You know what they say about judging books by their covers ...
She listened with half an ear to what Simone was saying, something about the next PTA fundraiser. Their footsteps rang loudly in the deserted hallway, decorated in fall colours, fat pumpkin stickers stuck on almost every surface. It was getting late.
Her attention caught on what the other woman said, “No, no. If Nancy comes anywhere near me … let’s just say it won’t be good.”
“Be reasonable, she’s a carpenter and she’s offered to set up the stands for free. We need the help, Lola.”
She sucked on a tooth and looked Simone in the eyes.
“I am not going to budge on this,” Simone said.
Hearing the steel in her voice Lola shrugged and said nothing, feeling the twinges of an approaching migraine. They were on their way out passing one of the smaller classes when they both noticed movement inside and backtracked to investigate.
They walked in to find a woman bent over picking something off the ground. She looked up at them with the biggest brown eyes Lola’s ever seen. She straightened and smiled, a pair of charming dimples making an appearance. Her curvy frame was haloed by the waning sunlight and looked the image of a harvest goddess in a pretty sunflower dress.
Simone seemed surprised. “Karina? I thought you left already.”
“Jasper threw up again,” the young lady said. Even her voice was a balm.
She was introduced to Ms. Karina Andreas, the temporary kindergarten teacher. Pleasantries over with, all three headed out of the front doors into the chilly afternoon.
Lola looked over to Karina as a sudden question pressed up against the growing pressure in her head.
10 minutes earlier
The asshole fell like a tree, and the impact sounded like one too.
The back of my hand came away bloody after I’d ran it along my throbbing jaw. Only a bruise, the blood wasn’t mine but hot damn did it feel good. The savage thought didn’t bother me anymore, neither did the visceral satisfaction.
I grit my teeth with the effort of hauling him across the smooth linoleum floor over to the closet, mindful of the blood. His white tie now a pathetic rag after him. He’d been warned but too thick and stuffed up the ass with that ego. I shook my head. Did he listen? Did he quit fucking around with people he ought not to? No. So I had to happen.
It was cool inside the narrow room and deep enough, there was probably Narnia at the back. Excellent.
One day I’ll wake up and my life will make sense because for the love of God I can’t figure out how I got to this point. It was somewhere in the clusterfuck of events between Detroit and LA. But it won’t do to dwell right now, would it?
Sweaty and panting, I rolled him up into a huge old dusty rug some other kid puked on, stowed him safely behind a pile of boxes. I cut the light and shut the door at an angle wrenching the already broken hinges so it’ll be a bitch to open. By the only other door that led to the corridor, I strained my hearing to catch possible approaching footsteps. The silence held a hollow viscosity but I picked up distant voices that remained distant after five minutes.
Alrighty then. I hit speed dial and a jovial male voice answered after two rings, “Moshi-moshi.” There was a chattering of young voices and light traffic in the background, all likelihood a park.
“It’s all done,” I say. There was a pause, then …
“Ah, good,” still in that steady light timbre, “Damion will take out the trash shortly. Leave before he gets there, he’s … not fit for civilized company at the moment.”
“You got it.”
Disconnected, I scrubbed at my face and wiped my hands with a kleenex then at the heavy spelling bee trophy, thinking on the next move. It was after three in the afternoon, the children were long gone save for two teaching staff.
A quick once over showed that the bruise was still invisible but it won’t stay for long. Voices, much closer now startled me. Two females … the first-grade teacher Simone and a stranger. Stuffing the tissue in my bra I strode to the tall windows from which the slanting sunlight bathed the room, to unlatch one. I raked my eyes across the classroom; the miniature tables and stools were straightened, legos were piled safely away in small plastic buckets, a subtle scent of Pinesol and bleach hung in the air.
I leaned down picking up a couple of soggy apple slices by the aquarium when two pairs of feet came into my peripheral view. I stood, righted my dress and offered the women an easy smile.
“Karina? I thought you left already,” Ms. Simone said.
“Jasper threw up again,” I shrugged my shoulders in resignation.
“On what this time?”
“The legos, I’m afraid,” I tilted my head towards the other woman.
“This is Mrs. Lola Tracy, the Principal’s wife,” she introduced, “And this is Ms. Andreas – Karina – who’s our substitute kindergarten teacher. The kids simply love her.”
Mrs. Tracy had a pleasant sort of face centered by a regal nose. Kind, unguarded apple green eyes. We shook hands.
“I was just leaving,” I said, grabbing my purse.
“So were we, actually,” Simone said, “I was giving Lola a ride home. You’re at Thorn View, right? You want a lift as well?”
“Ah, thanks! That would be great.” It was all too easy, it was pathetic how oblivious people can be, almost sad even.
A brisk autumn wind greeted us at the front steps, sending a flurry of rusty orange leaves scraping the sidewalk.
“Did you see Jacob anywhere by chance?” asked Mrs. Tracy.
“Oh, well. He did say he’d be late,” she said rather pissily.
I stole a sideways glance at her patrician features. I felt my fingers clench in recollection, of how her hand was soft and warm.
What would she think if she knew her husband’s rapidly cooling body had lain not five feet away from her in a moldy closet.