Joanna muttered, “darn it” as she scanned the text,
stuck in traffic on 81. Alex on his way.
Joanna fervently wished her doctor would give her the go-ahead to drive. She didn’t like being dependent on other people. Thank God she wasn’t as needy as she had been two weeks ago, but she still felt more comfortable when getting in and out of car if someone was there to steady her. Jar lids were a no-no, and the doctor had warned about picking up heavy objects or participating in activities that would interfere with the healing process. In the future, she would not take freedom of motion for granted.
She was comfortable accepting help from her Aunt Polly, her Dad, and Melanie but inconveniencing acquaintances was unsettling, especially a busy man like Alex. Their friendship was tenuous at best. It was impossible not to compare him to Sam, and that wasn’t fair to either man. The last time she spoke to Alex he made it clear that he thought Sam was irresponsible for not coming forward as a witness to the Chip Singleton incident. He said that friendship without loyalty, wasn’t really a friendship. She wanted to argue that Sam was the epitome of loyalty, but without sharing the truth, her argument wouldn’t fly.
Less than five minutes after receiving her dad’s text, she received a text from Alex. He was parked in the teacher’s parking lot. With more than a little trepidation, she took a deep breath, held her head high and headed out to face the music. If she were lucky, she would make it home without Chip Singleton’s name coming up. She found Alex standing by the passenger side of his BMW, waiting to open the car door.
“Hi Alex. I’m not sure how you got roped into chauffeur duty but thank you.”
“Simple. I told Charles if he needed backup that I was available. All of us need help now and then, Joanna.”
Instead of turning the key in the ignition when he slipped into the driver’s seat, he turned to her and frowned. “Are you okay? You are pale.”
“I need refueling, but an energy bar or a nap will do the trick.”
“Are you pacing yourself?”
“Do you need to make any stops before I drive you home?”
He started the car, checked for traffic, and took a left out of the parking lot.
Joanna could have told him that she was exhausted because the first few weeks of the school year were chaotic. That it took stamina and patience to build a working relationship with each of her students. There were always one or two students who pushed the boundaries until he or she understood that Joanna wouldn’t tolerate unruly behavior or rudeness.
The boys openly tried to best their teacher, the girls tended to use innuendo. If she lost control of her class early on, not a lot of learning took place. Some co-workers read their students’ files before fall session began, but her strategy was to offer the students a fresh start. She eventually read the files. Sometimes she agreed with the remarks of previous teachers and sometimes she didn’t. She believed that most students were naturally eager to learn. Keep them busy, make learning exciting, spice up the curriculum with music and art and encourage laughter, that was her recipe for a happy classroom. She kept her thought to herself because she didn’t think Alex would be interested.
What she did say was, “This year is more exhausting because of my injuries and the uncertainly of the Chip Singleton situation. Compartmentalizing is easy on paper, more difficult in the classroom.”
“What about your assistant teacher? Has she been a help?”
“She’s terrific, but the lead teacher is held responsible for what does and does not happen in the classroom. Sorry for sounding so whiny. Life will return to normal when the casts come off.”
“Have there been any developments about your assailant?”
“Does that mean that you haven’t told the police that Chip Singleton pushed you?”
“Alex, I only have Sam’s word that that Chip pushed me. I can’t go to the police with unverified information. Unless Chip confesses, which is unlikely, he will never be charged. My concern is the state of his mental health. Does he have anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, or some other form of mental illness or is he a drug or alcohol addict? Either way, he is a ticking bomb.”
Alex shook his head, but he didn’t mention Sam.
“Did your dad contact a private investigator?”
“Dad has a friend who is co-owner of Brownwell Security. While I was in the hospital, a team from Brownwell installed a new security system in my house, and the company’s research division did a background check on Singleton’s. The Singleton men have a history of suffering from mental disorders. That may or may not be important.”
“What does Logan say about Chip? Has he ever seen any symptoms that would suggest that Chip has a mental disorder?”
“Until Chip graduated from high school, he had not been in trouble with the police. I didn’t realize that it was not unusual for the onset of mental illness to begin between the ages of 18 and 29. Sometimes stress can trigger symptoms. In the early stages, the chances are high that the disorder can be reversed or controlled if the patient gets help.
Joanna’s phone vibrated. She let out a small gasp when she read the text.
“What’s wrong, Joanna.”
“One more complication. The text is unsigned, but my guess is that the text is from Chip.”
“What does it say?”
“Watch your back.”
“Don’t delete the message.”
She shook her head. “I won’t, but you can be darn sure the text can’t be traced back to him.”
“Send your dad a text. Tell him we will be at his house in fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t want to worry Dad.”
“Your dad is already worried.”