"Mister Biollo, I am sorry to tell you that your son is being suspended from school for five days, and referred to psychological counseling, after getting into a fistfight."
Not the sort of thing you want to hear, really. "Is he all right? Is he hurt?"
"Not past a black eye and some scrapes. Anyway, that's not the point. Please come pick him up at your earliest convenience."
"He didn't get into a fight with the Baumberger kid again, did he? Renato is three years younger! Why didn't you do something!"
"Sir, we have a zero-tolerance policy for schoolyard fights. As such, we are both going to-"
"It's Miss Biollo, actually. Anyway, I have to... deal with other family matters, I can only be there in an hour."
"Our policy is not to-"
"Great, goodbye, I'll be there as soon as I can."
This has been going on for the entire year. A boy gets bullied. A bully is on the basketball team, and has mostly been getting away with it. A boy has gathered up courage, finally, and fought back, and won -- and found himself dragged by the ear by a man with a padded jacket. The two were put in the same anteroom waiting for the principal, of which the bloody-nosed larger kid took full advantage by describing what retribution might look like. A fairly harried woman in a long coat came over to stand protectively behind the bigger kid as the principal delivered a canned speech, stern but impersonal, to both of them -- and had a brief reassuring talk with the bully and his mother about college prospects and attendance records immediately after.
The same kid, crying for his Mom or Dad, was left for half an hour listening to Principal Stefano Lavori resume the lecture, now with three hundred percent more rant, and how she's not paid enough to deal with this stuff, and how she should really just call the cops to deal with this, and how... Her cell phone rings on an internal number; apparently Renato's mom is here. "Send her in, please." She summarily dismisses Renato to the side room; there's a sink in there, and now that she thinks of it, it's probably better if he washes his face.
Ninety seconds later, the oddly large and barrel-chested woman who the principal remembers being Renato's mom walks in, opening the door and then looking left and right. "Come in." She does.
Principal Lavori gives her an exasperated look. "I'll make it short. I don't want to hear about any alleged instances of bullying earlier in Renato's school career, I know you have complained before and there have been no observed incidents. Anyway, this township has instituted a zero tolerance policy for fights, so before you ask me who threw the fist punch again, I'm just going to tell you that I want to go home and that the sanction is-"
Twelve more people get inside the office, lining it. Principal Lavori has never seen any of them; they are mostly male, all wearing slightly mismatched suits and ties, range from a very fit eighty for the oldest to a very scruffy thirty for the youngest, and they're all wearing the sort of cheap sunglasses you can buy quickly at a gas station. A few have an earset on.
"Who are you people and what are you doing here?"
Renato's mom answers after the trooping in has finished.
"You may refer to them as, the extended family. Now stand up."
"I -- What's going on? I'm not going anywhere."
"Then remain seated, it's irrelevant." A large but unscarred man in his thirties answers curtly, then sits on the principal's phone, causing the administrator to cringe at the thought of retrieving it from where it's under.
"May I come in now?" Renato's voice comes in through the side door. "Yes!" a younger woman calls. The principal sees the door open, and the same scrawny kid who he spent half an hour haranguing (and half an hour more, since unlike the other kid, his parents didn't come pick him up immediately) walks in, with some hesitation. The dozen people in the room stomp the floor, and hold their fist to their stomach with reasonable precision -- a couple actually hit themselves in the gut, and cringe slightly. An ancient ghetto blaster that one of these people brought over starts playing a fanfare, which the principal recognizes as one of the Battlestar Galactica remake themes. "What the heck is going on?"
The old man clears his throat -- by now the kid has realized that at least some of the people under the suits and sunglasses are family, and looks a lot less frightened. "Principal Lavori, do you confirm the suspension from duty?"
"Uh, yes, as I was saying, Renato Biollo is suspended from school for five days, following --" The old man coughs over the principal's answer, obscuring most of it except for the dates.
"Excellent. Space cadet Renato Biollo, step forward!"
The kid does. One of the people who invaded Principal Lavori's office slams on the desk -- literally, there's probably going to be a mark -- a spectacles case which is quickly opened with a thumb flick; the principal tilts his head to the side to see that it contains an old American silver dollar coin, hastily buffed blank and with a hole for a ribbon drilled in it.
"For meritorious conduct in confronting and defeating a bully, in the Segrate Public High School, on or about 2013.281, we are proud to present the Silver Star to Renato Biollo. Your courage is exemplary of humanity's finest defenders. Good job, Renato. Congratulations."
The kid's mother steps out from behind everyone else, and hugs and lifts her child as soon as Renato takes the coin -- Principal Lavori is just a bit too late in swatting it off his desk; when he said he wouldn't get up, one of the people who barged in moved behind him just enough to make pushing the chair back difficult. "Come on, Dad's in the car. How does four days in Paris sound? There's Eurodisneyland and I think if we hurry up we can catch the last day of the airshow." Tears come down the kid's face again, past the bruises, but now he's smiling.
Principal Lavori finally does stand up. "This is not-" The closing notes of the anthem drown him out as the mother and child leave.
The boombox gets turned off right after the door slams closed, and only then people stop standing at attention; some take off their sunglasses. A few of the younger ones laugh at the scene they created; two fistbump; one lowers a camera phone.
"This is -- meaningless!"
"On the contrary, a member of our extended family learned to do the right thing today."
"This is- This is still going on his permanent record! You have no right to -- I'm going to call the police! Where's my cell phone? You stole my cell phone!" The principal, after having genuinely been afraid for his well being for a few minutes, shouts hysterically into an emptying room now that it's obvious he won't get a beating.
The old man is the last to leave, and takes his hat off in so doing -- the principal's cell phone, passed behind people's back the long way during the impromptu ceremony, ended up inside it. Principal Lavori scrambles to retrieve it, then quickly realizes that calling the cops would make things a lot worse. The older man drops into a southern accent to say goodbye.
"In loco parentis, young man, in loco parentis. And remember, we WILL be watching."