Love Story, Continued (March 2020, Week 3 Day 7)
“If you’re happy and you know it…” Trina May looked at the circle of four-year-olds with her eyebrows raised, waiting for someone to finish the line. There were five minutes left in the day and all she wanted was to see the back of the children before she broke down into tears.
Masking a sigh, Trina May echoed, “Clap your hands,” and the song continued with the wobbly voices in their own interpretations of the tune. They made their way through sad, mad, and hungry before the bell rang.
“That’s our bell! Say goodbye to your friends and pick up your backpacks.” Trina May stayed in her chair at the top of the rug while the children ebbed and swirled around her and the room. She loved them all and she would miss them.
When the last child cleared the threshold, Trina May closed her eyes and let the silence fill her up. This room had been hers for seven years and she could picture ever inch of it without opening her eyes. The pattern of the circle time rug, the placement of the alphabet letters, where the climbing stones were in Iggy the iguana’s habitat. The only things that changed were the pieces of art the children made and even that followed certain patterns. She put almost as much care into the room as she put into teaching the children themselves, and she wasn’t sure if she’d ever see it again.
Trina May’s eyes fluttered open. “Yes, Ms. Abbot?” Looking over her shoulder was out of the question – she was determined to be off the school grounds before she let tears flow.
“I don’t mean to disturb you, I just thought, well, I just wondered if you might need, might need some help with…things.”
Keeping her voice low and even, Trina May got out of the chair keeping her back to the other teacher. She answered, “thank you, no. I’ll make do on my own.” If things had been different she would have welcomed the help. If things had been different, though, she wouldn’t be packing up her room and leaving the school unlikely to return.
Trina May began dismantling the board furthest from the door and was blissfully unaware of when the other woman left. It only took three boxes to collect all she’d made for the room, all her personal touches. When she finished, she stood, rocking, in the center of the room with her arms wrapped around her middle.
The brusk voice was like a slap in the face and Trina May spun around to face the principal. It was satisfying to watch him whither under her glare even though it didn’t change anything.
“You didn’t have to take everything down.”
Trina May picked up her boxes. “I didn’t touch anything that wasn’t mine to begin with. Do you need to check for yourself?”
“There is no need for hostility, Ms. Taylor. I’m sure you know we are not enemies here.”
“Mr. VonFrentle, you misunderstood. That wasn’t hostility, that was a genuine question based on self-preservation. And the question stands.” The corners of Trina May’s mouth twitched as she watched the small man flush. “Do you,” she repeated in the same even tone, “need to check for yourself?
The man’s mouth opened and closed as if he were a trout surprised to find itself on a riverbank. “No,” he finally sputtered. “I of course trust that you’ve collected your belongings as expected.”
Trina May gave a short nod and started towards the door. It wasn’t until she got within a few inches of him that she realized he wasn’t going to move on his own. She stopped, put her boxes down on the counter next to the door, and clasped her hands together at her waist. “Is there something else you need, Mr. VonFrunle?”
“Ms. Taylor,” he began, puffing his chest up and adjusting the snugness of his garish rainbow tie. “I hope you understand that it is our most sincere hope that we are able to welcome you back to the Central School family in the fall.”
Trina May watched as his mouth flapped its way through what was obviously a prepared speech. The man didn’t have a sincere bone in his body, and the only reason he was going through these motions was in hopes of avoiding a messy lawsuit. She needed to play her part and wait through his rehearsed words.
“…remembering that the good of our students is our highest priority.”
Trina May slid her boxes off the counter and took another step towards the door. This time the pompous man stepped aside and made room for her to exit. She had to listen to him, but she didn’t have to dignify his canned speech with a response. She walked past him and down the hallway, ignoring the sensation of eyes following her progress out of the building.
The parking lot was still mostly full – the other teachers would be lingering over the last day of school – and Trina May had parked in her usual spot furthest from the doors. Each step she took away from the building brought her closer to tears, and there were many steps between her and her car. She shoved the boxes into the back seat and stopped to catch her breath and fight the tears down. When she opened the driver’s side door she found a note sitting on the dashboard. She slid into the car, pulled the door closed, and put her key in the ignition before putting her hand on the note.
“Roses are red, Violets are blue, Onions stink, and so does VonFru. You know that I love you, you know you are right, head home head held high, and I’ll love you tonight. – J.A”
The tears Trina May had been fighting off erupted in a throaty blend of sobs and laughter. She let them take her over until she was spent and clutching at her sides. When she heard two teachers talking excitedly on their way to their cars, Trina May turned the key and threw her car into gear. With the exception of Mr. VonFrunle, she had managed to get this far without awkward goodbyes and she wanted to leave the parking lot before either of them could even wave at her.
Watching Trina May start to dismantle her room was bad enough – coming back into her own classroom was worse. Janice lingered over closing out her room, forcing herself to stop to chat with the other teachers and staff as she worked. Keeping one eye on the clock she arranged books on shelves, reset posters on walls, and adjusted the small figurines on her desk so her room would be just so when she returned in the fall. She knew Trina May had to leave on her own, knew that getting in the way today could render the sacrifice she was making pointless. She shouldn’t even have gone over there when the final bell rang, but not seeing her didn’t seem right, either.
Janice’s classroom was on the second floor and the windows behind her desk looked out over the parking lot. She had spent months watching Trina May walk out to her car – the bright purple Mini with a huge Cthulu decal on the hood and “Choose Happiness” emblazoned across the back window. At first, it really was the car that caught her eye. It didn’t take long for her focus and attention to switch to the woman behind the wheel.
Just as she saw Trina May’s distinctive swagger left the building and started towards her car, Janice’s attention was pulled away from the window by a knock at her door.
“Mr. VonFrunle. What can I do for you?” Janice kept her voice light and forced herself to lay her hands gently on the back of her chair.
“Ms. Abbot, I’m glad I caught you.” He sauntered into her room and squeezed himself behind one of the desks in the row closest to her desk.
Janice masked a sigh as she sat down. “You almost missed me! I’m just about done packing up.”
The expression on the man’s face was too sweet to be trusted as he nodded and looked around the room. “You’ve been a valuable asset to the team for many years, Ms. Abbot. And I have some news – very good news – for you.”
Janice raised her eyebrows and said nothing. The pregnant pause that grew between them made the little man start to squirm. She wasn’t going to make this easy for him.
“Yes. Well.” He shimmied himself out from behind the desk.
Janice imagined a “pop” when he finally extricated himself and feigned a cough to mask the laugh.
“As you know,” he continued unchecked, “We find ourselves down one assistant principal for next year…”
And one stellar preschool teacher, Janice thought to herself, letting her mind wander to the parking lot, wondering if Trina May had found the note.
“…and I’m thrilled to offer you the job.”