I let the kids line up a couple of minutes before the bell. They were so squirrely with the end of the school year in sight that there’s no way I’d get more work out of them.
“Don’t forget, permission slips for the swim party next week have to be in on Monday. If you don’t bring it, you don’t go to the party.” No one’s listening and I know there will be tears next week when a few kids have to stay behind while the rest of the class go to the local water park for our end of the year activity.
“Bye, Miss Richter,” a few of the munchkins call as they race out the door to a free weekend.
I stuff my belongings into my satchel and hurry to lock up my room and get to my car. For all my reticence and dread of seeing Jesse, all of a sudden I can’t get there fast enough. He has news about Rachael.
Rachael’s only thirteen months older. We grew up like twins in a lot of ways. She was the buffer between me and the older boys. She wouldn’t let anyone pick on me. No, she was the only one with that privilege.
She’d always been more daring, more extravagant, more more than I was. I was a freshman and she was a sophomore when she’d begun sneaking out of our second story room by climbing down the huge fruitless mulberry tree outside our window.
I knew she and Peter Martaans were meeting at the corner to make out. I never dreamed she’d do anything really bad though, or I would have told Mom. At least, that’s what I tell myself now. At the time, I was overwhelmed with being a teenager and a newly minted high schooler and I felt as if I was drowning in a flood of social miscues. Even a conservative community such as Rosedale has a pecking order and cliques. It seemed that every day I missed something vital and managed to make a social gaffe and invite further scorn and disdain from girls who’d previously been if not friendly, at least cordial, to me.
I was so wrapped up in my own teenage angst and misery that I’d missed all the signs that Rachael was in trouble, too. Her trouble was vastly different from mine though. Rachael retreated into silence and slamming doors for a month before she seemed to make a one-eighty.
She started making her bed in the morning and quit sneaking out. She got a job at Erlich Insurance, filing and answering phones after school. Mom and Dad sighed with relief and congratulated themselves on raising their teenaged girls to adulthood.
So they were stunned on New Year’s Day when Rachael announced she was pregnant and would be moving to an apartment in Fresno where she would live with Peter Martaans. They would get married when the baby was a year old, if they still liked each other.
Mom’s white face and slack jaw still haunted my dreams. Such a contrast to Dad’s spluttering anger. He yelled and threw his coffee mug into the fireplace where it shattered, white ceramic splinters of broken dreams for his daughter scattered on the dark red bricks.
Rachael left that day. She and Peter moved to their apartment. She stayed in school and kept working. I saw her every day as her tummy rounded and her eyes grew more hollow. Peter worked, too. He switched to Independent Study and worked two jobs to cover their rent.
He graduated on the same day their son was born.
Rachael ran away a week later.
No one in Rosedale had seen her since.
I drove a little quicker than was legal and I probably rolled through more than a couple of stop signs, but I pulled up in front of the drugstore just fifteen minutes after school let out.
Jesse sat at a booth in the front window.