When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.
Part 20 of 25
There was no state test monitor at Eisenhower High School on exam day, but the Kid had his hands full anyways. He wasn’t the test administrator—Mrs. Lankford, the Assistant Principal was—so Dom only hadda walk around every once in a while to see how things was going. He spent most a his time in his office catching up on work, answering emails, reviewing his teachers’ lesson plans. During lunch, to his surprise, Tamarra knocked on his door and asked if he had a minute to talk wit her, cause there was a problem she really needed to deal wit. Dom explained that she was still welcome in his office for their daily therapy session, that she’d always be welcome there. Tamarra came in and the first thing Dom noticed was that she had a bruise on her forehead and a cut on her lip. Before he could ask her how this happened Tamarra just jumped into this frantic, um, dialogue about how she was sick a her life and the way things was going, how she still missed the track team and Coach Reed, and how she still wasn’t getting along wit her father, who now had a new girlfriend.
The Kid just sat at his desk and listened, really listened, like I says before . . . he underlined the word listened in his journal . . . and allowed Tamarra to just get it all out, to get it all off her chest, finally; the Kid could sense that Tamarra was holding stuff back the last few times they talked. She just talked and talked, without taking a breath. After she went over the drama wit her dad and how she was mad that she couldn’t run in track meets no more, she got to her point, why she was there in the first place. There was something real important she wanted Dom to help her wit, but she was embarrassed to say what it was. She said she didn’t wanna hurt Dom’s feelings.
“It’s okay,” Dom says. “I promise I won’t be offended.”
So Tamarra tells Dom that she wants to transfer to another school, that there’s this private school called Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls, and that they sent her a letter in the mail asking if she’d think about going there. It was from the track coach, Tamarra says, and pulls out the letter to show Dom. He looks at it, all impressed, and tells Tamarra that she doesn’t have to be worried about hurting his feelings, cause getting a letter from that school is a big deal. Cheltenham Prep is a whatdoyacallit, a boarding school, which means you live there during the school year. According to the Kid, the school was a really big deal, and won all these awards and blue ribbons and whatnot for graduating students and sending them to good colleges and all that.
Dom wrote in his journal that he had a good idear about why Tamarra had gotten a letter from the school. First, the track coach was interested in getting Tamarra on the team, cause she was a talented runner and could prob’ly come right in and win the league championship in the mile, hands down. Second, Tamarra was colored, and schools like Cheltenham Prep was all concerned wit, um, diversity, wit making sure that not just the white kids got a chance to have a good education. Plus, the school didn’t want the people who donated money to them to think that they was racist, neither. I guess you could say this made sense. You didn’t wanna be called a racist—not in today’s world—and plus, girls like Tamarra did deserve to have a shot at going to a school like Cheltenham Prep. From what Dom said at meetings she was a great kid and good in school, and she was also a hard worker, I seen it wit my own eyes; I’ll never forget that workout I saw her run in the halls that day, how she stayed up wit the boys, pushing so hard she broke down in tears.
“I wanna go there really bad, Mista Rossetti,” Tamarra says to the Kid. “I wanna live there and go to school, and be back on the track team, too. I’m sick of all this. Not you, Mista Rossetti. You’re a really good principal, and I ain’t just saying that. You care about us, all a us.”
“Thank you, Tamarra,” the Kid says. “That means a lot to hear that.”
“It’s true. Eisenhower’s a pretty good school, and it’s getting better, but . . .”
“But you want to get out of your house and go to a new school, meet new people.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“And you want to start running track again.”
“Yeah, I wanna get back in shape. I’m tired a just hanging out wit Crystal and all a them up at the Plat. All they do is smoke weed and drink beer and act stupid. Listen to music and try and act hard and all that . . . get in fights. If you is a girl they try and grab on you. Last night, these boys . . . they grabbed me, and . . .”
Tamarra starts tearing up, and Dom told her it was okay, that she could just tell him what happened, it would stay between him and her; when Dom wrote about this part in his journal, he underlined the part do not tell anyone. Course, I’m telling you’s F.B.I. pricks on this tape, so I guess the girl’s privacy is all shot to hell. Maybe you’s guys will just keep it a secret? Yeah, forgetaboutit. Anyways, according to Dom’s journal, Tamarra took a deep breath and wiped her eyes and told about how last night, up at the Plat, her and Crystal and Crystal’s boyfriend was leaning on the hood of Crystal’s boyfriend’s car smoking a blunt. This other girl, Jasmine, was there, too. They kept smoking and smoking, and Tamarra said she was tired and getting a headache, and that the music was too loud, and that she wanted to go home. It used to be fun, she said, smoking and cracking up laughing, but now it was just stupid and she was really tired of it. Jasmine didn’t wanna leave, and told her to just, um, chill out. See, Jasmine was busy talking to these three boys, smoking the weed wit them, too, and was trying to get one a their phone numbers. After a while, the boy gave it to her, and they started talking about going to this college party down in North Philly, near Temple.
Jasmine started dancing wit the boy who gave her his number, right there next to Crystal’s boyfriend’s car. They started dancing real close, grinding on each other, and the two other boys looked at Tamarra and started dancing wit her, too. Tamarra didn’t wanna dance, see, and told them that, told them to just leave her alone, cause she had a headache and was tired. They kept dancing wit her, though. Tamarra said she looked around and nobody was really paying attention to them. The boys got on both sides a her, and made this circle around her wit their arms, and started to just kinda push her around, inside the circle like. Tamarra told them to stop but they didn’t, they was all high and thought it was funny, and kept pushing her between them, banging into her wit their bodies. Tamarra shouted then, but the music was loud and nobody heard. The two boys was laughing and pushing her, and then they started grabbing her, she said, grabbing her chest and butt, ripping her shirt, and she screamed for them to stop but they didn’t, they just kept grabbing her. Finally, she lost her balance and fell down on the ground, and they kicked gravel on her and cracked up laughing and walked away.
“Is that how you got the marks on your face?” Dom asks her.
“Yeah,” Tamarra says.
“Are you okay, besides your face? Did they hurt you at all?”
“I’m okay,” Tamarra says.
“Did you tell the police? Did you report this?”
“No. Louis, Crystal’s boyfriend, he was friends wit them. I didn’t wanna snitch on them.”
“Tamarra, you have to report this, honey. Did you tell your dad?”
“No. He was sleep when I got home.”
The Kid wrote that he was really upset by this, and offered to report the incident right then, call the school security into his office and have them contact the Philadelphia Police Department so Tamarra could give an official report. This was serious business, Dom told her, but Tamarra wanted no parts of it, see. She didn’t wanna snitch on Louis’s friends.
The Kid tried to reason wit her, but Tamarra got very . . . what’s the word . . . standoffish and upset, and so the Kid backed off.
“Please don’t make me report this, Mista Rossetti,” she says. “Please. It’s okay, they was just joking around, I’m fine.”
“Did they hurt you at all? Besides the bump on your head, and the cut on your lip?”
“No, I’m fine,” Tamarra says.
“Well,” the Kid says, “we should really report this. It didn’t happen here at school, but still . . .”
Tamarra said it didn’t matter, cause even if she reported it, nothing would happen, nothing would really change. What she wanted, really, was to get into that new school, Cheltenham Prep, so she could leave all a that friggin ghetto junk behind and start over, wit new friends, a new neighborhood, and most importantly, be on the track team. She could do it, she insisted. She could make it, she really believed this.
Dom wrote in his journal that he just sat for a minute at his desk, sat and thought about things. Tamarra wanted to go to Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls, did she? That was great, wonderful. Dom was excited for her. His gut reaction, though, was that it was a bit, um, ambitious, that it might not be very realistic. That was his first reaction, see. But the more he forced hisself to consider the idear, the more he looked at Tamarra and saw in her face that drive and determination—and thought about how hard she’d run those track practices and races—he wrote that he had this feeling that she might just be able to actually do it, to not only get accepted there, but to make it there; it was Tamarra’s sheer will and belief in herself that convinced him a this.
He wrote that he quickly tried to figure out how this might be possible to get her into Cheltenham Prep. She did have a letter from the school, signed by the track coach, asking her if she’d be interested in transferring there, and that was a good start. It wasn’t any guarantee, but it was something. Tamarra would still need to take the admissions tests, and deal wit all the craziness a filling out the application—she’d need reference letters, and to complete a buncha essays, and to have copies of all her, ah, transcripts—but the Kid could help her wit this. The biggest problem, though, was paying for the school. The Kid said the tuition at Cheltenham Prep was outta friggin control, something like $25,000 a year, and that didn’t include the room and meals and all that. That kinda cash would be tough to come up wit, especially for Tamarra; Cheltenham Prep didn’t give out any athletic scholarships, so Tamarra couldn’t get one a those. Course, there was a buncha academic scholarships Tamarra might be able to get, and the Kid wrote he’d look into them ASAP.
“We have to get an application,” the Kid says to Tamarra. “The application deadline is probably coming up soon. Here, let me try and find their website.” The Kid started typing on his computer. “Ah, here it is, Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls.”
“You think you can get me into that school, Mista Rossetti?”
“I’m gonna try. Hmm, where is it . . . ah, admissions. Right here. Let me just print out this application packet . . .”
The Kid printed out the packet, got Tamarra started wit filling the stuff out.
“Here,” the Kid says, “start with the first page, and write as much as you know. Skip the parts that you don’t know, I’ll help you with these. I’m gonna make you an application file, put it right here in my desk, and we’ll work on this together, okay? We’ll chip away at this, little by little. Sound good? Sound like a plan?”
“Okay,” Tamarra says, and stood up and walked over and gave the Kid a hug, a big hug, even though it was the Kid’s policy not to give hugs to students, cause he didn’t wanna get sued or nothing. “Thank you soooo much, Mista Rossetti.”
“I’m just doing my job,” the Kid says, hugging her tight. “I’m just doing my job.”
On Valentine’s Day, the Kid took Gina to this hip restaurant in Center City Philly called Bodhi Dharma, some kinda . . . fusion place, whatever the frig fusion means . . . and they had a real good time; yes, you’s guys guessed it—he wrote about the whole night in detail in his journal. The Kid, see, he liked all kinda crazy foods, like Indian, and Thai, and Japanese, but Gina, well, according to what he wrote, she just liked normal stuff, like lasagna, and chicken fettuccine, and bruschetta, and broccoli rabe. Now, to impress the girl, the Kid figured he’d show her how to eat the fancy foods, and that’s just what he did; apparently, the Kid learned all about fine dining from that other broad he was seeing, that married chick who dumped him right before he was about to propose to her.
Dom’s new favorite food was sushi, and that’s just what the two a them was eating at Bodhi Dharma. Dom ordered the miso soup, and the vegetable tempura, and of course sushi, too—a buncha pieces a salmon, and tuna, and yellow tail, even some eel and squid—in honor a Dr. Rosen-Squid, the Kid said to Gina as a joke. Course, Gina didn’t get it, and wanted to know who Dr. Rosen-Squid was. The Kid told her—that she was an education professor from the Baumgartner College of Arts and Humanities, and that she’d come to visit World Peace Charter in December wit a buncha students and whatnot.
“Is that her real name, Dr. Rosen-Squid?”
“No, that’s just what we call her.”
“Cause she looks like a squid. Her eyes are like a foot apart.”
“Dominic,” Gina says, “that’s not nice.”
It wasn’t nice, but that’s how God made the broad, ya know? Don’t get me wrong, I woulda thrown her one back in my younger single days, believe me. Maybe did her from behind, so I wouldn’t have to look at her squid eyes; maybe I woulda just had her put a bag over her head or something like that. The world wasn’t always a nice place, no sir. Richard Applegarth, the douchebag state test monitor who the Gorilla threw in the trunk a his Cadillac, knew this better than anybody. You shoulda seen his face when we finally went and got him. He had a squid face, all white and jiggly looking. It got even whiter when me and Petie drove him to the Ben Franklin Bridge, pulled over to the side and grabbed him by the back a the head and told him, You say one friggin word to anybody about anything, off this friggin bridge you is going! One word about anything! Got it? Got it? He got it, alright.
Anyways, the Kid was having a beautiful evening wit Gina, real romantic. There was candles on the table, and the lights was dimmed down, and the waitress came over wit a basket fulla hot towels and asked if either a them wanted one, and they both said yes, and they giggled and put them on each other’s necks, and after a minute the towels got cold, wet and cold, and then the waitress came back over and put them back in the basket. When the food came, the Kid showed Gina how to hold the chopsticks, and how to put the, um, wasabi in the soy sauce. Gina liked the tuna and the salmon, she said, but not the eel, and especially not the squid, which she told the Kid was too squishy and tasted nasty. But the other stuff, she liked it, and said eating it made her feel, whatdoyacallit, cultured.
The subject a Gina’s ex-husband came up, the Kid wrote in his journal. Gina and the Kid kinda had this unwritten rule not to ask questions about their romantic past, but they was getting pretty serious—was now using the L-word constantly—and it was a natural part of getting to know somebody, I guess you could say, of airing out the dirty laundry and whatnot. The Kid didn’t say in his journal exactly how the topic came up, it just did, so Gina says to the Kid, she says, “What do you wanna know about him?”
“What is his name again?”
“Andrew. Andrew McClintock. Pretty common name, actually. There’s a buncha people named Andrew McClintock on Facebook.”
“And you were Gina McClintock?”
“Yeah, for about three years. Three long years.”
“You didn’t hyphenate your name?”
“God no . . . I’m a traditional gal. I couldn’t imagine being Regina Grasso-McClintock. Yuck. Just being Gina McClintock was enough. Now, Gina Rossetti, that has a nice ring to it . . .”
“Yes, it does.” The Kid leaned forward and French kissed the girl, in front a the whole restaurant like a friggin sap, putting on a real show, or so he wrote. Then he says, “Why don’t you parents call him by name?”
“Cause they hate him. They think he’s a bad influence on Ashley.”
“Not really. Not anymore. I guess he was in the beginning, back when we were married, and Ashley was real little.”
“What happened when Ashley was little?”
So Gina tells him, lets out all the skeletons in her closet, as they say. First, she tells how Andrew couldn’t keep his thing in his pants, that even when they was newlyweds, he was fooling around on her. She didn’t know about it, not at first. One day, though, when she was like six months pregnant wit little Ashley and was at her doctor getting her check up, she found out she had one a those STDs . . . the Clap. She was having pain in her stomach, but not from the baby. It was her lower stomach, the Kid wrote. Plus, it was burning when she went to pee. She told her doctor this, and he said it sounded like she may have had whatdoyacallit—Gonorrhea, and she said no friggin way, I’m married, I haven’t had sex wit another guy in years. The doc tested her anyways, and wouldn’t ya know it, the test came back positive—she had the freakin Clap.
At first, Gina told the doc she didn’t understand how this had happened, and wondered if she coulda got it from sitting on a dirty toilet seat, but the doc said no, no way Jose, that never happened in real life, it was one a those urban legends. If she hadn’t had sex wit a strange man, then there was only one real way she’d gotten Gonorrhea, and that was from her husband. Which meant he musta been screwing around, unless he’d had it before they met, which was pretty much impossible, cause Gina woulda noticed. Course, Gonorrhea was easily fixed, all you hadda do was get an injection and take a pill, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, see, that Andrew had cheated on Gina, and even worse, put the baby at risk. The Clap could really frig things up on a chick who’s pregnant, could cause them to have one a those, ah, miscarriages, and could make the baby come out wit eye infections and low birth weight and whatnot; that’s what the doc told Gina that day in his office.
Gina was furious, but also embarrassed. She tried not to tell her parents but her father opened her doctor bill by mistake cause her and Andrew was living at their place till the baby was born, and he said, “Who has the Clap?” and Gina tried to lie but she was a horrible liar, and then the truth came out. Her father flipped the frig out, and wanted to throw Andrew outta his house, but Gina cried, and Andrew said he was sorry and promised that something like that would never, ever, happen again, and so they all put it behind them as best they could. And three months later, little Ashley was born, and everybody was happy for a while. The Gonorrhea didn’t give her no eye infections or nothing, and no birth defects; course, Ashley was born wit the club feet, but the doctors said this didn’t have nothing to do wit Gina having the Clap.
Gina, Andrew, and Ashley got their own place, and things was good for a bit. Ashley had her first birthday, then her second. Her feet was a problem, and so she got an operation, but the doctors frigged this up—damaged a nerve in her left foot—and Gina’s father got a lawyer and sued, but the doctor settled outta court, and gave Gina and Andrew something like $50,000, which went into an account for a whatchamacallit, a college fund for little Ashley. Or, it was supposed to go into a college fund for her. Turns out, Andrew was taking the money out and spending it at strip clubs, cause he had some kinda sex addiction or something. It was horrible, but true. He’d go out at night and drop like one or two grand in one shot at a high class gentleman’s club, getting private dances and whatnot, and more. When Gina finally found out, when all the money in the college fund was gone and Gina’s father got another lawyer for Gina’s divorce, Andrew came clean about everything, came clean and promised he’d get help, but it was too late for that, way too late.
“I mean, what kinda person steals money from a child?” Gina says, stirring the ice in her glass at the table. “You know? Takes money from a child’s education fund and blows it in some strip club? Who does this?”
The Kid wrote in his journal that right then, right at the table, he had an anxiety attack, that all of a sudden he was dizzy and the room was spinning, and that he felt his right arm go numb. He thought he was having a stroke, he wrote, and told Gina she might need to call 911.
“Oh my God,” Gina says, “are you serious?”
But then it went away, the Kid started breathing deep and it went away, the room settled and he could feel his arm again.
“I’m okay, I think,” he says.
“Are you sure.” She had her cellphone out. “I should call anyway, just in case.”
“No, really,” the Kid says. “False alarm. Just a panic attack. It happens to me sometimes, when I get too hot. Are you hot? Is it too warm in here?”
“It’s a little warm,” Gina says.
“Here, let me just drink some water.”
The two just sat there for a while, not saying nothing. Finally, Gina says, “I shouldn’t have told you any of this. I’m sorry. I guess I got carried away. I didn’t mean to ruin the night.”
“No,” the Kid says, “you didn’t ruin anything. Seriously.”
“Are you sure? I’m probably scaring you, aren’t I? You probably think I’m damaged goods now, don’t you?”
“No, Gina. No way.”
“Do you still love me, even though I told you about my screwed up past?”
“Absolutely. Gina, I love you more than anything.”
“You still wanna be my Valentine?”
“My God, yes. Yes, yes, yes.”
“Okay,” she said. “I believe you.”
But the Kid knew Gina could sense something was wrong, cause she said that he looked scared, and white as a ghost.