Symphony 8

No matter how long he looked at the walls, Neil could see no thermostat. “Don’t you have air conditioning?” he asked.

“Only in the new portables.”

Neil found that hard to believe. “Does this heat last long?” he asked.

Gina took the time to seal one box with masking tape before she said, “That’s right. I forgot. Bill said that you were from out of state. Oregon wasn’t it?”

“Yes. Who’s Bill?”

“Bill Campbell. The superintendent. And the heat . . . if you’re lucky, this heat will break in a week or two, but I’ve seen it last right into October. And I’ve seen it start in April, but not very often. Most of the time you can figure one month in the fall and another in the spring.”

Gina sat down with a groan. “What are you doing for the next hour?” she asked.

“I just came to see my room and pick up copies of the books I am supposed to teach out of. But since you’re here, I’d like to hear how you run your class. It will be new to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been teaching high school.”

Gina frowned. “Now why didn’t Bill tell us that? Everyone knows you are coming in from Oregon to replace me for the year, but we all thought you would be an experienced teacher.”

“I am.”

“What’s the lowest grade you’ve ever taught?”

Her question was an echo of Campbell’s question four months ago. Neil said, “Ninth grade.”

“And you are just now getting here? Haven’t you studied the books we use?”

“No. How long can it take to read kids’ books? I’ve allowed myself the weekend.”

Gina shook her head in dismay. “Neil, Neil. You’ve got it all wrong. You must think you can come in here and teach with no problems because you’re coming down to elementary. Right?”

“I don’t mean to be condescending, but . . . yes.”

“You are in trouble. Teaching elementary is twice as hard as teaching high school. You’re lucky that you are at least teaching sixth grade. Teaching first or second is twice as hard as sixth.”

Neil smiled. He said, “You’re kidding.”

“You’ll find out. Look, I’ll make you a trade. Help me sort these boxes and drag them out to the car for me, and I’ll spend a couple of hours giving you a run-down on how we do things.”

Neil was happy to oblige. For half an hour he fetched and toted, and observed Gina Wyatt. She was dressed in shorts that probably had not fitted well since the seventh month of her pregnancy and a maternity blouse that could not quite cope with her girth. Her hair was cut short and plastered to her head by sweat. She was untidy in the extreme. Yet he found himself drawn to her. She was making the best of a bad situation with aplomb. And though she must have known how sloppy she looked, she did not to apologize.

Finally, the last box was packed. Gina wiped her face for the hundredth time and said, “I’m glad that’s over. Let the boxes set and let’s go cool off before I throw up.”

Neil grinned and said, “Fine with me. Where?”

She led him to the teacher’s lounge. It was the fourth room of the air conditioned quad. She offered him a soft drink from the refrigerator, and they sat at a table that looked like it might be a cast-off from someone’s kitchen. more tomorrow

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