I pulled up to the school a few minutes later than I wanted to but my coffee machine decided to pick that morning, of all mornings, to decide that it was done. So I’d had to stop for coffee and wait in line at a drive thru that took way too long for a place that only sold coffee. Seriously, what was with people and their half cap, mocha frappe things anyway? What happened to good old coffee? I shook off my rant as I checked my lipstick.
I made it a point to dress up a little extra for the first day of school. I wouldn’t always be quite as fancy as I was that morning. Three inch heels weren’t my idea of comfortable. I much preferred my little ballet shoes with the amount of time I spent on my feet in a day. Teaching wasn’t a desk job for me. I was an animated teacher who demanded total participation from my students. My classroom was always buzzing with chatter and discussion. I knew enough to know that if you didn’t engage your students, you lost them. There were never any nappers in my classes. I engaged my students and preferred them to question me than accept everything I said on blind faith. To me, there was no such thing as a stupid question.
I reached into my purse and pulled out my cell phone to find that it was off. Shit. How had I not noticed my phone was off? I turned it on and found that I had half a dozen text messages and three voicemails waiting for me. The texts were all from Amelia wanting to know when I was going to be home on Saturday. We’d more than covered where I was since then. The second Eric was gone she was knocking at my back door, wanting all the details of what had happened.
We sat on my deck and I told her that I’d spent the night with Eric. She’d squealed and clapped like a retarded seal. She started singing that stupid song about Eric and me sitting in a tree and I wanted to slap her upside the head. Mostly, I tried not to blush furiously and let myself join in on her excitement. I didn’t want to jinx whatever was happening with us. I told her we had a date for a night later in the week and that I would be cooking him dinner. She’d fawned all over it and I could practically see her picking out china patterns in her head. Ever since she met Tray, she was on the fast track to getting all of her single girlfriends married so we could all have babies at the same time. It would be sweet if it weren’t so damn annoying.
After my relationship with Quinn, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to jump back into something serious so soon. I had it in my head that being single was probably a good idea, at least for a little while. It’s not that I was holding out hope for getting back together. I was over it. I just thought it might be good to get reacquainted with me. I’d spent a lot of time trying to be the me that Quinn wanted that I lost a little bit of myself because of it. I needed to get that part back before I could go giving away more pieces to someone else.
I dialed into my voicemail and wasn’t at all surprised to find the first was from Amelia. The second was from my mother, wanting to know if I was excited about the first day of school. Then the third was from Eric. He had something important to tell me and he wanted me to call him back. He’d called in the early afternoon the day before. I saved his message, though I couldn’t really say why when I deleted the others, and then looked at the clock on my phone. It wasn’t quite seven in the morning yet. It was definitely too early to call. I was free third period. By then it would be about 9:30, which would be a more than acceptable time to call him. Well, assuming he wasn’t on bar duty the night before. I groaned with frustration and started toward the school.
I preferred parking near the theater on the south side of the school because it would be that much easier to get away from it later in the day. I was usually at the school from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon, sometimes later. Once Poms started in a few weeks, I would be there until closer to six on practice days. I reached into my purse to retrieve my keys that would let me into the building when a flash of white and gold caught my attention on the track that encircled the football field.
I stopped outside the chain link fence and watched a very tall, very familiar figure round the curve at the end closer to the Field House. It didn’t take me long to figure out who was running toward me. Eric. What the hell was he doing at the high school? Did he go running here every morning? That was certainly a perk to waking up and going to work that I hadn’t been expecting. I could see the stain on his shirt from the sweat that was pouring off of him and I wondered how long he’d been running for.
Then his eyes met mine and he looked scared. He slowed from his run to a jog, and then to a walk when he got closer to me. I stepped closer to the fence, curious as to what he was doing at the school aside from the obvious. Sunlight to my right was blinding me, causing me to squint at him as he approached.
“What are you doing here?” The words came out a bit harsher than I intended them to.
Eric looked at his feet with guilt written all over his face. “I left you a message. I didn’t want to tell you like this. I should have told you on Saturday.” He started to apologize.
“For the love of God, you better not be a student.”
Eric laughed and said, “No, I’m definitely not.”
I failed to see the humor in the situation. “So?”
“I, uh, I’m a teacher. Today’s my first day.” He came right out with it.
“You’re a teacher?” I looked him up and down. He sure didn’t look like any teacher I ever had in high school. “What do you teach?” If he says history, I’m going to faint.
“PE. I’m going to be coaching basketball this winter.” He kept his face blank.
“So you’re the friend Pam was talking about?”
“That’s me.” He nodded.
I sucked in a deep breath and prepared to let him have it for keeping this from me but then decided there wasn’t a whole lot of point. What did it really change? We wouldn’t be working in the same department. He wasn’t my boss. Other teachers dated other teachers. So long as they maintained a professional relationship during school hours, there would be no cause for complaints from the school board.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I was curious as to why he’d kept it a secret from me, more than anything.
“I didn’t tell you when Pam was around because Pam has a tendency to run her mouth, and I wasn’t in the mood to hear it from her right then. You still seemed pretty iffy about staying and I didn’t want Pam to run you off.” Eric explained to me. He stepped closer to the fence and linked his fingers around the chains. “I didn’t mean to hide it from you, though. I wanted to tell you yesterday.”
“I forgot to turn my phone on. I was busy with stuff around the house.” I exhaled slowly and shifted the bags on my shoulder carefully so as not to spill my overpriced coffee down the front of my freshly dry cleaned shirt.
“Look, I understand if us working together is a deal breaker.” Eric looked sad at the prospect, and I felt a twinge in my chest at the idea of us having a strictly professional relationship.
We’d already slept together, so the chances of us really being able to be ‘just friends’ when we knew we had chemistry were about zero. I thought it over for a moment before I gave him an answer, just to let him know that I didn’t appreciate his little omission.
“We won’t be working together, Eric.” I looked him right in the eyes. “We work in two completely different departments in different parts of the school. I’m willing to bet we won’t even see much of each other. We need to set some boundaries if this is going to work, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
I surprised myself with how calm I was being about the whole thing. A little voice in the back of my head told me that if it were anyone else, I wouldn’t be so calm. There was something about Eric that made me see things differently. That, and it was hard to imagine how I was going to maintain any sort of professionalism if he was going to be jogging around the track like that every single morning when I arrived, knowing I wouldn’t have an outlet for the energy he stirred up in me.
“So we’re still on for dinner?” Eric looked at me hopefully, a small smile on his face.
When I looked away from him in attempts to draw it out a little further just to punish him a little, one of his fingers reached out through the links in the fence and touched the back of my hand that was curled around my coffee cup. I felt sparks shoot through my veins and every single cell in my body came to life. My eyes jerked back toward his. God, he looked sexy standing there. I bit my lower lip to hold back my smile.
“You know you’re very pretty when you’re angry with me, Miss Stackhouse.” Eric said in the sexiest tone I’d heard him use yet.
My knees shook just a little. It was so unfair he could do that with just a slight touch of hand and a lower register of voice. Now was not the time for my panties to melt away and if I stood there for much longer, that was exactly what was going to happen.
“Thank you, Coach.” I teased him right back, and his eyes hooded over in a lusty sort of way that made me want to abandon all the rules that we hadn’t even put in place yet so I could jump him.
“So, dinner?” He stroked the back of my hand. It really sucked to know what those fingers were capable of when I couldn’t experience it all in that moment.
“Yes, dinner. How about tomorrow?”
“I’ll be there.” He smiled at me and then backed away from the fence.
I nodded and smiled at him before continuing on my way into the building. I paused for just a moment at the door to watch him run down the straight away. I shook the image from my brain and then let myself inside the school. It was going to be a very long day.
My first two classes went well. I taught World History to a crop of nervous freshmen who were still learning how to navigate the halls and master the locks on their lockers. I liked teaching world history because it gave me the opportunity to discuss the global view of American culture and the way we are seen through the eyes of others. My class discussed everything from the ancient lands of Mesopotamia up through the catastrophe of September 11th and the resulting war in Iraq. We covered it all and even had the chance to talk religion.
I was raised a Christian but the point of the discussions wasn’t really so much about our own beliefs but in how the beliefs of a group of people shaped their lives. Certainly it could be said that religion had a profound effect on the settling of America just as much as it caused problems in Ireland. There was the debate between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East and of course, there was also the Crusades. Religion will always be a hot button issue and I found it fascinating that I was able to open the eyes of young minds to the various belief systems around the world.
I spoke to my students with excitement and touched a little on all of the things we’d be talking about throughout the course of the year. I explained to them my policies on homework and test taking. I wasn’t very good at being “by the book” when it came to most things. I didn’t try to come up with fancy trick questions and when I asked them to write essays, I was more concerned with what they took away from their reading than being able to quote back passages of a book to me.
“I’m here every morning at seven. I’m here until at least four and I will stay later if you need the help. All you have to do is ask for it.” I told them all.
On Fridays I liked to switch gears and discuss current events in the world. Every single thing that happened was historical. Most events don’t have as much of an impact as some things, but anything was up for discussion. Communication was what mattered to me more than the subject matter itself. Besides, I noticed if you give kids that age an open forum to speak freely, you’d be amazed at how a conversation can evolve. The previous year we’d started by talking about the ban of social networking sites on school computers and that evolved into a debate about gay marriage.
When my free period came up I headed to the cafeteria to see if there was any chance of the food being better than it was the year before. I sighed with disappointment and ended up raiding a vending machine for a bag of Sun Chips. It wasn’t much but it would keep me going until lunchtime. The cafeteria was in the basement so when I came up the steps, I passed one of four sets of doors that led out to the football field. I paused when I saw Eric dressed in a pair of jeans and a Duke t-shirt. He was standing on the field talking to his class. Every single girl was staring at him with adoring wide eyes. I knew exactly how they felt.
I felt myself flush and a twinge in my chest. Jealousy reared its ugly head. I had no reason to be jealous of those girls, other than they were talking to him right then and I wasn’t. Eric didn’t strike me as the sort who got involved with students, although that seemed to be a scary trend that had developed over the last few years. Kids were growing up too fast and adults were failing to see that they were still children.
I leaned into the door and started snacking on my chips. I watched as Eric tossed his head back to laugh at something and I couldn’t help but smile at the sight. The sun was shining down on him, and with his hair loose like it was, he looked a bit like a God. I bit the inside of my lip and cursed myself for it.
“Son of a-” I didn’t finish that when I remembered I was on school property. Footsteps behind me alerted me I wasn’t alone.
I turned to see Bill Compton, the American history teacher, coming up the steps. “Sookie, hello.” He smiled warmly at me.
“Bill, it’s nice to see you.” I was polite to him as I could be. “How was your summer?”
“Quite well, thank you. Lorena and I took a trip down to Mississippi to see her family.”
“That’s nice.” I nodded.
“Did you make it home this summer?” Bill stood a little too close to me for my liking.
He was also from the south and he seemed to think that was reason enough for us to be best buddies. You know, us Confederates need to stick together since the war isn’t over, or anything. I bit back the sigh I wanted to let loose and forced my eyes to stay on his instead of rolling like they wanted to.
“I did, as a matter of fact. My brother got married this summer, so I spent a few weeks in Louisiana.” I explained.
Bill went on to talk about the time he and his wife had spent with her family before reaching into his wallet to retrieve the newest pictures of their son. Lorena had given birth to a baby boy the previous winter. He was a cute little thing but he ceased to be adorable when pictures of him were forced in your face every damn day. Every time I ran into Bill he had a new picture to show me. There’s parental pride and then there’s obsession. Bill was very easily obsessed with his child. I wanted to punch him. If he told me one more story about how cute little Billy was, I might not have a choice but to let my fist have what it wanted.
I looked out the window toward the football field at just the right moment and found that Eric was looking back at me. I saw a flicker of a smile and I raised my hand just a little to acknowledge that I’d seen his gesture. A little chill ran up my spine when he nodded at me. I got so lost in what I was doing that I didn’t hear Bill’s question.
“Sookie?” Bill pulled me from my thoughts.
“Sorry.” I shook my head and laughed at myself. “What were you saying?”
“I was wondering if you’ll be coaching Poms again this year?”
“Oh! Oh, yes, yes I will.” I was still a bit flustered and all I got was a nod and a smile? Shit. I needed to get it together, and fast. “We’ll be holding try outs for that in the next week.”
I could have slapped myself then, since that was what I should have been working on instead of listening to Bill prattle on about his baby and watching Eric out on the football field. I made excuses to Bill as to why I had to get going, and headed back to my classroom to get some work done. Not at all to my surprise, Bill followed me back to the C-10 area where the history class department was. I heard the steady footfall of him behind me as my heels clickety-clacked their way back to my classroom.
“Sookie, could we have lunch sometime?” Bill asked out of nowhere.
I spun around on my heel and nearly lost my balance. Sun chips went flying every which way and Bill’s arm shot out to help me get steady. I pulled away quickly and smoothed out my skirt just to keep my hands busy. His question caught me completely off guard. I didn’t really know what to say but since my southern manners required a response I said the only thing a polite woman could say.
“Sure, Bill, that’d be fine.” I gave him a smile and a nod and then hauled ass to my classroom.
I made a note for myself to track down Claudine Crane, a teacher in the home economics department, and coach of the cheerleading team so we could coordinate try outs for the squads. I had an idea of who would most likely be returning from the year before but there were always a few fresh faces that wanted a chance to get on the squad. Not to mention, I’d lost a whole crop of girls when they graduated. The try out process could be a bit difficult to stomach. I hated that it had to be such a cutthroat experience but I didn’t have time to help mediocre dancers develop.
Thankfully, the bell rang to end third period and I prepared myself for a fresh batch of freshmen. My fourth period class had to break in the middle for lunch and then we regrouped for the second half afterward. This would present a problem on test days. I hated it when my schedule got split like this but it wasn’t as if I had a choice in the matter. Although I always had the option of signing passes to send the kids to lunch a period late if I wanted to. I kept that in mind for a later date.
I was free again during eighth period but I was supposed to be assisting monitoring study hall, so that’s where I headed with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder. I got down to the dingy old room to see row after row of desks set up. I found an open table to sit at and took a seat in the back. I was there mostly to sign passes for anyone who wanted to leave to go up to the library, computer lab or the bathroom. I’d just gotten my laptop going when the chair beside me pulled out. I cringed at the possibility that it might be Bill coming to sit next to me. I really didn’t want to spend the next fifty minutes sitting that close to him.
But then a finger grazed my forearm. A chill ran up my spine and my eyes squeezed closed. Without even looking to my left I knew who was sitting next to me. I fought hard not to smile at the realization and all my hard work went right down the drain when Eric leaned over to whisper in my ear.
“Well, well, Miss Stackhouse, fancy meeting you here.” His lip grazed my ear, he got so close.
I was afraid to look over at him but I couldn’t help myself. “You’re assigned to be here?” It came out bitchier than I wanted. “I mean-”
“I know what you mean.” Eric smiled at me and it took everything I had in me not to climb on his lap and kiss him. “Yes, it seems the fates have put us together for the next fifty minutes.”
I cleared my throat quietly and looked away from him as a blush crept up my neck. “I think you should know I was invited out to lunch today.”
“Really?” Eric silently moved his chair closer to mine. “Should I be worried?” He was teasing me.
I cheated a glance over my shoulder. Suddenly his fingers were ghosting up my back and I found it very hard to breathe. “I don’t think so.”
“I saw you watching me.” His breath fell warm on my ear and neck as he whispered to me. “You made it hard for me to concentrate.”
I sucked my cheeks to keep from giggling. “I bet I did.”
The study hall monitor began to take roll call and I tried to remember what projects I planned to work on before Eric sat down next to me. This could become a real problem once I had papers to grade and discussions to prep for. His fingers continued to stroke my back gently and the goose bumps that broke out as a result refused to go away. If I thought sitting next to Bill for fifty minutes was going to be torture, sitting next to Eric for that long was even worse. His hand never left my back. He sat there stroking me gently while reading the newspaper. All I could do was stare at the clock and pray for the strength not to drag him from the room and attack him in a dark hallway.
When the bell rang he leaned over and whispered in my ear one last time. “I look forward to seeing you later, Miss Stackhouse. You have a lovely afternoon.” His lip grazed my ear again and he was gone.