No Matter What - By Janice Kay Johnson


MOLLY CALLAHAN STUDIED the boy slumped sullenly in a straight chair facing her desk and wished desperately she could hand off dealing with him to someone else. Anyone else.

She liked her job most of the time, although discipline was her least favorite facet of it. No choice, though. The high school was small enough that she was the only vice principal. She gave brief, wistful thought to steering Trevor Ward and his father, when he arrived for an emergency conference, into Principal Marta Brightwell’s office. Unfortunately, Marta’s strength was making everyone feel really optimistic about whatever was under discussion, at least as long as they remained in her presence. A fine quality, but one that failed to solve all those everyday problems that were Molly’s bailiwick.

Even so…that’s what she should do. Her feelings toward this particular boy—belligerent, defiant, aggressive—were not dispassionate. Considering the fight she and her daughter, Cait, had had only last night over Trevor, Molly could admit, if only to herself, that she wished he had never transferred to her school. It would be really good if he slouched out beside his father and never came back. She didn’t exactly wish him ill. She’d be satisfied if Daddy decided to transfer him to a private school or ship him home to Mom. But she wanted him gone. Gone from her life, and especially gone from Caitlyn’s.

She should be trying to understand what was throwing him into turmoil, but she couldn’t make herself care. Knots were climbing atop knots in her neck, her head throbbed, she expected Trevor’s father to arrive any minute and she had not the slightest idea what she was going to say to him.

Trevor held an ice pack over one eye, but the trickle of blood emerging from a nostril was turning into a stream. Molly sighed, snatched a handful of tissues from a box and went around the desk to thrust them into his hand.

“Your nose is bleeding again.”

He grunted and pressed the wad of tissues to his nose.

“If it gets any worse I’ll need to send you to the nurse’s office.” Which she had not done, because the victim of Trevor’s rage was currently occupying one of the cubicles there, waiting for his mother to pick him up. Aaron Latter was in considerably worse shape than Trevor. Molly could only be glad he’d gotten a few blows in, at least.

Which was unworthy of her, she reflected, surreptitiously massaging her temple. That said, she’d be talking to Aaron’s parents later, too. One more thing to look forward to.

“Trevor, I’m going to ask you to wait out in front. I’ll need to speak to your dad privately. Mrs. Cruz will help you if you get to feeling worse.”

The stare he gave her from the one eye that wasn’t swollen shut chilled her. It was almost emotionless, and yet…full of something. She had never before been afraid of a student, but at that moment she came close.

And her daughter had a massive crush on this boy.

Boy? As he rose slowly to his feet, she realized part of the problem. Seventeen years old, a senior, he didn’t look like a boy. He looked like a man. He was already six foot three. Although he hadn’t yet achieved his full bulk, he had broad shoulders and more muscles than most of the male teachers had ever dreamed of possessing. He must shave daily and at two o’clock in the afternoon already had a dark shadow on his jaw. His eyes were so dark, brown iris melted into pupil. When he gave someone a black look, it was black.

He was also, unfortunately, exceedingly handsome. The minute he’d walked in the front doors the first day of school, he’d turned every female head in the building. Molly had seen even a couple of the younger women teachers flush at the sight of him. With his physique, dark good looks and sullen temperament, he was the Heathcliff of West Fork High School.

Didn’t it figure that his brooding stare had turned to Cait, Molly’s bright, perky, academically advanced, sunny-tempered, beautiful, fifteen-year-old daughter.

Molly realized that she was grinding her teeth together as she escorted Trevor out of her office. No wonder her head was throbbing.

Once he lowered himself to one of the visitors’ chairs, she took the tissues from his hand and inspected his nose. “It seems to have let up,” she said briskly. “Mrs. Cruz, please call Jeannie if Trevor’s nosebleed worsens.”

“Of course, Ms. Callahan.” The school secretary looked past Molly. “Ah…Trevor’s