No school on Monday, March 1–Superintendent’s Day. Amanda would need a babysitter for Evie and Vanessa while she worked the event. On Sunday she spent hours and hours arranging small teams to break up rival factions among faculty and administrators. By the afternoon, she hadn’t found anyone to stay with the girls.
Mike offered Nadia’s services, because she’d quit the gym to promote an internal cleansing ritual. Suddenly, Amanda’s daughters were pulling at her sleeves and whispering, “Not Nadia. She’s weird.”
Mike said, all right; he’d heard that. After they hung up, Amanda crossed her arms and looked at her little girls, who just two months ago clung to her all night, every night. Now she must stand back from an ever-increasing distance.
Watching her, Evie said, “I know. Let’s ask the dog walker.” In the late afternoon, a girl dressed in over-sized, threadbare boy’s clothes walked six dogs along Humphrey Avenue.
When Evie saw her coming, she called, “Come on or you’ll miss her.”
So they stood outside and waited until Evie yelled, “Hey Felicia!” The girl crossed the street, holding leashes and poop bags while the dogs roiled. Felicia was thirteen and lived with her brother Jerome who was seventeen. Amanda had to push one dog’s head after another from butting between her legs. Evie giggled. “Look how much they like you, Mom.”
Felicia shortened the leashes. Amanda recognized her as another kid who had to fend for herself, probably in circumstances far less secure than Amanda’s had been. And somehow cosseted little Evie had not only met the girl, their phones knew each other’s numbers. Because Evie was sure her mother would need Felicia to babysit sometime. Like tomorrow from seven a.m. to seven p.m. Amanda offered the going rate per hour and Felicia whooped. “Wow! Thank you.”
The dogs barked and Amanda asked how long it took to walk them, nervously imagining Evie and Vanessa running with the pack.
Before dinner, Felicia phoned with the dog owners’ names and numbers. “They’ll tell you, I’m good. They’ll say they trust me.”
The next morning Amanda arrived at the conference center early and met the program consultant, Alyssa, who was lining up nametags. Short red hair, blue eyes, a pale blue pants suit. Alyssa leafed through the file Amanda had prepared. “Looks as if you’ve done my job for me.” She handed the file back along with Amanda’s nametag. “Make sure you wear it. Turn left at the first hallway, room B.”
Floating through space, Amanda experienced the strong whirling sensation that had to do with Walter—right before she caught sight of a man with thick, white hair. He was wearing a black shirt and black jeans. Seeing Amanda, he abandoned his remote attitude. Why hadn’t they met? Why hadn’t Benjamin told him about her?
“Are you friends?”
“Benjamin and I, no. We work in the same building, which will become transformed once you’re there.”
“Use your imagination—” he read her nametag, “Ms. Amanda Morrison.”
David Tighe, history department chairman, didn’t wear nametags. Introducing himself, he stood so close she smelled his cologne of citrus, moss, and metal.
“Amanda, let’s play hooky and go bike riding.”
She explained her role in the conference, which was why she couldn’t leave. (Besides, the weather was cold and rainy.)
He flashed very white teeth. “Then perhaps it won’t be a complete waste of time.”
“The food should be good,” Amanda said, since the caterers had been highly touted.
He looked surprised and asked if he could take her to dinner. “Perhaps you’ve never tasted good food.”
She laughed, and after he swore he wasn’t married, agreed to a date. But not until Mike had the girls.
“Daughters? An ex-husband? How old are you?”
Other people were flowing in and filling the seats.
“Just old enough to resent the question.”
He turned away brusquely but contributed to the meeting without sneering. Although she could see that he sneered often. Seated in a distant corner, she watched him eat lunch with Alyssa, obviously flirting. When people were getting coffee, she reminded him, “Not this weekend, but next,” and immediately regretted it. He resembled Walter only because of his hair and lean build. Otherwise he was a pretentious imitation. And that was appearance. Even if David’s arrogance was in fun (which she doubted), she didn’t like him.
But he had tapped into her wish for a temporary lover. Someone to soothe her scorched existence while she waited for the resurrection of Walter’s true feelings. The ones he’d buried six feet deep.
Wednesday morning, David strolled into the high school’s financial offices and sat on her desk. “Can you get away for lunch?”
She supposed so.
They met at the exit leading to faculty parking. Too cold for a picnic, but if she was willing, they could improvise inside his car. He led her through drizzle and harsh wind into a big, vintage Cadillac. “Why aren’t you impressed?”
“Cars don’t interest me.”
Locking the automatic doors, he glanced sideways and then back at her, which seemed menacing. “Tinted windows. You know what that means.”
He kissed her near to suffocation. “Decide, Amanda. Yes or no.”
“It’s all right.”
He half lifted, half pushed her into the backseat and climbed on top of her. His eyes shined and he unzipped her pants and his.
Fast, shameful, thrilling. Then they hurried back, the wind biting them. He pulled her under an overhang. She hadn’t had sex in a car before. She hadn’t had sex with clothes on before.
“Never? Then you haven’t lived before now, Amanda.”
“Once is enough, though. Or is it your habit?”
He laughed. “Certainly not. We’ll try out lots of locations.”