Monday, August 2, 2010
“HEY, MS. CRANSTON!”
Molly Cranston closed and locked her car before searching for whoever called her name. In front of the school, she spotted Carlitos Ramirez, a skateboard tipped up by his foot and his arm waving in her direction. She returned the wave and crossed the parking lot toward him, sweat already beading on her forehead from the hot August morning.
“Hi, Carlitos! What’s got you up and out so early? You don’t start class for another week.”
By now he’d let the skateboard stand flat on the walkway outside the school entrance, but his foot remained on it, rolling it back and forth while he waited for her to cross the last stretch of blacktop.
Molly shook her head. He had yet to start his fifth-grade year and was already breaking campus rules, as if he didn’t know them. She hated to call him on it, though. “You really don’t want me to remind you how Mr. Dugan feels about skateboards on school property do you?”
Carlitos put the board under his arm. “Better?”
“Yeah, wise guy, that’s better. Let’s get started in the right direction this year, ’kay? I hate the thought of writing up a referral on you even before school starts.”
“Ah, Ms. C, you wouldn’t do that.” He winked at her. “How was your vacation? Did you get to go anywhere?
Molly laid her arm across his shoulders and gave him a quick side squeeze. “Great summer and yes, I saw some interesting places. Got back yesterday evening. But I can’t tell you about it now, my meeting will be starting in…” She pulled out her cell phone only to remember the battery had beeped its last and she still needed her spare charger in her classroom. “Well, I don’t know for sure what time it is,
but I’m positive I’m late. Again. I’ll catch you later, Carlitos.”
She reached to open the school door, but he beat her to it, holding it for her as she walked into the air-conditioned lobby. “Thanks!”
He grinned, dropped his skateboard to the sidewalk, and pushed off toward the street.
“Oh, that kid!” Molly squeezed her eyes tight for a second to block the sight before returning to her mission. Now in the office, she glanced at the clock next to the visitor sign-in book as the scent of cleaned carpets assailed her. 7:59. No time to run upstairs. She’d have to plug in her phone during the first break.
Every year, it was always the same. Principal Craig Dugan ranked among the best for organization as well as predictability and, after eight years, Molly was steeped in first-week routine–thank goodness.
“Hi, Molly. How was your break?” Teri Ojeda, Desert Trail Elementary’s crack offce manager, glanced away from her computer screen for a mere nanosecond.
“Hey, Ter. Too short. Yours?”
“Yeah, what break? Oh, they’re meeting in the computer lab this morning, not the library.”
“Craig thought it would be a better way to share info with everyone, especially since the new guy is very tech savvy.”
Molly made it to the hall before the words hit her brain. “New guy?” She returned to the lobby.
But Teri had left her desk and was nowhere to be seen.
Just as well. She didn’t have time to talk about it anyway. Molly strode for the computer lab where, even with the doors closed, she could hear laughter. As she touched the handle, the door flew open. She jumped back but still collided with Deb Martin. “Whoa!”
“Oh, Molls, sorry. Didn’t see you there. You okay?”
She nodded, rubbing her shoulder. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“By the way, tried to call you last night. Figured you hadn’t heard about Mitch.”
“My phone’s dead. Lost my charger on the trip. What about Mitch?”
Deb pulled her to the side and lowered her voice. “Seems his wife landed a big promotion with that solar company, one that meant a move to Granbury, Texas. Mitch decided to retire, and they left last week.”
“Wow! So, when do they start interviews for the new assistant principal?”
“They’ve already hired him, Richard Johnson. Seems like a nice guy, great looking too. Sure can tell a good joke.”
So that was what all the laughing was about. Richard Johnson? “Never heard of him. Where did they find him and who sat in on the interview?” She wanted to add that she should have been there, but mentally kicked herself.
“I’ll tell you about it later. Right now, you better get inside. Hey, I can introduce you.” She grabbed Molly’s arm and pulled her into the room. “You’ll like him. Besides, I don’t think he’s married.”
“Well, neither am I. I won’t hold that against him.” Molly didn’t budge.
“Funny.” Deb tightened her grip and tugged.
Resistance proved futile, though Molly’s effiorts weren’t all that assertive. Deb had set her up before, so she knew from experience not to fight too hard in a losing battle.
“Come on. You only have to meet him.” Deb slammed to a stop, knocking Molly into Marilou Webster as a tall man in front of them turned around. “It’s not like you have to date the guy.”
“Deb.” Molly felt her face light up firecracker bright while she brushed invisible somethings from Marilou’s school T-shirt. “Sorry about that.”
Marilou waved her off.
Following the voice to its owner, all the blood drain from Molly’s hot cheeks. “It’s you.”
JEANNETTE folded another crocheted afghan, this one in the 1970s earth-tone ripples, and set it into the box. It only emphasized the fact she still needed to let her daughter know what was going on. Molly had been so close to her grandmother, but now she had her career and little time for anything else. Jeanette had hoped to have this conversation with her over the summer, but it was like Molly ran from everything these days. And she didn’t answer her phone.
“Mom, are you getting hungry?” Jeanette raised her voice to be heard over the volume of the TV. The Price Is Right held her mother’s attention so she could get more done. It would only cause problems for Mom to notice things put into the give-away box or the trash. But though her mother had felt the need to hang on to all the stuff, it wouldn’t work taking it to the new facility. Besides, who knew if she’d
even remember the items existed once she was moved and settled?
“Maybe a little something.” Guess Mom was more lucid at the moment. Sadly, there was no telling how long it would last. In the past week, her confusion had gotten worse, to where, for the first time, Mom briefly hadn’t recognized her. Though the doctor had told her this would happen, it was still a shock. It was too soon.
Jeanette headed for the kitchen, whipped up a couple turkey sandwiches and rinsed some berries to go with. Finger foods would be best, Mom could handle that. Between her Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, she needed a care facility where someone was there for her 24/7.
She had prepared herself for the ravages Parkinson’s would cause, putting plans into place for a smaller elder-care apartment instead of the senior adult living complex where Mom now resided, but no one had expected the Alzheimer’s curve ball. Jeanette shook her head. If she kept thinking too much, she’d return to sobbing, “It’s not fair.”
She’d done that enough over the years.
Mom scuffied her way to the kitchen and stood in the doorway. “I can fix my own lunch.”
Jeanette sighed and bit back the truth. “I know, but I like helping you, Mom. You’ve always done for me. Why not let me do for you this time?”
Her mother pursed her lips, but then nodded. “Thank you.” Then she turned and followed the wall back to her electric recliner and TV shows.
I’m going to miss her so much.
She swiped the rogue tear from her cheek and took lunch to her mother.
“YEP, IT’S ME.” RJ cleared his throat. “How are you, Molly?” He couldn’t believe he got the words out so fluidly. Seeing her made his brain revert to third grade playground etiquette when he could have pulled her hair or dropped a garter snake down her shirt instead of standing there pretending to be all grown up and professional. “I didn’t realize you worked here, but then I’m Just getting to know
the staff. Nice to be able to put one name with a face right away.”
Oo-kay. He stuck out his hand. “Good to see you again, Molly.”
She glanced at his palm, and then at the faces of their colleagues who stared at them, before accepting his handshake. It felt cool, like her chilly welcome.
Craig Dugan gripped his shoulder. “Probably ought to get started.”
“Excuse me.” RJ followed Craig to the front of the lab and leaned against a table of computers while Craig claimed center stage, the lingering scent of Molly’s perfume igniting an old feeling. Dooffus, it was just a high school crush.
The teachers and parapros all took their cue and seated themselves at computer stations, giving the principal their attention. Whatever else RJ might think about this elementary campus, Craig Dugan ran it in an orderly fashion.
Hopefully, there would be more good points to add to his overall assessment to balance out the blindsiding he’d just absorbed.
“Well, everyone, here we are at the start of another year, and we’ve got changes we hadn’t counted on. Mitch Mygrant and his wife were given a special opportunity and, honestly, I can’t say as I blame him. Make my Carol that kind of offier, and I’d retire in a heartbeat.” Craig laughed at his own joke and a few others joined in. “But seriously, folks, we were fortunate enough to find someone, almost on a minute’s notice, who has already proved his worth to me. Let me offcially introduce you all to our new assistant principal, Richard Johnson. You can call him RJ.”
The staff applauded while RJ found his place next to Craig.
A quick glance around the room and he spotted her, arms crossed, leaning back in her chair. Still not smiling. Well, too late to do anything different now. He sucked in a breath and let it out, dragging a smile to his lips in the process. “It’s great to be here. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Desert Trail Elementary and am excited to be a part of this family. I’m still putting names and faces together, so I beg your indulgence until I get it right.”
“We’ll give you until Wednesday.” The comment came from the back of the room and brought more laughter.
“Should be long enough. Maybe. But that brings us to the first thing on our agenda. There are some new clock changes as the district tries to streamline the bussing situation. If you will open the folder next to your computer, you’ll see the master schedule for this year. School begins ten minutes earlier and we have a common dismissal ten minutes earlier than last year’s intermediate one.”
Her hand shot up, Just like he knew it would.
“You’re saying we’re going to be dismissing kindergarten through sixth grade at once? I know they talked about it at the end of the year, but I mean, the little guys and the big kids at the same time?”
RJ opened his mouth to answer, but Craig cut him off. “It’s all budget, Moll. The money saved by cutting that extra run makes a significant diffierence, enough that it rescued a few jobs. We can bemoan it or look for positive ways to make this change work.”
Molly crossed her arms tighter, and she slid down in her seat.
RJ understood her frustration. His old district had gone to a common dismissal two years ago. It was hard on the staff and the kids for the first few weeks, but they made it work. This school would too.
More changes were coming down from headquarters, so common dismissal was the least of his troubles. In fact, RJ was peering into the face of his biggest worry, and he didn’t have a clue what to do.