One

The desks in his classroom were arranged in a U, like a horseshoe, and she sat up front. Always in his field of vision if he glanced down while teaching. He saw one part of hair tucked behind an ear, the other sweeping down on her desk. He saw ready smiles and bitten frowns. Sometimes, he saw a low neckline; it sent him pacing, sometimes.

"Nervous energy," he once informed his students. They thought he was joking, and he thought he agreed.

She drew his attention like an illusion working at the corners of his eyes, so that he turned his head but could not place why. He thought her beautiful, but in the way all young men and women were beautiful, radiant with the possibilities of their youth. She was a great writer and critical thinker, but in Honors English great students fell between the good and the brilliant. And though she made thought-provoking insights during discussions on To Kill a Mockingbird, she seemed like the quiet sort, fading into the sea of her peers the way a dandelion fragmented into a breeze.

She was a girl who could be his daughter, and she crossed his mind more often than she crossed his path.

He thought her endearing the way hardworking students were. He thought himself dedicated as only a teacher could be. He thought motivated young people were deserving of appreciation. And yet.

And yet, whenever he saw her he didn't think about how endearing or motivated she was. He saw the way she brightened. And when she did she made him feel as if he were the only person who could keep her aglow. And then she was beautiful like Antigone was beautiful, like tragedies were beautiful, like the fall.

Rebecca was a story, a story that left Dan torn between his desire to read her, and his need to leave her with her mystery. Within him stirred a curiosity untempered and irrational, but then again, he was a sucker for bittersweet tales.

.~.*.~.

Dan rubbed the callus on his thumb where his pen rested when he marked papers. The hour hand of his wall clock struck between one and two, and he wondered how he had squandered his time. Blinking away his fatigue, he picked up one of the last ungraded essays in his shrinking pile. It was no longer or shorter in length than any of the other ones, better written than many, but not flawless.

Fighting a yawn, he picked up his pen and began writing. Rebecca, this is great work. I found it fun and enlightening. However— he knew Rebecca strove for the best, but the papers he'd given A's to made stronger analyses in more eloquent vocabulary. I wanted a little more from your body

The desk lamp glared down at the page, spilling yellow light. Dan squinted, rereading his comment. —paragraphs. He pressed down ruthlessly and the ink bled onto the page. But good work, nonetheless. If you want any help, feel free to come after school. A-.

Dan circled the grade and put it on top of the stack of graded essays. He decided to read the last two in the morning, over oatmeal.

It seemed like eons since he last got into a bed where warm arms waited to hold him, regardless of how odd the hour of night, where he fell asleep musing to thoughts more beautiful than his own. Yet every night, memories of smothered giggles and sleepy sighs, sweet nothings and serendipitous tangents burned afresh in Dan's mind. Every night, he climbed into the right side of his bed, hoping his wife might be with him in his dreams.

.~.*.~.

Rebecca realized on the second of three flights of stairs that she forgot to tell Hannah to tell Coach Van Doren she was going to be late to practice. She recalled the Latin exam she had yet to make up, the present she needed to get for Arielle's birthday, and the jug of milk she forgot to put back in the fridge after breakfast, which might very well have soured by this time.

It was a Thursday, which meant she was running on five hours of sleep for the fourth day in a row. Rebecca blamed the SATs. She blamed her future.

Rebecca tried not to breathe too heavily when she made her way up to her English classroom. From the door she peered inside. The place was empty but for her teacher sitting at his desk. She'd always liked the near vacant state of the building after three in the afternoon, when the comprehensive frenzy of 1,000 students studying, stressing, slacking, snacking no longer choked the air. When she was alone she could pretend the school was hers.

"Mr. Waters?"

She liked him. He was everything anyone could ever want in a teacher: sensitive; humorous; mature; so nice and not at all intimidating.

"Hi Rebecca, how are you?"

"Good. And you?"

How are you was the pinball of etiquette, Rebecca thought. The first person shot it at the second, and then it got flipped back. Most people learned to make it reflex. But Waters liked to pause, as if he listened and thought about it, even though all he said was, "Fine, thank you. What can I do for you?"

She wished she could be that considerate.

She had to look up when Waters walked over to her. If she stood straight and he tipped his head, the gap between them narrowed to less than a foot. Yet his slim build meant he never intimidated and Rebecca herself possessed an athletic roundness from a healthy appetite and track and field, and people who knew how to run learned first how to stand their ground.

"I have a couple of questions about my essay, if that's okay with you." She held and mirrored his smile.

She liked his class. And not in the way her classmates liked Mr. Sarago's class. Sarago, Rebecca's twenty-four year old Latin teacher and assistant track coach was, by popular consensus, hot enough that his female students could stare into his dream-green eyes, mentally tear off his shirt, picture the eight-pack beneath, and forget they were in class at all. Never mind that he possessed the teaching capability of a brick. Learning from his lectures was like trying to build a mansion from plastic construction tool toys. Rebecca would take Waters, whose graying temples betrayed his age the way his smooth forehead and dark brows did not, whom she could never imagine half naked, any day.

"Sure take a seat." As he walked back to his desk, he asked, "You all right? You sound a little...rushed."

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, face warming. "Um, I just walked up here from PreCalc, that's all." The math classrooms were located on the first floor. The joke was that mathematicians were inherently lazy.

"PreCalc?" He made a face. "Now I can see why."

She grinned. He had not made it a secret that he wasn't good at math. Rebecca pulled up a chair and sat down, crossing her legs.

"What is it about the body paragraphs of my essay that you wanted more of?" she asked, offering her essay to him. There was one more paper left in the term and she had been a point away from a solid A average.

There was the sound of paper sliding past skin. Rebecca blinked. She opened her eyes to his dopey grin. She looked down and noticed that he had cut his index finger on the page. "Sorry," she muttered.

"That was all me," he said. Rebecca glanced at him curiously, but he focused on thumbing through his markups. "You have a well developed thesis. You just need to flesh out each of your points a little more specifically. For example, what makes each of these characters mockingbirds? What does it say about them?"

"Right."

"Look at this. It's just a little choppy." He pointed to a line from her essay.

"Right."

"But really, it's very good," he said, and for a moment he sounded almost apologetic.

Very good was not good enough, not with one more term to turn things around, not with a B+ first term and an A- now. "Thanks," she said.

When she got up to leave, Rebecca swung her backpack over her shoulder and hit one of the chairs stacked up on the desks.

"Oh." Her throat constricted. What words managed to come out were squeaky high like an out of tune piccolo. "My bad!"

"It's fine. I got it," he said, standing up to fix the chair like she hadn't nearly made it crash on the tiled floor.

She darted out in short, quick steps and did not look back.


Hello there dear reader!

This story is my pet and baby and I hope you've enjoyed this reading.

Please, please leave a review telling me what you think. My story has been altered like the ship of Theseus, so I'm constantly in need of constructive criticism; it would mean so much. I return all reviews over one line (200 characters) long. If you plan on becoming famous one day and would rather not see your username associated with the lame person that is me- it takes two minutes to log out, make up a rad codename, and post your review anonymously. I'd be just as grateful!

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If interested, I do have a statement of purpose for this project in the very last chapter (Acknowledgement & Author's Note). Long story short: there are enough hot, young teachers with rock-hard abs strutting around Fictionpress to make up entire generations of Cosmo centerfolds for me to add to the population.

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