“Mr. Forrester,” Samina Wells gaped the principal of Bates Middle School. “H-how can this be? How can you just do this to me?”

“I’m sorry Samina.” He averted his gaze, his bald head shining under the fluorescent bulb. “If it was up to me, this wouldn’t happen.”

“Then do something about it!” Samina screamed inwardly, digging her nails into her thighs. In that moment, she wanted to throw something, to scream at him for going back on his word. Instead, she took a deep breath, mustering up her composure. “Isn’t there anything you can do?”

Principal Forrester shook his head petulantly. “The school can’t afford to keep you, Ms. Wells.”

“Mr. Forrester…” Her heart twisted painfully at the sheer desperation in her voice. “I’ve been with this school for almost four years. You even said it yourself that this school needed people like me.”

“That’s why this is hard on me as it is.” He peeked at her. “You know as much as I do that the topic of art is subjective. Even for young minds like those of our students. You know I would definitely keep you if I could.” He swallowed hard. “Please try to understand our situation, Ms. Wells.”

Unbelievable! Samina scoffed incredulously. How many times would she have to face the cruel fate of her career choice?

Those who can’t do art, teach art theory.

“Sir,” Samina clenched her jaw tightly. “Where do you expect me to go? I’ve dedicated my whole life to this.”

More specifically, she’d spent four out of five years teaching art theory when the art society scorned her paintings.

“Ms. Wells…” Principal Forrester sighed, averting his gaze once more. “You’ve been so instrumental in shaping the kids’ imagination but since you were the latest hire out of four art teachers, you’re more than we can afford right now.” He sighed. “I wish there was more we could do for you—”

Samina rose to her feet, deciding then he would have nothing to offer her but condolences. She was tired of ‘sorrys’ and ‘maybe next times.’ With one last glare at the contrite principal, Samina made sure to slam the door on her way out.

Inhaling sharply as her knees threatened to buckle beneath her, Samina leaned against the cool brick wall and closed her eyes. Tears stung the inside of her eyelids as she tried her best to maintain her composure. Just a few minutes before entering the principal’s office, she’d noticed another person leaning against this wall, looking as defeated as she felt.

Downsizing at Bates had been tough for the faculty all year round. Four teachers had already been laid off and now she was the fifth. It surprised her. She’d expected the board of directors to focus on developing their Language Arts and Math Enrichment program, at least that was what they’d promised at her interview years ago.

As the half-minute bell rang down the empty hallway, Samina recalled the principal’s plea  to exit the building inconspicuously. She knew her students would not take her leaving too well. They’d planned an art fair and other exciting activities for this semester. With her gone, there would be little to keep it from happening. She was certain of that.

As tears threatened to fall, Samina quickly pushed away from the wall and trudged down the hallway. Memories of her first week at Bates came rushing like a flood and she choked on a sob. This had been a good place for her to grow her confidence as an artist and the students blossomed under her encouragement, a dream she’d wished for herself.

Samina hesitated in front of the door of the large cafeteria hall. What if one of her students spotted her? Before the tears could fall, she quickly turned away and hurried down the hall toward her classroom.

“Ms. Wells!” a voice across the hall caused the woman to jolt in her step. “Wait a minute!”

Over her shoulder, Samina spotted Professor Forrester’s bald head and spindly legs moving towards her. Samina shuffled quickly and ducked around the corner toward the stairwell. If he had one more ‘sorry’ to say, she wouldn’t leave as inconspicuously as he requested.

Within a few hours of retreating to her condo, Samina was already on a mission to find another job. Except there was not much waiting for her on the Monster homepage. Annoyed, she leaned back in her chair and looked up from the laptop screen.

She cringed inwardly, imagining her students’ shocked faces when they found out she was no longer their art teacher. Their art car, her pride and joy, was to be completed for the fair within the month’s end. With tears in her throat, Samina barely had time to scribble her note of apology and best wishes before the security came down to her office to escort her off the premises. She twisted her lips. As if she was some criminal.

A bell dinged and Samina snapped out of her reverie. There was no point thinking of the recent humiliation. Not when she had to focus on getting a new job.

With a deep sigh as the doorbell rang incessantly, Samina trudged to the front door. Pulling it open, she narrowed her eyes at the penitent look on her sister’s face. “Karen… where are your keys?”

Karen pushed past Samina into the house, lugging grocery bags full of food. “I left it at home. Sue me.”

Samina eyed the bags Karen pushed onto the counter by her open laptop. Before Karen could squint at the screen, she quickly snapped it shut and scooted it around the bags. “So what is all this?” she asked casually, raising a brow at a bag of pasta shells and a can of pesto sauce.

“Food,” Karen unloaded the bags.

“You’re cooking?” Samina asked carefully, eyeing her younger sister. Karen made runny eggs on her good day.

Karen smirked, placing her hands on her hips. “Nope, you are. We’re having company.”

“We? I don’t recall inviting anyone over,” Samina bit out, attempting very hard to hold back her irritation. Her current mood didn’t cater well to entertaining people. “Why couldn’t you have called me first? I don’t have time for this.”

“Whoa, slow your roll,” Her sister raised both hands. “Hold on. This was your idea, remember?”

“My idea?” Samina scowled, mentally checking her calendar. “I didn’t make any plans.” If I still had a job, I’d be at work… working on the art car!

Karen lifted a shapely brow. “Um, yeah you did. Remember, you volunteered hosting a congratulatory dinner for Ada and Jax… Even after I tried to get out of it, you insisted we would.”

Samina’s face burned as the memory suddenly flooded in. Her best friend Ada was recently engaged and in the spirit of the moment, elated by her recent paycheck, she volunteered to cook dinner for them. “Oh…” She quickly looked down at the grocery bag and frowned. “Pasta…?”

“Yes, pasta. Said you had a new recipe to try,” Karen wrinkled her nose. “Which I’m not sure will work. Could barely find half the ingredients.”

Samina couldn’t speak. She’d completely forgotten.

Karen frowned at her sister’s dazed expression. “Sam, what gives? This is the third time this month. Are you okay? Stressed with work or what?”

Her chest tightened at the reminder that she was unemployed. She rubbed the side of her head. “I got fired today.”

Karen’s mouth dropped open. As Samina lowered herself onto the stool near the laptop, Karen shook her head. “No wonder you had Monster Jobs pulled up.”

Samina breathed a deep sigh, her face heating up with shame. “I didn’t expect that to happen. It’s like someone smacked me upside my head… I don’t know what to do.”

Karen took the seat beside her and placed her hand on her sister’s shoulders. “I know how you really liked your job. This really stinks, Sam. You made that school better with your program.”

Samina managed a bitter smile. “Tell Dr. Forrester that. He didn’t even hesitate handing me a pink slip.” She heaved a sigh, “And I don’t know if I can ever land another job like that one…”

“You will, you’re a smart and creative woman,” Karen insisted, gently rubbing Samina’s back.

Breathing out another piteous sigh, Samina stared at the bags of food. She had no desire to cook. Seeing Ada gush and beam with joy about her upcoming nuptials would be a lot to swallow.

Karen glanced up at the glowing clock on the microwave. “Oh shoot… What about dinner? Should I call Ada to cancel?”

Samina hesitated, wanting nothing more than to bury her head under her covers and cry all night long. Instead, she shook her head. “Don’t… Ada will be devastated. I’ll be okay.” Standing from the stool, she reached for the bag of pasta shells.

“Can I help with anything?” Karen asked, standing also. “I mean besides clean?”

Samina managed a smile. “How long do we have before they come?” She bent under the stove for a bowl.

“One hour.”

Her eyes widened in surprise but recovered quickly. “Oh boy…”

Karen smirked. “Maybe two, knowing your friend.”

Samina smiled genuinely. Ada had never been good with time, a trait Samina disliked until today. “We better get started. Help me straighten up a bit.”

“Will do.”

By the time Samina cut the last slice of garlic bread and Karen placed the steaming pot of creamy spinach linguine onto the dining table, the doorbell rang. The two sisters glanced quickly at each other and shared a smile.

“I’ll get it!” Karen announced and with a laugh, Samina watched her sister hurry to welcome their guests in.

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