Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels and has also written one with her husband Mike Nettleton. Carolyn logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor. She founded the Vancouver Writers' Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Learn more about Carolyn and her books at her website. – AP
High School Mysteries
Unlike some, my high school years weren’t filled with glory days. Nor were they packed with torture and torment. They were mostly boring.
I went to high school in the age of lectures, blackboards, chalk dust, vocabulary drills, pop quizzes, essay tests, and homework every night. Monotony was broken only by tedium and ennui.
As we wallowed in the educational doldrums, my friends and I were always on the lookout for something different, something mysterious. We wanted to decide on our own what to wonder about instead of being told we should be curious whether x +145 really equaled 139, what the theme of a particular story was, or if political alliances laid the foundation for World War I.
The four major things I wondered about in high school were: What did teachers wear when they were off duty? What did they do on weekends and over the summer? What was the teachers’ room like and what went on in there? Did teachers have emotions like we did—specifically romantic ones?
This was back in the day when male teachers wore suits, conservative ties, and white, beige, or gray shirts. Female teachers wore dresses or skirts, blouses, and sweater sets. They always had on stockings and heels.
To answer question number 1, my friends and I considered the clothing our parents wore around the house. Then we ruled out the ratty and casual—cut-off jeans and T-shirts, shorts and sandals. Bathing suits, of course, were unthinkable. Our imaginations wouldn’t stretch that far.
As for their vacation time, we knew some of our teachers traveled. There would be postcards on bulletin boards in September and sometimes a souvenir on a desk. Once we spotted an embroidered blouse acquired in Mexico. We knew at least one of our male teachers worked a summer construction job—he’d been sighted in the company truck. But as for the rest, we imagined they passed the time reading textbooks and taking fiendish glee in developing tricky quiz questions designed to lower our grades.
We were forever detouring past the teachers’ room, hoping for a glimpse inside. Occasionally the door opened, but only wide enough for a teacher to slip out. Some kids claimed to have peered through that narrow gap and spotted a refrigerator and a sink, even a sofa, but they said the view was obscured by a dense cloud of cigarette smoke. Did teachers have a television in there? A record player? A vending machine? Reclining chairs? (For the record, when I finally got invited inside a teachers’ room while student teaching at Tucson High School, I wondered why I’d spent so much time wondering. The room was small, shrouded in stale cigarette smoke, and packed with cast-off furniture. The teachers inside were grading, snacking, or comparing notes.)
In an attempt to answer question number 4—the big one—we watched male and female teachers when they interacted. If we discovered that Mr. X and Miss Y smiled at each other a lot and both signed up to chaperone a field trip, we debated whether they were right for each other and (with giggles and blushes) what they might do on a date. We would be surprised or disappointed if the next year found Mr. X smiling at Miss Z. We would be stunned if we learned that Miss Y was engaged to someone who wasn’t a teacher, someone she met outside of our school, outside of our world. How was that possible?
When I went back to high school as a substitute 35 years after I graduated, I was amazed by all that had changed. But, despite computers and videos and interactive white boards, kids still battle boredom and still wonder about their teachers’ private lives. Often that curiosity isn’t limited to simply watching and wondering as it was back in the day.
I’ve had kids stop me in the supermarket to inspect the contents of my basket and question my choices. They screech their cars to a halt if they see me walking my dogs or raking the lawn. They ask me what kind of car I drive and how much money I make and which movies I like and whether I dye my hair and how long I’ve been married. Sometime they ask even more personal questions that make me squirm and rush to change the subject.
I’ve channeled a few of those uncomfortable moments into my cozy mysteries set at fictional Captain Meriwether High School in Reckless River, Washington. In No Substitute for Murder, sub Barbara Reed deals with a question about drugs by intentionally misunderstanding and stalling until the bell rings. In No Substitute for Money, she wrestles with speculation about the state of her love life.
What did you wonder about when you were in high school?
Share your memory in a comment and get into the drawing for a copy of No Substitute for Money.
No Substitute for Money
Substitute teacher Barbara Reed knows better than to say the word “perfect.” Using the P-word is a sure way to jinx romance, finance, and circumstance.
Despite a chronic shortage of funds, things are looking up for Barb after the events of No Substitute for Murder. She’s completing grad school and hoping for a job at Captain Meriwether High School in Reckless River, Washington. Her drug-cop boyfriend, Dave Martin, wants to move in and his daughter is all in favor. Even Barb’s tiny dog Cheese Puff has no objections—undaunted by size, he’s infatuated with Dave’s partner Lola, a drug-sniffing Golden Retriever.
Then Dave uses the P-word. And Barb’s luck leaves town.
Her car breaks down, her domineering sister comes for a visit, the condo manager plots to ban dogs, her jailed ex-husband begs her to be a character witness at his trial, a computer hacker creates chaos at the high school, and a hulking thug threatens violence.
Just when it appears things can’t get worse, Lola sniffs out a package in her car and a drug dealer decides Barb and Cheese Puff are his tickets out of trouble.