Home > The Next Best Day(6)

The Next Best Day(6)
Author: Sharon Sala

   She was mobile, to a degree, but still not released to drive, so she had groceries delivered, and sometimes food delivered, and the only person who came to see her was Lila.

   As time passed, her isolation brought home to her how small her circle of real friends was, and she admitted most of that was her fault. She didn’t want to be out and about.

   However, the faux safety and comfort she felt during the day ended when the sun went down and the lights went out.

   Then, the dreams came as she relived the panic, the pain, the horror.

   Some nights she woke up screaming.

   Some nights she woke up sobbing.

   And every night when she went to bed, there was a subconscious fear that she would not wake up at all.

   The toll it took on her physically and mentally was becoming obvious. Her clothes were hanging loose on her body now. Her face was thinner. She jumped at the slightest sounds. She was Zooming with a mental-health professional.

   She’d survived, but at what cost?

   ***

   Mark and Megan were living the high life. His new job was fulfilling, and while Megan wasn’t exactly the homebody he’d expected of a wife, their time together was everything he’d dreamed it would be.

   When Mark went to work, he left his wife in bed. And when he came home from work, she always had a beautiful table set and good food ordered in. It didn’t even matter that she never cooked and didn’t clean. She was pretty, and rich, and good in bed, and he knew she loved him.

   And then the shooting happened at Katie’s school, and the fantasy he’d been living in began to deflate. As soon as he heard about it, he was in hysterics. He and Megan had their first fight about Katie. He wanted to go to the hospital to see her, and Megan told him if he did, not to come home.

   Mark was pleading. He didn’t believe her. “But Megan, it doesn’t mean anything other than not wanting her to suffer alone.”

   And then Megan screamed and threw a plate all the way across the room, shattering it against the wall.

   “No, Mark! You left her alone when you married me. She is no longer your business, and neither is her life. You’re a fucking fool if you think she wants anything to do with you. Don’t you understand that she probably hates you? She’ll live or she’ll die, whether you’re there or not.”

   Mark was in shock. The woman screaming at him was a stranger. He’d never seen this cold, unfeeling side of her, and in that moment, something between them shattered.

   He turned around and walked out of the room and didn’t come back.

   Almost immediately, Megan realized what she’d done and went after him. But it was too late. She saw the shock on his face. The damage was done.

   “Look, I’m sorry that felt brutal,” she said. “But you aren’t seeing this from a woman’s viewpoint. You betrayed her. She will hate you forever. And you’re betraying me by wanting to rush to her side. How do you think that makes me feel?” she cried.

   “Like an insecure bitch?” he asked, and closed the door to their bedroom in her face.

   She gasped.

   “I won’t be talked to like this,” Megan screamed. “I’m going to Daddy’s to spend the night.”

   He didn’t respond, and he didn’t come out. Megan was furious, but at a loss. Instead of following through on her threat, she slept in one of the spare bedrooms and the next morning got into the shower with him and gave him the blow job of his life.

   The fight was over.

   But neither had forgotten what had been said.

   The honeymoon was over, but the marriage was still intact.

   ***

   It was a Tuesday in late May when Katie got an invitation she couldn’t ignore. It was from Boyd French, the new principal at Saguaro Elementary, requesting her presence at a special assembly on Friday to honor those who died, and the victims who survived.

   The thought of it made her ill. But she needed to know if she could go back to that school and teach again, so she told him yes and didn’t tell Lila. She could drive herself there. She could walk into that building on her own. After that, she made no promises, not even to herself.

   ***

   Friday came in a burst of sunshine in a cloudless sky the color of faded denim, with the Sandia Mountains delineating the space between heaven and earth.

   Katie dressed with care, trying to minimize her waif-like appearance by wearing a long, pink-and-green-floral dress with a black background. The hem stopped midway between her knees and ankles, hanging loose on her slender body. The petal-style sleeves were comfortable, and the sweetheart neckline finished off the look. She chose plain black flats and wore her hair pulled back for comfort against the heat of the day, but her hands were shaking as she grabbed a small pink shoulder bag, then dug her car keys out of the bag, slipped on a pair of sunglasses, and headed out the door.

   It was just before 1:00 p.m. when she pulled into the school parking lot and, when she got out, fell into step with a small crowd of people entering the building. She kept her head down and got all the way into the office without being stopped.

   Michelle Aubry, the school secretary, looked up just as Katie was taking off her sunglasses, and burst into tears.

   “Katie! Oh, I’m so glad to see you.”

   Katie sighed. This is why I don’t go anywhere. Everyone I see reacts like they’re seeing a ghost.

   “It’s good to see you, too, Michelle. I was summoned to attend an assembly. I assume it’s in the gym?”

   “Yes. They have a stage set up and the media is here, too, so prepare yourself.”

   “Oh lord,” Katie said, and then a man came out of the office, saw Katie, and came toward her with his hand outstretched.

   “Miss McGrath, I’m Boyd French. Thank you for coming.”

   Katie shook his hand and smiled. “Katie, please, and it’s nice to meet you, sir.”

   Boyd French shook his head. “Believe me, the honor is mine. It didn’t take me long to learn how much you have been missed. I’m not going to pretend this day will be easy for you, but you have no idea how beloved you are here. Your students ask me every day if you’re coming back. I think they just need to see your face to know for themselves that you are well.”

   Katie’s gut knotted. Guilt was a hard copilot, and knowing her children wanted her back made her feel sorry for them, and for herself.

   “I’m looking forward to seeing them, too,” she said.

   “Well then, if you’re ready, I’ll be escorting you to the assembly,” Boyd said, and then glanced at Michelle. “Call if you need me.”

   “Yes, sir,” the secretary said, and then waved at Katie as the duo left the office and started down the maze of hallways to get to the gymnasium at the far end of the building complex.

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