice often didn’t know why she did the things she did. Or at least she didn’t know at the time she did them. She just acted. Or reacted, as the case might be. Later she would ponder the "why." This morning's activity didn't take much brain power to figure out. That Porter boy was cute and quiet and sweet and never bothered a soul. She hadn't met him before but she had seen him around a lot of times and she could just tell these things about people. So when she saw that skuzz Ledbetter trip him, well, she acted. Or reacted. Whatever. It felt good.
What was funny, though? When she met Ledbetter in the hallway between third and fourth period, she'd expected him to threaten her or shove her or pull some other caveman move; instead he turned his messed-up face away and moved to the other side of the hallway. That wasn't like the bully at all. Oh well.
She daydreamed her way through fourth period, then homeroom, thinking about the theater, so excited about Lawrence of Arabia that she could barely stand it. She also found herself thinking more than once about Porter, which was a little silly since she didn't really know him at all and he might not think much of her anyway. Pretty much nobody else at school did. And had she embarrassed him when she knocked the scuzz down the steps? That hadn't occurred to her, which was one little problem with acting in the moment. Then she remembered something even worse: She had winked at him! Why did she do that? Now he might think she was cheap and easy, or maybe just plain crazy.
With these things on her mind, she had an even harder time tolerating Mr. Peterson and his geometry. (Gee-AHM-uh-tree is ver-ee im-por-tant!) As it turned out, she didn't have to endure him all that long. About fifteen minutes into the class, a messenger knocked on the door and told Mr. Peterson that the principal wanted to see Alice Pendergast. Mr. Peterson sighed as if the rest of his life had just been ruined and motioned for her to go.
Mr. Turner's office smelled like, well, like Mr. Turner. Which is to say it smelled like Brylcreem because Mr. Turner kept so much of it slathered into his hair. Hair he was always combing, which left the whitish Brylcreem gunked up in the teeth of the black comb. It was one of those things Alice couldn't help but stare at, no matter how hard she tried. It was just that gnarly.
"Alice," he said, "I thought we agreed last week that you were going to refrain from behavior that caused these little visits of ours?"
She didn't remember the conversation that way at all. In fact, it had been more of a speech by Mr. Turner than a conversation. Alice didn't say this out loud because she had found that correcting the faulty memory of these people wasn't necessarily appreciated.
"Well?" he said.
"What did I do?"
He looked at her, drew a breath like he was about to say something, then blew that breath out and ran his hand through his hair. This made his hand Brylcreem-shiny and of course launched another combing session. "Did you or did you not shove Hank Ledbetter down the front steps this morning?"
"Oh, that," she said.
"Yes, Alice. That."
"That's not an answer," Mr. Turner said.
"I pushed him."
"He's a bully. He tripped a guy named Porter, on purpose. Made him fall down the steps. Then pointed and laughed at what he'd done."
"And what did that have to do with you?"
"It wasn't right."
"I ask again, Alice, what did that have to do with you?"
This was a dumb conversation and Alice was about done with it. She shrugged again. This prompted another deep breath and long exhale and hand in hair and combing session.
"Three days detention," he said.
"That's not fair!"
"You think not?"
"Maybe you'd prefer four?"
Now it was her turn to draw a speaking breath and then change her mind and hold her tongue. She did not, however, run her hand through her hair. It would not have come back slick with hair grease, but still.
"You can't wander around executing what you consider justice, Alice. If you were concerned about what you saw, you should have told a teacher."
"What happens to Ledbetter for what he did?"
"That's not your concern."
"Who told on me?"
"You know I can't tell you that."
"I have a right to face my accuser. It's the American way."
"This is not a court of law and you're not on trial, Alice. And for what it's worth, it's not a democracy, either. It's high school. More like a benign dictatorship," he said, then gave her a little smile.
"Dictators are never benign," she said.
His little smile disappeared. "Alice, you should go now."
So she did.
Her heart sank when she checked the bulletin board and saw that Mr. Peterson was the detention teacher that week. She slogged her way to the library to serve her time, settled into a chair at the detention table, and waited. (Maybe she was supposed to have gone back to the rest of geometry class, but she figured a detention hour with Mr. Peterson was punishment enough.) The bell sounded the end of school and a couple minutes later, she got a pleasant surprise when Porter walked into the library and made his way toward her.