Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

Chapter Four

“Sarah Jane.” His eyes held a pleading that I knew well enough to know that I would have to steel myself against him and his easy charm. Otherwise, I’d be offering to do his ironing again, just like back in high school.”

“Jesse, I told you I’m busy.” I tried to brush past him and on to my classroom.

He grabbed my arm. “And I said I have to talk to you. It’s important.”

I searched his face and didn’t see the smug man I used to know, the one who was never disappointed by me. When he said to jump, I always asked how far and I did it. When his mom got that horrible flu and it took months for her to get her strength back, he mentioned how embarrassed he was to wear unironed shirts to school. That’s all it took, and I found myself knee deep in white dress shirts and spray starch.

Now though I had no problem telling him to keep his iron board to himself. I opened my mouth to do just that, but he jumped in first.

“It’s about Rachael,” he said in a low voice.

That stopped me. “What about her?” I asked. “She’s been gone ten years now.”

“I saw her.”

My heart jumped and I clutched for his hand, more reflex than I would like to admit. “Where? Did you talk to her? Are you sure it’s her. It’s been so long now, how can you be sure?” Questions tumbled out of my mouth quicker than he could answer. I knew that with a part of mind, but the rest of me was frantic to hear any morsel of news about my sister.

“Please meet me for coffee after school and I’ll tell you everything, I promise.”

What could I say to that? There’s no way I’d refuse and risk the only lead I’d ever had to find her. “Fine. I’ll meet you at the soda fountain around four o’clock.”

“I’ll be there.” He finally left, bobbing and weaving as he made his way through the throng of first, second and third graders headed this direction.

The morning passed in a blur of images. Worksheets with three digit math problems segued into a spelling bee to reinforce the “I before E” rule. Grant Enns, Emma’s youngest brother, made retching noises and pretended to throw up on Maria Chavez. She screamed in a most satisfactory way, pretty much guaranteeing Grant would pull the same stunt every day until the end of the school year. Thankfully, that was only about two weeks away. Surely I could hang on that long.

At lunch time, I wolfed down my tuna sandwich and finally corrected those spelling papers from yesterday. There were four minutes left before I had kids lining up at the door. I punched in Emma’s number. I had to get her take on the Jesse thing.

“Enns Dry Goods.”

“Are my heels still there?”

“Sarah Jane.” Her voice dripped sympathy.

“I was kidding,” I said. “I know if someone wanted them, you had to sell them.”

“Not that. The shoes are still here. I took them out of the window and put them behind some brown Hush Puppies.”

“Then why the pity?” A foreboding crept up my stomach and gathered into a lump in my throat.

“I saw Jesse in here yesterday with a girl. I couldn’t help overhearing some of their conversation …”

“I saw them go in. Jesse called and stopped by. I’m meeting him after school.”


“Why? What did you hear?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

“Emma. Spill it.”

“Really, Sarah Jane, if Jesse is going to meet you later, you should hear it from him.”

The classroom door flew open and my second graders streamed into the room. “I have to go, but we’re not done with this conversation.”

“Call me after your meeting. Or come in, I’ll be here.”

“See you later.”

Now I was getting worried. What did Jesse want to tell me? Something about Rachael or this girl he brought to town. Presumably to meet his parents. Why else would he bring her here? Maybe … I let my mind roam. Sometimes the most outrageous explanations were the correct ones. So, maybe she was … his agent, and she wanted to see where he was from so she could know what auditions to send him on. Or she was his cleaning lady and he wanted his mom to show her how to scrub the sinks correctly and how much bleach to use in his whites.

It could happen.

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