Teaser from my new book: A Cleft in the World

From Chapter Two: The first you-know-what hits the fan.

Stepping forward, the board chairman Beau Duffy pulls a slight smile, accepts the clip-on mic from Susan and attaches it to his navy and red striped tie. He clears his throat.

Lina pokes my thigh.

A local pediatrician, nearing retirement and the kind of guy who would come over and roust a mouse from your house, Beau surveys us a moment. He peers at his notes. The room has the preternatural hush of a moon. My own deodorant is breaking down, my armpits growing slick.

“I’m not going to dance around this,” the chairman begins, the microphone fuzzing his words for a moment. “In the last two years, Willa Cather’s endowment—that which keeps us in the black—has dropped sixteen million dollars.” Alarm pricks at my skin like an incipient rash.

The chairman motions to the CFO, Sawyer Hays—who resembles Pierce Brosnan—holding a stack of papers to his chest. Agendas? Sawyer’s face and hands are deeply tanned, as though he’s spent a month on his cruising sailboat, The Willa. Considering the state of our endowment, maybe he has; the man is so formal and aloof, who would know?

The chairman speaks again. “Coming to you are the exact figures.” All heads turn to follow the passing of the stack. The only sounds are the rustle of paper, the creak of metal chair. “As most of our endowment is restricted—it must be used to fund scholarships or faculty salaries and the like—we have been forced to draw from the unrestricted portion for operating expenses.”

I look at Lina as she passes the stack to me, her hand the chill of granite. She murmurs her Italian version of what the hell, “Che cavalo?” without moving her lips.

Beau’s ruddy complexion deepens. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are twelve million dollars in debt.” Fear nibbles at my core.

The math instructor fumbles the stack. Pages drift and slide on the marble floor. No one moves to help. A voice rises from near the front, and then a surf of questions break.

“Why are we just hearing about this?”

Two years?”

“What does this mean for salaries?”

Beau raises his hands like a bank teller in a hold up. “Please. Let me finish.”

A gust of wind carrying breath mints and alarm brushes the back of my hair, as people behind us bend and shuffle to grab up the scattered pages.

“The board has voted to create a new position—a one-year interim position—of vice president of finance and administration. Truman, will you stand?” Truman. That’s a name I  haven’t heard in a while. The man stands and turns to face the faculty. My chest tightens the way it did when I once narrowly missed getting t-boned on Fourth Street. “Truman Parker comes to us from Emory University and Columbia Business School. He . . .” The chairman’s voice echoes in the suddenly airless, book-lined room, and bounces off the ceiling.

“The Ivy League to the rescue?” I think I hear Lina whisper over the blood pounding in my ears.

Truman Parker smiles and buttons his navy suit coat, his blue eyes giving off sparks in the dim, old room. Something breaks loose near my heart. The rest of the board chair’s introduction is lost on me. I don’t remember losing my first tooth, the Christmas I first understood that Santa wasn’t real, or what I wore for a Halloween costume in fifth grade. But I’ll never forget the first time I saw the fourteen-year-old strawberry blond, the first boy to capture my heart.

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