1. Second Stage
Why had I fallen for Charles Long’s charm yet again? Why had I forgotten his disheartening duplicity? Why had I repositioned myself in this wrestle between loving my students who desired to learn and hating the professionals who opted to stagnate? For what rational reason had I agreed to return to Merritt Country Day School in Palm Beach, Florida to teach for him, board-named Headmaster and self-declared Headmonster?
I went—ran—to Charles’s office immediately upon hearing the news from Kate Lynn Frantonio, my closest colleague at the school and fellow math teacher. The door was open. Charles was sitting behind his messy desk.
“Is Heinz Keller Assistant Headmaster?” I fired.
“Molly, sit down,” Charles offered.
“I deserve a straight response—no double talk,” I said, sharp-shooting my eyes at him.
“Don’t you feel well? You look frazzled.”
“Answer me! Then I’ll sit down and tell you how I feel.”
“Yes,” Charles muttered sheepishly.
Moving aside, I shut Charles’s door with one swift kick, sank into a chair across from his desk, and buried my face in my hands.
“Now you’ve sat down, and I can guess how you feel,” he commented with unbefitting humor.
“How could you make that creature Assistant Headmaster?” I trembled as I asked Charles this implausible question.
“You know the Board members regularly say that I need more help.”
“So, he was the only bird in the cage,” Charles replied feebly.
“What? He was the only bird in the cage? When did you begin speaking in clichés like Kate Lynn?”
“You know what I mean,” he said.
“No, I don’t. You could have done a national search, as you love to brag. Why appoint Heinz with lightning speed? He is not help. You will require extra help to cover his daily damage.”
“Are you implying that he is the School Scoundrelle?”
“Now is not the occasion for your faux French fetish. And don’t forget that you coined that insulting title,” I remarked. “I’m innocent this time.”
“But you’ve often told me that Heinz is a villain.”
“He may be unprincipled, but I didn’t confer on him one of your disparaging code names.”
“Give him a chance,” Charles responded weakly.
“Give him a chance? One chance? Are you kidding? I’ve given him seven dozen chances in seven months. Something does not add up. Something else is going on.”
Charles’s defeated demeanor bewildered me. Powerless rarely described Charles Long, king of cunning. Had Heinz won the battle for controlling Merritt Country Day?
“Molly, quit overanalyzing and accept reality,” Charles stated.
“I could accept reality if I knew the truth, but you won’t tell me. I know one thing for sure. My life will be a long, grisly nightmare next year—far worse than it has been already—if I stay at this spook house you call a school.”
“Don’t talk about resigning again. You have the addendum to your contract that protects you. And the teachers are excited about carrying your consulting project into its second stage. You will have a wonderfelle year,” Charles predicted.
“One—I had a contract addendum this year, and Herr Keller didn’t recognize a sentence of it. And, two—we’ve eliminated the teachers below third grade—remember?”
“Molly, don’t call him Herr Keller.”
“You started it with your silly, nonstop jokes about his German military family portrait.”
“The two of you can peacefully coexist at this school.”
“No, we can’t.”
“Things will be fine,” Charles said, trying to calm my nerves, fearful that I would walk out.
“Is your decision final?” I asked.
“Final,” he replied, lacking enthusiasm.
“I’m telling you again—something else is going on.”
“And I can sense you’re stressed. You don’t usually repeat yourself.”
“The pretext for the promotion will reach me—dirt invariably does. I wish for once that you would be the one to come forth.”
“Detective Kelman, put away your magnifying glass.”
“Only when you are forthright.” I nodded, indicating that the conversation was over, and left. Thankfully, he didn’t dare assert with outrageous audacity that he was perpetually honest with me.
Priscilla, Merritt Country Day’s main gatekeeper and Charles’s sole organizer, was not at her desk as I exited MCD’s front door. She would have easily noticed my depressed state.
With an unstable gait, I trudged down the distinctive, diagonal path from the office, beyond the silver and yellow stone statue of the school’s uncommon mascot—a Florida, protected, edible fish named the snook—to the parking lot. Fortunately, the walkway was empty. Speaking to anyone presently was unthinkable.
Was I steady enough to drive home? My hands shook as I clutched the steering wheel. I disliked driving anyway. Now I faced twelve miles in devastation. Perhaps that trip would soon vanish from my chores—an imperceptible consolation for the heartache. Still, I knew that I must go home without delay because only my sunroom, where I had done so much painful meditation during my previous eight-year stint at MCD, would provide safety. I could not determine my future at the school until I ruminated about the past that had catapulted me to this untenable dilemma. Should I once more terminate my professional association with Merritt Country Day School and its headmaster with his on-again off-again brilliance but always on-again eccentricity? Or should I fight Herr Heinz Keller who hated math, hated academics, and hated me?
Once securely home in the coziness of the room, the comfort of the sofa, and the warmth of the sun, I replayed in my mind the entire, two-year-long, sordid story from the day Charles called beseeching me to return to MCD, to the current, harrowing day.