Ready For It.         MacAteer Brothers Book 2  

I checked my watch, and the hands had only moved three ticks from the last time I looked. The principal droned on, his voice low with forgettable words, and I started to nod off. Planning discussions were a necessary evil for the faculty, but the school year had ended, final grades were already turned in, graduation done, and the classrooms emptied. The students had left for family beach vacationing, rafting the rivers, or working summer jobs.

I fanned my face with the agenda paper. Why did our illustrious leader have to have this meeting in June after maintenance turned off the air-conditioning in the building? I looked at my watch again. Another three ticks. God, this is taking so freaking long!

My eyes met those of my best friend ever, Beverly Archer. Correction, Beverly MacAteer. She got married last year to Connor, the man who had moved in next door. I couldn’t have picked a better man for my BFF. After watching them for a year, I knew she made the right call in finally admitting she liked him. They were perfect together, and Connor made the perfect stepdad for Bevvie’s four children. Brave woman to be a divorced mom raising her kids alone. Connor slipped into her heart when she wasn’t looking, and now her life was nothing short of wedded bliss.

She rolled her eyes and sighed in commiseration. She taught chorus, played the piano, and was one of the most talented people I’d ever met. I teach Algebra One and Two and help coach the ultimate nerds on the Mathletes team. Big yawn to some people, but I love my job.

I snuck another glance at my watch, and a burning eruption hit my throat. Fuck me, not again! I fished for a berry-flavored Tums somewhere in the vast recesses of my luggage sized purse. I’d been eating the damn things like candy all weekend. The heartburn attack I had on Friday was the worst one I’d ever experienced, and already I’d consumed two little travel rolls of the tablets. This morning on the way to this mandatory boringness, I stopped by the drug store and picked up an economy-sized bottle.

I crunched on the chalky rounds and saw only five more minutes had passed. Surely, this shit can’t go on much longer. The burn in my throat eased when I swallowed the masticated mass. It was probably the sausage and egg biscuit I’d eaten earlier. I was a single female who lived alone and didn’t cook. At all. I was, however, a wiz at microwaving frozen instant food. My fridge was an empty wasteland, while my freezer was stocked with a wide variety of Lean Cuisine, Stouffer’s dinners, and single-serve Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

“The grounds improvements begin on June 18 with the installation of our new flagpole court. The dedication ceremony for this will take place the week of…”

The principal’s voice faded as my chin bumped against my chest. The man had a real talent. I’d bet my left breast his speeches had the ability to put my ADHD kids asleep with only a few sentences. I jerked my head back up and caught Bevvie suppressing a grin in my direction. Bitch, I mouthed at her, and her grin got bigger. If the droning man hadn’t been frowning at me, I’d have shot her a bird.

What the fuck was wrong with me? I hadn’t been feeling very well lately. In fact, I’d been tired as hell and sluggish the last few weeks of school, but I’d slogged on through to the end. It figured I’d catch another kid virus just before school let out. Even if I swam in a vat of hand sanitizer on a daily basis, when working with an army of viral-laden children, something was bound to get me eventually.

The watch hands hadn’t moved, and I tapped the face to see if I had a dead battery. Another fifteen minutes, and I swear I’m walking out!

My stomach rumbled and twisted in on itself unexpectedly. The burn in my throat came back with a vengeance, and there was no stopping it.

Oh, shit! I ran out of the media center and barely made it to the bathroom before the greasy Jimmy Dean biscuit made an encore appearance. I heaved again and again until it wouldn’t surprise me if last night’s lo mein takeout came back up too. God, I hate vomiting! [BH1] 

“Hey, Mellie? You okay?” Bev’s call echoed off the tile floors and cinderblock walls.

“Ugh, yeah, I think so.” I spat into the toilet and tried not to think of the dirt on the floor and my white Vera Wang pants. I didn’t care how many times housekeeping came through to clean the bathroom, they always smelled of sweaty kid bodies. That thought had me gagging again.

“You don’t sound okay. The Alley twins had strep through graduation. Think you caught it?”

“I don’t know what I caught, but I’m ready as hell to give it back. I don’t even have the Alley twins in any of my classes. I need this meeting to be over, like a half hour ago.”

I flushed and got off my knees and brushed at the gray circles on my pants. Ugh, that was enough to make me want to throw up again. I loved these pants!

Bevvie leaned against a sink when I exited the stall. I turned on the water to rinse my mouth and wash my hands. “I’ll be fine once this day is over and I can get to the mall. After the last week of exams, I need some retail therapy. Wanna come?”

She shook her head. “I can’t today. Connor is working in the woodshop with the two youngest kids, but he can’t actually do much with Mattie underfoot. Sarah keeps her nose in a book at all times now so she’s no problem. Jacob is hanging with his buddies at the Y, and Abby took off to the beach this week with her friend Autumn. Maybe sometime this weekend.” She looked at my pale face and squinted. “Mellie, you look terrible. I think you need to skip the mall and go see the doctor.”

I wiped my hands on a brown paper towel that barely sucked up any moisture. “I’m fine, mother hen. Nothing more than end-of-the-year stress. I need a vacation badly, and even more, I need to get out of this stinky bathroom.”

“You are such a PITA.”

“You’re a pain in the ass, too.”

“Yet you still love me.”

“You’re the mother of my beautiful godchildren. I have to love you.”

We made kissy noises at each other as we sauntered down the hallway back to the media center. The meeting was over, as evidenced by the exiting teachers. They double timed it out of the stuffy building, ready to start their own summer break. More like summer recovery.

Bevvie hefted her handbag over her shoulder in preparation to leave. “Thank God, it’s over. I really need to get home and rescue Connor. Come by for dinner on Thursday. It’s laundry and taco night.” She gave me her best game show host voice and expression.

“Oh, the excitement!” I laughed in response and moved to hug my BFF. Jeez, my breasts hurt! I expected my favorite time of the month (not!) to come any day now.

“Miss Miser, may I have a word?” The principal said right behind me. It was a real effort not to groan in irritation. What the hell does he want now?

“Yes, Mr. Bradshaw.” I waved at the amused Beverly before turning to face the man who had become my nemesis. He was old enough to have already retired, and in my opinion, should have. He disapproved of just about everything, and we had clashed more than once during the school year.

“The testing scores in your classes were extremely high this year. Exceptionally so.” He took off his wire rims and began to polish the lenses with a handkerchief. “The records show you didn’t have any failing students. Not one. This is highly unusual for advanced math courses.”

I blinked in surprise. I didn’t consider Algebra to be advanced math, as it was a standard course. The AP calculus, trigonometry, and statistics classes better fit that category. “Why would this be a problem? Aren’t we supposed to push for higher scores? You laid out a very clear goal with the new testing standard that came out last year.”

He put the glasses back on his nose and adjusted the few white hairs that combed over his shiny pate. “Yes, the goal was straightforward. However, your students in particular showed the most improvement in grades.”

I still didn’t understand. “I don’t see the problem.” I guess I should have added sir to the end of that sentence. I didn’t.

“There’s no real problem, Miss Miser. However, there is some speculation as to how you achieved this level of success.”

I shook my head in bafflement. My students and I worked hard this year. After-school tutoring, group study sessions, lots of weekend emails to ask and answer questions. The kids in my class were diligent in their work, and I was just as diligent in helping them. Then it dawned on me what the slimy weasel was hinting, and my back snapped ramrod straight. My fatigue disappeared, replaced by heated anger.

“I hope you are not implying anyone cheated. My students worked damn hard all year for those grades and deserved every one of them.”

“Is there a possibility they got the test answers ahead of time?”

Oh no, he didn’t! “Mr. Bradshaw, as per state requirements, the test booklets stayed locked in the guidance storeroom next to your office until testing day. Only the head guidance counselor and you have an access key, and everyone, everyone, in the main office has a line of sight to that storeroom. If you are proposing I somehow magically stole a key from you or Ms. Bunting, unlocked that closet in full view of the office staff, and somehow covered myself in Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to avoid detection from you and the entire guidance department, I can say you are sadly and badly mistaken. Sir.”

I’m a tall woman, and some say my height is intimidating. My sarcasm can be as well. I admit my mouth has gotten me into trouble more than once, but in this case, Mr. Bradshaw retreated. The man in front of me shrank into his bargain basement suit like a turtle. “No, no, Miss Miser. I… uh… I only wanted to compliment you on a job well done.”

Yeah, right. “Thank you, Mr. Bradshaw. If there is nothing else, I’m still not feeling well and would like to go home.”

“Yes, yes, by all means, yes.”

Asshole! That man was a throwback to a bygone era that truly needed to be bygone. He’d made little remarks throughout the year about girls and dress code violations, female teachers acting too mannish, and the biggest one for me personally, why girls didn’t need to be in higher math and science classes. It still burned me up when I overheard him say to a male colleague that girls didn’t need physics to balance a grocery budget.

I got to my red Audi and paused as dizziness hit and my stomach roiled again. Jeez, what the hell? Maybe I should take Bevvie’s advice and go see the doctor today. I decided to go home instead of to the mall. I didn’t even open the top of my car as I drove. Normally, I’d be whipping around the curves of the road leading to my place, but in deference to my funky stomach, I slowed to a sedate pace. My condo complex sat up on one of the many mountains that overlooked the city of Asheville, North Carolina. It wasn’t a cheap place, and on my teacher’s salary, there was no way I could have afforded the luxury real estate. My lifestyle came from a trust fund, and if I stayed careful, it would last me the rest of my life. I owned a snazzy car, high-end housing, and kept a vast wardrobe. As long as I didn’t go crazy and buy a yacht, a mansion in Maui, or start wearing only haute couture, I was set.

I entered my condo and rushed to the bathroom to dry heave into the white porcelain. Fuck, this was getting old. My mouth tasted awful. I stood up and weakly opened the medicine cabinet to get my toothbrush and toothpaste. The box of condoms caught my eye, and my brain clicked into overdrive. Sore, sensitive breasts, bloatedness, and some irritability were all typical signs that I was gearing up for the great monthly purge. Vomiting, fatigue, and constant heartburn added something else to that glorious time. Usually I didn’t pay attention to dates and times, but I remembered my last period was during the last round of mathletes competition. I pulled up Google calendar on my phone and counted backward, my heart speeding up. Four. Five. Six weeks. Almost seven.

Oh, shit! My knees gave out, and I sat abruptly on the floor with a soft thump as the truth dawned on me. I’m fucking pregnant![

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ML Nystrom

Author  of MC and Contemporary Romance.

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