"But I don't wanna go."
Tibby clung to my hand and we stood side by side, eyeing the school. This morning was one of firsts. Tibby and I had already dropped Cole off at the junior high. He had finally made the leap. After spending last year as king of the school, he was starting over again at the bottom. Even though I sensed his nervousness, he had spotted some of his friends and scrambled out of the car before Tibby and I could ruin his 'cool' factor. I had driven to the elementary school with tears in my eyes.
Now they were beginning to fall. I was setting a horrible example. What little girl wanted to go to school if even her mom was crying about it?
"Let's go home. I'll try again tomorrow. Promise."
Tibby tugged at my hand, leaning in the direction of the car, but I didn't budge. I squatted down beside her and brushed the moisture from my cheeks.
"Sweetie, you've been waiting all summer for this. School is fun. You're going to make a lot of new friends and learn all kinds of fun things. You told me you really liked the teacher when we went to open house last week. She's going to be sad if you don't show up today."
Tibby wavered. "Miss Middleton will be sad?"
I nodded. Tibby glanced back at the building. Her Kindergarten class was lining up against the brick wall. The girls looked so sweet in their navy pleated skirts, white blouses, and shiny bookbags. The boys looked like caged monkeys. Several shirts were already untucked. Tibby sighed and turned back to me.
"But you're sad," she said. She hugged me tight around my neck. I closed my eyes and sighed.
"Sweetie, I'm just sad you're growing up so fast," I said.
"Then I won't grow up," Tibby said stubbornly. I laughed.
"Honey, everyone grows up." I pulled away and took her hand. "I'll walk you up to the line."
Miss Middleton, Tibby's teacher, smiled as we drew near. She was a pretty young girl in her early twenties. I knew this was the first class she'd ever had and her enthusiasm was oozing from her pores. She immediately greeted Tibby by name. The moment crayons were mentioned, Tibby let go of my hand and got into line. I stepped back, my heart secretly breaking. She had already forgotten me.
They were walking in and suddenly Tibby's fear returned. She turned to face me and I saw the panic on her face. Against the grain, I forced a smile on my face and gave her a thumbs up. She slowly returned it...
And then she was gone.
"Mr. Jenkins is already waiting in the chair. That bad huh?"
Leslie, our clerical assistant, gave me a look of pity. I grabbed a Kleenex from the desk and dabbed my eyes.
"She didn't want to go. I didn't want her to go."
"But she went?"
"I faked enthusiasm."
Leslie smiled. "Good mama."
I walked around the counter, stored my purse and was just about ready to shrug into my white coat when the door to the office opened.
"Delivery for Jillian Henley-Bridges?"
A delivery boy was hidden somewhere behind the giant bouquet of red roses he was holding. I was immediately suspicious. I never hyphenated my name.
"I'll be Jillian Henley-Bridges," Leslie said breathlessly. I rolled my eyes. "That's me."
The boy set down the flowers and smiled. I'm sure if he had a hat he probably would have tipped it. "Have a nice day, ma'am."
There was nothing like a good 'ma'am' that made me feel a thousand years old. Leslie was all over the bouquet the minute the guy walked out. "Who they from?"
I knew the answer before I even opened the card, but I made a fine show of opening the ivory envelope.
They told me I could do anything if I put my mind into it. Yet no matter how hard I try in all that I do, I just can't take my mind off you. Please say you'll see me again. - B
I closed my eyes and sighed. Leslie must have leaned over to read because I heard another sigh from her, this one dreamy.
I opened my eyes and slid the card back in the envelope. "Just an old friend."
She smiled. "An old friend, huh? Sounds like more."
"Did you say Mr. Jenkins is waiting?"
Her smile grew wider. "I want details."
I turned around. "Nothing to tell!" I called behind my shoulder.
The morning was absolutely jammed packed with patients. After four cleanings and two fillings, I finally stopped for a late two o'clock lunch. My thoughts had been sporadic all day between thinking about how Tibby and Cole were doing at school and those red roses. I put my tools in to the disinfecting wash and headed back out to reception, hoping to talk Leslie into going to the deli around the street and getting me a chicken salad sandwich, but the minute I saw the room, thoughts of food disappeared.
It was like I had stepped into a florist. The first bouquet of roses were eclipsed by dozens of other vases of flowers. Lilies. Daisies. Mums. Red. Yellow. Pink. The scent was intoxicating. Leslie was sitting behind an amazing array of exotic flowers in bright colors looking dazed and awed.
"I'm dying here. I've been accepting deliveries all morning. Who is this Prince Charming and when do I get to meet him?"
"You don't," I said, plucking the nearest card out of a vase. "I told him I didn't want to see him again."
"I think he's trying to convince you otherwise," Leslie said. "It's working, too. At least for me. I think I'm in love."
The card in my hand had a simple doodle, a horrible rendition of our Tates Creek Mascot.
When I think about you, I think about 17, I think about my old jeep. I think about the stars in the sky.
They were lyrics to a song, but they fit to a T. We had lost our virginity to each other just weeks after the bleacher incident in his old jeep. I ran a hand through my hair and put the card back in the envelope.
"Is he ugly? Does he have a wart in the center of his forehead? What's not to like?"
"We were high school sweethearts and he broke my heart," I said.
"Well, people change," Leslie said with a shrug. Her eyes drifted around the room. "He's obviously sorry."
I spotted several more notes in vases. I headed over to the one nearest to the door. The vase was filled with black roses and the note was enclosed in a black and silver envelope. I opened it, wondering what other heart-melting note Bri had left.
The moment I saw the handwriting, so different from Brian's, my blood ran cold. I stayed conscious just long enough to read what was written.
What's three foot five and wearing a blue skirt? I'll give you a hint...
It's our daughter.
SURPRISE. Daddy's HOME. - G
Author's Note: Drop me a line and let me know what you think of the story so far. :)