Ruby Slips and Poker Chips is coming out later in November if all goes well. Here’s the first chapter to give you a small preview. I hope you enjoy!
A tornado blew through the small town of Quandary the night before Westward arrived. The slim, rope-like twister was a two on the Fujita scale, but the damage it caused seemed more like a five. I wondered later if the storm came to drop her off before moving further east. The very next day, the school board voted and named Maxine Westward the new principal of Quandary Elementary. That day changed my life.
Now you may be wondering what I have against a woman who gives her life to shaping young minds. It just so happens that I was born with a sixth sense called woman’s intuition. When Maxine first walked into the school for her interview with her briefcase and painted-on smile, it was easy to size her up.
As I raced around the corner to copy my students’ homework in the last minute of music class, Maxine and I nearly had a head-on collision. She wore a navy blue power suit, six-inch heels, and her hair short and red. I wondered if the state sent her to inspect the school’s records again. The Kansas Department of Education has a nasty habit of sending their cronies in at the most inconvenient times.
I held up a homework sheet and extended my free hand. “I’m sorry, trying to get this done before I have to pick up the kiddos. I’m Dottie Gale.”
The phony looked me up and down, frowned, and brushed past me into the office. Glancing down, I searched for the coffee stain on my satin shirt. She painted her smile on again for Miggy Samuels, the school secretary, while I made my way to the printer. Before I even knew why she was there, my intuition kicked in, telling me she was no good for my school.
“I’m here for an appointment,” she said, looking around the office like she was too important to set foot in it. I wanted to tell her to take her heels, and get back to where she came from, but instead, I bit my lip and continued my copying. I kept my ears tuned in, pretending to mind my own business. I wondered why the school board was all there, getting the royal breakfast treatment from Wanda Jo in the lunchroom. A day of interviews to find the new principal would have to start with bacon and a short stack.
After school, I carried my stepladder out to the hallway to hang up my end of the school year bulletin board. The large, yellow butcher paper curled around me as I struggled to staple the first corner. One of the magazines my Uncle Embry subscribed to ran an article last year about the ten most hazardous jobs. I wanted to call the editor and give him a piece of my mind, because coal miners and structural construction workers have nothing on teachers. I could fall backwards and break my neck on the linoleum while hanging this stupid paper, not to mention the number of germs that attacked my body from the petri dishes on feet called second graders. Just as I ruined my fifth staple, I felt a hand lift the paper. Corbin Lane stretched it across the board, holding while I attached the students’ papers.
“So did you hire the witch?” I watched him out of the corner of my eye. Corbin was the youngest member of the school board, as well as my ex-boyfriend. His black hair hung adorably in his eyes in a wistful fashion that reminded me of one of the characters in a comic book.
“And which one would that be, dear?” I hated when he called me that. I slammed another staple into the wall, intent on taking my aggressions out on the bulletin board instead of Corbin.
“Which one? The red head, of course! She marches in here with her superior attitude and expects we can’t see through it.” I hopped down from the ladder, moving it to the center of the board. Climbing back up, I pounded my fist into the stapler, again concealing my emotions in a way that I’m sure the stapler didn’t appreciate.
“We haven’t made a decision, yet.” He smirked. “But I guess I know where you stand.” Corbin moved the ladder this time and applied the next staple.
I froze realizing my mistake. Ever since he cheated on me in high school, he was constantly trying to please me – to the point of being highly annoying.
I snatched the stapler from Corbin’s hand, but found it empty. “Damn stapler.”
“Here, let me take it.” He took my abused weapon and went to my desk to rummage for more ammo while I thought about how I’d now become the sixth person on the interview committee. I knew my comments would definitely influence Corbin’s decision. Looking back, I wished I had the sexual prowess to influence the other three men on the board. I guess I need a little more Ginger and a little less Mary Anne.
The summer came and went and I almost forgot about the impending disaster ready to take down Quandary Elementary. During the teacher workdays before school started, Westward went out of her way to impress the staff by buying doughnuts for the break room, taking us out to lunch, and sharing childhood photographs. By the end of teacher training, I was looking forward to the first day of school and the excitement of the children seeing their friends, everyone looking their best, and a chance for all of us to start over. Looking over my class, I knew I was ready to take on a the school year despite the she-devil in the principal’s office.
“Good morning, boys and girls. I’m Miss Gale. Please put your school supplies in your desk while I take attendance.” My students worked on their desks and I collected lunch money. Ms. Westward walked in, taking the time to frown in my direction before heading to the front of the class.
“Children, I’m the new principal, Ms. Westward. I moved here from Colorado last spring. I expect that as long as I don’t find you in my office, we will have a good relationship.” She glanced around the classroom, her lips set in a firm line. One of the boys, knee deep in school supplies, raised his hand.
“Yes, young man?” Westward sighed smoothed out her suit, ready to move her heels to another classroom.
“I’m Tommy.” The boy wiped his nose on his sleeve. A shiny line of snot still ran across his right cheek. Westward raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, Tommy.” Her face was frozen into a forced smile, only interrupted by a twitch that developed in her left eye. The degrading tone made me squirm, even though it would roll off the back of a seven-year-old.
“Mr. Rollins used to play soccer at recess. Are you going to play with us?”
A slight giggle escaped my lips, and the principal’s eyes looked directly at mine, shooting daggers. It was the first time that I noticed she wore contacts. Lilac? Possibly she had been a victim of a nuclear accident.
Maxine let out a long breath. “No, Tommy. Ms. Westward needs to dress in nice clothes for work, and I’m getting a little old for soccer. Maybe Miss Gale will play with you.” A smile crossed her lips that told me the game was on.
“How old are you? You look like you’re a hundred. That’s probably why you can’t play soccer.”
The students erupted into laughter, while Maxine quickly left the room. I pushed my lips together to suppress a giggle of my own, but knew I had won this battle, and I would win the war with the students on my side.