Home > The Next Best Day(8)

The Next Best Day(8)
Author: Sharon Sala

   She wanted to talk to her, but they both had other agendas. Katie was headed for her old classroom and her students, and Lila had to go back to the classroom with her students. She’d have to call Katie tonight.

   ***

   “I’ll walk you to your classroom,” Boyd said. “And if you’ll call the office, I’d be honored to escort you back to your car when you’re ready to leave.”

   “I appreciate your company to get me to my room. I’m sure I’ll be fine to get myself to the car, but you have been so kind and…understanding.”

   He offered her his elbow, and she slipped her hand beneath it. Together, they made their way through the exodus of guests. They were about halfway there when Katie realized where they were and immediately looked down. When she did, she stumbled and would have fallen if the principal hadn’t caught her.

   “I’m sorry,” Katie said. “I just realized where we were. It took me off guard.”

   “I don’t know what you mean,” Boyd said.

   Katie shuddered and started walking, almost at a run, as if to get away from the area, and Boyd hurried to catch up.

   “That’s where Coach Lincoln was shot. We were running,” Katie said.

   “Oh my,” Carl said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”

   Katie shook her head. “It’s not your fault. Everything in this building triggers a memory now. It is what it is.” And then they were at the door to her room. “I can take it from here,” she said. “What’s the substitute teacher’s name?”

   “Um…Abby King,” he said.

   “Thank you,” Katie said. She took a deep breath and knocked, then pushed the door ajar.

   There were parents lined up against the walls, and a short, thirtysomething woman wearing a yellow smock and purple pants standing beside the desk. She had a turned-up nose, pink hair, and a pencil stuck behind her ear. She looked like a living, breathing fairy. How absolutely perfect, Katie thought, and then smiled.

   “May I come in?”

   Abby King turned and opened her arms wide like she was going to hug her.

   “Yes! Yes! Welcome back!” Abby said.

   Katie waved at the parents and barely got the door closed behind her before she was engulfed. Twenty familiar little faces were turned up to her. Hands were touching and petting, and all of them were talking at once. And then she saw Alejandro and Kieran pushing their way through the crowd, and they were crying. When they got to her, they just wrapped their arms around her legs and held on.

   Abby King immediately took control of the situation.

   “Children, let’s give Miss Katie a little room, okay? You will all get a chance to talk to her personally. Each of you find your spot on the floor in the reading circle, and Miss Katie can sit in the teacher chair, okay? Parents can listen in, but I think today is for Miss Katie and her class.”

   At that point, Katie put her purse and the award aside and dropped to her knees, hugging the boys to her.

   “We thought you died,” Alejandro said. “I’m sorry I fell down. You came back for us.”

   Kieran nodded. “You sure can run fast, Miss Katie. Thank you for coming back.”

   Katie knew if she cried now, everyone in the room would be in tears.

   “Of course I went back to get you both, and Alejandro…everyone falls down. It’s the getting back up that matters. And we all got up and ran, didn’t we? And we’re safe now. Okay?”

   “Okay,” they echoed, and then hugged her again. “We heard you tell us not to talk and not to move, and we did just what you said,” Kieran whispered.

   “I’m so proud of you for following orders. It was important, wasn’t it?” she said.

   Alejandro nodded, then reached up and patted her cheek.

   “You said you loved us. Just like Mama says when she tucks me in at night.”

   Katie’s eyes welled. “And I do love you. All of you. You are so precious to me. Now. Let’s go find our place in the reading circle, okay?”

   They took off toward the circle as Katie followed, and then stopped at the desk where Abby King was sitting.

   “Thank you, parents, for waiting so I can speak to your babies, and thank you, Ms. King, for letting me disrupt your class.”

   Abby smiled. “It’s your class, too, and I’m just doing what I love. It’s a pleasure and an honor to meet you. Now go sit down in your teacher chair and prepare to be grilled.”

   “Yes,” Katie said, and slipped into her seat. For a moment inside that room, with all of the familiar faces of her littles, she almost forgot all of the bad stuff. “Okay, boys and girls, this is the last period before the bell rings, so each of you ask one question, and I will answer. And then if we have more time, you can ask more questions, okay?”

   They nodded, and up went their hands.

   Katie put hers in her lap so no one would see them shaking.

   “I don’t want to get mixed up with whose turn it is, so we’ll just start here on my right with Dawson,” she said.

   The little redhead leaned forward. “Did it hurt to get shot?”

   Katie’s fingers curled a little tighter, but she kept the tone in her voice calm and even.

   “Yes. It hurt then, but I don’t hurt anymore. Karen, do you have a question for me?” Katie asked.

   And so it went, until nineteen questions had been asked, and details added. When she got to Alejandro, who was the last student sitting on her left, she looked into his big brown eyes and saw fear.

   “Alejandro, do you have a question for me?”

   He nodded. “Miss Katie…are you coming back? Will you be our teacher again?”

   Katie paused, choosing her words carefully without giving anything away.

   “Well, as you know, the school year is almost over, so Miss Abby is going to finish out this year with all of you, and I can see from the amazing art on the walls and the happy faces before me that you all really like Miss Abby. Is that right?”

   “Yes! We like Miss Abby,” they chimed, and Katie flashed Abby a quick thumbs-up.

   “So, when you come back to school after summer vacation, you won’t be first-graders anymore. You’ll be in second grade, and you’ll have a new teacher. That’s how school works, remember? You had a pre-K teacher. Then a kindergarten teacher. And then there was me, your first-grade teacher, and now Miss Abby. I’m all healed, but I don’t have much ‘pep in my step’ yet, so I won’t be back here before you go home for the summer. I’m still taking it easy at home. But I want you to know how much I loved having you in my class. And how much I love each of you, okay? Will you promise me to always listen when Miss Abby tells you something?”

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