Randie sat in a short chair at the back of the classroom with ten chairs surrounding her. Her third afternoon reading circle of the day. In the afternoon, she kept everything short. First graders got tired and restless the longer the day went. This was her top group, and as kids took turns reading out loud, she listened for what they tripped over, what made them stumble. She glanced up to see Jordy’s head sinking and his eyes shutting.
When Jasmine finished reading, Randie looked at Jordy. “Are we boring you, Mr. Raizer?”
Jordy’s head jerked up at the use of his last name. “Excuse me?”
Randie’s brows rose. She’d already had one kid throw up today. She’d had to call the janitor—the most patient man she’d ever met. She’d worried about flu. When one kid barfed, every kid caught the germ. But this time, it seemed more like Zoey had eaten half a bag of candy that her mom had bought for trick-or-treaters before her mom caught her. So, an epidemic didn’t seem likely. But the day had been hit-and-miss, the kids all over the place, and now Jordy was falling asleep in reading circle. She locked gazes with him. “Can you stay awake long enough to read with us today?”
Jordy’s fair skin pinked up, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, but I woke up a lot last night. I was at my Uncle Lucas’s house.”
She frowned. “On a Sunday?”
“My mom had to fly to Arizona to be with my Grandpa Earl. He’s dying.”
Upsetting for a child. She hadn’t meant to pry, but she was glad she knew what was going on. This way, if Jordy wasn’t himself, she’d understand why. He was a neat kid. She liked him. Who was she kidding? She liked all of them, even the ones who gave her grief.
She’d talked to people who couldn’t understand how a first grader could have any problems, could cause you headaches, but that’s because they romanticized youth. Kids had an assortment of problems and not enough tools to deal with them yet. Poverty, troubles at home, emotional problems, and low mental ratings. Kids slammed up against lots of issues.
Jordy took a big breath and sat up straighter. “I’m awake now, Miss Doore.”
Missy started reading and they finished the story after circling the group twice. Then Randie asked questions to see if they understood the content. This group easily answered her questions. These kids were so smart, they could probably read through the book and workbook on their own. Smart kids learned in spite of their teachers. So she didn’t try to teach them. She worked to challenge them and had learning centers set up all around the perimeter of the room.
For the last fifteen minutes of class, Randie read a new chapter of Laura Ingall Wilder’s Farmer Boy. The kids were enthralled by how a boy grew up on a farm in New York in the 1860s. She barely finished the chapter before the bell rang for the end of school.
Randie walked to the door and the kids lined up for her to lead them outside. She walked to the end of the sidewalk and watched part of the kids turn to the right to find their buses. The other kids turned left to find parents who picked them up. She frowned when she saw Jordy scan the length of cars and then fidget nervously.
Who would come for him today? His mom was in Arizona. He’d stayed with his uncle. Would the uncle come for him?
Jordy grabbed for the book bag he’d tossed on the ground when a pickup pulled to the curb with a sign that read Cainer Plumbing on its side. A lanky man scrambled to the sidewalk, and Jordy flew to him. The man picked him up and hugged him close. Then he got him settled in the truck’s passenger seat before pulling away. That must be Uncle Lucas.
Randie breathed out a sigh of relief. Jordy’s uncle must be close to him. Good. His mother’s absence wouldn’t be quite so bad.
The buses and cars pulled away, and Randie started back to the building. Teachers had to stay ten minutes more. She’d grab her jacket and briefcase and be ready to go home.
Jonathan, who taught second grade, fell into step beside her. “Hey, do you have any plans for tonight?”
He grinned. “How about meeting at The Lunch Box at five?”
“On a Monday?”
He shrugged. “I had a medium pizza last night, and I’m starving today.”
She’d made herself a can of tomato soup last night. She was hungry, too. “It’s a date.”
Jonathan was engaged, but his intended was finishing her Master’s in marketing in Bloomington. He and Randie kept each other company once in a while. The Lunch Box served wonderful food at reasonable prices because the restaurant had no atmosphere. The focus was on the food. Nothing fancy, but everything done well.
“If you get there first, save me a seat,” Randie said.
She already knew what she was going to order. Their famous super thin burgers. She’d order the double with fried pickles.
On her drive to her tiny apartment, she thought about Jordy and his uncle. Did his uncle cook, or did they go out for supper every night? Jordy hadn’t mentioned an aunt. It must be hard for a bachelor to take on two kids while their mother was gone. She wondered how long Jordy’s mother would be in Arizona? How much of a toll would it take on her and the kids? And then her thoughts returned to the uncle. He had to care a lot about his sister to take on a chore like that. He had to be a brave man.