Drenched in Light | Chapter 30 of 37

Author: Lisa Wingate | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1767 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 22
025
As I gathered my things, my mind whirled like a leaf caught in the vortex of a tornado. I couldn’t focus on any specific thought, on any one action, a but wandered numbly between my desk and the file cabinet, trying to decide what to do. Dell came by and poked her head in the door, and I jumped, then caught my breath.
“Ms. Costell?” she said, as if suddenly I were someone she didn’t know. “Barry brought me the CD of the wedding music. Mrs. Levorski says she’ll help me practice it in my vocal class this week. I was wondering, instead of using the instrumental track off the CD, do you think maybe Keiler could play the guitar? I bet he’d do it, and we could practice at home this week. . . .” She paused as I braced my shaking hands on the desk. Around me, the world was shifting and spinning, moving so fast that everything was a blur. “Are you all right, Ms. C?”
“No . . . yes . . . I’m sorry, what did you say?” Think, Julia, think. The wedding music . . . I tried to focus as she repeated the question. “I think . . . that sounds . . . good.” The reply was robotic, distracted.
Dell’s brows drew together apprehensively. “We don’t have to if you don’t want—”
“No, it’s good. It’s fine.” My head reeling, I sank into the chair. “I’ll check with . . . ummm . . . Bett, but I’m sure it will be fine.”
“Is something wrong, Ms. C?”
“Yes.” The words trembled. I felt myself cracking. I wanted to tell her everything, as if somehow this thirteen year old child, who was almost as lost as I was, could fix the problem. “I just . . . I’m going home . . . sick.”
“I’m sorry. I hope you don’t have the flu like Mrs. Mindia.” Behind the words, there was a thread of concern. If you get the flu and go to the hospital like Mrs. Mindia, who’s going to tutor me? Leaning against the door frame, she rested her head near the hinge. “We’re starting a new book in English on Monday. Flowers for Algernon. It looks hard.”
“I’ve read it.” You can’t help them if you’re not here. Stafford’s words echoed in my mind. “It’s a good story. It’s about how difficult it can be, sometimes, to know what’s right.” What’s right . . . ? What is right?
Chewing a fingernail, Dell studied me narrowly, sensing something wrong, unsure how to react. She pushed off the door frame and hovered there. “Do you think we could start working on it at lunch Monday?”
Stafford’s dire warnings repeated in my head. “Next year’s contracts, including yours, come up for renewal at the board meeting Monday night. . . .” “I hope so.”
“Are you sure you’re OK, Ms. Costell?”
“Yes. You’d better go on to class now.”
“ ’Kay.” She turned to leave, then came back and stood absently toying with a pen on the corner of my desk. “Keiler went around with me this morning, and we asked my teachers for my grades.” Her lips twitched upward. “ ‘B’ in math—I did good on the test Wednesday—’C’ in social studies and science, ‘A’ in vocal, instrumental, and chorus, and Mrs. Morris doesn’t have her grades figured yet, but she told Keiler I was doing better.” The smile bloomed fully, like a flower caught in time-lapse photography. “That’s not too bad.”
A nugget of joy slipped into the oily soup of the morning, glittering out of place in the darkness. “That’s not bad at all.” Reaching across the desk, I squeezed her hand. “You’re on your way, kid. You just keep with the study plan and next nine weeks you’ll see even more improvement.”
Shifting uncomfortably, she looked away, then back. “I have to do better the next time. To stay in chorus and to have a solo in Spring Fling, you have to have ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades. You’re still going to help me, aren’t you?”
An invisible vise tightened around my throat. What if I wasn’t here? What would happen to Dell? Would she be able to get by with Barry’s help, and Keiler’s, if he stayed on as a sub? Who would Dell talk to if her adoption became complicated by the appearance of a father, and she didn’t feel comfortable confiding in her foster parents? What about all the other kids at Harrington? What about Cameron? If I wasn’t here, I couldn’t even attempt to convince him to come clean with his parents.
Then again, if I stayed at Harrington under Stafford’s terms, I couldn’t either.
“I plan to,” was the only answer I could come up with. “You’d better head to class now.”
“ ’Kay,” she replied, shooting a final look of concern over her shoulder as she left. “Hope you feel better, Ms. C. See you Monday.”
“Have a good weekend.” My stomach constricted until I felt hollow inside. This weekend was going to be anything but good.
Packing the rest of the grant materials into a box, I headed for the door without bothering to put on my jacket and without stopping to say a word to anyone. I burst through the front exit and onto the steps, feeling as if I couldn’t stand the scent of textbooks and lockers, plaster and aging woodwork a moment longer. A burst of March wind pushed me down the steps to my car, and I left without looking back.
I was almost home when I remembered that I was supposed to pick up Bett’s wedding dress today. Exiting the highway, I headed back downtown, perversely relieved by the diversion. I wasn’t ready to calmly analyze Stafford’s ultimatum yet, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Arriving home so early would only prompt a conversation with Mom. With the extra delay of going back for the dress, I would get home after Mom left for her Friday bridge game. Neither she nor Dad would return until suppertime. I would have the afternoon to sort things out in private.
When I reached the cleaner’s, the street was quiet. The undercover police car was nowhere in evidence, and for a split second, I had the perverse thought that I’d imagined the whole thing. Inside the cleaner’s, neither Mim nor Granmae was present. I struggled to gain a grip on what was real as the young woman behind the counter brought out the dress and hung it on the counter hook.
“Here it is,” she said. She had Granmae’s smile. “Granmae’s newest masterpiece. She said that if it doesn’t fit with the alterations you had marked, have the bride bring it in next week and we can adjust it. Granmae will be sorry she wasn’t here to give it to you herself. She had to go to a funeral today.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I had a subtle awareness that in spite of my own cataclysmic day, the world was still turning, life playing all the normal rhythms. “Tell her I’ll snap a picture of my sister in the dress and bring it by next Friday, when I pick up the rehearsal flowers.”
The young woman found the bill and laid it on the counter, widening her eyes and whistling at the total. “They got you for dress restoration and flowers, huh? I’ll tell you what, I don’t even know why I’m in nursing school. I just need to hang around Granmae and Mim. They can talk more people into more stuff.”
“Actually, I had to talk them into this one,” I said, running my finger along the carefully restored lines of golden pearls before pulling out my checkbook. “This dress was almost too far gone to save, but it’s going to mean a lot to my sister. She’s always wanted to wear it.”
The salesgirl smiled, punching the calculator to add tax to the bill, then writing it on the receipt. “Listen, none of them are too far gone for Granmae. I’ve seen her take half an old dress that got burned in a fire, and rebuild around it. She just likes to make a big deal about how hard it’ll be, so that when you get the bill, you’re not shocked.” Grinning, she turned the slip of paper around and slid it across the counter.
Four hundred and twenty-five dollars seemed a surprisingly small price for a dream, and now, seeing the dress, I knew we would have gladly paid twice as much. “It’s worth every penny.”
“Granmae’s work always is.” Craning her neck, she read my check number, leaned across the counter, and wrote it on the bill. “Don’t make the payment out for any extra, either, or Grandmae will just hang onto it until you come write her a new one. That’s the way she is. She doesn’t take any charity. Just honest work. I don’t know how much the flowers will be. You can pay Mim for them next week.”
“All right.” Finishing the check, I handed it to her, then waited for her to secure the gown in a zip-up dress bag. She carried it out and hung it in the backseat of my car, then thanked me for the business. As I left, a Lexus pulled in bearing another young bride-to-be, her mother, and a garment bag, undoubtedly containing a wedding dress that had seen better days.
On the way home, I tried to focus on Bett and the wedding, and the whirlwind of last-minute preparations that were to be taken care of this weekend. One thing was for sure: Neither Bett nor my parents needed the added burden of knowing what was happening with my job. Stafford’s ultimatum was a decision with which no one could help me, anyway.
“In the end, your life comes down to your own conscience,” Sister Margaret had said. “Only you can choose where you will bend and where you will stand firm.”
Was now the time to bend or the time to stand firm? How was I to know?
I sifted through my options over and over again. None of them felt real. It seemed impossible that I would leave Harrington, yet I could not imagine telling Cameron and his parents that everything was fine, turning a blind eye to drug use at the school, however pervasive it was, and simply waiting until some outside force blew the situation wide-open. There had to be another way.
I tried to imagine what it would be, tried to draw the answer from thin air and a vapor of hope that somehow everything would turn out all right. My mind was a million miles away as I drove home, carried my belongings into the empty house, and cleaned up Joujou’s latest protest in the entryway. Bringing in the wedding dress, I took it from the garment bag, and hung it on the curtain rod next to the guest bed, in all its glory. With Joujou in my lap, I settled into a chair in the corner, looking at the dress. Following the curving lines of lace and pearls, I imagined my mother’s hands creating it, Granmae’s and Mim’s bringing it back to life, making it beautiful and whole and allowing it to serve a purpose again.
If such a thing were possible with an old dress, how much more was possible with my life?
Closing my eyes, I let my thoughts drift. In my lap, Joujou was already murmuring and twitching in her sleep, and I felt myself slipping away also. . . .
When I woke up, Mom and Bett were standing in front of the wedding gown. The fabric rustled softly as Bett took the dress from the hanger and held it against herself, her brown hair spilling over the beadwork.
“Put it on,” Mom murmured. “We’ll surprise her when she wakes up.” I closed my eyes again as Bett turned my way. Beneath the shadow of lashes, I watched as my sister slipped into her dream, and Mom fastened the back. When Bethany turned around, I couldn’t pretend any longer. With an audible intake of breath, I sat up, and my sister’s eyes met mine.
“It’s perfect,” she whispered, and in that moment, everything else fell away. There was only my sister and me, and one rare and precious instant in which everything was as it should be. Setting Joujou down, I came across the room and hugged her. Mom wrapped her arms around both of us. From the doorway, Dad smiled at me, flashed the OK sign, and then walked away wiping his eyes.
After that, the weekend descended into a whirlwind of last-minute wedding plans and preparations. The hum of activity and the sheer volume of details helped keep my mind off the problems at Harrington. Both Bett and Mom eventually picked up on the fact that something was not right with me. They knew me well enough to see that, mentally, I was elsewhere.
On Sunday night, Bett hugged me extra hard before she left. “I love you,” she said, pressing her lips together in a tender I’m-not-going-to-cry frown. “Thanks for everything you’ve done for the wedding. I couldn’t have a better maid of honor . . . or sister.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, feeling that in some small way, I’d made up for all the times I’d let her down in the past. “I love you, too, Bett.”
Giving me a final hug, she went out the door. I was still standing in the entryway, reveling in the glow of sister love, contemplating one of our baby pictures on the wall, when Bett rushed back in.
“There’s a guy on a motorcycle out here, and he says he’s a friend of yours.” Her voice was hushed, so as not to alert Mom, Dad, and Joujou in the living room. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she quirked a brow.
“A guy on a motorcycle . . .” I repeated hesitantly. “I don’t know. . . .”
“Kind of tall, brown hair, nice smile.” Wheeling her hands in front of herself, Bett glanced toward the crack in the door. “Has a cast on one foot . . .”
“Keiler?” Slipping past my sister, I walked outside. Keiler was next to Bethany’s car, leaning casually against his Harley as if it were perfectly natural for him to be in my parents’ driveway. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest. “I was in the neighborhood, and . . .”
“James and Karen don’t live near here,” I countered, vaguely aware that Bett was behind me, watching the interplay and waiting for an introduction.
Keiler grinned mischievously, and my heart bubbled up like soda pop, slightly shaken. “I wanted to see how you were doing. I heard you went home sick Friday.”
My sister glanced sideways at me, confused. She knew I wasn’t sick on Friday.
I had that old sense of being entangled in a lie, and out of habit, the first thing I did was offer up a diversionary tactic. “How did you know where I lived?”
“Looked it up on the employee database. Want to go get a cup of coffee or something?”
“Sure,” I chirped, then blushed, because the word conveyed over-the-top enthusiasm.
Behind me, Bett cleared her throat, and Keiler looked at her like he hadn’t realized she was there. Stepping forward, he smiled and extended his hand. “Keiler Bradford.”
“Bethany Costell,” Bett said, giving him the once-over, then cutting her gaze toward me.
“I’m sorry.” Bethany’s interested look spurred me into action. “Keiler, this is my sister, Bethany, and Bett, this is Keiler. He’s a new substitute teacher at Harrington. Actually, he saved me from having to teach algebra all week.”
“Eeewww.” Bett curled her lip.
“Math can be fun.” Keiler raised a finger to punctuate his point.
A charmed chuckle twittered past Bett’s lips.
“Keiler’s the one who’s going to play guitar accompaniment for the wedding soloist,” I interjected, then swiveled back to him. “Dell did ask you about that, didn’t she?”
“Sure. We’ve already been practicing. That girl can sing, I’ll tell you. I’m amazed every time she opens her mouth.”
“Sounds wonderful.” Taking a step toward her car, Bett gracefully bowed out of the conversation. “Well, listen, I’ll leave you to visit. I have about a million things to do at home.”
“Nice to meet you.” Keiler shook Bett’s hand.
I leaned over and hugged her. “Night, Bett.”
“Nice smile,” she whispered in my ear. “I’ll call later—I want the dish.”
Having the mortifying feeling Keiler could hear, I yanked the back of her hair, and she came away rubbing her head.
“Talk to you later, sis. Nice to meet you, Keiler.” Waving good-bye, Bett pulled out of the driveway, and I went into the house to grab a coat and tell Mom and Dad I was going out for a cup of coffee. They assumed I was going out with Bett, so I escaped the usual grilling.
When I came back out, Keiler was waiting on the Harley.
I gave the black beast a wary look. “I don’t mind driving. . . .”
He revved the engine. “C’mon, live a little. It’s a nice night for a ride. I saw a Starbucks by the highway exit.”
Glad that the coffee shop was nearby, I hopped on behind him. As we wound through the twilight-dim neighborhood streets, I discovered that I liked riding a motorcycle much better than I ever thought I would. Keiler’s body was warm against mine, and the rush of cool March breeze filled my ears and cleared my mind, so that when we arrived at Starbucks, I was flushed and invigorated.
“That wasn’t so bad,” I admitted, as we ordered cappuccinos and took a table in the back.
“Guess I should have asked if you were still sick.” Tossing his hair out of his eyes, he looked pointedly at me, gauging my reaction. “A motorcycle ride in the cold might not be the best thing.”
“I wasn’t sick Friday, Keiler.” I stirred my cappuccino, watching the steam rise. “Something happened.”
“I gathered as much. It had to do with Cameron’s incident in the hall last Thursday, am I right?”
“How did you know?”
He glanced away. “I have my sources,” he answered evasively, then looked back at me. “But mostly, I’m just guessing. I saw you Friday morning. I knew you weren’t sick. Mrs. Jorgenson mentioned the big powwow with Cameron’s mother, and Cameron was seriously lying low all day Friday. Basically, I put two and two together, being the math teacher that I am. I was going to wait and see you Monday, but I was out riding this evening, and I thought about you, and ended up here.” Taking a sip of his coffee, he pushed it forward, then rested both hands in his lap and leaned across the table. “So what’s going on, Julia?”
I gazed up at the ceiling, exhaling a long breath. “It’s bad. It’s really bad.” I was told the story as Keiler sat listening intently. He seemed quick to understand, slow to judge, and as I recounted Friday’s happenings, a thousand pounds seemed to drop from my shoulders. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow,” I said finally, then added as an afterthought, “I’m sorry to dump all of this on you.”
If Keiler felt staggered by the burden, it didn’t show. He frowned thoughtfully into his cappuccino, which was probably growing cold. “That’s a serious dilemma.” Stretching a hand across the table, he laid it over mine. “I don’t know what I’d do. I really don’t. But I do know that the kids need you there.”
“That’s the problem,” I admitted. “This job is about more than just what I want or what I think; it’s about the kids. I’ve found the place I’m supposed to be. This is what I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life—I’m sure of it. I got here by accident, but I’m needed, you know?”
“I don’t think anything happens by accident.” Keiler’s eyes were soft and large, filled with a kinship I couldn’t explain. “You understand those kids because of everything you’ve been through. You can relate to their dreams, you know their fears, you’ve experienced the kind of pressure they’re under.” His fingers molded around my hand, and I felt the warmth of the circle, a bond of friendship that told me I wasn’t alone. “You’re a great dancer, Julia. I have to admit, the first time I saw you at Jumpkids, I thought, Why is this beautiful girl, with this incredible talent, hanging around some high school, working as a guidance counselor? But it didn’t take me one day at Harrington to see how good you are there. You’re the one who can make the difference.”
His praise, his belief in me made tears tighten my throat. I swallowed hard, rubbing my forehead, trying to smooth the tangle of conflicting emotions. “I want to be there, Keiler, but I can’t imagine telling Cameron and his parents that everything is fine—that nothing went on last Thursday. What if something happens to him? What if he gets in a car with some friend who’s as messed up as he was last week, and they have a wreck and kill themselves, or someone else? All of that’s in my head, and I can’t get past it. I can’t do it. I can’t lie about what I saw.”
Keiler nodded, chewing the side of his lip. “Then I guess you have your answer.” As if it were simple. Go with your conscience. No compromises. No gray areas.
“But if I leave Harrington, I can’t help the kids at all. I can’t be there for Dell, or Cameron, or anyone else.” The idea seemed as unimaginable as lying to Cameron’s parents. Tears welled over and trickled down my cheeks, and I wiped them impatiently. “Sometimes I wonder if Stafford is right—if I’m abandoning the kids so I can sit on my high horse. Maybe I should just play the game—do what I can.”
Giving my fingers one last reassuring squeeze, Keiler broke the connection and folded his hands in his lap, leaving me alone on my side of the table.
“I can’t tell you which way to go, Julia,” he said softly. “That choice has to come from you. You have to decide what you can live with. But beyond that, I’ll listen, I’ll pray, I’ll tell you that all this is happening for a reason.”
“I can’t imagine the reason,” I admitted, wishing I had his faith.
“Give it time,” he said with calm assurance. There was an incredible sense of relief in finally having shared the whole story with someone, in not being trapped in this mess alone. “The answers don’t always come according to our self-imposed schedule. You ought to know that. You’re the professional counselor here. I’m just a substitute algebra teacher.”
Sniffling back the tears, I managed a trembling smile. “I’m so glad you’re here.” In spite of everything, Keiler Bradford could still make me laugh.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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