‘Get dressed,’ Arabella yells to her family. ‘We’ve got to be out of here in ten minutes. No dilly dallying!’
Footsteps thump from the kitchen to the bedrooms as Arabella’s two teens follow her instructions. She smiles to herself; it’s just the way she likes it. She hums to herself while she tidies the kitchen, placing the bread back in the tin, the Vegemite in the pantry and the butter in the fridge. Checking her calendar on her phone, she runs through the plans for her day: drop Scotty and Matilda at school, volunteering stint at the mum and baby centre, work, board meeting, ferry Scotty from school to soccer, then home for dinner. Book club at eight o’clock. She’s even scheduled sex with Mick at 11PM.
Scotty and Matilda are waiting by the front door.
‘Oh you’re such good children. Thank you,’ she says, kissing them each on their cheeks.
Her phone trills during the board meeting later that afternoon.
‘My apologies,’ Arabella mutters, switching it to voicemail. ‘I thought I’d already turned it off.’ She wriggles back in her seat, uncomfortable to have lowered her standards: she has little regard for people who do not turn off their phones in meetings.
Not two minutes later, the office manager interrupts the board meeting. ‘Excuse me,’ she whispers. Her brow is creased in a frown and her eyes dart around. ‘There’s an urgent phone call for Arabella.’
Arabella flushes, a combination of embarrassment and concern. ‘Excuse me. I’m so sorry,’ she utters as she leaves the board room.
‘Right this way,’ the office manager says, leading the way. ‘You can take the call in my office. I’ll give you some privacy.’
Arabella presses the flashing red button on the console on the desk, wholly unprepared for what’s to come, unaware of the snag that will unravel her well-stitched life.
‘Mrs Prentice.’ The female voice is familiar to Arabella. The tone is clipped and curt. Arabella’s head is spinning to place her. ‘This is Imogen Ballard, the principal at McDormid Secondary College. Your daughter Hannah is in quite a bit of trouble. We’d like you and your husband to come here immediately to discuss her future.’
‘What? I don’t understand.’ Arabella is wonky on her feet. ‘What’s she done?’
‘I’d prefer to discuss that when you’re here.’
‘Well, I’m on my way. Of course. But I’d like to know what she’s done.’
‘I won’t have this conversation over the phone, Mrs Prentice. I’ll see you shortly.’
Thirty minutes later, Arabella and Mick are sitting in the principal’s office with Hannah. Unrecognisable to Arabella: she’s slouching in her seat, sullen and withdrawn. Her eyes are dull and her cheeks are red and blotchy.
Ms Ballard begins with a five minute sermon on school values, code of conduct, and the expectation of students and parents. She continues, ‘Hannah was found to be selling ecstasy pills on school property today.’
The world stops on its axis. Arabella is panicked, she can’t think, can’t process this news. Her darling Hannah. Her children are sensible, she’s raised them so well. She’s been so rigid with boundaries; both Scotty and Hannah know not to step outside the carefully constructed lines.
‘I’m sorry. What did you say?’ Arabella asks, casting a glance towards her daughter. Hannah’s still slumped in her seat, but Arabella now notices the length of her school uniform skirt is considerably shorter than it was this morning. She frowns, makes a mental note to address that with her daughter later.
Mrs Ballard repeats the outrageous claim. And then flashes the pills. Hannah shrugs and admits her guilt.
The Prentices leave the office an hour later. Hannah is suspended for a term. The police are on the way to their home after Mrs Ballard placed the call according to the policies and procedures outlined by the education department. She then filled in countless forms, all of which Arabella and Mick had to sign and retain copies of.
Arabella fingers shake. She can’t get the key in the lock. Mick takes over and unlocks the door. Arabella goes to her en suite, runs a bath.
‘The police are here,’ Mick says, as she undressing.
‘Deal with it,’ she responds. Her voice is constrained, like there’s something caught in her throat. ‘I’m having soak in the tub.’