“So anything interesting happen at school today?” Jenny asked.
“Hmm. Let’s see,” Madison replied. “I almost got suspended. Does that count as something interesting?”
“What?” Phil asked. “You? The star student?”
“Turns out Principal Anderson is a fucking asshole,” she said.
“Madison! Language!” Jenny scolded.
“Oh, no mom. That’s accurate. I’m just quoting Mr. P.,” she said matter-of-factly.
“The nice man who came here to talk to me? Your newspaper advisor? That Mr. P.?” Jenny asked.
“That’s the one. Called Anderson a fucking asshole right to his ugly, fat face,” she replied.
“Whoa. Whoa,” Phil said with a laugh. “A teacher said that to his boss? If I did that I’d get fired. That teacher’s union must have some clout.”
“Madison,” Jenny said, shooting Phil a withering look and wresting back control of the conversation, “what exactly happened?”
Madison was fuming. Her cheeks were flushed. Every feeling she had in the office earlier came rushing back, but instead of wanting to cry, now she wanted to scream. “Seems that coming to school early and waiting in the parking lot is now a capital crime. It’s trespassing. I’m a trespasser now, because I came to school early.”
“No. There must be more to it than that,” Jenny objected. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It’s bullshit,” Madison seethed. “He threatened to suspend me and call Northwestern and tell them. The asshole threatened to screw up my college plans.”
“I don’t understand,” Jenny said. “Why would he do that?”
“To kill my story,” Madison said.
“And there it is,” Phil weighed in. “I knew there had to be a reason.”
“What story?” Jenny asked. “The one with the old people?”
“No, mom. Nobody knows about that story but you, Bryce, and Mr. P. This is about another story I’ve been working on. About the school recycling program.”
“Recycling?” Phil asked. “That doesn’t sound very controversial.”
“You’d be surprised,” Madison said. “Mr. P. gave me what he thought was a puff piece. But when I dug into it, I found out that Principal Anderson orchestrated a cabal of parents to do an end run around the superintendent’s office. And I found out that the janitor’s union is super pissed off. And I found out that the whole thing is actually fake. The new recycling program is just sending everything to the same landfill as the trash.”
Jenny and Phil both stared at her in silence. Jenny’s jaw was slack, but Phil looked a little proud. Madison was still seething with anger.
Phil broke the silence. “So he threatened to suspend you if you didn’t kill the story? Because it was embarrassing to him?”
“Exactly,” Madison said.
“Can you just run it somewhere else?” Phil asked. “Can you submit it to the city paper? It sounds like it’s real news.”
“No,” she replied. “He’s going to hold this trumped-up trespassing threat over my head. Said he’d suspend me if he got a whiff of the story from anywhere.”
“Well that sucks,” Phil said.
“I’m going to call him,” Jenny announced.
“No you are not, mom,” Madison replied firmly. “There’s nothing you can do except make things worse. I talked to Mr. P. for a long time about it. I’m still pissed, but I’m going to let it go. Anderson holds all the cards, and I’m not going to risk college over some stupid story. After I graduate, I’ll send it to the head custodian. I’m quite sure he and his union will make Anderson’s life a living hell once he has all the facts. Or maybe I’ll send it to the city paper then. Who knows? But I’m letting this one sit until I’m out of that fucking school.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Jenny said.
Madison shrugged. “I have a more important story to work on anyway.”
“What’s that about?” Phil said.
“That’s on a need-to-know basis, Phil, and you don’t need to know. Mom knows about it.”
“The old people?” Jenny asked. “But I thought we agreed you were going to set that aside.”
“And how did that turn out? I’m done doing news stories for that stupid school. They can rot in hell, for all I care. I’ve got a real story to work on, and I’m going to run with it.”
“Good for you!” Phil said.
Jenny shot him a look and he grimaced. Madison watched the silent exchange and laughed at little. Jenny looked back at Madison and narrowed her eyes.
“I’m doing it, mom. You can’t stop me,” Madison persisted.
“I’m worried, honey. The guns and everything,” she said. Phil raised an eyebrow at the word ‘guns.’
“I’ll keep Mr. P. informed of what’s happening,” Madison said. “When it’s done, I’ll get him to help me shop it around to a real newspaper. I told him I’m not going to write any more stories for the school paper. I just can’t.”
“And he is okay with that?” Jenny asked.
“Totally. He’s as mad as I am about what Anderson did. Maybe madder. Is ‘madder’ a word? I don’t think ‘madder’ is a word. Anyway, he’s super pissed about the whole thing. He said he didn’t blame me at all for wanting to be done with the Bee. Said I can keep using the school’s camera, though, which is nice.”
“That is nice,” Phil agreed.
Jenny shook her head. “I don’t like it.”
Madison shrugged. “Don’t take this the wrong way, mom, but I kinda don’t care whether you like it or not. This story could be a career-maker for me, and I’m going to see where it goes.”