At the mention of her father, Leila stopped tearing up. She sat up straighter in her chair and stared blankly ahead. Her face was wiped clean of any emotions. While Leila showed no outward response, inside she was screaming. She couldn’t get away this time. She nearly started trembling from the sudden terror that seized her body. She lost track of time and far, far too soon her father stepped into the principal’s office. Leila met his eyes.
His were cold and hard. Leila’s eyes were wide with abject fear; in them was a single word: Please.
“Mr. Forsythe,” Mr. Johns said, sitting down in his chair. “I’m so sorry that we had to call you in from work.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mr. Forsythe said, shooting a glance at Leila. “What did she do?”
“Leila,” Mr. Johns said, looking at Leila. “Would you like to tell your father what you did?”
Leila shook her head furiously. Her breathing sped up, she was so close to crying.
“Very well,” Mr. Johns said, turning back to Leila’s dad. “Edward, your daughter physically attacked another student at recess today.”
“I’m afraid so. From the looks of it, Leila hit the other girl in her face; she had to be physically torn away from the other girl.”
“Leila,” Mr. Forsythe said, turning to look at his daughter. He took on the fake tone of a concerned parent as he said, “Why did you hit this girl? What did she do?”
Leila took a steadying breath before saying, “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to.”
“Leila,” her father said, his voice becoming sterner. “That does not answer my question. Leila, why did you hit this girl?”
“Because I was angry.”
“Leila,” Mr. Johns said, “You should never hit anyone when you’re angry, do you remember? We had this discussion before? We use our words and not our fists.”
“You’re right, Mr. Johns,” Leila said. She stared at her dad as she said, “We should never hit anyone because we’re angry. No one deserves to be hit.” She could see the affects her bold words had on him. His jaw tightened and his fists clenched tighter in his lap.
“Mr. Forsythe,” Mr. Johns said, “it seems like Leila has learned her lesson. However, there is still a punishment for her behavior. Leila will receive a three day suspension. She can return to school on Monday. And I hope this dissuades you to perform anything like this again, Leila.”
Leila and her father were silently dismissed as Mr. Johns turned to some paperwork on his desk. Mr. Forsythe grabbed Leila’s arm and led her out of the school building.
“You,” he said, his voice low and menacing. “You are in huge trouble, Miss Leila. They think a three day suspension teaches you kids a lesson? You’re going to learn your lesson my way.”
“Your way is the reason I’m in this situation right now,” Leila said. And suddenly she wished she hadn’t. Punching Katie and then speaking to her father like this, Leila had no idea what was making her so bold. Her father spun her around so she faced him. He knelt down so he was eye level to her. His arms gripped her upper arms tightly, she was sure she’d have bruises there.
“You’re lucky I don’t beat you right here and right now,” he said. “You keep talking to me with that tone and you won’t be able to talk with any sort of tone for a long while. Do you understand me?”
Rather roughly, Mr. Forsythe shoved Leila into the backseat of his car. Beer cans and bottles littered the floor and it smelled like old cigarettes. Leila knew that a beating was waiting for her at home, but instead of trembling with the fear of anticipation, she steeled herself. She would not give her father the satisfaction of hurting her any further.
And there, in the backseat of an old car, amidst the smell of smoke and alcohol, Leila planned her escape.