Some of you may vaguely remember this story from ages ago before I deleted all semblances of my past pen-name. I've integrated some parts of the old story into this one, but this one is pretty much entirely new in itself.
Stephanie Kruger sat down in the plush ergonomic chair and ran her hands over the smooth mahogany wood of her new desk. Sizing up her workspace, she opened the drawers and assessed the space available to her, and also discovered a neat little compartment directly under the body of the desk itself. Ooh, excellent for immediate retrieval of files in the case of back to back appointments.
"You're thinking like a robot again, aren't you?"
Steph looked up to see Darren Watson, the secondary counsellor, leaning against her doorframe with a sly smirk on his Australian face. She closed the compartment and sat up straighter in her chair, giving him an arch "what is it you want?" look. "Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't. Either way you've only known me for two weeks and I think that that's hardly enough time for you to establish a solid portfolio about my character."
The smirk transformed into an expression of incredulity. "Establish a solid portfolio about your character?" Darren echoed. "Have you recently swallowed a thesaurus – wait, no – a book of 'proper' words that make you sound like an uptight anal ass? Use colloquialisms! Talk like a normal person, for Chrissakes. You're never going to be able to break through the kids you want to with that kind of talking."
"We'll see." Steph got up and walked over to the filing cabinet already full of all the student files. "Where did you put the students who the last counsellor thought required most and immediate attention?"
"I think you meant to say, 'Darren, where'd you put the file of kids who Janie thought were most important?'" Darren walked over to where Steph was standing and rifled through the stacks of manila folders, and pulled out a fat folder with about five individual files in it. "Here you go. You're lucky she was so organised."
Steph nodded her thanks and took the folder with her to her desk where she sat down and put her reading glasses on. "You can't say 'most important'. All kids are equally important and if they ever hear you refer to them that way – especially the more fragile ones – it'll just shatter their self-esteem that little bit more, and that makes it harder for us to do our job."
"And that's why they hired you and didn't promote me." Darren leaned his weight onto the door handle as he turned back while leaving. "Need anything else, just holler."
"Thanks," Steph replied, as Darren flashed her a handsome smile and closed the door behind him. She leaned back into the chair and sighed, contemplating the files before her. Yes, this is what I wanted.
She had been employed by her former school after the old guidance counsellor passed away in a boating accident off Fiji during the mid-year school holidays. As a 26 year old, Steph had completed her post-graduate studies in Psychology and was working towards a possible Masters degree. Having previously worked part-time with Social Services, Steph had accepted the job as a chance to return to her roots, and since she'd always wanted to work with teenagers in the environment they spent most of their time in – their high school – Whitley College proved to be the perfect opportunity. But now, after having spent the last two weeks of the school holidays trawling through school records and meticulous notes left by her predecessor, Steph was all too aware of the twinges of regret, the thoughts of "what have I gotten myself into?" that plagued her incessantly.
"I can't quit now," she muttered to herself as she steeled her resolve and opened the folder. "I haven't even started."
"First day and they've already jumped you, huh?"
Mel shook the paper in disgust. "It can only mean one thing… there's a new guidance counsellor and they haven't lost my all important file so he/she/it is now out to watch over the ones who need most attention." Sighing, she re-read the slip of paper sent up to her classroom by the runner and blew out her cheeks.
Dom moved her arm off her book so he could copy her Math answers. "Hey, you haven't done question five."
"Don't know how to do it."
"Liar. Stop thinking about the stupid counsellor and do this question."
Mel narrowed her eyes and glared at him. "Even though you're my best friend and I let you copy my answers, don't even try to push it." She paid some attention to the textbook and scribbled down a formula. "Use that one."
"Ooh, genius. I love you," Dom exclaimed in glee as he put in the numbers and tapped away on his calculator. "Making me work for it, though, that's harsh."
The bell rang and Mel packed away her books quickly. She pointed to herself. "Gift horse," she said, and then pointed at him. "Watch your mouth. I'll catch you later."
Swiftly beating everyone else to get out of the room, Mel strode over to the Student Services building and opened the door, almost walking into someone in the process. "Sorry," she muttered, shouldering her way past the woman without seeing her, but catching a whiff of what smelt like very nice perfume as the two of them slid through the doorway in opposite directions. For the first time since she had first come across the jibe, Melissa surprised herself by not automatically thinking of the comment 'Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?' In fact, the woman had had an incredible scent to her, and Mel fleetingly wondered how come she'd never met her before.
Might be the new counsellor.
"Hi Mel," Mr Watson cheerfully greeted her when he saw her walking over. "What do you need?"
Mel shrugged. She liked Darren, he was refreshing and always managed to find some joke in any matter – however dry or random it was, but he was part of a group that she disliked intensely and found it hard to overlook that fact. She held up the slip of paper. "I've got an appointment with one of you. How come this thing never says?"
He shrugged. "It wasn't me. Miss Kruger probably called you up, she's been going through the 'special needs' file. You just missed her, too… I think Jonathan had a field day with her."
So it was the newbie I ran into. "Should you really be divulging that kind of information to me, and also calling a fragile, vulnerable teenager with no family 'special needs' for fear of lowering my self esteem that little bit more?" Mel grinned at him and sat down in his chair. "How were your holidays, Darren? Karen, the kids?"
"That's 'Mr Watson' whilst you're sitting in that chair," he replied, grinning right back. "And they were nothing special but Jason spoke his first words last week. Karen is a star, as always. Sometimes I think she might be a robot, the way we always get along."
"I hope you're not complaining."
Darren laughed, a loud hearty chuckle. He was about to reply when there was a knock on his door, and when Mel turned in her chair to see who the person was, she was struck dumb by the sheer hotness of the woman.
Dark red – auburn – hair, contrasted with a cream coloured long-sleeved turtleneck and dark grey dress pants, finished off with flat heeled shoes. Mel's eyes could have burned a hole through her sunglasses, the way she couldn't stop staring.
"Darren, you've stolen my eleven-thirty," the woman's quiet voice remarked. "I can hardly let you start making her laugh before I've had a chance to acquaint myself, can I?"
"Of course not," Darren responded. "Melissa, this is Miss Kruger, the new guidance counsellor. I believe I must release you from my prison now."
Mel nodded and stood, unconsciously drawing herself up straighter as she walked towards the door. She laughed to herself as a feeling of déjà vu ran through her, along with a keen sensation not unknown to her as she gave Miss Kruger another once-over.
The guidance counsellor was even more breathtaking up close, and the clothes she wore accentuated her body in all the right places. The turtleneck only just met the top of her pants, and a slit of midriff peeked through. The woman's fiery hair was windblown and swept back, and it added to her casual air. Is she a natural redhead? It looked like it to Melissa.
"H-hi," Mel uncharacteristically stumbled, the woman's dark green eyes smiling at her inquisitively. Along with her eyes, Mel saw that the woman's mouth had curled up slightly in amusement. She licked her suddenly dry lips and shouldered past Miss Kruger – again, the scent of her perfume lingering in her nose, and Mel glanced back. "I've never known a counsellor to be late," she said, in a bid to regain her carefully constructed sense of calm and complacency.
"I've never known a student to fail to be fashionably late," Miss Kruger countered, smirking, which flashed into a sudden smile, and for a while, all that filled Mel's mind was the white, almost perfect smile and she laughed at herself. "Why don't we continue this in my office?" Miss Kruger suggested, and opened the door and stepped aside to let Mel in first.