Friday, April 13
Ms. Jones looked up from the coffee she was stirring and smiled warmly at Mack.
“McKenzie, what a surprise!” She set her cup down and hugged Mack tight.
It had been a year since Mack last saw Ms. Jones. She leaned into the hug, realizing just how much she missed her.
“You smell like chocolate chip cookies,” Mack said, stepping back.
Ms. Jones laughed. “I think that smell is coming from the kitchen. Tell me how you’ve been!” She motioned for a table close-by. Mack grabbed her plate of pastries, the one she planned to bring back for Sari, Hannah, and Brie, and sat across from Ms. Jones.
“I’ve been good. The guy who took your place isn’t as fun as you were.”
Ms. Jones looked down and stirred her coffee, suppressing a smile.
“Not that he’s not nice, it’s just he’s not you,” Mack continued.
“Are you still doing well in school? Piano?” Ms. Jones asked, holding her cup in both hands as if to warm up.
“Yep. Both are good!”
“I’m so glad.”
Mack looked away for a second, not sure if she should ask, but she felt brave alone in the lodge restaurant with her old advisor and friend. “Where did you go? A different school district or something? Why did you leave?”
Ms. Jones set her cup down and rested her hands on the table. She took awhile to respond but finally said “I was put in charge of some family businesses. It was too much to keep working at school and manage the new responsibilities. Plus, I knew you’d be in good hands with Mr. Brewton. He’s an excellent teacher and advisor.” She smiled at Mack, the way she used to when they would meet. Like they shared a secret. Then, she stood up abruptly.
“I have to run. I stopped here last night on my way up north. But now it’s time for me to head out and keep driving.”
Mack stood too, awkwardly, surprised the conversation was coming to an end.
“You’re going to drive in this blizzard?”
“Oh, sure, I’ll be fine. I have a truck. It was good to see you McKenzie. Have a fun Girls Weekend!” With that, she squeezed Mack’s arm, turned, and quickly walked out of the restaurant.
Mack stayed in place, watching her old teacher go, wondering if she’d said something to make her leave so suddenly. And there was something about what she’d just said that Mack couldn’t figure out. She scrunched her eyes shut in concentration and then opened them wide.
How did Ms. Jones know Mack was on a Girls Weekend?
When Mack first started meeting with Ms. Jones she was in fifth grade. Mack’s parents received a letter offering her the chance to meet with a teacher who would act as an “advisor” for gifted students. Mack had been identified as one of those gifted students. She and her parents couldn’t see any downside.
Ms. Jones visited monthly, pulled Mack out of the classroom, and spent an hour with her. They played games, worked on different puzzles, talked about classes and any challenges Mack was facing – at school or at home, and they talked about college and “plans for the future.”
Mack loved her hours with Ms. Jones. She wasn’t like normal adults. She was more like a kid, and Mack always felt like they were sharing a secret of some sort. Even though Mack wasn’t telling Ms. Jones things she hadn’t told her parents, at least most of the time, it was just how Ms. Jones reacted to what Mack said. She was attentive, and kind, fun, and funny, and she really seemed to get Mack. She met with her throughout fifth grade, and most of sixth, and then one month when she was pulled from classroom, it was Mr. Brewton waiting for her instead of Ms. Jones.
Mr. Brewton didn’t know where Ms. Jones had gone, there was no explanation, and she hadn’t left any message nor had she said goodbye. He just knew that he would now be the one meeting with Mack every month. And Mack hadn’t been completely honest, Mr. Brewton was pretty fun, but it wasn’t the same as it was with Ms. Jones. That had been like a secret and special friendship. When Ms. Jones disappeared, Mack felt abandoned.
Deciding she needed more pastries, Mack returned to the buffet and loaded as many as she could balance on the plate.
Her mom would never believe that she’d seen Ms. Jones. Scout tried getting information on where she went after she left. She could see how distraught Mack was and they thought, maybe, they could get a mailing address so Mack could send her a letter or a thank you card. Scout wondered if they could be pen pals. But, even though Scout rarely gave up on anything, she just couldn’t find anyone who knew where Ms. Jones had gone. Google searches and social media didn’t help either.
It was almost like she never existed.
Mack balanced the plate of goodies on her left hand while she fished the key card out of her hoodie pocket, excited to share the news of her unexpected reunion.
When she opened the door, however, she saw complete and utter chaos.
All of the moms, and the girls, were rushing from the windows facing the lake to the windows facing the woods to the left. They all had their phones out in front of them, taking pictures, and screaming with glee, or fear, Mack couldn’t tell.
“What is happening?” Mack asked, only a little bit terrified.
“Oh my God Mack, oh my God!” Hannah said, waving for Mack to come over.
Out the windows, amongst the pine trees, was a big black bear and two bear cubs. The mama bear was sauntering through the snow as the little ones struggled to keep up without tripping over each other. It was possibly the cutest thing Mack had ever seen in real life.
“That’s,” Mack started, shocked at what she was looking at, “a bear!”
She started taking her own pictures and squealing with everyone else. Quickly forgetting about Ms. Jones.