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Roses faded. Roses wilted. But to Samantha Giovanel-li's knowledge, roses never turned into something else entirely. Not unless they had a little help. Or a little helper.
Sam had walked by her desk three times that afternoon and never noticed that flawless white rosebuds had turned into wilting yellow dandelions. Now she could ignore it no longer. Long stems had been exchanged for those just long enough to fit into a child's grubby fist. And the delicate white porcelain vase that had been delivered with the roses had a sizable chip in the rim.
Sam supposed she was lucky the vase wasn't leaking water all over the papers piled on the desk, papers collected after a year of teaching twenty-six first graders how to read, 'rite and resist clobbering each other. In three years as an educator she had learned to appreciate the smallest things-and people. Now as she rummaged through her wastebasket she told herself that the dandelions were a symbol of what the year had meant to one little girl. They were a sign that Sam had succeeded in an impossible task: civilizing Corey Haskins.
Not that the task was finished.
At the bottom of the wastebasket, piled high with papers, used-up workbooks, melted crayons and lumps of clay were six formerly perfect rosebuds. The stems were crushed and the petals bruised. Sam lifted them carefully-although care at this stage was a sign of terminal optimism-and trimmed the stems to two inches with bluntend scissors from her desk drawer. Then she filled the sink on the other side of the room and immersed the flowers in the cool water.
If she couldn't have a bouquet, at least she could have a corsage.
"Sortin' your trash now, Sammy? If we were all as organized as you, this school would run like a four-legged dog in a three-legged race."
Sam turned off the water and weighted the ends of the stems with a rock so the roses wouldn't float to the top. She flashed a smile at Polly, the first-grade teacher from a room down the hall who was standing in the doorway. "A four-legged dog in a three-legged race?"
"Think about it," Polly drawled. She wandered into the room at the same speed as her words. As always, Polly seemed in need of a jump start. "You did know your trash was higgledy-piggledy all over the floor?"
"I know." Sam dried her hands and headed for the wastebasket again. She began to stuff the trash inside.
"And you do know that this is the last day of classes, and you're supposed to be doin' flip-flops up and down the corridor?"
"Anybody who could do flip-flops in this heat deserves a gold medal."
"Mind tellin' me what you're doin'?"
"Did you see the man from Allen's Florist in the hall earlier?"
"Yep, I did."
"Well, Joe sent me roses. Six gorgeous white roses."
"Joe can put his sneakers under my bed just any old time he chooses."
Sam laughed. Polly was ambling toward fifty, and along the way had picked up an extra pound for every single year. Her hair was bottle red and her clothes most suitable for a church rummage sale. But Harlan, her husband of thirty good years, still thought she was the most wonderful woman in Sadler County, and so did their eight children. Sam didn't have a thing to worry about.
"So why do you have the world's poorest excuse for dandelions in this vase if Joe sent you roses?" Polly ran her finger over the chipped rim and shook her head. "Next question's why you have this vase at all?"
Samantha finished the trash and began to straighten her desk. "It was minus the chip when the roses came in it. Apparently one of my students decided that dandelions would look better and switched them sometime after class. Probably when I was up at the office. Then she threw the roses in the trash and covered them up well. I just found them."
"She." Polly hadn't missed the pronoun that eliminated fully half of Sam's classroom. "Corey?"
"Probably," Sam admitted.
"I'da stuck that little gal in the closet if she was put in my class this year."
"Sure you would have." More often than not when Sam walked by Polly's classroom door, some child was settled in Polly's ample lap or arms receiving either a dose of TLC or the gentlest of reprimands. She was Miss Pollywolly Doodle to all the first graders, and she would no more raise her voice or hand to a child than she would take up running or go on a diet.
"Why do you suppose she did it?" Polly asked.
"I guess Corey wanted me to remember her."
"Like anybody here could ever forget her."