Less than a week, and we’ll be able to point to an actual book available for purchase, rather than just talk big about our plans. It’s so satisfying to finally seeing the seeds go from the planting to the sprouting, blooming, then bearing fruit to be enjoyed by others. Today’s countdown fun involves a sneak peek at Side by Side. But first, yep. A graphic.

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Side by Side

by Laura Hamby

A Sneak Peek

Eliza ushered Mr. Johnson into my office in time for him to hear me use some very creative language as I tallied the line of figures up for the third time and got yet another different answer.

“Does it help?”

“Huh? What?” Startled, I glanced up, rather shocked to find myself not alone.

“Eliza brought me in. You did say ‘hi’ to her when she announced me,” he said in a tone I perceived as being reserved for the mentally inept. Or maybe I was projecting because I was feeling that way. Mr. Johnson repeated, “Does it help? Cussing at whatever you’re doing?”

I leaned back, bleary-eyed from crunching numbers. “No. It didn’t impress the line that I’ve been adding for ten minutes now, without getting the same answer twice. Would you care for some coffee?”

Even as I made the offer, Eliza returned, steaming cup in hand. “Here you go, Mr. Johnson.”

I laughed to myself over the ‘Mr. Johnson.’ Eliza and I were of an age, and like me, she’d lived here all her life. Just as the Johnson family had. She and Kimber Johnson had been best buddies all the way through school. There was no accounting for taste, and I didn’t hold that against Eliza. Much.

“Not you, too, Eliza.” He took the cup, but shook his head at her. “You’re my sister’s best friend. Been calling me Ike for years.”

Her kids were still in elementary school, so she had no student in his class. She looked flustered at his comment, then smiled a brilliant smile and said, “But you’re a teacher now, Mr. Johnson, and everyone knows you have to call teachers Mister, Missus, or Miss.”

“No you don’t. You can still call me Ike.”

Eliza’s face bloomed hot pink. “Maybe tomorrow,” she said before she fled.

“It’s the damnedest thing,” he told me. “Haven’t heard my first name from my friends and acquaintances for years now.”

“It’s that whole teacher thing, like Eliza said. Sue Hopper and I, among others, had a conversation about how we’d known you all our lives, but once you had our kids in your class, we all called you ‘Mr. Johnson.’ Quite the discussion.”

“So that’s why my ears were burning this morning.”

I liked the grin that lit up his face. It brought some color to the skin beneath his ginger freckles. He’d been far enough ahead of me in school that we hadn’t hung with the same crowd, and his sister and I had a rivalry that went all the way back to pre-k, which rather precluded us ever being friends. For that reason, I never hung out with any of her crowd, and she stayed away from mine. Worked out very nicely, the best for all involved.

“Probably. So. You have the notices you told me about this morning? You could dump the stuff on that chair there to the floor, if you’d like a place to sit.”

He did, saying, “I surely do. Just so you know, I told Lily I expected a letter written to the both of us explaining why she’d kept this from you and lied to me. It’s to include an apology as well, and the steps she’s going to take to earn back my trust. I also put her on notice that if any more conferences between she and me are necessary, I’ll be calling you so you’ll know to ask for the notice to sign.” He handed me a manila envelope.

“Ooo. You’re good.” I slid the papers out and studied each of them. “Has she gotten back on track, then?”

“Yes, at the moment, her grade is a mid-range B. Her project and presentation brought her grade up from a very low C. You’re liable to hear from her how much she hates me. I always am very frank with the kids where they stand with me.”

“I’ve heard about Mr. Johnson’s List,” I admitted. “None of the kids like being on it. Some of them started a social media support page for it.”

He laughed. “I know. Don’t tell them, but I infiltrated it, with just my initials, backwards.”

“You’re JSI.?” Now it was my turn to laugh. “I’ve been suspicious about ol’ JSI. Any of the kids figure out it’s you?”

“Not to my knowledge. I try not to interact, but if you knew my handle immediately, I must be more active than I thought.”

“Um. No. It’s just that I infiltrated the group, too. I’m ‘The Sunny One.’ I did it when Lily and I were at serious loggerheads at the beginning of the school year, and well, I knew she wouldn’t friend me outright.” I outed myself rather sheepishly. “I’ve almost managed to sell myself on the lie that I repeat every time I log in as Sunny to spy on her. That I’m doing it for her own good, and God help me if she ever finds out. It’s hard enough being a parent to a teen, it’s harder when you’re the stepparent. I just wish I didn’t feel so slimy for doing it.”

“It’s part of the gig. I’d say you’re doing it right.”

“Well, thank you very much, Mr. Johnson. Although how you can say that with a straight face when I’ve been unaware she’s forging my signature, I have no idea.”

“Ike.”

“Abbie.”

“Now that we’re on a first name basis, how’d you like to have dinner some time?”

(c) 2014 by Laura Hamby

* * * *

Tweet with me: @LauraHamby1

Tweet with Sheylynn: @SheylynnJones

Tweet with Best Friends: @BestFriendsWrit

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