“I need to speak with you about the school board meeting last evening.”
Of course. Why not discuss the school board meeting? It was just one more thing to add to her list of disastrous events. At this rate, she’d better not bother to go home later. She’d likely find her house burned to ashes or swallowed by an earthquake. “What about it?”
“Well, naturally the board is concerned about the bad publicity Hayes Academy received earlier this week.”
Which the school board undoubtedly blamed on her, since she’d written that editorial. “Do they plan to file a complaint with the Morning Times? To the best of my knowledge, no one, not a school board member, nor you, nor I, nor anyone associated with Hayes Academy, was asked to defend it in an official article. I suppose it will be left to me to write something in response.”
Miss Bowen blanched. “No. I’m afraid that won’t be necessary. In fact, I do believe several of the board members requested you not write anything more for the paper.”
“Does someone else plan to write an editorial, then?” Surely the school board didn’t intend to let Mr. Higsley’s article go unanswered. “Or perhaps the board could invite the reporter to the school? The man might well retract some of his comments, were he to see firsthand how beneficial—”
“The school board is considering closing Hayes Academy. Immediately.” The words fell from Miss Bowen’s mouth in a jumbled rush.
Elizabeth’s heart stuttered, then stopped. She opened her mouth, hoping something intelligible would come out, but all she could do was stare at Miss Bowen’s pale, pinched face. She should have known. She’d suspected the school board would lean in this direction, of course. But so quickly? Before she even had a chance to refigure the ledgers or write another article or find more donors?
“I see. Did...did my father...” She pressed her eyes shut, hated herself for even asking, but she had to know. “...support closing the school?”
Miss Bowen’s eyes grew heavy, and Elizabeth’s gaze fell to her feet. Of course Father would pull his support. He discontinued support of anything politically disadvantageous. He wouldn’t care that he had championed the school during his past two reelection campaigns.
“Elizabeth? Are you all right?”
“Yes. Fine.” Except her throat felt like sawdust had been poured down it, and her stomach twisted and lurched as though it would lose its contents again.
“The decision hasn’t been finalized yet. There’s hope in that, I suppose, though I must confess the majority of the members seemed to have already made up their minds. Still, the school board wants a detailed report from your brother on Hayes Academy’s financial status by the end of next week. They’re scheduling another meeting two weeks from now.”
“That’s when they’ll decide whether to close the school?”
“So there’s hope.”
“A glimmer.” But no hope shone on Miss Bowen’s face.
And rightly so. One week, maybe two. That wasn’t much time.
“Elizabeth.” Miss Bowen touched her shoulder. “Where do we stand financially? I know several letters from our sponsors have come this week. I’m assuming your brother has received more?”
“I’m heading home to calculate numbers.”
“Surely you must have some idea.”
She glanced toward one of the small dining room windows. The sun still burned clear and bright outside, but the little shaft of light barely seemed to penetrate the dark, empty room. “It’s not good.”
“Well.” Miss Bowen’s lips curved into a painfully brilliant smile. “Perhaps things will improve shortly. I asked Mr. Hayes about the possibility of another donation.”
Her head snapped up. “When he was here earlier?”
“Why of course. When else would I have seen him?”
Lovely timing. He’d probably pasted a grin on his face and agreed to everything asked of him, especially since she’d just finished lecturing him about bringing a gun into school and pulling his sister out. “What did he say?”
“He didn’t say no, but he didn’t rush to make a commitment, either. I’m sure he just needs more time.”
The headmistress’s voice held a fragile kind of promise. Elizabeth rubbed her temples. She didn’t want to shatter it, not when it would shatter soon enough on its own. “That’s something at least. He probably doesn’t realize how much responsibility for this school he’s inheriting. I’m assuming his lawyer will inform him sometime over the weekend.”