Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 16: When Life gives you Lemons

TOBIE

“As you should know when you signed your kids up for the summer, we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding fighting here at the Summer Center. So, according to the standards of the Center, I am going to suspend all three students for an entire week.”

She couldn’t be serious, I thought! In anger I jumped up and started to defend Anne - she shouldn’t be suspended! But so did Torin Waters and ‘Kyle’s Mom’ (we’d never been introduced). All three of us tried to talk over the other as we pleaded our cases to the wide-eyed superintendent (whose name I couldn’t remember, as I’d never met her before today either).

“But Anne was being picked on, she shouldn’t be suspended!”

“My son didn’t even hit anybody!”

“Rainie was defending her, that shouldn’t count!”

All three kids looked on, horrified as each of their parents sounded like they were ready to eat the summer school’s leader alive. I don’t think Anne had ever seen me so upset in public!

“Stop, stop! Please, hear me out!”

She got our attention, and the three of us quieted, though I’m sure she felt the harshness in the glares she received from all sides.

“Mrs. Williams, you can’t be serious,” Kyle’s mom pleaded. “I don’t have anywhere else to send him during the day, and both my husband and I work!”

The superintendent (now I know to be Mrs. Williams) tried to look contrite - unsuccessfully.

“Mrs. Hudson, I understand your predicament, but I am required by the school’s rules to punish infractions according to the school’s strict policies. And for first-time fighting offensives, students will be suspended for at least one week and required to submit proof of community service before being able to come back.”

“Community service?!” Both Torin and I exclaimed at the same time. Poor Mrs. Hudson looked even more distraught now, wondering not only where she was going to keep her delinquent son for a week, but now was being forced to put him in some form of community service.

“That’s the rules, folks, I’m sorry.” Mrs. Williams said unapologetically. “If that’s all, I have a meeting to be at in fifteen minutes.”

I spoke up, not done yet, “Uh, wait! What kind of community service are you talking about?”

“It really doesn’t matter, Dr. Davis. It just has to be something more than mowing lawns for the neighbors. Something that they can spend more than a couple hours a day at, building good work ethics and learning some better people skills.”

That wasn’t really very helpful, and both of the other parents looked just as confused as I felt. Where in Navarro Beach would we start? It wasn’t like they were technically old enough to get jobs!

Then I had an idea! A place where Anne would be able to work, be useful, learn something, AND where I could keep an eye on her. “How about volunteering at the Gulfside Aquatic Rehab Center?!” I blurted out excited by my sudden idea.

“What would they do there?” Mrs. Williams asked, seriously considering the idea as she picked up her planner and notebook, ready to leave.

“Well, they could help with the care and feeding of the animals by working with me and my assistants, and maybe even do some office work - you know, file papers and stuff like that,” I volunteered as the idea built up with speed in my mind.

“Wait a minute,” I thought to myself. “How did this suddenly become a ‘they’ thing!” I had been talking about Anne volunteering at my work, not the other two! Mrs. Williams was sneaky; I’ll give her that!

Then I considered it from the Rehab Center’s perspective and determined that it would be a great community engagement activity for the rehab to take on. Sort of bolster the community’s view of the place in the spirit Rob had intended - a place for helping animals and educating the public about them. We could get the message out about its new mission! Build some public awareness!

I smiled as the idea grew on me. Then, I completely lost my head.

For some strange reason I had a memory lapse and forgot all about the stern-looking Native American man’s unpleasant hatred towards me as he listened to my idea with the others. Maybe it was because I was thinking about Rhonda and how the kids could help her out and realized that Rainie was her granddaughter.

Addressing him directly I said, “You wouldn’t have to worry about your daughter with your mom working there either, and I’m sure she’d have fun!”

“No! My daughter will NOT go into that place.”

I blanched at his obvious disgust at the thought and swallowed my heart that he seemingly ripped out of my chest with his narrowed gaze and harsh tone.

Mrs. Hudson, who hadn’t been expecting that either, came to my rescue, timidly interrupting, “Would your offer be open to my son? I know you mightn’t want him around your kid, but it would be a good lesson for him to have to work with your daughter. And he could do something different and educational. He loved going to the aquarium when his dad worked there.”

She was right, I wasn’t really a fan of having the bully around Anne - that wouldn’t be fair to her, having to hang around him all day. What if he picked on her still? And I wasn’t sure I wanted him hanging out at the rehab period if he was a troublemaker. But could I really say ‘no’ at this point?

“How about this? I have to get this whole community service thing approved by my boss before I can even consider it for Anne, let alone anyone else. If you give me your contact information, I’ll let you know what my boss says as soon as I find out tomorrow.”

Her smile brightened the room as she saw a bit of light in what had turned out to be quite a stressful afternoon. “Oh, I’d really appreciate that! You don’t know what this means to me!”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run,” Mrs. Williams finally said to the group as she exited the office, reminding the kids to take note of this experience and learn how to resolve their differences in a more diplomatic way in the future.

Mrs. Hudson, or Ida (as she was finally able to introduce herself), thanked me again as we traded phone numbers and email addresses. She swore that Kyle wouldn’t be any trouble if he were allowed to volunteer at the aquatic center, and that he normally wasn’t a bad kid. Then she grabbed poor Kyle’s hand and dragged him out of the administrative office and down the hall - he was still very much in trouble.

Anne and Rainie had left their seats by now and were standing off to the side watching, as they quietly talked together, unsure of what was to happen. Torin, ready to go, called over to his daughter firmly, but not unkindly.

“Let’s go.”

Rainie looked at Anne and said her goodbyes, and the pair gave each other a sweet hug - apparently becoming friends in the process of beating up a bully on behalf of each other.

A glutton for punishment, I built up my courage, and called after them once Rainie and her father started towards the exit, “Hey, the offer is still open if I get approval for the kids to come to the rehab. If you change your mind, I’d love to have Rainie come. We do good things there!”

Then I added, “Rainie, thanks for standing up for Anne, I really appreciate that.”

Torin clenched his jaw, probably stopping himself from saying something horrible in front of his daughter, and without looking me in the eye grunted irritably as he led her out the door.

Sighing, I looked at Anne, as we were the last ones there. “Well that was fun!”

She looked pained and conflicted, and I opened my arms wide to her, knowing how upsetting a fight can be, especially if you’re not sure whether you did the right thing or not. In two quick steps, she fell into my embrace, wrapping her arms tightly around me, squeezing her eyes tight, and holding back tears. I held her for a long moment, “It’s alright, sweetheart. You did the right thing if you thought he was going to hurt Rainie. It’s all going to be okay; I promise.”

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