Finding a Sole Mate
by: Eileen Key

I flung my arm from under the covers on the first beep, opened one eye, groaned, and glared at the clock radio. Six ten. I yawned, and flipped the alarm off. "Good morning Lord, and thank you for another day".

Tossing aside the down comforter, I rolled from the bed. Oh, for thirty more minutes of sleep.

I trudged to the bathroom and freshened up, and then put on new navy linen pants and a bright yellow sweater. I slid on my one extravagance, the LynnTri black pumps. They hadn't even been on sale, but the comfort they'd provide while standing in front of a classroom would make up for the price.

Car lights crossed the bedroom window, and I hurried. My friend Sandra hated to wait. I grabbed my purse and started out the front door. Yikes, my lunch. I returned to yank it from the refrigerator.

Sandra grumbled when I climbed into the front seat. "We're not early, Betsy."

I sighed. Sandra would need to vent, and I'd finish my makeup. I flipped down the visor mirror, tickled to see it lit up, powdered my freckles and pushed stray auburn locks behind my ears. Capistrano pink lipstick in place, I finally acknowledged my friend's complaints.

"You're right, Sandra. When my car gets out of the shop, you won't have to pick me up."

"Your money pit will be in the shop until second semester. Isn't there a lemon law or something?"

"They promised it would be fixed this time." My dark blue Camry had been a purchase a little out of my budget, but I needed reliable transportation. Only, right now it wasn't very reliable.

Sandra pulled into the parking lot of Johnson High School. We got out and walked to the trunk. Using a luggage dolly, we loaded three small crates filled with papers and folders for the writing workshop. Pulling the dolly, I headed to the end entrance of the building. The door was exactly ninety-eight steps away from my classroom. I'd walked the same distance every morning for three years, since I began teaching in the small town of Johnson, south of Houston.

The silent halls had dark shadows leaning over with only a crust of illumination at the edges from emergency lights. Jose, our janitor, peered around the corner at the sound of my footsteps.

"Hey, Miss Williams, need help?" I shook my head, and he returned to his small closet. He stuck his head out again. "Miss Williams?"
"Yes, Jose?"

"You met the new cop who will work the football games?"

"Nope, didn't know about one." I continued dragging the load behind me.

"Miss Williams?"

"Yes, Jose."

"He's your kind of man. Charming." With that remark, Jose returned to his closet.

I stopped and watched Sandra try to balance coffee, purse, keys, and lunch, mulling over Jose's remark. He'd cleaned my dry erase boards one day slicing through the words Prince Charming with an eraser.

"You got a Prince, Miss Williams?"

"No, Jose, can't say that I do."

"What kind you want, Miss?"

I grinned, leaned back in my chair, and stared into space. "Well, Jose, he'd have to be kind, thoughtful, and honest. Good-looking wouldn't hurt. A noble person."

Jose's grin showed yellowed teeth. "Then I pray for you a Prince Charming, Miss Williams. You been nice to me, so I pray."

And, today Jose is telling me my Prince is a police officer. Great. I would have to wait until football season to meet him, or get a ticket.

The fluorescent beams in Sandra's classroom stung my eyes. Rows of empty student desks sat like sentinels waiting for a command.

At eight, teachers began filing in, greeting one another and bemoaning their fate. Summer had ended, and school had started. Sandra and I worked well as a team and gave an informative presentation. By noon, everyone trekked out for lunch.

Sandra sighed in relief. "Let's head to the lounge and eat. I'm tired of standing." She fumbled under the table for her green thermal lunch bag. "Where's your lunch, Betsy? Did you put it under the table with mine?"

"Oh, good grief, it's in your car. It's not fit to eat now. Guess I'll just get some crackers from the vending machine."

Jose walked by. "No, you won't, it isn't filled,"

Frustrated and hungry, I ran towards the exit. "I'm going to catch a ride with someone and grab a bite. I'll be back soon." I dashed to the door and caught Caro Weese, the home economics teacher.

"We're all going to Marcus's, okay?" asked Caro.

"Sure, anywhere's fine. I'm starving." I jumped in the front seat.

The drive was short, and the crowds thin, so the four of us were soon seated and nibbling tortilla chips. The salsa opened my sinuses and caused my eyes to run, but it was so good. We ordered and chatted about summer.

The waitress appeared balancing a tray laden with plates. She passed out our meals, and I lowered my head for a quick blessing. Munching and laughing, we enjoyed lunch. Soon comparisons about the summer began.

Jennifer grinned. "I met a cute guy at the beach."

All the ladies chimed in with questions. Belinda eyed me. "Betsy, did you latch on to anyone this summer?"

"Just one blue-eyed doll."

"Really? Spill the beans, girl."

"Well, it was short-lived. His mom came and picked him up from church camp." Everyone began to laugh.

Belinda shook her head. "Betsy, when are you going to start looking for a fellow?"

"Looking? Belinda, I'm looking, just not finding." I shifted in my chair. I've looked for Prince Charming since college. At twenty-eight, I'm getting ready for Prince Pleasant. Of course, plain looking girls didn't always get him.

"You and your church stuff. Why won't you try the Coyote with me one night? We'll meet some great cowboys." Jennifer winked.

"I'm not comfortable there, Jen. I appreciate your invitation. Come with me to Bible study, and see what you think. Maybe you'd enjoy it."

"Nope, not for me, girlfriend. I've got to have a livelier scene."

"Miss Williams." A voice came from the back of the restaurant, catching my attention. Three high school boys headed towards the table. Aprons tossed over their shoulders, they were leaving jobs in the kitchen.

"Hey, Miss Williams, how've you been?" The tallest boy bent over and gave me a hug.

"James, it's good to see you. Hey, guys."

The boys turned and looked at the other three teachers. "Hello," they chimed in a monotone. It was clear I was the favorite.

"Are you guys ready for football two-a-days?"

The boys shifted from foot to foot shaking their heads.

James turned his back towards the other teachers as they stood to leave. He knelt beside my chair to whisper, "Sure wish I had your class again, Miss Williams. I'll miss you this year."

I smiled. "I'll see you at the games." I grabbed his hand and gave a thumbs-up to his friends. "I'll be on the front row, cheering you on. Get a touchdown for me, okay?"

All three boys laughed. James stood and said, "You've got it, Miss Williams. We'll name a play after you. See you soon."

Jennifer polished off her glass of tea. "I rode with Belinda, and she's in the parking lot. Meet you back at school."

"Okay, see you there." Fumbling through my wallet, I hoped I had enough cash to pay the bill. I shook my purse really hard twice and groped in the bottom for change. Counting out nickels and pennies, I found just enough to include a tip.

I stuck my foot out to reach for my shoe I had slipped off. My toes grazed the concrete floor. I extended my leg a little farther, and still felt concrete. I lifted the tablecloth. My shoe was nowhere to be seen. Turning in place, I looked behind my chair. What in the world? A heat burned my face. How could I've possibly misplaced my shoe?

James! More of his pranks. He'd obviously swiped the shoe during his hug and disappeared quickly.

Limping towards the cash register, I passed the small gift shop. A display of tennis shoes sat in the corner. Not one to pass up a gift horse, I took a look. I found one pair a half size too small, but in the current situation, it would work. I dug out my American Express card. Paying for the dinner and shoes wasn't exactly how I wanted to use my credit, but it seemed to be an emergency at the moment.

I slid on my new pair of shoes and handed the empty box to the cashier.

Caro and Marcus, the restaurant owner, talked in the parking lot. "Hey, Marcus, I've got an unusual complaint." I waved my one shoe at him. "I lost my shoe in your restaurant."

"What?"

I explained. "If you see James or one of the other boys, would you check out their stories? If this is one of their pranks, I'll laugh, but I want my shoe back."

Marcus couldn't contain his laughter. "Okay, Betsy, I'll ask. But only you-"

"Yeah, well, I did." My toes were cramped and complained in the new shoes.

My part of the workshop started after lunch. The audience yawned and squirmed. I hated to teach afternoon sessions when everyone's full and sleepy.

Around two, I announced, "Let's take a fifteen minute break. I think we all need a stretch." Everyone groaned in approval.

I walked gingerly down the hall to the ladies' room, my toes rubbing the edge of the canvas shoes. When the restroom cleared, I pulled off my shoes and rubbed each foot.

"Oh, that's good." I stepped into the stall.

A tap at the outside door surprised me. "Be out in a sec." The lavatory facilities at this school were definitely in need of an upgrade, but there was a second stall.

My feet cooled off on the tile floor while I stood at the sink. The air dryer roared to life, and I rubbed my fingers to dry. Only an hour left. I can do one more hour.

I turned to slide my feet back into the tennis shoes. They weren't there. "This is crazy. Where are my shoes?" I peered under the doors of the stalls. Empty.

I had to pad down the hall barefooted. I couldn't believe my luck.

"Okay, class, we need to start. Before we do, I want to address the shoe fairy." I stuck out my bare foot, and everyone tittered. "Some clever being has made off with my tennis shoes. If you happen to see someone carrying an extra pair, would you let me know?" Making light of the situation, I continued class.

Caro's cell phone rang. She hurriedly grabbed it, answered, and nodded, and then blurted out, "Hey Betsy, shoe number one just appeared. Marcus found it. James left it at the cash register, but it fell behind the counter."

Caro's remark brought a roar of laughter. I grinned good-naturedly. "Well, I'm in the market for a pair of shoes. Guess I'll run by there after class."

"Here, take my car," said Caro. She pitched the keys to the front of the room. "I have to stay late today. Go get your shoe, then come back and get me. I can take you home."

"I appreciate it, Caro. And, class dismissed. We can allow an early break today." The room cleared in a hurry.

"Miss Williams?" Jose walked into the classroom. "I heard you had troubles. I found these flip flops in the gym. You need them to go outside. It's hot. The cheerleader girl, she took your tennis shoes. Able cleaned that hall and saw her leave with them. She said she'd left them in the bathroom."

"Jose, you're an angel. Thank you so much for your help. I'll find Clarissa tomorrow and get my tennis shoes back." I tucked the uncomfortable rubber center between my toes and flapped out of the room.

The drive to the restaurant was quick. I parked close and flip flopped in. Marcus snickered when he saw my feet.

"Don't ask, Marcus, okay? Don't ask. Just give me my shoe, and I'll be happy."

Marcus pulled the pump from behind the counter and handed it to me. He shook his head, laughing, and I left.

"Thank you, Lord, for returning my expensive shoe." The matched pair looked wonderful on the seat beside me.

I pulled into traffic, headed back to school. I glanced at the dashboard clock, and then heard a screech of tires. The jolt when the truck and my car collided caused my head to flip forward. Numbed by fright and covered with the air bag, I sat still.

I pushed the air bag away from my face to assess physical damage. I flexed my ankles, bent my knees, and moved my arms. All seemed to be in working order. I swiveled my head and a pain shot through my neck. I quickly faced forward.

A man approached. "Lady, are you okay? I just called the police."

"Yeah, I'm okay." I didn't mention the pain. I could hear a siren and decided to be still until the police came. I leaned my head against the headrest.

Caro! The sudden thought bolted through my mind. Oh no, I need to get word to Caro. I motioned to the man standing by the car. "Sir, do you have a cell phone I might use?"

The kind man handed me his phone. I dialed Caro's number. The signal for cell phones wasn't always clear in the school building, so all I got was voicemail. I left a quick message telling Caro I'd be late. How did I explain I'd just wrecked her car?

"Ma'am?" A deep voice sliced into the silence.

I looked through the spider-webbed windshield. A tall, uniformed officer stood in the sunlight. Rays of light refracted on the shattered glass, and shot out around his head like a halo. His mirrored glasses hid his eyes. "Are you able to get out of the car?"

I closed my eyes against the glare, reached over, and opened the car door. I swung my legs out, and my flip-flops touched the sticky asphalt. As soon as I stood, I knew the shoes were stuck to the pavement.

"I'm Officer Graham. Do you need an ambulance? Are you injured at all?"

"I'm a little stiff at the moment, but I don't need an ambulance," I placed my hands on the top of the opened car door.

"I'm relieved, Ma'am. Would you mind stepping over to my patrol car so I can speak with you?"

I lowered my head and rested it on my hands. "Can't, Sir. I'm stuck."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'm stuck. Look at my shoes. I'm stuck to the pavement." The ludicrous situation would make a fine story one day. "I have other shoes in the car. Would you mind getting them for me?"

Officer Graham peered at my feet, and then walked around to the passenger side, found the pumps, and handed them to me. I changed and followed him to his patrol car, purse in hand. I sat in the front seat. When prompted, I handed over a driver's license, and explained the ownership of the car. The officer tapped my license on his clipboard. "Williams? Are you a teacher?"

"Yes. And call me Betsy."

"Interesting." He mumbled another word.

"Pardon?"

"Oh, Cinderella. You lost your shoes like Cinderella."

I blushed. "Well, there's an explanation, and not about a ball and a pumpkin."

"Too bad. You'd look good in a ball gown." He grinned in my direction. "I'm Noble Graham. I'll be working the football games at your school this year. I've heard a good deal about you from a friend."

"Really?" I turned my head to face him. "Ouch!" I grabbed my neck.

"You're hurt. Be still, I might need to call an ambulance. We can't let you leave the accident if you're injured." He removed his sunglasses and turned to examine my neck.

I opened my mouth to protest, but no sound came out. I looked into Officer Noble Graham's eyes for the first time and drowned in the liquid molasses pools. He said something about whiplash, but music played in my mind.

This gorgeous hunk of a man with no gold band on his finger fit every requirement I'd ever listed for Prince Charming.

His strong fingers prodded the side of my neck, but his eyes never left mine. I thought I could swim in them forever.

After his examination of my vertebrae, he suggested I see a doctor. I agreed I'd go later. We finished our paperwork, and he readied to drive me to the station.

"Betsy?"

"Yes, Noble?"

"Jose was right."

I looked heavenward and thanked God for listening to a janitor's prayers.

Eileen Key, a freelance author in San Antonio, is a romantic at heart.

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