STEVE WALKER PLUNGED his hand into the murky depths of his daughter’s backpack. As Corazón regarded him with her coffee-colored eyes, Steve probed past fruit snack wrappers and pencil stubs, fingers encountering a soft, sticky lump.
He dislodged the gooey mess and held it out to his almost seven-year-old daughter. “What might this be?”
“Might be peanut butter an’ jelly.” She leaned closer and sniffed delicately. “Starbaby jelly.”
How many days ago had that particular sandwich taken up residence in the bottom of her backpack? With trepidation, he reached again into the black hole. His imagination displayed Technicolor fantasies of first his arm, then his entire body being sucked into the bottomless pit.
His mouth widened into a slow grin. Real potential here for his next smart phone app. Backpack Abyss. Hapless parents battling globs of bread and peanut butter, skewered by pencil stubs.
Finally, he struck pay dirt. He pinched the edge of the crumpled piece of paper and pulled it free. He held it out to Corazón’s earnest face.
“When did Mr. Harper give you this note?” He tried to be stern, but he wanted to hug her, and feel her thin caramel-colored arms wrap trustingly around his shoulders.
She shrugged, the gesture an imitation of his own. He brimmed with parental pride, marveling at how quickly she’d adapted in the eighteen months she’d been his.
With an effort, he returned to the matter at hand. “The message is from the principal and your teacher wanted you to give me this right away.”
She nodded solemnly. “Yes, Daddy.”
He lay the jelly-smeared sheet on the kitchen counter and picked up a damp rag. “I bet Principal Tipton thinks I ignored this note. She’s probably angry at Daddy. ”
“Ms. Tipton is always mad anyway.”
As Steve wiped the note clean, he had to agree. He’d never met the woman, only spoken with her on the phone after each of Corazón’s spirited antics. The Jell-O in the water fountain, the corn snake in the teacher’s desk drawer… Okay, the haircut she’d given her friend Jenny would take a while to grow out, especially the spot Cora had colored with permanent marker….
But where he saw high spirits and harmless experimentation Ms. Tipton saw signs of budding juvenile delinquency. The woman had no sense of humor. Her tone was judgmental, her attitude unforgiving. Talking to her, he felt the urge to pull on a sweater to keep warm. After a half-dozen rancorous phone calls with her, he was convinced she had snakes instead of hair.
Now there was an idea—Gorgon Schoolmistress. He could program each writhing snake on the Gorgon’s head with different venoms, and the hero would have to find the right shields to protect himself. Maybe Ms. Gor—Ms. Tipton would agree to model for the graphic artist.
When he’d swiped enough strawberry jelly off the paper, he read the appointment time penned neatly on the note. She’d expected him at the school at three o’clock. An hour-and-a-half ago. Principal Tipton would be furious.
“Daddy!” Corazón gasped. He looked up and saw her staring in fascinated horror out the front window. “She’s here!”
Steve moved behind his daughter, settling his hands on her shoulders. “Who’s here?” He squinted through the cut glass of the window, glimpsing the lines of a severe navy suit. The face above the suit shifted and fractured Picasso-like through the ornate glass.
Corazón craned her neck up at him, excitement bursting in her dark eyes. “Ms. Tipton!”
He heard the sharp tip-tap of steps on the porch then the doorbell rang.
“Daddy, what’re we gonna do?”
Even the doorbell sounded angry as it trilled a second time. “We let her in, mija,” he answered, using the Spanish endearment like a talisman. As he sidled to the door, Cora wrapped her arms around his legs.
“Tell her our dog ate the note, Daddy.”
“But we don’t have a dog, mija. Cousin Denny is allergic.”
She gripped him tighter. “Then a time-morpher took it. Came out of the ‘puter and gobbled it up.”
“I don’t think Ms. Tipton believes in time-morphers.”
“What’re we gonna do?” Corazón said again as her tight grip cut off the circulation in his legs.
“I’ll think of something, mija,” he soothed as he gripped the doorknob.
By the time he opened the door, he’d come up with several creative excuses, each sillier than the last. But it turned out not to have mattered. Because when he saw her on his doorstep, her slim ankles in navy spiked heels, the dangerous curves at hip and waist, the milk chocolate brown hair framing a delicate heart-shaped face—all coherent thought fled.
As a tantalizing scrap of red—red!—lace peeked from the edge of her skirt, he realized he was wrong about one thing. Ms. Tipton was no Gorgon. But he was absolutely right about another. She was blazing, spitting mad.
Ah, yes, a wonderful start. Love the hero already. Poor Ms. Tipton doesn’t stand a chance, does she? Check all of Karen’s eclectic list of books here!
Good luck to everyone who signs up for this CONTEST. I hope your friends are as COOL as mine, and your hot August nights are filled with fun and good books! Look for more Snippets all month long.