Civil War Chapter 14
Amanda Mateo’s door did indeed have balloons on it. A big plastic wreath with fake balloons. As if Martha Stewart went to work for Fischer-Price.
“Hello, again,” Amanda said as she opened the door.
“How did you know it was safe to open the door?” Mike asked.
“I looked through the hole, silly. I’m not stupid.”
Amanda stepped back, and Mike walked into her apartment. Brand new everything. The place looked like one of those model apartments they show prospective renters.
“Just move in?” Mike asked.
“No, why, does it look messy?”
“Uh, no. It looks . . . pristine.”
“Well, it’s just me, and I work twelve hours a day during the school year. How much of a mess do you think I make?”
You could make a yuge mess for me, Mike thought. Six months.
“You want a drink?” Amanda asked.
“Sure. As long as it has no more than two ingredients.,” said Mike. “Not counting the ice.”
“You’re not a beer drinker?” she asked.
“Not really,” he said. “I don’t need those carbs.”
“Bourbon and water? Or just the water. No carbs in water.”
“Is that what you’re having?” he asked.
“Wine. Do you like sweet wine?”
Mike’s lip curled in disapproval. “Bourbon sounds great,” he said.
Amanda smiled and turned toward the kitchen, but her eyes and smile stayed on Mike. He followed her. He read somewhere that women trust people more in the kitchen. Probably something biological about sharing food.
“You said you live here by yourself?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Boyfriend? Girlfriend?” he asked.
“Not at the moment,” she said. “You?”
“Not really,” he said. Which was sort of true? Totally true would have been “nope,” but Mike wanted to leave himself an escape route, just in case.
“What does ‘not really’ mean? Are you just getting out of a relationship?”
More like just getting into one, Mike thought. “Not at all. I was married once. No kids, but still, there’s always the remnants of a relationship after divorce.”
Amanda ignored that information and handed Mike a glass of bourbon with ice and a splash of water. She grabbed the elbow of Mike’s right arm, the one that held his drink, and she gave a delicate nudge toward the living room.
Mike knew from experience, and from an Ask Men article, that when a woman touches a man’s arm, it’s a sign of attraction. So he let her lead.
Amanda sat down on her dark brown leather sectional and patted the seat next to her. Mike obeyed. He placed his drink on the glass-top coffee table next to the candle that smelled like sugar cookies—according to the label on the candle.
“I got suspended today pending investigation by a review board,” she told Mike.
“Anything in writing?” he asked.
“Not yet, but I’m sure it’s coming. Oh, and I talked to Mr. Thompson today. He said I can see David tomorrow if the headache’s better.”
“Mr. Thompson has a headache?”
“David, silly. The boy with the concussion?”
“Right. Sorry. What about Mrs. Thompson?” he asked.
“She has a husband and a son, so she probably has a headache, too. But women get used to it.”
She’s quick, Mike thought. I kind of like that.
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?”
“Yes. And I wanted to see if you’d come out here if I called.”
“I’m a cop. We always come when we’re called.”
Amanda looked at her drink. “I’m kind of scared. Can I call you’ Mike?”
“You’re scared to call me Mike?”
Amanda gave Mike what he assumed was the “disapproving teacher look.”
“Sorry. Let me try that again. Yes, please, call me Mike.”
“Thanks,” she said.
“It sounds like you’re scared.”
She sat up straight. “I’ve been a teacher for six years. It’s harder than I thought it would be, but it’s better than I thought, too. I love it. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. I don’t want to lose my job. But they’re lying about me. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, in the department, we’d go to the union. You have a union, right?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know about them. The union helped the district write that mock election plan. They told us to follow the plan exactly, which I did. I don’t think they’d be on my side of this after I told my principal I disagree with the policy.”
Mike squeezed his eyebrows and looked at her. If the teacher’s union wouldn’t defend a member who was wrongfully accused of misconduct, what’s the point of having a union? He sipped his whiskey.
Mike asked, “Have you spoken to anyone? At the union, I mean?”
“Not yet. I will on Monday.”
“So, you told your boss you disagreed with the policy?”
She nodded, “Yes, this morning, when she wanted me to sign that statement.”
Mike looked at Amanda. She looked scared and vulnerable. And she called him, of all people, to be with her. Do NOT break her trust, Mike, he told himself. And don’t assume she wants more from you than your ear and your badge. And, maybe, your gun.
Amanda looked up and smiled. “I’m glad you came over,” she said. “I don’t have many friends, and my parents live in LA.”
“Brothers or sisters?”
“Yes. Two brothers, one sister. But they live in SoCal, too.”
“How did you end up in the Bay area?”
“School. I went to Stanford and got a job here. I like it here. It’s so beautiful.”
“Wait. You went to Stanford, and you’re a grade school teacher?”
“Yeah. I love teaching little kids. I think kids grow up too fast today. I’m not talking about permissiveness, either. It’s what they worry about. They worry about sex and politics and weird health scares and terrorism. When do they get to just be kids? It’s unfair.”
As a cop, Mike had seen kids with way more significant problems than political worries, but, in general, he agreed with Amanda. “Yeah, when I was a kid, I knew football, baseball, basketball, and bikes,” he said.
Amanda slapped his shoulder. “You did not. When you were eleven?”
“Eleven? No. Definitely not.”
“By eleven, we’d move on to Hustler.”
Amanda shook her head and pursed her lips. “Maybe boys are different,” she said.
Want me to show you? Mike thought, but he kept his mouth shut. He couldn’t help giggling at his own humor, though.
“What’s so funny?” Amanda asked.
“Tell me about Nancy Flanders,” Mike said.
“Have you met her?” Amanda asked.
Amanda thought for a moment and sipped her wine. “She’s been at Briarhaven since I got there,” she said. “She’s not a bad principal, I guess, but she’s the only one I’ve worked for. Except for student teaching, but that doesn’t really count.”
“When I first started, she told me my job was to make sure students leave elementary school with a strong sense of social justice. It made sense to me at the time. I didn’t know that social justice was so political.”
“I thought you went to Stanford,” Mike said.
“I did. I’d heard the term before. I just never paid much attention to it. I didn’t get involved in anything political in college. Or after. It’s just not my thing. I just wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to protect kids from worrying about grown-up problems like social justice.”
“Let kids be kids,” Mike said.
“Absolutely. They don’t even get much recess anymore. I try to make learning playful for them.”
“Your kids must love you,” he said.
“Some of them do. Some don’t.”
“I’m sure the boys love you,” he said.
“Actually, it’s the boys who don’t mostly. Well, one group of boys doesn’t like me. The Tiger Team they’re called.”
“Yeah. It’s Nancy’s answer to the Boy Scouts. It’s a social justice club for boys.”
“Just for boys?”
“The girls have other groups. Nancy runs the Tiger Team herself. I think it’s only at Briarhaven, but she might have talked some other principals into starting chapters in their buildings. I don’t know.”
They both took a minute to think and drink their drinks. Amanda broke the silence. “I think all the boys who beat up David were Tiger Team members.”
“No. David’s kind of shy and very gentle. Tiger Team is a little aggressive for him.”
“They call themselves ‘social justice warriors.’ Even though they’re only ten and eleven, their parents take them to rallies and protests all the time. The district, too. They get out of class to attend political events about once a week.”
“I didn’t even get out of class for sports,” Mike said.
“Although, I did get to stay home from school for a week over Hustler.”
“You did not, Michael,”
“Okay. I didn’t.” He did get suspended in fourth grade, not fifth. And it was three days, not a week. But Mike didn’t see how sharing that information would help Amanda. Or him.
“Do you think Ms. Flanders sicked the Tiger Team on David?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know why they weren’t in class. They should have been in class when the fight started, but they were in the office complex. Tiger Team meetings are after school, not first period.”
“Were any of them missing from your roster yesterday?”
Amanda thought for a moment. “Yes. Kyle Helmbrew. And Brad Ogilvie. They were both absent.”
Mike finished his drink. Amanda asked if he’d like another or something else.
“No, thanks. I have to get back home,” he said.
“You’re leaving already?” she asked.
Mike decided to play Responsible Cop. “I think so. Look, you’re a witness in a case I’m involved in. If I’m leaving your apartment, I better be leaving at a decent hour, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. No, I get it. It’s just nice to talk about this with a grown-up.”
“Look, I’d love to stay as long as you’ll have me. You’ll get through this, I promise. The world needs good teachers. Always.”
Mike stood up and carried his glass to the kitchen. “Good boy,” Amanda said.
“Do I get a gold star?” he asked.
“I don’t have any here,” she said. “You’ll have to settle for a kiss.”