After an amount of time, she stopped crying. She got up from the dog’s bed to wash her face and reapply her makeup. The load of her guilt had not lessened, but she managed to push it, if not out of her mind, at least out of the foremost place in her thoughts.
Clutching the chain handle on her purse, Natasha collapsed into a sobbing heap for the second time that morning. Now, on top of having committed the worst mistake a human can possibly make, she had been robbed. Even worse, she knew perfectly well who the culprit was- her only daughter.
Unlike her mother, twelve-year-old Megan Freeman was feeling no guilt whatsoever for what she had done that morning. Nor was there any particular reason that she should have been. That morning, as on every other morning of the school year, Megan’s mother had still been asleep when Megan woke up, and, for that matter, when she left to catch the school bus. Normally, Natasha left her daughter’s lunch money on the table before she went to sleep, but on that particular day she had forgotten. Megan, knowing that her mother did not get enough sleep without being woken up early in the morning just so Megan could ask for something for which her mother would undoubtedly give permission, had simply taken the money from her mother’s purse. It was no big deal. Maybe, possibly, had she stopped to think about it, and had she not already almost been late for the bus, Megan might have written her mother a note explaining the circumstances. As it was, by lunchtime, Megan didn’t even remember that the five-dollar bill she was holding had not been on the table that morning.
Megan was just at the front of the impossibly long lunch line when the event that ruined her day took place. Calvin, the boy who sat behind her in science, pushed in front of her in line and bought the last piece of pizza, leaving only Megan’s least favorite food- meatloaf.
This affected Megan much more than it should have. After all, tons of kids cut in line every day, and last week she’d been forced to eat meatloaf twice. What really upset her was the feeling that something that was rightfully hers had been stolen. While before she had never particularly noticed Calvin, she now decided she hated him. Twisting her charm bracelet in annoyance so hard that she hurt her wrist, Megan shoved the money at the lunch lady grabbed her meatloaf, and stomped away, not even remembering her three dollars and fifty cents change.
Calvin knew his history teacher’s policy for giving makeup tests perfectly well. You had to be in the classroom at lunch the day after the test, and you had to be there before the second bell rang. And he really had tried. After all, this test could change his grade by a whole letter grade, and Calvin was already getting a C.
Had he been anyone else, Calvin would have skipped lunch to make up the test. But since he was diabetic, skipping lunch was not an option. So he ran to the front of the lunch line, grabbed a lunch, shoved his money at the lunch lady, and ran to his history classroom.
Unfortunately for Calvin, the bell rang just as he got there. His history teacher walked out of the classroom. Calvin stopped him.
“Mr. Kayeti, could I please take the test now? I really tried to get here on time, but I had to buy lunch, and I can’t just skip lunch because I have diabetes, and I came here as fast as I could.”
“I’m sorry Calvin, but you know the rules,” said the teacher in a semi-apologetic voice, and walked away.
Fingering the chain on his medical ID tag, Calvin leaned against the wall and tried not to cry.
John Kayeti really was sorry he couldn’t let Calvin make up his test. He knew Calvin was a fairly good student who didn’t talk much in class, usually did his homework, and was, in general, a good kid. He also knew that Calvin had been telling the truth and his lateness was not his fault.
It didn’t matter. Had Calvin arrived thirty seconds earlier, John could have given him the test and sent him to take it in the classroom of the teacher across the hall. However, assuming that there weren’t any students needing make-up tests, she had left her classroom. Although she would be back in a few minutes, since she always spent lunch in her classroom, he could not simply leave Calvin alone with the test until she got back. And had John stayed to give Calvin the test, he would never have been able to pick up his daughter from kindergarten, drive her across town to her daycare, and drive back to school in the twenty five minutes left of lunch.
John drove the three blocks to the kindergarten, picked up Katie, who was babbling about an art project she’d done, and drove through the traffic-infested streets to Sarah’s Daycare.
When he walked Katie into the building, Sarah, the approximately thirty-year-old woman who ran the daycare, was talking on the phone.
“Yes, I realize that his father is supposed to pick him up, but his father was supposed to come two hours ago. Well, you’ll just have to leave your work early, won’t you? Honestly, no, I don’t particularly care if you get fired. Well, I can’t watch him all day! Hello? Hello? Are you still there?” She hung up the phone. To Katie she said, “You can go watch TV or play outside or whatever.” To John she said, “What do you want?”
Shocked at her rudeness, he could only reply, “Just dropping off Katie,” and leave. Holding the chain of his late wife’s locket, which he always carried with him, he worried whether Sarah’s Daycare was really the right place for Katie.
Sarah Dubay was worried, upset, scared, and annoyed. Seven-month-old Davey was supposed to have been picked up by his father two hours ago, or one hour and fifty-two minutes ago to be exact. She had not been able to contact him, and when she’d called Davey’s mother at work asking her to pick up her child, the mother had hung up on her. Sarah was licensed only to take care of six children at a time. Davey, along with the six kindergarteners she was actually supposed to be taking care of from 1:00 to six, made seven. It was quite possible that the daycare inspector would come that day, and if Davey was still there, she could get her license taken away.
Carelessly jerking the chain on the baby gate, she silently cursed Davey’s father and went to give his son a bottle.
It was not Davey’s father’s fault that he was a little, or rather a lot, late to pick up his son. Mike Smith had been driving along when another car had smashed into the driver’s side of his car. The car had spun to the right and the airbag had puffed out, bruising Mike’s ribs and releasing a cloud of dust. Mike had stumbled out of his car and onto the sidewalk. The woman in the other car, whose face was wet with tears, called the paramedics on her cell phone. Mike exchanged insurance information with the woman, Sandra Cod, before the paramedics arrived and whisked Mike away to the hospital for x-rays of his ribs. His car was totaled. He wanted to call Sarah’s Daycare to explain his lateness, but unfortunately for everyone, he didn’t have the number memorized and it wasn’t in the phonebook. He waited forever in the hospital room, toying with a chain that had been part of his car which he had accidentally carried away from the wreck and cursing the stupid woman who had plowed into his car. Then he was x-rayed, told to wait for another eternity, and finally told that he had no broken bones. He was released to go, except that he had no car. He called a taxi, which took almost forty-five minutes to arrive, and was finally delivered to confront the irate Sarah. With the memory of Sarah’s screams in his mind and Davey’s wails in his ears, Mike thought, Damn that idiot that plowed into me! It’s all her fault.
He was not entirely correct. Sandra Cod was driving home from visiting her parents so that she could be in the hospital when her husband woke up from his emergency heart surgery. Toying with the chain from which her car incense was hanging, she worried about her husband, and about whether the hospital knew to contact her two adult children, and about whether anyone would have fed the cat if her husband was in the hospital, and about how soon she’d be home, and about… Her cell phone rang. “Hello, this is Sandra Cod,” she answered.
The voice that spoke through the telephone was low pitched and comforting. “Mrs. Cod, this is Brad Weaver, from the hospital. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. The surgeon operating on your husband tried her best, but it was her first major surgery, and she made a fatal mistake, and well, your husband passed away.” Tears began to run down Sandra’s face, and she forgot to look at the road. “We’re all very sorry, and Dr, Natasha Freeman will be contacting you to apologize herself.”
At that moment, the car crashed.