Viola avenue, p.3

Viola Avenue, page 3

 part  #9 of  Rose Hill Series


Viola Avenue

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  “How do you do? My name is Ms. Gearhart,” the woman said, stooping to Sammy’s level. “Will you shake my hand?”

  Sammy put his hands behind his back and shrunk from her. The teacher looked at him, Hannah thought, like a biologist looks at the frog she is about to dissect.

  “In my classroom, when you meet a new friend, you hold out your hand, shake the new friend’s hand, and say ‘How do you do? My name is ...’ What’s your name?”

  Sammy looked back at his mother in panic.

  Hannah stepped forward and held out her hand.

  “How do you do?” she said. “My name is Hannah Campbell, and this is my son, Sammy. I wasn’t able to attend the orientation picnic; I believe you met my husband, Sam.”

  Ms. Gearhart stood and shook Hannah’s hand with a firm, almost crushing grip. Her eyes were dark brown, with a very intense gaze magnified by her glasses, and Hannah felt she had instantly been scanned and found parentally deficient. Sammy took that opportunity to escape to his Auntie D’s side, where he clutched her skirt and watched with wide eyes.

  “I am Ms. Gearhart,” the teacher said. “I believe we start as we mean to go, and part of the curriculum in my classroom has to do with manners. Good manners are very important, don’t you think?”

  “Well, I wish you luck,” Hannah said. “This summer we focused on Sammy riding his bike without training wheels and learning to swim, so manners kind of took a back seat.”

  Miss Gearhart was evidently a believer in unblinking eye contact and active listening, both of which gave Hannah the uncomfortable feeling of being pinned in place.

  “So, what I hear you saying is that Sammy learns best kinetically,” Miss Gearhart said.

  “If you mean he’s fidgety and slippery, then I guess the answer is yes,” Hannah said. “We appreciate you allowing his Aunt Delia to help out in the classroom.”

  “I agreed to try it on Mrs. Meyers’ recommendation,” Miss Gearhart said. “If it proves to be distracting to the other children, she’ll have to go.”

  Hannah fought down the urge to give Miss Gearhart a good, hard flick on the forehead, and smiled at her instead.

  “We really appreciate that,” Hannah said.

  “Part of what the children will learn in my classroom is how to stay engaged and focused,” Ms. Gearhart said. “We have a prodigious collection of math and literacy modules to get through in order to prepare them for common core.”

  “They’re only four,” Hannah said.

  “They’re capable of a lot more than adults give them credit for,” Ms. Gearhart said. “My daughter, Talisman, had mastered Bach’s Prelude in C Major on the piano by the age of four. She read on a third-grade level before she started first grade.”

  “What is she doing now?”

  “She’s working as an intern in a public health initiative here in an underserved part of Pine County before she starts her Ph.D. medical program at Johns Hopkins,” she said. “That’s why I moved here, to provide maternal support.”

  Hannah could see the fierce pride on display, and she imagined it must give the woman deep pleasure to boast about the accomplishments of the beneficiary of all that laser-like maternal focus. But why would a grown-up college girl need her mother to follow her to an internship? Hannah hoped one day that special snowflake would escape her mother’s clutches long enough to have fun with some other young people on a sunny beach. Poor thing.

  “Wow,” Hannah said. “That’s a high bar for preschool.”

  Ms. Gearhart gave Hannah one of those looks she had come to expect and deflect, and turned to greet another new student. Hannah and her Aunt Delia exchanged forced, cheerful smiles, and Hannah waved to Sammy, mouthing, “Be good.”

  As she left by the side door, she met Reverend Taylor coming in.

  “What did you think?” he asked.

  Hannah hesitated.

  “No, really,” he said. “What did you think?”

  “Well,” Hannah said. “If Sammy doesn’t learn to play the Bach whatever in C Major on the oboe by Thanksgiving, I’ll be sorely disappointed.”

  Ben laughed a very un-minister-like laugh, more like a wicked giggle, really, and raised his eyebrows.

  “Whatever happens, it will be interesting to watch,” he said.

  Claire Fitzpatrick was having that dream where she was still working for movie star Sloan Merryweather, had been assigned a task she couldn’t possibly accomplish, with no time to get it done, in a country where she didn’t speak the language, with no one to help her. She couldn’t find her notebook or her phone, and why was Tuppy there? Wasn’t he dead?

  “Claire Bear,” she heard.

  She opened one eye and found Hannah’s son, Sammy, standing by the bed. Her little dog, a Boston Terrier named Mackie Pea, was jumping up all around him, trying to kiss his face. The little black cat that followed Mackie Pea everywhere jumped up on the nightstand, sat down, and with a look of disdain, wrapped its long, skinny tail around its body.

  “Hi, Sammy,” Claire said.

  “Me gets in with you,” he said.

  Claire scooted over to make room for him and he curled up in the crook of her arm. Mackie Pea snuggled in next to him. Claire could easily have fallen back to sleep but her waking life began to download in her brain. Her father was at the service station with her Uncle Curtis, and her mother was at the preschool for Sammy’s first day.

  “Aren’t you starting preschool today?” she asked.

  “Me not.”

  He snuggled in deeper and pulled the duvet up over his head. Claire reached over to the nightstand and picked up her phone. She texted Hannah and then her mother, Delia, to tell them she had Sammy.

  As soon as they texted back, she set the phone back on the nightstand and pulled the duvet back so she could see Sammy’s face.

  “Was it that bad?” she asked.

  “Her’s so mean, Claire.”

  “The teacher?”

  He nodded.

  “What did she do?”

  “Her say no talking, no playing, no fun, ever.”

  “What did you do that made her mad?”

  “Me taked the papers off the crayons,” he said. “Me hates the papers on them.”

  “And she didn’t like that,” Claire said. “What else?”

  “Timmy letted the hamster out of the cage. Me was trying to catch it.”

  “What did the teacher do?”

  “Her say ‘Heads on table! Be quiet!’ ”

  “Well, that is mean, Sammy. What did Auntie D say?”

  “Her say me be quiet.”

  “How did you get out?”

  “Me climbed out the window,” he said. “Me go over the fence.”

  “Where was Auntie D?”

  “Her taked Catty P to the bathroom,” Sammy said. “Her peed her pants.”

  “My goodness, Sammy,” Claire said. “What are we going to do with you?”

  “Me stay with Auntie D every day of the world.”

  “Auntie D works at the bakery in the afternoons,” Claire said. “You wouldn’t want Aunt Bonnie to get mad at you for keeping Auntie D from working.”

  He shook his head, eyes wide.

  “Me scared of Aunt Bonnie.”

  “Me, too, Sammy.”

  “Me stay here with you,” he said. “Please?”

  “I’m going to get a new job,” Claire said. “So, I won’t be here during the day.”


  “To make some money,” she said. “Plus I volunteer at Hospice three days a week.”

  “Where the dead people go?”

  “Yep,” she said. “People go there when they are very, very sick and about to die.”

  “Me’s goldfish Bert died.”

  “I know, that was sad.”

  “Me loved him.”

  He got big tears in his eyes and Claire hugged him.

  They heard the front door open. Sammy dove back under the covers. Claire’s mother paused in the doorway.
  “Where is he?”

  “I don’t know,” Claire said, while she pointed at the Sammy-size bump under the covers. “I haven’t seen him.”

  “Well, let me in,” Delia said, as she kicked off her shoes. “I’m worn out looking for him.”

  Delia threw back the covers and Sammy popped up.


  “Me here all the time!” he said.

  “Oh, Sammy,” Delia said.

  She put the dog on the end of the bed, climbed in, and hugged him.

  “We were so worried. We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

  “Me climbed over the fence and runned away.”

  “Sammy says the teacher was mean,” Claire said.

  “She is,” Delia said. “I wanted to run away, too.”

  “What happened?”

  “She’s trying to establish strict discipline over the kids,” Delia said. “Unfortunately, her approach is more like a drill sergeant than a teacher.”

  “How did the other kids do?”

  “When I left, the Tucker triplets were in tears, the Miller twins had tummy aches, and Calliope Mitchell had peed in her back-up pair of pants.”

  “Catty P cried for her Mama,” Sammy said.

  “Yes, she did, Sammy,” Delia said. “By the time I got one settled down, another one was upset and Ms. Gearhart couldn’t understand why. I said, very diplomatically, of course, that maybe at this age they just need to learn social interaction skills while playing together. She said this was the twenty-first century and there are higher standards in place for preschool than when my children went. She said this immature behavior was a result of lax parenting at home and if everyone would leave her alone to do her job she’d soon have them toeing the mark. She said I was a distraction and that with me gone they would be able to better focus on her.”

  “If four-year-olds aren’t allowed to be immature, who is?” Claire asked. “Next thing you know she’ll be telling those lazy babies down the hall to straighten up and toilet-train themselves; they’re just worthless slackers.”

  The front door opened again and Sammy dove under the covers.

  “Where’s my little precious?” Hannah called out as she came down the hall.

  Mackie Pea jumped out of bed to meet Hannah in the hallway. Once inside the doorway Hannah laughed at the sight of them all in bed.

  “Scoot over,” she said.

  She untied her bootlaces and kicked off her boots.

  Mackie Pea ran around in circles before jumping back up on the end of the bed. Meanwhile, the little cat continued to look upon the scene with displeasure.

  Once she had squeezed in on the other side of Delia, Hannah said, “So, have you seen my son?”

  “No,” Delia said.

  “Nope,” Claire said.

  Sammy didn’t make a sound.

  “Is he in bad trouble?” Claire asked.

  “No more than usual,” Hannah said. “I had a talk with Mrs. Tucker and Mrs. Mitchell, and they’re going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with all the other parents this evening.”

  “I talked to Reverend Ben about it,” Delia said. “Ms. Gearhart has a contract. If they fire her, they still have to pay her for the full year, and they don’t have enough money to hire someone else. He said her references were excellent, and that she taught early childhood education at a university, but that it had been several years since she had actually taught young children. He said he would talk to her. He asked us to give her another chance, but honestly, Hannah, I think it would be cruel to make him go back.”

  “I could tell she didn’t like me on sight,” Hannah said. “That lady has a stick up her whatsit.”

  “If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Delia said. “I could understand being that hard on teenagers, but not four-year-olds, some of whom have never even been to day care before.”

  “Great first impression,” Claire said.

  “I called Pendleton,” Hannah said. “They’re full up and not accepting any more kids.”

  “Does he have to go to preschool?” Claire asked. “Is it mandatory?”

  “It’s not mandatory,” Delia said, “but it will get him ready for kindergarten, which is mandatory. There are all these new educational requirements now, and I’m afraid if he doesn’t go to preschool he’ll start out falling behind the other kids.”

  “I don’t know what to do,” Hannah said. “He has to learn to go to school and stay put.”

  “Do you think Father Stephen would consider reopening the nursery school at Sacred Heart?” Delia asked.

  “Sister Mary Margrethe is the one to ask,” Hannah said. “They closed it because they had so few kids. Now that the toddler census is back up maybe they would consider it.”

  “I wonder if we could convince Mrs. Meyers to teach them at Sacred Heart.” Delia said. “I’ll give her a call. I’m sure she will have heard from the other parents by now.”

  “Tell her Sammy is very sorry about the frog incident,” Hannah said.

  Under the covers Sammy giggled.

  “Claire, your stomach’s making awfully funny noises,” Hannah said. “I’m going to get back to work. I have a squirrel situation at the community center, and a missing dog out Pumpkin Ridge. Let me know if you see my kid.”

  “Bye, Hannah,” Delia said.

  “Bye, Hannah,” Claire said.

  “Bye, Mama,” Sammy said.

  “Bye, Sammy,” Hannah said, and left.

  “By the way,” Delia said to Claire, “Pixie and Bluebell are not enrolled in our church’s day care or preschool, and Mrs. Fincher at Rose Hill Elementary says the older ones are not enrolled there, either.”

  “Not my circus, not my clowns,” Claire said.

  “Claire Rebecca,” Delia said. “I’m ashamed of you.”

  “I cannot and will not get involved,” Claire said. “If you want those kids living here, in this house, you go right ahead. Because that’s where they’ll end up.”

  “Someone needs to do something.”

  “It’s none of our business,” Claire said.

  “It’s neglect,” Delia said. “I’m going to talk to Reverend Ben about it. We have a duty to intervene.”

  “I know I sound hard-hearted,” Claire said. “But Jessie has rich parents who can swoop in and rescue those kids anytime they need it. I’m sure they’re monitoring the situation. If we all keep letting their actual parents off the hook, they will never learn to take responsibility.”

  “I’m looking into it,” Delia said.

  “Suit yourself,” Claire said.

  “Hey, Sammy,” Delia said.

  Sammy pulled the covers back and said, “What?”

  “How would you like to go to school at your mama’s church instead of my church?”

  “Me kiss a rat heiny,” Sammy said.


  “He’s telling you what he’d rather do,” Claire said. “Hannah says that all the time.”

  “Well, that’s not nice,” Delia said.

  “Me loves you, Auntie D,” Sammy said. “Me loves you so much.”

  He hugged and kissed Delia with a loud smack.

  “This is our circus clown,” Claire said. “Let’s focus on this one today.”

  “Me not a clown,” Sammy said. “You a clown.”

  After Delia left for her shift at the bakery, Claire made a grilled cheese sandwich for Sammy’s lunch. She had locked all the doors and windows, and she kept him within her peripheral vision at all times. Mackie Pea and the little black cat sat underneath Sammy’s chair, fighting over the food he dropped.

  He was rubbing his eyes and yawning.

  “Do you need a nap?” she asked him.

  “No,” he said. “Me no take naps.”

  “Well, that’s too bad, because there’s ice cream for little boys who take naps, but none for those who don’t.”


  “Yes,” Claire said. “Too bad you don
t take naps.”

  “Me takes a little nap,” he said.

  Claire sang his favorite songs as she rocked him to sleep in the padded rocker in the living room. Claire had to fight hard to stay awake, lest he escape as soon as she closed her eyes. She enjoyed holding the warm little boy in her arms, and marveled over his smooth skin, scabby knees, long eyelashes, and the golden curls on his head.

  ‘He has his whole life ahead of him,’ she thought. ‘What will he be like when he’s older? Will he ever settle down?’

  Claire wished with all her heart that she had a little boy or girl of her own. Unfortunately, now forty, with perimenopause setting in, that possibility was slipping away.

  The man she refused to call her “boyfriend,” Ed Harrison, had an adopted teenage son, Tommy, to whom he was a good father. She knew he would welcome another child, whether they had one or adopted one. Claire was waiting for things to settle down so she could decide about that, and whether they should marry or not, but if the year so far was any indication, things had a way of never settling down.

  She had moved back to Rose Hill in the spring, after quitting her job working for Sloan, intending only a short visit while she decided what to do with her life. After watching her mother struggle to care for her father, with his worsening dementia, Claire had ultimately decided that the right thing to do was stay and help. Due to this huge life change, and several calamitous events that followed, Claire found herself struggling with depression, which she was battling with the help of medication and counseling. She wasn’t better yet, but she wasn’t getting any worse.

  As Reverend Ben had advised her to do when she started doubting everything, she counted her blessings. She had close friendships with her cousins, Hannah and Maggie. She had a good whatever-the-heck-it-was with Ed. Helping her mother and volunteering at hospice were both meaningful occupations. Although she was financially secure due to past good investments, what she needed, she realized, was a job.

  Claire had also become friendly with Eldridge College’s Dean of Fine Arts, Alan Richmond, and his professor friends. They played board games once a week, and tonight was the next scheduled game. Although Alan was kind of a snarky snob, and he and the philosophy and physics professors were intellectually way ahead of Claire, they still seemed to enjoy her company, and they laughed a lot, which felt like good medicine. As friends go they were an odd combination, but she was looking forward to seeing them again.

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