Hey, newsletter subscriber! Want to take a look at the first chapter of Counting on You, book 1 in the Amarillo Sour series? Well here you go! (Quick disclaimer: This book is going through proofreading so there may be a couple of editing/style changes, but nothing to the content.)
There were only so many ways to teach the Pythagorean theorem.
Any way it played out, a-squared plus b-squared would always equal c-squared. It was a fact, and facts made sense.
Haleigh Parde liked when things made sense.
Unfortunately, facts didn’t always gel with her students. That was becoming increasingly—and painfully—apparent as she once again demonstrated how to solve the unknown variable in a right triangle. The fifteen-year-old with a mop of black hair and equally dark eyes stared at her blankly.
“But why? Why do you have to use that code?”
“It’s not a code. It’s an equation. One that’s been around for thousands of years.”
The dull throb in her forehead intensified. He was too old to play this game, and he knew it. The smirk on his face said as much. She supposed it was a good thing he was enjoying himself. If his grade didn’t improve after next week’s test, they’d be seeing a lot more of each other. As in every day after school for private tutoring. His parents had threatened as much during conferences.
Facts might not be getting through to him, but Haleigh wasn’t prepared to give up just yet.
“It’s the Pythagorean theorem. And,” she continued before he could ask why again, “we know this because Pythagoras, a Greek guy who lived a long time ago, realized you could solve for the unknown variable—or one of the sides on a right triangle—as long as you know the lengths of the other two.”
“Yeah . . . but why do you have to square everything? I hate square roots.”
He also hated fractions. And multiplication. And division. And subtraction, and addition, and every other math problem she’d given him that year. It was why they were spending a Friday afternoon in her classroom instead of starting their weekends. They’d never get out of there if she didn’t end this philosophical debate pronto.
“Okay.” Haleigh flipped over the sheet of paper giving them a blank canvas. “What’s something you do like?”
“What’s to like? It’s school.”
His latest attempt at deflection might have worked on someone else. Too bad for him, she ate lunch with his other teachers. She knew he earned solid grades in English and did more than ask hypothetical questions in class. Poems and prose weren’t her strongest suit, but at least she had his number.
“How about this: who’s your favorite author?”
“I don’t know . . . J.K. Rowling, I guess.”
“What do you like about her stories?”
Her eye twitched. “What makes them good?”
“Well . . .” He released a heavy sigh, which came out like a balloon losing air before flying off into the sky. “I like how real the characters and places feel.”
The kid found realism in Harry Potter but couldn’t find it in square roots. Haleigh didn’t have time to ponder that contradiction. Not when she was this close to breaking through his stubbornness.
“J.K. Rowling made the wizarding world seem pretty authentic.” She waited for his slow nod. “She did that by creating a bunch of rules. Wizards couldn’t do magic in front of Muggles. They had to use certain spells and so on.”
“Yeah . . .”
“Equations are basically rules. Each one needs to be just right for the spell to work.”
It sounded lame and flimsy to her, but a light seemed to switch on in his head.
“Equations are spells?”
“That’s right.” She nodded a little too vigorously. “Sometimes we don’t understand why they work. They just do.”
“Okay.” He picked up his pencil. “How does this go again?”
An hour later, Haleigh felt better about his chances of passing the test. All it had taken was a little magic—and a lot of geeking out over Harry Potter.
She was packing her bag for the weekend when Dexter poked his head in the classroom.
“Are you up for a little FAC-squared?”
As fellow math teachers, they were the only ones who called it that. But Friday After Class Club—or FAC Club to the non-nerds—was a staple for educators at West High School. After a week of teaching—or in some cases trying to help less-than-enthusiastic students learn—they usually needed something a little harder than cafeteria milk to take the edge off.
“Where are we going?”
“The new Asian fusion restaurant. We have a line on their happy hour deals. You know what that means?” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“That half of our staff will have headaches in the morning?”
“That’s because I hydrate. And because I’ll stop after two glasses of wine.”
“You’re always such a rule follower.”
“It’s also why I don’t spend my Saturdays nursing a hangover.”
He snickered and flopped into one of the empty desks at the front of the classroom. He stretched his long legs out in front of him and ran a hand over his cropped, spiky blond hair.
“Nina says the food isn’t bad either. She wants to get a round of pot stickers for the table.”
Haleigh’s chest tightened, but only for a second. It had done that every time Nina’s name was mentioned since they were students at West. It wasn’t that Haleigh disliked her. They’d always been friendly and hung out with the same group of people. Even now they took the same yoga class on Saturdays and ate lunch together. Maybe that was the problem. Nina knew too much about her.
She knew pretty much everything about everyone. Nina Ryan hadn’t built her reputation as the school gossip by staying out of people’s business.
Unsure if she was up for a night of learning who was dating whom or what happened when the vice principal had too much sangria, Haleigh was racking her brain for an excuse to get out of FAC-squared when the object of her avoidance strolled through the door.
“Are you coming?” Nina asked.
“I don’t know. I should probably go over this test another time before Monday.”
“No, not tonight, I meant next month.”
Haleigh shook her head. She’d obviously missed something. “What’s next month?”
Nina rolled her dark brown eyes. “Our ten-year high school reunion. The one we’re having next month.”
“We’re having a ten-year reunion?”
“Duh. It’s been ten years since we graduated.”
Of course, it had. Haleigh didn’t have to be a math teacher to count how many years had passed since high school. She wasn’t an idiot. Still, this was the first she’d heard about them actually having a reunion. Maybe her invitation had been lost in the mail or cyberspace. Unless they were intentionally excluding her.
“When did the invites go out?”
“Today. Haven’t you been on Facebook? We sent it out this afternoon.”
“I was working.”
She slipped her phone out of her purse and found the notification. At least she didn’t have to worry that her classmates were snubbing her.
“Then you haven’t seen who’s going?”
“No . . .” She waved her phone. “I’m just checking now.”
Opening up the app, she skimmed through the details. The reunion would be held at the school in exactly five weeks. A few days after Valentine’s Day. Great. Dress was semiformal. Dinner would be provided. There’d be a cash bar. Dates were encouraged. She scrolled down to the comments.
“You’ll never believe . . .”
Nina’s voice disappeared into the ringing in her ears as Haleigh found the source of her colleague’s excitement.
Greg would be there. Her Greg. The boy she’d dated junior and senior year of high school. The one she’d gone off to college with only to have him dump her halfway through freshman year. The one who’d . . .
“He’s bringing his wife,” Nina said, her voice coming through once again. “He tagged her in his post in case you want to stalk her page a little.”
Haleigh gave a half shrug, hoping she seemed disinterested even as her finger hovered over his wife’s name. No. She scrolled past the comment. Haleigh wasn’t going to take the bait.
“Good for Greg. I’m sure he’ll be glad to come home for a visit.”
And to rub his success in everyone’s face. Not that he didn’t deserve to be proud of his accomplishments. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota, he’d gone to Harvard Business School for his MBA. Last she’d heard—from Nina, naturally—he was climbing the ranks at a top investment firm in New York City. He had an apartment on Park Avenue, and now he had the perfect, uncomplicated wife.
Haleigh was glad she hadn’t said that out loud. No one would believe she wasn’t bitter. And she wasn’t. Not really.
“Don’t pay attention to what people are saying.” Nina’s face scrunched into a sympathetic smile, even as her eyes lit up in excitement. “You know our classmates. They love to make up drama.”
Again, she shouldn’t bite, but she couldn’t resist.
“What are people saying?”
“Oh, you know, just how they’ll be surprised if you show now that he’s coming.”
Haleigh’s mouth fell open. “They’re saying that in a public group?”
“Everyone knows how hard you took it when you broke up.”
“I’m over it.”
She was. Seriously. She’d spent the past decade earning her own bachelor’s and master’s degrees and becoming the best math teacher in the district. She even had the plaque to prove it. She’d also discovered a workout routine that worked for her and kept off those few extra pounds that had always clung to her back in high school. She owned a house. She had a dog. She had a great life.
“Yes, but you’ve never really dated anyone else.”
That was the one missing piece. But so what? It was the twenty-first century. She was a strong, independent woman. She didn’t need a husband or boyfriend to prove anything to anyone.
Even thinking about having a husband or a boyfriend had her chest tightening up again.
“I could always see if my hubby has a friend who’d be willing to go with you,” Nina offered.
“I don’t need a date.”
“No, but it might make it easier. Especially after everything with Greg, and what he posted on the page . . .”
Despite herself, she scrolled through the page until she found the offending thread.
Someone had written: Maybe we’ll finally see if Haleigh has gotten over Greg and found herself a boyfriend.
Greg’s response: He’d have to be nuts. Only crazy would like crazy.
Oh, he did not go there.
“I’ll take a date to the reunion.” Haleigh made the proclamation before the words even registered in her brain. Once they were out, though, she meant them. “And, thank you, but I’ll find my own.”
Sure, she might not know exactly where one found a date. She also might not know exactly how to date. No problem. She was a smart woman. She’d figure it out—in a way that made sense for her.
“If you’re sure—”
“I am.” Haleigh clicked “going” on the event page and turned her phone off. “I think I’ll take a pass on FAC-squared tonight.”
Nina raised her eyebrows but left the room without another word. That had to be a first.
It took Haleigh a full extra minute to remember they’d had an audience for the exchange. And he was staring at her now with unbridled curiosity.
“I thought you don’t date.”
She had told Dexter that. Last school year when the baby-faced, fresh out of college teacher had asked her out. She hadn’t been lying. She wasn’t dating anyone when she told him she just wanted to be friends. It became a moot point altogether this year when she’d been named department chair, effectively becoming his boss.
“This is different. I’m not looking for a relationship. I only need someone for one night to shut up everyone.”
Especially Greg, the jerk.
“Do you have anyone in mind?”
She shook her head, not quite able to say “no.”
“Has it really been as long as Nina said—”
“It has.” She didn’t know exactly what Nina had told him, but it was probably true. It wasn’t a secret that Haleigh hadn’t dated since Greg. “But I’ll figure it out.”
“I’m sure you will.” He stood up then and crossed the room. “I could help you out.”
“Oh.” Her heart sank. It was nice of him to offer, but . . . “I’m not sure that’s appropriate. What with me being department chair and you—”
“Not that.” He shoved his hands in his pocket and pulled out his phone. “I know where you stand on following the rules. But maybe you wouldn’t mind a setup.”
“Like a blind date?”
He nodded. “There’s this guy. He’s my brother’s brother.”
“Your brother’s brother?”
“It’s a fraternity thing.” He punched in a few keys and held out the picture. “I’m not saying he’s your guy, but I hear he’s a good first date. Or at least he goes on a lot of them. He could help you . . . break the ice.”
“An icebreaker date?”
She seemed to be playing parrot, but what else could she say? In ten minutes, she’d gone from anticipating a glass of wine and a plate of spicy noodles to vowing to find a date to the high school reunion she hadn’t known existed. To prove she was over the ex, who still couldn’t seem to resist making jabs at her.
It was kind of a lot to process.
“Just grab a drink with him. One drink. Get yourself back out there.” Dexter turned his phone around to face her again. “He’s free tonight.”
Her heart pounded faster. “That seems pretty fast.”
“Do you have much time?”
That was a good point. If she was serious about doing this, she didn’t have time to waste worrying.
“Where should I meet him?”
“There’s this bar . . .”
Want to read more? Counting on You will be published on August 28.