The Dreams Series, Book 2
by: Staci Stallings
“Mail call,” Liz Rivas said as she dropped a stack of various-sized envelopes into Camille Wright’s in-box.
“Anything interesting?” Camille asked, winding a light brown strand of straight hair around one ear although she never looked up from the design that held her attention on her desk.
“A test printout on the carbon-alloy that they ran yesterday.” Liz sorted through the letters. “The transcripts from your meeting with Baker, and this.” She pulled a green postcard out of the stack and held it up.
Camille looked up and squinted behind her chic wire-rimmed glasses. “What’s that?”
“An invitation to a reunion,” Liz said with small smile and a raise of her eyebrows. “Ten years? Huh? Wow. I wouldn’t have pegged you for a senior citizen already.”
“Ha. Ha.” Camille reached up and swiped the card out of Liz’s hand. She leaned back in her chair and surveyed it. ‘Ridgecrest High School is proud to invite you back…’ She glanced at the date but did little more before pitching it onto her desk.
“You’re going, right?” Liz asked with interest.
As she bent back over her work, Camille shook her head, causing several strands of hair to fall around her face again. She quickly pushed them behind her ear and bent back over the sketches, wondering if there was a clip in her desk across the way. “Probably not.”
Liz shifted her weight to her other shapely leg just below the professional black skirt. “What? You didn’t like high school?”
It took little trouble to push the thought of high school away from her. “There’s only a couple people I would even want to see again. Why put yourself through that for two people?”
“You never know it might be fun. Old friends, old stories…old boyfriends.”
Without looking up, Camille reached for the pencil tucked behind her ear and made a small mark on the paper. “Could you get me the files on the dimensions for the cockpit controls again? This isn’t fitting like it’s supposed to.”
“Sure.” Liz stood at the door for a single second more. “By the way, Ben called earlier. He said they’ve got the conference date set. April 24th.”
“Great,” Camille said, her gaze and concentration glued to the markings on the large paper in front of her. “Pencil it in. I can’t afford to miss this one.”
And with that, Liz stepped out. Camille’s pencil traced again over the line. More than a billion dollars rode on this one design—the NightViper, an aircraft that would take over where the F-19 Eagle left off, and for the business—not to mention the sake of her job, it had better be perfect. With that thought, she picked up the phone and punched speed dial 3 even as she continued making small marks on the plans. Two more marks and she leaned back in her chair, listening to the ringing of the phone.
A tap at a time she turned her pencil end-to-end as her gaze crossed her design table. Unconsciously she laid the pencil down and picked up the green postcard to skim it. ‘April 12th. 6 p.m. The Grand Plaza Hotel, Ridgecrest, N.Y. Catered hors d’oeuvres and meal provided. RSVP by March 15th.’ At that moment the phone clicked in her ear, and she yanked her attention back to it.
“Rai.” She leaned forward and flipped the invitation back onto her desk. “Have you gotten those trial cockpit designs finished yet? I need them.”
“Michael! Hey, that’s your line, man! Where’d you go?” Jaylon Quinn asked in frustration from his folding chair at the bottom of the stage. Script in hand he sat, listening to the first read-through without scripts. It was like fingernails scraping down a chalkboard.
“Sorry. What is it again?” the short, black-headed senior asked from the stage without even bothering to try to remember it.
“‘We’ve got to get out of here before…’”
“Oh, yeah,” Michael said, and then he turned back to his accomplice. “We’ve got to get out of here before they call the cops. Nobody with any sense will ever believe this story.”
“She did,” Clay Heish, Michael’s blonde-headed, dim-witted accomplice, said.
“Like I said, ‘Nobody with any sense will ever believe this!’ Now, come on. Hand me that crowbar.”
All motion on the stage stopped, and Jaylon waited a full thirty seconds before shaking his head. “Clay!”
Clay stared off the stage in concentration. “I forgot it.”
“‘Where is it? I thought it was right here,’” Jaylon supplied, losing patience with each word.
“Sorry.” Clay nodded. “Where is it? I thought it was right here.”
With two fingers, Jaylon rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighed, and then ran one set of fingers through his hair. Somehow when he’d decided on teaching, he had never envisioned this. Michael, his star student for the past three years had never once bothered to really memorize a script until two days before the performance, and with Clay as his accomplice this year, things were sure to deteriorate from there.
“Well, look around, it’s got to be here somewhere,” Michael hissed. “Crowbars don’t just disappear. Hurry up. She’ll be back any second.”
Jaylon looked at his watch. Fifteen more minutes and he’d be sprung. He couldn’t wait. The stage went quiet again as the two boys stood with no more lines to deliver waiting for the surprise entrance of their hostess who didn’t appear.
“Karen!” Jaylon yelled a little too loudly. “That’s your cue!”
In half-a-heartbeat, Karen, a young-looking sophomore, ran onto the stage. “Sorry, Mr. Quinn, I was talking to Bethany.”
Jaylon scratched his cheek in frustration. “Don’t apologize, just get on with it.”
On stage the reading continued although Jaylon was only vaguely keeping up with it. How had he ever thought he could teach kids? To him, they were enigmas—like trying to nail pudding to a wall. His head was starting to pound.
Again too much silence enveloped the room, and this time even Jaylon didn’t know how to fill it. “That’s it.” He stood, throwing both hands up in surrender. “We’ll start there tomorrow. And Michael, could you please work on memorizing a little more?”
“Sure thing,” Michael said with a smooth smile that Jaylon had long since learned meant, ‘I’m not even going to think about what you just said between now and tomorrow.’
Jaylon shook his head and gathered his briefcase as the students filed off the stage.
“See ya tomorrow, Mr. Quinn,” Karen said in her cotton candy sweet voice.
All he wanted to do was choke her, but he simply smiled and said, “Yeah, take care.”
As slowly as humanly possible, Jaylon climbed the steps and stepped behind the curtain to snap off the lights. Behind the stage curtains, he made his way to the back door of the stage, which led to his office. Office? It would’ve been nice if it was an office. Actually it was more like a broom closet with a two-foot table and a small trail littered with boxes leading to the chair.
The room itself still smelled like ammonia from the janitor who had reluctantly agreed to relinquish the space to save Jaylon from having to drag the theatre material across campus from the main building to the auditorium, which doubled as a cafeteria.
When it was built, the auditorium was never really meant to be more than a small stage to hold talent shows and kids’ choral performances. Brickhaven I.S.D. in upper New York State had never even had a drama program until Jaylon landed there three years before.
Drama, it had always been his first love, but two years of off-Broadway productions that closed before the first performance had pretty much killed his undying devotion to the stage as well as wiped out his bank account. So, when he saw the ad for an English teacher interested in starting up a drama program while scanning for jobs on the Internet, he had called about it immediately.
Somehow he should’ve known the rest of the story the second he drove into the tiny town with one flashing stop light and a grocery store the size of a small gas station. The fact that the superintendent interviewed him on the spot and called just two hours after he’d gotten home should also have set off the warning bells.
But they hadn’t, and now here he was three years later, sucking down aspirin like candy and wondering how life had led him here. Fighting off the depression, he yanked his briefcase stuffed with work off the floor and stalked out. He had papers to grade, but then again, he always had papers to grade.
He just hoped that tonight he could actually find a little time to get some of them done. The prospect of Nicole showing up with more wedding problems threatened to send him right off the edge as he climbed into the old, blue Camaro Z28 and turned the car for home.
If he could just make it to May the 3rd with a piece of his sanity left, life was sure to get better. It could get no worse. He turned off the pavement and veered over to the little mailbox standing in the ditch. With one hand he rolled down the window, pulled the latch open, and dug for the letters. He didn’t even look at them, just flipped them into the passenger seat and continued down the dirt road to the little turn off.
How fortunate he’d felt when he found this place. A hundred years old and just the perfect size for him. What he hadn’t counted on was one of the pipes breaking two months after he’d moved in, which led to re-plumbing the whole house, during which they found out the wiring was shot too. Of course it, too, had to be replaced for fear the entire structure might burn to the ground around him.
By the time those repairs were completed, the last thing he had money to do was to go house hunting again, and so he had stayed—despite the draft that wafted in through every window when the wind blew from the Northeast and the thick layer of dust that accumulated when he wasn’t looking. And now, at least for the next five months, it was home.
When he turned the last corner to home, all hopes of getting any papers graded vanished. In the driveway sat the little white Mustang with the DDYS GRL vanity plates. Nicole.
A bag of groceries, briefcase, and a handful of various traveling paraphernalia in hand, Camille trudged up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. At the door, she wrestled with the things in her hands so that she could get her key into the lock. When the door swung open, she took one step inside and dropped everything to the floor.
“Well, hello, Max,” she said to the giant orange tabby cat that scratched its back against the dividing wall in greeting to her. “Yes, I brought you some more food.”
She locked the door behind her and picked up the bag from the floor.
“I know. I know. I told you I’d get Happy Cat, but they were out again.” With the practice of a thousand performances, she pulled the cat bowl up to the sink, washed and dried it, and then filled one side with water and set it back on the floor. Quickly she picked up the bag of cat food, ripped it open, and dumped some into the bowl.
For one minute she sat on her heels, petting the animal at her feet as she laid her chin in her hand. “So, how was your day? Huh? Did Old Mr. Hathington behave himself, or did he yell all day again?”
The cat continued to eat as Camille stroked its soft fur. If only every moment could be this peaceful. Her thoughts traced back to the office, and as though the straightjacket had fallen over her again, she stood and walked back to the door to retrieve the briefcase.
She needed to have more than a few preliminary drawings completed before Ben’s meeting in April. Funny how four months ago April had seemed like more than enough time. But that was before Ben left for the consulting job of a lifetime and dumped the leadership mantle onto her shoulders.
Who was she trying to kid anyway? She was barely 28. Who in their right mind puts a 28-year-old in charge of a major design like this one?
Ben. It was strange how she could never think of him without that by-now-familiar twang in her heart.
She had never so much as acted interested in him, but that didn’t stop him. Oh, no. First it was coffee after work to talk about upcoming projects, then it was dinner with clients, then dinner with just the two of them. Always business, and yet always with an undercurrent of something else.
Without bothering to take off anything more than her heels, Camille threw a TV dinner into the microwave and punched the buttons. She knew what Ben had thought back in November when she’d called in sick for his first conference. Honestly, she wasn’t avoiding him—it’s not easy to give a speech when you’re throwing your guts up.
But still, she knew he was hurt. She’d heard it in his voice when he’d called later in the week to tell her about the conference.
“I just wish I could’ve seen you,” he’d said, and she heard the sadness. “I was looking forward to it.”
“Yeah, so was I.”
It was true. One part of her always looked forward to seeing him. It was just that the other parts constantly wondered what half-step forward they would take this time. He had never pushed. Never so much as asked her out point-blank. But the undercurrent when he was around was hard to deny. A hand on the small of her back to lead her to the table, a look a moment too long, laughing at all of her jokes—even the ones that weren’t all that funny. It was all the little things that added up to something. Something she wasn’t sure she was ready for. Something she wasn’t sure she even wanted.
The microwave dinged, and she carefully pulled the dinner out and set it on the table next to her designs. Ben would be able to finish this in two seconds. He would be able to see the problem with the design in a breath. She could hear him even as she sat and looked over them, “It’s your perspective, Camille. You’re too close. Back up. Give it a breath, and your answer will be there.”
Back up. If only she had the time to back up, that was exactly what she would’ve done. The only problem was, there was no time to back up anymore. Isaac needed these designs in two weeks, and it was becoming clear that even if she worked non-stop until then, that deadline would probably still be beyond her grasp.
In frustration, she forked a piece of dry Salisbury steak in her mouth before erasing a full inch of her design and starting over. “Who’s dumb idea was this anyway? Ben, I swear you had to be out of your mind to recommend me for this.”
Jaylon walked through his back door and found Nicole seated at his table with white envelopes and pink invitations stacked around her.
“I thought you were going to be here an hour ago.” She flipped a lock of wavy platinum blonde hair over her shoulder testily although she never looked up from her work.
“We had first read-throughs today.” He set his briefcase on the two inches of table not covered with invitations.
“Well, Mom’s going to have an absolute conniption if we don’t get these things addressed and out.” With her pen she motioned across the disaster as he dutifully walked over and kissed the top of her head. “We’ve only got about two hundred more to do.”
He stepped over to the cabinet to grab a glass. “That all?”
“Ha. Ha. You know, if we’d have gotten them done over the weekend like I wanted…”
“I was trying to catch up with everything else.”
“Everything else?” she asked, an undercurrent of sarcasm yanking the words down. “Like what? Masterpiece Theatre?”
“I had all the contest applications to get in.” He took a drink of water trying to swallow the annoyance. “And I had papers to grade and lesson plans to write…”
“Please.” She put her hands on her ears. “No more teacher stuff. I’m begging you.”
Jaylon considered explaining that teaching was his job and that it required a laundry list of other responsibilities, but he’d heard her comebacks to that so many times it was pointless to start down that road now.
He sat down at the table and grabbed a stack of envelopes and another stack of invitations. Maybe if they got the invitations out, then he could get on with his life.
“Did you call Cazenovia yet?” Nicole asked without looking up as she addressed an envelope in perfect calligraphy.
Knowing even as he did that she wouldn’t be pleased, Jaylon shook his head as his hands slid an invitation into the envelope. “I didn’t have time.”
“Didn’t have time?” She looked up as her shaped eyebrows came together. “This isn’t some little unimportant detail, you know? This is our future we’re talking about.”
“I know. I know. I thought about it at lunch, but I had cafeteria duty.”
Nicole clicked her tongue in exasperation as her gaze dropped back to the invitations. “I really can’t wait until you get a real job. Cafeteria duty? Jeez. If I have to hear about that the rest of my life…”
What? he wanted to ask. Would that really be so terrible? Sure, he didn’t like a lot of things about his job, but it was a job. It was respectable, and for the most part it wasn’t so bad. For a few hours a day he got to do something he really loved, but Nicole always found a way to make that sound so trivial, so beneath him, so beneath her.
“I had lunch with Daddy today,” she said as her voice sweetened like honey. “His offer’s still open.”
“I already told you I’m not management material.”
She laughed, and the sarcasm was back. “What do you mean? That’s what you do all day—except you manage barbarians and don’t get paid for it.”
Reining in his fatigue and growing frustration, Jaylon ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m happy teaching.”
Again with the tongue-clicking thing. “You know, unless you get on with a college at least as big as Cazenovia, teaching’s a dead-end street. You know that and so do I.”
He set his jaw. “Well, I’m not managing.”
“Well, then I suggest you don’t keep forgetting to make that phone call.”
Camille’s mind wanted a break. It needed a break. It had been working nearly non-stop since six-thirty that morning, and it was beginning to show signs of totally shutting down. Slowly she stood from the table, padded down the short hallway to her room and then into her bathroom. Nothing about her apartment was spectacular. It wasn’t that she didn’t make more than enough money to have a great apartment. It was just that those kinds of things had never held much interest for her.
On autopilot she undressed and pulled the knob to start the water. She reached up and pulled the clip out of her hair, which immediately sent the shoulder-length locks tumbling down. When she looked in the mirror across the room, even she had to admit she looked tired. A nice, long, hot shower and then maybe she could stay awake long enough to finish the plane’s nose. If she didn’t, she could always fall into bed exhausted enough to fall asleep.
Her worn out feet stepped into the shower, and instantly the rest of her body began to shut down with her brain. It was the same story every night. She was so tired she could barely keep her eyes open—until her head actually hit the pillow. Then her overtired brain simply wouldn’t turn off and go to sleep. The designs were usually first and foremost in her thoughts, but there were other things too—like her little sister Daria and how things were going for her in North Carolina.
Why the girl had to pick somewhere so far away to go to school was still beyond Camille’s grasp. After all it wasn’t like they didn’t have computers in New York. The thought crossed her mind that she needed to be watching for the tuition bill in the next couple of days. It was sure to be crossing her desk soon.
Mail crossing her desk wound her thoughts back to the green postcard, and her hands rubbed the edges of her arms. It had been so long since Ridgecrest, since Lexie, and Nick, and the play, and… With a jerk she opened her eyes and pumped the shampoo nozzle twice. She wasn’t going, so it was silly to even think about it.
Silly. But still her heart filled her whole chest as the memories of days long past surged through her.
The anger was still in Jaylon’s chest hours later as he sat on the soft mattress of his bed running a red pen over the last of the three stacks of papers. Nicole or no Nicole he was determined not to shirk his duties to this school or to these kids. There were already enough people doing that to them.
For too many of them, school was their one and only stable place in the whole world. That was simply the sad fact of life. He slid the top paper off the stack and came face-to-face with Michael’s. Slowly Jaylon shook his head. Three years with that kid, and as far as Jaylon could tell, nothing much had changed. He was as unfocused and flighty as he had been during their first meeting—and just as talented.
A sigh escaped Jaylon’s throat as he wrote the grade on the top of the paper and continued on through the stack. Next year, Michael would be gone, off to live his own life somewhere far away from Brickhaven, and what good had Jaylon really done for him? Forced him to memorize a few lines for plays that had been long since forgotten? What was that in the whole scheme of life? What good could that ever do anyone?
A pang stung through the middle of the anger. Those words—so hated and yet so familiar. They were always with him. It was like he couldn’t really get away from them for any length of time.
Some small piece of him whispered that his father was right all along, but quickly he slammed that door shut even as he put the graded stack into his briefcase and slammed the lid. It did make a difference. It had to. If it didn’t, then what was the point of living in the first place?
With three kicks he pulled himself off the bed and stomped to the closet to lay out his clothes for the next morning. Tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow he wouldn’t let the long hours and the nagging kids and the frustrated co-workers get to him. Tomorrow he would be the teacher they deserved—the one they would remember long after Brickhaven was just a spec in the distance.
Like Mrs. Allen had been for him. As he snapped off the light and climbed under the covers, a smile came to his face. Mrs. Allen. He hadn’t really thought of her in a long time. He wondered for a moment if she was even still teaching, even still in Ridgecrest. She would never believe it if she could see him now.
Sleep began its advance over his eyelids. No, Mrs. Allen would never believe it. How could she? He didn’t.
At two thirty in the morning, her hair in a tangled, matted mess, Camille stumbled out of her room and back to the kitchen table. It was a confirmed fact. She would never get any sleep until these stupid designs were finished. She sat down and looked for a long moment at the phone.
Calling Ben now could be the very signal he’d been waiting for, but she was in no state to argue with herself. Trying not to think about what she was doing, she dialed the number and listened to the phone ring. “Come on, Ben. Where are you?”
“Hello?” the groggy voice on the other end finally said.
“Hi, did I wake you?” she asked, already running her pencil over the designs.
“Camille? What time is it?”
“And you ask if you woke me up? Uh—duh!”
“I’m having some problems with these designs. You think I could run them by you?”
There was a long pause on his end. “Sure. I’ll go turn on my computer.”
“Thanks, Ben. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Love the first chapter?