Authors: Jane Porter
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
Kit grinned up at Polly, delighted by her appearance. “You can swap cafeteria duty for parking lot duty. Spend forty-five minutes every day after school in the parking lot waiting for the little darlings to be picked up and you won’t mind the smell of fried food quite so much.”
“At least you get fresh air,” Polly answered darkly, getting a spoon from the drawer. “The cafeteria smells like eau de throw-up.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Shelley Jones, the PE teacher, volunteered from the far side of the table. “We do have a number of students who are bulimic.”
“Or, you could be pregnant,” Bob said, looking up from his tuna fish sandwich on white bread. Bob ate tuna fish Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and egg salad on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Polly rolled her eyes as she retrieved her shrimp-flavored Cup Noodles from the microwave. “I’m single, Robert, and teaching at a Catholic high school.”
“It happens,” he answered, delicately blotting his mouth with a paper napkin.
Polly tipped her head, giving him a hard look. “I know it happens, but I’m not pregnant. It’s just the food we serve here
. I don’t know why we can’t offer more fresh fruits and vegetables and less secret meat.”
Kit ducked her head and took another bite of her salad.
“I’ve always loathed Taco Tuesdays,” Polly added, grabbing a spoon from the drawer, “because the taco meat smells like cat food, but today’s Meat Loaf Medley was even worse. I swear to God, today they were serving cat meat.”
“They eat cat in China,” Shelley volunteered cheerfully, happy to have something to discuss. Lunch had been awfully quiet today. “It’s supposed to be a delicacy.”
Polly looked at her. “I heard that.”
Bob cleared his throat. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve had the meat loaf in the past, and I found it quite tasty.”
Polly’s eyebrows arched. “Did it taste like cat?”
Bob adjusted his glasses. “I wouldn’t know what cat tasted like.”
“How about horse?”
“Of course I don’t eat horse.”
“Do you think you’d know if you did?” Polly retorted sweetly, too sweetly, carrying her steaming cup to the table and taking a seat opposite Kit’s. She had the coiled tension of a cat before it pounced.
Kit exchanged glances with Shelley, aware that Polly would soon annihilate Bob if he didn’t back off. But Bob didn’t understand women, and he never backed off. He was too besotted with Polly to do anything but engage.
Everyone on the staff knew that forty-something-year-old Bob had a thing for Polly. He’d harbored the crush for years. The staff also knew that beautiful, brainy, irreverent Polly always had some rich, successful, impossibly good-looking boyfriend, which put her firmly out of Bob’s reach. But Bob couldn’t let the dream of Polly go, and like the awkward teenage boy he must once have been, he forced her to acknowledge him by inserting himself into all her conversations.
All the time.
“Heard the girls’ basketball team has a big tournament this weekend,” Kit said to Shelley, trying to change the subject, hoping she could distract Polly from toying with Bob. He wasn’t a mouse, she’d told Polly more than once. There was no reason to torment him.
“Yeah, in Sacramento,” Shelley agreed. “We’re leaving right after school. Five games tomorrow. Three more Sunday if we’re in
the winning bracket. Four if we’re in the losing bracket. Kids are going to be exhausted.”
Kit had taught with Shelley, a Walla Walla native, and a former softball all-star at the University of Washington, for fifteen years now and was one of Kit’s favorite faculty members. They rarely saw each other outside of school, but every now and then they’d all go out for drinks and Kit enjoyed Shelley’s mellow personality. Shelley was cool, all-around company. “I wish I could attend some of the games, but I’ll be in Capitola. Too bad you’re not closer. Like San Jose. I could have driven over for some games there.”
Polly allowed herself to be diverted. “Less than three hours now until we go. Thank you, Jesus. So ready for a break. I can’t focus today. I’m sleepy, and restless, and keep staring at the clock.”
“Oh, the joys of being a teacher,” Bob sonorously intoned, closing the lid on the little plastic container he brought his sandwich in. “But as you know, one doesn’t teach for the money. It’s a calling.” He launched himself with difficulty onto his feet. “Like the priesthood. Not everyone can do it.”
“This is madness,” Polly muttered, dropping her face to just inches above her steaming cup. “I should have gone back to my room.”
“It’s okay,” Kit whispered back. “He’s on his way out.”
“Thank God. I want to punch him.”
But then Bob dropped back into his chair, apparently having second thoughts about leaving. “We have to rise to the challenge,” he said. “This isn’t just a job, it’s a mission, a—”
“Calling,” Polly finished impatiently. “Like the priesthood. Got it. And I don’t want to be rude but I really don’t want to do this right now, Bob.”
“This.” Polly waved her hand in large circles. “The lecture. Or inspirational address or whatever you call it. I’m tired. Hungry. And dying to have a little girl talk with Kit, so…”
His chest puffed out. His ruddy cheeks turned crimson. “Am I intruding?”
“No, of course not.” Polly smiled and her expression turned feline. “Not at all. I just wanted to warn you that the topic was going to get personal. I have terrible cramps because it’s that time of the month and I’m not sure everything’s all right down there with my plumbing—”
“Oh, no.” Bob shot to his feet, bumping the table. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to have a look at a malfunctioning printer in the computer science lab.”
Kit suppressed her laughter until the door banged shut behind Bob. “Polly, that was mean. Plumbing problems down there…?”
Polly grinned, unapologetic. “It worked, though.” She fished a noodle out of her cup, managed to get it in her mouth before snapping her fingers. “Almost forgot. Sounds like we might have a new student soon. Heard Vera on the phone,” she said, referring to the school secretary. “Our classes are already so full. Can’t believe we’d take another midyear.”
“We can’t. One of my sophomore comp classes has thirty-eight students in it. Thirty-eight. Way too many.”
Polly shrugged. “Vera didn’t discourage the mother. She told her where to buy uniforms and what the girl would need in terms of a supply list.”
“So it’s a girl?”
“What grade?” Shelley asked, sitting back in her chair, arms folded across her chest.
“Not sure. I got the feeling she’s a freshman or sophomore, as there was no mention of graduation requirements or testing dates.”
Kit wasn’t happy about the news. Her freshman and sophomore classes were her biggest. “Let’s be honest. There’s no way I can effectively teach writing, and properly grade all the necessary
essays, with thirty-five-plus kids per class. There aren’t enough hours in the day.”
“That’s why I teach PE,” Shelley said, balling up her paper lunch bag and rising. “I just make them run.”
Fiona entered the lunchroom as Shelley left and took Shelley’s empty chair at the table. Her pale face looked blotchy and her eyes were pink. “What did I miss?” she asked huskily, taking a seat at the table and opening a plastic baggie filled with slender apple slices
“What happened?” Kit asked.
Fiona selected an apple slice and toyed with it. “Nothing,” she answered, breaking the apple into two pieces.
Polly leaned forward, concerned. “Did Sister Marguerite complain to Sister Elena about your messy room again?”
Fiona struggled to smile but couldn’t. “Wish it was that. But it’s Chase. He sent me a text that we’ve got to postpone Carmel so he can take the kids to Tahoe this weekend to ski.”
“What?” Polly cried.
Fiona shrugged. “Apparently Julie got invited to go to Cabo with some girlfriends and Chase wants to show her he’s a good guy, so he told her we’d take the kids and she could take her trip.” Fiona flung the apples down, furious. “It didn’t even cross his mind to call me and see what I’d like. Why didn’t he stay married to Julie? She’s more important to him than I am!”
The five-minute warning bell rang shrilly. They all ignored it.
“So what are you going to do?” Kit asked.
Fiona shrugged again. “Go to Carmel.”
Kit wasn’t sure this was the best plan. “Without him?”
“Why not?” Fiona said hotly. “The hotel’s already booked and paid for. I’ve always wanted to go there—”
“Because you know Chase won’t take it well,” Kit interrupted. “It’d be a slap in his face.”
Fiona’s eyes flashed. “And canceling our weekend together so his ex-wife can go to Cabo isn’t?”
She’d made a good point, and after a moment they wordlessly rose and headed back to their classrooms.
he light was fading as they reached Highway 17, the twenty-six-mile-long highway that wound through the Santa Cruz Mountains, and gone by the time they reached the exit for Capitola off Highway 1.
The Brennans’ narrow two-story beach cottage, built in 1903, was one of six identical houses facing the beach on Esplanade and known to locals as the Six Sisters. The clapboard cottage had been in the family since the late 1930s, and growing up, Kit and her sisters and brother had spent virtually every summer and holiday there. As Polly parked on the street adjacent to Historic Lawn Way, Kit felt a little thrill of pleasure. She was back. Home.
Kit was upstairs in the girls’ bunk room, changing out of her teacher clothes into something more relaxed when her phone rang. “Hey, Dad,” she said, answering her cell and hitting the speaker button so she could tug up her favorite old Levi’s jeans and button the fly. “What’s up?”
“Just checking to make sure you girls got in safely,” he said.
“We arrived a few minutes ago.” Kit glanced at herself in the dresser mirror and dragged a hand through her hair. “And we’re just about to head out for dinner. We’re starving.”
“Where are you going?”
“That’s a meat market. Go to that wine bar place. Nicer for you girls.”
Kit rolled her eyes. He’d never liked Margaritaville since he caught Sarah making out in the hallway with a guy she’d just met. Sarah wasn’t a kid, she’d been twenty-one, and drop-dead gorgeous,
but Dad had still hauled her back to the cottage and sent her up to the girls’ room. Kit and her sisters still giggled about it, although Sarah had been mortified at the time. “We’re hungry, Dad, and we want to eat unhealthy things like nachos and quesadillas.”
“Dad, I’m always careful. I’m a middle child, remember? Give Mom my love. I’ll call you on Sunday after Mass.”
Polly had stepped from the bathroom to catch the last of the conversation. “Your dad is the sweetest. I love how he still worries about you.”
Kit grabbed her coat and purse. “He forgets we’re all grown up.”
Polly grinned as she wrapped a black scarf around her neck and tugged on her coat. “I don’t think he’s forgotten. I just don’t think it matters to him.”
it and Polly were enjoying their second round of margaritas at Margaritaville when Polly’s phone rang. Polly checked the number. “It’s Fiona,” she said, flashing the phone at Kit before taking the call. “Did you make it to Carmel okay?”
Polly frowned, listening to Fiona for a few moments, before covering the phone to speak to Kit. “Fiona’s miserable in Carmel. Doesn’t want to be there by herself. Can she come join us here?”
“Yes!” Kit put down her drink, nodded vigorously. “Does she need us to go get her?”
“She’s got her car.”
“Tell her to come.”
“How long will it take her?”
“Depends on traffic. If the roads are good, she could be here in forty-five minutes to an hour.”
Polly got back on the phone and was trying to give Fiona directions,
but Fiona was getting so confused it exasperated Polly. She shoved the phone at Kit. “You tell her,” she said. “She’s not listening to me.”
On the phone, Kit tried to explain that it was simple getting to Capitola, she’d just take Highway 1 north all the way from Carmel, but Fiona kept interrupting to talk about how beautiful and romantic the hotel was and how angry she was that Chase wasn’t there to enjoy it with her.
Kit covered the phone and leaned toward Polly. “She’s buzzed!”
“I think she’s been drinking for a while.”
“Then she can’t drive tonight.”
“Tell her to sleep it off and come up in the morning.”
Fiona didn’t like the idea but eventually Kit managed to convince her that she wasn’t missing anything in Capitola since she and Polly were heading to bed soon, and that Fiona should just go to bed, too, so that she could wake up early and be ready to drive up in the morning.
“That was good,” Polly said when Kit finally hung up and handed the phone back. “You were really patient and calm. How do you do that?”
“I’ve had a lot of practice. There’s always drama in my family.”
“Like last summer when Meg took a walk on the dark side?”
Kit shifted uneasily. Meg’s affair had been so painful, and even though Meg and Polly knew each other, Kit couldn’t discuss the details with Polly. It had been a heartbreaking summer and the only good news was that it was over and Jack and Meg were still together. “Mm.”
“Do you think she ever thinks about Chad?”
Kit did wonder if Meg was completely over Chad, but there was no way she’d ask her. If Meg brought it up, fine, but if she didn’t, Kit wasn’t about to poke or probe what might still be a tender wound. “I think it was just sex,” she said casually, taking a sip of her margarita.
Polly’s eyebrow arched. “As if sex is nothing.”
“Sometimes it is nothing.”
“And sometimes it’s everything.”
“Kit, you can’t have a great relationship without good sex.”
Kit suddenly thought of her years with Richard. Richard had never been particularly sensual, but he got the job done. He was an engineer, for Pete’s sake. He was excellent with the mechanics, knew how to make her orgasm. He’d also reminded her of that more than once when she expressed dissatisfaction with their relationship.
At least you have nothing to complain about in the bedroom,
he’d say, smirking and puffing out his chest.