Lottie Stephens was running late. She despised running late. Always chronically early, her armpits were drenched and her hands shook as she searched for her keys. Why didn’t she hang them on the hook when she came in last night?
But she knew why she hadn’t. She was drunk. And angry. And, hmm, had she tossed them against the wall? Suddenly ducking under the hallway table, she searched. Ugh, they’re not there. Her flickering memory was hinting that that’s where they’d be. Twisting her head under the table she turned to see them dangling, stuck between the back of the table and the wall. Also, wedged between the back of the drawer and table back a bent photograph hung out. She grabbed the corner and tugged it free. The breath pulled from her body as she glanced at it.
As she shoved the picture into her pocket, Lottie hit her head on the table as she stood. She clutched it and pulled the table away from the wall enough to let the keys drop. She scooped them off the floor, scuttled through the kitchen and into the garage, swiping her purse off the arm of the couch, and flew into the garage.
Lottie hopped in her car, momentarily fantasizing about the cup of coffee she never got the chance to make, and hit the door button, cursing it for raising so slowly. While she waited she slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out the picture of David, sighing before curling it into the cupholder. She backed down the driveway and headed off to her dental appointment, seemingly hitting every single red light along the way.
A blue pickup joined her about a quarter of her way along and followed her, riding her ass. Fire grew inside her. “It’s not like I can go any faster!” She screamed to the silhouette in the rearview mirror. “What do you expect me to do? There’s cars in front of me.” Lottie wished she had the guts to jump out of her car at the next light, open the truck’s door, pull the man-shaped silhouette out, and beat the living shit out of him. But, as it was a him, it was not very likely that she would be the one giving the beating and what if it was some sort of psycho who would have no trouble fighting a woman. And the way he drove, it seemed more likely than not that he’d be just that kind of man. Instead, she opted to throw her middle finger up as she took off from the last light before turning into the dental office parking lot.
Panic swept through her as the blue pickup followed her into the parking lot. Uh-oh, what if this was the kind of psycho who would follow a woman to her destination and pummel her for throwing the bird. She whipped into the closest space she could find and threw the car in park. She grabbed her purse and scurried to the office door. She kept a spying eye on the truck. It pulled into a space. She saw the drivers-side door open as she ducked into the safety of the dental office.
Side-eying the entrance, she removed her coat, and flung it on the hanger. It slid off immediately and fell in a crinkled heap on the closet floor. She wasn’t going to take the time to try to rehang it. The psycho could come in at any moment. She scuttled over to the front window to check in. The hair on the back of her neck rose as she heard the jingle of the doorbell, the hanging of a coat, and the patter of footsteps walking across the carpet behind her. He was standing behind her. Oh why wouldn’t the lady at the front desk look at her already.
Quit looking at that computer screen and check me in, god dammit.
As though reading her thoughts, the women with blue rimmed glasses looked up. “Hello there.”
She leaned in and whispered, “Charlotte Stephens. I have a nine-thirty appointment.”
“You’re all set.” The woman smiled.
“Thank you.” Lottie twisted and rolled around the man standing behind her.
She tucked herself back in the security of a corner seat near the front of the office by a large ficus plant.
Wait, is this a real ficus?
She rubbed a leaf between her thumb and forefinger.
Lottie allowed her eyes to drift up to the man standing at the window. That was definitely the one she’d given the finger to. She could tell from the shape of his silhouette—the way his hair was lightly spiking upwards in the front and his shoulders were very broad.
Grant Ryan. She heard him say. She quickly scooped a magazine off the counter and shoved her nose inside. There was no way she was going to make eye contact. Her stomach swirled.
Why did I have to throw him the bird? This is just my kind of luck. I’m going to have to get a new dentist now. Ugh, but I really like coming here. No! He’s the one that was wrong. He can get a new dentist.
Once again perturbed at the thought that he was the asshole driver and now he was going to push her out of the best dentist office she’d ever been to. He took a seat catty-corner to her. She chanced an angry glance at his direction but her eyes quickly shot away from his as they met. He’d been looking directly at her. His eyes darting away as quickly as hers had. Her heart pounded in her chest.
He knows I know he was staring at me. He didn’t look angry, though. God, and he’s cute, too. Just my luck, he’d also be really cute.
“Hey, Lottie. I’m ready for you now.” Kay, her regular hygienist for the last three years, smiled and motioned her back.
Lottie hopped up and scampered toward her.
“Oh, don’t forget your purse.” Kay pointed toward Lottie’s bag sitting by the side of the chair.
“Oops.” Lottie’s face flushed red as she spun to grab it, careful not to look in his direction.
The morning is complete, now you look like an idiot in all regards.”
“We’re going in room four.” Kay motioned Lottie to the room and followed quickly behind her. “You can set your things on that chair.”
Lottie plopped her purse where she was directed and climbed into the dental chair as Kay donned her mask. “How’ve you been?”
“I’m not having the best morning but up until now, I’ve been okay.”
“Yes,” Kay pulled down her mask and put a hand on Lottie’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey. We got the request for David’s records to be sent on to Hickam Air Force Base.”
Lottie’s stomach dropped. Yes, the last time she came, David and her were still trying to work things out. “Thanks, Kay. It’s for the best this way. I’m really alright with things now. I’m happy teaching at the school still. You know I love my students and this town.”
“And we love having you here. You know, my granddaughter still goes on about how you are her favorite teacher. And she had you, what? Two years ago?”
“That’s right. Sarah was in my first class. She’s such a sweet girl.”
“Thanks. She really is sweet. I’m worried you might not think the same when you get my grandson, Todd, next year.” Kay laughed and picked up a scaler.
Lottie opened her mouth as Kay began her work.
“Todd’s a sweet boy but he can’t sit still for a second. I swear, my daughter had no idea what she was in for with Todd. Sarah was such an easy child and Todd is still giving her a run for her money. It’s like she was a first time mom with her second. Ah, I’m sure you’ll be able to handle him in class. He’s got a good heart. Just can’t sit still, is all.”
Lottie smiled around the dental tool scraping her teeth. Kay worked away. Scraping and polishing. Silently and quickly. That’s what Lottie loved about Kay. Cleanings with her were always quick, painless, and never filled with questions expected to be answered around a mouth full of metal scalers, mirrors, and curettes.
After finishing, Kay raised the chair. “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?”
“Sure. I’ll be here.”
“How’s October 14? Same time?”
“That’ll work for me.”
“Okay, see you in six months. I put your appointment card in with your new toothbrush and sample paste.”
Kay handed Lottie her dental prize bag as the dentist swooped in.
“And how does everything look today?” The dentists washed her hands, tipped the chair back, and looked into Lottie’s waiting mouth.
“She was squeaky clean as always.” Kay winked at Lottie.
Just as fast as she swept into the room, the dentist sat back, pulled her gloves off, and smiled at Lottie. “Everything looks great. No cavities today. Keep up the good work.”
“Thank you.” Lottie wiped some spit that had swept across her chin.
Kay removed the bib from Lottie as the doctor waved and scuttled out of the room, ducking into the room next door. “Hey Grant, and how are you doing today?” Her words cutting off as she disappeared inside.
Lottie waved to Kay as she scooped her purse of the chair and left the room. With the dentists hands in his mouth, there he was, the cute guy she’d given the finger to in the next room. She froze for a moment while pulling her purse over her shoulder. His eyes connected with hers before she quickly averted them and hurried to the front desk.
“Am I all set?”
“You’re good to go, Charlotte. See you next time.” The receptionist waved and quickly went back to her computer.
Lottie grabbed her coat from the hanger—someone had hung it for her—before bursting through the door and half-running to her car. His mouth was full of dentist fingers but for some reason she was worried he’d soon be behind her if she didn’t hurry. As she bustled out to her car, she glanced over at his blue pickup. A bone-shaped magnet was stuck on the tail-gate that read “I ❤︎ my rescue.” Her mind drifted momentarily—as she pressed the unlock button on her bobble—wondering what type of dog he might have. A lab? Or maybe he looked like a German Shepherd man. Although, she knew pit bulls were the dogs that filled most shelters. Yeah, she could picture him with a gray pitty riding next to him in that old blue pickup. She shook her head and climbed into her car. No, he’s a tailgating jerk, not some sweet guy who rescues pitties.
Why are you always trying to give jerks good qualities and imagine them to be anything other than they are?
Lottie buckled, took a quick glance in the rearview to make sure he wasn’t coming out yet, backed out of the space, and headed off towards the school, wishing she’d taken the whole day off.
After a morning like this, school was the last place she wanted to go. Her energy levels already felt completely zapped. She turned onto Falcon and headed straight for the White Buffalo Coffee Bar, fumbling in her purse for her wallet as she neared. Grabbing it, she sighed as she looked inside, only spying repeats of Alexander Hamilton’s handsome face. She hated to part with her tens. Why couldn’t there be an Abe or Andrew instead?
Great timing, there was only one car in front of her. Unlike whenever she’d try to swing by before school and hit the morning rush. Once it was her turn, she pulled up and ordered a large white buffalo mocha and a small espresso. She took the hot drinks, carefully placing them in her cupholder, and handed the barista the ten.
“Keep the change.” Lottie smiled, pulled off, and headed for the school. Before pulling out of the parking lot of the White Buffalo, she peeled off the lid of the espresso and sipped out the hottest little bit before turning the AC on full blast and pointing it at the open cup. She carefully pulled out onto the road, praying she’d sipped enough coffee out to avoid a spill, and headed towards the base.
She slowed and rolled down her window at the gate, handing the guard her ID, “Good morning.”
“Morning, ma’am.” The guard handed her ID back. She shoved it in her purse, rolled up her window, and drove by the “Welcome to Altus AFB” sign like she did every weekday morning, headed to Rivers Elementary School. Pulling into the parking lot, she was relieved to see an empty spot waiting for her. Until she realized there was a motorcycle hiding in the spot.
“Dammit! You really gotta take up a whole space with that thing, buddy?” Lottie picked up her espresso as she rolled through the lot looking for another space and took a big gulp. Ah-ha, another spot. A small spot, but her little, silver honda fit could squeeze into a space half that size. She pulled in and unbuckled before downing the rest of her only slightly too-hot espresso. Purse in one hand, her white buffalo mocha in the other, she headed in to the office.
“Lottie, you’re back. I wasn’t expecting you for another half hour.” Maura pressed her glasses to her face and smiled before picking up the phone the moment it rang. “Good morning, Rivers Elementary. How can I help you?”
“I’ll be in the teachers’ lounge.” Lottie mouthed as she waltzed by taking a small sip of her mocha. She walked down the hall and stopped short when she saw streamers, balloons, and a sign hanging up in the teachers’ lounge which read, “Sayonara, Melissa! We’ll miss you.”
“Fuck.” Lottie closed her eyes. She’d forgotten Melissa’s goodbye party was today. She sunk down into a chair and sipped her coffee staring at the line-up of good-bye presents covering one of the lounge tables. So much for not writing things down. She kicked herself. She knew she forgot any and everything if she didn’t write it down and set a reminder in her phone.
The bell rang just a few moments after she finished the last sip of her coffee and missed the trashcan when she tossed her cup at it. “Of course.” Bending over as soon as she rose from the chair, she waddled over to pick it up. Lottie squealed and jumped when she got a firm smack to her butt.
“Hey hot stuff, make me work for it.” Beth waggled her eyebrows at Lottie.
“Shut up and keep your hands to yourself, ya old pervert.”
“Never, you know I can’t resist that sweet ass. Especially when you’re presenting for me.” Beth peered into the trash. “What Mr. Cooley’s trash lounge coffee not good enough for you this morning?”
“I needed something stronger. I’ve had the shittiest morning and to top it all off, I forgot about Melissa’s going away.”
“I knew you would. I put your name on the card of my gift.” Beth winked.
“Oh, you’re the best, Ms. Grimes.” Lottie threw her ams around her.
“Ah, you’re welcome, sweetie. I knew you’d forget when I told you to write it down and you didn’t. You really need to start listening to me.” Beth rubbed Lotties back before pulling away. “So did you hear? They finally hired a long-term-sub to finish out Melissa’s class for the school year. He’s supposed to stop by the going away party. Melissa invited him.”
“Nothing like waiting until the last minute to hire someone.”
“I know right, but that’s the way they roll around here. Better get to class or we’ll get sent to the principal’s office.” Beth stuck out her tongue and headed off down the hallway.
Lottie stuck hers out and headed to her class, curious about who the new teacher would be.