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The Fixer Upper
By Judith Arnold
MIRACopyright © 2005 Judith Arnold
All right reserved.
On the first Friday of October, Libby Kimmelman arrived at her office to find two bouquets of flowers in glass vases, a gold-foil box of Godiva chocolates, a CD and at least a hundred file folders on her desk. "Oy," she groaned. "It's starting."
Tara bounced into the office behind her. Tara was so bouncy Libby sometimes wondered whether she wore shoes with springs embedded in the soles. Maybe it was easy to be bouncy when you were twenty-three and naturally blond and you could afford to work as a glorified secretary at subsistence wages because your parents were willing to subsidize you.
Libby was thirty-five and naturally bland. Her job paid a respectable salary, but if someone offered to subsidize her, she'd say yes in an instant.
"I printed out all the online applications that came in this week," Tara said, gesturing toward the piles. "That's what's in the folders. I've labeled them and sorted them into kindergarten applicants and transfers." The kindergarten pile was significantly higher than the transfer pile. Not surprising — most parents trying to get their children into the Hudson School wanted to get them in right at the start, so the youngsters could benefit from the full Hudson experience.
And why shouldn't they want that? The Hudson experience was terrific. Compared with the city's public schools, it was exponentially better than terrific. Small classes, devoted teachers, funding for laboratories and studios, foreign language instruction starting in first grade A child couldn't get a better education in New York City. Libby knew this not only because she was director of admissions for the lower school but also because Reva had been enjoy-ing the full Hudson experience since even before kindergarten, when Libby had enrolled her in the Hudson preschool created for the children of employees.
Libby understood why parents pushed to get their kids into the school. She didn't have to like their pushiness, though. She was starting her second year as director of admissions, and already the thought of all those pushy parents sending her flowers and chocolate and God knew what else was enough to give her hives.
Dropping her briefcase onto her chair, she plucked the envelope poking out of the larger bouquet from its plastic clip, lifted the flap and pulled out the card, which she read aloud so Tara could enjoy it with her: "To Ms. Libby Kimmelman, Director of Admissions, Hudson School — Please accept these flowers as a token of our respect and admiration for the very difficult task you perform. Sincerely, Roger Haver-ford, Jr., Evelyn Haverford and little Roger Haverford III."
"Ick," Tara said. "You're not going to accept anyone named little Roger Haverford III, are you?"
"I'm going to be objective," Libby said. That was her mantra: I'm going to be objective. With thousands of parents jockeying to get their precious darlings into the school, Libby had no choice but to be as objective as possible.
She wondered if little Roger Haverford III had his heart set on attending Hudson. Doubtful. More likely, the kid had his heart set on a bag of M&M's and a SpongeBob SquarePants DVD. Over the years, Libby had interviewed a lot of four-and five-year-olds, and none of them had mentioned that attending the Hudson School was their abiding goal. The parents might be obsessed, but the kids had their priorities in order.
She reached for the card from the other bouquet and slid it from its envelope. "Lib Kimmelman: Hope you love flowers as much as we love the Hudson School. The Springelhoffen Family."
"Eeuw," Tara said.
"Take the flowers and put them somewhere I can't see them," Libby requested. "One bouquet out by the reception area, and the other in the teachers' lounge. And take the chocolates, too."
"You're not going to eat the candy?" Tara gazed long-ingly at the gold Godiva box.
"I can't," Libby said. "It would be unethical. It would also be fattening. My tush doesn't need chocolate."
Tara lifted the box. "It's a one-pound ballotin. Do you know what Godiva charges for this?"
"I'm guessing a lot. Was there a card with the chocolates?"
"Here." Tara handed her the gift card, which had been wedged under the gift-wrap ribbon.
Libby opened it. "Dear Dr. Kimmelman "Hey, they've given me a doctorate!" she boasted. The rest of the note was typical: Shane Fourtney's parents thought these chocolates might sustain her as she tackled the arduous task of choosing the next kindergarten class at Hudson. "We hope you like truffles!" the note concluded cheerily.
"Take the candy to the lounge with the flowers," she urged Tara. "You can open it there and pig out if you want. Just don't tell me about it."
Tara grinned and bounced out of Libby's office, juggling both bouquets and the candy.
Libby moved her briefcase to the floor and sank into her chair. What the hell was a ballotin, anyway? What kind of word was that? Flemish? Why couldn't the folks at Godiva just call it a box?
Staring at the piles of folders on her desk, she sighed. Last year, her first behind this majestic walnut desk in the stately, paneled office of the director of admissions, she'd been overwhelmed by the flood of gifts. Bribes, really. As Anthony Caruthers, who'd warmed this chair for thirty years and trained Libby as his replacement before retiring to a thatch-roof cottage in Tahiti to paint and study Plato, had told Libby many times, "The only gifts a director of admissions should ever accept are those that dwell within the soul of a deserving child."
Someone ought to stitch that into a sampler, Libby thought glumly as she stared at the piles heaped atop her leather-trimmed blotter. Perhaps Anthony could do needle-point if the painting-and-Plato didn't work out. Libby, unfortunately, had no time to master needlepoint. She had hundreds of applications to plow through — and the season was just beginning.
She lifted the CD that lay on top of the taller pile. A label had been tucked inside the jewel case: "Samantha McNally Performs Her Favorite Songs" was printed in block letters; below them was a slightly blurry photo of a beaming young girl with an oversize red ribbon in her hair. Opening the case, Libby scanned the label on the CD, which listed the songs Samantha McNally performed on the disk: "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," a medley of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,"
"Baa Baa Black Sheep" and "The Alphabet Song," and "Un bel dì, vedremo" from Madama Butterfly.
She shifted one pile of folders to the left so she'd have an unobstructed view of her desk calendar. Her ex-motherin-law had given her a Palm Pilot for her birthday last year —"So you can keep track of all your dates," Gilda had said, a bizarre comment from the mother of a man who'd walked out on Libby ten years ago — but Libby preferred her archaic day-by-day paper calendar, which she didn't first have to turn on if she wanted to find out what was on her schedule. Nothing, she noted as she gazed at the blank page. Not a single date.
Excerpted from The Fixer Upper by Judith Arnold Copyright © 2005 by Judith Arnold. Excerpted by permission.
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