Adam Murphy was cleaning his classroom at the end of the day when Ms. Perkins entered the room as she often did after hours. The two teachers had been colleagues at Hillsboro High for nearly ten years but Adam was hanging it up after a thirty-five year art teaching career and Ms. Perkins' position as music teacher was being axed to budget cuts at semester's end. Everybody knew she was getting a raw deal.
Adam always welcomed Ms. Perkin's presence. He enjoyed their chats and camaraderie. She was an attractive woman with thick black hair that she wore to her shoulders, a shapely body and - of course - a wonderful singing voice along with the talent of playing at least a half dozen musical instruments.
"Hello, Ms. Perkins," Adam said with a gracious smile. "How are you?"
"I told you before that it's okay to call me Valerie after hours, Murph," Ms. Perkins said as she took a seat on a stool at one of the long working tables. "I notice you've started to get rid of some of your stuff," she said, glancing around the room at the absence of clutter once piled in the corners, closets, cabinets, and crevices of the large space.
"Junk has a habit of hoardering after thirty-five years," Adam remarked. "And since they're not replacing me I suppose there's no point leaving it behind."
"Are you going to miss it?" Ms. Perkins asked.
"I used to think that I was the best artist and teacher around but over the years I figured out that you're always learning and the kids usually have something new to teach you," Adam replied. "I'll miss trying to be perfect in their eyes!"
Ms. Perkins noticed a sketch on one of the easels and she hopped off the stool to take a closer look. "This yours?" She inquired, checking out the charcoal drawing with its creative shadows.
"I haven't been drawing much lately," Adam revealed. "Thought I should get some work in during these final months."
Ms. Perkins examined the image looking back at her from the drawing, the woman's eyes seeming to twinkle as the music teacher studied the curves of the woman's face and her striking hair that half covered her features in shadows.
"She's quite beautiful," Ms. Perkins noted. "Who is she?"
"My late wife," Adam replied. "She's been gone fifteen years but I can still picture her face like I saw it yesterday."
Ms. Perkins nodded as she appreciated his work.
"Creating art is like making love," Adam told her. "Once you start you hate to stop!"
Ms. Perkins threw him a curious look. In all the years she had known him, he had never said something so forward.
"Making a piece of paper come to life is like magic," Adam continued. "I'm going to miss passing that gift on to others."
"You're not going to give art up just because you're retiring from teaching are you?" Ms. Perkins asked with surprise.
"I'd rather die," Adam admitted.
"Stay inspired," Ms. Perkins encouraged as she returned to her stool.
Adam followed and sat on a stool across from her, burying his chin in his hand. "What about you?" He wanted to know. "Have you landed on your feet?"
"I've got about five part time jobs lined up," she said. "Step Up! Dance Studio. The Catholic School. The charter school. The community college. The alternative school. Losing my health insurance sucks though. I'm hoping I can find something through the affordable care act."
"Fingers crossed," Adam smiled.
"And you?" She asked.
"I'll probably end up volunteering at the Senior Center and Community Center," he said. "There's an artist in everybody no matter what their age."
"That's good," she smiled.
"I suppose art is who I am," Adam remarked.
"You've been inspiring students for years," Ms. Perkins agreed. "That has been your reputation since I've known you."
"It's sad to see it end," Adam sighed. "For both of us," he added, throwing her a look.
"I haven't been here for thirty-five years like you," she said. "I bet you've seen it all."
"About nine generations of students," he laughed. "And almost as many cadres of faculty. I started off as one of the youngest and now I'm one of the oldest."
"Well, you look great," Ms. Perkins let him know. "For your age," she added, blushing slightly.
"I guess it's natural to worry that your work and contributions will be forgotten once you're gone," Adam said.
"Those framed paintings of yours hanging in the lobby will be there as long as the school is," Ms. Perkins assured him.
"That would be nice," He grinned. "It's important to be remembered."
"I should go," Ms. Perkins said, getting off the stool. "But I'm going to miss our after school chats."
"I'm going to miss all the productions we worked on together," he said, walking her to the door. "You were a great musical director on all the shows."
"And you were a great art designer," she smiled.
"See you tomorrow," Adam said when they reached the door.
"There aren't too many of those left here for us," Ms. Perkins sighed, smiling sadly before she disappeared down the hall.
Adam watched her go, admiring the swing of her hips as she walked along the hall. But she was twenty years younger than him, not much older than his daughter Janie and it would be foolish to think the attractive music teacher had any interest in him beyond the bond of being teaching colleagues. She was probably feeling sentimental because their days together were numbered.
Adam enjoyed their association. Ms. Perkins had replaced the legendary Mr. Merton who had taught music and band for nearly forty years but Mert had already been forgotten by those who knew only of Ms. Perkins in recent years. Adam feared the same would be true of him as he turned and drifted back into his familiar art room.