The Hardest Answer: Reconnectingbycawastedyouth©
The August morning of the Monday before school was blinding, and if it hadn't been for the mirrored sunglasses, Lauren would be squinting. Lauren braved running her bike over the small dirt piles left by the construction workers because they hadn't finished the soft-scape yet. She pulled up along side the bike racks and slowly put her battered sneaker to the dusty asphalt. She locked her bike to an available rack and looked at the brand new school. Baby blades of grass poked up in spots between saplings strapped to stakes. Everything was freshly painted and clean. Even the concrete had been hosed down to rid it of the thin layer of dust generated by the landscapers.
Last minute touches by various contractors were occurring. The distant sounds of tools bounced around the empty quad. She saw a few adults meandering to their destinations.
Cynically, Lauren knew within weeks the white concrete would be scuffed and grey once the students started using the campus. Lauren swiveled around and oriented to the campus looking for the room she would meet her co-workers. As she came in from the bike racks, there were some undeterminable classrooms on her right; she guessed the next building was the administration wing. The building dead in front of her was labeled 'Library'.
No mistaking that room. She mused. A sharp turn to the left, and then she realized, the school was so new, they hadn't put room numbers up yet, but the building label would assure her that she had the right wing.
The rooms where the first meeting could occur were all locked and Lauren was twenty minutes early in chinos and a blue cambric shirt that she had starched herself this morning. Thankfully, the morning weather decided to cooperate and saturate the small concrete quad with heat, she didn't know what she would do if her starch started to wilt. She said hello to her former Spanish teacher and hoped to be in her class. Secretly, she'd never admit it, but Lauren could use the booster in vocabulary. And then at ten minutes to the hour she heard a bit of a scream.
"Lauren Hatfield?" The voice was unmistakable.
Suddenly Lauren trembled. The past fifteen years had slipped away and she was a child yet again.
Lauren shifted her briefcase strap showing only a few threads from its usage around her shoulders and shoved her hands into her pockets as she did a parade 'about face' to see her former teacher nearly running to greet her. Clearly Ms. Lasting was bucking for the 'loud and proud' with her bleached short hair and loud color choices for her clothing. It didn't matter; Lauren could fake her way through this. She swallowed hard.
"Yes ma'am?" Lauren closed the gap of space between them and was sucked into a two-armed hug, which she returned as much as she felt comfortable.
"Are you working here?" Ms. Lasting was incredulous. She never imagined ever seeing Lauren again. Lauren took off her glasses wiped them clear and squinted and Julia saw Lauren's dark brown eyes.
Lauren nodded and squared up her shoulders. Ms. Lasting barely made it past her eye level. "In the special needs program, as an aide."
"But we'll be colleagues!" she said happily.
"I don't know if any of my students will be in your class." Lauren hadn't expected to see Ms. Lasting, but there was some tiny part deep inside Lauren that brightened seeing her there.
"We'll still be colleagues." She still insisted. Lauren let it drop.
"Glad to see you. We need to catch up." Lauren nodded. Another stifling hug followed. Lauren gratefully returned her glasses to her face. Lauren watched as Ms. Lasting skipped away, wanting more than anything to just stay in that very moment. With a bemused grin, Lauren thought, you'd think I wanted her like some lovesick teenager. With a shudder, she turned away hoping her new boss would wander her way to distract her. Around the corner, came a beleaguered tall man in shorts and a t-shirt that held the names of Special Olympic Sponsors. He had three boxes loaded with papers and he was trying to juggle his keys.
"Paul?" she asked drawing close to the door.
"Lauren?" she nodded and offered to take a few boxes from him.
His gratitude was apparent. "Good we'll start our meeting in a minute when Jo shows up."
Lauren nodded and entered the darkened classroom. It looked foreign to her. The white boards, the computers and the jumbled pile of grey tables existed in regular classrooms typically. Not in a special education room. Lauren was impressed.
"This stuff is ours?" she saw the fact that the computers were not only clean but they were new.
"Yeah. Every classroom got computers." He was clearly overwhelmed himself. He dropped a packet in front of her. "You should read this before Jo gets here."
Lauren nodded and settled into a chair to begin to read the packet. It was a list of policy and procedure that Paul wanted throughout the academic year. Jo entered, she was bubbly and made her introduction to Lauren on her own while Paul continually dialed the phone trying to balance issues that were arising on both campuses and relieving fears of parents. Jo was a forty-year-old mother of three rambunctious boys, one of whom had a disability. She had been working in the program for as long as her sons had been enrolled, aiming to return and get a Masters in teaching eventually. Lauren considered her role with her new co-worker carefully. And as it turned out, fortunately for Lauren, Jo was a lot more vocal than she was.
"So how are we going to do the math intervention class with you at the other campus?"
"The book is self-explanatory, the kids move at their own pace. You'll be fine it isn't rocket science." And it was true, the first eight lessons were all about adding and subtracting. Lauren squelched her initial boredom. The thought of following the direct script over and over again like some scale on a piano wasn't exactly appealing.
'Money to pay your bills.' The thought refocused her attention and she looked at the material he had dumped in front of her.
Though she was attentive during the small meeting, her head echoed with Ms. Lasting's voice. It was intoxicating. Lauren couldn't shake the feeling of the hug.
'Has it been that long since someone touched you?' Lauren chided herself. She wasn't really the type of person to be very tactile. She wasn't much for being touched. So when there was an opportunity for any sort of intimate contact, even one as platonic as a hug from someone from her past, Lauren felt strange. She could hear herself be elated and frightened at the same time. Oddly, to her this time, her elation was much more prevalent than it had ever been.
'I just must be glad to see her again after all of these years.' Lauren reasoned.
Julia, back in her classroom wasn't nearly as preoccupied with anything other than the impending school year. Briefly, her eyes fell on the pile of action figures on a table in the corner. Her son was at his father's for the day enjoying the last full week before his classes began. She wanted to float through and get everything done. The dictionaries had arrived; textbooks were still being processed. She sometimes marveled at the way logistics fell into place when pressure was appropriately placed. She picked up a canvas tote and brushed the action figures into the bag setting it by the door so she could take them home.
The staff was slowly trickling in for the day and settling in to prepare for the last bits before school started. Meeting up with Lauren was a highlight for the day. She was so excited for her former student who at one time might not have lived long enough to see this school built. She seemed to have come a long way from the introverted child that skulked in the darkest corners like so many of her peers. She couldn't wait to see what Lauren was capable as an adult.
She turned to the boxes that were placed on her desk and opened them, locating dry erase markers and an assortment of general office supplies. She looked up as she turned to take the supplies to her closet. She saw Lauren shake Paul and another woman's hand and then head to the bike racks. A smile came across Julia's face: there wasn't a doubt now; saving Lauren had been a grace of all that was good in the universe.
Lauren has a million ways to still contribute to this world; I'm glad I'll get to see some of it now. She thought and then turned to start stacking the items into her closet. A parent volunteer bustled into the room and sorted a pile of copying.
"Thank you!" Julia called cheerily after the parent who bustled out to another classroom.