Welcome to a long overdue new piece of flash fiction! Chuck Wendig charged us to use a random phrase from a phrase generator and use it in a story. My phrase is “seventy interlocking”, so be on the lookout for that.
For extra fun, I decided to use one of my characters from The Fourth Descendant. It takes place after that story and contains spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book and plan to, skip this story for now.
“Mommy, come on!” Grant grabs my hand and pulls me towards his classroom. “I’m a giraffe!”
I let him drag me through the crowd and towards a rectangular table at the back of the room with a paper giraffe hanging over it. He plops into a tiny chair and smiles hugely at me; his eyes nearly close in his exaggerated expression.
I laugh and crouch next to him, picking up the Welcome to Kindergarten packet his teacher left in his spot. I flip through the papers while I wait for the presentation to start. Grant colors a picture of a school bus.
As I read the daily schedule page, someone taps my arm. Sophie’s standing next to me.
“What are you doing here? Your teacher can’t be done yet.”
She shrugs and hands me the Back to School Night packet from her classroom. “Daddy said he has to leave. He told me to come here.”
I walk to the classroom door and glance towards the door of the kindergarten wing, framed by the chain of seventy interlocking paper rings, one for each kindergartner in the school. Mark makes eye contact, turns, and leaves.
Figures. I barely convinced him to come to the school with us tonight. In his words, he didn’t want to pretend to be something we weren’t – a family. We haven’t been that for over a year.
Upon returning to the table, I give Sophie a hug, and as Grant’s teacher starts speaking, whisper in her ear, “I’m sorry, honey. We’ll stop by your classroom after this.”
She nods, seemingly unperturbed by her father’s quick exit. “My teacher is a man. He’s tall,” she whispers back.
While Grant’s teacher talks about pickup procedures, lunch, and homework, all things I know about already, I look at Sophie’s packet from Mr. Cole’s classroom.
I’d had a moment of hesitation when I learned her second grade teacher was a man, but not for a good reason. Men don’t teach young kids was my only argument, and it was a poor one. Why shouldn’t men teach at the elementary level? Many kids lack a positive male role model in their lives.
Kids like mine, for example.
I swallow the lump in my throat as Grant’s teacher takes questions from the new parents. She knows I’m not new, so I offer a polite wave with the papers as I escort the kids out of the room.
Grant pulls my arm. “Mommy, she wasn’t done.”
“I know how kindergarten works, honey. And we need to meet Sophie’s teacher, since Daddy had to go.” I smile at her. “We don’t know how second grade works, do we?”
Sophie giggles, grabs my hand, and leads me through the hall to the second grade wing. It has three classrooms, just like the kindergarten wing. She takes me to the farthest one.
We sneak through the door and stand in the back. A tall, black man stands in front of the room, referencing a Power Point and discussing the reading curriculum.
Sophie pulls on my arm until I bend over. She leans towards my ear. “That’s Mr. Cole.”
I smile and nod, then return to standing. As I watch Mr. Cole, my heart races as a realization hits me.
He reminds me of Damien.
My throat feels tight, and my palms sweat. I can’t comprehend what Mr. Cole says, though certain words and mannerisms bring my mind back to the man I loved briefly and intensely. If Damien hadn’t been murdered in front of me, he would be my daughter’s current positive male role model.
My eyes burn, and I tell the kids to stay put while I retreat into the hall. Leaning against the wall, I take deep breaths as images flash in my mind, so clear they could be memories formed yesterday.
I allow a few tears to escape as parents and students start filing out of the classroom. My children are not among them.
When the crowd around the door dissipates, I return to the room. Sophie and Grant are near the front, sitting at a desk. Sophie’s desk, I assume. She’s offering a wide smile to her brother as she shows off her supplies and points to things around the room.
I stand in place, watching them.
The voice to my right draws my attention: Mr. Cole offers a hand for me to shake. “You must be Sophie’s mom. I’m her teacher, Tyrel Cole.”
I shake his hand, completely aware of how crazy I must look. My eyes are likely puffy, and my nose likes to turn red when I’m upset. “Yes. Michelle.” I look up and connect with his eyes. Up close, his similarities to Damien are less obvious – he’s taller, and his eyes are wider. He seems to enjoy interacting with people, a far cry from Damien’s introverted nature.
“I met her father, I believe. But he left right away.”
His voice and inflections are just like Damien’s, though.
I nod. “He keeps a strange schedule. Don’t expect to talk to him much. Sophie spends most of her time with me.”
He smiles. “I see. I look forward to working with you.” After a lingering look – one I attribute to confusion, not attraction – he walks away, heading to speak with another parent.
I release a long breath, retrieve the kids, and we begin our walk home.
This will be an interesting year.