by Stephen Measure
The whispers followed Paul as he strutted down the hallway, his smile flashing at every hot girl he passed, all of whom blushed and giggled. How could they not? This was Paul Conner. Perfect hair, chiseled body, eyes like blue pools that girls couldn’t help drowning in, and charisma—it radiated from him like cologne. A senior at South High, Paul was a boy in his prime, and this was his hunting ground. And for Paul, hunting was very, very good. Past conquests, current conquests, every pretty girl was one or the other for Paul.
“Who’s he done now?” girls asked.
“Who’s left for him to do?” boys said.
“I’ll bet it was a teacher,” teachers said, the men and women jealous for different reasons. “Why else would the principal care?”
Paul swung open the door to the administration office and entered with a flourish, his charisma sweeping in ahead of him like a herald, the two secretaries’ attention immediately drawn like moths to a dimpled flame.
“Hello Jayla, so nice to see you again,” Paul said to the younger, her dark skin light enough to show the deep blush that appeared at the familiar intimacy in his voice. “And Beverly” he said, showing flirty teeth to the older, “I think my day just got brighter.”
The words were nothing special, but they didn’t have to be. It was his presence that mattered. It was who was speaking and how he was speaking. Beverly laughed at his flattery. Old enough to be his grandmother, even she wasn’t immune to his charm. “Oh, Paul, there you go again. You just get on into the principal’s office. He wants to have a word with you.”
Paul smiled at them, and he winked at Jayla. She had been quite fun. Then he strolled into the principal’s office and took a seat in the chair that faced the principal’s desk.
Principal Dunn was staring out the window with his back to Paul. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said, but Paul already had. One foot resting on top of his other knee, Paul leaned back, placing his hands behind his head as he looked around the room. There was a large bookshelf on the wall opposite the window, a relic of a time when real books decorated an office, the bookshelves filled with knick-knacks instead, odds and ends from Principal Dunn’s personal life, no actual books in sight. The principal’s desk was bare except for an old mechanical pencil sharpener, purely ornamental, and a family picture in a cheap wooden frame. Paul glanced at the principal’s family, paying particular attention to the principal’s wife, who wasn’t a milf but wasn’t half bad for a man with a growing gut like Principal Dunn. On the wall behind the desk hung two paintings, urban landscapes done by an untalented hand, and between them Principal Dunn’s degree hung prominently—a PhD in Gender Studies from an Ivy League School. I guess that’s what school administrators all study nowadays, Paul thought. And as he looked around the office, he couldn’t help but think how different things were from times before when bookshelves were used for real books, pencil sharpeners actually sharpened pencils, and Gender Studies didn’t even exist. His mind dwelt on the bookshelves in particular. Why were they still called bookshelves, if they didn’t actually shelve books? Why not call them something else that accurately reflected what they actually were? But then his mind continued its wandering, and Paul wondered at the reason why Principal Dunn had asked to speak with him.
Paul had, in fact, slept with a teacher, two to be exact, three if you counted the part-time girls soccer coach, and Paul certainly did—she had been a blast. Paul smiled at the memory. But that couldn’t be why Principal Dunn wanted to speak with him. Paul was eighteen, and this was a coastal state, not some hick town. As long as it was consensual, as long as Paul used protection, the school could care less. Of this, Paul was quite confident. So what was this about? And why did it have to happen now? Third period was about to start, and Vanessa would be there along with her cute little tramp stamp, and Paul had planned a closer, quite thorough, inspection of that perky little artwork after school; or maybe, if he had played his cards right, during lunch. (It wouldn’t have been his first time.) But now his plans were all shot. Sure, he could text her later. A lot of guys arranged hookups that way. But Paul knew his strengths. He was a physical kind of guy, an in-person kind of guy. And he liked it that way. He liked watching the girl as he turned on the charm. He liked watching her fake wall of resistance melt away, the little laughs, the playful smiles. But instead he was stuck here, waiting for Principal Dunn to say something when all Principal Dunn wanted to do was stare out the window.
It was then that Paul realized he’d already been sitting there for a couple minutes. A couple minutes of silence with the principal just looking out the window and Paul just sitting in the chair, and he felt a strange sensation in his gut, a feeling he hadn’t experienced since he passed puberty and had instinctively mastered the rules of the game. It took him a moment but eventually he realized what he was feeling: He was nervous. Paul Conner—conquerer of the entire cheerleading squad, vanquisher of the drill team, destroyer of the pep club—Paul Conner was nervous. He lowered his hands from behind his head and folded his arms. Thankfully Principal Dunn decided now was a good time to speak.
“You’ve had quite a good run here, Paul, haven’t you?” the principal said, turning away from the window and sitting down behind his desk. He pulled a manila folder out of a drawer and placed it on the desk in front of him.
Paul eyed the folder. It looked thick. The uncomfortable feeling in his gut started to grow.
“How many girls have you slept with, do you think? Or is that the wrong word to use?” the principal asked. “Hooked up with?” He raised his eyebrows. “Banged?” Then he chuckled. “I think we can both agree you wouldn’t describe it as ‘making love.’”
Paul grinned, the nervousness retreating a little. He actually would describe it in those words if that’s what the girl needed to hear. “A gentleman never talks,” he said.
Principal Dunn laughed and slapped his desk. “A gentleman!” He chuckled once more, but then the humor left his eyes as he narrowed his attention fully at Paul.
“I have a question for you, Paul.”
“Yes, sir?” Paul said, the nervousness flooding back.
But Principal Dunn didn’t speak right away. He opened the folder and began removing pictures, placing ten of them on the desk between the two, yearbook shots of pretty girls from the high school. Then he shut the folder and leaned back in his chair. “Now, Paul, I know these aren’t all of your conquests, not by a long shot.” The principal smirked. “But take a good look at them. What do you see?”
Paul obeyed, scanning each face. He knew them alright, as well as a boy could know a girl if you know what I mean. “They’re all girls from our school,” Paul said.
The principal let out a guffaw. “Girls from our school. Girls from our school!” He shook his head. “Come on, Paul, let’s be honest. They’re all quite attractive aren’t they?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“And you put in a lot of effort to get into each and every one of these girl’s panties, didn’t you, Paul?”
Paul didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure what direction this was going. Why did Principal Dunn care what girls he slept with? Paul had thought only small-minded people cared about things like that.
The principal leaned forward, shifting one of the photos back and forth with a finger. “And sometimes you didn’t even need to put in any effort, did you, Paul? Sometimes they just fell right into your lap. Sometimes it was the girl who was the pursuer, wasn’t it? And you never denied them, did you?”
Now it was Paul’s turn to laugh. “Of course I never denied them. That’s like a free paycheck without having to do any work.”
The principal leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful look in his eyes. “A free paycheck. I like that. Yes, I think that describes it perfectly.” Then his attention focused again on Paul. “And when a pretty girl offers you a free paycheck. You never turn her down, do you? You have no reason to, right?”
“Of course not. Why would I say no to a free ride?”
“Why indeed? Yes, Paul, why indeed? Which brings me to my question.” The principal opened the manila folder once more and took out another photo, placing it on his desk and then scooting it forward to face Paul.
Paul looked at the picture and stiffened, his nervousness exploding inside.
“Can you tell me her name?” the principal asked.
Paul paused before answering. “Andrea,” he said, and his voice broke. It hadn’t done that since he was thirteen.
“She’s quite pretty, isn’t she, Paul?” the principal said. “In fact, I’d say she’s one of the prettiest photos on my desk, wouldn’t you say?”
“I guess so,” Paul said.
“That’s right,” the principal said. “One of the prettiest girls of this whole bunch of girls, girls you just said you went to a lot of effort to screw, girls you just said you would be overjoyed to get a ‘free ride’ from. One of the prettiest girls out of all of them, and yet it’s been reported to me that you have rejected her. Not once, not twice, but many, many times. From what I hear, she has explicitly asked to hook up with you. She’s sent you topless photos. Topless photos, Paul! And let’s be frank: she’s had some mighty fine work done up there, some of the best I’ve seen in this school. You have this beautiful girl trying to fling herself in your lap, and yet you reject her again, and again, and again. Why, Paul? I need to know the reason why.”
Paul looked at the photo again. He knew Andrea. He had known Andrea since grade school. He had known her when ... things had been different. And Andrea really had flung herself at Paul. Principal Dunn didn’t know the half of it. The things she’d promised him in whispers. The dirty fantasies she’d texted to him. Paul glanced up at Principal Dunn’s Gender Studies degree, which judged silently from the wall. Paul knew he couldn’t tell the principal the real reason. If he did, he’d be eaten alive.
“I don’t know,” Paul said. “She’s just not my type.”
“Not your type? Look at her face!” the principal said, jabbing a finger at the photo. “She could be a model! And she’s got the figure, too. You have to agree with that. She’s been throwing herself at you, offering you everything, anything you want to do; yet you continually reject her. Why? There must be a reason, Paul. I demand to know the reason!”
“I told you. She’s just not my type,” Paul repeated. He was starting to sweat. “Can’t a guy have a type?”
“How is she not your type? Look at these other girls. They aren’t any prettier! They aren’t any sexier!”
“But none of them used to be named Andy!” Paul blurted out.
The principal’s eyes narrowed, and his voice became severe. “That is the past, Paul. Her name is Andrea now.”
“She has boy parts!” Paul said. “I like girls, real girls!”
Principal Dunn slapped his hand on his desk. “That’s what I thought!” he shouted, stabbing a finger at Paul. “And that kind of thinking will not be tolerated! It won’t be tolerated by me, and it won’t be tolerated by this school!” The principal leaped to his feet, his chair spinning back to strike the wall below his Gender Studies degree, which hung rigidly, not budging an inch. “We have a strict anti-discrimination policy in this school,” he said, striding around his desk. “If Andrea says she’s a real girl, then Andrea is a real girl. It’s what she says that matters, not what’s actually underneath her panties. We don’t stand for cisgender bigotry of any kind. We don’t stand for it. We don’t stand for it at all.” He yanked Paul to his feet and dragged him toward the door. “Consider yourself expelled. We don’t want your kind here. You can be a player all you want. Play this girl, play that girl, play to your heart’s content—we don’t care. But when you play, you play by our rules.”