Samantha – I is for Induction

Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically for in processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.

I followed the other candidates to the check in station. On my way I was stopped by a Marine Colonel who shook my hand and welcomed me aboard. “Are you Admiral Pederson’s daughter?” That took me by surprise, but I was too dazed to notice his name tag. I learned afterwards that he was Colonel Allen, the Commandant of Midshipmen. He was still shaking hands when I walked up to the table to pick up my name tag and information packet.

The guy who handed me my name tag looked at my t-shirt. “I hope that doesn’t mean you think this is a mistake.”

I laughed. “Heavens no. I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to do my best to set some new records.”

“Great attitude. So what are you standing around for?” He smiled and nodded toward the next table.

Much of the rest of the morning and afternoon was a matter of following lines of candidates from one station to the next and then waiting in line. One of the first things we got was a copy of Reef Points. We were told to start memorizing it. We were measured for uniforms and given a gear bag, actually a large laundry bag. We exchanged our civilian clothes first for shorts and a t-shirt and then a “white works” uniform went on over the athletic gear. We got the ubiquitous black canteen. It was supposed to be to keep us hydrated, but I suspect it was also to mark us as plebes.The gear bag got heavier as the remaining uniform gear went in it. There was a medical exam, a dental exam, the obligatory haircut. Actually, I remember that because I didn’t even get to sit in the chair. I was one of several candidates who wore our hair shorter than required. One of the women barbers joked, “Maybe we should cut her hair like we do the guys.”

After what seemed like an interminable trek through station after station, a group of us were herded into a loading dock. We gave up our gear bags on which we had written our names and units in large capital letters. The bags were thrown on a truck and dropped off just outside Bancroft hall. We were left behind to spend some time learning military customs and courtesies, like how to salute and how to answer questions by upper classmen.

It seemed like as soon as we all managed to say, “Sir, yes sir,” in unison, we were ushered out of the loading dock and onto a bus. When we arrived at Bancroft hall, we were hurried off the bus and into the arms of awaiting detailers, upper-class midshipmen, who rushed us over to a stack of gear bags and told us in no uncertain terms to find ours and get it inside without delay. That was one thing I really remember, we couldn’t do much of anything without a detailer yelling at us to hurry up.

Other detailers led us to our plebe summer rooms where we learned things like how to make our racks (beds) and store our gear. Because we were the stragglers, we broke for lunch almost immediately. When we got back to Bancroft Hall, there was some catching up to do, but the afternoon seemed to be gone almost before it started. Then to the shouts of the detailers, we were lined up and marching – as best we could – into Tecumseh court for the swearing in ceremony.

The ceremony was relatively brief, but it seemed to drag on. Admiral Moore had his say, and we all stood with our right hands in the air to respond to the oath of office with “I do.” We were no longer candidates. We were midshipmen. But we were still plebes.

I don’t remember anything else, whatever it was. After that we had 45 minutes to spend with our families, which for me included a personal swearing-in ceremony conducted by my dad, naturally.

That 45 minutes was the shortest time of any event that day. Before I knew it, I was saying a tearful goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Nelson. I squatted down next to Nelson. “Well, little brother, it’ll be a while before I see you again. Take care of Mom and Dad for me.”

“I will.” He smiled mischievously. “Does this mean I get your old room?”

I had to laugh, and it broke the gloomy spell that had been cast over me. I pecked him on the cheek and stood up. I kissed Dad on the cheek and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, sweetheart.” He gipped my arms just below the shoulder and held me back from him to take a look at me. ”God, I’m proud of you. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be easy, but you can do it. I know you can.” He stepped back and saluted. I didn’t have my cover on, but I returned the salute.

Mom was still emotional. I couldn’t blame her, but I was doing what wanted to do, and I was excited about it. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too.” She tried to sound flippant, but I could see the glint of moisture in her eyes. “Take care of yourself. See you in six weeks.” She took Nelson’s hand and started toward where the car was parked, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

“Goodbye, everybody.” I waved one last time and then stood there until they walked out of sight.

I turned back toward Bancroft Hall. Tomorrow began the real program. Six weeks. Plebe summer. I dreaded it and looked forward to it.

Samantha – L is for Lonely

Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically in-processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.

The alarm went off at 4:00 am. Grumbling, I reached out to slap the beast that was interfering with my hard won sleep. I had tossed and turned ever since I went to bed, barely getting to sleep when the alarm began beeping. I forced my eyes open and climbed out of bed. I showered, luxuriating in the cold water as I came fully awake. I dressed in a pair of cutoff jean shorts, scruffy running shoes, and a t-shirt that said “You learn from mistakes. I learned a lot today.” I had heard somewhere that you could show up for I-day nude but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

As I dried my hair, I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. Here it was, the moment of truth. Was I really ready for this? I was excited, a little scared, but, yes, I was ready. The face in the mirror smiled back with grim determination.

The family had a hurried breakfast. My eggs were tasteless and I had a hard time eating them because my stomach roiled, not from fear but excitement. As the clock ticked down, more than once Nelson objected loudly about having to get up so early, but Mom simply told him he could sleep in the car.

We rolled out of the driveway at 5:00 and hit the interstate. Traffic was light until we reached Alexandria. Then it turned chaotic. On top of the “rush hour” traffic, which was bad enough, not long after we crossed the Potomac, the traffic came to a complete stop. As the delay dragged out I could feel the anxiety building. I was supposed to check in by 10:00, and the margin was getting narrower and narrower. Dad began talking about driving on the shoulder to reach the next exit. Fortunately, before he did, Mom announced, “Traffic is starting to move up ahead.”

I could see some of the tension drain out of Dad’s shoulders. We were moving again, albeit slowly. It took us fifteen more minutes to reach the scene of the accident. A semi was on its side on the southbound side, and the police had blocked all the lanes on that side but the inside one. I counted seven emergency vehicles. I commented, “What a gapers’ block. I bet that’s breaking news, even for this area.”

Mom nodded. “I hope no one was badly hurt.” In a way that’s how I’ll always remember her, always concerned about others. It’s true even now. Am I getting maudlin? It must because this day brings back so many memories.

We arrived at Gate 8 of the Academy at 9:30 or should I say, 0930? By the time we reached Alumni Hall it was 9:45. On our way in Dad reminded me of what was happening. “I’m going to let you out at Alumni Hall. You know what to do. Then I’m going to drop in on Willy – Admiral Moore – to let him know I’m here and introduce the family … the rest of the family. He’s expecting me. You’re going to be busy for the next several hours, but we’ll see you after the swearing in.”

I got out of the car, and they drove off. I watched them until they made a turn and disappeared behind a building. For a moment I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. My Mom and Dad had just driven off, leaving me by myself to face the biggest change in my life. Sure, I’d see them one more time today, but the change would already be taking place.

I looked up at the building in front of me and the young men and women straggling in line toward the entrance. Straggling? No they weren’t. They were walking tall, and so would I. I straightened my back and strode purposefully forward to join them. It was show time!

Samantha – Graduation

Samantha had made up her mind to apply to both the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. This is what she had to say about the remainder of her school year.

I’m going to synopsize here because the following eight months were hectic but not exciting. As I mentioned before I turned in my preliminary applications for both schools and applied for nominations in every possible channel. Dad recommended I start a serious physical exercise program before taking the fitness tests. I’m glad I did. I found out from Senator Warren’s staff that I had the highest scores of any woman candidate on every single test. And later at the academy it made the first event of each morning almost a breeze.

The interviews with the Admissions Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy and the Blue and Gold Officer for the Naval Academy were interesting. Both were upbeat and optimistic about my chances for selections.

When the candidate selections came in, I had been selected for both the Air Force and the Navy. It’s no secret that I chose the Naval Academy. That was for two reasons. First and obvious, my dad was a Naval Academy graduate and wanted me to follow in his footsteps, and second, I was having a problem with my right eye at the time and couldn’t pass the vision test for military piloting – At the time I didn’t know it was temporary.

Dad dug into his memorabilia and found his copy of Reef Points and gave it to me to memorize with the caution that it was updated annually. That gave me another head start.

As for school, I kept my four plus grade point average. In track I specialized in cross country. It fit in with my exercise regimen. I could brag about my first place finishes and make excuses for coming in second at state, but I won’t. My social life flourished, but I missed both Renee and Dwayne, and I didn’t make any other serious relationships.

Graduation came, and as one of the three students with the top GPA I got the privilege of speaking. Fortunately, one of the parents, Mrs. Filstrup, was a Toastmaster, and she had conducted a program that taught students public speaking and leadership. Dad had insisted that it would be good training for Annapolis, so I participated. When I learned I would be speaking, Mrs. Filstrup helped me prepare my speech. She even gave me some ideas. You see, my speech was a prank. I couldn’t resist a final one.

When it came my turn to speak, I walked up to the lectern looking as serious as I possibly could. From under my robe I produced a makeup kit and placed it on the lectern. I heard some stirring behind me from the teachers and dignitaries, but I ignored them.

I looked out on the sea of gowns and the friends and family behind them. They hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary … yet. Speaking into the microphone quietly, I said, “As you all know, today is a solemn occasion. Today we commemorate a major milestone in our education. We have all successfully completed twelve years of schooling, some may have taken a few more. Now we’re going out to face a troubled world and try to make a meaningful impact on it. That sounds serious, doesn’t it?”

I paused to look around. Many of the teachers behind me looked tense. Principal Ashworth, however, was grinning broadly. The audience in front of me seemed ready to start yawning. I raised my voice. “Well, I don’t believe in taking life seriously.”

I took off my cap and put it on the shelf in the lectern. I stepped back, grabbed the sides of my gown, and pulled it up and off over my head. The audience gasped. I was wearing a one-piece, white clown suit decorated with random hearts and large red buttons. It had puffy sleeves and trouser legs. I bent over and released the front of my clown shoes so they stuck out like they were supposed to. Then I stepped back to the lectern. “So let’s have some fun.”

Over the next fifteen minutes I applied white face, a painted red smile, and black circles around my eyes, all the while regaling the audience with the need to enjoy life while we could and to share that joy with others. As I got ready to wrap up, I put on an oversized pair of sunglasses and paused briefly. Finally, adding a red sponge nose, I stepped out from behind the lectern. “Class of 2003, here’s my challenge to you. Wherever you go from here, defeat seriousness and spread joy. The world needs you. … Now, who has the beach balls?” I took an exaggerated bow.

I got a standing ovation. Dr. Ashworth led it.

Of course, I only had a rough idea of the work I had ahead of me. Would a cheerful attitude be enough?

Samantha – Mom Time

While deciding whether to apply for admission to a military academy, Samantha had been so wrapped up in the research she hadn’t paid attention to Dwayne and Renee. Once she had made up her mind, she sought out Dwayne to tell him her decision. She found him with Renee on the front lawn, and they both acted sheepish. When she confronted Dwayne, he reluctantly told her that both he and Renee felt she was a controlling personality and that they were dating. Feeling betrayed, she started crying and ran away from Dwayne.

I ran all the way home, blubbering almost the whole way. By the time I arrived at the front door, I had slowed to a jog. On the way I had gone through all the stages of grief and my eyes were dry. Losing Dwayne was painful, but I realized it was nothing compared to losing Brian. And I had to admit it was my doing. I was still angry, but it was more for Dwayne turning Renee against me.

The run had calmed me down, but now I was hot and sweaty. Mom heard me come in. “You’re home early,” she called from the kitchen. I headed that way.

“I ran the whole way.”

She was putting a batch of cookies out to cool. As soon as she looks at me, she knew. “You’ve been crying.”

“Dwayne and I broke up.”

“Ah, teenage romances. They don’t always hold up.” She pointed at the cookies. “I just made these for Nelson’s kindergarten class tomorrow. Maybe a cookie or two would make you feel better. Have a seat.” She pulled out a chair and turned it toward me.

She sat down facing me and pushed the cooling rack over to me. “You want to talk about it?”

Picking up one of the still warm cookies, I stared at it for a moment. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for romance. Bill turned out to be a nice guy but wasn’t ready to commit to anything. Dwayne is terrific, but he’s another Type A personality. He called me a control freak. I hadn’t realized it, but he was right. Of course, he’s one too. That’s why we’ve come to this.”

Mom laughed. “You’re giving up too soon. You’re an intelligent, good looking young woman. The young men in your life will have a hard time keeping up with you. That’s probably what happened with Dwayne.”

“So what am I supposed to do, pretend I’m something I’m not?”

“Good heavens, no. But you can learn to be more subtle in getting your way. Maybe attending an academy will help with that. After all, a good officer gets his or her subordinates to want to perform their duties. You’ve never seen your father at work, have you?”

I immediately thought about how he had handled my insubordination after Brian’s death. He didn’t manipulate me. He let me work out my anger and frustration, even letting me go too far. I smiled. I doubted he’d let his subordinates go that far, but I could see him allowing them to make some pretty caustic statements – as long as they kept calm about it and said sir.

I said, “I have a pretty good idea of what you’re talking about. He handled me despite my best efforts to hurt him.”

“That was self-discipline, definitely something you’ll learn at an academy if you’re going to graduate. … By the way, you did hurt him.”

I looked at her quizzically. “He never showed it. … Well, there was that one time at the funeral. But he handled it.” I hadn’t ever apologized. “I guess I owe him an apology.”

“I think he’d appreciate that, but he probably won’t say so.”

I peered at her for heartbeat. “Mom, how are you handling Brian’s death?”

She frowned regretfully. “It still hurts, but there’s nothing I can do to change what happened.” Her eyes glistened.

“I guess I shouldn’t have brought that up. Sorry. Let’s talk about something different.”

“Such as?”

I had no idea. I needed to take a shower, but no way was I going to leave this conversation now, not after bringing tears to her eyes. We’d been talking about boyfriends, academies, hurting dad … Back up, Mom had gone to college. “Where did you go to college?”

She looked surprised. “Now that’s different alright. University of Maryland, actually, Philip Merrill College of Journalism.”

“You were studying to be a reporter? Why didn’t you become one?”

“I met your father.” She smiled. “Of course, it wasn’t that simple. I got my degree. I even worked as a stringer for a couple of TV stations in Jacksonville while your father was stationed, if you can call it that, at Mayport. I’m not sure which carrier he was assigned to, but of course, he was at sea most of the time. Then you kids came along.” She stopped and shook her head.

I suddenly saw where this was going, another reminder of Brian. Here I was trying to unload my problems on a sympathetic audience, and in the process I was rubbing salt in Mom’s wounds. I hurriedly changed the subject. Standing, I said, “Well, after talking to you, I feel better, but I need a shower. Then I have some things to take care of, like apologize to Dad, get to work on my applications, and let Renee and Dwayne know that I still want to be friends. Since Dad’s not home, I’m going to start on the applications.”

Mom stood and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m glad I could help.”

That evening I apologized to Dad. And over the next several days I scrambled to submit my applications for nomination and complete preliminary applications for both schools.

I was disappointed to find that many of the nominations had already been filled, but Senator Warner’s qualification process and the presidential one kept me busy. Then when both schools accepted me as a candidate, there were interviews, physicals, fitness tests, essays, you name it. With all that I never managed to get back together with Dwayne and Renee.

If I had, I might still be in the Marine Corp.

Samantha – Dwayne

It didn’t take long for Samantha to talk herself into seriously considering applying to military academies, at least the Air Force and Naval Academies. After researching both schools, she decided to go ahead with the applications. She had already given Renee an indication of her thinking. Now she wanted to inform Dwayne.

I had been wrapped up in my research for a few days, and I hadn’t noticed I’d only seen Dwayne in the classes we shared. Once I made my decision, I looked for him at lunch. He wasn’t in the lunchroom, which struck me as odd. When I finished my lunch, I had time so I checked out the front lawn.

Dwayne and Renee were sitting on the grass under one of the trees. They didn’t notice me until I walked up and said, “Hi, you two. I missed you at lunch today.”

They both snapped their heads around as if I had startled them. Then they scrambled to their feet. Dwayne kept his eyes on the ground as he said, “Um. Hi, we were just felt like enjoying the nice weather…” He trailed off for a moment. Then he added, “We haven’t seen much of you since the meeting with Ashworth.” He still hadn’t looked me in the eye.

Okay, what was going on? I hadn’t done something, had I?

Renee looked at her watch. “Hey, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go in. … See you later.” She Hurried off before I could even say, “Later.”

Alright, this was strange. I turned my attention back to Dwayne. “Did I interrupt something?”

He glanced at his watch. “You Know what? I need to get inside too. Talk to you later.” He turned around and walked away. He hadn’t yet looked me in the eye.

I reached for his sleeve but stopped without touching him. I didn’t like the feeling I was getting. They were both obviously avoiding me, but why? Renee had been my best friend for the past three years, and this wasn’t like her. I stood there feeling numb. When I heard the class change bell, I shook my head and hurried inside.

After school I made a point of finding Dwayne on his way out. I had no trouble catching up with him, but he still was unwilling to look at me. I got in front of him and forced him to stop. “Dwayne, please … tell me what’s going on.”

He appeared pained. “What’s to tell? You’ve been occupied but life goes on.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alarm bells were going off in my head.

He hung his head, another bad sign. I lifted his chin up. He spoke in a monotone. “Let’s get out of traffic so we can have some privacy.”

I wondered why we needed privacy, but I followed him off the walkway to a big tree far enough away that the kids rushing out the front entrance wouldn’t hear us. As if it were an omen I heard a clap of thunder, and when I looked up I could see threatening looking clouds towering in the west. I stopped and turned to face him. “Alright, we have privacy. Spill.”

He started to hang his head again, but he stopped and looked me in the eye. “Remember when we first decided to play our pranks. It disturbed me that you took over without waiting to get a consensus.”

“The group needed a leader, and I was the one who started it. It was my project.”

He nodded. “Yes it was. I think that was the problem.”

“Problem?”

He gave me a look which I can only describe as dead serious. “Yes, you’re a control freak.”

That was a shock. My first thought was to deny it outright, but I hesitated.

He continued, “You took control our group very smoothly, but it was very clear that you weren’t about to let anybody else lead it.”

“Why should I let someone else take over what I had started? Wait a minute, you wanted to run the group? Is that it?” I paused. He started to object, but I pressed on. “So, it became a competition between two control freaks. You resented when I made it clear I was in charge.”

“Actually, Renee resented it too. We’ve been talking quite a bit since then. We both felt it should be more democratic. We came up with some good ideas, but you had to be the one who approved them. And then there was your one-sided decision to confess to Ashworth. …”

“I noticed that you and Renee joined me when I went to Principal Ashworth. I told you I would try to keep you out of it. I didn’t force you. Were you unhappy with the outcome?”

“Of course not, but …”

At that instant something clicked. I wasn’t getting the whole story. I focused on his eyes. “Alright, what aren’t you telling me?”

“You and I didn’t really have anything going. I mean, we only had one date, the Homecoming Dance …”—Here it came—“Renee and I … We’ve been spending a lot of time together, and … Well, we’ve made a connection.”

I gasped. That was it, and I hadn’t seen it coming. He was right; we really weren’t dating, but this announcement felt like he was twisting a knife in my stomach. I hadn’t realized how attached to him I had become, and here he was telling me had fallen for my best friend. Tears filled my eyes and I turned away from him.

He touched my arm and said, “I’m sorry.”

I turned back to him and snarled, “You’re sorry? You made me think we had something and then you not only …” I couldn’t continue. Tears streaming down my face, I spun around and ran.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, ominously near.

Samantha – Decision Time

Instead of handing out serious punishment to Samantha, Renee, and Dwayne for their pranks, Dr. Ashworth put them to work. Speaking separately to Samantha, he suggested she should consider applying for a military academy. At first appalled by the idea she began to give it some serious thought.

Despite Brian losing his life to an IED when he was really not cut out for military service, I couldn’t get the idea of going to an academy out of my head. It might have been that I was flattered by Principal Ashworth saying I was leadership material. I know that service was and is important to me. My parents – mostly my dad, of course – had drilled it into me all my life. I had to take the next step, at least finding out what was involved.

The internet was a big help. The service academies had reams of information on their websites. Okay, that was both a blessing and a disadvantage. Wading through all that data gave me a pretty good picture of what I might be getting into, but it also ate up a lot of my time. I spent most of my free time for several days researching both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. I know, Dad was an admiral, but I looked at the Air Force because I really liked the idea of becoming a pilot, and I figured that even between the Navy and the Marine Corp, the odds of becoming a flier were better with the Air Force – after all, that was their job.

When I talked to Dad about it, he surprised me by suggesting I apply to both schools to increase my chances of being accepted. The remaining question was did I really want to go to an academy. I asked Mom and Dad to sit down with me to help me decide. We met around the kitchen table.

Dad started. “You know this has to be your decision, right?”

I nodded and looked at Mom.

She was frowning. “You were so upset when Brian died. Are you sure you want to put yourself in the same situation? You’d probably end up in a combat zone.”

Dad shook his head. “There are a few Navy and Air Force members on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, but most of them are shipborne or on bases outside either country.”

I considered that for a second. “If I’m going into this business, I’ll serve where I’m needed. The risks might be lower in the Navy or the Air Force, but I wouldn’t avoid duty on the ground or flying over either country.”

Mom didn’t look happy with my response. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but I realized she was concerned about losing another child, me, to war. I spoke to her fear, “Mom, my risk would be really low. Women aren’t allowed in combat. Yes, if I get to fly, I might have to fly over places where fighting is going on – search and rescue, that sort of thing. I don’t know what kind of jobs I might end up with on the ground, but they would be away from the front line.”

She continued to frown. “I would still worry.”

“I know.”

When we adjourned, I hadn’t come to a definite decision, but I was definitely leaning toward applying for an academy, either the Navy or the Air Force. I went up to my room to think about it some more. It may seem funny, but I kept thinking that a combat role was appealing. Was it the idea that women could serve but couldn’t fight that was challenging me? I think that was what finally made my mind up.

Yes, I’m going to apply, and I’m going to learn all the combat skills better than the boys I’ll be going to school with. I’ll prove women can serve in combat roles.

Samantha – “The Suggestion”

Dr. Ashworth had surprised everyone by recognizing the courage, responsibility, and integrity the three pranksters had shown when they stepped forward and admitted their part in the pranks taking place at the school. His punishment – being a teacher’s assistant instead of having study hall – was light enough that Samantha was looking forward to it. That is, until Ashworth pulled her and her family aside.

When everyone else had left, Principal Ashworth gave the three of us a quick glance and settled on Dad. “I’ll be brief. I believe that Samantha has great leadership potential, but she needs discipline. I suggest you seriously consider having her apply for one of the military academies. I’d be more than happy to write a letter of recommendation.”

Dad turned and looked at me. He raised his eyebrows as if to ask what I thought of the idea. I’m sure he was thinking of how I had reacted to Brian’s death. Was I willing to put my life on the line if need be? That had to be my decision, and he knew it.

I was dumbfounded. My first thought was Where did he come up with that? I’ve had enough of the military.

Ashworth continued, “I don’t mean to be overstepping my bounds, but we had another student with similar talents last year. You may remember Kathryn Foxx.”

He looked at me. I nodded. She was a petite black girl and faster than anyone else in the state. As a sprinter she set more than one high school record. We were both on the track team. I can remember cheering her home more than once.

He added, “She was not only a champion athlete. She was clearly meant for a leadership role. I recommended she try out for one of the academies. She was accepted to the Air Force Academy and is there right now. From what I hear, she’s doing quite well. I believe you have that same quality.”

When he put it that way, I felt complemented, but still … The best I could say was, “Thank you, sir. I’ll have to give that serious consideration.” Mom gave me a look that said, “Really?”

––– # –––

As we pulled out of the school parking lot, Mom turned around in the front passenger seat and asked me the question out loud, “Did you really mean you’d give a military academy serious consideration?”

“I don’t know. At first blush I was ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I couldn’t think of any other way to answer him. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe I should give it some thought.” I didn’t know why but the irony appealed to me.

Dad looked at me in the rear view mirror. “If you want to serve, I’m with you all the way.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.” What was I doing? Service, was that it? Dad had always been all about service. Had his attitude worn off on me?

I thought about it all the way home. What was I going to do? After what had happened to Brian, I should be terrified of going into any branch of the military – Okay, maybe not the Coast Guard. No, come to think of it, they could be on the front line for drug runners and terrorists.

Yeah, I know, the “It’ll never happen to me” syndrome. It’s the reason smart people do stupid things, like smoking, or drinking and driving. So, if I signed up for an academy, would I be doing a stupid thing?

By the time we arrived at the house I was no more clear about what I was going to do than I was when Ashworth made the suggestion. I sat down in the living room and called Renee.

When she came to the phone, I started with, “Hi. Wow, was that different from what I expected.”

She agreed, “I know. I thought detention for sure for the rest of the year and maybe a delayed graduation. Scared the bejesus out of me, I’ll tell you.”

I had gone in expecting the worst, so I was resigned. But I couldn’t say that to Renee. “It was scary for sure … Guess what Principal Ashworth had to say after you left.”

“He didn’t tack on more punishment for you, did he?”

“He wants me to apply for a military academy.” I emphasized the punchline.

The silence on the other end of the line only lasted for a couple of seconds. Then “What!”  exploded from the phone. “Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I called you. What do you think?”

“I think you’re crazy for even considering it.” She was still loud. “You’re lined up to go to MIT. With your GPA you might even get a scholarship.”

“MIT’s not exactly cheap, you know. Maybe with a scholarship, but I don’t want to get saddled with a humongous student loan.” I considered that. Another reason for a military academy: I’d get paid instead of incurring a debt. That’s not quite true. Academy graduates have a service commitment, but if you’re in to serve, it’s just part of your service.

“You sound like you’re actually thinking about this.”

I realized she was right. “I guess I am. At least I don’t hate the idea.”

“Well, good luck. You’re going to need it.” She almost sounded disgusted.

“Does that bother you?”

“Not really. I simply didn’t expect it.”

I hadn’t actually made up my mind. There were too many factors that I didn’t know about. “It’s not a done deal yet. I have to do some research before I make a final decision. … This is all going too fast for me.”

“Speaking of going too fast, this evening is going too fast. I still have work to do on an English paper. I’ve got to get to it. Talk to you later, and seriously, good luck with whatever you decide.”

With that she hung up, and I headed upstairs. I had some crucial thinking to do.

Samantha – The Verdict

Samantha had admitted to Dr. Ashworth that she had perpetrated several of the pranks that the detective had blamed Ingrid for. She tried to take full responsibility for them and keep Renee and Dwayne out of it, but they both showed up and admitted their parts. Ashworth had Ms. Farrow call their parents.

The first thing I thought of was being thankful that Dad was at work. I wondered if any of Renee’s or Dwayne’s parents were home at this time of day. I guessed we’d find out soon enough.

Principal Ashworth pointed us to the benches in the reception area. “While we’re contacting your parents, you can sit over there.” He ushered us out of his office and closed the door.

We sat and looked at each other, wondering what was going to happen. I realized that he hadn’t said we couldn’t talk, but I figured it would be safer to keep it quiet. I leaned toward Dwayne and Renee and spoke as quietly as I could, “Thanks, guys. That took guts.”

Dwayne retorted softly, “What you did took guts. We just figured Dr. Ashworth would worm it out of you eventually, and we’d be better off telling him ourselves. That doesn’t look like it made a whole lot of difference to him.” He nodded toward the closed door.

We sat in silence for an indefinite time. I could swear I heard to class change bells, although I know it wasn’t that long. I think we were all stewing over what type of disastrous punishment was coming our way considering that Ashworth had planned to suspend Ingrid for the rest of the semester. I had done the right thing, but it broke my heart to see tears running down Renee’s face. I wrapped my arms around her and let her bury her face in my shoulder.

Finally, Ashworth opened his door and walked over to us. “Not unexpectedly, your parents were unable to get here right away. So you three have a few hours to think about what you’ve done. Then you will return with your parents when they come in at 7:00 p.m. this evening. Now, Ms. Farrow will provide you notes for your teachers and you will rejoin your classes.”

I wondered how much of our minds would be on our classes.

––– # –––

Mom met me as I came in the door. “Honey, what have you done?” Her expression said she was really alarmed.

I stumbled through a clumsy explanation of what had been going on and went to my room without being told. I sat down at my desk but left the computer off. It was all I could do to keep from bawling. I realized that I had jeopardized not only my own chances at a good college but also Renee’s and Dwayne’s. Worse, I knew I had to face Dad, and that scared me more.

He surprised me when he got home. He apparently talked to Mom before coming up to my room. He knocked on the closed door. “Samantha, may I come in?”

“Yes, sir.” I got up and faced the door at attention.

He stopped about arm’s length in front of me. Astonishingly, he wasn’t scowling. Instead, he merely looked concerned. “So you’ve really gotten yourself in a fix. Contrary to the Klingon saying, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold,’ revenge is not something to serve at all. It only brings more trouble with it. I hope you can see that now.”

He sat down on the bed and patted beside him. I joined him. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I truly am … more for the trouble I got Renee and Dwayne in than for what might happen to me.”

A faint smile flickered on his face. “That’s the reason I’m not yelling at you, sweet heart. You did the right thing by admitting your fault instead of leaving Ingrid blamed with what you did, and I was especially proud to hear that you tried to take full responsibility. I’ll see if there is any way to minimize the repercussions when we meet with your principal tonight.”

He stood and offered me his hand. “Let’s go down to dinner.”

We suffered through dinner in silence. I had absolutely no interest in eating. I simply shoved my food around on my plate. Mom kept looking at me without saying anything. Nelson watched me too. He started to ask a question, but Mom shushed him.

At last it was time to go back to school. We met the Williams and the Lindquists at the steps to the main entrance. Mr. Lindquist frowned and growled, especially when he looked at either me or Dwayne. Mrs. Williams had tears in her eyes. Mr. Williams seemed to be dealing with it unemotionally. And Mrs. Lindquist kept cringing away from her husband as he ranted.

Together we shuffled down the hall to the reception room. Principal Ashworth was waiting for us. “Good evening. Will you follow me please.”

He led us to the lunchroom. I hadn’t thought of it until then, but there was nowhere near enough room for all of us in his office. To my surprise all three home room teachers were in the lunch room, and they were all smiling. Were they there to enjoy hearing our punishment?

Ashworth had the parents and teachers sit down and left the three of us standing. He took a position in front of everyone. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a few words to say.” He beckoned Dwayne, Renee, and me to join him. Her it comes, I thought.

He cleared his throat. ”These young people have presented me with a conundrum. They performed a number of shenanigans over the past month or so. A detective I hired found evidence that Ingrid Hoffman had perpetrated the bulk of them, and I made ready to exact a suitable punishment on her. While I was doing so I apologized to Miss Pederson for having accused her of one of the pranks. This afternoon Miss Pederson came to me and admitted to a number of the tricks that Miss Hoffman was purported to have engineered.”

He looked around the room. “She also told me that she accepted full responsibility for those pranks. However, these two”—He pointed toward Renee and Dwayne.—“came into my office unbidden and admitted to assisting her.” Once again he paused.

“Technically I have every right and perhaps an obligation to punish them severely.” He peered at me as if he was thinking in terms of fifty years to life. “But a funny thing happened. As this all came together I understood why it had all happened. I’ve been a martinet and a pompous ass.” He let that soak in. My mind was spinning. What was going on here?

He continued, “The stunt Miss Pederson engineered at the football game thoroughly embarrassed me. I was so angry I would have gladly throttled the culprit. But when I faced that culprit and her laudable defense of someone who had caused her great pain and discomfort ­– and then her co-conspirators came to her defense, I began to realize what this was all about. I at least bore some of the responsibility for what had happened, and these three young people hadn’t done anything that really harmed anyone, not even me. I was embarrassed because of my own arrogance.”

Dad was the one who broke the silence. “So what are you going to do about these kids?”

Ashworth faced the three of us. “That’s my conundrum. They did cause several disturbances, and they shouldn’t get off scot-free. On the other hand the responsibility they showed needs to be recognized. I want them on my team. Therefore, I’ve established a new position for this school. The three of them will be assigned to serve as teachers assistants in place of study hall for the remainder of the school year. Miss Pederson will help Mrs. Cable, Miss Williams will help Ms. Foy, and Mr. Lindquist will help Mr. Yoshimoto.”

I knew what the punishment was. We couldn’t schedule last period study hall and leave school early. But compared to what he could have done to us, it would be painless and might actually be fun. I almost smiled.

Ashworth looked at our parents. “Kids will sometimes get into trouble. That’s life. You should all be proud of the responsibility and integrity your children have shown. I consider this matter closed … and please keep my admission to being a pompous ass to yourselves.”

He turned to me. “Miss Pederson, could I speak to you and your parents before you leave? I have one last – call it ‘suggestion.’”

Samantha – Coming Clean

Of all things, the inept detective had gotten one thing right. Ingrid had painted the graffiti on the school. That relieved Samantha immensely, but it didn’t last. He had also blamed Ingrid for the other pranks, and Dr. Ashworth had accepted that as fact. The more Samantha thought about it the more it made her feel guilty, especially since Ashworth was going to suspend Ingrid. Samantha’s moral code wouldn’t let her just walk away. She informed Dwayne and Renee that she was going to take sole responsibility for the pranks she was involved with.

Here I was standing across the counter from Ms. Farrow again. This time I was in real trouble. It seemed odd that she had actually smiled at me and seemed to think Principal Ashworth would be pleased to talk to me. I doubted it very much. To tell the truth I expected to be raked over the proverbial coals.

She walked over to the Principal’s door and rapped on the frame. “Miss Pederson to see you, sir.”

“Send her in.” It almost sounded jovial.

My knees went weak, and sweat formed on my forehead. I wished there were something to hold onto as I walked to his door. I stopped barely outside the door and stood there paralyzed.

“Come in. Come in.” He beckoned to me. “What can I do for you, Miss Pederson?”

I stood directly in front of his desk, and my words stuck in my throat. I was committed. I had to get them out.

He must have noticed my distress. “Is something wrong?”

I swallowed hard and said with a catch, “Yes … sir.”

He frowned. “Is it something I need to take care of?”

I realized I was slouching and straightened my back. My voice seemed to be coming from someone else. “No sir, it’s something I need to take care of.” My voice speeded up as if of its own accord. I reeled of the list of pranks I had been involved with, starting with the broadcast booth incident. “Sir, Ingrid had nothing to do with those. I take full responsibility for them. …” A tear ran down my cheek.

He leaned back in his chair and interlaced his fingers over his stomach. His expression was bland, almost as if he hadn’t heard me. I kept waiting for the explosion, but he sat in silence. Finally he leaned forward. “You realize that stunt with the broadcast booth was one of the most embarrassing experience I’ve ever had?”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I stood there frozen, waiting for what came next.

He studied me for what seemed like forever, that same bland expression on his face, and my heart kept sinking the whole time. Finally, he spoke. “Miss Pederson, you have presented me with quite a conundrum.”—I did a quick check of my mental dictionary: a complex puzzle.—“First of all, you deliberately played a malicious prank on me. Then you had the courage to come forward when someone else was blamed for it. Moreover, that person had deliberately placed the blame for a prank she did on you. And I took her planted evidence over your word.”

He paused and stared at me again. “What should I do with you?”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Well?”

I spoke hesitantly, “Sir, I expect the … appropriate punishment for … what I did, … whatever is standard. I expected that if I was caught going in.”

“I see.” He frowned slightly. “In other words you thought what I had done to you warranted your actions.” He didn’t say it as a question, but he seemed to be waiting for a response.

“I was angry. I had been blamed for something I hadn’t done, and my word had been doubted. Sir, I was brought up to believe that I should never tell a lie, and I don’t.”

Again he frowned slightly. “For that I apologize. But there is another point. I noted that you said you take full responsibility. Some of your pranks appeared to require more than one person. Did you have help?”

There it was. Was he going to keep pressing the issue of my helpers or would it stop with my admission there were others? Still, I wasn’t going to lie. “Sir, I’d rather not answer that.”

“Ah, but I must know your answer. Of course, the fact that you don’t want to answer clearly implies you’re protecting someone else.” His eyes bored into me.

I frantically tried to think of something to say that would clear Dwayne and Renee, but they had both volunteered. “Sir, as I said, ‘I accept full responsibility.’”

“So you refuse to implicate anyone else?” This time the frown had turned serious.

“Sir, I’d rather not …”

Ms. Farrow interrupted with a loud, “You can’t go in there.”

Principal Ashworth and I both looked at the door. Dwayne came through first, and Renee followed. Dwayne stopped on my right, and Renee stopped on my left. They both stood at a rigid attention.

Ashworth pushed his chair back and stood. He seemed to take on a force of authority. “What is this?” he growled.

Dwayne was first to speak. “Sir, Samantha didn’t do all of the practical jokes she’s admitting to by herself. We helped.” I could have kissed him.

I turned to him. “You didn’t have to do this.”

He and Renee responded at the same time. “Yes we did.”

Ashworth spoke in menacing tones, “Then you’re both going to share in her punishment. Is that what you wanted?”

I made one last try. “But I was responsible.”

It was as if Ashworth didn’t hear me. “Ms. Farrow, please contact Samantha Pederson’s, Dwayne Lindquist’s, and Renee Williams’ parents and ask them to come to the school right away.”

Well, I had tried.

Samantha – Dilemma

Samantha had told Dr. Ashworth that his detective was not only inept but was actually encouraging pranks because the pranksters were treating him as a challenge. Instead of blowing a fuse, Ashworth seemed to like the information. It gave him an excuse to fire a buffoon who obviously wasn’t getting the job done. She was hoping that was the end of it when Ashworth pulled her aside after class.

I hoped my sudden anxiety didn’t show. I was afraid any reason Principal Ashworth might have for wanting to talk to me wasn’t going to be favorable. I joined him out of the flow of students rushing to their lockers. “Yes, sir?”

“I want to thank you again for informing me of Mr. LeClerc’s unintended influence on the tomfoolery going on around the school.” He looked around as if to make sure no one was in hearing distance. “When I approached him to let him go, he had prepared a final report. He had identified the kingpin who was responsible for starting this nonsense.”

My heart thudded, and I struggled to keep a straight face. I was afraid my voice would crack if I asked who, so I waited for him to continue.

He didn’t seem to notice me holding back. “Ingrid Hoffman,” he continued, “According to what LeClerc heard students saying early in his investigation, Miss Hoffman painted the graffiti on the front of the building and followed up with several other practical jokes before I hired a private detective.” He paused. “It appears I owe you an apology. I trusted Miss Hoffman when she accused you of spreading rumors about Mrs. Finch and Mr. Browning and was biased to believe her accusation that you had done the graffiti.” So she was the one.

He continued, “I’ll see that she is suitably dealt with.”

That was it I was off the hook, and Ingrid was going to get hers. “If I may ask, sir, what do you have in mind?”

“I’ll have to confirm it with the superintendent, but I will probably suspend her for the rest of the semester.”

Much as I wanted Ingrid to be punished, I didn’t think the offense justified that stiff a punishment. “Isn’t that a little extreme, Sir.”

He looked at me quizzically. “Considering what she did to you, I would think you’d want a severe punishment.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Wanting her to be harshly punished merely seems vindictive to me I guess. And that’s not me. I mean, wouldn’t that make it hard for her to graduate with the rest of the class?”

He seemed to think about what I said before he said, “Well, in that case I may reconsider my position. Thank you, Miss Pederson.” He turned and walked away, leaving me standing there with my mouth open.

––– # –––

Renee caught up with me on my way out the front door. “What did the dictator have to say?”

I was still dazed. What had just happened? Had I really softened Principal Ashworth? It took me a second to respond.

She studied me. “Well?”

“He said that Sheerluck found out that Ingrid had painted the graffiti and had reported that she was also responsible for the majority of the pranks. He was going to suspend her for the remainder of the semester.”

Renee smiled. “Sounds good to me. She deserves it.”

“I don’t know. You and I both know she didn’t have anything to do with our practical jokes.” I paused. I had finally realized that Ingrid was getting blamed for what I had done, I and Renee and Dwayne. I whispered, “Oh my god.”

Renee gave me and odd look and asked, “What?”

I didn’t respond. I was too deep in thought. Principal Ashworth was going to punish Ingrid for what the three of us had done on top of what she had done. That wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. I had to clear her of our pranks. I mumbled, “I’ve got to do something.”

“What are you talking about?” Renee was staring at me as if I had lost my mind.

“We can’t let Ashworth punish Ingrid for what we did. You, Dwayne, and I have to figure out a way to prove she didn’t do our pranks.”

“That’s easy, confess.”

That hit me like a blow to the solar plexus. I couldn’t tell if she was serious, but it shocked me into thinking some more. I looked around to see if Dwayne remained in the dwindling crowd of students. I spotted him talking to a couple of the members of the basketball team. I grabbed Renee’s arm and pulled her with me. “Come.”

Dwayne saw us coming. “Hi, what’s up?”

I stared him in the eye. “We need to talk … privately.”

He turned to the other boys and shrugged, palms up. “See you guys later.” Then he followed Renee and me.

As soon as we were out of earshot, he asked, “What’s all this about?”

I scanned the area to make sure no one was approaching. Then I told him what I thought the problem was. He nodded and asked, “What do you propose to do about it?”

“I’ve been struggling with that. Renee”—I nodded at her—“suggested confessing. I don’t know how serious she was, but I can’t think of anything better.”

Dwayne shook his head. “I’m not fond of that idea.”

“Can you think of anything better?”

He scowled. “Better than volunteering to be punished? Letting it be comes to mind. After all, if she hadn’t framed you for the graffiti, none of this would have happened.”

I had expected something like this. I pressed the point. “But that would mean letting Ingrid be punished for what we did. Would that be right?”

He continued to scowl, but he said, “No, but I don’t like it. Come up with something else.”

Renee joined the discussion. “I feel really bad about this, but if Ashworth was going to suspend Ingrid, wouldn’t he do the same thing to us? I vote for letting it be.”

I couldn’t accept that. I had one last card to play. “Look, I understand where you’re coming from, but I consider this my responsibility. I can’t let it go. Here’s what I propose: I’ll go by myself and accept full responsibility for the pranks we pulled. If he asks me who else was involved, I’ll tell him it was all my fault and no one else needs to be punished.”

Dwayne had a final comment. “I don’t think he’ll let you get away with that.”

“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something to make it right.”

His shoulders slumped. “I guess we’ll have to risk it.”

No, I’ll have to risk it.