“I apologize for calling you on a Saturday, but I have a situation with one of my teachers. Mrs. Ashton was in a car accident last night.”
“Oh, I hope she’s all right.”
“She’ll make a full recovery. But she’s going to be out for several weeks, and I’m scrambling to try and fill her position. I wondered if you’d be interested in taking over her class while she’s on leave.”
Rachel’s eyes widened. “Yes, yes, of course I would.”
She could see Ethan’s eyebrows go up in question from across the bar, and she held up one finger to signal that she’d let him know momentarily.
“That’s wonderful. We appreciate your willingness to step in. If you’d like to come in a little early on Monday, one of the other teachers will brief you on where the children are.”
“That’s fine. I’ll be there.”
“Okay then, I’ll see you on Monday, and again, thank you.”
“No problem. I’ll see you then.”
She ended the call and then stared up at Ethan, excitement dancing up her spine.
“One of the other teachers is going to be out for a few weeks, and they want me to fill in.”
Ethan was silent for a moment. His words were careful when he spoke. “Do you think this is a good idea? For you to go back to work being pregnant?”
She shot him a look of surprise. It never occurred to her that it wouldn’t be okay.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t,” Ethan hastily added. “And I’m certainly not telling you I don’t want you to work. Even if I don’t,” he added ruefully. “I just want to make sure this is something that doesn’t hurt you or the baby.”
Her tension eased and she smiled. “We’ll be fine. Pregnant women work every single day. If I have to sit at home for my entire pregnancy, I’ll go insane. I’ll never make it. Teaching will give me something to focus on rather than worrying obsessively over the baby.”
Ethan nodded. “I just want you to be sure.”
“I am,” she said resolutely. “Now, I’m going to call Rusty and get going so we aren’t shopping the entire day. I’ve got my heart set on barbeque tonight.”
Rachel checked her text messages and smiled when she saw three from Ethan. Two were checking up on her to see how she was coping at work, and the third was to let her know he’d gotten her an appointment right after school with an obstetrician in Murray, Kentucky, which was not far from where they lived, just across the border.
There was a big women’s clinic in Murray, and she preferred to use it rather than the much smaller hospital and clinic in Paris, Tennessee.
She sent a quick text back saying she’d meet him at the clinic and then turned her attention back to the papers in front of her. It was her planning period, and the classroom was empty of students and eerily quiet.
Her first day had gone well. Far better than she’d anticipated. Oddly, she hadn’t suffered the attack of nerves she had on the day she’d substituted the previous week.
For now, at least, this was her class. These were her kids.
She frowned when she got to the paper of one of the girls in her class. Rachel knew the child to be particularly bright. Her grades reflected a studious nature and someone who took her classes very seriously.
The test hadn’t even been completed. There were doodles up and down the margins. The name had been filled out and the few questions she had answered bore the responses of “I don’t care” or “Who cares?” The rest were left blank, and the paper was worn and crumpled as if the girl had fidgeted and toyed with it the entire testing period.
Rachel put the test to the side, determined to delve further into the matter.
She was absorbed in grading the rest of the test papers when the bell rang, startling her from her concentration. A moment later, the students began to file into the room, and she quickly sought out the girl whose paper had been rife with incorrect and unanswered questions.
Jennifer was her name, and she was a beautiful, shy little girl. Not yet up with most of her classmates who were beginning to experiment with make-up and showing mad interest in boys.
Rachel watched as Jennifer took her seat and hunched over at her desk, not looking anywhere but in front of her.
Something was terribly wrong, and Rachel just hoped it wasn’t too complicated.
It was difficult to continue casually in class without drawing notice to the fact she was preoccupied with Jennifer. The very last thing she wanted was to make the girl uncomfortable or draw attention to her.
When the final bell of the day rang, dismissing the kids to the respective bus and car lines, Rachel breathed a sigh of relief.
“Jennifer,” she called softly when the girl got up to depart the room. “Can I have a moment please?”
Jennifer turned, her eyes wide with alarm. Nervousness radiated from her in tangible waves, and she fidgeted as she approached the desk.
“I won’t keep you long so you won’t miss your bus,” Rachel said gently. “I was looking at your test paper from earlier and wondered what was wrong. It’s not like you not to perform well on an exam. You’re an excellent student with an A average in all subjects.”
Jennifer’s face crumpled as tears flashed in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Kelly. I know what I did was wrong. I was just so angry and upset.”
Rachel put her hand on Jennifer’s and squeezed gently. “I’m more concerned about you than I am one test grade. Is everything okay at home?”
“N-no,” Jennifer sobbed. “My mom and dad are splitting up and it just sucks. They’re so selfish. They fight all the time, and they never think of anyone but themselves. They don’t care about me.”
Rachel’s heart sank as she viewed the devastation in the younger girl’s eyes. Thirteen was such a hard age under any circumstances. Let alone when your entire family was crumbling in front of you.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Rachel said. “I know how upset you must be. I’m sure your mom and dad love you very much. Sometimes adults forget themselves and react emotionally, and often they say things they don’t mean.”
“Maybe,” Jennifer mumbled.
“How about you come in on your lunch break tomorrow, and I’ll let you retake your exam,” Rachel offered.
Jennifer lifted her head, her eyes a little more hopeful than before and not so desolate. “You’d do that for me? I don’t deserve a second chance. I screwed up big time.”
Rachel smiled. “Honey, we all deserve a second chance.”
“Thanks, Ms. Kelly. You’re the best. I’ll be here. Promise.”
“Keep your chin up, okay? Things will get better.”