The After Effects Excerpt
Two hours after she had deliberately disobeyed Lucifer’s orders to teach the curriculum that he had developed for Keystone’s schoolchildren, Keri Ann sat in a chair outside Mr. Butcher’s office nervously wringing her hands as she waited to be called into the office. There’s only one reason he’d want to see me, she thought. And that’s because Lucifer has told him that he has to let me go, or his job will be on the line. So what’s taking him so long to just tell me and get it over with?
As Keri Ann let out another impatient and anxious sigh and once again turned her attention toward the closed brown wood door of her boss’s office, across the room from her, Connie Hillard, one of the school’s secretaries, looked up from gathering some paperwork together and gave her a knowing look. “You did it, didn’t you?” she asked.
Temporarily distracted from agonizing over her impending fate, Keri Ann turned to Connie. “Did what?” she confusedly asked.
Picking up her stapler, Connie gave her a small ironic smile. “You threw that horrible new curriculum back in Lucifer Riches’s face when he came to observe you today,” she said as she stapled her packet of papers together.
Smiling a little at Connie’s choice of words, Keri Ann declared, “Well, I wouldn’t say that I actually threw it at him. More like I quietly defied him by teaching a lesson that was the complete opposite of what he wants all the kids in town to learn.”
Connie nodded. “Well, whatever you did,” she said as she set her stapler and papers down and tucked her long wavy reddish-brown hair, which was hanging loosely over the shoulders of her uniform jumper and yellow-orange long-sleeve blouse, behind her ears, “I’m glad. And I think Mr. Butcher is too.” She nodded toward their boss’s office. “I mean, he’s definitely been in there with Lucifer arguing on your behalf long enough.”
Keri Ann’s eyes widened with hope. “Really?” she asked. “He’s fighting to keep me?”
But just as Connie opened her mouth to respond, the door of the office opened, and Charles stuck his head out. “Miss Lawrence,” he said, his eyes resting on Keri Ann after he had taken a few moments to look around for her. “You can come in now.”
Nodding, Keri Ann tucked a strand of hair that had come loose from her French braid, which was secured with a small dark blue scrunchie, behind her ear, rose to her feet, and smoothed the hem of her jumper. Then she turned and walked into Mr. Butcher’s office.
As Keri Ann entered the room, Lucifer, who was standing beside the desk boredly playing with a pen, looked up and gave her a smug smile. “Hello again, Miss Lawrence,” he said as he stuffed the pen back into his pocket. “Are you ready to suffer the consequences for refusing to teach the mandated curriculum?”
As Keri Ann stopped in the middle of the room and gave the new mayor a look somewhere between anger and disbelief, Charles, who had been shutting the door, turned around and cleared his throat. “Mr. Riches,” he said as he nervously loosened the knot in his tie, “I’ve already agreed to let you stay here while I meet with Miss Lawrence so that you can see that I’m handling the situation in a way that will satisfy you. So do you think that maybe you could sit quietly while I speak to her regarding your concerns?”
Letting out a grunt of annoyance, Lucifer flopped down in a chair and crossed his arms. “Fine,” he said. “Go right ahead.”
Stepping behind his desk, Charles took a deep breath and focused on Keri Ann. “You know why you’re here, right?” he asked.
Keri Ann nodded. “Yes, sir,” she replied as she tightly clasped her hands together in front of herself. “I’m here because our new mayor over here,” she nodded at Lucifer, “isn’t happy with the lesson I taught today.”
Nodding, Charles slowly lowered himself into his own chair. “Mr. Riches has already told me why he’s unhappy,” he quietly began as he started to toy with the name plaque that was sitting at the front of his desk. “But before any decision is made regarding what happened today, I would like to hear your side of things.”
Keri Ann confidently nodded. “Okay,” she said. Taking a deep breath as she took a moment to consider what to say, she plunged forward with, “For the last couple of weeks, I have been teaching my students Number the Stars, which is a story about a Danish family helping their Jewish friends escape from the Nazis.” Looking at Lucifer out of the corner of her eye, she added, “What Mr. Riches is upset about is the fact that the story is teaching students to be kind and help those who are in need rather than to just look out for themselves and ignore anything in the world that doesn’t directly affect them.”
Charles understandingly nodded. “So in other words,” he began, “the book is in direct contrast with what’s being taught in Mr. Riches’s new curriculum guide.”
Keri Ann nodded. “That would be correct,” she confirmed.
“And you were fully aware of that before you started teaching the novel,” Charles guessed. “Weren’t you?”
Pushing away another strand of stray hair, Keri Ann nodded. “Yes,” she admitted. “In addition to choosing the novel as a way of introducing the Holocaust to the students, I also chose it because I wanted them to learn from the characters in the story. To learn what it means to be a true friend to someone else and what it means to stand up against authority figures whose ideas are clearly corrupt and inhumane.”
Across the room, a triumphant smirk crossed Lucifer’s face. “So you admit it,” he declared. “You’re outright admitting that you knew exactly what you were doing when you chose to teach that book to the students. That you chose it on purpose just to defy me.”
Now turning her full attention to Lucifer, Keri Ann crossed her arms and asked, “Do you care about your nephew, Mr. Riches?”
Lucifer scowled. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Of course I care. And that’s exactly why he needs to learn the new curriculum. That boy is going to be my heir someday, and he needs to know how to protect himself and make sure that everyone knows that they need to respect him and his power.”
“Or,” argued Keri Ann, “he could learn to exercise kindness and compassion for the people he’s in charge of. And if he does, I think they’ll have a lot more respect for him than they have for you or your father.”
“Whoa!” exclaimed Lucifer, his mouth dropping open in shock at the quiet forcefulness of Keri Ann’s words. “And you’re considering keeping her on staff after speaking to me that way?”
But instead of answering Lucifer’s question, Charles wearily looked up at Keri Ann and set down his name plaque. “So what I’m getting out of this,” he began, “is that you don’t intend to back down, Miss Lawrence. Instead, you plan to keep teaching the old curriculum. Would that be correct?”
Turning back to her boss, Keri Ann re-crossed her arms and nodded. “Yes,” she confirmed. “Because as I’m sure you know, children are very impressionable, Mr. Butcher. And what we teach them at this age will have a lasting impact on who they become as adults.”
Charles nodded. “Yes,” he agreed as he sat back in his chair and started to nervously play with the gold pocket watch that was hanging out of his blazer pocket. “Yes, it does. But…”
“But if you don’t follow the rules, you don’t get to keep your job,” Lucifer finished for the principal as he stood up and stuffed his hands into his pants pockets. “So let her have it, Mr. Butcher. Tell her she can’t work for you anymore.”
Ignoring the mayor’s harsh demand, Charles focused his pleading gaze directly on Keri Ann’s face. “I don’t want to let you go,” he informed her. “You’re a good teacher who obviously cares very much about your students. But…”
“But if you don’t, then you’ll be the one who gets fired,” Keri Ann finished for him. “And then I’ll probably lose my job anyway because Lucifer will ensure that you’re replaced with someone who will get rid of anyone who chooses to challenge him and the new curriculum.”
Looking down at his lap, Charles nodded. “Yes,” he softly confirmed. “More than likely, that’s exactly what will happen.”
Forcing her expression to remain calm and neutral despite the well of pain and sadness that was rapidly opening up within her stomach, Keri Ann understandingly nodded. “Well, if you can’t support me without getting fired yourself,” she finally began, “then I guess I’ll make this easy for you.” Taking a deep breath in order to quell the shakiness that she felt beginning to overtake her body, she declared, “I quit. I’ll send you my official letter of resignation tomorrow morning.” And before she could fall apart or glimpse the triumphant smile that was now spreading across Lucifer’s face, she turned and hurried out of the office.