The banging of pans in the kitchen woke Lexi Jones from a deep sleep. Suddenly panicked, she reached for her phone and checked the time. Six twenty. She still had ten minutes before her alarm went off. Groaning, she pulled herself away from the warmth of her bed, and trudged to the bathroom across the hall. Her whole body ached from the last three days of packing and moving.
The girls were making enough noise in the kitchen to wake the dead. When Lexi made it there, she saw ten-year-old Taylor and her eight-year-old sister, Sidney, standing on footstools at the stove, their backs to her.
“What are you doing?” Lexi asked. “You shouldn’t be using the stove without permission.”
Taylor looked over her shoulder at her aunt and said, “I didn’t know I needed to ask. We used to cook at Grandma’s all the time.”
“We wanted to make you breakfast.” Sidney grinned. Her hair was standing out from her head in crazy directions, as she held a whisk over a bowl of eggs.
Lexi softened. “That’s sweet of you.” Looking around the room, she waved a hand at the boxes stacked everywhere. “Either of you have any idea where the coffeemaker is?”
“I do!” Sidney hopped down from her stool, and went to a box that had been dragged into the middle of the floor. “I saw it when we were looking for a pan.”
“Yay!” Lexi smiled at her niece, and accepted the offered coffeemaker.
Taylor was pouring the eggs into the pan on the stove, when she said, “We didn’t have a lot to choose from. Milk, bread and eggs.” She shrugged. “Siddie’s making toast.”
“We’ll go to the grocery store after school,” Lexi promised.
“Do we have to go to school?” Taylor frowned. “We could just stay home for another day or two.”
“I don’t think the school board would be very happy with me if I missed my first day of work,” Lexi said, as she plugged in the coffeemaker and began rummaging through boxes to find the coffee.
“But we could stay home,” Taylor looked hopeful.
Lexi didn’t even look at her as she said, “Not a chance.”
She found the coffee and filters, and then took a seat at the kitchen table while she waited for her morning cup to brew. She rubbed her hand across her eyes, and stifled a yawn. She was tired. The last month had been a whirlwind. First the funeral, then court, two different interviews at the elementary school, and then packing and moving. Tired was really an understatement. Lexi was exhausted. Not the best way to start her job as the newest first grade teacher at Little River Elementary School.
Starting a teaching job right before the holiday break was not ideal, but Mrs. Clough had a massive heart attack right before Halloween, leaving her class without a teacher. Mrs. Clough had been Lexi’s first grade teacher when she was a kid, so, even though the sudden job opening was a godsend for her, she had been sad to hear of her former teacher’s sudden death.
Lexi’s thoughts were interrupted as Taylor put a steaming plate of eggs in front of her. “I could get used to this,” she said, giving the girl an appreciative smile.
“Taylor loves to cook,” Sidney informed her aunt. “Grandma taught her lots of different recipes. I just help stir.”
“It’s a good thing,” Lexi said as the girls joined her at the table. “I’m not a very good cook. Grandma tried to teach me when I was your age, but I never liked it.”
“Did our mom like to cook?” Taylor asked.
“Not when she was little,” Lexi tried to keep her expression neutral. “She started cooking more in high school. She even said she wanted to go to school for culinary arts.”
“What’s that?” Sidney asked.
“Oh.” Sidney ate a forkful of eggs smothered in ketchup, and then asked, “Did she go to school?”
“No.” Lexi shook her head. Talking about her sister left a bad taste in her mouth, so she changed the subject, “We have to hurry and get ready. We can’t be late on our first day.”
By lunchtime, Lexi was fighting tears.
“You okay?” Ashley, Lexi’s teaching assistant, was watching her with wary eyes.
“I’m fine.” Lexi took a deep breath. “I’ve taught first grade for the past six years, in two different schools, but I’ve never started in the middle of the year. It’s overwhelming.”
Ashley nodded in sympathy. “This is a rowdy bunch, too. Mrs. Clough kept them under control, but they’ve had substitutes for a month and a half.” She grinned. “They’ve gone feral.”
“I can see that!” Lexi couldn’t help but smile at the other woman. “I don’t know what I’d do without you today. I obviously don’t know what I’m doing yet.”
Ashley smiled and started to reply, but was cut off by the intercom in the corner of the room. The tinny voice of one of the office ladies said, “Ms. Jones, Dalton Moore was just dropped off. Should we send him to the cafeteria or to your room?”
Lexi looked confused, so Ashley answered for her, “Send him to the room, Leslie. There’s only five minutes left of lunch.”
“Okie dokie,” Leslie replied. “I’m sending him down.”
“You’re going to love this little guy,” Ashley said. “He’s my favorite. He’s just the sweetest little thing.”
“I need a sweet one,” Lexi said. She was only half joking. In the first few hours of the morning, she had already figured out she had a difficult class. Three little boys were obvious troublemakers, multiple kids were vying for the ‘class clown’ title, and one little girl had silently cried through story time.
“Well, Dalton is definitely a sweetheart.”
As the door opened, Ashley said, “And here he is now!”
A little boy with white-blond hair and bright blue eyes came through the door and grinned, “Hi, Miss Ashley!”
“Hey, there, Dalton.” Ashley helped him take off his backpack and jacket and hang them on hooks. “Where have you been this morning?”
“I had to go to the dentist,” Dalton answered while staring at the new teacher.
“Our new teacher is here today,” Ashley said. “This is Ms. Jones.” Looking up at Lexi, she said, “Ms. Jones, this is Dalton.”
Lexi managed to say, “Hello, Dalton.” She didn’t register his response over the thoughts racing through her head as she desperately tried to do the math. The little boy in front of her was the spitting image of her brother. The brother she hadn’t heard from in seven years.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.