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Loving Blue in Red States
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2017
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Loving Blue in Red States | Sweetwater, Texas | Anne Hagan
Loving Blue in Red States | Birmingham Alabama | Anne Hagan
Loving Blue in Red States | Jackson Hole, Wyoming | Anne Hagan
Loving Blue in Red States | Perryville Missouri | Anne Hagan
Loving Blue in Red States | Salt Lake City, Utah | Anne Hagan
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Also Written by the Author
Tuesday Evening, September 6th
EMMIE SKIMMED A FINGER down to the next name. “Jorge Perez?”
“Here. You the teacher?”
“Your professor? No. That’s professor Fox. He’ll be in, in just a couple of minutes. I’m his teaching assistant for the semester.”
“Too bad,” the man answered from his seat in the center of the classroom.
The man next to him elbowed him and said in a stage whisper, “Yeah because she’s the fox.”
Self-consciously, Emmie pushed a lock of hair behind her left ear then nudged the glasses she wore when she was in the classroom up just a little on her nose before continuing with the roll call. “Cassandra Prater?”
“Pardon?” She looked up from the list on the lectern and scanned the group of twenty or so mostly male students.
“I go by Cass,” a woman at the far end of the front row, opposite of the door, responded.
Emmie looked at the short haired brunette perhaps a few moments longer than she should have. Cass stared right back. As she dropped her head back to her paperwork, she muttered, “I’ll make a note.” To herself she thought, ‘They’re not acting any better than my fourth graders do.’
Just as she finished up the roll, Lucius Fox entered the room. “Ms. Warren.” He smiled and dipped his head toward her in thanks.
She moved toward the back of the classroom and took her seat at the desk she’d reserved for herself before the students began filing in. As she opened her laptop and prepared to take notes, both for herself and for Lucius Fox, she couldn’t help but glance to her left, across the room, at the brunette in the front row.
Lucius, having arranged his notes where the attendance paperwork had lain only moments before, clapped his hands together and rubbed them rapidly. “Let’s get started ladies and gentlemen. I’m Dr. Lucius Fox. Welcome to Wind Energy 110, your introduction to wind power, and, by that, I don’t mean what is being produced by what you had for supper tonight.”
Laughter arose from the adults assembled in the room.
“First time in a college classroom for how many of you?”
Several hands in the room went up; Emmie guessed at least 15. She noticed Cass didn’t raise hers. Shaking her head out and willing herself to focus, she made a quick note of the informal count for herself.
“Those of you that are first timers can see now that you’re not alone in this. Just a couple of things about how we do things here, though. First of all, you can call me Dr. Fox, or Professor or you can call me Lucius; whatever you’re most comfortable with. A little about me: I have a Ph.D. in education and a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. I’ve been working at the wind farm as the chief engineer and Director of Operations for about 10 years now. I spend part of my day, three days a week, right here in this classroom and in the turbine lab teaching the younger generation the same things you’re going to be learning in the evenings over the next 18 months or so if you stick it out in this program we’ve set up for adult learners.”
Emmie looked around with curiosity as a grumble started low in the classroom and rose.
Fox waved his hands to quiet the room. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You’re all competing for the same jobs, you and those teenagers just out of high school. About that, I want you to remember two things: One, where there’s wind, there’s work.” He paused and let that sink in for a minute.
Emmie jotted that down in her own notes.
“Write that down,” he said, seemingly reading her mind. “Stamp it on your forehead; do whatever it takes for you to remember that. If you finish this program, you’re going to leave here with an Associate Degree in wind energy and something else those young fellas...sorry ladies, but they’re mostly fellas, don’t have; work and life experience. That’s the second thing I want you to remember. You have valuable experience behind you that they don’t have.”
Heads nodded around the room.
“Now then, there’s one other thing. In those folders Ms. Warren gave you as you entered this classroom this evening, there’s a release form.” He held an arm out toward her.
Emmie sat up a little straighter as most of the people in the classroom turned to look where he’d pointed.
“She’s helping out the next couple of semesters as part of her research toward her Master’s thesis. She’s going to be collecting a little data as we go along about each of you. Not your names or anything personally identifying; just some background information, fields you’ve worked in, that sort of thing. To be included in her research, you’ll need to sign the release. That will go on file here with the college, not with her. Go ahead and do that now and pass them back to her. If you don’t want to participate in any of her data collection efforts, please hang onto your form and speak with her privately, after class.”
“She can collect all the data she wants from me,” the man next to Jorge called out.
Uneasy laughter rose from a few people in the room and Lucius frowned but he didn’t say anything.
Emmie stood and collected the forms as they drifted back to her. She received 22 in all.
She’d counted 23 students in the room. Someone didn’t sign. She thought she knew who hadn’t but she didn’t dare look through them. Besides, Fox was off and running.
Two hours later, as the new wind energy students filed out of the room, talking nervously about the first homework many of them had, had in years, Lucius Fox made his way back to Emmie.
“What’d you think?” he asked.
“You’re already over my head with the technical stuff.”
“No,” he said dismissively as he shook his head. “You’re brighter than that. You’ll understand a lot more of it as we go along than you think.”
“I didn’t even buy the book, Professor.”
“Lucius, please. Call me Lucius. We’re going to be working together for a while Ms. Warren.”
“Then,” she smiled at him, “You’ll have to call me Emmie.”
“Only between us,” he said, grinning back at her. “We don’t need some of these um, men, to hear that and latch onto it.”
Emmie nodded and then, with all the confidence she could muster, she said, “I was born and raised here in Texas. I can handle them.”
Lucius looked around the nearly empty room. He noticed Cass lingering near her seat in the front. “Something I can help you with Miss?”
“Actually, I wanted a word with Ms. Warren.”
Lucius turned back to Emmie. “If you want to give me those forms, I can run them by the administration office tomorrow morning when I’m back here. They’re closed right now.”
Emmie leaned toward him. “I think that’s what she wants to talk about.” She tipped her head slightly toward Cass. “I can drop them off Thursday evening when I get here, if that’s all right?”
“I guess that’s fine. Don’t forget.”
“Ladies,” Lucius said, as he turned and stepped backwards to view them both. He tipped a couple of fingers to his head as he dipped it like he was doffing an imaginary cowboy hat.
Cass watched him leave before she approached. ”Sorry to hold you up.”
“No problem. How can I help you?”
“I think Professor Fox has taken quite a liking to you.”
“Don’t get offended. It’s just something I noticed, is all. I notice things. That’s my job.”
“Then you’ve missed quite a lot. The Professor is married and I’m...I’m not in the market for dates, flings or anything else of that sort.” If she only knew, Emmie thought.
“Whatever you say,” Cass said. “I didn’t come back here to argue with you.”
“Why did you come back here?”
Cass held up the release form, face out. “This. I need just a little bit more information before I become someone’s guinea pig.”
Emmie did her best to control her temper as she addressed the brash woman. “It’s not a requirement. You’re free to skip participating and just go on your way whenever I’m...well, whenever I’m doing the things I need to do with the class for my research.”
“Not very confident in yourself, are you, Emmie?” She said her name with added emphasis.
Emmie threw her hands up. “I thought you didn’t want to argue? Look, if that’s all, I really do need to get going. I have a little bit of a drive to get home and I have work to do yet this evening.”
“Abilene?” Cass asked, as Emmie gathered her things.
“Other direction. Other side of Sweetwater, here, out a little ways.”
“Really?” Cass tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow.
Emmie glanced at her and then glanced quickly away. Rather than answer, she made a show of winding up the power cord for her laptop and stowing it in her bag.
“My nephew is a Junior on the team this year.”
“That’s nice for him. They’re looking pretty good,” she conceded as her tone went from sarcastic to monotone.
“You didn’t even ask who he is,” Cass pointed out.
“I’m sorry. Who, pray tell, is your nephew?” Emmie asked as she picked up the laptop bag and started for the door.
“Wow, you’re something, you know? You’d catch more flies with just a little more honey, honey.”
The strawberry blond whirled to face the other woman. “Don’t call me honey!”
“Whoa! Sorry!” Cass held up her hands in mock surrender. She still had the release form in her left hand.
“Just give me that. I’ll dispose of it on the way out.”
“I’ll walk out with you. Wouldn’t do to have you walking out alone tonight.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“And I’m absolutely sure that you can but there’s more safety in numbers and, besides, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to participate; only that I want more information.”
Emmie sighed and started walking. Cass followed.
“What’s the topic of your thesis?”
Emmie slowed and waited for the other woman to come alongside her. “How economic failure influences adult education.”
“Ouch,” Cass said.
“Is that a problem?”
“Not for me. I’m not an ‘economic failure’.”
“I never said you were. It’s just that programs like this appeal to people trying to better themselves, get out of the cotton fields, off the ranch...”
“What’s wrong with working on a ranch?”
Emmie groaned. It was coming out all wrong. “Nothing. I grew up on a ranch. It’s practically the only life I’ve known.”
“Obviously not; not if you’re in a Master’s program. You’ve probably been a student most of your life...never had a real job.”
“Now who’s making assumptions?” Emmie flung back at Cass. She reached the door going out, pushed it open hard, then strode ahead toward her car. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and the insufferable Cassandra Prater as she could, as quickly as she could.
“HOW WAS YOUR CLASS mommy?” six year old Seth Jr. asked her as he wandered into the room where she was grading math papers and insinuated himself in her lap.
“You’re supposed to be in bed.,” she scolded him. “You have school in the morning. We can’t have Mrs. Stropich getting mad at me in the teachers lounge tomorrow because you’re asleep at your desk, now can we?”
“Lounge? What’s that?”
“That’s the place the teachers go to get away from all of you little hoodlums,” his grandmother said as she entered the room.
“Sorry baby,” she said to her daughter, “He got himself out of his bath and wandered down here on his own.”
Trudy Oakes eyed the boy up and down. “At least you picked out matching pajamas and put them on this time. Now then, tell your mother goodnight and march on back upstairs young man. I’ll be up to tuck you in, in just a minute. I need to talk to your mama for a second or two.”
Seth gave Emmie a quick peck on the cheek, wished her a goodnight then did as he was told.
She called after the boy, “I love you bunches.”
He stuck his face up to a gap between spindles in the stair railing and called back, “Love you bunches too mama!” then he scampered the rest of the way up.
“What’s up?” she asked her mother when she was sure the boy was out of earshot.
“Nothing important, dear. I just wondered how it went, myself.”
Emmie shrugged. “Fine, I guess. First night. Not much to tell.”
Emmie squinted and looked at her mother. “Why, have you heard something different?”
Confusion clouded Trudy’s face. “No. Should I have? You seem awfully wound up tonight...not your usual self.”
“How on earth do you do that? You’ve only been in the room for two minutes!”
“A mother knows. One day, you’ll see exactly what I mean.”
Emmie thought of Seth and glanced toward the stairs. “There were a couple of things,” she said, looking back at Trudy. “Nothing important. A typical Texas male, for one, acting like they do sometimes.” She glanced back down at the math papers and twirled the red pencil she’d laid down on top of the stack when Seth showed up.
“Hmm? ”She looked back up at her mother.
“You said there were a couple of things.”
“Oh.” She looked down at the papers again quickly and then back up. “There was just a woman in the class that didn’t want to participate in my research, is all.”
Trudy nodded then leaned back against the desk and studied her daughter. “About that,” she said, after a time.
“What about it?”
“You’ll be all done but the shooting match in what, about three or four months, right?”
“The defense of my thesis of everything goes the way I expect with this last part? Yes.”
“And then what?”
“And then I try to get a position teaching at a university in Abilene or Dallas or...Austin.”
“Mom, we’ve talked about this. I don’t want to teach fourth grade in Sweetwater forever.”
“But what about Seth? He needs to grow up here, where his family is. He can’t do that in Dallas or in Austin. Now, if you’re in Abilene, he can...you can teach there and still live out here. What’s so bad about that?”
Emmie, putting off for a moment answering a question she felt like she’d already answered a thousand times before, raised her hands to her head and rubbed her temples. “I know Mom, I know. I just...I just have to go where the opportunity is. What if there isn’t anything for me in Abilene? It’s not as big as Dallas or Austin.” I just have to get away from here, she thought to herself. I have to get to somewhere where I can finally be myself.
That’s what I’m trying to do, Emmie thought
“The good Lord will provide, child. He always provides.”
And that’s what I’m afraid of...
Thursday Evening, September 8th
Emmie figured she’d be the first one in the classroom. She was mistaken. Cass was there waiting for her when she walked in.
The brunette stood by the desk Emmie had used the first night holding out a bright red apple in one hand and the signed release form in the other one.
“How long have you been standing there like that?”
“Well, hello to you too.”
Emmie didn’t respond. She put the laptop bag down on the chair and started unpacking it instead while Cass looked on, smiling.
Unable to bear the silence after more than a minute of it, Emmie broke it. “Did you get your homework done?”
“Of course, teach’. Wouldn’t want to come to your class unprepared now, would I?”
“It’s not my class.”
“You’re going for a Master’s in education though, right?”
“So you’re planning on teaching at the college level someday; am I right?”
“Yes, but not this.”
“Let me guess; your BA is in English Lit?”
“No.” Emmie gave Cass a tight-lipped grin.
“Not going to tell me, eh?”
“It isn’t relevant.”
“For me to know?”
“No. It’s not relevant to my thesis. It was in early childhood education.” Her tone was brusque.
Cass shook her head. “Look, I’m trying to extend an olive branch here. We got off on the wrong foot the other day. I don’t have a problem with your research. I...I was just curious, is all. I brought these for you.” She held out the apple and the form again.
Emmie paused for a beat and then accepted the form. “Thanks,” she told her, “but you can keep the apple.”
“Suit yourself,” Cass said.
Emmie stared as the brunette polished it against her chest and then raised it for a bite and caught her looking. Embarrassed, she turned quickly away and busied herself with her computer.
Cass grinned broadly, turned and moved just a couple of desks down in the back row. She sat down, pulled out her text book and acted as though she hadn’t noticed a thing but she watched Emmie out of the corner of her eye as munched on the apple and pretended to read.
Emmie tried to look everywhere but at Cass.
“Okay folks,” Lucius said to the class, that’s a wrap for the first hour tonight. Take about a ten-minute break and then gather up in the hallway. I know you toured the turbine lab when you applied, but we’re going to have it to ourselves tonight and I’d like to take you over there and show you a few things you have to look forward to once we get some of the theory out of the way.”
Emmie stood and stretched as people started filing out of the room. She planned to give them a few minutes to use the restroom or take a smoke break and then she hoped to talk with a few of them informally in the hallway. She hazarded a glance to her left. Cass hadn’t budged.
Lucius made his way back to them. Addressing Cass first, he asked, “Don’t you want a break before we go over there?”
“Naw. I’m good, Lucius,” she half shrugged.
“Suit yourself but there’s no easy exit to the restroom once we start looking into the clean room.”
Cass just nodded his way. Emmie picked her own brain during the exchange, trying to recall the clean room from her personal tour of the facility with the department chair just days before.
“There’s a clean room for the turbine lab?” she asked him Fox when she just couldn’t picture it.
“Uh, yeah. Well, sort of. They share one with the sciences for testing lubrication mixtures and, uh, that sort of thing.”
Emmie wasn’t convinced that, that was the case at all but she didn’t feel right questioning Fox.
“Will you be going over with us...Ms. Warren?” Lucius asked her before she could frame any sort of a response at all.
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve seen it. A tour isn’t a good time for me to be poking around for answers to my questions. I’m sure they’re going to have plenty of questions for you. I’ll probably just head on home. I have...” she glanced sideways at Cass, “some things I need to take care of for tomorrow.”
“Oh. Okay then. I guess,” he glanced at Cass too, “I guess this is it. I’ll see you back here Tuesday, right?”
She nodded. “Tuesday.”
Once Lucius left the classroom, Cass rose. “I don’t care what you say. That man has a thing for you, baby girl. Too bad he’s clueless.” She headed toward the door.
She stopped and half turned. “I said clueless.”
“I heard what you said. What did you mean by it?”
“You know exactly what I meant.” With that, she left too.
Friday Evening, September 9th
“Finally; halftime,” Emmie groaned to her, sister, her oldest sibling. She stood up from her seat in the ancient wooden bleachers and shook out her left leg. “I think it’s asleep.”
Her sister Cora leaned back and stretched her arms over her head. “It has been a real slow game, hasn’t it?”
“Lord, you aren’t kidding! Lowest scoring home opener I can remember.” Emmie rubbed the back of her thigh and watched the long line of fans snaking out of the lower stands toward the concession stand and the bathrooms. “Why do we always have to sit way up here, anyway? I could really go for a Coke but that line is going to take forever.”
“So we can have the rail to lean back on, silly and, besides, Tyler knows right where to find me in the crowd if he needs me.”
“He’s the quarterback. He’s not down there lookin’ for his mama!” Emmie chided Cora.
“Hey, you never know what’s going to happen.”
“Shush you! Don’t even say such things! If our mama were here, she’d give you what for.”
Cora ignored the warning. “If you really want a drink, you best be going. You might have a chance of making it through the line and back before kickoff. We start the second half with possession, remember?”
“I’m going, I’m going. I’ll tell you this though, if that left guard doesn’t start protecting a little better, you’re going to have one banged up kid on your hands tonight.”
Emmie joined the slow-moving line out of the stands, eventually reaching the track around the fenced in field. She shook her head in wonder as she looked down at the new cork running track. All this money on equipment and athletes, she thought, and none of it for the comfort of the fans.
“Hey Ms. Warren,” a pre-teen boy called out from over to her right in the second row up in the last section of the stands.
She nodded her head and sketched a wave at her former student then laughed as his buddy next to him elbowed him.
“What are ya’ hitting me for? She was my teacher in the third grade.”
“I thought I recognized you. You’re not wearing your glasses.”
Emmie’s head shot around to the left to find Cass walking along beside her.
“Where did you come from?”
“I told you; my nephew plays for the team. He sort of lives with me right now.”
“Sort of? You live in Sweetwater?” Emmie was puzzled and it showed in her tone.
“No, ah, Merkle. He’s a transfer here. His parents...actually, just my sister, is in Abilene. When his dad left them a couple of years ago, he got a little hard for her to handle...got a case of the ass, I guess you’d say.”
“Why isn’t he playing in Merkle then?”
“Their team was set. They wouldn’t take a walk on.”
“Oh.” Emmie continued on her way, not sure what else to say.
Cass kept close to her as they wound through the milling crowd. “Headed to the restroom?” she asked.
‘Just great,’ Emmie thought.
She reached the nearest stand about a half a step ahead of Cass. Taking her chances, she quickly chose a line and hoped it moved fast. She didn’t want to miss the second half kickoff. The other woman fell in behind her.
“So you’re a teacher?”
“Yes,” she answered without turning. She scanned the menu board instead wondering what Cora might want since she’d forgotten to ask.
“Third grade, I take it?”
“Fourth grade for the last couple of years.”
“How long have you been teaching...if you don’t mind my asking? I mean, you’re the one that ought to be asking me questions, I guess, but...anyway.”
Emmie half turned toward Cass then, resigned to playing twenty questions with the brash and nosy other woman while they waited. “I’m off the clock right now, in both cases. To answer your question, this is my eighth year.”
“Wow, you’re kidding. I never would have guessed that. You look so...so young.”
Emmie felt a blush creeping up her cheeks. She quickly turned to face the stand again and moved up a little as the line shifted. She drew in a breath and let it out slow and then another.
A man left the front of the line with a box carrier holding four drinks and a large bag of popcorn. The lines were tight and he had to fight his way through. As he jostled along past them, Cass, trying to get out of his way, bumped into Emmie.
“Sorry. Sorry,” she said as she latched onto an arm when she reached out to steady her.
Emmie was wearing a simple long sleeve hoodie in the relative warmth of the late summer evening. The other woman’s touch was like an electric shock running through her. She jumped, not from being jostled, but from the surprise of her own reaction.
“Oops,” Cass said. “I’ve got you all off kilter.”
If she only knew, Emmie thought. She shook her head to clear it. “I’m fine. Fine. Almost lost my balance is all.”
When Cass let go, Emmie instantly missed her touch.
“Hey Prater,” a guy addressed Cass from the line to their left.”
She looked over at him. Recognition dawned in her eyes. “Lev.”
“That nephew of yours better settle down in there. He’s going to get our QB nailed if he doesn’t step up.”
Emmie eyed Cass. “The left guard is your nephew?”
“Jimmy Rogan, yep.”
Cass switched right back to the man giving her a hard time. “He’ll be just fine Lev. You wait. He’s just getting started.”
“I sure hope you’re right.”
“Me too,” Emmie told her. “Tyler Haines, the Quarterback, is my nephew.”
“What are the odds,” Cass muttered.
It was twenty-one to seventeen, Sweetwater down, with a minute and five seconds left to play, when they received a kickoff in their own end zone to start their last series with the ball on the twenty.
The home crowd was on its feet but subdued after the opposition touchdown and extra point conversion for them to take the lead moments before.
“I’m so glad Mama and Daddy decided to sit this one out and keep Seth tonight,” Emmie said. “Daddy would be spitting nails right about now.”
“You know he is, Em. He’s got it playing on the radio,” Cora reminded her.
Emmie felt her sister tense next to her as Tyler and his teammates took the field. “I wish they’d let Fred put one of his defensive backs in at left tackle. Even his second stringers would give Ty better protection than Rogan has been tonight,” Cora said about her husband, the defensive line coach for Sweetwater.
“You’re forgetting,” Emmie reminded her, “that it was Fred’s defense that just gave up a touchdown.”
Cora shot her sister a sideways look but then started cheering as Tyler fell back in the slot and spiraled a nice pass toward the opposite sideline, far enough for the first down. His receiver got out of bounds to stop the clock. “Way to go Tyler! Good job boys!” she screamed.
The stands all around them erupted in excitement. A minute and two seconds remained on the clock.
“Plenty of time,” Emmie said.
Tyler took the snap again. He fell back two steps then two more. He looked to the right down the field. His first look receiver was covered. He looked left. Rogan held his man as Tyler scanned for an open receiver on his weak side. The crowd started screaming and then it seemed as if time stood still when the guard on the right lost his grip on his man as he slipped and fell.
The defensive lineman made quick work of getting over the fallen guard and hitting Tyler hard, sending him crashing to the turf. The whistle blew. The boy managed to hang onto the ball but he lay there, writhing in pain as the crowd looked on in near silence.
Cora scrambled past Emmie and raced down, out of the stands. Emmie followed.
A uniformed cop stopped her at the fence to the field.
“That’s my son!” she screamed over his shoulder.
“I can’t let you on the field ma’am. Just calm down. The docs already out there with him.”
Emmie took her sister’s arm then watched as the boys on both teams took a knee. She could finally see Ty again, surround by his coaches as he lay there. He was moving his legs. That was a good sign, she thought. He’s going to have to come out for a play, is all.
The hospital waiting room was crowded. Half the team had left the game as soon as it was over and shown up to support Tyler, without bothering to go to the locker room and change out of their uniforms.