"Ms. Hatten, please come to the office, Ms. Hatten to the office."
The PA rang so innocently that day, its usual beep and the secretary's kind voice seemed to shock the young woman out of the daze of the required teacher's work day at the end of the semester. Even though there was a phone on her desk in her classroom, where she had been holed up reclusive for the last several hours, the school's secretary still insisted on using the other method of calling a person's attention to other places in the building.
Juliet Hatten looked up from the stack of papers in front of her when she heard her name blare over the old public announcement system in her old school in the old city she had now called her home for only a short two years. The building was in a literal state of disrepair; the school was in continual budget cuts, and the cracking of the PA was beginning to irritate her even more than on most days. She longed for the semester she spent in England back in college, eating too many chips and drinking too much Guinness. She closed her eyes for a moment and almost felt as if she were back there again. It was the only place she felt she belonged.
There was an electricity was in the air that day, one of promise and hope, and yet, Julie thought she sensed something peculiar and wrong in the secretary's voice. She put down her red pen, the one from her parents she received upon graduating college, and hoped that the secretary's page was not to discuss the upcoming field trip to England; the music students had been looking forward to it for the last several years now, and everyone knew the money was scarce to come by.
Hearing the page go off again, and now assuming it was about the field trip, Juliet dug the files concerning it out of the filing cabinet and headed to the office, mocking the secretary's voice repeating its insistence of the upcoming meeting. She passed the band teacher, John Smith, in the hallway, who joined in her mimicry of the old secretary who refused to use the phone system; it had been in the building only for fifteen years, surely she knew how to use it.
As Juliet entered the office, she saw a man standing in front of the secretary's desk with the principal and guidance counselor. As she approached, she knew the man - a deputy in the sheriff's office. She had gone on a date with him a year ago but never returned the attention he gave. Her coworkers both looked sullen as the deputy nodded to her and began to tell her why he was here.
The only thing Juliet heard was the sound of her papers hitting the floor.
"It'll be okay…"
"You'll get by…"
"It gets easier with time…"
Everyone around her kept saying words and doing things that just did not register in her brain. Every sound buzzed and stung her as she was trying to take in the news she thought she had just heard, she couldn't have just heard. She knelt down to pick up the papers that had just fallen to the floor; the guidance counselor had already started the task for her.
"It's always hard, but you learn to cope…"
She heard the words whispered from the woman kneeling next to her and handing her papers, yet, she didn't really know what was going on. She looked back down to collect more of the files and now saw John talking to the deputy; a page having recently gone over the PA for him as well.
"You were his favorite teacher Juliet, and it would mean so much for you to speak at the funeral. Maybe you could sing, he loved to hear you sing…"
Funeral? Juliet clenched her eyes closed and felt for the other papers that had gathered around her; she refused to shed a tear in front of her coworkers and she refused even more so in front of that deputy. She had never been able to handle death well. That's why she went into teaching instead of spending the next five years of her life singing at weddings and funerals and running from audition to audition. Spending all your time with youth kept you young, and kept you mind off what would inevitably come at the end your life, or anyone else's life for that matter. What was going on? Did these people just tell her that one of her students died? She felt herself gasping for air and before she could react to her sudden need for oxygen, she felt a pair of hands on her shoulders pulling her up off the cold floor.
"Come on Juliet, let's go to my office," John said as he pulled her up, motioning for the other staff to bring the files back to her later. "I've got just the thing to help you."
"What just happened in there?" Juliet asked as she felt her coworker helping her back to their part of the building, the only part of this nation that felt somewhat like home to her.
"I'd like to say it will be easier once the shock wears off, but it won't. I don't mean to be blunt Juliet, but it's just the truth. We all have students that die, it's rough, but you get past it." John opened the door to his office and sat her in a chair in the corner he used for late-night score study and went for the electric kettle. "Here, drink this," he said as he passed her a cup of tea.
"This couldn't have come at a worse time. Christmas. What a holiday this will be for his family."
"I see what your students mean now."
Juliet stopped as she heard those words, some of the tea sloshing onto her sweater. "What do you mean?"
John had pulled his desk chair up across from Juliet now, a cup of tea in his hands as well. "It's nothing. We just need to get through this. At least our holiday concerts are over."
Juliet sighed, sipping her tea. "But the trips in two months and then it's festival season after that."
"One thing at a time, one thing at a time."
The two teachers sat in the band office for the remainder of the afternoon, sipping their tea and going over funeral plans.