Meredith's assistant jogged over to where she was standing on stage and whispered something in her ear. This was an important day; possibly the single most important day of Meredith's career to date. Oprah was coming to her show to cook with her. She was incredibly nervous to be interviewing and chatting with the most famous and influential talk show host in the world, and her staff went to great pains to make sure that Oprah was happy while she was on set.
Meredith and her staff were mid-taping, and Oprah had gone backstage to take a short break while things were being set up for the cooking segment. Someone was touching up Meredith's make-up and someone else was talking to her about where to stand and what to talk about. Emily rushed over.
"There's a phone call for you." Meredith didn't take phone calls during the taping of her shows because it would obviously be incredibly rude to her audience and staff, and because she likes to think that she's above that type of diva behaviour. Really, if you were working in a department store would you be able to take personal phone calls during working hours? No. So that's how she kept it. There was one exception though: family emergencies. John's mother being in the hospital, Leah being sick, things like that.
"Come on Em, Oprah's here."
"It's Leah's school, they say it's important." Meredith's heart skipped a beat, knowing they would only call if something was wrong. Was Leah hurt? She followed Emily back into the kitchen which was the closest quiet place in the building. The only two people back there were Meredith's best friends Brian and Abby who ran the kitchen and cooked for the guests and audience. She took the phone from Emily.
"Is this Meredith Forrester?" the voice on the other end asked.
"Yes it is."
"I'm Mrs. Berkley, the principal at Leah's school."
"Hi" Meredith said warmly but impatiently.
"I need you to come pick Leah up, she's been suspended."
"What?" Leah had rarely been in trouble at school, and certainly never enough to be suspended.
"Did you want me to repeat that?"
"No, I heard you. What happened?"
"We can discuss it when you get here."
"Um...I'm kind of in the middle of something important here. Can I come get her in a few hours?"
"No, you'll have to pick her up immediately."
"Crap. Um...okay. I'll be there soon." Meredith said quickly and hung up. "Em...I have to go get Leah."
"What? You can't! Oprah's here!" Emily practically screamed.
"I know Oprah's here! Do you think I'm unaware of that?!" Meredith said quickly, and in a slightly panicked tone. "I HAVE to! They didn't give me any choice! Okay...here's what I'll do. I'll go chat with her, let her know that we're running a bit behind because of some technical thing, and I'll be back as soon as I can."
"I know you're...you and everything, but Oprah's Oprah!! We can't make Oprah wait!"
"Em, I don't have a choice!!"
"Okay, okay. Let's go."
Twenty minutes later Meredith pulled up into the parking lot of Leah's small school. She quickly got out of the car and rushed inside. The door to the principal's office is located to the right, only a couple steps from the front doorway, and as soon as Meredith stepped inside she spotted Leah and three other girls sitting on chairs along a wall, none of them looking very happy. She rushed over to Leah and squatted down infront of her.
"Leah, what's going on?" Leah didn't have a chance to respond because the principal promptly came out of her office and told Meredith to join her and the other parents in her office. Meredith shot Leah an angry look and quickly followed the principal inside. She told Meredith to have a seat among the other parents in the room. What the heck was going on?
"Now that Ms. Forrester has arrived we can begin." the principal said with almost a bitter tone to her voice. The other parents looked at her.
"Uh...sorry...traffic?" Meredith said.
"The problem we're having with the girls is very serious" Mrs. Berkley said. "And it is imperative that we address it immediately. The girls...that is Hayley, Leah, Megan and Bree, have been practically terrorizing another student. Penny." She looked at a specific parent when she said this, implying that the woman was probably Penny's mother. "Without getting into the specifics of what each student did, the group of them actually locked her into a bathroom stall and wouldn't let her out. They sprayed water on her and said some terrible things. Once they did let her out they started throwing chips at her, among other things. One thing lead to another and Penny fell. She hit her head quite badly and is currently in the hospital. She'll be fine, but this should never have happened. It has come to my attention that this has been going on for several weeks. Needless to say, it has to stop now." The parents looked absolutely shocked that their girls would act in such a way. Mrs. Berkley began to hand each parent an envelope with a letter in it. "In these letters I have outlined what your child has done to Penny. I know that you may not have been aware of this until right now, but I would like the issue to be dealt with right now. Read the letter and speak to your child. Make sure they do not do anything like this again. Penny has suffered greatly, and your kids should be ashamed of themselves. Do you have any questions?" One parent raised her hand.
"How long will the girls be suspended for?"
"Five days." This was the longest suspension available short of expulsion. Meredith gasped at this, but said nothing. "And I would appreciate it if each girl would write a letter of apology to Penny."
"Well that goes without saying" Meredith said.
The meeting was dismissed and the parents filed out of the room. The mood was somber as the girls slowly got up and followed their parent out of the room. Once out of the room a great deal of chatter began. One parent yelled, another lectured, and one said nothing. Meredith didn't say anything either, because she knew for a fact that magazine reporters, paparazzi, whoever, chose the worst times to be around, and as mad as she was at Leah right now, she didn't want to embarass her by having her all through the magazines. Been there, done that, it wasn't pretty.
She opened Leah's car door for her, and slammed it after she got in. Meredith went around to the other side and closed the door. Knowing she was free from "outsiders" she turned to face Leah with an angry expression on her face.
"I don't know what to say Leah. What a horrible thing to do to that girl!!" she practically yelled.
"It's not that big of a deal, she smells, and her hair's always dirty! She's just a loser."
"HEY! Since when is it okay to talk about other people like that?" Leah said nothing. "You are in so much trouble young lady! Do you have any idea how many problems you've caused? Oprah is waiting for me! OPRAH! This could make or break my career, and I had to leave her there, along with an entire building of people because you chose to act SO thoughtlessly!"
"I'm sorry" Leah said, as if realizing her misbehaviour for the first time.
"Oh you bet you're going to be sorry. I don't know what to do about this, it's inexcusable." Meredith said as she drove. "I thought you were better than that. I don't think I've ever been so disappointed in you."
"Mere, you know what it's like! Make fun, or be made fun of, that's how it is!"
"NO! That's not how it is. And this wasn't just making fun, it was outright harassment! I don't even want to open this letter to see what exactly you had to do with all this. It would probably be best if you told me right you. What did you do?" Leah said nothing.
"Leah? What did you do to this girl?" Meredith asked, her voice a bit calmer.
"Well...last week I put gum in her hair." Meredith looked shocked.
"You WHAT?! LEAH!"
"That's a terrible thing to do to someone!!"
"I know, I shouldn't have. But Mere, you should see her! The other day a bug crawled out of her hair!"
"I don't care!! Not everyone has the money to buy things like shampoo Leah, and you know that."
Meredith continued her lecture until she pulled up to the front doors of the studio and got out. Leah also got out. She handed her keys to the parking guy, and rushed Leah inside.
"Go to the kitchen and help Brian and Abby do the dishes." Meredith ordered, and Leah went. Emily rushed to Meredith the second she was in the building.
"Okay, Oprah isn't very happy, but we fed her, and we fed the audience, and people seem okay. They think it's a technical problem, nobody knows you left. It's alright, but this might take some apologizing to fix."
"Okay. Let's go" Meredith said, and rushed back onto set.
Later that afternoon when Meredith was finished work she went into the kitchen to see Leah sitting on the counter happily sampling bites of cake that Abby and Brian were working on for a job they had in the coming weeks. The idea of having her help in the kitchen was to make her work. It clearly hadn't turned out that way. Brian and Abby adored Leah, and didn't have any instructions from Meredith to make her help them work, and Leah obviously hadn't mentioned it.
"Hey guys, good work today" Meredith said exhaustedly. They thank her, and she says good bye to them, telling Leah that it's time to go home. They left, and went to the car. They silently got in, and started driving home.
Over the span of the afternoon Leah had grew increasingly worried about Meredith and John reading the note from the principal. It had been about three months since she had been spanked, and the details of it were etched vividly in her memory. She didn't want to repeat that day that she was caught stealing money from her sister, but she had a feeling that her behaviour at school would earn her another spanking. She could only hope it wouldn't be as bad. After all, stealing is the worst thing someone could do...so this wasn't as bad. She wanted to test the waters...see how mad Meredith was, and if a simple apology would fix it.
"Um...Mere?" Leah practically whispered.
"What" Meredith said, still angry.
"Have you read the letter yet?"
"No I haven't. Is there more you'd like to tell me before I do?" she asked sternly.
"No." Leah said, with a bit of a shake in her voice.
"I have never been so upset with you!"
"I said I was sorry!"
"Well, sorry doesn't always cut it Leah. Does it heal Penny's head? Does it heal her heart? I don't think so. The damage has been done, and you'll have to deal with the consequences of your actions." There's that term again. When Meredith says something along the lines of "you're responsible for your actions, and have to deal with the consequences," it almost always means a spanking. Leah rolled her eyes, and unfortunately for her Meredith saw her.
"Don't you dare roll your eyes at me Leah! What you did was unacceptable and just...mean! You know right from wrong, I know you do because I taught you! I showed you the proper way to treat people, and day after day talk to you about treating others with respect!" Meredith nearly jumped out of her seat when she saw Leah roll her eyes, and said this in a much angrier voice than Leah had ever heard her speak in. It scared her. Meredith was always so happy and funny. It scared Leah to see her so out of control with her anger. She generally didn't handle people yelling at her very well, and especially not when she was actually scared by it. She's very sensitive. She started to cry.
"Mere I'm sorry!"
"I think it's a little bit too late for apologies Leah. Someone is in the hospital!"
"I know!" Leah said, "I feel SO bad!"
"You should." Meredith said matter-of-factly. They pulled into the driveway, and Leah's stomach filled with butterflies. She didn't know what was going to happen once she got inside, and she had a great fear of the unknown. She noticed John's car in the driveway, which was good. He was always able to calm Meredith down from any intense emotion. Meredith opened the back door and took her bag and files out from the day, and handed Leah her back pack. She started inside without a word, and Leah obediently followed. Meredith opened the door, and held it open for Leah to go in before her. This was one of her discipline tactics: make sure Leah is in front of her and can feel her watching her. She had no way to escape. If she was behind her, she could sneak away at any time. Leah slowly went in infront of Meredith, kicked her shoes off, dropped her back pack, and waited awkwardly. Meredith was taking a bit of time getting things organized in the hallway, so Leah slowly started to walk away, hoping to escape to her room, buy herself some time. Of course, Meredith saw her.
"Stop! Don't even bother trying to walk away from me, we're dealing with this right now." Leah stopped, and with tears rolling down her cheeks, crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. Once Meredith got everything in order, she too dropped her bag and shoes at the door, and, holding the letter, lead Leah into the kitchen. John wasn't there, and Meredith thought that he should know everything that was going on with Leah as well, so she told her to sit while she found him. He was in his upstairs office doing some paperwork. She told him everything that had happened, and together they went down to the kitchen. Neither of them knew what they were going to say, and Leah had no idea either. They went in, and Meredith pulled out the chair next to Leah's and sat down. John remained standing, leaning against the island counter.
John took a deep breath, then let it out. Leah looked at the floor, nervously. "So." John said. "What's the deal Leah? You think you're better than this kid?"
"Then why are you terrorizing her?"
"I wouldn't call it terrorizing." Leah said shyly.
"Oh really? Then what would you call it?"
"We were just having fun."
"You were having fun at someone else's expense. Put yourself in her shoes. How do you think it would feel to have a group of your classmates gang up on you and devote all their time to making sure every minute of your life was miserable?" Leah said nothing. "I'm serious, how would it make you feel?"
"Not very good."
"That's right. It would be horrible." Meredith took out the letter and started reading it.
"Why don't you read it out loud Mere, so we can all hear it" John suggested, and so she started over from the beginning.
"It says "Dear Mrs. and Mr. Forrester, I am writing in regard to Leah's recent behaviour at school toward another student. She, along with other girls, maliciously and relentlessly tease another girl almost hourly. At every chance they get they make rude and demeaning comments, and even resort to physical abuse. Leah has been involved in the actions that have already been discussed. She singly tripped the other student, causing her to fall and twist her ankle, she put gum in her hair, causing it to be cut out, she took the girl's lunch money using threats, and, along with another student, threw marbles at the girl causing bruising. You are very fortunate that the injured party is not pressing charges, and I would advise you to deal with Leah's behaviour in an appropriate and effecitive manner. She will be allowed back on school grounds on April 23, 2008." Leah was visibly shaken by this letter. The things that she and her friends spent doing to pass the time and entertain themselves with at school seemed like harmless fun at the time, but when it was put like this, she did understand how horrible she had acted. She was trying to stifle her crying, which resulted in a bit of sniffling. Meredith and John just looked at her. They didn't know what to say either. This was so out of Leah's character, they had no idea this side of her even existed. John looked deeply hurt, and Meredith looked like it was taking everything she had not to strangle Leah.
"I'm really sorry you guys. I didn't really think that it was that bad at the time, but I know it was now." They still just looked at her, shocked. Finally Meredith spoke.
"I am SO disappointed in you." The way she said this, so sincerely, made Leah totally break down in tears. Unlike other times that this happened, they comforted her, telling her that they still loved her despite her actions. This time they didn't. Coldly, Meredith said "You can go to your room until we decide what to do about this." Leah stood up.
"Mere, I'm SO..." Meredith cut her off before she could finish.
"I don't want to hear any more apologies right now Leah. Just go to your room." Leah did.
It took Meredith and John some time to calm down, but they eventually did. They cooked dinner, which was their favourite way to spend their time together at night, and according to Meredith, cooking centers her, and helps her put her day in perspective; place the importance of her the day's events within the larger picture of her life. They talked about Leah, and after falling into conversation about their own childhood fun that came from teasing others, they decided that even though it was horrible and needed to be punished, it wasn't really as bad as they thought. It was bad, yes. A girl was in the hospital. But it wasn't the end of the world. They could deal with the situation much better when they put things in perspective. When dinner was almost ready, Meredith went upstairs to get Leah. She knocked on the door, and Leah told her to come in. Meredith entered the quiet room and was actually a bit surprised that it was dark in the room, and the CD player, computer and TV were off. Leah was just sitting in her big chair looking at Meredith with her big blue eyes brimming with tears.
"Sweetie, dinner's ready. Come down and we'll talk and eat." Meredith said much more kindly than she had been speaking earlier that day.
"I'm not really hungry."
"Come down anyways, we need to talk."
"I don't want to."
"I'm telling you to. Do as you're told." she said slightly more strictly. Leah sighed and got up, once again being strategically made to walk in front of her sister. They went downstairs, and Leah took her place at the table. John placed a plate full of spaghetti and meatballs in front of her, and they both sat down.
"So, Leah. Here's the thing. We don't want you to start acting like you're better than other people. Maybe because we have more money than some people, or better jobs, or nicer clothes and hair, whatever, it doesn't mean that we're better than them. We're all equal, and everyone has good qualities that balance everything out. Doing the things you did to that girl is showing her, and others, that you think you're better than them, and you're not. You have to put yourself in her position and understand what it would be like to have to be her." John explained.
"I know, I don't think that I'm better than anyone. I should never have done the things I did, but it made my friends laugh. They seemed to like me more, and I liked that. But if it makes you guys feel better, I feel really really bad."
"I think it goes without saying that you're going to be punished for what you did." Meredith said.
"But what you did was serious, so your punishment will have to be serious." Leah nodded. "So for every day that you're suspended from school, you're going to be spanked. You're going to come to work with me, and you'll do nothing but school work while you're there. If you don't have any to do, then you'll have to just sit and think about what you did." Leah started crying as soon as she was told that she was going to get five spankings. To her that seemed unbearable. "We know you're upset that you'll be spanked five times, but we want you to have to feel the pain that you've caused Penny. You have to understand how much you've hurt her. It goes without saying that if you don't behave during the next five days, your punishment with increase. I want you to be on your best behaviour, and we won't tolerate any arguing, rudeness or disrespect. Understand?" Leah nodded again.
"Good. We both love you so much honey, we don't want you to be doing things like this that could get you in serious trouble." John said. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer.
"I know, I'm so sorry I disappointed you. I just don't want you to be mad anymore" Leah cried.
"Sweetie, we're probably going to be mad for a while. But we love you, and we're mad because we care about you, and we want what's best for you. But you'll be forgiven, and life will go on. Hopefully you'll learn from this experience about how to properly treat others." Leah nodded. John kissed her forehead, and Meredith rubbed her back. They then continued eating dinner, John and Meredith talking, and Leah mostly staying quiet.
...to be continued