Emerald went back into her classroom and sat down. She wouldn’t leave the district in a bind like this. After about twenty minutes of sitting there alone, she figured that they’d all gone home. She was putting her things back on the desk when the parents, all of them, came into her room. Emerald wanted to sob, they all looked so upset with her.
“I’m terribly sorry. You have every right to be upset with me. I should never have said those things to you, nor should I have threatened to quit. I’m so sorry.” Mr. Basel shook his head. “If you call the board in the morning, they’ll tell you that I’ve given my notice. This was—”
“Christ, don’t do that.” She stepped back when he shouted at her. “I mean, please don’t do that. We were…well, I was wrong to talk to you that way. We’ve been talking and it seems that none of us have been all that helpful to you at all. None of the teachers, as a matter of fact.”
She sat down when he did. The rest followed. “I’m not even a part of this district, but I’m sure there are a lot of them like this one. On the verge of closing down.”
“We got that. Some of us…Charlie here is gonna come in after he gets off work in the morning and clean up the rooms. Millie is going to make sure that the bathroom is clean on her way home from her job.” Emerald started to speak, but he cut her off by standing up again. “Now you listen here. We already have this worked out and you’re gonna do what we say for a change. Mark there is going to work on the school yard stuff. He said he noticed that some of them swings are in poor shape. He’ll get some of his buddies to help you out. Here.”
He shoved an envelope at her, and she was afraid it was cash, but it was written on and she read down the list. They were coming in and this was the schedule. Tears pooled in her eyes, and Emerald had to wipe them twice before she could look at them.
“This will help so much.” Two of the women nodded and told her they’d bring in snacks when they came in too. “I don’t know what to say.”
Mr. Basel laughed and looked around the room before speaking. “That would be the first time since I met her. She ain’t done nothing but jabber on since I came in tonight.”
She got up and let the map that was at least fifty years old slide up on the roller. She was so embarrassed to let them see what the “artists” thought of her naked, but it was there and they all had a right to know. She turned to look at them when no one said anything.
“I don’t know who did it. It’s paint, so I have to have someone come in and take care of it for me. I’m not able to…well, I’ve been trying to deal with this, and it might have gotten the better of me.” She pulled the map back down. “I have been conducting interviews about it, and no one knows a thing.”
“You let us take care of that too.” Millie Shaw stood up. “I got me an idea who might have done that, or at least the ring leader, and I’ll have a talk with his momma. You see that I don’t. Shameful the way kids act today.”
“You don’t have to do that.” She only nodded and sat back down. “I’m overwhelmed by this. I can’t thank you enough for the support you’ve shown me tonight.”
It wouldn’t last though. Emerald wasn’t so naive that she thought they’d do as they said. It was summer after all. But when they left, they each said they’d help all they could and would talk to the other parents as well. Emerald nodded. Mr. Basel was the last to leave.
“Shayla will read tonight and every night. I promise you. She’s been slacking on her other grades too. Too much phone time, I’m thinking.” She said nothing, as she’d had to take his daughter’s phone from her several times these past two weeks. “With me out of a job, there won’t be a phone for her to play on anyway.”
“Call my brother-in-law, Josh Ewing. He’s looking for some laborers. I’m not sure what they’re doing, but perhaps they might have something for you.” He nodded and turned to look at her as he made his way to the door. “Thank you, Mr. Basel. You’ve made my night.”
“Shouldn’t have messed it up for you.” He nodded toward the map. “I’ll be in tomorrow to get that off the wall for you. I know a few tricks.”
She nodded and led him out of the building. The guard was there and locked up when she told him that she was finished for the night. Going back to get her things, she wondered if she’d have anyone next week to help out with everything. There were all kinds of things going on then, and she could really use the help. The testing for the state was all the board seemed to be focusing on anymore, and she was worried about the kids that were struggling.
Jul Whitney’s head was pounding, and he thought perhaps he might be having a nervous breakdown too. This was the day…hell, it was the week from hell, and he wasn’t sure how much more of it he could take. Glancing at his desk calendar, he groaned. It was only Tuesday. What the hell was he going to do with the rest of the week? “You should know that there are five more men coming in today. And none of them are as qualified for the job as they think they are.” Jul glared at his assistant, Colby Bass. “I told you not to run an ad in the paper. You should have hired a firm to find someone to replace Mr. Williams if you really need to have a partner. This is not the way to go.”
Daniel Williams had been his partner up until nine months ago. But he’d decided that life, his life, was not what he wanted flashing before his eyes when he passed from this world to the next. It was boring, he’d told Jul, and he wanted something exciting.
He’d had a massive heart attack, and was lucky to have been visiting his daughter at the hospital when it had happened or he’d be dead. Now he was giving up the business, selling out, and going to retire to parts as yet unknown. And Jul was going to have to replace him. “Why?” He looked at Colby. “Why are you even looking for someone to come in and take half of what you make? Unless you like giving away your money. Do you? But I know you can do this. You did it the entire time Mr. Williams was in the hospital, didn’t you?”
“That was different.” Colby asked him how. “Because I knew he was coming back to help out. Besides, what do I do for a vacation should I want one?”
“I wouldn’t know. The five years I’ve been here, you’ve never taken one. Nor have you taken any time off, so far as I can see.” Colby stood up and smiled at him. “You’re just simply a workaholic. And while that’s wonderful when you want to buy whatever you want because your bank account is bigger than the national debt, you can’t meet a woman and settle down if you work all the time.”
“You’re what, twenty-five, twenty-six? What do you know about settling down and having a woman?” Colby took out his phone and shuffled around on it before handing it to him. The woman there was beautiful, as were the three children, two boys and a little girl.
“I’m thirty-one. Been married to my high school sweetheart, Dawn, for the past twelve years, and we have three children as of now. Best thing that has ever happened to me.” He took back the phone and looked at the picture. “Yes, sir, the best thing that can happen to anyone.”
“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a husband for anyone. I’m too…set in my ways.” Colby nodded. “You know, you could have disagreed just a little. I mean, I am your boss, you know. But you’re right, I do work too much. And get me whatever information you have on me going solo on this business and I’ll look it over.”
“It’s on your computer. I uploaded it yesterday. Look under ‘Get rich all by yourself.’ That should help you a great deal.” Jul opened the file and looked up at Colby.
“You should be my partner.” Colby shook his head and shivered. “Too much for you? Well, I got news for you…I can’t run this without you.”
“You’re right, you couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that I want to be a partner with you. You’re a very good businessman, smart, articulate, and you have an amazing sixth sense about wine and food, but you work too hard, and I’d have to try and keep up with you. And I won’t do that.” Jul understood and nodded. “Besides, who would set up your meetings and keep you sane?”
“No one like you can.”Colby thanked him and left him. Jul knew that if there were any more interviews today, Colby would cancel them. He was deep in the file, making notes and writing out questions, when his mom walked in the room. If she knocked, which she seldom did, he didn’t hear her.
“I’ve been out talking with that young man of yours. I think he’s right, you should just run this alone.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled at her. “You’re doing a bang-up job now. And what’s to say you won’t be better at it?”
“Dan was Dad’s partner. They ran this company before me here in the states and back in France where the winery is. I don’t know what to do on my own.” Which was a lie. He’d just read notes indicating that he knew just what he was doing. “What if I fucked up and lost it all?”
“You have more money than you can spend in five lifetimes. A house on every continent in the world. Credit cards for those things you don’t have cash for, which would thrill me to no end if you’d spend some of it on yourself.” He grinned at her. “I got the deed this morning. Why on earth would you buy such a thing for me?”
“Because I love you. And you said you wanted it. It’s a lovely house. I stayed there last summer when I was in France for business.” She nodded and smiled at him. “When do you leave?”
“Later tonight. But not directly to the house. There’s a friend of mine I’m going to go and see. I just found her on that social network I’ve been playing on. Her son and daughter-in-law were killed some time back and she raised their children. Six lovely girls. Imagine that.”
“I’m not getting married so you can have grandchildren.” She huffed at him. “Besides, you can go and play with hers and you won’t have to worry about dirty diapers.”
“I’d love to change a dirty diaper of one of my grandchildren. And to set the record straight, she has great grandchildren. You remember her, Annabelle Erickson.” Vaguely. He nodded, frowning. “You remember her son, then. He played ball at the high school when you were just in grade school. Your father loved taking you to those games.”
“I remember that. I never met the guy before.” She nodded as if she knew that. “Why are you going there now? I thought you would have left this morning to get the place in order. Is she ill or something?”
“No. She’s just someone from my past, the past I had with your father, and I want to see her. She’s excited about me coming for a bit, and I am too.” Jul nodded and wondered what was really going on. His mom was a wonderful person, but she rarely did anything without having an ace up her sleeve. “You should come with me.”
“I can’t. I’m going to…I’ve decided not to take on a partner and to run this place on my own, as you and Colby have suggested.” Her smile lit up the room. “I’m not sure I can do it. I might have to get a partner later on.” “You’ll do better than your father did. I know it. He had a good head on his shoulders too, but you shine with it. If this business hasn’t doubled its income by six months, then you’re not trying as hard as you should.” She went to the door. “It’s only three now. I should be there by ten tonight. I’ve left the information to where I’m going with Colby. Should you need me or want to come and see me, I’ll be there for about a week. I want to catch up. I’m headed straight to the airport now and should be there in about an hour.”
“Have a good time, Mom. I’ll see you when you get back.” She stared at him for several seconds before turning and leaving him. Jul wanted to call her back and ask her why it was so important for him to go with her, but he didn’t. Instead, he opened up his file again and started reading. It was nearly midnight when he left his office. He’d made the decision to keep the business his own about nine-thirty, and began making some calls overseas to see if the grapes and other things that he needed to make their product was on line to get a production here in the United States going soon. He wanted it close to home as well as in France. But here, he wanted to start something new.
It was the plan he’d proposed to Dan some years ago…to produce not only the best wine and champagnes in the world, but anything else that would be eaten with them. They had a line of crackers and cheeses now that sold as well as, and in some places better than, any of their single wines. He was very proud of that. But he wanted to bring that part of the business here to the States. It was something that he and Dan had been talking about before he’d gotten ill.
Jul was on his way to his car when he felt something jab him in the back
“Give over your wallet.” Jul turned to see what the person had said to him when he told him to stand still. “Just give me the wallet and nobody gets hurt.”
“You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t have a wallet. No cash either.” He laughed quietly. “As for you thinking no one is going to get hurt, you’re wrong about that. I plan to beat the living shit out of you as soon as I turn around.”
“I have a gun.” Jul laughed again, and the man poked him in the back. “Do you feel that fucker? I have a gun.”
“Nah, a hair brush. I thought at first you might just be using your finger, but that’s too big for that. It’s your hair brush, or your mom’s.” The man hit him in the back with something hard. “Yep, hairbrush.”
The shot rang out, and Jul felt pain in his left side. He didn’t think about that as he turned quickly and popped the gunman/would-be robber in the face with his briefcase. Then when he was going down, Jul kicked him in the head hard enough to shove him back against the pillar that was holding up the floors above.
The man didn’t move, and Jul’s had a sudden wave of dizziness as he noticed the gun still curled in the guy’s fingers. Christ, it was fucking big. Pulling out his cell phone as he kicked the gun away, he called the police, then the front gate. He had no idea how the guy had gotten in, but now that he was here, he was going to be dealt with. After the guard told him he’d let the police in, Jul called his mom.
“I’ve been shot. I didn’t want you to read about it in the papers and worry.” She asked him what he was doing calling her and not going to the hospital. “I’m waiting on the police. They’ll have to deal with him.”
His head spun, and he had to grab onto something or fall. His mom was talking, but he had no idea what she was saying to him. Just as he started to notice that the floor was becoming extremely close to him, he heard the siren getting closer. Jul dropped the phone as his mom was screaming something about murdering him when she got there.
“I’m sorry,” he said just as the lights in his mind shut out.