Underneath It All (Storm Series) (4 page)

BOOK: Underneath It All (Storm Series)
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She carefully folded the check into an inside poc
ket of her purse then walked out to her beat-up Toyota Corolla. Her dad had gotten the car for her as a college graduation present, and it had been well-used even then. Now, six years later, the junk heap was held together with duct tape and a dream.


After Alaina got back to her shoebox-sized apartment and had fixed herself a sandwich, she opened her laptop and pulled up her favorite school supplies website. Biting her lip, she took in all the different categories of supplies.
Where to start?
She wanted a plan before cashing Rob’s check.

A thought invaded her consciousness.
Oh, God. I can’t keep all the money for myself.
What would the other teachers say? Since Rob had asked her to keep the generous gesture quiet, how would she explain where she’d gotten the money? She couldn’t, in good conscience, gorge on supplies for her classroom without sharing with the other staff. And no matter that Rob wanted to stay on the down-low, she had to tell her principal, Claudette.

Glancing at her cell, she debated calling Rob. Would he be angry if she asked to split the money with others? She wanted to respect his wishes, but
the entire school had so much need. With the decision made, she called him, chewing on the end of her pen.

After a couple of rings, he picked up. “Hello?”

Dropping the pen, she asked, “Rob?” Where on earth was he? It sounded like he was surrounded by a crowd or something.

Ms. Rossa?”

“Hi, yes, it’s me
. But please call me Alaina outside of school. Do you have a minute?”

, hang on. Let me get away from these guys.” The shouts and other assorted noises in the background ceased abruptly. “Sorry about that. The guys are having a videogame tournament.” He laughed, but it sounded odd. “Boys will be boys, right?”

“If you say so.”
She had no experience in that area, so she took his word for it.

“Anyway, what’s up?”
he asked.

“I have a question.”

“Uh, okay. Shoot.”

She took a breath
. “Would you mind if I shared the money with the other teachers at the school? I’d feel bad having my room outfitted to the nines and theirs still needing so much. Oh, and I forgot to mention, but I will have to tell my principal where the money came from.”

about telling the principal. I hadn’t considered that, but of course you should give her a heads-up. I wouldn’t expect you to keep secrets from your boss. As far as the other thing, I gave you the money to do with as you please. If you’d like to give some to the other teachers, go ahead.” He paused then continued, “Though if you do that, the money won’t go nearly as far for all of you as it would’ve for one. Hmm. You’re going to need more.”

“Oh, no. God, no. I couldn’t

derisive noise burst from him. “You didn’t. I offered. Never mind. I’ll bring you another check tomorrow.”

“No, really.”

“Yes, really. Five grand won’t be enough for what, seven classrooms?”

The school has more than one fifth and sixth grade class.” Alaina was starting to feel dizzy at the sheer magnitude of what was happening. She’d have to call the school before Claudette left for the day.

“All the more reason.”

“Well, thank you. Again.”

“You’re welcome.”

An awkward silence ensued until finally Alaina said, “I guess I’ve got some shopping to do. I promise to use the money responsibly.”

Rob snorted. “There was not a shred of doubt in my mind that you would.
I think you’re probably one of the most conscientious people I’ve ever met. See you tomorrow. I’ll drop by around the same time, if that’s okay. Practice will be over for the day by then.”

t the possibility of seeing him again so soon, a little fissure of excitement stole through her. It was a dangerous path to allow herself to go down. He was just being nice. “Yeah, of course. Whenever is good for you. I’ll wait. See ya.”

started to set the phone next to her laptop then remembered she needed to call the school. The conversation with the principal took less time than Alaina had thought. Claudette was grateful, but took the news in stride, not asking many questions. She supposed the principal was operating on the “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” premise. Soon Alaina was browsing websites looking for what she wanted to buy.

Five thousand dollars divided over nine classrooms
—not accounting for whatever Rob was bringing her tomorrow—was five hundred fifty dollars. Even though she’d love some new tables and chairs, five hundred wouldn’t even put a dent in that requirement, so instead, she concentrated on smaller things she felt would do the most good given the kids’ needs.

students were, for the most part, from low- to middle-low-income families and many were already behind developmentally. She pulled up a Word document and typed a list of anything she thought might be useful. No doubt she’d find far more items than she had the funds for, but she had to start somewhere or she’d go crazy trying to make decisions. When she had a good list, Alaina decided to prioritize the items then go from there. A labor-intensive effort, to be sure, but since things like this happened once in a blue moon in a school like this, she needed to be careful and make sure the money was put to the best use.

After c
licking on the “Sensory Development” section of the website, she picked out a set of eleven containers of paints, putting them on the list. She could pour the paints onto small paper plates and thus make them go further. As she moved through the first page, she noted other things, but it wasn’t until she hit on the set of two hundred crayons—twenty-five each of eight different colors—and a similar set of colored pencils that she stopped, chewing the inside of her cheek. Art supplies were definitely a huge need, but so many other items were as well. The kids already had crayons. Crappy, broken crayons, but crayons nonetheless.

or about twenty minutes she waffled over what to put and keep in her cart before finally sitting back.
I can’t make these decisions by myself. I never thought having money to spend would be so stressful.

decided to call one of her friends from college who now taught at a Montessori school outside the city.

Becca answered the phone on the second ring. “Hey girl, what’s goin’ on?”

“I need your help.” Alaina quickly explained why then swore her friend to secrecy. No way would she disrespect Rob’s explicit wish that the donation not be made public.

Becca whistled. “Five gran
d? And he handed the check over like it was nothing.”

“He makes millions.”

“Of course, but still. Not exactly something you’d expect a guy to just
out of the blue, especially since you don’t know him very well. Are you sure he doesn’t have the hots for you?”

burst into laughter. “Do you really think he’d feel the need to issue a check for five thousand dollars in order to impart that information? Besides, I’ve got a pretty good notion I am
his type.”

Don’t sell yourself short. You’re going to make some guy very lucky when he’s smart enough to go after you. Okay, let’s spend the boy’s money.”

“Tell me what your kids use the most in your classroom.”

“Hmmm. Excellent question. Let me think…”

Alaina tapped her fingers on the edge of the table while she waited. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this excited
, and she didn’t want to mess anything up.

“They love the art supplies. But what they really like
is to march around the room, banging on their drums and such. We play with them pretty much every day, to all different kinds of music and songs. The kids dive for the instrument box every time I get it out.”

March? Oh, that would be cute. Musical instruments. Hang on.” She found a set and added it to her list. “What else?”

“Stickers, though you’ve gotta be careful with those or they get everywhere.”

“I see shape stickers here. A crapload of them.”

“That’s good
,” Becca said. “Get those. Nice and basic and the kids will learn something without even knowing. Perfect. You can use them as rewards, for crafts…”

Oh! Line paper. God, we never have enough of that.” At times she’d been afraid she’d have to put the damn lines on the paper herself.

excellent and always needed choice.”

“Alphabet blocks…”
Alaina muttered. “Puzzles…”

Becca cleared her throat. “Do you even need me?”

Her tone was amused, but Alaina still felt bad for ignoring her friend, since she’d sought out her advice in the first place. “Sorry. Having money is a whole new world. I wish I could get them everything.”

“I know, hon. And I don’t envy you having to pick and choose. My school certainly doesn’t have unlimited funds, but I can’t imagine making do with what you guys have to.
You know how much I admire you for that.”

Alaina swelled with pride. She’d been offered a position at a school in a better district, but hadn’t been able to shake the feeling she’d do more good in a Buffalo public school. “Okay. I’m gonna keep looking. I’ll prioritize then e-mail you the shopping cart before I do anything.”

“Cool. Can’t wait.”

“And we need to figure out when we can have dinner or something.” With the school year starting a few weeks ago both of them had been busy, and it had been more than a month since they’d carved out time to see each other. Sometimes they went a few months, and Alaina always knew Becca would be there, but she didn’t like leaving it that long. It was easy to make excuses for a few more days when it had already been several weeks.

“We were going to try that new Mexican place out in East Aurora by my school, right?”

“Oh yeah. That sounds really good right about now.” And, of course, cheap, which Alaina was always a fan of.

“Text me with when you’re free
, and we’ll figure something out.”

“I will. See ya.”
Alaina hung up and added a cheap CD player to the list.

, she’d spent her money, theoretically, but she kept looking in case she found anything better. Plus she supposed she’d be getting more tomorrow that she’d have to spend.

giggled. Yeah,
to spend.

Oh man!
A set of brightly-painted wood cubbies for the kids to put their stuff in rather than the ratty dollar-store bins set out on the floor they were using now; that would be an unbelievable addition to the classroom by itself. Alaina’s elation deflated when she saw the price tag—nearly three hundred dollars, and the item was part of the website’s so-called “Value Line” of furniture.

Value line, my ass.
Alaina put it on the list and found herself hoping Rob was bringing a very large check the next day. Stabs of guilt ate at her. He’d already done so much.

teacher’s cabinet.
Alaina practically swooned when she saw a couple of them on the site. But this money wasn’t for her, but for the kids, so she moved on. A rug with the alphabet and numbers zero through nine, plus a small square for each kid to sit in for something like story time caught her eye, but she couldn’t justify another expensive item. She groaned, a headache forming as she realized she hadn’t even gotten through about two-thirds of the website. Or begun to look for books. Or toys. Both were so important!

glanced at the clock. Just after four in the afternoon. Too early for a glass of wine, but she could really use one. Shopping was far more nerve-racking than Alaina would have thought, considering she actually had funds, unlike other years. So many things were needed, and she couldn’t make heads or tails out of what was most important.

Finally she left off for
the day and made dinner. A few hours later, she fell into bed exhausted, after yet more agonizing and not coming to any decisions.


The next day, Rob arrived as the last couple of kids were being loaded on the bus at the end of the school day. He’d texted to ask if he could be later than he’d originally thought, and she’d readily agreed, saying she’d stick around and work on lesson plans. She didn’t have a lot of other places to be. Who was she to dictate a schedule to a man who was acting as a guardian angel for her children?

Before school began
, Alaina had spoken to Claudette and the other teachers, who were all excited about an influx of cash for their rooms. She thought about warning them that spending the money was harder than it looked, but didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun, so she kept her mouth shut. Maybe her fellow teachers wouldn’t experience so much difficulty. After all, several were veterans of teaching, unlike her couple of years’ worth of experience. She’d hate to look like an idiot for being so wishy-washy if everyone else knew exactly what they wanted to buy with their money.

BOOK: Underneath It All (Storm Series)
7.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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