Drenched in Light | Chapter 31 of 37

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

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Chapter 23
026
By Monday morning, the answers still weren’t clear, and I was running out of time. I left for work early, needing a quiet place to think. When I got there, the administration offices were still dark, and the janitorial staff was sweeping the floors. Down the hall in the auditorium, a girl’s ensemble was practicing, and someone was playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the piano. I listened for a moment before slipping into my office and closing the door behind me, as if that could keep out the realities of the day. It only shut out the music, of course. Everything else came inside with me. I stood looking at the file cabinets, the plaster walls, the cluster of ladybugs in the corner, the piled-up in-box. All of it seemed foreign, as if I’d been gone for a month rather than three days.
I tried to imagine being gone forever.
When I turned to my desk, there were two sheets of spiral notebook paper resting atop my Dayminder, weighted down with a stapler. They fluttered slightly in the draft from the air vent as I picked them up.
As usual, Dell’s essay didn’t have a title. It was just her thoughts, like an entry in a journal, all of which would have remained locked inside her if Mrs. Morris hadn’t brought the first one to my office. God can make good ends from bad motives—a quote from Sister Margaret.
Sitting down in my chair, I started to read.
I found out this morning that my father had a name. Thomas Clay. He was somebody real. He signed the paper when I was born, and so he knew about me. He must have cared a little bit to do that, but not enough to stay.
Twana Stevens explained it all to me real slow, like maybe I couldn’t understand it, but I do. She says they have looked for him, but they can’t find him. Now the courts will do some things, so I can be adopted by James and Karen. She asked if I thought I’d want to change my last name, and I said yes, I would. Jordan isn’t a very good name.
So, I’ll be Dell Sommerfield. I may put my father’s name in the middle. I’ll have to think about it. Twana says that his last name should have been my name all along, but Mama and Granny never did use it.
The funny thing is that now I don’t feel like I care so much about everything that happened before. It’s fading away, like a story you tell about someone who isn’t real, and never was. I think the girl in the river will get smaller until she’s only a tiny piece inside me. That’s good, because it leaves more room for other things.
Karen and I talked for a long time last night. She told me that years ago, she and James were going to have a baby, and they lost it before it was born. She always thought about who that baby would be, if it grew up. What she didn’t know, she says, is that her daughter was growing up all that time, only not the way she thought. She never imagined she’d find her daughter living across the river from Grandma Rose’s farm.
After Karen left my bedroom, I laid there thinking about what she said. If I didn’t have my real mom and dad, I wouldn’t be who I am. If I didn’t meet Karen and James, I wouldn’t be living in the bedroom with the high ceiling and the pretty fan that you don’t really need because the place is air conditioned. It’s OK how things worked out.
Grandma Rose says the secret to a good life isn’t in getting what you want; it’s in learning to want what you get. I’m learning to want what I’ve got and not to think about the rest so much. Maybe the only thing God used my real parents for was thread, so that he could knit me together a certain way for James and Karen. Maybe James and Karen didn’t have a baby so they would have room for me.
I hope someday I’ll see my baby brother, Angelo, again, so I can tell him about the things we used to do together. He ought to know that I cried when he left, and I always missed him, and when Grandma Rose taught me how to pray, I always said prayers for him. Someday I want to tell him that.
But right now I’m here, and I have a good family. Sometimes, when we’re all at the breakfast table, I close my eyes, and I feel just like the girl in the river, like I’m drenched in light from the inside out.
Lots of people don’t ever feel that, no matter where they come from.
Looking at the paper, I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment that was out of keeping with the day. Whatever happened from this point on, there would remain this one fact. I had helped the girl in the river begin to take ownership of her new shoes. If I’d turned a blind eye, as Mrs. Morris and Mr. Stafford wanted me to, it wouldn’t have happened. Harrington might have been one more failure in a long string of disappointments for Dell. Who could say if this would have been the one that closed her off to the possibility of success? To her own right to happiness?
With that question came my answer to the larger dilemma of my future at Harrington. I knew what was right, the same way I’d known it the day Mrs. Morris sent Dell to my office. If I sold out now, I would be serving only myself. Soon enough, I would begin to loathe who I’d become, and I would be right back where I was all those years with the eating disorder. Sitting in my office, holding Dell’s essay, I struck on an epiphany. Dance hadn’t ruined me; the instructor who said that ballerinas should be slim like the willow hadn’t ruined me; and Harrington hadn’t ruined me. Nor had my parents or the question of my biological father. I had ruined myself. I had chosen it. The light comes from the inside out, and so does the darkness. We choose the things that fill us.
It is as simple as that, but it makes all the difference.
It was exactly what Sister Margaret had been trying to tell me in the hospital. I was my own victim. I was poisoning myself, and it was time to stop.
When Mr. Stafford came to my door, I was ready. I was sitting with a packet of Dell’s essays in hand, marked, For Dell Jordan. Personal. I hoped that someday she would share them with her new parents. It would be her choice.
I turned the envelope over on my desk, quickly tucking in a sticky note—Checked your grades this morning, all passing, “C” in English. Good work!—as Stafford came in and slowly closed the door. Smiling hopefully, he took a breath to speak.
I answered without waiting for the question. “I’m not going to do it, Mr. Stafford. It’s wrong. I’m sorry.” His eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed in condemnation, as I went on. “I won’t lie. I know what I saw. I’ll be happy to counsel Cameron and his parents. I’ll talk with them. I’ll help them deal with the issues. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Stafford threw his head back, then yanked it forward again, scratching his temple roughly. “If you go this route, you’ll never get the chance.”
“It’s the only route I can go.” I felt an amazing sense of peace, a certainty in the words.
“You understand that we’re talking nonrenewal of your contract, and most likely either administrative suspension, or immediate dismissal from your job?”
I nodded, feeling far away from Mr. Stafford’s fury, as if someone else were sitting in my chair.
He reached out in a gesture that represented either a plea or a desire to strangle me. “I won’t even be able to give you a reference, Julia. Think about what you’re doing.”
“I understand.” Laying one hand over the other, I folded them neatly on the desk. “I presume that nothing will happen until tonight’s board meeting—that I still have today?”
Nodding vaguely, he crossed his arms over his midsection, glaring around the office, no doubt thinking of all the things I did in a day and who was going to take care of them now.
“I’ll do my best to get the grant application in order,” I told him. “It’s close to being finished.”
Shaking his head, he turned away, dismissing me with a wave of his hand. “Stay away from the students,” he said, then disappeared, slamming the door behind him.
The sound rang through my office like a funeral bell. It was done.
I left the door closed all morning and worked on the grant. Stafford came by before lunch, looking slightly calmer but with a sheen of perspiration glistening on his neck and forehead. He stared at me for a long moment, as if he were considering trying to change my mind, then finally, he said, “I’ll ask the board to accept your resignation. That will look better for you.”
“I won’t resign. They’ll have to fire me. I haven’t done anything wrong. I intend to be there at tonight’s meeting.” The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind all morning. Why just lie down and make this easy for them? Why not show up for the board meeting? Why not sign up for a spot on the pubic agenda, and use my four minutes of allotted time to say what needed to be said?
Stafford looked mortified. “I . . . I don’t think that’s advisable,” he stammered. “There may still be some chance that I can soothe the board . . . tell them you’re inexperienced, that you made a poor judgment call. . . .” His face softened, opened, waiting for a positive response. When I gave none, his expression narrowed again. “Julia, if you show up at the public forum and say anything about Cameron, I guarantee his mother will have you in court before you can say slander. She has her good name to protect, and she can afford high-dollar lawyers.”
Maybe she should stop thinking of her good name, and start thinking about her son. “I would never reveal a student’s personal information,” I said. “I’m not trying to hurt anybody, Mr. Stafford. I’m not trying to send my career up in flames or behave like some irresponsible, impractical hothead. I am concerned about these kids. I’m concerned about Cameron. Whether you want to face it or not, there is a problem here.”
Stafford didn’t answer, just threw up his hands and walked out.
After he was gone, Dell appeared in the doorway, her gaze darting nervously toward the administration office. Clearly, she’d seen Mr. Stafford’s angry exit, and she knew something was wrong.
“Is everything OK?” she asked, picking at one of her fingernails.
“Yeah, Dell, it’s OK.” The words sounded hollow.
She pursed her lips into a solemn pout. “Keiler said you might not be able to work with me at lunch today.”
The comment stung, and as much as I’d thought I was prepared to leave Harrington, the idea quickly became painful. After today, this office might not be mine anymore—would not be mine. Barring a miracle, there seemed to be no way out. “I . . . can’t today,” I admitted, wondering what else to say. It seemed unfair to let her think that tomorrow things would go on as normal. At the same time, I couldn’t share confidential school business with a student. As soon as the school board meeting was over, the rumor mill would go wild. I felt the need to explain to Dell. “Dell, I want you to know that the grades this nine-week period came from you, from your hard work. You even earned a ‘C’ in English—I checked this morning. That didn’t happen by magic, and I didn’t do it. You did. You need to remember that, if things . . .” I searched for a word, a way to make her understand without telling her what was happening. “If things change, and I can’t tutor you every day, I don’t want you to quit. You’ve got Barry, and Keiler, and your folks. They’ll work with you anytime you need it.”
Her dark brows drew together. “But you’re going to help me sometimes, too, aren’t you?”
“Of course I will.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. “Don’t worry, OK?”
She studied me as if she knew there was more I wasn’t saying, then finally turned to leave. “ ’Kay.” Slanting one last glance over her shoulder, she added, “See you later, Ms. C.”
“See you later.” I watched her disappear through the partially open door.
After a few minutes Barry showed up, asking if I knew where Dell was. When I told him I thought she was looking for him to study over lunch, he smiled and said, “Cool. Glad you’re feeling better, Ms. C.” I thanked him, then got up and closed the door.
The rest of the school day ticked by one class period at a time, the halls silent, then filled with noise, then silent again. I tried to finish the grant application and organize things in my office, though it was a fairly feeble effort. My mind was racing forward to the school board meeting, then back to last week’s incident with Cameron. I pictured him sitting in my office chair, talking out of his head, his eyes glassy, his reactions slow and drowsy, his neck limp, head resting on the wall, the file cabinet, his shoulder. How could anyone ignore that and then face the mirror the next day?
An eternity seemed to pass before the dismissal bell rang. I sat listening as the hall filled with the sounds of day’s end—kids talking, hurried footsteps, lockers slamming, Mrs. Morris screeching above the din. The normal afternoon routine. It was hard to imagine myself somewhere else at this time of day. I wasn’t sure when it had happened, but the rhythm of my life had shifted to include this place.
Someone knocked on the office door. Stafford, I thought, and my pulse raced with nervous adrenaline. Stafford wouldn’t knock. Rubbing a hand over the hammer slamming in my chest, I got up and opened the door.
Keiler was on the other side. “You’re here.” He seemed surprised to have found me in my office. “I saw your door closed this morning and I thought . . .” The look on his face said that he’d assumed I told Stafford to take this job and shove it. Now, he was guessing the opposite—that I’d decided to stay and bend to Stafford’s will. Keiler seemed at a loss for words. “Anyway . . . uhhh . . . Barry came by a while ago and said you were in your office.”
“Doesn’t look like it’ll be my office much longer.” Glancing into the hall, I made sure no one was listening. Kids were still passing with backpacks, but the corridor was rapidly clearing out. “Stafford won’t settle for anything but an apology to Cameron and his parents. He’s ready to play hardball about it. He’s talking nonrenewal of my contract and suspension or dismissal for the rest of the year. So, barring a miracle, I’m out of here.” The tough-career-girl facade fractured momentarily, causing the last sentence to tremble.
“I didn’t think you’d cave in.” The admiration in Keiler’s tone bolstered some sagging part of me.
“I told him I wasn’t handing him a convenient resignation, either. They’re going to have to fire me, and I intend to be at the school board meeting tonight when they do it. In fact, I’ve already e-mailed the board clerk and signed up for a spot on the agenda during the open forum, so that I can say what needs to be said. Cameron isn’t the only kid in this school with a problem, and not all parents are as blind as the Anslers. Maybe someone will listen.”
Keiler smiled slightly, his brown eyes reflecting the resolute face of a woman who surprised even me. “I’ll come early and get a front-row seat. In fact, I’ll be on the agenda with you, if you want. I haven’t been here long, but long enough to have seen some things. I worked one summer at a youth boot camp, so I know what to look for.” Raising his brows so that they disappeared under the might-have-been-combed hair, he looked ready to attend the big shoot-out, then move on to his next adventure. “I don’t have much to lose. After all, I’m just a sub.”
The idea was surprisingly disturbing—not just because I wanted him to be here for Dell, but because the thought of him getting on his Harley and heading for Michigan made me feel lost. “I don’t want you to do that.” The protest came out too quickly, with too much emotion, and I paused to rein myself in. “Keiler, if I leave, Dell’s going to need you—so will the other kids. You’re good with them. They need somebody . . . real. Please tell me you’ll stay. It would make all of this a little more bearable.”
Shifting uncomfortably, he herded a ladybug toward the baseboard with one sneakered foot. “It won’t be the same with you gone.” He glanced toward the front door, as if he were thinking of making a run for it.
“Please, Keiler. Please don’t leave.”
Crossing his arms over the CATCHIN’ AIR-COLORADO logo on his sweatshirt, he deflated. “I’m not leaving,” he admitted, like he’d known it all along. “But I will be at that school board meeting.”
“It probably isn’t a good idea—for you, I mean,” I said, checking the hallway again. “You shouldn’t be seen here talking to me, either.”
If he was worried, it didn’t show. “See you at the meeting.” With a quick wink, he sauntered off down the hall in his normal unhurried way. I watched him go, then closed the door and finished tidying my office, gathering my personal items on one corner of the desk, and stacking the grant materials on the other. I labeled the piles with sticky notes, in case someone else came to clean out the office. Even as I left and closed the door behind me, it was hard to imagine that reality.
Bett called as I was driving home, and despite the fact that I’d kept my work situation secret all weekend, when my sister asked me if something was wrong, I couldn’t hide the truth any longer. I spilled the whole story, and Bett took it all in.
“I’m going to that meeting with you tonight,” she said when I’d finished unloading my baggage. “These people don’t know who they’re dealing with.”
My sister’s show of bravado made me smile. “Bett, you don’t have to do that. You’ve got so much on your plate right now. You’re getting married this weekend, for heaven’s sake. The last thing you need is—”
“I’m going,” she insisted. “I’ll be at the house when you get there. What time does this school board meeting start?”
“Six thirty.” I wanted to reach through the phone and pull Bett into a big sister hug.
“All right, I’ll see you at Mom and Dad’s. We’ll grab something to eat, and I’ll help you write the speech on the way to the board meeting. They’ll rue the day they ever messed with the Costell sisters.” She ended the call before I could ask her not to tell Mom and Dad. When I called back, I got her voice mail—proof that she was now a Costell sister on a single-minded mission. She’d turned off the cell phone.
By the time I got home, Bett had done exactly the thing I didn’t want her to do: She’d rallied the entire clan. Bett, Jason, Mom, Dad, and Joujou were waiting in the front entry like a mob of Transylvanians ready to storm Dracula’s castle with torches and pitchforks.
They all started talking at once, until finally the chaos was so bad that Joujou threw back her head and wailed like a soprano fire engine.
“Joujou,” Mom scolded, as if the dog were the one making all the racket. “Hush!”
Sneezing, Joujou gave her an offended look.
I took advantage of the break in the melee. “Everyone calm down, all right?”
“I’m calm,” Dad protested. “I’m as calm as I can be. How dare that principal put you in such a position? I’d like to wrap my hands around his neck.”
“And with all the extra time you’ve put into that job,” Mom chimed in with a fire I hadn’t seen in her eyes since Bett and I sneaked out of the house and went to a forbidden party back in junior high. “I have half a mind to call our lawyer. They can’t fire you just because you won’t agree to lie. After all the years of volunteer work I put into that school, they ought to have more respect.” In her arms, Joujou growled in agreement.
Bett bit her lip apologetically, and behind her, Jason widened his eyes and clamped both hands into his hair, no doubt wondering what kind of a lunatic fringe he was marrying into.
By the time we’d grabbed a quick sandwich, and I’d gone through all the details, everyone was calming down somewhat, and the protests on my behalf had ebbed to a dull roar. I tried to convince them that there was no need for the whole family to attend the school board meeting, but it was hopeless. With the exception of Jason, who was fairly neutral, everyone was determined to stand beside me in my hour of need. We left the house at five forty-five in a disorganized caravan—me in the front with Bett riding in my car because she was determined to help me write my speech, Jason following in his car, in case Bett got tired later and needed to go home before the meeting was over, and my parents bringing up the rear, fully committed to staying at the school board powwow until the bitter end.
By six thirty, we’d arrived at the Board of Education Building, signed in on the agenda, and were stationed, at my mother’s insistence, in the front row, where “everyone will know we have nothing to hide.” We looked like the Hatfields ready to take on the McCoys.
As the clock on the back wall struck six thirty, school board members began filing through the doorway behind the board table. I looked around for Stafford in the faculty section, but he was nowhere in evidence. The board members walked to their seats strangely empty-handed—no briefcases, no files, no agenda items. The reason soon became apparent. After calling the meeting to order and waiting for a trio of Girl Scouts to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, the board quickly called an executive session to discuss personnel matters, and adjourned to executive chambers. No doubt Stafford was back there with them. Discussing my future.
Keiler came in and took the last empty seat in the Hatfield row—down at the end beside my mother. Apologizing for being late, he introduced himself to my parents and shook my father’s hand. He’d dressed up for the occasion, donning a shirt with actual buttons and a tie printed with beakers, test tubes, and chemistry equations. I never would have guessed that he even owned such a tie, or any tie, for that matter. He’d dampened his hair and combed it back slick. He looked clean-cut and serious, in spite of the cast on his foot.
My mother seemed thoroughly charmed. She politely explained to him that we were waiting for the board to come out of executive session; then she moved on to asking about his broken foot. He told the ski lift story, and for a moment, the entire affair took on the air of a carnival or a family trip to the theater. Then someone in the aisle tapped me on the shoulder.

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

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