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To Love And Honor
By Irene Brand
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Irene Brand
All right reserved.
As the closing school bell rang, Violet Conley dropped into her teacher's chair with a deep sigh. Would she ever sponsor another Social Studies Fair? She closed her eyes for a few minutes, and then opened them slowly. Did the room really look as bad as she had thought?
Afraid so! Violet conceded grimly, as she pushed herself upward. She had permitted the students to work too late in their frenzy to be ready by the weekend, and they hadn't had time to clean up the classroom before catching their buses. All of them were gone except Janie Skeen, who was shelving books. Janie lived two blocks from the school, so she often stayed behind to help Violet. The girl's slender body already exhibited lovely curves and grace, and except for the melancholy look in her deep brown, long-lashed eyes, she would have been beautiful.
Violet was pleased to have Janie's help, for the whole room was in disarray, due to the past several days of research. While valuable to the pupils, it had been hard on a teacher's nerves.
"You're probably glad that tomorrow is the last day to work on projects," Janie said with a slight smile.
"Right now, that's true," Violet agreed as she carried the waste bin from desk to desk picking up litter.
"But when the projects are all arranged, and I see the culminated effort of our whole school, I forget about the frustration and hard work." She shook her head in exasperation as she picked up a book that a student had left behind, for it was a book on the rules of football, which he undoubtedly was reading when he should have been working on his class assignment. She locked the book in her desk. She would discover, and admonish, the culprit when he came looking for his book.
"You say your project is coming along well?"
"Yes, I think so," Janie said timidly, "but I don't suppose I'll be a winner."
"You'll have as much chance as anyone." When Janie still looked skeptical, Violet added, "The judges are from out of town, so names won't mean anything to them."
No need to pretend that she didn't know the reason behind Janie's skepticism. Janie had enrolled in Maitland High at the beginning of the school year, but she hadn't been accepted by her peers. The teachers liked Janie, because she was well behaved and eager to learn, but most of the students ignored her...some because they feared her, others considered she was inferior to themselves, while the majority of pupils didn't know how to befriend a runaway girl who had lived on the streets of Chicago for six months, before she was placed in a foster home in Maitland, their small town in southern Illinois.
Moving into the computer room, Violet found it in better shape than the classroom. The students had found the Internet indispensable in researching their projects, and Violet was happy that the principal, Larry Holland, had secured a federal grant to provide the equipment. Violet sat at one computer and typed in a password to check her E-mail. "Receiving one message of one," she read, hoping that the communication wouldn't require any further work on her part today.
"Don't forget our date. I'll pick you up at six. Larry"
The day's frustrations were forgotten and, with a broad smile on her face, Violet clicked the icon, Return to Author, and typed in "OK." On days when Violet didn't have occasion to speak privately with Larry, he often contacted her on the Internet.
Although the classroom was orderly at last, Janie loitered. "Thank you, Janie," Violet said with a warm smile. "You've been a big help, but you should go now. I'll need to leave in a few minutes."
Janie picked up her books and, with a wave of her hand, walked out into the hall, passing Nan Oliver in the doorway.
"I wish I could give that girl a big hug every day," Violet said, as her friend and fellow teacher sat at a student's desk that was much too small for her plump frame.
"I know what you mean. The girl is starved for love. I hate these new rules that forbid us to touch any of our students."
"I wonder if her foster mother is good to her."
"As far as I know, Margaret Grady is a good and caring person, but she's mothering three foster children, and since Janie is the oldest, she probably doesn't get much attention. I'm sure she has enough food, and her clothes are adequate, but she has such a lonely look in her eyes."
"She stirs my sympathy and a desire to mother her," Violet commented.
"I suppose we can never understand what it's like to grow up with a troubled childhood," Nan said.
"When I remember how secure I felt at home, I can't comprehend what life has been for Janie and others like her. Can you?"
Violet lowered her eyes. Although Nan was her closest friend on the staff, there were some details about her past that she couldn't disclose even to her. Fortunately, she didn't have to answer because the allclear buzzer sounded, indicating that the students were gone and teachers could leave the building. Nan heaved herself out of the chair.
"I'd better run," Violet said. "Larry is picking me up at six o'clock, and I have lots of things to do before then."
She locked her classroom door and walked down the hall at Nan's side.
"Heavy date, huh?"
"It's his mother's sixty-fifth birthday, and we're going to Saint Louis to celebrate. Many of her relatives live in Saint Louis, and they've reserved a private room in an exclusive restaurant."
"Must be nice to travel with the upper crust!" Nan said, her smile taking the sting from her words.
"Oh, I don't know," Violet said, lowering her voice. "Why does she approve of me, when she's chased away the other women he's dated?"
"If you don't mind my saying so, it isn't any credit to you. She's probably decided that you aren't any threat to her, that if Larry marries you, she can still control his life. If you do anything to cross her, she'll boot you out the door in a hurry."
"In other words, you're suggesting that I'm wishywashy," Violet accused with uplifted brows.
"Those are your words, not mine," Nan replied, and her round face exploded into laughter. Seriously, she added, "I hate to see you mixed up with that family."
Excerpted from To Love And Honor by Irene Brand Copyright © 2005 by Irene Brand.
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