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Authors: Dyan Sheldon

Bursting Bubbles

BOOK: Bursting Bubbles
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Contents

Prologue: Something That Happened Last Christmas

Chapter One: Dr Kilpatiky’s Bubble Speech

Chapter Two: A Conversation at the End of Summer

Chapter Three: Marigold Tries Reason

Chapter Four: Georgiana Grumbles

Chapter Five: Asher Attempts Negotiation

Chapter Six: Marigold Starts Weaving a Tangled Web

Chapter Seven: No View of the Ocean, Either

Chapter Eight: Asher Is Dragged Away from His Career Strategy with Something of a Vengeance

Chapter Nine: Another Week, Another Wednesday Afternoon

Chapter Ten: The Kilgour Wakes

Chapter Eleven: If You Won’t Embrace the Chaos, the Chaos Will Embrace You

Chapter Twelve: Marigold’s Favourite Book

Chapter Thirteen: A Match Not Made in Heaven

Chapter Fourteen: Asher’s Not Going to Let Mrs Dunbar Push Him Around Any More

Chapter Fifteen: Waiting for Mrs Hawkle

Chapter Sixteen: Georgiana Can’t Find Her Phone

Chapter Seventeen: More Than One Kind of Mystery

Chapter Eighteen: This Time Asher Really Isn’t Going to Let Mrs Dunbar Push Him Around Any More

Chapter Nineteen: Georgiana’s Lost Lover

Chapter Twenty: Asher’s Lost Weekend

Chapter Twenty-one: Christmas Present, Christmas Past

Chapter Twenty-two: Merry Christmas, Mrs Kilgour

Chapter Twenty-three: Another Christmas Not a Million Miles Away

Chapter Twenty-four: Just When Things Seem to Be Going So Well

Chapter Twenty-five: A Few More Things That Georgiana Didn’t Know About Mrs Kilgour

Chapter Twenty-six: Things Are Bad, Then Things Get Worse

Chapter Twenty-seven: Detective Liotta on the Case

Chapter Twenty-eight: A Short Cruise, a Long Journey

Chapter Twenty-nine: Asher’s Career Trajectory Takes an Unexpected Turn

Epilogue: A Conversation at the Beginning of Summer

Prologue
Something That Happened Last Christmas

There
will be millions of things that Dr Kilpatiky will forget as time goes by, but the moment when she saw the set of golf clubs among the donations for the school’s Christmas Adopt-a-Family appeal will not be one of them. That she will remember for the rest of her life.

“God help us!” Dr Kilpatiky spoke so loudly that everyone in the room turned around. “What the hell is that?”

“Golf clubs,” answered Mrs Mahoney, who was unfortunate enough to be standing beside the principal right then.

“I can see that!” Dr Kilpatiky snapped back. “What I don’t understand is what they’re doing
here
.”

“They came with the slicing machine and the caviar,” muttered Mrs Mahoney. She might have added, “and the pairs of very expensive worn-once shoes”, but didn’t because she was already scurrying away.

Left to herself, Dr Kilpatiky examined the offerings more closely. The shoes were all designer labels. The slicing machine had never been used. The caviar had expired. The golf clubs were monogrammed.

Every year the local paper publishes a list of families in the county who have fallen upon hard times and need some special help at Christmas, and every year Shell Harbour High School “adopts” one of those families. Because Shell Harbour is one of the most affluent communities in the state, its students have shelves (if not closets and rooms) full of things that have barely or never been used, and they are encouraged to donate them. But it’s always been understood that these should be practical things – things people struggling to get by can use: canned and boxed goods, towels and linens, jackets and trainers, toys and games, even small appliances or a sixth TV set that no one has ever plugged in. While there might be an argument that a slicing machine is practical (assuming the recipient has something to slice), Dr Kilpatiky didn’t feel that the shoes, the caviar or the clubs fell into that category.

Thanks to the monogram, it took the principal no time at all to identify the donor: Marigold Liotta. Marigold Liotta was summoned.

Marigold was smiling as she stepped into the principal’s office. Partly she was smiling because she had never been in even the most minor trouble since she started school and had no idea that anything was wrong. Partly she was smiling because Marigold smiles the way the sun shines. Always, unless hidden by something.

Dr Kilpatiky thanked her for coming.

“Oh, that’s OK,” said Marigold with her usual good humour. “Is it about the Christmas tea?” Traditionally, Marigold’s sorority hosts a tea for the staff each December. That year Marigold was one of the organizers. “Because you don’t have to worry, Dr Kilpatiky. I found a baker who can do gluten-free.”

“No, it’s not about the tea.” Dr Kilpatiky gestured to the chair in front of her desk. “Please, have a seat, Marigold. I wanted to have a word with you about your very imaginative donations to our Christmas appeal.”

Marigold’s smile brightened. “I wanted to do something different.”

“Well, you certainly achieved that.” The principal’s lips were as flat as the EKG of a corpse. “I don’t think anyone’s ever donated caviar before.”

Marigold said she figured as much. “Everybody usually gives stuff like beans and spaghetti.”

“Exactly. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Dr Kilpatiky folded her hands on her desk, leaning forward slightly. “I was wondering, Marigold, if you’d actually read the information on the family we adopted.”

That year the school had chosen Family 898: two adults, and three children under twelve; both parents unemployed because of lay-offs and a debilitating illness; deep in debt because of impossible medical bills and lack of income; living in an emergency shelter since the bank foreclosed on their house.

“Of course I did,” said Marigold. “I feel really bad for them. Those poor little kids.”

“I see,” murmured the principal, but she didn’t. “Then could you explain what you thought our family could do with your gifts? Did you think Mrs 898 would wear the Louboutins to the laundrette?”

Not one of the students at Shell Harbour High has ever suspected the principal of having a sense of humour, but Marigold laughed nonetheless. “Of course not. But I know Georgiana – Georgiana Shiller? – I know she gave her boots. And I know other people gave slippers and trainers and stuff like that. That’s why I gave shoes that are nothing but pretty. And special. I thought they’d cheer her up.”

“But she’s never going to use them.”

“That doesn’t matter,” explained Marigold. “I mean, Christmas shouldn’t be just about warm jackets and jumpers and boxes of macaroni and cheese, should it? It should be fun and joyous. I believe Christmas should sparkle.”

Rather like the Louboutins.

“That’s a lovely thought, Marigold.” Dr Kilpatiky was starting to feel that staring at Marigold’s smile was like staring at a naked light bulb. “Only—”

“And didn’t Jesus say that you can’t live just on bread?”

“More or less,” murmured the principal. “But I doubt very much that he was thinking caviar and golf clubs were needed for a well-balanced life.” She took a breath and tried again. “The point is that none of these things really help people who are hungry.”

“Oh, but they do,” Marigold protested.

Dr Kilpatiky raised one eyebrow. Archly. “Let them eat caviar? Have you become Shell Harbour’s answer to Marie Antoinette?”

“No, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that they can sell all that stuff on eBay. And get whatever they want with the money they make.”

“Expired caviar and monogrammed golf clubs.”

Marigold nodded, causing the miniature reindeer hanging from her ears to dance merrily. “The caviar’s only just expired, so it’s fine, and those clubs are really expensive. Somebody’ll buy them no matter whose initials are on them.”

“And what if our family doesn’t have a computer?” enquired the principal. It surprised her that she was actually having this conversation, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “They’re not going to be able to sell them on eBay without a computer.”

“Oh, they’ll have a computer,” Marigold assured her. “You know Byron – Byron Locke? – he’s always upgrading. He gave them one of his old ones.”

Chapter One
Dr Kilpatiky’s Bubble Speech

Almost
a year has gone by since Dr Kilpatiky had her few words with Marigold Liotta about her Christmas donations. It is now the end of August, and today Dr Kilpatiky and the department chairpersons of Shell Harbour High are having one of their final meetings before the start of the new school year.

The last item on the meeting’s agenda is the school’s community service requirement. In order to graduate, every student must donate twenty hours a year to work that in some way benefits the public – such as picking up litter in the park, visiting care homes, raising money for charity, helping in a church charity shop or coaching an elementary school sports team. Dr Kilpatiky has been giving this requirement a great deal of thought over the summer, and has come to the conclusion that there is a flaw in the system.

“I don’t really see any problem,” says Mrs Mahoney. Not that she would. The community service requirement is managed by the social sciences department, which Mrs Mahoney heads. “We can’t expect them to do more than twenty hours a year. Not and keep up our academic standards.” Among other things, Shell Harbour is known for its high academic standards and competitive curriculum.

Several pairs of eyes glance quickly at watches. Dr Kilpatiky can almost hear ice cubes falling into glasses and lawn furniture being dragged into the sun. It’s been a long meeting; everyone wants to go home. She smiles. Warmly. As if to say,
This won’t take much more time and it won’t hurt
. “Of course not, Gwen. It isn’t the quantity I’m worried about; it’s the quality.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Mrs Mahoney’s smile falters. “You know we have no control over what goes on in the placements, Irenie. If they don’t find their own, we just provide a list of options. The organizations and the students do the rest.”

“It’s not as if they get graded on what they do,” chips in Ms Sketz from maths. “They just get marked on attendance.” No one has ever failed a community service position – not even the junior who was found sound asleep in a supply closet at the hospital.

“Yes, I am aware of that.” A sledgehammer couldn’t shift Dr Kilpatiky’s smile right now. “However, if I’m remembering correctly, the community service placements are supposed to expand our students’ experience of the world.” The only way Shell Harbour could have a wealthier and more privileged student body would be if it were a private boarding school. Along the lines of Eton. The majority of its students have about as much contact with ordinary people as the Queen of England does. Possibly less since their visits to hospitals and developing countries aren’t as frequent as Her Majesty’s.

“And that’s what they do,” says Mrs Mahoney.

“Not as well as they might.” While others were relaxing at the beach, Dr Kilpatiky was looking into this quite thoroughly. Although all of the students are doing something that can be interpreted as community service, many of the projects are not exactly Everest-like challenges that catapult them out of their comfort zones or put them in touch with the less fortunate. “Something like picking up soda cans from the side of the road may be very helpful but it’s not really stretching their capacity for compassion.”

BOOK: Bursting Bubbles
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