A CHIP ON THE SHOULDER PLANTS A SEED IN THE HEART
“In The Line of Fire”
Why so serious? Maybe I knew what my future as a dancer looked like.
“Everybody up now!” Tynslee’s mother demanded, throwing on the basement lights. She was standing next to a police officer on the staircase while clutching her silk robe to ensure it wouldn’t accidentally fall open. I looked around the room, watching the arsonists do their best to act as confused as the rest of the girls who hadn’t known what we’d been up to during their slumber.
“I want to know who did it and I want to know now!” she demanded, immediately looking towards Jemma and me as if to incriminate us.
“Mom?” said Tynslee, rubbing her eyes and acting as disoriented as someone wakened in the middle of their REM cycle. “What are you talking about?”
“What you ladies did tonight was a serious crime that carries serious punishment,” the cop said to her before scanning the rest of room for any sign of guilt that might help him find his culprits.
“What did we do?” a girl asked, earnestly.
“We got a call from someone driving in the area. Said she saw a pack of teenage girls running towards this house after lighting the street on fire.”
“Someone lit the street on fire?” someone else asked, concerned.
“Well it wasn’t us,” Tynslee insisted, somewhat annoyed. “We’ve all been here sleeping.” She looked around at us, silently dictating nods of confirmation to effectively sell the lie. Well, what was a lie for thirteen of us, anyway.
The cop stared at her, unconvinced. “I know the parties responsible are here in this basement, and I’m not leaving until they confess.” He placed his hands on his belt, reaffirming he was prepared to station himself there for the remainder of the morning.
“Who would do that?” another girl asked, looking around the room. Everyone made eyes at each other, profiling those of us they thought they knew to try and see who might be harboring some sort of deceit. Those of us who already had the answers, looked to Tynslee for guidance. Now sitting on the steps, she communicated with a silent stare that no one was to say a word. We looked away, agreeing to have one another’s backs by keeping our mouths shut and lips sealed.
“Come on, girls! Someone knows something!” Mrs. Greene shouted, impatiently.
“Protecting each other is only going to hurt you all in the long run,” the cop cautioned, clearly on to us. The stand off lasted a while before Tynslee’s voice eventually broke the silence.
“Come on, you guys,” she said. Her tone was soft, as if she had resigned to the fact we needed to come clean and was encouraging us all to take responsibility for our part in the matter along with her. She continued, “Just tell the truth so my mom, and all of us, can go back to bed.” Apparently, what she actually wanted was for someone else to take full culpability for hers.
I couldn’t believe it; Tynslee Greene, the perfect, dutiful, accountable girl I’d long admired and looked up to had not only orchestrated the unimaginable, but now she sat in front of us - a traitor, perfectly content with, and even intent on, someone else taking the fall for her.
“There are girls in here who are known trouble makers, Officer. They just aren’t coming forward.” Mrs. Greene said, throwing another look to Jemma and me.
I was horrified. There we all were, in the name of trust and sisterhood, protecting someone by remaining dutifully silent and never, not for a second, had Mrs. Greene suspected it might be her precious, darling, daughter. The irony of her insisting it was the only two girls who had been against it from the beginning and who even consciously refused to participate, was beyond tragic. If only she knew, I thought. But, in looking at the other girls around us, it was unlikely anyone would tell her.
Their facial expressions confirmed they would do nothing to stand up for Jemma and me, if we took the heat. After all, defending us meant surrendering Tynslee, or worse, offering up themselves. No one, including myself, wanted to be in the position of having to choose between potentially serving time, or having less of it on stage per Tynslee’s delegation. Although, there was one person who didn’t seem too concerned - I suppose when you’re as flexible as Gumby, it’s hard to find a position you aren’t comfortable being in.
“You’re right, Tynslee, we should tell the truth,” Jemma said from beside me. Tynslee’s ears perked up, worried Jemma might have the gumption to be forthcoming with her name when no one else was. Mrs. Greene, on the other hand, stood beside the cop, confident a confession from Jemma was imminent. “Do you want to tell them or should I?”
Mrs. Greene’s face scrunched up in disgust at the insinuation. “If you’re suggesting my daughter would ever dare do something like this with her parents sleeping upstairs, you’re mistaken.”
“Really? Why don’t you ask her?” Jemma suggested.
The cop turned to Tynslee. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
“Don’t listen to her, Officer, Jemma’s a trouble maker,” Mrs. Greene insisted before grouping me in with her. “Both those girls are. Tynslee comes from a religious home. There’s no way she would put people’s lives in danger like this.”
“Is that true?” the cop, pressed. “Your mother says you’re from a religious home so, I expect you to answer me honestly."
The entire room waited with baited breath to hear what Tynslee had to say for herself. We all knew that using religion to get an answer from any of the Greenes was as effective as Fletcher Reede’s son using his birthday wish to make his father tell the truth in Liar, Liar.
Tynslee looked to her mother, then ashamed, looked away. With downcast eyes she confessed, “It was my idea. I poured the lighter fluid.” The whole room sat in shocked silence, transfixed by the confusing notion that someone as perfect as Tynslee was capable of doing something as horrific as she had. And no one was more aghast than her mother.
“Tynslee Erica Greene!” she exclaimed. I wasn’t sure if she was more appalled by the fact Tynslee had done it, or that she had embarrassed herself in front of everyone by relentlessly defending her innocence.“You don’t have take the blame for them just because you’re Captain!” Apparently, she was just in denial.
“They were actually trying to stop us,” Amanda said with trepidation before weakly raising her hand. “I lit the match. Everyone else just watched.”
“Come with me,” the cop said, leading Tynslee and Amanda upstairs. A stoic Mrs. Greene trailed behind them, the undone tie of her robe looking like a tail between her legs.
I’m not sure what price Tynslee and Amanda paid for their actions because I suspect it likely came out of their parents bank account. I can tell you, however, it would have cost me a lot more had Jemma not had the balls to do something I myself may have. That is, of course, if it hadn’t for that day on the volleyball courts when I was ten. Alas, I wouldn’t dream of putting more confidence in myself than in authority, again for a while. For that to change, it would take many years and many other fires, including the one that would start within me.