Separation, what an ugly word, what an ugly situation. For Stef Foster, it was even worse because her son Brandon was old enough to ask questions. And Stef wasn't ready to answer any of them. Still, she did her best to tell the truth and explain to her little boy that daddy and mommy needed time apart. "Can't daddy stay?" was quickly answered with an assurance that he could spend the weekend with daddy. Her own parents had always filled her head with lies, always trying to manipulate her. She'd long ago made a vow that she would be honest, face problems and not hide them from her child.
Ironically, hiding was what she was currently doing. Brandon was ready for kindergarten and she had avoided enrolling him. Mike was no help, he only seemed interested in seeing her, not Brandon's concerns. She'd always thought they would both enthusiastically take B to his new school, proud mom and dad, ideal couple. She'd believed in that fantasy more than she'd believed in anything. She had stuck it out in the marriage for so long, in order to fulfill that dream. The dream was shattered now. She'd have to show her face, absent father and all.
"Stef, look, I've set it all up sweetie," Sharon looked impatiently at her daughter, interrupting Stef's thoughts. "You'll be meeting with their Vice Principal, it's a lovely charter school and I got Brandon in through their lottery system."
"Mom, I can't just…" Stef knew that Sharon was only trying to help, but she hated the way she never asked her what she thought.
"Sure you can, what else have you got for Brandon?" sitting in Stef's living room, Sharon could see the effects the separation had had on Stef. Normally a very decisive woman, Stef seemed lost and afraid, so far removed from the assertive police officer most people saw. Sharon hoped Stef would find what she needed because it had been obvious for a while that Stef was not a happy woman. As a divorcee herself, she knew the price of staying in an unhappy marriage.
Stef shook her head in defeat. Sharon had a way of convincing anyone of anything and Stef was too worn out to argue. "Fine, for once you are right. Brandon needs a school. It is not his fault..." Stef did not know how to finish that sentence. She would have to know how her marriage had failed. The truth, she was coming to realize, was that it had never failed because it hadn't ever worked. Something had gone wrong very early on. It was time to begin to move on, "Ok, fine. When am I going?"
"Um… in two hours…" Sharon had acted on a hunch that things had to be done quickly before Stef changed her mind.
Sharon quickly interrupted Stef, "You have enough time for a shower, go get ready." She wasn't going to give Stef the opportunity to back out. Strike while the iron was hot.
Stef realized it was a losing battle and she would be better served by just doing as she was told. There was only one problem, she had nothing to wear.
Lena Adams was enjoying her relatively new tenure as an administrator. She'd labored as a 7th grade teacher for a few years before deciding that her leadership skills would benefit the entire school. In her second year as Vice Principal, she enjoyed dealing with discipline problems and difficult parents. The bureaucracy was the only unpleasant part of the job. She was lucky, the school was a charter school and that meant they had discretion over budgets and policies, making for a decreased load in paperwork. After a morning of signatures and applications, she was looking forward to guiding perspective parents around the school. She was proud of the campus and enjoyed showing it off. Today's tour was for a kindergarten student, she'd have to reassure the parents that the older kids were separated from the little ones and that they'd have their own yard. Most parents welcomed the chance to have their kids at one school from Kindergarten to 12 grade. She knew how to sell the benefits, this afternoon would be routine.
Stef stared at the sign, "Anchor Beach Charter School." And they're really not lying about the beach part, she thought. The sprawling campus sat right on the Ocean. That might be great for the older kids but young kids and water were a bad mix. Brandon would be surely drawn to it and he couldn't swim quite yet. She didn't want to prejudge, but the school seemed too good to be true.
She took the last few steps in and was led right to the main office. She was there to meet a Ms. Adams. After a short inquiry, they informed her that Ms. Adams would meet her in the kindergarten yard, where she liked to meet parents for tours. Stef wasn't impressed with the informality. She would have rather met this woman in the office.
Once at the yard, she was surprised to find small children playing on swings safely gated away from the ocean. She picked a bench near the children and sat there, imagining little B playing with friends.
Lena approached the woman on the bench, certain that she could handle the situation and put yet another parent at ease. "Sorry to keep you waiting." In that moment, the woman turned to face her and for one instant Lena had to shake herself of the feeling that this woman might change her life, "Hi, I am Lena Adams, the assistant vice principal." She managed to finish with a big smile.
"Hi, I am Stef Foster," the blonde stammered her name out. This woman, this Lena, was the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen. This surely was the reason for this feeling, this awe. Women like her were models, not vice principals. She reached out and shook hands with this statuesque, clearly charming woman and wondered why her hand was tingling.
Lena could not explain the reason for the prolonged contact. She just couldn't let go. Stef was beautiful, anyone could see that. But it was that honest, earnest look in the blonde's eye that had her mesmerized. It was starting to become awkward, but Lena knew how to break those kind of moments with beautiful women. She could keep her emotions in check. She laughed nervously, "so your son."
"Ah Brandon… is… Brandon." Stef could not believe how stupid she was sounding. Ms. Adams was not a celebrity. She really need to get herself under control.
"Brandon." Lena on the other hand could always count on her ability to ignore her feelings.
"Right." Stef wondered if she'd be responding with syllables next. She'd gone from sentences to phrases to words.
"He will be starting kindergarten this fall." It was a well-rehearsed speech and Lena was determined to stick to the script.
"Yes, he's five," the young mom was beginning to find her footing again and was grateful for the professionalism this woman was exhibiting.
"Great. Well, I would be glad to give you a tour, tell you about our school. Are we waiting for your husband to join?" Lena could have kicked herself. In another context, that might have sounded like a line, a come-on. 'Stick to the script,' she had told herself, but she was compelled to find out more about this woman and why she was here alone.
The question threw Stef. This was exactly what Stef had been avoiding. She didn't want to admit that she was doing this alone. Still, this woman's mere presence made her forget about that anxiety, "Ah no, he's not... he ah." She composed herself, "he couldn't make it." She laughed nervously, covering up for the things she was leaving unsaid, "so…"
"Ok." Lena hesitated, wondering what all that meant. "Well um," Lena once again remembered her training, "Follow me."
Stef didn't know why, but she straightened her shirt, pulling at it, feeling inadequate. She silently cursed her mom for not giving her enough time to get ready. Maybe this woman's natural beauty was making her self-conscious, but for some reason, she wanted to look her best.