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Testing His Patience
By Lyn Cote
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn a golden early-October afternoon in southern Illinois, Patience Andrews sat at her desk, her head down but her eyes roaming her first-grade classroom. She only wished she had more experience.
Last year's student teaching was a far cry from being on her own with twenty-five six-and-seven-year-olds, but it had taught her a few things. For instance, within five minutes on the first day of class, Patience had recognized that Darby Montgomery would be "the challenge" in her first year of teaching. Now she had to figure out how to change this, turn the boy around.
Darby's kindergarten teacher had labeled him on his student file as a "behavior problem - needs social worker evaluation." Patience refused to fall into that mindset. Too often children lived up to what they were labeled. Therefore, the label should be a positive one.
That much she'd learned from Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary. "And I'll always be grateful, Lord," she murmured aloud.
With his chocolate-brown bangs and eyes to match, maybe Darby just needed extra attention.
A bouquet of bright yellow and bronze marigolds in a jelly jar, a gift from a student, graced her desk. She touched one soft petal. Then a nattering sound from the windowsill made her glance over. Outside the window, noisy squirrels were busy gathering acorns. They raced up and down the oak tree.
By contrast, inside the classroom, everyone was copying their spelling list for the week, or trying to in spite of the activity just outside their windows. The children glanced from the words on the chalkboard behind her to the paper on their desks and back again. Many had their faces twisted with intense concentration and gripped their large pencils with pressure-whitened fingertips.
One brave reddish-brown squirrel scampered onto the classroom's open windowsill and chattered louder than the rest. The children kept glancing at it and then back at their papers. Patience looked at Darby again. She was right. Darby needed extra attention.
And he needed it - right now.
Unlike his fellow first-graders, Darby, sitting three seats back on the window row, wasn't copying his spelling words. Not a surprise. He was staring at the brave and chatty squirrel. As she watched them both, he half rose from his seat. Was he going to the window?
"Class!" Patience spoke up.
Darby froze en route.
"Time for a stretch! Everybody up beside their desks!" Patience jumped from her seat and stood beside her desk. "Now, everyone stretch your hands high!"
The class grinned at her as they popped up to follow her example.
"And bend down low." Folded in two, Patience made eye contact with Darby. Did he realize she'd been watching him, anticipating him? "Now up high again."
To her eyes, he looked confused. Good. If I can just keep one step ahead of him ...
"Very good, class." Patience let her arms drop.
"You may be seated again."
The boys and girls settled back into their seats with some giggling and chatter. The bold squirrel at the window still sat on the sill of their open window, appearing intrigued by the class. This surprised Patience. Why hadn't the sudden activity scared the squirrel back into the tree?
"Spelling words, please," she reminded sternly.
"We don't want to have to stay in during recess on this gorgeous day to finish them, do we?"
Murmurs of agreement preceded the resumption of intense copying. The pleasant silence of busy students blanketed the room, a sound that warmed her teacher's heart. Patience checked and saw that Darby had finally picked up his pencil. Good. Maybe now he'd get busy with his work.
In the cheery silence, from the hallway came a sudden yelp and thud. Patience jumped up and ran to the doorway. Down the hall, a silver-haired woman, the school librarian, lay upon the linoleum. She groaned.
Patience hurried forward. "Are you hurt?"
The librarian struggled to rise. Patience took her arm and helped her up.
"There must have been some water on the floor by the drinking fountain," the woman gasped. "I lost my footing -"
Sudden shrieks broke over them, echoing off the cement-brick walls. Patience spun around and raced back to her room - just in time to see Darby chasing the inquisitive squirrel around the room.
Gil Montgomery forced himself not to fidget on the straight-backed chair as he faced Mrs. Canney, the Oakdale principal. It didn't help that she had been his principal, too. "I don't see how a squirrel in a classroom could cause such a furor."
"That's hardly the attitude we would like you to take as Darby's father." Mrs. Canney looked at him over her half-glasses.
Right. He scrambled for an acceptable excuse. "I have a case I'm preparing." And it's more critical than whatever's happening in a first-grade class. "I fail to see why you insisted I come here now. It's not Darby's fault if a squirrel got in through an open window."
"The whole class agreed that Darby enticed the squirrel." Her lips drawn together like the wrong end of a prune, Mrs. Canney folded her hands on the desk and gazed at him. "Darby went to the window when Miss Andrews had left the room to help our librarian who'd fallen in the hallway. Your son got out of his seat and put a piece of candy on the sill to entice the squirrel inside."
Excerpted from Testing His Patience by Lyn Cote Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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