|Lesson Five, Part two:
POV: Mandy (1st Person POV)
Scene: Playground at an elementary school. Characters are both kindergarten teachers.
I try to look at my watch without being obvious. This P.E. period is lasting forever and the silence is overwhelming in the cacophony of kindergarten voices. Pretending to be concerned about a student, I train my eyes at the two girls on the merry-go-round whispering to each other while looking at a third girl swinging alone on the swingset, chain crossed and toes dragging in the mud and braid dragging almost as far to the ground. “Wonder what’s going on over there” I mused out loud but half to myself. I can’t figure out what is going on with her. Julianne has been my friend since 8th grade.
Getting up, Julianne mumbled something that sounded like “Why don’t you take a guess,” as she stood and wiped the bits of bark off her Laura Ashley skirt and headed toward some boys doing nothing wrong in particular but in a cluster, you really have to assume something is going on. Really, though, I think she is avoiding me entirely. What I did this time, I’ll never know.
Looking back at the girls, I notice one of the pretty ones over where the downcast girl was swinging. I pay close attention because I know Sarah, the pretty one, doesn’t associate with the likes of Tammy unless there’s an ulterior motive. She walked away again and no one’s crying or on the ground. Crisis avoided for now. I twisted my wedding ring around and around, trying to get used to the feel of it on my finger. I haven’t yet created the ditch and shine of a well worn ring and my finger still feels a bit choked off with the solid form containing it.
Julianne came back toward me and sat down, smoothing her skirt again so she didn’t create wrinkles. Her pinky finger still adorned with the promise ring Stephen placed here six years ago. She was just eighteen at the time and he was starting medical school. She wondered if maybe that was what was going on here. Jealousy maybe. Or fear of being an old maid. I mean, she was only twenty-four. We’d been the closest of friends and both got lucky enough to get jobs at the best elementary school in the county and even in the same grade. I didn’t think something as simple as getting married would mess up a good friendship.
I looked at my watch without worrying about being rude. I was getting tired of the silent treatment and it was going to end now, right here, in the middle of a bunch of kindergartners. That way, no one can run off in tears and throw herself on her bed for hours. Neither one of us had that option. Fifteen minutes to go until the end of recess.
“Okay, Jules, what is going on? You haven’t said a relaxed word to me in days. Did you sleep with my husband? Do you have cancer or something. I mean, spill it, for Godssakes and lets get this over with.”
“I can’t yet. Anyway, you wouldn’t understand.” Head down, she looked like Tammy without the braids, well, and the dirty shoes.
“C’mon, I miss my friend. Is she in there somewhere? Let her out. If you don’t, I can’t promise I won’t just snap. Right here in the middle of the munchkins.”
“Stop it, Mandy. I swear, if you make me cry in front of my students, you’ll never her the end of it. I’ll tell you later. Just not right now.” Whispering, with that closed teeth sort of voice our students’ parents use when they want to scold their kids but don’t want the rest of the parents to hear know they can’t control their children.
“Just say it, Jules. Right now, just blurt it out and we’ll talk about it later. Or else, you’ll be nervous all day and your kids will have you for lunch. What am I going to do, dump you as my friend. Well, short of sleeping with my husband, I can’t imagine what would be so bad I couldn’t forgive you.”
“Oh, it’s not that. I swear.”
I believe her. She can’t lie. Never could. It would eat her up inside until she told me. That’s how I know she has something she isn’t telling me. My mother used to say “omission is as bad as commission” and we both understood she meant long before we knew what the actual words meant. Not saying something, keeping a big secret is as bad as lying. That is, unless the secret is about what you got someone for a birthday present or not telling someone their breath stinks.
“Okay, Jules, out with it. Only twelve minutes left of recess. Anyway, you can always fake an allergy to pollen to explain your swollen eyes.” I knew I was reeling her in. Almost there. “Ouch” Julianne has absolutely the sharpest elbows.
“And that’s bad?”
“No, what’s bad is that marrying him means we have to move to Atlanta. He got a residency at Emory. I’ll have to move.”
“It's what, two hours from here. It’s okay, Jules. We can still hang out some. Just not every day. And they have schools there too, you know. It’s not like he’s going to make you quit work, right? He isn’t going to do that, is he?"
“No. He’s not. The wedding’s not for another eight months so I can finish the year out here. It’s just, I don’t want to live in Atlanta, all by myself. You know, he’ll be at the hospital all the time anyway.”
“Having second thoughts. Eight months? Not much notice, is it? I mean, June is booked a year ahead. How long has it been since he asked?”
“Oo Mmnths.” I had no idea what she just said and turned around to look at her in the face.
“Move your hand from your mouth, Miss Julianne, and speak clearly.” I was mimicking her mother’s tone of voice when she would correct us both using "Miss" before our first names. When we heard “Miss” anything, we knew we had just stepped in the proverbial pile of doggie poop.
“God, you sound like momma. I miss her so much. You do too, don’t you?”
“Don’t change the subject. You’ve known for how long and haven’t told your best friend?”
“Just a couple of months.”
“Been killing you, hasn’t it? Serves you right. And yes, I miss her too. You’re mom, I mean. How long has that been, now. Three years?”
“Something like that. Three years, two months, five days, three hours or so.”
She’s wiping her face. Not a good sign. Okay, damage control. I stood and waved the student teacher in the other playground, the one for 1st and 2nd graders with the steeper slides. “Hey, Belinda, can I borrow your student teacher for a few minutes. Julianne needs a potty break. Sinus infection, you know how it is. Darned Oak pollen.” Really, though, student/teacher ratio is one of those picky subjects for the school system.
“Okay, Jules, you have exactly four minutes and twenty-five seconds. Make a run for the Kleenex in the teacher’s lounge and get right back out here. Yours aren’t as well behaved as mine and I won’t have them teaching corrupting my little angels while you’re gone.”
“Oh, shut up Mandy. Thanks. Be right back.” She wipes off the imaginary dirt from her rear end again and flees while a little boy stands nearby with his hand over his mouth and his other hand pointing toward Julianne.
“What’s wrong, Jack? You okay?”
“Ms. Smith said a bad word.”
“No she didn’t. What bad word?”
“You know what, kiddo. I think you have a point there. What do you say I push you in that swing over there? Maybe Tammy will let me give her a push too. Does that sound like a plan to you?”
“Yep, Ms. Spencer. Sounds like a plan. But tell Ms. Smith that’s still not a nice thing to say to her friend. Will you tell her that?”
“I sure will, baby. C’mon, we have some swinging to do.” I lifted him up on the swing and managed to talk Tammy into letting me give her a push too.