The desks in his classroom were arranged in a U, like a horseshoe, and Rebecca sat up front. Always in Dan's 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, a low neckline. On those days, he paced between his whiteboard and the back of the room, to avoid standing over her.
"Nervous energy," he once informed his students. They thought he was joking, and he thought he agreed.
She drew his attention like an inexplicable sense of déjà vu, so that he paused to think 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. Though she contributed solid 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 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 one. For years, an abundance of time to himself allowed him to finish his work early, go to the gym twice a week, and watch more TV than he liked to admit. Since his most recent birthday, however, being alone sometimes overwhelmed him with thoughts of the purposeless rhythms of his life, distracting him from anything productive.
Blinking away his fatigue, he picked up Rebecca's essay, one of the last ungraded, from his shrinking pile. She was a great writer, and consistent across all her essays, but in Honors English great students fell somewhere in between the good and the brilliant.
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 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 Spanish 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.
She 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.
She liked him. He was everything anyone could ever want in a teacher: funny; sensitive; 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. For most people, the response was 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 had to stand straight and look up when Waters walked over to her, hands in his pockets. He was a head taller than her, with a slim build. She wondered how old he was. His graying temples betrayed age the way his smooth forehead and dark brows did not.
"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 Spanish 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. Which was probably for the best, Rebecca thought, considering Sarago had the teaching capability of a sex-ed video from the 80s.
But Waters could lecture about the most boring books and make them feel exciting in the moment. With the exception of the N-word, he read out loud the swears in the books, making the whole class giggle. She copied down everything he wrote on the board, even though his handwriting sucked. She just wished the books assigned were as fun to read when he wasn't around to explain them.
"Sure take a seat." As he walked back to his desk, he asked, "Are 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, though she wasn't sure if Waters would get it.
"PreCalc?" He made a face. "Now I can see why."
Rebecca grinned. She 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 up at his dopey smile. She looked down and noticed that he had cut his index finger on the page. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"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?"
"Sentences like this are just a little choppy." He pointed to a line from her essay.
"But really, it's very good," he said. 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.
"Is there any way I can revise it and have you regrade it?" she asked in a small voice.
"No," he said, and for a moment he sounded almost apologetic. "But I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. There's a lot of grades left in this year."
"Got it," 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 wish to review anonymously, it takes a few seconds to make up a rad codename and post your review. I'd be just as grateful!
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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