3 weeks later...
Rayna sat quietly in the headmistress’ office at Maddie’s school, nodding politely as she listened intently to the older woman as she described Maddie’s recent changes in behavior and attitude in terms of what she and Maddie’s instructors had observed in recent weeks.
“I’m sure you can appreciate, Ms. Jaymes the reason why I asked you to come in today and meet with me to discuss this,” Carol, the headmistress was saying. “Having been Maddie’s headmistress since she began grade school here, I feel invested enough to say that she’s grown into a wonderful young lady. Her manners and character are impeccable and she’s exceptionally bright. Up until recently, she’s continually been the type of student who does her coursework without complaint, quite often turning in her assignments before they’re due even. She’s been a pleasure to have in class and all of her teachers—the whole staff in fact—quite adore her, to be honest. Which is why, quite frankly, her recent behavior has us concerned. Her grades have been slipping this past marking period, as I believe you and Mayor Conrad have already been made aware of by some of her instructors, am I correct?”
Rayna nodded, relaxing in her chair to speak frankly to the woman that she’d known since Maddie was in kindergarten. “Yes. Yes, we have been made aware of that. Thank you. I can assure you, Headmistress, we’ve spoken to Maddie about it on several occasions. And both her father and I have taken steps to see that she does what’s expected of her and focuses more on her schoolwork, rather than outside activities. It’s just...well, to be honest, she’s had a hard time adjusting the past several months, what with her father and I getting divorced and then Teddy getting remarried, and some other…family matters. I really think it’s just been a difficult time for her and I mean, she’s acting out and testing her limits, I think.”
The older woman leaned forward. “Rayna…I believe it’s more than that. Now, I called you in here today for a specific matter that I wanted to discuss with you. Before I do, I want to assure you that I firmly believe in staying out of family and personal matters in students’ lives and I do my best to uphold that…except when it’s brought to my attention and I feel it’s necessary to discuss it with the student’s parents. Now, I know Mayor Conrad couldn’t be here and if I didn’t think it were urgent as I do, I’d wait to discuss the matter with the both of you.”
Rayna’s skin prickled with concern at the change of tone in the woman’s voice and she sat up straighter in her chair. “Urgent?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, did something happen to Maddie or did she do something—“
The other woman shook her head. “No…no, nothing of that sort. It’s of a different nature entirely, I assure you. An um…how shall I put it…a more delicate nature, I guess would be a way to put it.” She sighed deeply. “It’s been brought to our—my—attention that there’s a rumor circulating that Mayor Conrad is in fact NOT Maddie’s biological parent.” She paused to take note of Rayna’s reaction and then nodded, apparently taking acquiescence at the surprise she must have registered in Rayna’s expression as she continued. “I’m judging from your response that the information is accurate then,” she said.
Rayna’s eyes were wide as she sat there in stunned silence for a moment, finding herself at a loss for what to say. Struggling to regain her composure, she shook her head in confusion. “I-I’m sorry—did you say a rumor? What exactly do you mean?” she asked, sitting on the edge of her chair as she waited for the woman to respond.
“Well, as I said, I was only just made aware of this, but it appears the talk began circulating after Maddie uploaded the music video she created using the different surname, Maddie Claybourne to be precise, to the internet earlier this week. Now, I realize you’re heavily involved in the arts, particularly music, especially with your profession. And I know both Maddie and little Daphne are quite musically-inclined as well. However, Rayna, we have strict social media guidelines for a reason here and the fact that she uploaded the video using the server here, violating our school policy, is somewhat of a concern. It’s simply confounding and shocking to me that Maddie would do something of that—“ The woman stopped speaking when she saw the utter shock and horror on Rayna’s face and came around from the desk. “Rayna? Are you alright?” she asked, genuinely concerned.
Rayna felt cold as shock coursed through and filled her veins. That, and a foreboding sense of fear. “D-Did you say a video? She uploaded a music video to the internet?” she repeated slowly, trying to wrap her head around the words even as she shook her head in disbelief, trying to convince herself that it couldn’t be true—that Maddie wouldn’t do something so careless or reckless. She knew better. But even as she tried to deny it, she felt the silent but insistent humming vibration of her phone in her back pocket that had been rhythmically going off every 2 minutes or so since she’d stepped foot inside the school. Figuring it was probably her sister or Bucky or someone from the label needing something, she’d ignored it and focused instead on the meeting with Maddie’s headmistress. Now, her hand shaking, she pulled out the phone and stared at the screen. One swipe of her finger showed her a list of dozens of missed texts and calls, both from Tandy and Bucky as she’d suspected, but also from publicist and the media relations manager for the label. Without even reading the messages, she knew what they said.
“Oh God,” she breathed as she met the headmistress’ stricken, concerned face. “The video—did you take it down?” she asked, her tone oddly calm.
The woman nodded. “Well, yes…I mean, I had Maddie remove it from the server, but you know as well as I do that once something is on the internet, it’s out there forever. I’m sorry—you didn’t know anything about the video, did you?” she asked, her tone apologetic and concerned.
Rayna shook her head. “No…God, no. This is—this isn’t good. I-I need to see my girls and get them home. And that video. Could you show it to me?” she asked.
The woman nodded. “Of course. She had the disk she used to upload it to the server still in her locker. I had her give it to me.” She went back around her desk and pulled a purple CD-R case out of one of the drawers. Opening it, she slid the color-matching CD into the disk drive of the PC on top of the desk and clicked the wireless mouse several times. Holding up a finger to Rayna, she lifted the phone on the desk and pressed a button on the interface. “Cassandra? Send Maddie and Daphne Conrad to my office immediately, please,” she spoke to the secretary that had greeted Rayna outside in the main office a short while before. Rayna saw her pause to listen to something the secretary was telling her and then the woman’s eyes lifted, immediately meeting Rayna’s gaze. In them, Rayna saw worry and she narrowed her gaze, waiting for the woman to set the phone down.
“Um, there’s a situation, Rayna,” she said as she replaced the phone receiver down. “Campus Security just informed the office that there are several reporters and members from the media gathered outside the entrance. We’ve requested that they leave, but as the entrance is on public property…” her voice trailed off.
Rayna silently cursed her luck and felt an overwhelming sense of apprehension. She’d hoped to have had at least enough time to get the girls out of there and back to the house before the vultures descended and the real frenzy began. Apparently, it was already too late and clearly wishful thinking on her part. She shrugged her shoulders dismissively in response. “It’s fine. Please show me the video,” she asked as she followed the woman around the heavy oak desk and watched the screen. Dismay filled her as the video played. “…Hi I’m Maddie and this is a song I wrote with my Dad…” Maddie’s voice greeted in the video over the speakers before she began playing the guitar that sat in her lap. She could see that Maddie was had recorded the video from her room at Teddy’s, though it gave her no relief that Maddie had recorded the video while in the care of Teddy and not herself. It was two words under the video on the screen that grabbed her attention. Maddie Claybourne.
She was still staring at them when the door to the office opened and Maddie walked through. Her eyes went wide as her gaze immediately went to the computer and she quickly lifted her eyes to Rayna’s, tears filling them. “I’m sorry,” were the first words she blurted out, followed by a string of a few hurried more. “I only uploaded it to my profile page…I don’t know how it got so…someone must have copied the link and…”
Rayna shook her head as she came around from behind the desk, crossing the room to Maddie. She put her hands on Maddie’s upper arms, torn between wanting to scold her and needing to comfort her. “It doesn’t matter how, Maddie…it’s already done. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Come on, we’re getting your sister and we’re leaving. We’ll discuss it at home,” she said firmly.
Maddie nodded silently, hanging her head in regret even as Daphne came running through the door of the office towards them, grinning at the sight of Rayna. “Mommy!” she yelled as she ran to Rayna, hugging her. “What are you doing here? Do we get to leave early?” she asked, excitedly.
Rayna nodded as she bent down to greet her youngest daughter. “Yeah, sweetheart. Something happened and I’m taking you and your sister home early, alright?”
Daphne’s brows furrowed as she looked back and forth between Rayna and a teary-eyed, stricken Maddie, sensing immediately that something was wrong. “Uh oh, what happened?” she asked. “What’s wrong with Maddie, Mommy?” Daphne asked, worried and scared.
Rayna shook her head as she wrapped an arm around Daphne’s shoulders and pulled her close for a brief moment. “It’s alright, Daphne. Your sister’s fine. We’ll talk about it in the car and when we get home. But right now, we have to go. Do you have everything?” she asked them both. They motioned to their backpacks that were slung over their shoulders, both nodding. “Good, good,” Rayna said nodding as she helped Daphne slip on her jacket. She mumbled a quick apology to the headmistress before quickly ushering Maddie and Daphne out of the office.
Thankfully, there were two of the security guards there to help with the girls. While one ushered a terrified Daphne threw the gathered crowd of reporters with microphones and recorders, the other did his best to assist her with Maddie. Holding Maddie close to her, she hurried them through the throng to the car in the loop out front of the school, nearly elbowing one pushy reporter when he got a little too close for her liking. As she did, she heard someone yell Maddie’s name and then Maddie’s sharp cry of alarm as someone grabbed her arm and tugged at Maddie’s backpack from behind. Instantly, Rayna pulled Maddie forward and swung around, putting herself in between Maddie and the grabby reporter. “Hey! Take your hands off of her!” she demanded with the hot fury of a mother protecting her child.
As Maddie slid into the backseat beside Daphne, Rayna slammed the door shut and whirled to face the reporters. “You want a quote?” she asked angrily. “Stay the hell away from my kids!” she shot off as she pushed past them and around to the driver’s side, getting in and speeding away from the school, the sound of scared, hushed sobbing filling her ears from the backseat as she drove off…