Chapter 3The next day was spent making dish after dish, storing them in the huge extra refrigerator in the garage. Keri was tired, but it was good to hear her mother and sister talking again. It had been years since they discussed anything of value.
In the meantime, her sister-in-law, Karen, discussed education at length with Keri. "So are you saying the other kids will make fun of Chloe if she's younger than they are?"
"Could be," Keri said. "I have one mother who made the same choice you're considering for Chloe. That child is now of high school age. I stayed in touch with the family, because the girl feels like an outcast. She went from the top of her class in sixth grade to struggling in seventh grade, because emotionally, she just wasn't ready." Nick filled her mind. "However, I met some guy last night who went to college in high school, and when he graduated from high school, only had one more year of college to go for his bachelor's degree. He went on to medical school, and then went to work as a doctor in the Army. He's not much older than I am, starting life early because he knew what he wanted to do."
"Was that the man we met at the airport?" Paula asked while kneading bread.
"Yeah. Nick." Keri blew out a breath. "Dad screwed that one up for me. He'll never call now; I'm sure. I was looking forward to talking to him. I have his niece in my class and she needs major guidance."
"What ever happened to the girl who was promoted?" Karen asked.
Keri paused, thinking about April. "She dropped out of school and is working at a fast-food restaurant. She didn't like being the youngest in her grade. She had no goal to work toward, because she wasn't emotionally ready to decide on a career. So she just dropped out of everything."
"Wow. That's sad," Karen said, making a pie. "Do you think she would've done better staying where she was?"
"I'm sure of it." Keri poured some oil into the bowl to make a coconut cake. "She was at the top of her class and loved school because it was easy for her. But seventh grade was a lot tougher and she wasn't ready. For her, it wasn't a good choice and I think the mother is regretting it." She kept thinking about Nick. "But for some people, it works. It depends on the kid, I guess."
Karen couldn't let it alone. "What about Chloe?"
She had to be honest, because the girl was immature. "If I were her mother, I'd have her reading anything she could for extra work instead of moving her ahead, just for emotional maturity. You could have her working on writing reports, too."
"I like that idea," Karen said. "She could get ahead for high school, too."
Some mothers were nuts. The poor girl would probably burn out if she did her work too early.
Keri's mind thought about Nick. Would he burn out eventually? Did Bill make him feel badly, when it was far from the truth? Who cared what Nick's dad did for a living—at least he was employed. She wanted to tell her father off, but knew she couldn't get anywhere. Bill was the man in the family, and if anyone argued with him, he'd kick them out for good. That might work to her advantage, the more she thought about it. She could disown all of them. But where would she be then? She'd be in the same boat Nick was in, having to sit by his father's deathbed alone.
She had to find out where he was, but didn't know his father's name or hospital. However, she did know his sister. Maybe that would work.
As soon as she got the cake into the oven, she turned toward the group. "I'm taking a break to make a phone call. I'll be back."
"Who are you calling?" Brittany asked. "Josh? He was hotter than that stove right now."
"The stove's off," Karen noted, pointing.
Keri took a step closer to the sliding door and opened it. "She's right. Josh was as cold as ice." She grabbed her coat, stepped out onto the back porch, pushing the door closed behind her, then pulled on her jacket. She took out her phone and pressed the number for her best friend and coworker.
"Jane here," her friend said. "Make it snappy. I have a date coming over."
Keri laughed. "You knew it was me, huh?"
"Keri! How's the land of ice and cold personalities?"
Keri laughed again. "You know. Cold. Hey. I met some guy and need his number. He's Rita Venema's brother."
"Rita?" Keri could imagine her friend rolling her eyes. "That lady's a pain. I have her on speed dial and have her number memorized."
"But you're only the art teacher. Why is that?"
Jane sighed. "She thinks Rico's gifted in art and wants me to take him to the next level. So tell me about her brother?"
"He's a doctor in the Army and flew home to Chicago for his father, who's dying. He stopped in St. Petersburg to see Rita, but she refused to come home. Poor guy…he's hurting and my dad wasn't nice to him at all. Oh, and he's majorly hot."
"Wait. You just met the guy and introduced him to your parents already?"
"Not really. They picked me up at the airport and Nick was there. Nick's dad was a taxi driver and my dad told Nick he hates taxi drivers. Anyway, I need Rita's phone number so I can get Nick's cell phone number. I feel horrible about it and want to make sure he's—" She heard a noise on her phone. "Wait. I'm getting another call. Just hold the line."
"Sure. I'm just watching my popcorn get nuked."
Keri flipped over to the other line. "Hello?"
"It's Nick." He sobbed slightly. "What are you doing tonight?"
"Well, I was just trying to get your phone number so I could call you. I'm on the other line with another teacher who has your sister's phone number memorized and on speed dial."
"She does? Why?"
"Rico's talented in art."
Nick chuckled, but she heard his sadness anyway. "I need to talk to someone. Can I meet you somewhere?"
"I'm at the Mt. Sinai Hospital. Maybe somewhere near there? Do you have a car? I can come get you. I have Dad's car."
"I'm northwest of there, but I'll come on over. I have to get out of here, but it's going to take me a little bit of time to get there."
"Thanks. Dad's in room 310." It sounded like he was still alive. "But I can come over to get you."
"No. Dad's still in a mood, and I don't want him yelling at something stupid again. I'll be there." She paused. "Nick, I really care and worry about you."
He was silent for a moment. "Thank you," he whispered. But she could tell he was hurting and needed her.
Keri ended the call, ended the call to Jane, and walked back inside to the kitchen. "Mom, can I borrow the spare car? I have a local friend in need right now and can't leave them alone."
The woman was creating rolls. "How far away?"
Keri took a big breath. "Mt. Sinai Hospital. It's Nick. He needs someone and has no one to help him."
Paula looked up, walked to the kitchen drawer and opened it, then grabbed some keys and handed it to her. "It has gas in it. Hurry up. That man needs someone with a level head on their shoulders."
"Oh, no," Brittany said. "If she's getting out of work, so am I." She ripped off her apron and headed for the door. "And I'm driving. I don't trust your driving."
"Brit," Paula said. "It's a date. Don't go. You don't get it. The man asked for Keri, not you."
"Tough. She needs a chaperone." Brittany pulled on her coat and opened the door. "Hurry up. I want to get out of here, too." The front door slammed behind her. Keri put the keys on the counter and followed behind, heading toward the front door.
"Where are you going?" Bill's voice boomed out.
"Let them go," Paula said. "They're getting some air from the heat in the kitchen. They'll be back."
Keri kept going, closing the door behind her before she ran and got into Brittany's passenger's side of the car. This wasn't going as she planned, and hoped Brittany knew to keep quiet.