Know. Want. Learn.
Fitz was exhilarated. He walked back to his office after the presentation to the fourth grade teachers. He felt as if he could make a difference at Ambrose. The faculty and staff were welcoming and supportive. There was something off with the fourth grade teachers. There was no sense of cohesion like he'd witnessed on the other grade levels. The fifth grade meeting was tomorrow. He would see if there was any esprit de corps there.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Grant!" Mr. Sandoval greeted eagerly.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Sandoval!" Fitz said as we entered the door to the front office suite.
"Mr. Grant, these were just delivered for you. They are beautiful." His administrative assistant, Quinn Perkins, held out a large bouquet of 24 white roses. Fitz took them with a suspicion of the sender. If they came from whom he suspected, he would surely frown.
"Thank you, Ms. Perkins. I don't know who these are from," he said with a smile.
"Would you like me to open the card for you?" Quinn reached for the card, but Fitz turned and walked towards his office.
"No, I'll read it. Oh and please e-mail me the schedule of my one-on-one meetings with the fourth grade teachers. I want to make some changes." Fitz walked into this office and closed the door. He set the flowers on his desk and reached for the card.
Congratulations on your new job, Fitz. Yours, Mellie Grant.
Fitz narrowed his eyes at the note. With a quick swipe of his hands, he tore the card in half and tossed it in the waste bin. Anger filled his chest even though he'd known the sender. He reached for the phone to call her, but returned it to the receiver. He knew her intent: to get a rise out of him. Fitz carried the bouquet to Quinn's office.
"Ms. Perkins, these flowers were actually from the school board for the entire school. Please find some vases and display them in a few of the common areas. Keep a few blossoms for your desk," he directed.
"Thank you, Mr. Grant," she said.
When Fitz returned to his office, his phone was ringing.
"Ambrose Elementary School, Mr. Grant speaking." Fitz was back in his office.
"Well, you have to come back to headquarters now. They have you answering your own phone over there?" chided the caller.
"Cyrus! Hello. Does my Superintendent miss me already?" Fitz teased back.
"I am a sad Superintendent who has lost his best Area Superintendent. Actually, Fitz, this move of yours was golden. It is playing very well in the press. 'High ranking education official leaves a plumb position to lead a Title I school.' Headlines like that keep tax payers generous with their pennies. I am sure they will approve the next SPLOST for technology upgrades. How is it going over there?" said Cyrus.
"Great so far, but this is the honeymoon stage. It remains to be seen if they are ready for my ideas. Guess who sent me two-dozen white roses today?" Fitz said.
"Sounds like your ex-wife and my pain in the butt school board member, Mellie." Cyrus guessed.
"She signed the card as "Grant" after making such a big deal about reclaiming her maiden name. The divorce has been final for almost a year and things have been quiet. Let's just hope they stay that way," Fitz said.
"Two dozen roses don't sound quiet to me, but don't worry about it, Fitz. You are away from headquarters. You shouldn't have to see her at work. Karen and Gerry are driving now so no visitation exchange. Enjoy your freedom," said Cyrus.
"Do you know any of the teachers at Ambrose, Cyrus?" he asked.
"I know a few of them from committees and professional development conferences. Why?" asked Cyrus.
"What do you know about Olivia Pope? She teaches 4th grade here," he asked. Fitz opened up his e-mail, looking for the schedule of meetings he'd asked for.
"Yes, I know her. She is an exemplary teacher. In fact she is a Master Teacher. I, along, with every other principal she's worked for have tried to get her to enter leadership, but she isn't interested. She has a great teacher website, OPENeducation or something like that. Teachers from all over the country use her unit plans and other resources. She has written units for this school system also. It is only a matter of time before some publisher steals her away from the front lines. Why?" Cyrus asked.
"Just getting to know my faculty. Well, Cyrus I have to get ready for back-to-back meetings. I'll be in touch. Thanks for checking on me, Mr Beene," Fitz said, hastily. He disconnected the line before Cyrus asked additional questions. As soon as he inquired about her to Cyrus, he'd realized his mistake. Cyrus wasn't the best person to ask about a woman he was interested in personally. Cyrus Beene was the Superintendent of the Olympus City Public Schools and his boss. He couldn't ask him if she was married or seeing someone, which was really the only question about her that he wanted answered. He didn't know what he planned to do especially since professional ethics prevented him from becoming involved with his employee. All he remembered was the very intense attraction he felt when he looked into her eyes. She probably thought he was a lecherous old man because she frowned at him. He'd have to see how it all played out.
He looked at the schedule and saw that she was fourth on his list of eight teachers. That won't do. Fitz typed out a quick e-mail to Ms. Perkins asking her to change Ms. Pope to the last time slot. He had a feeling they would need more time. He smiled as he pressed the send button.
It was lunchtime and Olivia was ready to find her friends. Ms. Kingston dismissed them for lunch on their own. Other grade levels ordered out together, but as usual, the fourth grade team members did not. Olivia taught 5th grade last year with Abby and Harrison, but then, Mrs. Vega, asked for volunteers to join the 4th grade team when another teacher transferred. Olivia volunteered, but she had regretted it after a couple of months. Despite her attempts to get the teachers to collaborate, they would not. They were still the indifferent group paired off into cliques of two or three.
After Olivia microwaved her frozen lunch, she found Abby, Harrison, and Huck eating in Huck's classroom. They called it the dungeon because it was at the far end of the hall on the east wing of the school. His classroom had a concrete floor and black lab tables. They loved to gather there for lunch because they could dish about anything in relative privacy.
"Liv, come in. What do you have…another cardboard lunch?…oh that is one of the good ones, Mezzaluna ravioli. Let me taste," said Abby, spearing one of Olivia's ravioli.
"How was the meeting so far, Liv? What did you think of his presentation and some of the changes he plans to make," asked Harrison. He popped a piece of meatloaf in his mouth. Harrison never ate microwave meals since his wife, Cheryl, loved to cook.
"We all wanted to be a fly on the wall when you gave him a piece of your mind about his plan to increase our class sizes and close the Parent Center," Huck said. "What did you tell him, Liv?"
Olivia's eyes widened. "Wait, what? Where did you hear this?" asked Olivia.
"He presented to the enrichment teachers and other auxiliary staff after the meet and greet yesterday. It is the same presentation he gave today, I would guess, Liv. Weren't you there?" Huck asked.
Olivia frowned, realizing what she had missed. I can't tell them that he had my mind in a fog! I'll never live it down, especially with Abby. Olivia's eyes darted around the room and then she saw the clock.
"Abby and Harrison, look at the clock. You have to get back to class. Recess is nearly over," she urged them.
As with all the grade levels, teachers alternated lunch and recess duty daily. This allowed the teacher off duty an hour lunch every other day. The teacher on duty had to monitor both classes for lunch and recess. During the on duty days a teacher could go all day without a break if there was a meeting during planning time.
Abby and Harrison grunted and groaned even though they were off duty this week. "Let's go, Abs," Harrison said. He grabbed both their plates and trashed them.
"Okay. Liv, I'll see you after school," said Abby.
When Harrison and Abby left, Olivia and Huck continued eating but in silence.
"Huck, in college we were friends first, right?"
"Yeah…so?" Huck said. He threw away his trash and turned on his video projector in preparation for his next class.
"Well, it seems to me that you owe me your first loyalty. I introduced you and Siobhan." Olivia threw away her trash and walked to Huck's desk.
"Liv, what are you talking about. Loyalty for what?"
"If I tell you something, you have to absolutely promise not to tell Abby, Harrison, or even your sweet wife." Olivia lowered her voice and looked over her shoulder.
"Why don't you want to tell Abby or Harrison? When have we ever been able to keep a secret from one another?"
"Huck, please. It may be nothing but I have to tell someone. I would usually talk to Abby about this sort of thing, but I won't be able to take her meddling. You know how she can get sometimes. If I tell Harrison, he won't be able to keep it from Abby. Are you in? Can I trust you old friend? Please?"
"Okay, Liv, Okay. I'm in. Spill it before my next class comes."
Olivia took a deep breath. "I think I am attracted to Mr. Grant...like attracted, attracted."
"Liv, that's nothing! He has the entire staff eating out of his hands. It'll wear off as soon as they take off the rose colored glasses and see what he wants to do around here. Are you sure you didn't hear his presentation?"
"See, that is what I mean, Huck. After I met him, my brain turned to jello. I started to feel... If I were white, you would have seen me blush. I don't remember anything he said in his presentation and I am supposed to bring him questions in our face-to-face meeting today. I am fourth in line so maybe I can ask the other teachers on my team for their impressions."
Muffled sounds signaled the presence of students outside his door.
"Liv, I'm sure you are blowing this out of proportion. This doesn't sound like you anyway. Siobhan knows this guy at work she thinks would be great for you. He seems nice. I think you should at least check him out."
"Huck, tell Siobhan, I appreciate it, but no. A relationship is the last thing I need or want right now. I'm good."
She bid Huck goodbye and returned to the conference room just as Ms. Kingston began speaking.
"Ladies, I hope you all had a good lunch. Please take a look at your scheduled time with Mr. Grant. He made some changes in the order. In the time we have left, you are free to plan and collaborate for this next 9-week period. If there are no questions for me, Mrs. Johnson can go on down to Mr. Grant's office for your meeting."
Olivia looked at the revised schedule. She was now scheduled to meet with him last.
"Did he give a reason for the change in the schedule, Mrs. Kingston?" Olivia asked.
"No, Ms. Pope," said Ms. Kingston.
Olivia checked her e-mails and then began looking at her students' standardized test data until she became distracted. She was instantly thinking about her attire. Her black slacks and blue blouse were professional and flattering to her petite figure. Her bun felt loose and some tendrils were escaping. Did she need to apply a fresh coat of lip gloss? Olivia pushed those thoughts from her mind. This was not a date. It was a professional meeting.
"So, Ms. Leslie, what do you think of the changes Mr. Grant plans to make?" said Olivia.
"Oh, I don't care one way or another. Each new principal brings another set of changes. He does seem really nice and is certainly good to look at." They both laughed, but Olivia's smile didn't reach her eyes.
About an hour later, it was time for Olivia's face to face meeting. She walked to the office convinced she'd misinterpreted her reaction to Fitz.
"Hi, Quinn. How are you? How is school going?" Olivia asked. Quinn was working on her Education degree, taking classes nights and weekends. In the fall, she would begin her student teaching.
"I'm fine Olivia. I do need your help with my Science in a Box project for my Teaching Elementary Science course. The professor is a beast. She is so nitpick," Quinn said.
"Email me and we can set something up for next weekend," Olivia said, eager to help.
"Ms. Pope. Come in. It is great to see you again," Fitz said.
When Olivia heard his voice behind her, she froze. Her heart skipped a beat. What the hell is wrong with me? She wanted to run the other way, but she turned around slowly to find him towering over her, smiling. He pulled her laptop bag from her shoulder and took her class tote that she used to carry papers and other belongings.
"I'll take these for you. Let's meet in my office. After you," he directed.
Olivia felt self-conscious walking in front of him. Is he looking at my ass? She cringed inwardly at her own thought now having trouble walking normally. When she made what seemed like the longest walk for such a short distance into his office, she sat at the cherry wood, glass top circle table.
She plastered on a bright smile. Fitz placed her tote and laptop bag beside his desk. Then he sat in the chair beside her at the circle table. All sorts of bells and whistles began to alarm in her body with him so close. Olivia forced a cough.
"May I have some water, Mr. Grant?" Olivia asked. Her voice croaked a little.
"Oh, of course," he said.
He walked over to the small refrigerator and brought back a bottled water. He opened the bottle and placed it on an apple shaped coaster in front of her.
"Thank you." Olivia removed the cap that he'd loosened and placed the bottle to her lips. He was looking right at her. How rude to stare at me like that. She took a swig of the water but looked at the ceiling while she drank. She put the drink down and waited for him to speak, but he just continued to stare. Her breathing increased and she frowned. Damn, didn't his mother teach him that it is not polite to stare?
"Ms. Pope, tell me about yourself," he said.
Tell me about yourself? What does he want to know? This isn't a job interview. Why am I so nervous?
"Well, I love teaching. I've been teaching for 10 years. This is my 11th year. I've been at Ambrose for 7 years. This is my first year in 4th grade. I taught 5th grade for 6 of the 7 years. I majored in philosophy and history if you can believe that," she said, noticing how intently he listened. That is part of his charm, I bet, to make everyone, especially women, think he was hanging on their every word, she thought to herself.
"We have a lot in common, Ms. …can I call you Olivia?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Olivia, I majored in history and classics. We both ended up in education. Small world. Where are you from originally? Where did you go to undergraduate and graduate school?" he said.
"I don't really have a hometown. I'm a military brat. My dad is a retired Major in the Marines Corps. He now works with the Marines Corps JROTC at Troy High School. My mom was a nurse in the Navy until she met my dad. They married and then my sisters and I were born. She started practicing again when I was in middle school. Now she is a professor at the nursing school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I went to Columbia University for undergrad and University of Denver for the Masters," she said, feeling less nervous.
"You have two sisters? What do they do?" Fitz asked.
"Sierra is the oldest and is a nurse. Savannah is the youngest and is a veterinarian. I am the middle child."
"S.O.S." Fitz said and they both laughed.
"You are the first one to make that connection to our names so quickly. It wasn't intentional, I don't think. My dad and mom weren't trying to make a statement by making our names spell, S.O.S. It just sort of happened that way."
"Do you have any nieces and nephews, Olivia?"
"Oh yes! They are the greatest kids. My sisters each have two sons so I have four nephews. They are 5, 6, 7, and 18. I keep all four of them for a week each summer. We have a ball, but by the end of the week, I am ready for my house back. Rolfo hates to see them go." I'm talking to much now, she thought.
"Rolfo? Who is Rolfo?" Fitz asked.
"Rolfo my black lab. He is full of energy so he is in dog heaven when the boys are there," she said.
Fitz's office phone rang.
"This is Fitzgerald Grant. Oh, really. I see. Okay, I'll be right out."
"Olivia, I apologize, but we will have to finish our conversation later. It is 2:30 pm and time for me to get on the intercom for dismissal," he said, standing.
"Of course. The time has flown by. I am sorry I monopolized the entire meeting," she said. Olivia stood and joined him by the door. She motioned to collect her belongings, but he stopped her.
"I'll get those for you. Are you free after dismissal? We can finish our meeting then. Can you meet me back here at 3:30? I promise not to keep you past 4:00 pm. You can leave your stuff here if you'd like," he said.
Olivia had to admit how much she enjoyed talking to him aside from her initial discomfort. She pushed her misgivings aside. I'm a single woman and it is okay for me to be attracted to him. This is all professional. It is okay, she assured herself.
"Okay. I'll see you at 3:30 pm, Mr. Grant." Olivia agreed. She waited for him to open the door. He continued to stand there looking at her. I can't take this staring thing he does, she realized.
"Is there anything else?" Olivia asked.
"No." He opened the door, and Olivia slipped passed him and out of the side door to the hallway.
Olivia knew she should return to the conference room, but she needed to see Abby so she could help her interpret what had just happened in that office.