Juliane gingerly touched Dr. Henderson’s inscription on the worn children’s book. Its binding had long since faded to illegibility, and the cover was likely to fall off altogether if she jostled it too much. Even with all her care, a yellowed newspaper clipping managed to escape from the pages.
She knelt to retrieve Dr. Henderson’s obituary. He left the school system shortly after she did, hoping to achieve publication, but he had succumbed to a rare blood disease only a few years later. Juliane understood his original motivation for leaving. Why should he limit himself to teaching a small population of students when he could improve the lives of so many? She smoothed out a crease as she reinserted the clipping into the book’s pages. The world lost an amazing teacher. It was too tragic to be tolerated. Dr. Henderson had recognized her potential before anyone else. His legacy would be her legacy.
Juliane sighed as she closed the book and placed it back between a volume on theoretical computer science, which was her graduate focus, and one of several texts with a psychological focus, which had been her postgraduate work. She glanced at her watch. A message flashed, reminding her that her presentation was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes.
If she arrived too early, she risked appearing unnecessary. But if she waited too long, Alan as acting team leader could start without her, sending the same message to the audience.
Her eyes slid to the right of the bookcase. Off to the side, hidden from casual view, was a small framed photo of a pair of Bullmastiffs laying in the sun. It was the only photograph on display in the entire room. She closed her eyes, blocking the image. Silencing one sense only served to enhance another. Her heartbeat began to race in anticipation. Juliane inhaled deeply, filling her lungs to their capacity. She savored the air’s pressure as she counted to ten before releasing the breath. Repeating the cycle, she felt her heart calm. Get it together. It’s not like this is your first time, she thought.
She did not need to see the minutes change on her watch to know that it was time to make her move. The only other personalization in the room was a small bronze paperweight shaped like a chameleon, which sat atop a filing cabinet near the door. Daphne had given it to her after it became clear that Juliane’s mother was never coming back. It was the only thing Juliane kept after her brief guardian’s heart attack. Juliane reached over and rubbed its forehead as if the physical activity would simultaneously crush the butterflies in her stomach. Summoning as much swagger as she could muster, she pulled down the door’s handle. Anyone watching her as she made her way down the hall would think she was the embodiment of cool confidence.
Her destination was in sight as a young woman with brown hair pulled back into a ponytail sprinted across the courtyard, cutting her off. The woman’s toe caught on an uneven paving stone, sending her tumbling to the ground. The woman’s face turned crimson as she attempted to collect a stack of papers which had littered the ground during the fall.
“Are you okay?” asked Juliane. She could feel seconds pass waiting for the woman to answer.
“No. I mean yes. I mean, other than being mortified that you just saw that, I’m okay.” As the woman attempted to stand, Juliane noticed the woman’s pant leg was torn at the knee. The woman took a step toward her scattered paperwork and winced.
Juliane bent to help collect a few of the scattered pages. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“It’s just a scrape. It looks worse than it feels. Dr. Than is going to kill me for getting her paperwork out of order.”
“I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“Have you ever met her?”
Juliane smiled. “I’m sure she is no worse than some of the people I’ve worked with over the years. I also think she’d probably be even less understanding if you bled all over her office. How about this? I need to go into a meeting, but I’ll have someone swing her precious paperwork by her office before the end of the day. In the meantime, you go clean yourself up.”
The woman glanced at her torn clothing and the stack of papers. “You wouldn’t mind?”
Juliane held out her hand. “Aren’t we all here to make life better for others?”