“So when can we expect the call?”

“I’m not sure of a timeline, but I’d say in the next couple of weeks. The jury’s technically out till then regardless of my report. So you can’t notify anyone of an outcome until there is one.”

“So my hands are tied? I can’t even tell my people that they have to look for work?”

“Not yet. I just wanted to speak to you privately because you were very gracious to me, and I believe you have a right to know what to expect,” I said.

“I appreciate that, son,” he said, and offered me his hand.

I shook his hand, but I didn’t feel good about it. I felt dishonorable somehow, and it was uncomfortable as hell. Not as uncomfortable as my next stop would be though. I parked at the Fun Factory. A bunch of little kids were playing on the colorful plastic equipment inside the fence. I wondered how that one kid with the tantrums did with the blocks I sent, and how many of these kids would have to move and never see their friends again because I filed a report on the output and operating costs of their parents’ plant. My conscience was acting up, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

I went to the office and found Maggie at her desk, looking out the window at the kids playing. When I knocked on the open door, her attention snapped back, first to her computer screen, then to me. She frowned, and I could feel her disdain right through to my spine. I was the last person she wanted to see. She got to her feet, palms on her desk, and met my eyes.

“What?” she said.

“I’m leaving town.”

“Good,” she said. She was cool and terse, stood waiting on me to continue.

“I’m sorry that things turned out this way,” I said lamely.

I wasn’t sure what I had wanted to happen, maybe that she’d run into my arms and say the only thing that was important was what we’d found together, what we shared. That sure as hell wasn’t on the menu. She was pissed. It was written all over her face.

She crossed her arms. I half expected her to address me sternly using my middle name. This must be her teacher pose, I thought ruefully.

“I’m sure you are. Thanks for stopping by,” she said stiffly, like it was gagging her to even be polite to me.

I left without another word. If she was done with me, I’d be done with her as well.

17

Maggie

I hoped he hadn’t seen my computer screen, my search for preschools and early childhood centers that might need an administrator or even a teacher. I was looking for a position for myself since my daycare was going to fold. I was looking to print out a list of possible places to apply for my staff, because they were family to me, and I had no intention of turning them out without a way forward. I checked the bank balance again, for the business and my personal account. I had some money saved. I would use it to give my workers a good severance. Yes, I’d probably wish I had a cushion for myself when I was out of work, but if worst came to worst, I had a house I could sell. I could go live with my parents or with Layla for a while until I found a way to start over. I was in a better position than my staff, several of whom were single moms with student loan debt. I was already drafting out a plan.

I got a call from a student’s mom, saying she had seen Jeremiah at the plant. She asked if we were dating.

“I’ve seen him a few times but that’s it. Why?” I asked.

“I wondered if he might’ve told you something, how it’s gonna go for the plant,” she said, nervousness in her voice.

“I wish I knew. Obviously we’re all praying for the plant to stay open for years to come. I know he’s done here and leaving town but I haven’t seen his report. My guess is it doesn’t look good, but you’re asking a daycare worker for her opinion on corporate shutdowns,” I said.

“Okay, thanks,” she said, and hung up.

That day, several parents hung around at pickup time asking if we’d heard anything.

“Nothing’s definite,” I said, “We can always hold out hope.”

“You think they’ll shut down?” Kim asked me later.

“I don’t know the outcome of this,” I said uncomfortably. “But I’d say there isn’t much chance of a happy ending here.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “Do you care if I start applying for jobs?”

“I think it’s the practical thing to do. If you need time off for an interview, I’ll cover your shift,” I said. “I’m going to tell everyone else the same. That if we find out the plant is shutting down, we’ll work around schedules to make sure you get time for job hunting and these kids get cared for. You know you all mean the world to me—” I broke off.


Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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