Monday, April 29, 2013

TRULY (inspired by Persuasion) chapter Twenty-three: "School Days Again"

Chapter Twenty-three
School Days Again
Wentworth Elementary was bustling with stay-at-home students and adults. It had the atmosphere of a theme park – fun with rules… Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit   
     I’d brushed my hair until it shone in the car mirror and exchanged my flats for heels. Looking my best was a priority, since I was giving a speech to the parents on creativity in the classroom, but I could never drive in heels. I unwound my lipstick and put it on in the rear view mirror. For once I was glad my sister had insisted on stuffing make-up in my purse, “just in case.” I know my sister wanted me to meet a new guy, and I had to agree that would probably be best. I certainly wouldn’t meet one here, but it was good practise to start looking my best in any situation. Besides, my students deserved me to look the part. It was about setting an example, making the best of myself, according to Melissa. My sisters and Godmother had been influential but it was time to start counting on myself.  
    Although I don’t think I’d ever fulfilled the “promise of being a great beauty” I was satisfied I looked presentable.  I once overheard my father agree with my sister Melissa when she shook her head and said, “if only Jane had a bit more… designer style. I mean, the clothes she makes are lovely, but I only ever see her in jeans…”
   “Yes,” my father nodded at her, actually nodded.
    Here, on my turf, I was my own person with my own style.
    It was only as an adult, after I’d lost Ben that I’d realized I was surrounded by a family of hornets in the nest of a Bel Air mansion. Why had it taken me until then? It wasn’t as if my mom hadn’t run a mile. But then, she had not set the greatest example either, although from visits over the years, I knew she loved me and vice versa. Perhaps I should have gone to stay with her but she had long since remarried and had a whole new family and although we stayed in touch we hardly shared secrets. It was time to embrace the future. It had been, for a while.
    I walked past the student murals in the hallway to my color coded classroom. The children were getting their faces painted for the play. I put on an apron and helped out. There were twelve students and their parents or guardians scheduled to arrive and be part of the audience which was often made up of the kids in my class who didn’t stay away all summer. They liked familiarity. I was talking to them alongside the teacher, a kind, older woman named Sophia Hawthorne.
     George arrived with his mother, who looked harassed. He had brought extra face paints with him. Most of these parents were incredibly hard working and thankful for the extra effort taken with their children. It was truly a privilege to work with Special Needs students. I’m sure they taught me more than I ever taught them. They taught me to enjoy the small pleasures, to place no value on class or status or money. Like Toby, for example, who took great care searching the pictures and paintings for things I’d never notice, like intense colour and light; he’d present his pictures to me like they were Picassos!
    My students taught me it was no effort to take extra care because every child is special and capable of more. By the time I’d fielded a last minute call from Toby’s mom (who told me her child couldn’t come as he was “completely wired” after “attacking” and “eating” a packet of chocolate cookies his older brother had left open  in the Lounge room - Toby was allergic to sugar), it was almost time to start getting the students ready.
    Sophia made us some tea after the children were taken backstage and readied to perform with their music teacher (not before one of them had knocked a bucket of water over on the floor as they left). I couldn’t believe the janitor had left it there but I guess he had his reasons. 
     I was in the process of cleaning up the puddle with paper towels and real towels when I looked up to see Ben’s nephew standing in the doorway
    “Hi Jane…” he said.
    “Hi,” Ben said, standing behind him, filling the doorway with his baritone voice.
    “Hi,” I replied.
    “My sister was called into the studios and I don’t have to be in Texas for another few days so I thought I’d come. I was told it was two in the afternoon. We still have twenty minutes.”
    “Oh. Yeah. Texas?”
     “Pilot training.”
     “Oh,” I said.
     “My sister had a meeting with her agent and Sam’s father had to work so we thought we’d come together.”
     Sam beamed up at his uncle.
     “Great,” I said sarcastically.
     “Where’s Mrs Hawkins?”  The kid said.
     “Oh, she’s with our group, preparing them to go onstage. That’s where I should be going, right about now.” I got up off the floor and brushed off my skirt.
    “Before we go, my sister wants to know… about Sam’s reading progress.”
     I glanced at the chart.
    “Well, he’s on level eight which is great for a pre-schooler. Amazing.” I looked at Sam. “It means you can choose anything on the red shelf and just bring it back when school starts again in September.”
    Sam smiled and ran off to the library corner to start choosing his vacation reading.
    Meanwhile, Ben and I stood there; hovering at the classroom entrance until Sam dragged Ben into the color coded area and pulled him onto the beanbag.
    “Oh, um, we have a chair and desk,” I smiled.
     “That’s okay, I like it here.”
      I hesitated. “Well, my group is performing soon so…” Ben got up.
      There was more silence in the room from the moment Sam chose some holiday reading. Sophia arrived and ushered him with her.
     “I’m coming… We’re coming in a moment.”
     “Okay,” she smiled at Ben.
     I didn’t know which way to look or what to say so I just stood there, and gathered my bag when Ben cleared his throat.
    “How’s Keira?”
    “She’s fine.”
    “How’s Harley?”
    “Not so good.”
    I looked up, betraying an expression of concern.
    “He… never really got over Jenny and I’m kind of worried about him.”
    “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
    “That’s another reason we decided to take the summer and hang out here, as a family. This is the place we were happiest.” He paused and continued to discuss his brother, “He never really moved on from what happened.”
    I was open-mouthed.
   “That’s so… sad.” I added. “I think about her all the time too, but I know it’s different for him.” I said softly. Then I paused again before I spoke, “And yet, Harley is still young and I know Jenny would have wanted him to be happy.”
    “First love and all that,” he looked away. “I don’t know if people totally get over something like that…”
    “No…” I ventured slowly, “… but Harley is still young and surely, he will meet someone else.”
     Ben paused for a moment before answering.
    “Perhaps, but he is very loyal, a quality I most admire in a person.” 
    Well, that was setting me straight. I looked at him squarely. It was way too obvious he was not just talking to me, but about me. I was speechless once again as Sophia Hawthorne gracefully returned to her classroom, popped her head in the door and I stood up.
    “Are you coming Jane? They’re almost ready.”
    “Yes,” I assured her.   
    Ben flashed Sophia a smile. He was very charming when he wanted to be.
    As I went to leave he touched my arm.
    “Jane, I wanted to ask you something. We’re going to dinner tonight after we hear Keira sing at the cafĂ© and you… and your cousin are welcome to join us. Some place called the Mermaid Hut. Please come, we’re arriving at eight. Lia is coming as well.”
    I knew it. If he wanted to see my cousins again, all he had to do was ask. Didn’t he think that encroaching on my territory was enough humiliation for one night?
    “Um… I’m already going. Keira is singing, so, well, I guess I’ll see you there.”
    Then I remembered it was his birthday. I couldn’t think of an excuse to say no.
    “We’re going to drown our sorrows after dinner...”
    Our sorrows? I wondered what he meant by that.  
    “Well, I don’t really drink but…”
    “Maybe we could talk?”
    Silence sat between us for seconds.
    I looked up at Ben. “Sure, see you then,” I said, as I walked out the door.