Final Jeopardy ∼ Summer's End
Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.
The manhunt is still on when Despina sets out for Iowa. Leaving without knowing for sure is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Maybe; just maybe. The bullet may have only grazed him… maybe he is still alive. Where he fell off the cliff, water and rocks are not lined up with the safe spot below. Maybe he was still alive when he fell, but lies at the bottom, head smashed by rocks. It’s such an ambiguous situation. I wonder if Cu lives, or not.
She drives steadily, but is not focused on the road at all. Her eyes grow tired, but she does not stop. Her radio is steadily tuned to the same station Mickey set for her, saying that’d carry the news, if there was any. At first, the top of the hour recaps carry the sensationalized shooting and missing body reports. Some time after dark, a report airs that Roger Drake has been captured and is facing murder charges in the wrongful death of Juan Geronimo Quantico’s first wife, Cherylyn, age 25. Drake is the alleged trigger man on Quantico’s recent presumed death, but he can’t be charged with that murder as long as the body is still missing.
As Despina gets far enough away that she may not hear if the body IS found, she switches to worrying about the future where she's heading. Paul Peter has left, been gone for three days, in fact. She's also leery about the tales he'll tell around school. She wants to pull over… She wants to stop and at least wash the silt out from behind her eyeballs, but she has to press on.
Somewhere in Kansas, she pulls into a well-lit rest area, locks her doors, digs out a huge man’s cowboy hat to cover her face, and sleeps a few hours.
Finally, the long slog is over. She pulls up in the faculty parking lot before she even goes home, as she has cut it too close. Slipping into the girl's locker room with a tube of borrowed shampoo, she quickly showers and dons the last of her clean clothes.
Thank heavens dress is casual on the first two workshop days.
Moping into the office, Despina empties out the summer detritus from her faculty mailbox without bumping into anyone to cast a condemning eye at her outfit or long face. As she enters the narrow, dark hallway and climbs up the stairs to her classroom, a wave of claustrophobia sweeps over her. Tears well up in her eyes. I never thought I'd come to miss the dry desert heat and sweeping vistas in lieu of four solid walls, but I have to face it — this humid heat is horrid. Not even 8 a.m., and I've worked up a sweat when I'm in the best physical shape of my life. I hate to admit it, but my mood is as drably brown as these walls.
Stepping onto the first stair, she bangs the papers in her hand against the wall. "I miss the children, whose faces are now so alive, instead of stoic."
Taking another step, she bangs the wall again. "I miss Mickey's curious mix of willfulness and charm, caring and gruffness."
Next step, another bang. "I miss my homely hovel."
The landing looms. Bang! "I even miss the blooming BUGS!"
As Despina trudges onto the landing barely holding herself together, she meets a gray-haired gentleman, Leon Deierling, jauntily descending. He promptly delivers his pat "Welcome back to the school year" speech that has greeted her each of her five previous summers, complete with his traditional cheery, fatherly smile, "And how was Despina's summer vacation? You're really trimmed down and tanned. It must have agreed with you."
Assaying a half-hearted smile, she returns, "It was a busy two and a half months.” Hoping to render her answer a bit more convincing, to cover her glum face a bit better, she adds, “If I may borrow a line from Laugh-in's Henry Gibson, he of the fake German accent, 'VEEEEERRRRRRRRYY innnnteresssstttink!"
Paul Peter, his hands full of summer mailbox accumulation, calls from the doorway leading to the water fountain overhang above the stairs leading to the landing. “Boy, is THAT ever an understatement. Did she mention that she now has two children?”
Both pause, turning to look up. Leon recovers first. “Children? Now, that is quite an accomplishment. It sounds as if congratulations are called for.”
“Which she abandoned at the end of the summer?” Paul Peter blithely continues his water fountain journey.
Despina bursts into tears, twirling around to face the wall, wishing she could escape into her classroom right through it.
Leon lays a hand on her arm, turning her, pulling her against his chest. “I’m sorry. I should have known that if PP brought it up, it was bound to be controversial. Will you accept a listening ear if you need one while we set your room to rights? No prying.”
Mashing the unread papers into her hair, Despina puts her hand to her forehead. “He’s right. I did. I’ve never run from anything in my life, but I tucked my tail and ran. I just couldn’t face them, or the tribe after Cu…”
Gently guiding her back down the stairs and into the hall in front of his classroom as they talk, Leon checks for understanding. “Cu? The husband, right?”
Somehow she gets through the day, her classroom looking far too festive to suit her mood, but the forced gaiety is necessary for her to do her job well.
Exiting the mandatory faculty meeting the next morning, Despina heads toward the stairs instead of hanging around chatting in the room as most do, catching up on summer events.
Down the hallway, two slender forms and one bulky one round the corner of the central stairwell, silhouetted by the open doors below.
The patter of running feet hit behind her. Turning her head, she sees Alberto and Sarita, racing flat out, unaware of the ban on running in the hallway. Pulling his hand out of Sarita's, Alberto launches himself at her knees, shouting, "Momee, tengo miedo!"
Getting her body cranked around just in time, she squats down, one arm around Alberto, the other full of Sarita. "Ay, Alberto, I'm afraid, too, Honey." Resting her chin on the top of Alberto's head, she sees at the end of the passageway to the parking lot a familiar imposing silhouette standing.
Mick follows the children more sedately, a briefcase dangling from one hand.
"That was fast," she murmurs too softly for him to hear. Cocking an eyebrow at Sarita, she receives an unbelievable explanation.
"The tribe said ‘yes' but the vote drew much dissension; the feeling is that YOU belong THERE, not we children here."
What other seven-year-old even can pronounce dissension, much less use it correctly in a sentence? I'm not even sure all her TEACHERS will be able to. What have I done?
Despina looks up wonderingly at Mick. “What? How?” unable to complete a thought.
Leon comes out of the room to check on Despina’s whereabouts and offer whatever comfort he can. Seeing the group in the hall, he approaches, standing respectfully back a bit.
“After you left, the tribal council made several decisions,” Mick explains. “They are prosecuting Roger Dragon and company for unlawful death of Cu's first wife, and gave in to Sarita and Alberto when they requested YOU as guardian. Of course, having them off the res, out in the scary White world was debated far into the night. Some voices think they will come back — maybe when your contract expires, but I made sure there were no strings attached.
“It took hours of laying fears for their well-being thrust into an unsympathetic White environment, but I patiently explained that the three of you would grieve together and bond even tighter.
“Nobody doubts your heart, or theirs.” He nods toward the two children, still clinging to Despina. Mick eyes her steadily as he doles out his information bit by bit.
“And the funeral? Will they even allow me to attend?”
“Cu’s body has never been found, not for lack of searching.” Looking around, he asks, “Is there a less public place where we can sign the guardianship papers?”
Finally, she stands and hugs him.
“Thank you.” Turning, she spots Leon and introduces him to Mick. “Will you keep your eye on the children while I register them?”
Leon sits down right on the hall floor in front of the trophy case and addresses the two children, his ancient bones creaking. “And whom do we have here?”
Shyly, Sarita introduces herself and Alberto while Mick and Despina enter the office to sign the necessary forms to accept custody and enroll them in school.
Her principal, coming in from the meeting, snide as always, quips, “Doing your bit to combat our declining enrollment issue, I see.”
Checking out Despina’s tear-ravaged face, Mick shoots him a glare that has rattled confessions out of many a criminal.
Rocking back on his heels, the principal pivots and enters his office, apparently unaffected.
“That’s one cold-hearted…”
Despina’s hand on his arm stops him. “Yes,” she says softly. He’s notorious for targeting the women who work for him.”
Glancing through the door, Despina does not see the children. She peeks her head around the corner, glad they have not followed her into the office and witnessed her boss’s bad behavior, Mick comfortingly at her elbow. They smile as they listen to Leon’s patter.
“When I was living with the Inuit, that’s the name of the tribe of Indians up in northern Alaska, I knew many children just like you two, but… the boys dreamed of hunting their own polar bear for a pelt to warm their sleeping pads at night.
“I flew into Barrow, the closest town, with six dozen eggs in my lap, which were to last me until spring. By then, I had to drop each one in a pan of water to see if it sank or floated. Rotten eggs are not a pleasure to crack.”
The secretary recalls them as she replaces the busy phone and reaches for her forms.
When Mick and Despina return, the story is still rolling on, with two spellbound children all ears, smiling at the raised eyebrows and nose twitches that pepper Leon’s tale.
“If that is any indication of the reception your charges will get, I doubt there will be any problems.” With a chaste kiss on Despina’s cheek, he takes his leave to head up yet another search for Cu’s remains.
Next (Despina's Infamous Green Journal) (summerciecles)
Next (Summer's End – Original Critique Group Version)
Next (Homecoming, unedited 2001 version)
Next (Premonition Phone Call – Link to Sequel)
Last updated 12/16/15 Switched -- to ∼ to match Travelsfar; added second spaces that didn't take automatically by hand coding them into html version; switched to … instead of three periods, which are not as evenly spaced, for some strange reason; 11/21/15 changed she can't to unable to; added of Cu's first wife; corrected the spelling of cliff; added second space after end punctuation where missing; 11/13/15 changed them to the children; 6/26/15 corrected Roger Rabbit to Dragon; ; changed who to whom; 3/8/10 corrected the spelling of dissension, twice (While I grouse about teachers not knowing the word, I do have to admit that, although my ear knows it, I can't spell it correctly... LOL!) 3/7/10 Joined two consecutive Leon speeches into one paragraph. Changed flew in to Barrow to into. 2/5/10.
Word Count: 1791
May 1, 2002 17:41