|Like Eiderdown & Disendowers
Author: Whirlymerle PM
Dan knew it was wrong. Truly, he wasn't one to indulge in teacher-student fantasies. But Rebecca left him torn between his need to read her, and his desire to leave her with her mystery. Then again, he was a sucker for bittersweet tales. Formerly titled Beautiful Dreams, Twisted Realities. Reviews returned.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 19 - Words: 53,822 - Reviews: 987 - Favs: 76 - Follows: 105 - Updated: 04-30-13 - Published: 11-16-10 - id: 2865240
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Like a handicapped or decrepit knight errant, Dan took a couple of desperate, forlorn steps towards the door before stopping.
She had long disappeared from his view, but he knew Rebecca neared the lion's den with each tick of the clock.
"He really doesn't like you, does he?" Jen walked over to the whiteboard, establishing herself between him and his doorframe.
"I thought he didn't like you. Now you're going on friendly strolls with him?" he said. Before his eyes, he watched Jen smudge away a stray green dry-erase fleck with her thumb. Up front in his mind, he saw not for the first time how Rebecca melded with his most intimate dreams.
Jen shrugged. "I had to tell him I needed someone to fill in for my classes for when I'm out next Friday. Roge suggested I ask you. So I came by."
His students were almost young adults. They coveted independence and he respected their opinions and actions enough that he and his students did not stand on opposite banks of a wide, icy river. But Rebecca scheduled an appointment with Phelan a mere three days after escaping him. Understanding her rationale meant allowing her to drown herself in frigid water.
"So can you?" Jen pressed.
He blinked. "Yes, sorry. I have a free block period seven."
"Good, now that that's settled, tell me, what does Roge have on you? And don't give me that philosophical differences shit." The corners of Jen's mouth widened; she licked her lips like a hungry cat awaiting a juicy morsel.
Dan began packing away his folders. If he left his room soon, Jen could perchance get the hint and leave. "Are you going on that field trip with Doug's class next Friday?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Are you kidding me? I'm appealing a speeding ticket. Look," Jen steered the conversation away from the mundane, "Roge and I conflict on many levels, but he's not accusing me of unorthodox mingling with my students. That's possibly the worst way to accuse a teacher of being unprofessional."
"You've noticed," Dan said. Of course Jen would notice. He hunted for the stack of essays he misplaced.
"Next thing you know, he'll throw your name with Mary Kay Letourneau's around staff."
"Don't give him any ideas."
Jen snorted in derision. "Shouldn't you be somewhat worried? You're good with students, unmarried, not in a relationship as far as we know—"
"I'm a widower," he said. As soon as the words left his mouth, he wanted to punch himself. By using Sophie and her death as a shield to ward off rumors that weren't altogether false to begin with, Dan was besmirching the last pure, decent part of his integrity. He added quickly, "They're young enough to be my kids."
"True, but society's becoming increasingly perverse and the average parental age is skyrocketing— relax, Dan! I'm laying out the worst case scenario. You have a late pass here, by the way." Jen held up a bright yellow slip.
"Could you put that in my attendance folder, please?" He zipped up his work bag.
"Sure. But back to my point, he's planting a nasty seed, which is unfair first of all to Rebecca, you have to admit, and I want to know…" Her voice trailed off. "Oh good Lord."
He looked up. "What?" What now?
Jen held up his attendance sheet though Dan could not see what she was pointing at. "Rebecca. Elise. I'd pass it off as coincidence, but given how you were so keen to keep her away from Roge back there, I don't think that's the case."
"It could be just a coincidence," Dan muttered.
"Did you ask her if she's connected to anyone with the last name Carlson?"
"I was going to," he admitted, frustrated. "But then you and Roger came by."
"And if Elise Carlson was a friend or relative, were you going to give her your theory about Roge as a murderer?"
The tone of her voice planted the absurd imagery of Phelan standing outside the door with axe in hand. While Dan did not doubt Phelan's acting skills, he had a feeling cold blooded murder suited Phelan's tastes as much as it suited his. Still, this explanation made more sense than it didn't. "If I have adequate reasons to believe this is true," he said, "I think Rebecca deserves to know."
Jen closed the folder and handed it to him. "Dan," she said, face dubious, "she was my student too. Not unforgettable, though she was a nice girl. But unless you catch Roge with a pistol in hand, telling your student something like that is outright ridiculous."
"So you do believe that he's capable of being involved in someone's death."
Jen paused. Then she shook her head. "I believe—I know he's a nasty piece of work. But murder? That's a hefty accusation."
But she had no love for Phelan, and better to secure Jen's help now before caprice could alter her judgment. Dan unlocked his desk, took out the manila envelope Phelan gave him yesterday, and handed it to Jen. "Remember this from our workshop?"
He watched Jen as she took out the ribbons, as she, like him, uncovered the insidious gift enwrapped inside. Her face transformed from mild amusement to disgust and incredulity. "I've never heard of Elise Carlson until yesterday," said Dan, "and whatever happened to her is in the past. But Rebecca is my student, and I am concerned for her. I know Phelan is well capable of atrocity, Jen, please believe what I'm going to tell you."
It took him long enough to come to his senses. And yet as he spoke, Dan realized he was exchanging one burden for another. Fantastic murmurs reverberated in his head, accusing him of colossal betrayal.
Her hip sockets felt too big to be supported by shaky thighs.
"You look well, Rebecca," Phelan informed her once they entered the office. "Take a seat."
"I think I'll stand, thank you very much." Though the chair on the opposite side of his desk looked inviting enough, if she sat, she feared she would never get up again.
Phelan shrugged and motioned with an exaggerated wave of his hand for her to go towards his desk. He sank into his armchair. "I will sit; I'm sure you'd know firsthand that old bones have to rest more often."
Rebecca did not need to mull over his words to catch the bald inference. The contest had begun, and already, he'd set their verbal joust at a pace she could not match.
"Now, let me guess," said Phelan while Rebecca remained silent, "you feel irrevocably sorry for leaving my home, and now you're begging to come back."
Her knees felt too weak for shaky calves, but the sharp retort nevertheless smoldered in her mouth, demanding to be spat out. "Actually—" Rebecca began, but Phelan interrupted her.
"Or perhaps, you're looking for a schedule change?"
That took her by surprise. "Excuse me?"
Phelan rested both elbows on his desk and clasped all but his index finger so that he made an A with his hands. "Do you really want to stay in the class of someone who has an unnatural interest—a perverse interest, even— in you?"
Her feet felt too small to support a shaky body. Exhale, she reminded herself. "The only person who's ever had a perverse interest in me is you."
"Bad idea to jump to conclusions, sweet. See here, he doesn't want you out of his sight. He plays blatant favoritism by giving you A's when your writing isn't phenomenal in the least—you should know you can do better, my dear."
Her grade in English was not flawless. Better than history, worse than physics. But they were one of the few things Rebecca believed with her whole heart she earned. No teacher would give her an A if she didn't deserve one. She hoped. The one accomplishment Rebecca achieved was her consistent placement on the honor roll. She clung on to this source of pride as a lifesaver.
Phelan leaned forward. Rebecca watched the way his ironed navy blue suit creased when pressed against the edge of his desk; she did not want to be caught in his eager, predatory smile. "And let's not forget, he might think it wrong to sleep with you, but he's fond of groping you, isn't he?"
She tried to think, but her recollections were blurred and she feared Phelan had implanted false memories in her mind. "That's not true." Her whisper was hoarse.
"I've seen you two in my room Saturday night. Don't shake your head like that. I have cameras in every room of my house, my dear. At any given moment, I can watch you eat, sleep, bathe. Trust me, there's no pastime more amusing than playing Big Brother."
Her skeleton seemed to have disintegrated. Rebecca teetered and took a step back to steady herself. "You're disgusting."
"Signore Dante Alighieri was known as the master of the disgusting, and he's in many ways revered on the same level as Shakespeare. It's all a matter of perspective."
Perspective. She wasn't going to let him get her off track this time. "Fine," Rebecca snapped, "If we're talking perspective, here's one for you. You can call me stupid and young and immature, or that I don't have moral principles whatsoever, but you will make void the loan Thomas borrowed from you, or I'll go to the police about what you did to me."
She watched him for a reaction, but Phelan did not so much as twitch. His gaze was steadier than hers when their eyes locked, and without warning, he chuckled. "You're aware that if you follow through with your threat, you'd condemn yourself to become nothing more than a heartless, conniving, she-dog."
She up at him and mirrored her smile. "I can't go through all this and not take a leaf out of your book," she replied.
Phelan's smile remained on his face, in his eyes, and Rebecca forced herself to not dart away from his stare. "Resorting to blackmail to help an abusive relative is not laudable. But trying to be like me? I'm flattered."
"And you can continue to be flattered when you're locked away in prison," Rebecca snapped.
"The problem with your brilliant plan, honey, is that I can at any time raise enough suspicion to conduct, let's say, a drug search. And who knows what sort of concoctions might turn up in your locker? Marijuana, is easy, though cocaine adds flair, I think." He scratched his chin. "Then again, all last week, a certain Miss Arielle Lee had been quite vocal about your disappearance. I'm assuming she's a good friend of yours?"
Without warning, another one of her fraying lifelines snapped. Every inch of her skin prickled at the sudden sting.
"Now there's a bright girl," Phelan continued, "Never had her for English, but she's an absolute riot in AP Economics. It would be a shame for her to work so hard and get denied from Harvard or Princeton or Wharton if she were indicted for possessing drug paraphernalia."
"Leave my friends alone!" Shit. She'd thought herself stripped of all liability. Rebecca bit back her groan as she realized her mistake. But her words remained out in the ether.
An ugly leer flashed across Phelan's face, vanishing without a trace the next instant. He plowed on, "And then there's always poor, frustrated, darling teacher— at least he's replaceable. Pathetic, really. Like one of those old dogs limping around, with the mentality of a puppy." He made a tsk sound with his tongue. "Just waiting to be put down."
If Phelan's talk of Arielle had made her afraid, now anger laced Rebecca's fears. "He's one of the most decent people I know," she retorted.
"How sweet of you to hold him so high in your heart. It's adorable," he cooed, "But back to your threat. I don't have criminal records, my dear, I have charity records. Unless you manage to blow this up as a huge social issue— and frankly, even I can't engineer a way to do that—the police sides with me. If you're heartless enough to risk your friends' and teacher's wellbeing to get to that point, by all means, I commend you. But if you can't sell their lives to get a chance at destroying mine… You and Thomas better organize a payment plan, sweet."
She would not cry. She would not shed tears for her own naïveté. She would not weep for allowing Phelan to checkmate her. One could only undergo so much catharsis.
Phelan pushed his sleeve back to expose a gold wristwatch. "My faculty meeting's starting in five minutes. I'll accompany you out." He pushed his chair back, standing up.
"What do you have against me?" she blurted. If he saw her vulnerability, would he gloat and answer her in earnest? It didn't hurt to try.
Phelan's face was hard and inscrutable. "Nothing, my dear."
The longer Jen stayed silent, the more Dan became unsure of himself. Would he have believed all this, if he were in Jen's position? The truthful answer was hard to digest. At last, she said, "You followed her home and then brought her to your place?"
This was what she wanted to focus on? Not Phelan, not his bizarre party, but this? "Well—yes. But—"
Her usual vivacious face appeared stoic, detached from his pleas for her to see the point. "I'm not going to judge you for what you did. But if this gets out, that she's a female student and you're a male teacher is going to reflect badly on you."
"I don't think that's the most pressing concern right now."
Jen shook her head. "Yes it is. The problem is that the bit about your role in the story is a lot more plausible than the bit about Phelan's get-together. You might have tenure, but a misstep like that and it's going to be you who lose credibility—"
"So you're saying—"
"The bigger problem," Jen continued, cutting him off, "is that no matter how unjust this is, no way can we just phone the nearest police station. Look, I don't know and I don't want to know which of our friends were there with you. Boys will be boys and that means they'll do stupid things. But if there were even three faculty members present, then can you imagine the kind of uproar the school will get?"
There were definitely more than three faculty members present. And most like Dan, not knowing what they were in for.
"It's one student's future, against many teachers', Dan," Jen said gently. "If anything, it's best to ensure she keeps her lips sealed about all this."
The temperature of his room felt ten degrees colder. "So you're saying not only should we not help a girl who was forced into a form of sexual slavery, we should perhaps cut Rebecca's tongue out to protect the school and its faculty's reputation?"
Jen narrowed her eyes. "If I didn't know you better, I'd think you do have some ulterior interest in the girl. Her skirt did seem rather risqué, you know."
"My concern for Rebecca is no greater or less than my concern for any of my other students." He squared his jaw. "What you're suggesting is a violation of common morality."
"Dan, I've seen her just now. She asked to see Phelan—you heard! And listen to me, I believe you. I mean, after what you showed me? I'm not suggesting you leave her to Phelan and go home and sip brandy. I'm saying that if you're going to get involved, you're going have to play his game."
He grew up in a town where woods surrounded a population of three thousand. He went to a college known for its foliage in rural Ohio. For recreation, he fished or played baseball—poorly—before discovering literature. He didn't even want to learn the rules of Phelan's game, let alone play it. Dan shook his head. "I'll go and make sure Rebecca's all right." He made for the door.
Jen grabbed his elbow. "Be reasonable. If he ties her up and locks her in his office, the custodial staff will find her." She attempted a smile.
"You can't be joking about a situation like this."
"Oh damn you, Dan." Jen loosened her grasp and shook her head, exasperated. "Look, you stay here. I'll go and make sure Rebecca's all right. Even if you don't care about rumors floating around, you don't want her to get the wrong idea.
He stopped in his tracks. Didn't he make a resolution this morning to forever purge any licentious thoughts regarding Rebecca from his mind? To never again allow himself to step out of line under the pretense of aiding her interests? On top of all that, he had not even thought about Rebecca's perception of him. "Right. Thanks, Jen."
Brows furrowed, she crossed her arms. "Hey, this is a one time deal. And I mean what I said before: you'd best make sure your hide's safe before you worry about hers."
Better the sour taste Jen's words left in his mouth than refusing her present help.
Chapters 13 to 15 are still in need of major revisioning.
Lucky chapter 13 and update on leap day! Yes, it's special.
So yeah, another chapter where characters just blab on. I feel like I can't leave this stuff out, but my writing seems to be becoming increasingly dialogue driven. Merp. Is this a problem when you're reading? Does anyone have any tips for introducing action in a story that's not action driven?
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