Phil ruined her stay at Silverback Academy on her very first day of school. Being at Silverback was going to be a nightmare, she could see it now, and it was all her fault.
Across her, the principal was saying something, his gnarled hands gesticulating in front of him, but Phil wasn’t listening. Dr. McLaughlin’s left index and middle fingers had an unnatural, petrified look to them, Phil noted, as if they had been sewn on after an accident. She wanted to ask about it, but he was talking about <i>Miss León</i> this and <i>Miss León</i> that.
See, Renata León was the reason Phil was at the principal’s. Renata León was the reason why Silverback sucked.
On her first day Phil had opened her big mouth and had intervened when Renata was bulling Maxie. Back then she had had no idea the type of school Silverback was, nor why everyone let Renata do whatever she pleased, nor what Renata was capable of. Phil had been new and green and unwitting. She had stood up for Maxie, and Renata had been so shocked at Phil’s audacity (really, who was Phil to tell Queen Bully what to do?) that she had stopped. And Phil had had a brief moment of self-satisfaction. She had thought she was capable of stopping a bully.
But she had been wrong. So, so wrong. For Phil now knew Silverback wasn’t exactly the place where one put a stop to things. In actuality, all Phil did was turn Renata’s attention from Maxie to her.
“Philippa, are you listening?” Dr. McLaughlin asked.
“Yes,” Phil lied.
“If I don’t see a ruined phone then I don’t have proof that Miss León did anything,” he added, waving the hand with the petrified fingers.
Phil had come to him to tell him Renata had flushed her iPhone down the toilet. She had come to him well aware that snitching was a dangerous gamble, but she was desperate. She was so sick of Renata. Flushing Phil’s phone had simply been the latest item in Renata’s <i>Making Phil’s Life at Silverback Impossible</i> list. Every day there was something new, like “accidentally” spilling paint over Phil’s canvas in art class, or loudly calling her the daughter of a criminal in the hallways.
Dr. McLaughlin was her dad’s friend, and he had told Phil she could come to him if she needed anything. Well, she needed him to be on her side now, and instead he was telling her this?
“You need to make the peace with Miss León if she’s giving you this much trouble. I can’t intervene.”
Phil bristled. She knew “making the peace” wasn’t going to work. Why even bother? “Fine,” she said, leaving the seat and turning to the door.
“I’m not done, Philippa,” Dr. McLaughlin said while his bushy eyebrows descended in a frown, “Please.”
Phil plopped herself back on the chair, the leather exhaling a <i>poof</i> with her weight.
In literal age Dr. McLaughlin wasn’t too old—he was hardly a few years older than her dad—but he wore the years heavily, his face wrinkled and his droopy nose without a lack of wayward hairs. “Philippa, please try to stay out of trouble.”
“I don’t have a phone anymore ‘cause of her!”
He ignored her. “The teachers tell me they’ve heard the students talk about your family situation; that the students know you are here because of my friendship with your father. If I were to talk to Renata about this phone, she would know you are using my friendship as leverage. Are you talking about your dad?”
“Then how do they know?”
Phil looked at the gorilla paperweights on his desk and shrugged. <i>Probably ‘cause gossip flies faster than the speed of light at Silverback</i>, she thought. Instead she said, “Maybe Gwen talks.” Gwen was her identical twin sister, who had been spared from Silverback’s bullies the moment she captivated the heart of the richest and most influential attendee.
“In any case, please try to keep your father’s situation to yourself.”
Phil did. She wasn’t in the business of boasting about it. Coming to Silverback wasn’t her choice. It was the result of her stepmom’s disdain toward public schools and her dad’s recent conviction—the Norwoods’ fall from grace. Her stepmom, Blair, had crowed on and on about how it would be an unforgettable experience, and back then only Gwen had been in agreement. Well, for Phil it already was—but a terrible, awful, hellish, unforgettable experience.
“I don’t tell anybody about my dad,” Phil murmured.
“Good. It’s the sensible thing to—” Dr. McLaughlin was cut short when his nosey secretary swung open the door to the office.
“Dr. McLaughlin, I’ve got Roman here waiting for you,” she said.
Dr. McLaughlin rolled his chair back, saying, “Oh, for goodness’ sake, what does he want now?”
“He says it’s important.”
With a sigh he stood up. A tall man, Dr. McLaughlin’s natural height was beginning to recede under his poor posture. “All right, Philippa, off to class you go.”
Phil was glad for the interruption. She was ushered out to the waiting lobby, where she passed the built, pink-faced man that was the head of security. Roman ignored her as he strolled in to Dr. McLaughlin’s office. The secretary also told her to scram, so Phil walked out to the third floor hallway just as the bell for the end of lunch rang.
From the third story railing Phil could see the stream of students on the ground floor leaving the cafeteria and walking out to the rotunda, where the floor was decorated in a tiled pattern of the garnet and gray school colors. The swelling crowd dispersed to the locker-lined hallways or to the wide, spiraled staircase leading to the second and third stories. The main building was the heart of Silverback, which housed the cafeteria, the administration offices, and most classes.
Despite Silverback being a private boarding school, what it had in snobs, it lacked in prestige. Silverback was the place where distraught, affluent parents sent kids who had long records to their names. It was the last resort school, one which looked past histories of delinquency or bad grades or problematic behavior in exchange for a hefty tuition fee.
Such a fact was reflected everywhere Phil went. From her very first day she sensed the air of anarchy to the school, and it wasn’t long before she experienced it firsthand. Being the new kid was a damnable offense at Silverback, and worse yet, being the new kid who pissed off Renata León was the closest thing to a death sentence. As of today Phil was hated, friendless, and stuck at the bottom of the student food-chain.
Phil’s trip to Dr. McLaughlin’s office had consumed her lunch time, so with an empty stomach she headed to Calculus. Upon walking in, she saw she was the first there.
Her potbellied teacher was swiping the whiteboard clean. Mr. Little turned, saw her, and beamed. “Philippa! How’s your day going?”
She hugged her chest and faked a smile. “It’s alright, I guess. Another day in boarding school.”
Mr. Little chuckled. He had taken a liking to Phil, which was odd at first, until she found out Mr. Little was a college friend of her dad’s, just like Dr. McLaughlin.