Open Heart’s release is just 7 days away–1 week, 1 week! Are you excited yet? Well, yesterday, we met Brady’s new girlfriend, Ronnie Franklin. Today, I’d like to introduce you to her doting father figure, Mr. Joe Franklin. I won’t belabor introductions since our dear friend does such a good job introducing himself…
Principal Palermo steps forward and taps the microphone with her finger. “Check, check. One, two.” She clears her throat. Most of the students ignore her. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she says, this time louder. “Students. We’re ready. Let’s get started.” She says each phrase with increasing volume until the chatter stops and she gains the attention of her audience. “I’m sure you’re all very sad about missing your second period classes.”A chorus of sarcastic laughter coupled with vigorous shouts of, “Yeah right,” rises around her.“Anyway, we’ve called this assembly to address the growing concern of…well, our growing population.”
A few students laugh politely.
“Told you,” Alex says in my ear.
“Of course, we’re very happy to welcome all the new students to Grandon, but this population boom happened almost overnight. It’s been quite the challenge to figure out how to accommodate everyone and preserve a suitable learning environment. Luckily, we’ve found a solution, and that’s what this assembly is about.
“Given this recent growth, the state board has agreed to increase our funding. We are in the process of hiring more teachers and securing more textbooks and school supplies. We appreciate your patience and willingness to share your materials as necessary. The added funding will not solve our space problem, however. For that, we are most fortunate to have found a benefactor.”
Whispers rise as a well-dressed man crosses the gymnasium and stands next to Mrs. Palermo. He wears a gray silk suit and a sharp, subtly patterned tie. His skin is so tan it’s orange, and his teeth so white, they look fake. A slight paunch shows behind his fitted jacket, but somehow adds to his charisma.
“Daddy,” Ronnie yells childishly from behind us.
My interest in the stranger turns to disdain as he shakes the principle’s hand and assumes control of the microphone.
“Hi, kids!” He adjusts the microphone’s height. “My name is Joseph Franklin, but we’re all friends here, so you can call me Joe. I’m new to town, too, just like many of you, and my daughter, Ronnie, goes to school here. Hi, Sugar.” He waves to Ronnie.
Bile rises in my throat.
“Well, I couldn’t let my princess go to class in such a crowded environment. So, naturally, I had to make an investment to the tune of five hundred thousand dollars.”
I gasp and see Shapri’s mouth fall open from the corner of my eye. Alex makes a low whistle—the same sound Wile E. Coyote makes whenever he’s falling through the sky after one of his failed attempts to capture the Roadrunner. Other students whisper. Ronnie’s crowd fawns over her. No doubt they’ll try even harder to make her like them now that they know she’s disgustingly rich.
Joe Franklin grabs the lapels of his jacket and rocks on his heels. “It’s a small price to pay for the happiness of my princess, and for the good of the community. Now, even though Grandon High doesn’t have much money—well, until now.” He cackles proudly. “You’ve got land, and lots of it. I’ve hired a crew to come in and put up a second building on these here grounds. A bigger building. A better one, too. I’m paying them extra to complete the job by Christmas. So things will continue to be a little crowded for a while, but before long, you’ll be going about your days in a new state-of-the-art education facility.”
Principal Palermo returns to his side and claps her hands enthusiastically. The rest of the teachers stand and give Mr. Franklin an ovation, and students applaud, too, which seems weird to me. It’s a lot of money and a nice gesture, but the whole point of being a high school student is being indifferent to everything. Shapri, Alex, and I remain seated as everyone rises to their feet. The emotional waves are confident and looping like Ronnie’s. A room full of Ronnie’s energy—I think I’m going to be sick.
“I don’t like this,” Shapri says in a strained whisper.
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