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The baby in Scottlyn Rich’s womb turned a summersault. She frowned when a tiny foot made painful contact with her bladder. Easy baby. Scottlyn followed the principal of Eden Heights Christian Academy down a deserted hall while the baby continued to squirm. Can she feel how nervous I am? And if she could, shouldn’t they both be used to it by now? The last few months had turned her present and her future upside down. How could anyone go from popular and secure to pregnant and outcast in so short a time and not feel lost? She shrugged and tried to pull her attention back to the guided tour.
The school was bigger than she’d expected. Muffled sounds of classes in session reached her ears as they passed by closed doors. Hand drawn pictures and childishly scribbled assignments hung on bulletin boards outside of each room. The tile floors were scuffed, the metal lockers scratched and dented. Some of the tension between Scottlyn’s shoulder blades eased. Eden Heights looked a lot like the public schools she’d always attended.
The principal led her up a short flight of stairs, and somewhere between the first and second floors, they crossed an invisible line from childish to young adult. Good-bye crayon drawings, hello sports schedules, pep squad notices, and social event flyers.
Not what I expected. The idea of attending a Christian high school had given Scottlyn pause. Church had never been a part of her life, and now? Well…I might as well paint a red A on my forehead. She had enough going on in her life without becoming the target for some well-meaning do-gooder. The baby tumbled again. She shifted the load of textbooks in her arms and placed a calming hand on her belly. “Settle down, Mercie.”
The principal paused with a half turn. “I’m sorry. Did you have a question?”
A sick heat built in Scottlyn’s throat. She jerked to a stop. The books hit the floor as she slapped a hand over her mouth. “Bathroom?”
Principal Hatter frowned at her. “What?” Reality dawned on the woman’s face. “Oh my.” She pointed.
Scottlyn sprinted down the hall, shoved through the door of the blessedly deserted…thank God… restroom, and pushed into a stall. Her stomach emptied as her heart filled with humiliation. Once the retching passed, she leaned against the wall and fumbled for a handful of tissue. She wiped her mouth with trembling hands, wincing when she heard the door swing open followed by the principal’s voice.
“Are you OK, dear?”
Wonderful. The perfect start to her first day in a strange place. I hate this whole thing! The baby kicked. Scottlyn rubbed the mound of her five-month belly. Not you, baby. She continued to rub, inhaling deep breaths and expelling them though her mouth. The trembling subsided. The nausea passed. With a final cleansing breath, she opened the stall. Principal Hatter leaned against the row of sinks, her arms full of Scottlyn’s books.
Scottlyn crossed to one of the sinks, turned the tap on, scooped a hand full of water into her mouth, and tried to swish away the remnants of her breakfast. She ripped a paper towel free, blotted her face, and dried her hands.
“You poor thing. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Scottlyn shook her head. “I’ll be fine now that my stomach is empty. Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. I carried three babies. I know how quickly nausea can sneak up on you.”
She shrugged. “Thanks. These days, I don’t even know what to blame it on. The whole court thing looming over my head, being kicked out by my dad, or Mercie.”
Her hand went back to her stomach. “My daughter, Mercie. M.E.R.C.I.E.
“What a lovely and unusual name for a baby girl.” The principal straightened, shifting the stack of books from her right arm to her left. “I know this is a difficult time for you, but I admire your decisions. I’m here for you if you feel the need to talk. I’m sure your teachers will make themselves available as well. Are you ready to meet your first hour teacher?”
Scottlyn nodded and reached for the books.
Mrs. Hatter swung them out of her reach. “I’ll carry them for you.” She used her free hand to dig a slip of paper from her pocket. “I have your locker number right here. We’ll drop your books off on the way to Mrs. Kensington’s classroom.”
”Thanks.” Scottlyn pasted a smile on her face and squared her shoulders. She’d missed school, the routine, and the learning. She’d always been a good student, and she’d continue to be. Her future, and Mercie’s, depended on it.
Diana Kensington closed her eyes against the everyday noise of her first hour class settling in for the morning. The sound of chairs scraping the floor, the clatter of books landing on desk tops, and the chatter of perky morning voices penetrated her sleep deprived brain like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Resigned, she embraced the four hundred and thirty-ninth day of her new normal with all the enthusiasm of a death row inmate. Another sunrise clutching Chuck’s pillow to her chest, hoping for a whiff of his cologne while she searched for the will to crawl out of bed. Another day when her food tasted like straw and her clothes threatened to fall from her rapidly shrinking frame. Another night with nothing to look forward to except endless tossing when she should have been sleeping. Four hundred thirty-nine days since her husband kissed her good bye and spoke the last words she’d ever hear him utter.
“I’m out of here, Blondie.”
“I’ll be back in time to take you to dinner Friday night.”
Except he didn’t come back. Diana’s eyes darted to the ceiling as her focus shifted. Now she concentrated on God, the God she’d taken an emotional step away from on the day Chuck’s plane fell out of the sky. The words she whispered not meant for anyone’s ears but His. “If I’d known, I’d have cooked him breakfast. I’d have told him I loved him. I’d have held on and not let go. I couldn’t have known, but You knew.”
She bowed her head into her hands, pressing her fingers against her eyes, struggling against tears of hopelessness. Not here, not now. Her class deserved better. Her class. A room filled with other people’s children. She sucked in a ragged breath as that reminder threatened to steal her resolve. Chuck was gone, and there was nothing in his place. Other women in her situation had children or grandchildren to help fill the void. She had nothing, nothing but an empty house that no longer felt like a home.
The nine o’clock bell rang, forcing her back to the present. She stood as the room shuffled into silence. “OK guys, let’s break out those history books. We have a lot of ground to cover before our big test on Wednesday.”
Eden Heights was a private school with small classes, twenty-four students max for any subject or classroom. She taught English, History, and Algebra I to both Sophomores and Juniors. Today’s lesson on the Revolutionary War was a favorite and should serve to distract her from her gloomy thoughts this morning.
She walked back and forth in front of the twenty students in her class. “Who can tell me where the Constitution was signed?” Several hands went up. “Monica?”
Before Monica could deliver her answer, the door to her room swung open to admit Principal Hatter. Following in the principal’s wake was a young girl with a pale, heart shaped face, long blonde hair, and striking blue eyes.
“Sorry to interrupt you, Mrs. Kensington, but I have a new student for you.” She paused, motioning the girl to her side. “This is Scottlyn Rich. Scottlyn, this is Mrs. Kensington. She teaches our junior English and History classes, so you’ll have her for first and last hour.”
Diana took a step forward with her hand outstretched. Scottlyn did the same, shuffling a textbook, notebook, and purse in the process. Diana froze, her eyes locked on the newly exposed bulge around the girl’s middle. Pregnant? Teacher and student exchanged a weak handshake.
Diana struggled to keep her smile in place. She nodded to an empty desk. “Have a seat.” She looked at Principal Hatter. “Could we have a word?”
Millicent Hatter nodded and led the way into the deserted hallway. Diana pulled the door closed behind them.
“A pregnant student, Millicent? I thought we had rules about this sort of thing. What’s going on here?”
Millicent shook her head. “I’m sorry, Diana. You weren’t here Friday when I talked to the other teachers. I don’t want to take your class time to explain, and I have an appointment right after work. If you’ll stop by my office before class starts in the morning, I’ll share the details with you.” She placed a hand on Diana’s shoulder. “Trust me, I was hesitant at first, but once I heard the whole story and took some time to pray about the situation, I knew we had to offer Scottlyn a chance.”
Diana watched Millicent walk away. Tension born of resentment lay heavy on her neck and shoulders. Could this day get any more tedious? She turned to re-enter her class and stopped with her hand on the knob. A single prayer escaped her lips for the four hundred and thirty-ninth day in a row. “What now, God?”