Marilee and I were trying to decide whether we should braid her hair or put it in pigtails when Gideon thrust his head into the room. Spotting me behind our daughter, he gave me a look of frustrated disbelief. “Don’t you have an important appointment this morning?”
Shock flew through me as I lowered the silky brown strands in my hands. Of course, this was Monday. At nine I had a tremendously important interview with the Pinellas County school system.
I glanced at the pink clock on my four-year-old daughter’s bureau. I had only an hour to shower and dress, drive across Tampa Bay, and find the school system’s personnel office. Somewhere in the mad rush I also needed to rehearse my responses to standard interview questions, calm my nerves, and call the grocery so they’d know I’d be late.
How could I have let time slip away from me on such an important day? Good thing I had a helpful husband.
“Gideon!” I yelled toward the now-empty doorway. “Can you call Mama Isa and tell her I’ll be late this morning?”
“Just get going, Mandy,” he yelled, exasperation in his voice. “Your coffee’s in the kitchen.”
I squeezed Marilee’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, sweet girl, but this morning we have to go with something quick.”
“Okay. Can I wear it like Princess Leia tomorrow?”
I frowned, trying to place the name. Was she one of the Disney princesses? “How does Princess Leia wear her hair?”
“You know.” Marilee held her hands out from her ears and spun her index fingers in circles. “She has honey buns on her ears.”
I laughed, placing the image—she was talking about the princess in Star Wars. “Sure, if you want to have honey buns over your ears, that’s what we’ll do. We aim to please.”
I pulled the long hair from the top of her head into a ponytail, looped an elastic band over it, and tied a bow around the band. Then I kissed the top of her head and took a moment to breathe in the sweet scent of her strawberry shampoo. “Love you,” I murmured.
She grinned. “Love you, too.”
I returned her smile and hurried into my bathroom.
Twenty minutes later I stood in my closet, wrapped in a towel and dripping on the carpet. What to wear? I had a nice blue skirt, but the waistband had lost its button and I had no idea where I’d put it. The black pantsuit looked expensive and professional, but sand caked my black sandals because I had worn them to the beach last weekend.
The closet door opened and Gideon grinned at me, a fragrant mug in his hand. “Aren’t you ever going to learn how to manage your schedule?”
I grabbed the mug and gulped a mouthful of coffee. “Maybe I like living on the edge.”
“And Mama says I have a dangerous job.” He waggled his brows at the sight of my towel. “Pity you don’t have any extra time this morning.”
“And too bad you have to get Marilee to school. So off with you, soldier, so I can get my act together.”
Chuckling, Gideon lifted his hands in surrender and stepped away from the closet. “Okay, then, I’m heading out. But you’re picking up our little bug from school today, right?”
I dropped the blouse I’d been considering. “I’m what?”
“Our daughter? You’re picking her up this afternoon because I’m leading a training exercise.”
For an instant his face went sober and dark, reminding me of the reason he’d been so busy lately. The military had to be planning something, an operation Gideon couldn’t even mention to an ordinary civilian like me.
“Sure.” My voice lowered to a somber pitch. “I’ve got it covered.”
He nodded, but a hint of uncertainty lingered in his eyes. “Mandy—”
“I’ve got it, so don’t worry.” I shooed him out the door. “Tell Marilee I’ll see her later.”
Gideon nodded and left the bedroom, his combat boots thumping on the wooden floor.
A snap of guilt stung my conscience, but I had no time for remorse. I needed a better-paying job and Pinellas County needed a middle school cafeteria manager. Rarely did any school have a midyear opening, and this interview could be the answer to all my prayers. . . .
I opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of panty hose, then hesitated. No one wore hose anymore, especially not in the Florida heat, but for this job I’d wear rubber sheathing if they expected me to. I had to look my best, I had to dress to impress, and I had to get across the Howard Frankland Bridge in record time. No one expected a lunchroom manager to look like a fashion icon, but everyone expected her to show up on time.
A brown skirt hung behind Gideon’s gun safe. Though the suede material would be hot and heavy, at least the garment had buttons and a hem. I grabbed it, then yanked a utilitarian white shirt from a hanger. Ready or not, I had to get moving.
A few minutes later, as I fastened the buttons at the sleeve, I noticed a reddish stain on the cuff, probably from Marilee’s cranberry juice. With no time to change, I rolled both sleeves up to the elbow.
I brushed my teeth and hair, swiped mascara across my lashes, and thrust my feet into a pair of worn loafers. I stepped back for one final look in the mirror, then shook my head. I looked more like an absentminded blonde than a manager, but maybe the interviewer wouldn’t mind. I’d impress her with my professionalism.
I ran back into the bedroom, grabbed my oversized leather tote from a hook on the door, and hurried out to my car.