When the wind blows from the North East, the entire town congregates at the high school football field for the kicking match between the old champion and anybody who dares feel that they can boot the pigskin further. Isolde Ranbenin had moved to Darlingon after a professional career that spanned two sports, football European style and football American style. He had played goaler for the Albanian side and had helped his countrymen gain a much coveted entry into the World Cup and he had a successful clubside campaign with Dusseldorf in the German Football Federation where his long accurate kicks caught the eye of Major Emery Conatrelli stationed in the then West Germany with American troops. Major Conatrelli scouted as a side to his military duties for the Plattsville Pilots of the Continental Football Association. Not long thereafter, Isolde signed a contract to help the struggling Plattsville franchise as a place kicker. His league record-breaking long distance field goals were still not enough to get the team into the post-season. After three and a half years with the team, the owners of the Pilots declared bankruptcy and folded the organization. Isolde received several offers from competing teams in the C.F.A. and even one from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League but chose to accept the opportunity to become the soccer coach and back-up football coach for nearby Darlingon High. He knew that he was getting older and that he required some stability in his life. He definitely didn't want to return to impoverished Albania and he revelled in the rustic bucolic life that Darlingon offered.
For over fifteen years he challenged anybody in the county to try to kick a football further than him and for over fifteen years the challengers came and went and none could even come up to even three quarters of the distance that Isolde's size seven foot produced. The coach, as a stipend, would require any would-be long distance kicker to cough up twenty-five dollars that was faithfully donated to the Darlington Disaster Relief Fund by Isolde. Over the years, this coffer had grown considerably thanks to the power of Isolde's crescending foot and other charity programs that he contrived. Thankfully, thus far, the relief fund had never been dipped into as Darlingon had managed to avoid any natural calamities that might have come its way. Some thought that the former football player was dipping into this pool because of his rather lavish living and spending habits.
Phil Lesters was considered a natural calamity by many of his classmates. He was an ungainly, plump, pimply farmboy that was as awkward at physical prowess as a drunken three-legged dog trying to climb a rickety old ladder. Like the dog, Phil felt that he was out of place at High School although he would never say any of this to his father, Randy Lesters, who had been the football coach at neighbouring Callisville High. The older Lesters knew that his boy was not much of an athlete and he was enlightened enough of a man not to push the young lad into following his path into sports. If Randy had any wishes for his boy it was that he would lose some weight. At the age of fifteen, Phil was well over three hundred pounds while standing just barely above five feet in height. The kids at Darlington High called him the not very original appellation Porky, a name Phil was called throughout elementary school as well. The head football coach at Darlington wanted to recruit Phil as a center for the junior squad but Randy Lesters talked him out of it. Isolde also voiced a negative opinion concerning this selection. The Albanian assistant coach believed that athletic ability should have a greater priority than physical size in determining the makeup of the squad.
None of this was known to Phil Lesters when he was in Grade Nine or Ten. Had he been aware of this he might have tried out for the team just to prove to the three men that he had something that he knew his father prized, character. His mother, the former Faye Louise Mackay, also a teacher at Callisville High, tried to nurture the artistic side of her son but Phil was as illsuited this way as he was as an athlete. Even in academics, there was nothing outstanding about the boy. His grades at best were marginal and he did not show any flair for any particular subject. There was absolutely no reason for the Lesters family to hope for greatness in their lad and this did not matter to them at all. They accepted Phil and valued him as a son.
At school, however, "Porky" was not accepted and valued. He was often the brunt end of rude jokes from both the girls and the boys. On several occasions he had been kissed by the more pretty girls but this was only done so on a dare from the other taunting teenagers. Nobody particularly befriended Phil but the boy did show good humour and good citizenship in not trying to retalliate. He accepted his treatment as just the way it is and the school psychologist's personality tests showed that the boy was well adjusted and did not harbour any underlying potentially explosive traits. He was not going to become a serial killer or any other form of mass murderer. Somehow or other Phil was in harmony with his existence and just let everything bounce off of him.
There was a lot of Phil that could take the bouncing. The doctors had said that he did not have any pituatary, thyroid or other glandular problems that could explain his massive obesity. Nor was their any genetic reason for his size. Both Randy and Faye's bloodlines had not ever produced such a megamorph as Phil. The postman who daily delivered the mail to the Lesters' farmhouse home was rather a fat man and Randy had often joked that maybe Phil was his son but there was no truth in this allegation. Phil was the product of the shared loins of him and Faye. He was just a big boy and that was that.
Because of the location of the Lesters' hobby farm, Phil had to attend Darlington High rather than the school where his parents taught although the School Board would have made the concession had the Lesters requested it. The parents decided that it would be better for the boy to receive his secondary education amongst strangers. Phil had no problem with this. It was enough to be teased by his size without the added anti-teen culture trauma of being the child of one of the teachers. Even though Randy and Faye were among the most popular teachers at Callisville, Phil instinctively knew that their presence at school would make life even more difficult for him.
A student at Darlington was well aware of this stigma about being a teacher's child. Lonnie Davis was never quite accepted by his peers because his mother, Mrs. Joanna A. Davis, was principal of Darlington High School. His classmates all feared that Lonnie was a spy for his mother and because of that they wouldn't let him join in the reindeer games at the school as the saying goes. Lonnie could not accept the ostracism as well as Phil and he was always trying to find ways to gain acceptance. This led him to be a sinister practical joker hoping that the zany antics would win him over to the school's alpha group. These jokes only served to increase their dislike for him because he was able to get away with them, whereas others guilty of pulling similar pranks suffered severely at Mrs. Davis's harsh hand of discipline. Somehow or other Lonnie never got into trouble. It was clear as day that his mother exalted and cherished him and held him above reproach. This too did not curry any favour amongst the student body's elite.
One of Lonnie's principal targets for his malicious jokes was Phil Lesters. Their parents had been friends for years and the two boys knew each other since toddlerdom and had never gotten along in that entire period. This was none of Phil's fault for he was a stoic lad but Lonnie over the years learned the right combinations of buttons to get Phil's goat. Now, in high school and trying to gain acceptance into the much prized cliques of Darlington, Lonnie was a master at how to get 'Porky oinking' as he called it.
Unbeknownst to Phil, but confided to a fellow prankster, Lonnie had signed the entry papers and paid the twenty-five dollar fee to have the chubby Lesters boy entered in the annual Isolde's Kick Off. The son of the high school principal had plenty of money to throw around and had plenty of knowledge in knowing that Phil would not back out of it. He knew that the fat boy was fat in character as well.
It would have been funny enough just watching Phil try to lift those tree trunk legs of his high enough off the ground to manage to negotiate the ball but Lonnie wanted it to go further. He wanted Phil to actually win the contest and he was going to give the hapless fellow the best opportunity of doing so by making sure that Phil would not be kicking a regulation football but rather a very well disguised beachball filled with helium. He would be able to make the switch from the regulation ball by volunteering to be the kicker's spotter. All that he needed was an accomplice at the other end of the kick to make the switch back to the regulation ball. This was Lonnie's major stumbling block, he could not find anybody that would help him along.
"No way, man!" Wes Heston, the legitimate classroom clown cried when Lonnie approached him. Lonnie knew that Wes had already volunteered to be one of the distance spotters in the competition.
"But nobody would know and it would be such a blast to see the look on Isolde's face when Porky lets that ball rip!" Lonnie had reiterated. Everybody called Mr. Ranbenin by his first name, Isolde, and that is the way the onetime pro wanted to be known. He was as informal as a coffee at a greasy spoon.
"The only thing that would rip would be my diploma. I'm not getting involved, man. Find somebody else." Wes remained staunch. "Isolde has no sense of humor and neither does your mom!"
"Mom don't give a shit! She'd say that it would be a hoot to see that pompous little European fall flat on his bony European ass some day."
"No way, man! She would really say that? She would call him an ass! Wow! Wait till the gang hears this!"
"She would really! You should hear some of the names that my Mom calls Isolde when he is not around. She calls him ‘Isolde but Goody’. But sometimes she calls him a rural communist with dirty underwear." Lonnie could hardly get the words out. "She says that he has the brains of a rhinocerus stuck in a hairy monkey body. Oh, you should hear some of the other things she says about him!" He was openly lying to Wes but he continued to give a whole list of slurs against Isolde that he knew Wes was just soaking up trying to remember. His mother would never say such things about Isolde. She had said the Isolde but Goody, but that was about it. She admired the man and wished that there were more teachers like Isolde Ranbenin on board but Lonnie would not let Wes know this. He needed to feel part of the group and this could be his ticket in. In the back of his mind though, he was well aware that he was doing something wrong and that there would be repercussions to be faced over this. "So are you going to help me?"
Wes shirked and would not give him a firm commitment so Lonnie added, "Well there is two weeks before the Kick Off, maybe you will know by then."
"Sure, sure, I'll let you know," Wes said, as he walked away from the little clandestine meeting of jokers. "Man, I still can't believe your old lady would say that about Isolde. Rural communist, rhinocerus brain in a monkey's body, too much!"
The next day Darlington High was abuzz with the gossip that the prinicpal, Mrs. Davis, did not like the soccer coach, Mr. Ranbenin. Even Phil Lesters, who was usually not privy to any of the rumors that spread around the school had heard this tale. He found it a rather odd piece of news in that the previous weekend, Mrs. Davis, Lonnie's mother, and Isolde had been visiting at the Lesters' farm for a potluck dinner and card game that Phil's mother liked to throw now and then. Both Mrs. Davis and Isolde had been laughing heartily and had got along famously. There was no sign that the principal disliked the soccer coach. But nobody approached Phil for confirmation of the story and Phil did not offer his insights to anybody. He truly thought nothing would become of this.
Phil's intuition about matters personal was another area where the lad did not show any outstanding promise. He was no budding Kreskin. That night at the dinner table, both of his parents had grilled him about what he knew of the vicious rumor going around Darlington High. It surprised Phil himself that his parents would have wind of this. Callisville High was more than twenty miles away from Darlington.
"All, I know," Phil said through a chunk of butterfly porkchop at the corner of his mouth, "is that the kids heard that Mrs. Davis had called Isolde a treacherous thieving communist that likes to smear ..." He had paused for a moment not sure if he should use the more graphic description of feces in front of his parents.
"Smear what, son?" Randy Lesters asked. He had a cup of milk in his hand that was dangerously close to being spilt.
"Hmmm hmmm. Smear shit over his bedroom walls. Honestly, that's the way that I heard it."
Faye Lesters gasped not from the shock of hearing her son using a profane word but from trying to suppress a laughter within.
"Where would such a rumor come from?" Mr. Lesters said in the same emotional state that his wife was in.
"How should I know? Nobody at school usually tells me anything. I'm surprised that they let me in on this one," Phil answered, his face reddened from not knowing how to handle this particular situation.
"Well, there is someone that I know who has his own theory of how the story started," Mr. Lesters suddenly became very serious. "I got a phone call this afternoon at school from Mr. Ranbenin. He asked me if Mrs. Davis had said anything bad about him after he left our house last Saturday. When I told him that Mrs. Davis only commented that Isolde reminded her a lot of her husband when he was younger, he mumbled something in Albanian, and then he got off the phone quickly. Afterwards I learned about the rumors going around your school and knowing how rumors can get more and more twisted with each telling, I put two and two together. Mr. Ranbenin believes that it is you, son, who has started these terrible stories and let me tell you, he is hopping mad! He's thinking of quitting his job."
Phil was in shock upon hearing these allegations. But instead of going into a fit of verbal denial with his parents, he only listened in silence as his mother took over the story line.
"Mrs. Davis is none too pleased about it either. She's been trying to get a hold of Isolde, I mean Mr. Ranbenin, ever since he ran out of the school. She phoned me about an hour ago to see if he was here and then she proceeded to tell me about the rumors too. She did not outright accuse you of being the propagator of these lies but let me tell you, I know that woman and how she thinks. She believes that it is you as well, Philip."
"But it wasn't me!" Phil moaned just audibly. "Why would I do a thing like that?"
"You tell me why, son." Mr. Lesters placed his milk down and stared directly into the lad's eyes.
"You think that I did it too!" Phil raised his hands in the air in excaberation.
"Well then who could have done it?" Mr. Lesters countered.
"Were you listening in to our conversation on Saturday night after we went to bed?" Mrs. Lesters enquired.
"I had the radio on, I couldn't hear anything," Phil retorted. "Not that I would want to listen in anyways. You guys talk about boring things. I would rather listen to the ball game."
"I will not take that tone of voice from you, Philip Jeffery. You march yourself right up into your room and don't be turning on your radio," Mrs. Lesters said sternly while watching if her husband was going to support her on this punishment.
Mr. Lesters nodded. "We try to accommodate you and your ways, son. All that we ask for is a little respect and by Gosh, you are not showing us any tonight. Get up to your room, little man. We will call you out once we decide that you have learned not to start telling stories about other people."
Phil kept silent and walked obediently to his room. He climbed onto his bed and tried not to listen to the heated discussion emanating from the kitchen between his parents. He wondered how he got blamed for all of this. He knew nothing about it except for the rumors that he had heard at school. He could not figure out where these stories started and from whom they started. There was an injustice at work here but he did not know if he should be angry or if he should feel self pity.
About an hour had passed when he heard the rustle of a car coming up the driveway. Kirby, the family beagle, started to bark. There was some commotion at the door and he heard his father greet the newcomer. Not wanting to be accused of listening in again, Phil put the pillow over his head so that he could drown out any sound.
But try as he may, the crystally sharp enunciation of Mrs. Davis penetrated the depths of the down and into his ears. She sounded more than upset, she sounded alarmed as if something very drastic had happened. Phil fought an extreme urge to lift the pillow from his head and listen to his principal's words but he wanted to show his father that he was a resolute young man. He also did not want to possess any incriminating knowledge.
However, this knowledge sought him out as after a few minutes, there was a rap at his door and his father's voice called him out. He came downstairs into a glaring light, his parents always prefered a bright ambience as to his more subdued choice.
"Hello Philip," Mrs. Davis greeted him. She did not look quite the same this evening as she did on other days. Her mascara had been running and her eyes were reddened in the aftermath of some tears.
"Good evening, Mrs. Davis," Phil replied courteously, the way that he knew his parents liked. "How are you?"
A small smile came from the principal's lips as she said, "I have had better days."
"Son, Mrs. Davis tells us that Mr. Ranbenin is very hurt by what was said at school today." Mr. Lesters said while accepting a cup of coffee from his wife. "He has handed in his resignation and Mrs. Davis has regretfully and conditionally accepted it."
"I tried to talk him out of it but his mind was made up. He somehow or other believes that these stories that you, ...er, these stories that surfaced at school are true . I have told him that they are all a pack of lies but my word is not good enough for him. He will only rescind his resignation if the person who started the stories would own up to it and tell him personally that they were lies." There was no anger in her voice only a plaintive and direct stare into the young Lesters eyes. She truly believed that he was the instigator of the rumors.
"Son, you will be doing not only yourself a favor but you will be saving a man his job and your principal a lot of undue heartache, if you will only admit to this." His father was trying to be as diplomatic as possible.
"But Dad, you always taught me to stick up for the truth and I tell you it wasn't me. Believe me," Phil moaned.
The calm on Mrs. Davis' face collapsed. "Of course it was you! Who else could it have been? You were the only one here to overhear our conversation!"
Mrs. Lesters put her hand over the principal's shoulders. "Now, now Joanna, you mustn't get so upset. Let's have cooler heads prevail. Philip, please stop with this charade, now! There is too much at stake."
"Mom, do you want me to lie?" Phil exclaimed.
"All we are asking for is the truth, son, and by gosh we are going to get it out of you. I will talk myself blue in the face!" Mr. Lesters was not showing any trust at all in his boy.
"Philip, I am willing to let bygones be bygones. I will forget that you have said these terrible things if all that you do is apologize to Mr. Ranbenin," a more composed Mrs. Davis plead to him.
"Did you ever think that somebody else could have said this?" Phil remarked, not giving in. He was all turmoil inside with what would be the right thing to do. If he admitted to it, he would be lying but he would also be helping end a pretty traumatic situation between adults. If he stuck to the truth, only him and the real perpetrators of the stories would know that, everybody else would think him a liar and the traumatic situation between adults would intensify.
"Who do you think did it? Who else was here on Saturday night?" Mrs. Davis shot back.
In the back of Phil's mind he noticed that the principal was not denying the truth of what was said. He hadn't heard her make those crude remarks about Isolde but obviously she must have said something like that about him. He thought it best not to draw this point out into the open. "I don't know who did it. Nobody talks to me at school, you know that! They all hate me there."
"Wouldn't a kid that has a juicy tidbit on the school's staff draw some degree of popularity by passing it on?" Mrs. Davis said. "I know that it is tough on you, Philip, but you must not reach to such dramatic lengths to gain friends. Two people have gotten very hurt by your reckless comments."
Mr. Lesters put down the coffee cup and said, "Son, I have always told you that you will make long lasting friendships by showing character and integrity. By gosh, telling such stories displays only a ruthless and cruel personality that nobody can warm up to. If you apologize to Mr. Ranbenin you will be not only rectifying a bad mistake, you will be showing that character and integrity and you will only draw the admiration of your classmates. If you won't do it for us, do it for that reason."
"Please Phil, listen to your father," Mrs. Lesters added. "Mrs. Davis is a very busy woman and she can ill afford the time she is spending here trying to beg you to reconsider."
Somewhere along the course of the last two comments by his parents, Mrs. Davis had started to cry. Mrs. Lesters offered the woman a kleenex to wipe her tears.
It wasn't these tears that made Phil relent. It wasn't his father's argument that he would gain popularity by doing it that made the boy known as Porky give in. Phil decided on his own that the cost of a little lie on his part would have a major positive affect on the lives of others. He lifted his arms in the air and said, "Okay, okay, I'll do it!"
He started to walk away thinking that the situation was over when Mrs. Davis, still tearful, grabbed hold of him and hugged him and said, "I will drive you over to Isolde's right now."
"Isn't it rather late on a school night to be doing this?" Phil's mother commented.
"Philip doesn't have to go to school tomorrow. I will give him the day off because he is being such a sweetheart about this." Mrs. Davis kissed the boy on his chubby round cheek.
In the car, Mrs. Davis was no longer ingratiating. Freed from the harnesses of being seen by other adults, she took on that ogrish persona that so many school children witness in their principals. "Why did you make up such outlandish stories, Philip?" she hissed as she started to speed up her sedan to well over the speed limit on this rural road. In the dim light of the car, Phil could see the scowling muscles working hard in her face.
"I didn't make up those stories, Mrs. Davis," he said quietly, his fingers fidgeting on his lap.
"You're changing your line again!" the woman railed, adding ten additional miles per hour to her speed.
"I didn't tell those stories, honest. I'm just going to tell Mr. Ranbenin that I did so that he doesn't quit his job," the child mumbled. He wasn't afraid or angry. He was just somberly resolved to get this whole mess behind him.
"Oh, aren't you the stoic little lad?" Mrs. Davis said with acidic sarcasm. "You're not fooling me for an instant. Nobody would admit to a wrong that he didn't commit. You told those terrible things and now you have the audacity to say that you didn't. If you were my child, I would have you back in the woodshed so fast!"
When the animate and enraged woman mentioned her child, for an instant, Philip started thinking about Lonnie Davis, the woman's own child. He was no pillar of virtue yet the woman doted over him as if he were an incarnation of one of the saints. If she only knew what trickery and wickedness her Lonnie got himself into, she would be taking him to that woodshed, instead of making him the watershed of all that was good in a teenager.
Phil didn't say anything more in the car. Mrs. Davis's rails slowly diminished into a series of hardly audible snarky little comments. Her driving didn't slow any and a few times it looked like she would steer them off the road. The boy wondered if she always drove like this. If she did, he was surprised that she still had her license.
After about a half hour on the backroads, they pulled into the town of Darlingon proper. Several of the kids that went to the high school were loitering about outside of the plaza. None noticed that their principal was whizzing by but she did notice them and made some comments under her breath about them. Phil was sure that she would be checking up on their attendance the next day at school.
Mr. Ranbenin lived in a century old home on the other side of town. The "Welcome to Darlington" sign stood on his boulevard along with the Rotary Club, Jaycees and Lion's Club signs. The headlights of the car lit up the soccerball styled mailbox with "I. Ranbenin" handpainted on its side. There were three cars on the light gravel driveway all of which belonged to Isolde. He had a tendency to rarely sell anything that belonged to him. His most current vehicle and the one that was always seen in the staff parking lot at the high school, the jet black BMW with the state licence plate reading KICKER was in the driveway. This indicated that Isolde was home but he must have gone to bed already because there were no lights on in the house.
This didn't stop Mrs. Davis. "You wait here until I speak to him for a moment," she said as she turned off the car. She didn't leave the radio or heater on for Phil. It was rather a cool night and he was not exactly dressed to keep himself warm. "You had better do what you said you are going to do or else." Even in the darkness the boy could see the sinister glare in her eyes.
Mrs. Davis must have been on the covered veranda of the old house a good ten minutes before any lights came on in the house. Phil past the time just staring out the window down the street in the direction towards town. His blank expression did not betray any of the feelings he was experiencing inside.
When the muscular night-robed Isolde opened the door, Phil could only hear Mrs. Davis's side of the conversation. She spoke rather loudly but her words were muddled and the sounds of passing vehicles tended to drown even her out. Five minutes or more had to have passed when the boy saw that he was being waved to come hither by the principal.
He suddenly felt a pang of regret as he stepped out of the car. This was not right what he was doing and he was sure that he was going to feel some repercussions for his decision in the near future.
"Hello Philip," Isolde said rather cooly running his hand through his black curly hair. His fingertips scratched the bald spot that he had as long as Philip had known him. "It's rather late for someone your age to be outside, isn't it?"
Phil shrugged and could not find any words in his mouth to utter back to this question.
"Come inside, boy. It is kind of cold out here," the former football pro said. "It's nice and toasty inside, I've got the furnace on." He put his hand on Phil's back and he nudged him into the house.
Once inside the foyer, Phil's eyes were struck by the massive amount of ornamental hardware that littered the glass-encased cabinetry in the dining room. There were dozens of trophies of all sizes and all sports there. The man had obviously been a success in his endeavors. He was escorted into this room by the guiding hand of Mr. Ranbenin. Mrs. Davis followed them.
"Can I get you anything, Philip? I have some soda. Would you like some chips or pretzels or something?"
Phil shook his head, no.
"I would have thought that a boy like you would gorge himself on junk food," Isolde smiled.
Once again all that Phil could do was murmur some insensible sounds. Words were not navigating too well on his tongue.
"What about you Joanna? Would you like a coffee or maybe a hard drink?" For a man that was supposed to be so down and out and angry, Isolde was proving to be quite the genial host.
"No thanks, Isolde, I mean Mr. Ranbenin," Mrs. Davis said rather stiffly as she seated herself at the dining table.
"It's after school hours, we can be informal." Isolde pulled out a chair for Phil to sit on.
Once Isolde sat himself down, Mrs. Davis started. "We won't take up too much of your time, Isolde. Young Philip here has something to say to you which I hope will make you feel better. Philip."
Both pair of eyes bored down on him. This was the moment that would alter the route of the young lad's life for the forseeable future. He was nervous and he had not rehearsed any lines for his forced apology. His tongue was not being very cooperative either.
Finally, the words "I'm sorry" were uttered from his mouth. He felt no relief in saying them for he knew that they was going to cause a lot more personal trouble for him than if he had remained silent.
With a glare in her eyes that she kept hidden from the soccer coach, Mrs. Davis tried to coerce more words from him. "What are you sorry for Philip?" she said in a manufactured pleasant tone.
"F-f-f-for saying what I did," the boy stammered.
Isolde's reaction was not showing. The man had been known for his rather spirited emotions but at this moment his face was as blank as a toad's.
"And what did you say that you are sorry for, young man?" Mrs. Davis continued her coaching.
"I-I-I-I said some bad things about Mr. Ranbenin." Philip was not getting any more comfortable. It was always tough to own up to one's own wrongdoings but to own up to somebody else's was traumatic to a high degree.
Now, the soccer coach started to appear more animate. "What did you say about me Lesters?" He always used surnames when he wanted to get tough. The only time he would call members of the high school football team by their first names was at the end of the season party. The rest of the year they had to be called by their last names. Isolde believed that it made men out of them. However, he always insisted that everybody called him Isolde rather than Mr. Ranbenin. It was a quirk of his.
For a moment, Phil thought of giving up on this charade and tell the truth instead and say that he had nothing to do with any of this at all. He had a feeling that Isolde would have believed him but that would have left the soccer coach in the clutches of his ultimatum. "I told some kids at school that Mrs. Davis called you terrible names."
"And did you hear Mrs. Davis call me these terrible names?"
Phil sighed. "Not all of them."
Isolde looked at the principal. He was plainly not expecting any truth in the stories that went around school today. With his eyes still fixed on Mrs. Davis, he asked, "What did you hear Joanna call me?"
There was a nervous flicker in Mrs. Davis's face that in itself was an admission of guilt.
"I heard her call you Isolde But Goody."
Mrs. Davis blushed and lifted her eyes towards Isolde whose gaze somehow softened. Although Phil was still a relative newcomer to the world of interpersonal relationships, he recognized that there was something more here than just the professional interaction between these two adults.
"Anything else?" Isolde asked. "Have you heard Joanna call me anything besides that?"
"No, that's all I have ever heard Mrs. Davis call you."
"Then what possessed you to make up those stories? I have never had a quarrel with you, why would you do this to me?" There was a genuine pain in the coach's face.
Phil found himself looking down and not meeting Isolde's eyes. He had thought that the apology would have been good enough, he did not want to have to provide explanations. "I don't know, just to get popular with the other kids, I guess," he mumbled.
"I thought that you were above that kind of thing. Your father always tells me that you might not be much in many things but that you were a person of honor. You tell me what kind of honourable thing is it to pass on absurd lies to your friends? You don't benefit from it, they don't benefit, and only innocent people get hurt. Really, Lesters, I was shocked to learn that it was you." Isolde's voice got quite strong and there almost seemed like there was a tear developing in his eye.
"I guess I made a mistake," Phil replied feeling like he was going to cry himself.
"I say you made a mistake. I almost quit my job because of what you said!"
"Now, Mr. Ranbenin, Isolde, you couldn't have possibly believed that I would have said those kind of things about you." Mrs. Davis stepped in and placed her hand on his. "You are a true asset not only to the school but to the entire community. I would be crazy to even think those kind of things. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for you and I know I speak for almost everybody." She gave Philip a menacing glance. "We can't let this sort of thing go unpunished."
Phil felt his heart sink. He was led to believe that the apology would be sufficient to clear matters. He was now going to be martyred for something he didn't do or believe in.
"I think that the shame the boy is feeling right now should be sufficient if he possesses the character that his father says he has," Isolde said, slowly rubbing his fingers over the back of Mrs. Davis's hand.
"I think that he has proven that he is not the character that his father thought he was and if we just let this go, he will think that he has gotten off easy and he would not have learned anything from this foolish prank." The woman was selling the boy down the river and Phil's previous fear of repercussions was coming into fruition. "Would a suspension make you feel that justice has been served, Isolde?"
The coach took his hand away from the principal's. "No, really Joanna, I don't think that we should go to such an extreme. The boy has never been trouble before."
Mrs. Davis did not appear to like Isolde's posture or his gesture. "I would have thought that our assistant football coach would have been strong on discipline. Maybe that is why I am the principal and you are just a teacher. I think that this problem deserves to be meted with the severest of penalties or else we are sending out a message to the school that we condone the students making a mockery out of the staff. Philip, I want you in my office first thing tomorrow morning and I will formally administer your punishment in this matter."
For a moment Philip thought that Isolde would rise up to his defense but there was something about the woman that made him cower. "I thought that you said that I did not have to go to school tomorrow?"
"You might not be in any classes tomorrow young man but I do expect you to be in my office," the principal said coldly and firmly. "It's getting late we have got to go."
They quickly parted from Isolde's house and Mrs. Davis drove even faster on the way home than she did earlier on the way there. Not a word was spoken between the two of them nor did she say goodbye or wait for him to get inside the house when she dropped him off. She simply raced off with the sound of her wheels amplified in the still country night