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Pen Your Pride


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"Now, remember to keep your cool, Grace. We don't want to make a scene," Mom says as we turn into the school parking lot.

"Got it," I mumble.

"I mean it, honey. We don't want to make matters worse than they already are. We'll sit down with the principal, have an honest discussion about all of this, and get everything sorted out. Okay?"

"Yep," I answer absently. My focus remains out the window as the car comes to a stop and the engine cuts off. Even when I hear Mom's belt unclick and her body shift in the seat towards me, I don't make a move to exit. 

Students amble up the sidewalks, migrating through the front doors of the school, and I realize I couldn't care less if I ever come back here. It would mean living the rest of my life working a bottom of the barrel, shit for pay job, but I just don't give a damn. What difference would it make anyway? I could find out I was a Breeder tomorrow, and then it would all be for nothing.

I'd never considered that possibility before. Not until Maddie. And honestly? I'm not sure there's a chance in hell I'd be brave enough to make the choice she did. So what am I doing here? What's the point? Why feed myself a false sense of hope when I'm surrounded by the constant threat of doom?

"Ready, Gracie?" Mom's gentle tone breaks through my train of thought.

"I guess," I reply on an exhale. "Let's get this over with."

I keep my hands clasped together in my lap, because as I expected, as soon as the principal joins us in his office I feel the sudden urge to flip him off all over again. Mom pats my knee softly, as if she can read my mind and knows exactly what I'm thinking. I shift in my seat to look at her. She'll have to take control of this, because if I have to open my mouth, I can't be held responsible for the words I will most definitely spew his way.

Coach Grey joins us before we begin, and I breathe a small sigh of relief. At least there will be one more familiar, friendly face in the room. Coach Grey used to be Travis's track coach, so he's known me half my life. He also happens to be our school's counselor, and the one person in this entire place that hasn't looked at or treated me differently since my brother and Maddie ran.

He takes a seat in the corner of the room, nodding to us in greeting with a regretful smile as the principal begins. "Good morning," Mr. Langston says.

Mom straightens in her seat but doesn't greet him in return. Neither do I, or Coach Grey.

"Alright," he continues without missing a beat. "Let's try to get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible. And thank you for joining us as a witness to this meeting, Coach Grey." I see him nod in response from the corner of my eye. "Unfortunately, Mrs. Brennan, the display your daughter put on at our morning assembly yesterday cannot be tolerated and is grounds for expulsion."

"Surely you can understand the impact all of this has had on my daughter and the stress she must be under," Mom cuts in.

"Of course," he replies. "And it makes this all the more difficult, but surely you must understand that flipping off the entire student body, singling myself out in her act of defiance, and screaming profanities cannot go unpunished. What kind of example would that set for the young minds who witnessed your daughter's outburst?"

Mom scoots to the edge of her seat, her tone slightly more aggressive. "Surely you can understand that deliberately singling out my daughter in front of the entire student body, after everything she's been through, could only lead to such actions. What did you expect, Mr. Langston?"

In typical fashion, he pulls a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping the sweat that's begun to form on his brow. "I was singling out the actions of a criminal, your son, whose selfish acts have not only put our livelihoods in jeopardy, but have affected the minds of our citizens, leading to increased acts of defiance within our communities and more importantly, within the walls of this school...your daughter being the biggest offender. Perhaps she could learn something from being made an example of." 

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