Between the Sheets

By: Molly O Keefe

Chapter 1


January 8

Shelby Monroe was not having a very good morning.

Last night, her new neighbor—a motorcycle enthusiast apparently with insomnia and a hearing problem—didn’t stop revving his engine until nearly dawn. Then Mom put the coffeepot on the stove thinking it was the kettle and it shattered when it got too hot.

So here she was for her first day of classes after the Christmas break at Bishop Elementary, frazzled and without coffee.

Which was no way to deal with Colleen.

“Welcome back!” Colleen, the school secretary, stood up from behind her desk and for a moment seemed as if, in the three-week break, she’d forgotten that Shelby wasn’t a hugger.

Thank God it came back to her at the last moment and instead of throwing her arms around Shelby like they were old friends, she turned to the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet and yanked it open. Shelby dropped her phone and purse in it. There was no office for the part-time staff, so she made do with Colleen’s bottom drawer. She shrugged out of her winter jacket and hung it on the coat hook with her scarf, then tucked her gloves in her coat sleeves.

“How are you doing?” Colleen asked.

“First day back. It’s always a good day.”

“You must be the only teacher in the world who thinks that.”

Shelby laughed. That was probably true. Her first days back in the school after winter break were her favorite of the whole year. All the hard work of getting to know the kids, understanding them, and getting their attention and respect was done. And now they were recharged. The next two months would undoubtedly be her most productive with the kids, before spring fever hit.

She just needed to shake off this bad morning she’d had.

“Coffee’s fresh.”

“You’re a saint.” She grabbed a mug from the cupboard above the coffee area and waited for the machine to belch and steam before she poured herself a cup. Colleen went nuts if you robbed the pot, and no one wanted to get on Colleen’s bad side.

In her years as a part-time employee for the school district, Shelby had come to know one thing for certain: principals did not run schools; the secretaries did. And Colleen’s desk was like the bridge of a giant spaceship. A phone system with a gazillion lights and buttons. Color-coded Post-its. The sign-in book, which she guarded like the Holy Grail. The first-aid kit, the small fridge with ice packs. Printer, computer, jars with pens. One drawer had hard candy, the other a box of Triscuits. There was a heat lamp at her feet. A fan at her back. Two different sweaters over her chair and a small hot plate for her coffee cup.

Colleen could survive the zombie apocalypse at her desk.

“How is your mom doing?” Colleen asked.

“Fine,” Shelby said, because she had to say something and that was the sort of answer people expected. Colleen didn’t want to hear how her mom had spent the night pacing the hallway looking for her mother’s old cookbooks.

“It’s nice to see her at church again.”

Why was everyone so scared of silence? Shelby wondered, contemplating the drip of the coffee machine.

Shelby loved silence. And everyone from the woman behind the cash register at the grocery store to Colleen wanted to force her into conversation because her silence made them uncomfortable.

“Shelby?”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” She poured coffee into one of the spare mugs; this one had a sleeping cat on it. There were a thousand cat mugs on that shelf.

“I said it’s real nice to see you both in church again. It’s been a long time.”

“Well, it’s a comfort,” she lied, glancing at the big clock over the door. She had five minutes before the bell. “I’m starting in Mrs. Jordal’s class?”

Colleen swiveled in her chair to face Shelby. “There’s a new student in there,” she said. “He’s a handful.”

Shelby smiled. Perhaps she was in the minority, or maybe it was only because she was part-time and in the classes she taught out in the Art Barn in the summer and after school the kids wanted to be there, but she would take a kid who was a handful every day of the week.

The quiet, studious boys and the girls who were so eager to please all too clearly reminded her of herself and she wanted to scream at them to get a backbone, to stand up for themselves. To take a lesson from the kids who caused problems, whom no one could overlook. Because waiting to be seen, to be noticed, only led to midlife crises and psychotic breaks that tore apart your world.

At least that was her experience.

But that was probably a little heavy for an elementary school art class.

“We’ve been back for a week and he’s been in the office almost every day,” Colleen said, lifting her own mug—no cats to be seen—from the hot plate. “Fighting, mouthy, stealing from classmates.” She turned her giant chair back around to face the door and the computer, her kingdom. “And his father is a piece of work, clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from that particular tree. Mark my words: that boy is nothing but trouble.”

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