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Authors: Torey Hayden

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BOOK: Just Another Kid
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Chapter 7

S
eeing Ladbrooke Taylor standing there in the gloom of that part of the classroom was like seeing an incarnation of some mythical creature—a Valkyrie or a Fury or something like that—beautiful, ferocious and slightly unearthly. Her hair was loose and windblown, flowing around her wildly. Her cheeks were suffused with color. And the fierceness of her expression left me in no doubt that I was meeting an avenging angel.

She was also very, very drunk.

“I’ve come for my daughter.”

I could sense the children collecting behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I shooed them away, but they retreated only as far as the corner of the shelves. “Back to your seats,” I ordered. “Back to work.” None of them moved.

I reached around Dr. Taylor for the doorknob. “Let’s step out into the hall.”

The children persisted in staring.

“Shamie?” I said.

“Yes, Miss.”

“This is just Leslie’s mom. I need to have a quick word with her, and we’re going out into the hallway. Do you think you could keep an eye on things for me? You may get out the storytelling tapes, if you’d like. I’ll be back in just a jiff.”

“Yes, Miss.”

Dr. Taylor was so inebriated that she was unsteady on her feet. I hadn’t realized she was
that
drunk, but as I did, a lot of my initial terror diffused. I found an inordinate amount of reassurance in the knowledge that whatever was going to happen, I’d be faster.

“I want to take my daughter home,” she said, as I ushered her out into the hall and firmly shut the door behind us. “And I want her now.”

“It isn’t quite the end of the school day yet, Dr. Taylor. Leslie won’t be finished for another forty-five minutes or so. Why don’t you go home and wait for her. All right?”

“I want her
now
.”

“Yes, I know. But this is her time to be in school.”

She glared at me. Tall as she was, she could look me very squarely in the eye. As had happened on the previous day, I found myself wondering about the likelihood of being physically attacked. I couldn’t very well let her back into the classroom but was not looking forward to the prospect of keeping her out if she became insistent about Leslie.

“Perhaps you’d like a cup of coffee,” I said. “We can go down to the teachers’ lounge—”

“Would you stop your goddamned patronizing?”

“I’m not patronizing you, Dr. Taylor. I’m trying to get back to my class. I’m a teacher and I’m supposed to be in there teaching.”

“Then let me have my daughter.
Now
.” She was growing angrier.

Then, unexpectedly, she made a lunge past me for the door. I moved to keep her hand from the doorknob, but I needn’t have worried. Her reflexes were shot. The sudden motion overbalanced her, and she thudded first against me and then heavily against the far side of the door frame before sliding down to her knees.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said, when she looked up at me. “You’re thinking that a person like me ought to be taking my poison some other way, right?”

Not exactly. I was thinking more along the lines of what a vapid fool she was making of herself.

I leaned forward and took her shoulder. “Get up, Dr. Taylor. Come on. You can’t stay here.”

“You’re not human,” she replied.

“Come on. Get up.”

“You don’t have any reaction to anything, do you? What are you anyway? Some kind of robot? You certainly aren’t human. What are you?”

“Sober. Now, I mean it. Get up. Come on.”

But she didn’t quite make it. Rising part way to her feet, she suddenly collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Plop. Down and out.

Oh, shit
. I stood a moment, completely overcome with horror. Subdued panic rose in my throat. What was I going to do now? I couldn’t very well just leave her in a heap on the floor. What the hell was I going to do with her?

I knelt down and touched her, hoping she’d rouse out of it. “Dr. Taylor?” I jiggled her shoulder. “Wake up. You can’t lie here. Come on now, wake up. Please?”

No response.

The only possible thing seemed to be to drag her into the classroom. Putting my hands under her armpits, I tried to lift her, but she was an absolute deadweight. This was the kind of thing you saw people doing on TV all the time, and it looked a piece of cake. Yet, here I was, no weakling, and I could hardly shift her. Pulling open the classroom door, I stuck my head in. “Shamie? Shamie, come here a minute.”

When Shamie came to the door, he went white and gasped. Then immediately he crossed himself.

“For crying out loud, Shamie, she isn’t dead.”

“What’s the matter with her, Miss?”

“She’s drunk. Passed out, that’s all. Nothing nearly so romantic as death, believe me.”

“I thought you’d killed her, Miss.”


Shamie!
For pity’s sake.” I bent down. “Now listen, give me a hand. I want to get her into the classroom.”

Even between the two of us, it was an awkward job. Once far enough inside to close the door, I let go. “This is good enough.”

“Should we go get Mr. Cotton?” Shamie asked.

I considered the suggestion but then shook my head. “No. I don’t think so. She’ll come out of it on her own. I think.”

“She doesn’t look very comfortable, Miss. Do you think we ought to fetch her a pillow?”

“This isn’t the Hilton, Shamie. She’ll be just fine.”

Dirkie abruptly rounded the corner of the shelves. His reaction was the same as Shamie’s had been initially, only much louder. “You killed her! She’s dead!” he shrieked.

“You
guys
. Good grief. Do I look like I go around killing people? I haven’t killed anybody. She’s not dead. So hush up.”

“She’s
dead
,” Dirkie said, appalled.

“She’ll be all right in a bit, if we just leave her alone. She’s
not
dead, Dirkie, believe me.” Approaching him to turn him around and get him back to work, I extended my hand. Dirkie jumped and ran around the corner of the shelves.

Shamie remained standing over Dr. Taylor. “You too, Shamie. Come on. Let’s get back to work.”

He looked over, a slightly bemused expression on his face. “It’s like having Sleeping Beauty in the classroom. She’s like a fairy person, she’s so beautiful.”

“Beauty is as beauty does, Shamie. Now, come on.”

Of course, it proved utterly impossible to get back to work. The children were already stirred up. Everybody knew Dr. Taylor was over there. Moreover, she made noises. They were fairly stuporous sounding, and she never managed to rouse herself completely, but every time we heard her, we all jumped. Mariana, Geraldine and Shemona found the whole episode hysterically funny and giggled nonstop. Dirkie remained convinced that I had done her in. Shamie persisted in getting up every few minutes to check around the corner of the shelving to see if she was still there. Unfortunately, she always was. Only Leslie seemed unconcerned. Perhaps she had seen it all before.

After twenty minutes or so of irritatedly trying to keep the children on task, I gave up. There was very little class time left anyhow, and it just didn’t seem worth the aggravation. So, I told the children to collect their belongings and then took them downstairs. Carolyn had music during this period, and I knew she wouldn’t mind a few extra voices. Besides, I figured she owed me one for having supervised her kids at lunch.

“You are never in a million years going to believe what’s going on up in my classroom,” I said, as I ushered my lot through her door.

“Yeah,” said Dirkie brightly. “There’s a dead lady up there.”

Back in the classroom, I knelt beside Dr. Taylor and gave her a good, bone-rattling shake. She responded this time, moaning and rolling over onto her side.

“Get up,” I said, all guise of politeness gone.

Slowly, very slowly, she managed to bring herself into a sitting position. She clasped either side of her head with her hands.

“All the way up. On your feet.
Now
.”

This proved harder, and I realized suddenly that I wasn’t going to be able to simply open the door and evict her, as I had intended. Supporting her to keep her steady, I guided her around the corner to the table and pulled out a chair. She collapsed into it, hunching forward, elbows on the tabletop, hands over her face.

“Well, this is a hell of a mess,” I said. “What are we going to do with you now?”

She made no response.

“Shit,” I muttered and turned away, walking over to the window. I was really fed up. Why me? Thrusting my hands deep into the pockets of my jeans, I leaned against the radiator and stared outside. I studied the brick wall, the asphalt yard, the chimney stack for several minutes. Then I turned back.

She hadn’t moved.

“Are you okay?” I asked. Seeing her as she was, I had a split-second sensation that she wasn’t.

And I was right. Because the next moment, she was sick. Not slightly, not politely, but appallingly, all over the table, the chair, the floor and herself. She must have brought up a whole week’s worth of food, because it went everywhere.

I squawked and jumped.

Then my mind went absolutely blank for what must have been only a moment or two but seemed like eternity. Paralyzed, I did nothing.

She retched again. Locating the wastebasket, I thrust it into her hands. “Here, use this. I’m going to find the janitor.” And I beat a hasty retreat.

Bill was in the teachers’ lounge with his coffee and the newspaper. “One of your parents?” he asked incredulously. I just rolled my eyes and asked if he had anything in his closet that I could use to help her clean herself up. He tossed me the keys. “Leave it open,” he said. “I’ll be up in a minute.” And he drained the last drops from his coffee mug.

Upstairs in Bill’s closet, I could find nothing but a stack of floor cloths. They looked clean enough, and from the way they were stacked, I assumed they’d been washed and not yet used. I sniffed at a couple. They’d do.

Back in the room, Dr. Taylor had not moved. She’d vomited again, and the wastebasket was between her knees. There was an ungodly odor.

Going over, I opened all the windows to the chilly November air. Then I went back to the sink and took out a plastic dishpan from the cupboard underneath. Running water into it and adding a generous amount of baking soda, I threw in the floor cloths.

“Are you going to be sick again?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Are you sure?”

She nodded.

“Well then, come over here in this chair.”

She rose, came over and sat.

I washed her. As if she were one of the children, I took the wet floor cloths and simply got on with it, doing the best I could to get the vomit off her clothes and off her. I had no idea what her current mental state was or how capable she was of cleaning herself up, and I was in no mood to inquire. She seemed considerably more sober than earlier but was perfectly willing to let me take care of things. Neither of us spoke a word. I knew when all this was over, the embarrassment was going to be excruciating for both of us, but for the moment all proprieties were suspended. A word from either of us would have broken the spell.

Bill came in, pushing his clanking mop bucket. Smiling at us, he produced a canister of Vomoose and sprinkled it blithely around. Then he went to work with brush and dust pan. Then the mop. He was whistling “Oh! Susanna,” and cleaned up the mess as casually as if it happened every day. The sour smell of vomit was soon overpowered by the almost equally nauseating odor of floral-scented disinfectant.

“See you around, Tor,” he said and marshaled the mop bucket out of the door.

Bill’s cheerful ordinariness displaced some of the tension in the room. I took the dishpan and cloths back to the sink and rinsed them out. Dr. Taylor turned her head to watch me. The color was coming back into her cheeks.

“Would you like some water?” I asked.

She nodded slightly.

All I had back there was my used coffee mug. Rinsing it out, I filled it and brought it over. She took it from me but then drank very little, pausing after only a few sips and lowering the mug. I folded the floor cloths and laid them on the table. The box of baking soda was still to be put away. I held it up.

“This is good stuff,” I said. “It takes the smell away.” Carefully, I pushed the little three-sided flap back down to close it. “I always keep some around. With the kids, you know. It’s very good for getting rid of that horrible odor, and it tends not to hurt your clothes.”

She very briefly caught my eye. Immediately, she looked away and then down. There was a moment of acute discomfort between us as the last seconds of obligatory intimacy melted away. I was as embarrassed about all this as she was, which no doubt had produced my sudden commercial for baking soda.

She stared down at her hands. “You’re disgusted by me, aren’t you?” she said, her voice soft and matter-of-fact.

“Well …” I shrugged and smiled self-consciously. “I’m sure you didn’t come in here intending to do this.”

She kept her head down.

BOOK: Just Another Kid
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