Continued from the previous chapter, here.
Asa drove west from the city offices, following the curve of Water Street along the drop-off on the north side of Pronghorn Pond–it is technically a lake, since plants cannot grow all the way across it, but the name was given early on, and it stuck–and crossing the low bridge that stretched across Pronghorn Creek’s northern branch. Turning right, he pulled into the single campus that contained the whole of the Pronghorn Independent School District. I never did think I’d be back here, he thought, as he passed a long-familiar sign and statue, a rampant pronghorn some ten feet tall standing over a motto coined by Guy LeBeaux early in the town’s history: Requiro ut melius, ostensibly “I seek to know that I may do better.”
Passing it, Asa drove to where he knew visitor parking for the district was located, and he was soon enough standing in the front offices, where an elderly woman looked up at him and asked “Can I help you?”
Asa stepped forward and answered “Yes, ma’am. My name’s Asa Pemewan, and I’m just moving back into town. I was wondering if I could apply for a job.”
“All that’s online anymore, young man.”
“I thought it might be, ma’am, but I was also out and about, and I figured I’d drop in and ask.”
“That’s nice, young man. Is there something else I can help you with?”
Asa paused for a moment, then smiled. “Actually, ma’am, there is. I went to school here some years ago, and the thought occurs to me that one of my old teachers might still be with the district. You wouldn’t happen to know if Abe Johnson is still working high school English, would you?”
The older woman thought for a moment. “He is, but since it’s summer, he’s not here. I believe he’s off in Louisiana, visiting his grandchild.”
“Grandchild? He can’t be old enough to be a grandfather!”
The older woman nodded. “Brand new baby over there. Cute little thing, too.” She smiled a bit. “And Mr. Johnson heads the department, anymore. When did you say you went to school here?”
“It was about twenty years ago–Johnson’s first, if I remember right. And he helped me quite a bit with putting my college applications together–and with a few other things, too.” Asa noticed a plaque on one wall and gestured towards it. “I think my name might still be on one or two of those around here.”
The older lady turned and squinted at the plaque. Then she turned back to Asa. “I thought your name sounded familiar. I used to live next to you off of 411, east of town.”
The older woman gestured at the nameplate on her desk, which read “Martha Baker,” and nodded, smiling. “My, it has been a while, hasn’t it, Asa? I remember babysitting you more than once when your parents had to work late.”
Asa felt himself flush a bit. “I like to think I behave a little better now. Or I’m better at not getting caught, anyway.”
Baker laughed. “I hope so! And how are your parents?”
“They’re well. I’m staying with them for a bit while I get my feet back under me. Time away wasn’t as helpful as I could hope, but home is home is home, right?”
Baker nodded. “It is. And how’s your sister?”
“Last I heard, she’s doing okay. I haven’t seen her yet; the folks say she’s still in San Antonio. I might have to shake free and go see her.”
“You do that. She was always such a nice girl. Clearly didn’t take after her brother.” Baker was smiling impishly at Asa.
“Clearly.” Asa’s reply was ostentatiously flat. “Not at all responsible, that one.” He laughed a bit, unable to restrain it. “No, of course she was. And it’ll be good to see her, too.”
Baker nodded again. “Most likely. Tell you what, Asa; I’ll go ahead and take your information and pass it to Mr. Johnson. I think he might be able to find you a spot, if there’s one to be found. Funding’s not been the best around here of late, though; property values are still alright, but tax-rate freezes’ve been something of an issue.”
“Well, the city and county’ve both decided that they’ll cap local property taxes and the like. Folks hit retirement age, their tax rates stop wherever they were at that point. Makes a lot of folks I went to school with happy, of course, but costs go up even if revenues don’t.”
“Ah.” I hadn’t known that about the town. But it’s not a surprise.
Asa handed his CV across the desk to Baker. “I really do appreciate it, Mrs. Baker. And I need to ask, how’re things with you?”
Baker shrugged. “I’m living alone, now, since Jim passed on. Tommy comes to see me every now and again, and he calls regularly, so that’s good; his kids do, too, which is also good. I volunteer at the food bank, and I still have this job, so I stay busy enough to suit me.”
Asa nodded. “I’m glad to hear it, really. Although I didn’t know about Mr. Baker.”
“It was about five years back. Cancer took him. All those years of smoking, you know.”
“Not to worry, Asa. It is as it is. And I miss him, but I figure I’ll join him again when it’s time–and I have grandkids, so I’m not eager for it to be time quite yet!”
Asa chuckled, and Baker continued. “Now, I’ll pass this on to Mr. Johnson. You probably have other things you need to do today; I know I do.”
Asa stuck out his hand. “Thanks a lot, Mrs. Baker.”
She came around the desk and hugged him. “Don’t be a stranger, Asa.”
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