What do you mean, you’re going to college?
A pretty girl like you should find a husband.
Just because one man jilted you, doesn’t mean the next will.
A college degree? What’s wrong with the schooling you already have? Why do you need more?
The sharp comments twined through her memory. Why should her desire to teach mathematics matter, when she could get married and have children? People had been asking her that for six years, and now Mr. Hayes had said the same about Samantha.
Maybe if she had explained the possibilities that awaited Samantha after she had a high school diploma and college degree, he’d let his sister continue her education.
But how many people understood her own pursuit of mathematics? Mr. Hayes would likely squelch his sister’s dreams just as so many people had tried to kill hers.
Elizabeth straightened and slipped her satchel over her shoulder. She wasn’t doing herself any favors by stewing over Luke Hayes, and she needed to stop by the kitchen and inventory the recent food delivery before she even went home.
She closed and locked her classroom door, then walked down the hallway toward the large double doors at the opposite end of the building. The tinkle of girlish giggles from outside floated through the main entrance to the school, and the clear autumn sun filtered through the windows beside the doorway.
If only she didn’t have the cook to meet with and ledgers to refigure, she could enjoy that picnic with her students. But some things weren’t meant to be. She pushed through the doors leading into the dining hall, then weaved her way through the maze of tables and chairs toward the kitchen at the back.
Dottie McGivern, the school’s cook, stood at the counter just inside the kitchen.
“There you are. Been wondering whether you were going to show up.” Dottie’s plump hands dove into a bowl of dough and began to knead. “We need more flour, apples and sugar.”
Elizabeth sighed. Of course they did. It only made sense. She already had the ladies’ society, Samantha’s brother and the school’s financial woes to deal with. Why not add trouble with the food order, as well?
“I’m assuming you didn’t get the amounts you ordered?” Again?
Dottie pointed to the half-empty shelves lining the wall of the kitchen. “Now look here, Miss Wells. I’ve been cooking for a long time, and I know how much money it costs to feed a slew of girls. Or at least how much money it should cost. So when I say I need a hundred and fifty dollars each month to pay for food, I mean a hundred and fifty dollars, not the fifty dollars’ worth of foodstuffs that showed up this morning. That look like a hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of food to you?”
“No, it doesn’t.” This could not be happening again, not with the school in such dire financial straits. It seemed every time Dottie had a load of food delivered, something had gotten mixed up and only a portion of the needed food was delivered. “I don’t understand. Jackson says he authorizes the food money to be released every month. You should have plenty of supplies, not be running out.”
Dottie wagged a flour-covered finger at her chest. “Talk to your brother, then. Maybe you got your messages mixed up, but the delivery that arrived today wasn’t no hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of food.”
Yes, she would talk to Jackson. Indeed, she hoped something had become mixed up. Otherwise, the academy was being cheated somehow. And not just with groceries. This was the fourth time such a thing had happened since the school year started. Jackson said enough money for materials and bills had been released, yet the gas company claimed they never received payment, the store they ordered teachers’ supplies from was missing money as well, and Dottie said only a third of her food arrived.
“Miss Wells, there you are. I feared you had gone already.” Miss Bowen’s head poked through the swinging kitchen door, her perfect coiffure and straight suit grossly incongruous against the counters piled with potatoes, messy casserole dishes and frazzled works in the kitchen. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I simply must speak with you. In private, that is.”
Miss Bowen sent Dottie a brief smile and then disappeared back through the door.
Elizabeth squeezed Dottie’s arm. “I’ll be back tomorrow to figure this out.”
The fiery-haired woman nodded. “Thank you.”
Elizabeth headed out of the kitchen and toward the far corner of the dining hall where Mrs. Bowen stood. The lines of her gray dress looked so stiff that the woman couldn’t possibly be comfortable walking. Or standing. Or sitting. Or doing anything at all. But a smile softened the creases of her face.