Chapter 2

Officer Sparks leapt around the table and shielded Daphne with her short, fit body. She shot Julie a one-eyed warning stare then took Daphne by the arm and led her to the door. “Thank you. I’ll handle it from here.”

Daphne shook her off. “You better, or I’m filing a complaint through my father’s lawyer.” Over the officer’s shoulder, she said tartly to Julie, “I hope they lock you up.”

Julie advanced, and the cop promptly ushered Daphne out. “Careful, ” she advised her detainee, shutting the the door, “you’re in enough trouble already.”

Julie scoffed. “Please. I never would have hit her. She just makes me so mad.” Flushed and agitated, Julie began to pace the floor of the small, windowless conference room. Enclosed spaces triggered her mild claustrophobia, the symptoms of which she fought to keep in check since she already appeared unstable. “Daphne’s a snake. No one on the floor can stand her! She’s as rich as they come, but she steals everybody’s shampoo and makeup, simply because she’s too lazy to go buy any. Somebody gets a boyfriend, and wham! – she’s all over him. She makes fun of Marybeth’s clothes and teases Tatiana about her accent. Plus—“

“Newsflash,” Officer Sparks interrupted her rant. “This isn’t cheerleader camp. You’re eighteen. An adult. And you’re going to be treated as one when it comes to the law. Like it or not, you broke it today.”

Julie collapsed in a chair, deflated, and uttered wistfully, “I know.”

Seeing she was spent, the policewoman dropped her defensive stance. “That’s more like it. Honestly, you guys come here and act like you’ve been granted a second childhood.” Throwing her hands in the air and twiddling her fingers, she mocked, “Gettin’ all ‘wild and crazy.’”

“Touché,” sighed Julie, half-listening. She was thinking about what her parents were going to say when they got the phone call. Even if she managed to avoid prosecution, she was certainly going to be expelled.

“Now the question is: What am I going to do with you?”

The apparent ambivalence in the officer’s voice rekindled Julie’s spirit. Was she wavering between a conviction and a reprieve? Julie opted to keep quiet in case her train of thought was headed in the latter direction.

“Your pal, Daphne, clearly isn’t going to let this go,” Officer Sparks continued with her rumination. “And, on principle, you should be punished for your little escapade.”

“I suppose you could toss me out into the yard for a few hours under the hot sun with a pick and a shovel,” Julie mumbled (she thought) under her breath. Holes had been required reading in middle school.

“You know, that’s not such a bad idea …” Officer Sparks said, a mad look forming in her eyes. She pointed a finger at Julie as if she were a dog and ordered, “Stay!” Then she raced out the door.

Though anxious about the puzzling action she had evidently inspired with her sarcastic remark, Julie was grateful that the officer had at least left the door ajar; she was in dire need of fresh air. Without a distraction, claustrophobia was beginning to kick in: beads of sweat had already begun to form on her palms, and she was growing lightheaded. Her symptoms dissipated, however, when two boys strolled by in the hall and spotted her, sitting obediently in her chair. Julie shielded her face with her hand. So much for keeping her arrest under wraps. She supposed it didn’t matter anyway; Daphne would undoubtedly spread the word all over school. From that day forward, college would be one long Walk of Shame. Granted she was allowed to continue.

To her surprise, and dismay, the taller of the two boys reappeared in the doorway, leaning back to steal another look. He fixed his green eyes on Julie and flashed her a bright, carefree smile. “C’mon,” groaned a male voice, and her visitor vanished with a jerk. Julie shook her head, amused. Picked up at the police station; that would be a new one. She wouldn’t have minded bumping into her admirer under different circumstances. He was actually pretty cute.

Officer Sparks returned a moment later, carrying a stack of papers and a plastic package in her arms. She handed Julie a sheet off the top.

“What’s this?” Julie scanned the front. It was a flyer promoting a self- defense course for October 23, the following Saturday.

“Besides being a patrol officer, I serve as the department’s Public Safety counselor,” Officer Sparks explained enthusiastically. “The position requires me to conduct presentations and workshops for the SDU student body on subjects such as personal safety, vehicle and residential security, and substance abuse. Here, I grabbed some brochures.” She began tossing leaflets one-by-one from her pile into Julie’s lap. “I enjoy the work, but it’s overwhelming, trying to do it all. I’ve been hitting up the Chief for an assistant with no success. It’s not in the budget. However, if someone were to volunteer …”

“Are you offering me a job?” Julie asked, cluing in.

Officer Sparks’ whole demeanor drooped. “I’m offering you a chance to save your skin: public service in lieu of prosecution for your little joyride. I think I can approve it with the brass.”

Julie’s mind was spinning as she tried to process the odd turn of events. A sharp order brought it to a halt. “Stand up.”

Julie obeyed. Officer Sparks unfolded a bundle of canary yellow plastic fabric, which materialized into a jacket, stamped with ‘C.S.O.’ in navy blue block letters on the back. “What do the initials stand for?”

“Campus Safety Officer. Try it on.” The policewoman held up the windbreaker, and Julie slipped her arms through the holes.

Modeling the garment, Julie wasn’t sure whether Officer Sparks intended the uniform to be an added enticement, or an exercise in humility. Not only was the jacket an unflattering box cut, it was four sizes too large. The bottom hem, designed to hit near the waist, fell practically to her knees, and the sleeves extended a half-foot beyond her hands, creating the illusion she possessed wings. Julie felt as though she’d just landed the role of Big Bird in the school play.

Officer Sparks, oblivious to the fashion faux pas, fussed over her like a proud mother on prom night, slapping the still present folds in the fabric roughly with her fingertips and tugging at the extra material bunched up across her shoulders. “There,” she cooed, admiring her adjustments. “Not a bad fit at all.”

To make matters worse, Julie glanced up and noticed the boys who had passed by earlier were hovering in the doorway. The thickset one stood there like Dopey from Snow White, pop-eyed with his mouth hanging open. The other (Prince Charming?) seemed to be carefully studying her, as though she were some sort of unexplained phenomenon, hand clenched to his chin, eyebrows twisted into a question mark.

“Did you need something, Eric?” Office Sparks snapped, apparently annoyed by the interruption in her task.

“No, it can wait,” replied the tall one then shoved his companion and retreated down the hall.

“Who are they?” inquired Julie.

“Oh, Eric Brenner and Scott Miller. Two C.S.O.s.”

Eric Brenner. Just moments before, she could have sworn he was scoping her out. She wondered what he thought of her now: first a felon, then a fashion victim.

Not wishing to add to her growing list of infractions, Julie determined it was time to end her nerve-rattling excursion to the University Police Department. Officer Sparks seemed cool, she figured. In fact, Julie was even beginning to like her. She might be a tad misguided in the fashion department, but she was clearly passionate about her work. Julie decided to just be honest. “Officer Sparks?”

“Hmm?” the cop replied distractedly, busy with her fitting.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity, and your generosity regarding the car thing, but I’m not sure I can accept.” The policewoman stepped back warily and Julie continued. “I mean, it wouldn’t be fair to you. I’m carrying a full load this quarter – sixteen units – and I don’t know how much time I can devote to assisting you. To tell you the truth, I’m finding the whole college situation hard to handle, trying to juggle my classes with studying, hanging out with my friends, and keeping in touch with the people back home. It’s all so new; I’m just beginning to settle into a routine. Taking on anything else would probably be a big mistake.”

Rhonda Sparks grew pensive. “Oh, I see …”

She looked so disappointed by her decision, Julie felt guilty.

But the police officer snapped out of her funk fairly quickly. She shrugged the rejection off with a “Suit yourself,” then began gathering her papers.

Julie was relieved. “I knew you’d understand.”

“Of course. And don’t worry about the ‘car thing’ setting you back. I hear they offer on-line degrees now in prison.”

Ouch! Rhonda Sparks played hardball. Recovering from the slap, Julie asked, “Can I at least have some time to think about it?”

“Sure,” Officer Sparks purred through a saccharin smile then consulted her wristwatch and counted seconds aloud to ten. “Okay, time’s up. What’s it gonna be?”

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