Scarlett

I am in trouble, again. It's big trouble - the kind that requires urgent phone calls and whispered conversations in the school office while I sit on a plastic chair outside Mrs Mulhern's room, painting my fingernails black.
Sometimes I think that Greenhall Academy is more of a prison camp than a school. Mrs Mulhern is wasted as a Headmistress - with her charm, compassion and world vision she could be running Wormwood Scrubs. She's always banging on about how the fabric of society will just crumble away if you don't wear perfect school uniform and excel on the sports field and donate bars of soap and unwanted PlayStation games to the Third World, which is clearly kind of crazy.
Mrs Mulhern just loves rules, and I don't. That's the problem really.
I waft my fingernails about, trying to dry them, while Miss Phipps, the school secretary, runs around looking nervous and hassled. She digs out files and answers calls and gives me nasty looks with her lips all crinkled up like she's sucking a lemon.
'Scarlett,' she says sniffily. 'I still can't locate your mother. Her office say she's in a meeting and can't be disturbed. I've told them it's urgent, but they don't seem to care…'
'Too bad,' I sympathize, putting my feet up on the coffee table to see if she'll say anything. She doesn't. I think it's my red wedge sandals that scare her, or possibly the black skull-print ankle socks. She frowns and huffs and hides behind her PC screen.
I've been in trouble a million times before, and if there's one thing I've learnt it's that hanging your head in shame won't change a thing. They'll bawl you out anyway.
With a name like Scarlett, you cannot sneak through life blending into the background - people notice you, like it or not. Of course, they notice me even more these days, since I had my hair dyed the colour of tomato soup, but hey, why not? You can't fight destiny.
Mum once told me that red is nature's warning colour, signifying danger, trouble. It warns the other animals to back off, stay away. I like to think that my name and my hair colour are a little clue for the rest of the world to do just the same - back off and leave me alone. If they choose not to take notice of the warning, well, that's not my fault, is it?
It's past three by the time Mum appears. She stalks into the office in her swish grey suit and her spike-heeled shoes, her hair swept up in a bun with strands of expensive honey-blonde streaks falling delicately round her face. She kicks my feet off the coffee table with one pointy toe, drops her briefcase on to a chair and leans towards Miss Phipps.
'So,' she says in a tired voice. 'What's she done this time?'
Things move quickly after that. We're taken through to Mrs Mulhern's office and seated in front of her big, leather-topped desk. Miss Phipps brings in a tray of freshly brewed coffee and pours one for everyone except me before bustling back to the outer office. I don't even get a biscuit. I'm probably destined for solitary confinement and a diet of bread and water, if Mrs Mulhern has her way.
'I'm very sorry to have brought you here this afternoon - er, Ms Murray,' Mrs Mulhern begins. 'I'm afraid we've had another incident. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Scarlett isn't settling in too well at Greenhall Academy. There have been countless problems, from somewhat minor breaches of the school uniform code…'
She pauses to glower at my feet and hair.
'…To rather more serious issues, which as you know have already resulted in two periods of exclusion from the school.'
'Yes, yes,' Mum responds. 'Just tell me what she's done.'
'The incident began with a demonstration in the school lunch hall,' Mrs Mulhern says. 'I believe Scarlett has recently become vegetarian?'
Mum rolls her eyes, exasperated.
'She was leafleting students as they came into the hall,' Mrs Mulhern continues. 'With these.'
She pushes a crumpled flyer across the desk at Mum, who picks it up between finger and thumb as though it might be contaminated. I'm proud of those leaflets - they really caused a stir. Personally, I think it was the crimson blood-splash motif that grabbed people's attention.
'The leaflet is just the tip of the iceberg,' Mrs Mulhern goes on. 'Some pupils were distressed, refusing to eat the meat-based meals, and the cook became a little upset…'
A little? That's a laugh. She was purple with rage, and when I tried to explain the links between a meat-based diet and high blood pressure, she said a few things that shocked even me. Are dinner ladies supposed to swear?
'Things got a little nasty,' Mrs Mulhern ploughs on. 'Chicken nuggets were thrown, and bottles of ketchup squirted all over the walls. It came to a head when Scarlett lifted up a large tray of Irish stew and threw it all over the lunch-room floor.'
'Oh dear,' says Mum.
'Oh dear, indeed,' echoes Mrs Mulhern. 'We have never had a riot at Greenhall Academy before. But then again, we have never had a pupil quite like Scarlett.'
'You can't blame her for the whole thing,' Mum says reasonably. 'She's certainly behaved badly, but -'
'But nothing,' Mrs Mulhern snaps. 'In the midst of the fray, Ms Murray, my cook was assaulted by your daughter.'
'She slipped!' I protest.
'She had to be taken to casualty, although fortunately nothing seems to be broken. She has also handed in her notice after more than twenty years at Greenhall.'
She's missed out the bit where the old bag chased me with a spatula and pelted me with semolina pudding, but I doubt whether these details will help my case any.
'Ah.' Mum sighs. 'I see.'
'I've no option but to exclude Scarlett from Greenhall Academy. A third exclusion, as you know, is a final one. We have a reputation to maintain, and we cannot tolerate incidents - indeed, pupils - such as this. You will need to make alternative arrangements for Scarlett. I regret to tell you she is no longer a pupil at Greenhall Academy.'
'Whoop-de-doo,' I mutter, arranging the hem of my black school skirt so that it sits neatly across my knees.
'Mrs Mulhern,' Mum appeals, 'are you saying my daughter has been expelled?'
The Headmistress gives a slow, solemn nod.
'There's nothing I can say or do to make you reconsider?'
'Sadly, no,' Mrs Mulhern replies. 'Scarlett is a bright girl. She could have done well here, but she has major problems with authority - and with her temper. A broken home can affect young people in so many dreadful ways. Scarlett is quite one of the angriest twelve-year-olds I've ever come across.'
Mrs Mulhern stands up, offering a podgy, pink-taloned hand for Mum to shake. 'Have you ever thought that family counselling might be a solution?' she adds as an afterthought, and Mum drops the hand like a hot potato. Her face flushes with fury as she ushers me into the outer office.
'Everything OK, Ms Murray?' Miss Phipps calls sweetly, getting her own back at last for an afternoon wasted leaving urgent messages for my mother. 'Scarlett?'
Like she doesn't know. All afternoon, she's probably been typing up official forms and letters kicking me out of the school. She smirks at me from behind her PC.
Mum sails past as though Miss Phipps is invisible, but I find time to pause in the doorway and reveal my last and, possibly, my finest assault on the school uniform rules. I've kept it secret for six whole weeks, which hasn't been easy, but hey, it's going to be worth it.
I open my mouth and stick my tongue out at Miss Phipps, wide enough and long enough for her to see the gold stud that pierces the middle of it. Then I close my mouth, smile sweetly and slam the door behind me.
Goodbye, Mrs Mulhern. So long, Miss Phipps. It's been fun.

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