If you haven’t read the Prologue, you catch up now.
“I’m glad we could meet for lunch,” his mother said on Columbus Day. You should be off, but I know you’re at the school working. At least this pulled you out of the office.”
“You know how it goes,” he said. “Once school starts it’s nonstop. A month in and I’m still playing catch up on paperwork and grants. I swear this group of freshmen is nothing but trouble. Every year the new class is one of two things, they all get along for the most part with the exception of a few, or they cause more headaches than I’ve got bottles of aspirin for.”
His mother grinned at him. “You will have your hands full with this class. There are a group of troublemakers and a bunch of followers. The followers just feed off the troublemakers rather than standing up on their own. Not enough leaders in this generation I fear.”
His mother taught middle school English so she’d know since she had most of these kids. “You should have warned me.”
“And ruin all the fun? You know I like you to make your own decisions and opinions on the kids.”
She did. He did bounce ideas off of her earlier in his career as a high school history teacher, then when he was promoted to vice principal and finally principal three years ago just before his thirtieth birthday. Yep, his plan was going well. At this rate he should be superintendent well before he was forty, but the current one in the district was only in his late fifties so only time would tell how long he lasted.
Though the assistant superintendent was rumored to be retiring in two years, so if Noah could wiggle in there he’d have a better shot than moving to another district. He’d move but would rather stay in his hometown of Durham where the rest of his family lived and worked.
“It’s going to be an interesting year, I can see it now. I’ve got a handful of new teachers I’m trying to get set up and accustomed to. Then the older teachers who are set in their ways. The kids, the paperwork. Why did I want to do this?”
“Because you liked being in charge,” she said, patting his hand. Their food was brought out and placed down forcing her to move her hand. He wouldn’t admit he needed that little bit of reassurance, which was sad for being thirty-three. But sometimes you just needed your mother in life.
Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone, least of all to her or his siblings. They’d never let him live it down.
“I believe the word used to describe me was bossy,” he reminded her. “Drake is the chill one, I’m the bossy one, Wyatt the joker, and Jade is the baby.”
She picked up her fork to stab at a piece of chicken in her salad. “You all have your labels, though we know Jade hates being called the baby.”
“She hates it worse when we say she is the only girl.”
His younger sister was only two years behind him, but her three older brothers—especially her twin, Wyatt—watched her like a hawk and made sure no one messed with her. Of course after years with her brothers, Jade knew how to handle herself at this point in her life.
“It’s hard not to say that about her when she looks like a little princess all the time,” he said.
“She does like her clothes and accessories.”
“The pretty girl with the sharp tongue,” he said of his sister.
“She gets that from me.”
“Please,” Noah said, waving his hand. “You hardly ever swear or yell.”
She started to laugh. “I yelled plenty at you kids growing up and you know it. So what else is going on with work?”
“Not much. I’m just keeping an eye on a group I can see that is going to cause problems. Nothing has happened yet, but it’s brewing like a witch’s cauldron months before Halloween.
“Just nip it in the bud first, or try to.”
He always did at some point. “I’m doing more patrolling than normal on lunch breaks and when I think these kids are in study halls. I want them to know I’m there along with security.”
“Most are intimidated by you. They aren’t so much by the security.”
“I don’t think they see the security guards as an authority like they do me.” Being six foot three and built had something to do with it, he knew that. The other part was that for as much as he was firm, he was also friendly. He wanted to earn the kids’ trust.
“You have a way about you with the kids. You always did. You’re doing what you love. We sure the heck know you aren’t doing it for the money.”
He snorted. “So I’ve been told before.”
He started to eat his burger hoping that the conversation would stall. There had been plenty of women in his life that he’d dated that wondered why he chose his career over working for the family business or going into medicine like the rest of his family.
Only his cousin Bryce was in academics like him, but he was a professor at Duke working on his second doctorate. Then there was his cousin Sam who was a surgical oncologist at Duke Cancer Center, his twin Drake, an engineer at the family firm, his brother Wyatt, an anesthesiologist, sister Jade, an engineer at the family firm, and his youngest cousin, Ryder, an architect at the firm. A history teacher turned high school principal was the red sheep in the group.
Not black because he didn’t cause trouble, but red because he stood out like the stepchild that didn’t belong. At least in some of the women’s eyes he’d dated.
He’d once told his brother money wasn’t everything and he believed it. He wasn’t poor by any means. Hell, he just tipped six figures with his job this year so that wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but it wasn’t the kind of money the rest of his family made either.
“People need to get over it,” his mother said. “Society is so obsessed with what everyone has rather than who they are.”
“I try to tell the kids that too. They don’t listen.”
“You do a lot of good with those programs in school, Noah. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. For as many upper income families as there are here, there are more lower income. Everyone should be treated equally, but it doesn’t happen. You try your hardest to bring those kids together to be seen for what they contribute rather than what their parents give them.”
“Thanks. I do try. You and Dad never let the money change or mold us. We were given a lot of privileges; we all got out of college debt free and that is huge. We didn’t want for anything, but we appreciated what we had. I just want to pass that on to the next generation. I want them to see the person in front of them, not where they come from.”
Which was funny since he was a history major and it always annoyed him that people forgot how everyone got to where they were today. It was a tightrope he walked a lot in his profession. Teaching the subject, or making the person. He chose to make the person while he taught the subject.
“And you will,” she said. “So any kids in particular standing out this year to you? All grades?”
“Nothing really. I’m getting to know the underclassmen, but with so many faces it’s hard to remember them all. It seems the smart ones, the jocks, and the troublemakers stand out the most. Those in the middle—which are the majority—get lost in the shuffle.”
“No one gets lost, just remember that. I had this kid last year. Sebastian. Good kid if you could get past the tough exterior. He was new to the school. Smart, you could see it, but didn’t apply himself or didn’t want people to know he was smart. He definitely wanted to be lost in the shuffle and it made me sad. But I could see what a great personality he had through his work.”
“That’s the problem with kids. Sometimes they are afraid to put themselves out there for fear of being knocked down.”
“You’d know that, wouldn’t you?” his mother asked.
He’d never been knocked down a day in his life. He and his brother Drake were two of the biggest kids in his class. They played sports, they hung out in the popular cliques, and they had a lot of friends. But he had gotten more comments than he cared for about his field of choice.
“It’s not the same. I didn’t care if someone judged me. None of us do.”
“That’s because we raised you kids right. Other kids, like Sebastian, who knows what goes on in his house? I read his papers and I knew the type of kid he should be, but his actions didn’t show that. Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be just fine. Let’s finish up lunch, as I know you want to get back to the school and do more work while it’s quiet.”
“I’ll probably grab some paperwork to bring home. I was going to see if Drake wanted to get some dinner, but I’m sure he’s got plans with Kara.”
He was expecting his twin to pop the question to Kara Winslow at some point in the near future, but it hadn’t happened yet. They were just starting to move in together slowly and he wondered if he was going to lose all the time he and Drake spent together.
He was used to being with his twin once or twice a week, talking daily, but now, they just talked or texted more than hung out. Being the third wheel on a unicycle was pretty uncomfortable.
“So, invite yourself to dinner with them. Kara loves having you around and you know it.”
“I won’t do that. I don’t feel right just walking in their house anymore unannounced. It’s not just Drake most times.”
“No, but Kara is like family. Hopefully she will be soon. Those two are wonderful together.”
“They are,” he said, trying to squash the jealousy he felt for his older brother’s relationship. He’d always felt like he had to measure up to him and never could.
“You’ll find someone soon,” she said and then went back to eating.
He wasn’t so sure of that. It seemed like he swung and missed more times than a fifth grader trying to hit a professional pitcher’s fastball.
“Did you get anywhere?” Garrett asked her when she walked into his office after her lunch with Noah.
“Shhh,” Carolyn Fierce said as she shut his door. “We can’t be quiet if you ask me those things where people can hear. What is wrong with you?”
Her husband laughed at her. “Nothing. I’m just curious. Drake is falling into our plan just like we thought. Seeing him and Kara together makes me smile daily. Sam and Bryce are engaged, we are still one kid down from Grant and Diane.”
“I didn’t get far. Give me time. This one is hard. Just because I had a student whose aunt would be perfect for Noah doesn’t mean I can get them together. That would be too obvious. He was talking about how this class has a bunch of troublemakers. I slipped Sebastian’s name in there to see if he’s had any interaction with the kid.”
“Did he react?” Grant asked.
“No. Not even a flicker of his eyelids. I liked the kid a lot, I felt a connection to him through his writing, but he never acted as he wrote. Trust me, I know he’ll be in Noah’s office soon enough. It’s bound to happen. He’s smart and talented, but he wants to fade away and the kids don’t want to let him. It’s sad, it is, and my hope is Noah will recognize that and take him under his wing. But to do that he’d end up having to talk with Paige.”
“What do you know about Paige?” he asked.
“Not a lot. She has guardianship of Sebastian and I don’t know the whole story, and she was nice and sweet but very concerned. I could see she was focused on doing right by her nephew, but she might be in over her head too.”
“Noah will see that and step in to help. It’s in his nature to do that,” Grant said, rubbing his hands together.
“Exactly. So though I don’t want Sebastian to get in trouble, I’m sure it’s going to happen. We just have to wait this one out.”
“I hate the waiting game. Maybe we should start thinking about Wyatt in the meantime.”
She laughed. “Please. I can’t do two at once. Why don’t you start thinking of Jade? Maybe someone at work like Kara and Drake worked out?”
“Jade would never date someone from work, you know that,” Grant said. “She’s going to be a tough one, so let’s just hold off a bit.”
“You’re right. Girls are just much more difficult. Gavin had Ella ‘set up’ for years before it actually fell into place. He didn’t even let Jolene know what he’d done.”
Her sister-in-law had set up her four boys one by one and then when it came time for their daughter, Ella, she’d had no luck. Little did anyone know Gavin had started the ball rolling on the matchmaking long before Jolene got it in her head.
Now Carolyn and her husband, her husband’s twin, Grant, and his wife, Diane, were all trying their hands at matchmaking. They were three for three in the family and wanted to keep it going.
“Maybe we should think about Jade though if it takes that long,” he said.
“I can’t. We agreed we’d take them in order. Let’s focus on Noah, maybe think of Wyatt. I can’t do much more than that. What do you think I’m some miracle worker?” she asked.
“You whined you had no part of Drake and I did it all, so now that I’m suggesting Jade you want to back off. I can’t win with you.”
She moved into his arms and gave him a hug. “You win every day of your life with me and you know it.”
He kissed her on the forehead. “I do. And that is all we want for our kids.”