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Rules are Rules

I glanced up at the low ceilings, at the mahogany bookshelf’s that were piled high with literature I could only dream to read one day and slowly took my seat in front of the headmaster. I usually always had words to fill a situation, but this time nothing came to mind. I hadn’t been smoking. I did smoke, I smoked several times a day, but today I hadn’t been smoking.
“Eugene do these cigarettes belong to you?” The headmaster held up a pack of semi-crushed cigarettes and narrowed his eyes over the top of his glasses.
“Yes sir.”
They were the original pack of cigarettes I had bought before coming to Choate in the fall. It was the same cigs I had offered my new friend when we met on the train to Wallingford. Talbot had provided cigarettes for basically the whole year so there had been no need for me to smoke my own.
“John reported to me that he found you smoking in the room.”
I paused to think about how to respond to this. It was more of a statement than a question. The way I saw it I had two choices. I could say I wasn’t smoking and blame Tab for the smell and the butts that were left in the room. However, I couldn’t think of doing that; Tab had taken me to his home for Christmas, he barely got along with his family, and resented his father every time someone spoke of his races. Tab needed to be at Choate, I couldn’t blame him. After all, Choate was a school with dignity; it would have been just my word against his.
“I hadn’t really…I mean..well…the smoke wasn’t from…” my voice trailed off.
I thought of my mom at home with her three kids, her career as a nurse. She didn’t need me getting into any trouble. Choice two was to beg for them to keep me, say I hadn’t been smoking, and promise to never smoke again.
The headmaster said he was forced to ask me to leave, he had said that rules were rules, and this was how the school dealt with issues like this. Tears started to roll down my cheeks.
“No Sir, please, I will never smoke again.”
My voice was quiet, desperate, and barely louder than a whisper. His assistant opened the door and I saw a run down yellow taxi pull up outside the headmaster’s house.
John came out and put my things in the trunk. My body began to shake and my palms pressed against the window as I watched my belongings disappear. As the headmaster led me outside I thought I saw a glimpse of Talbot’s face in the window. His lips had curved down, his eyes pupils were dilated, and his shoulders curved forward. It may have been my imagination, but I could have sworn I saw him mouth I’m sorry on the foggy window.
The headmaster opened the cab door and with a heavy heart I had no choice but to sit on the broken down leather seat. The headmaster extended his hand to me. I just stared at it before gaining enough control of my body to grab it and wipe my eyes free of salty tears.
“I am sorry Eugene.”
I wondered if he apologized to every kid whom he expelled from Choate. However, I felt that he knew it wasn’t just me who had been smoking in that room, but he had no other choice. My breath fogged up the glass as I tried to get one last glimpse of the school that had represented my opportunity to prosper.



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