Jamey spoke first, and assumed the roll of spokesperson thereafter. “So explain to us why we can’t publish the story. It’s a perfectly good story, it doesn’t use any names or details, and Sara worked hard on it.”
Mr. Simpson crossed his legs and leaned back into his chair. “There is still a liability risk.”
“You mean, you’re afraid somebody might sue?”
“That’s right.” he replied.
I brushed the back of my hand against my face to push away the tears. Jamey reached over to take my hand as she said, “But how could somebody sue? There aren’t any names or details included in the story.”
“You’re right,” Dr. McNeal said, “but the title of the story is “Non-Fiction”. People are going to see that, and they’re going to wonder if it’s really true. And then they’re going to start asking questions about it; digging up stuff that would be better left unsaid.”
Mr. Atwood slipped into the room and sat in a chair in the corner.
“But the point of the story isn’t the teacher kissing the student. It’s about suicide.” The rest of the staff was nodding at Jamey’s argument. “When I first read the story, it took me almost until the end to realize that it was true, and I knew about the incident.”
“That may be true.” Mr. Simpson said. “But that was just you. It might be different for other people, and we don’t want to take that chance. We don’t want to start any rumors.”
“What about if we take out all the references to the teacher?” one of the other girls piped up. “Then could you publish it?”
“We’d have to see.” Dr. McNeal replied. “For the time being, we need to confiscate all existing copies of the magazine. We, as a school district, will pay to have it republished. But we want to gather all the existing copies so that they can be returned to the publisher. We can distribute the books next year. We’ll make an announcement this afternoon, explaining that there was a publication error.”
“What about those of us who are seniors?” one of the boys cried. “When will we get our books? We’re graduating in three and a half days! We won’t be here next year to get copies, and this was our last issue.”
“We can have copies mailed to you.” Mr. Simpson replied.
As the others began to stand up, Jamey asked, “So if we get you an edited version of the story by the end of the day, will you at least consider it?”
“We’ll look at it, but I’m not making any promises.” Dr. McNeal reached out to shake Jamey’s hand as I stood up and fled the conference room.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I went up to Ms. Dyer’s room and stuck my head inside, gesturing to her to come out in the hall. She stood up from her computer with a handful of papers as I turned away from the door and leaned against a locker. As she came out I informed her, “Did you hear yet? They aren’t publishing it.”
“I know.” Seeing my tears, she reached out and gave me a hug. “But I went into the computer and did a little editing to your story while you guys were in the office.” She handed me the papers she had clutched in her hand. “I submitted a copy of this version to Dr. McNeal, to get his opinion. He told me that he’ll have to fax it over to the superintendent, but it doesn’t look good.”
“Then what was the point?”
She shrugged impishly. “I figured it was worth a shot.”
“Either way, you have to redo the entire magazine. And it’s all my fault. I am so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. You have to know that.” Jokingly, she added, “Now that you’ve been censored, you’re a real writer.”
“Good for me.” I replied glumly. “It still hurts to have my writing called a publication error.” As Ms. Dyer nodded in empathy, I continued, “I’m never writing anything ever again.”
“Don’t say that. If anybody should be saying that, it’s me. They, being the administration, now want me to report any depressing piece that comes in to be submitted to ‘Illusions’. If they really make me do that, I won’t be the advisor anymore. I’ll go back to having a Creative Writing club.”