Friday, January 15, 2010

Judgment call

In which we see Ms. Bradstreet begin to discover how little she really knows

The Maria Chronicles, #35

When the phone rings at 6:41 in the morning, Maria is alarmed: this can't be good news. Only a few people have her apartment phone number, and none of them would call unless there was an emergency. She puts her lipstick on the bathroom counter and runs to her bedside.


"Yes?" She can't quite place the voice.

"It's Jen. Jen Abruzzi. In the History Department."

"Yes, yes of course. Is everything all right, Jen?"

"Everything is fine, Maria. I'm sorry to alarm you. No serious problems, except perhaps with my judgment. I was calling to ask for a favor."

"Sure." Maria remains tense, still expecting bad news.

But Jen's voice is now strangely pitched between between pride and sheepishness. "Well, you see, I went out last night. I guess you could call it a date. Which in fact went much better than I expected. I ended up spending the night with the guy, and I'm calling you now from his place. I think that if I rush I could make it to school on time, but I was wondering if you'd be willing to go to my class, Room 206, and start the video that's on my desk, the one about the transcontinental railroad. Maybe take attendance? I figure it would take you all of two minutes. Just leave the video running; I know you have a class at 8:30 too. I'll be along a few minutes after that. You can tell the kids if they ask."

"Sure, Jen. I can do that. No problem."

"Thanks, Maria. I feel embarrassed having to ask. But I thought you'd be the right person. At some point I have to fill you in on what happened. Maybe at lunch."

"Sure, Jen. That would be great." Maria knows that this would be a good time for a wry joke, some kind of reassurance, but she can't quite pull it off.

"Well look, I know you must be getting ready for work. And I'm sorry to have scared you. I'll see you a little later, OK?"

"OK, Jen. See you later." She hangs up.

Maria goes back to the bathroom and retracts the lipstick. She looks up at the mirror and catches her grim expression. She's gripped by a certainty that seized her ever since Jen said "I guess you could call it a date" that the man she spent the night with was none other than Jack Casey. Maria has known that Jen finds him intriguing ever since the three of them had lunch in the cafeteria a few weeks ago.

Not, Maria thinks as she drives to work, periodically ignoring "All Things Considered," that she has any right to feel angry. Whether or not she and Jack had a good time over dinner last week -- she still hasn't quite written him off -- he has every right to see whom he pleases. As does Jen, whether or not she knew about her and Jack's dinner. It's just so, well, tawdry. Not the kind of thing Maria wants any part of.

She parks her car, heads into the History Department office and sees that Jen isn't there yet. Leaving behind her briefcase and coat, she heads for Room 206. Is Jack supposed to be working today, she wonders? She might be able to find out if she dropped by the Math department. No. She's not going to go there. Last thing she needs is giving anyone any reason to link the two of them. Especially now.

Maria stops by the main office to get her office mail and pick up a cup of coffee. She gives distracted hellos to Penny Perez and Karl Kurtz, who are engaged in a conversation whether or not the New York Jets can be taken half seriously or not seriously at all in their upcoming playoff game. She's got her head down as she heads for the stairs, and doesn't see the person she bumps into, spilling a little coffee onto his white shirt.

"Maria!" It's Jack Casey.

"Oh my God -- I'm so sorry, Jack."

"Not at all. Happy New Year, Maria."

"Happy New Year, Jack. Again, I'm sorry. I'm so distracted -- I'm in such a big hurry -- I have to cover Jen's class."

"Is Jen ill?"

"No, no. Just late."

"Oh. Well, then. Don't let me hold you up. We'll talk later. Take care, Maria."

Take care indeed, Maria thinks as she gets to the bottom of the stairs, enters Jen's full classroom and locates the DVD. Boy is there a lot I don't know, she thinks. Beginning with myself.