Randie didn’t want to open her eyes on Wednesday. A sinus headache pressed against the back of her skull. When she turned to switch off her alarm, the headache shifted. If she caught the pain soon enough and took her pills to drain the congestion, she could get rid of the pain. But this had settled in, she could tell. Even with her meds, she’d live with a dull throb all day.
She pushed out of bed and went to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. The pills wouldn’t make a difference for at least twenty minutes, maybe more, but her head should be better by the time she stepped into her classroom. Her skull felt like a frail eggshell by the time she left her apartment. Her eyes didn’t focus right, but that was part of the joys of sinus problems. The world was blurry. And her stomach always reacted to the medicine. This was going to be a great day.
She sat at her desk and glanced through her lesson plans for the day. The lines wiggled at the margins, but she could make them out. Sometimes, when the pressure was too insistent, blackness swallowed her vision, but the pressure was draining. Everything would be fuzzy today. She could cope. It was time to introduce subtraction, which meant introducing negative numbers. A fourth of the kids would catch on today, the first time they saw it. She’d reintroduce it again tomorrow and the next day. Most of the class would get it by then. And then she’d reintroduce it off and on for another week, hoping everyone learned it by the end of October. But that didn’t always happen.
She glanced out the window at the school buses pulling to the curb to disgorge students onto the sidewalk. The bell rang, and the school doors swung open to admit them. She heard feet and voices advancing down the hallway and kids spilled into the room. They went to the lockers to hang up their jackets and store lunch boxes before taking their seats. The noise made her wince, but the kids were being good. It was just her headache that made every sound worse than it was. Their writing assignment was already on the board and they got to work.
Randie dealt with lunch money and parent notes, took attendance, and then stood to go through the list of homework she’d written on the board for the day. The kids wrote each lesson in their student notebooks, then she started her phonics lesson for the day. They’d made it to the letter g, so each kid had a big piece of colored paper on their desk, along with sheets Randie had copied with different pictures to cut out and color. Together, they made up a story, using those pictures: The gray goat giggled when Gary the gorilla gave him green grapes. While she worked with her first reading circle, the rest of the class worked on their Gg project.
By the time they finished reading lessons, she played a math game with them until the lunch bell rang. She sat up big, plastic bowling pins on her desk, had the kids close their eyes, and then tell her how many pins she’d added or taken away when they opened their eyes. She’d use that, after lunch, to introduce positive and negative numbers.
The lunch bell rang, and the aide came to take the kids to the lunch room. Randie went to the classroom sink and took two more pills. The worst of the headache was gone, but her head felt as though it was packed with fuzz. This was going to be a long day.
Jonathan popped in to eat lunch with her and frowned at her empty desk. “You didn’t order a meal today?”
She dug into her big desk drawer and pulled out a box of energy bars. She opened one. “I couldn’t make myself eat the kids’ pizza. It’s greasy cheese and pepperoni.”
Jonathan grinned. “That’s what makes it so good.” He took a huge bite.
“How did Priscilla do on her exam?” Jonathan’s fiancée had been sweating a test on Friday. If everything went well, she’d finish her Master’s degree in marketing this spring.
“When she called, she thought she’d done all right, but she said the test was serious. She’s hitting the books hard this semester.”
Randie went to fetch a bottle of water out of her locker. The energy bar made her thirsty. “When do you get to see her again?”
“Thanksgiving. She can stay for five days. We’ll go to her family’s place for the big meal, and then we can be together the rest of the time.”
She heard the sadness in his voice and tried to cheer him up. “Thanksgiving will be here before you know it.”
He sighed. “She left the beginning of September. We started teaching, so I thought that would keep me busy, and I wouldn’t miss her as much. But boy, it’s been hard.”
Randie liked alone time, but she’d never been in a relationship. If you got used to sharing your life with someone, it would be hard to lose that. On the other hand, she thought of Kelli. If your partner was a jerk, you might celebrate getting rid of him.
Jonathan finished his lunch and pitched it in the trash. “The heathen will return soon. I’d better get in my classroom.”
Randie closed her box of crackers and put them away. She finished her bottle of water. She had just enough time to dash into the restroom before she heard kids shuffling down the hallways again. She was standing at the door, outside her classroom, when her little hooligans scrambled for their desks.
The afternoon went better than the morning. Her head had drained enough to function a little. She used craft sticks for the kids to work their math problems. The afternoon reading groups went well, and then she read another chapter of FARMER BOY to them at the end of the day.
When she walked them outside to watch them get on their buses or find their parents’ cars, she was surprised to see a white van pulled to the curb with CAINER’S PAINTING on its sides. This time, a shorter man with dark brown hair and the build of a runner walked forward to snag Jordy. Jordy threw his arms around this man, too. Another uncle? From a distance, this man wasn’t as good-looking as the plumber, but his smile was bigger and brighter. He looked like he’d be fun.
As the buses and cars pulled away, she thought about Jordy. Lucky boy. He had two uncles who seemed close to him, two uncles who’d take up the slack while his mother was away.
She thought about her brother, Ronnie. Would he jump in to help her like that? She doubted it. They loved each other and were even fairly close, but Ronnie wasn’t that dependable. He was always busy, going here, doing that. But if he needed help, would he expect her to jump in and help him? Oh, yeah.
If it came down to the nitty-gritty, Kelli would be the one she could count on. She’d help her all she could. Thinking about that, Randie turned left at the stop light and headed to her friend’s house. She stopped at a liquor store on the way to buy a bottle of wine. She hadn’t eaten much for lunch, though, so stopped at the grocery store and bought salami, crusty bread, Boursin cheese, and grapes. A poor man’s charcuterie.
She was humming to herself when she pulled into her friend’s driveway. The humming stopped when a BMW parked beside her. Curtis.
They got out of their cars at the same time. Curtis crossed his arms and glared down at her. The man looked like a poster boyfriend—six feet, blonde, and blue-eyed. He reminded her of a poster of Troy Donahue that Randie had seen in her mom’s bedroom at Gram’s house. Look-wise, he and Kelly made a stunning couple, both blonde, both gorgeous. If you only judged by the outside, Curtis was a winner. Unfortunately, that’s the only asset Curtis had.
His tone could chill an ice arena. “What are you doing here?”
She grabbed the bags off the front seat. “I came to spend some time with my best friend.”
“Not tonight. I need to talk her.”
“Did she know you’re coming?”
“It’s not a friendly visit. It’s business.”
“You want her to sign something.”
“I want this divorce over.”
“Then sign the fifty/fifty papers. Those are the standard for couples with no kids.”
His blonde brows arched. “I don’t think this is any of your business.”
“When Kelli’s involved? You think wrong.”
He glanced at the bags in her hands. “Your little celebration has to wait. I want to get this over with. I have a date tonight.”
Randi stared. “You’re already seeing someone else?”
“Why shouldn’t I? Kelli didn’t work out.”
She’d heard enough. She turned on her heel and started for Kelli’s door. It opened before she reached it. Kelli glanced at the bags and grinned. “Just tell me that every single thing you brought is under a hundred calories.”
“They’re all calorie free,” Randie lied, and Kelly laughed. Then her friend turned to Curtis.
“What do you want?”
“I want to divide up the stocks and bonds we have. I’ll sign off on half, and you can sign off on half.”
Kelli shook her head. “I’ll let the court decide who gets what. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. I’m not signing anything unless my lawyer’s with me and approves the deal.”
Curtis’s lips pinched. “But I have a chance to get in on a great deal. I need to sell a few things to come up with the cash.”
“Then sign our divorce papers. Right now, though, you have to leave. I’m busy.”
Curtis grimaced at Randie. “You always show up at the wrong time. You have a knack for it.”
Randie glanced at her watch. “You’d better hurry. You don’t want to keep your date waiting.”
“Date?” Kelli’s gaze drilled holes into her soon-to-be ex. “Go home, Curtis. Thrill some other innocent female and leave me alone.” Randie slipped inside, and Kelli closed the door on him.
They walked to the kitchen at the back of the house, and then Kelli drooped. She looked at Randie. “He’s seeing someone else?”
“You know Curtis. He likes to have a beautiful woman on his arm when he enters a room. The new girl can’t be as pretty as you, though.”
Kelli smiled. “Thanks, friend. You always bolster my morale.” She glanced at the bags. “Do I see wine?”
“You sure do. I’m ready to chow down. Are you in?”
“I’ll get my fancy plates.” The paper plates had designs on them instead of being thin and white.
They ate and yakked, and by the time Randie drove home, they both felt better.