I packed, drove, and showered quickly so I could make the morning meeting on time. I wondered if April would be there now that she seemed close to being brought on as a full-time teacher. Hopefully she would be. I’d have to decide whether to sit next to her and breathe in her intoxicating floral scent or if I wanted to sit on the opposite side of the room so I could simply gaze. Or stare. Let’s face it — I would probably stare.
The room was half-full when I arrived with five minutes to spare. A few of the teachers looked up when I came in. Their faces registered surprise, clearly not expecting to see me back so soon. I got a few nods in my direction but no one spoke. Teachers aren’t usually morning people unless they’ve had their cup or two or six of coffee. Their silence made it evident that the liquid brown drug was not yet coursing through their bodies. Or that seeing me was a little awkward, considering the state I was in when they last saw me. I tugged on the collar of my shirt and ducked my head.
April was seated on the second row and seemed to be lost in a pile of paper on her lap. She was wearing a long-sleeve white button-up shirt, with the sleeves folded halfway up her forearm. Her skirt was black, and her hair was back in a ponytail. Her outfit brought to mind just about every teacher fantasy I had ever allowed myself to indulge in while growing up. Because her hair was pulled back, the pearly white skin of her neck was exposed. I was starting to have serious vampire thoughts.
I will kiss that neck, I told myself. More than once. I will.
I’d never promised myself that I would kiss the body of a married woman before, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. There was something about her neck that made me want to claim it. So Maniac Marco could go fuck himself for all I cared. Knowing what I did about him, he probably wished he could fuck himself. Arrogant prick.
I snuck my way into the third row and took a seat behind her, one seat over to her left. When I sat down, I felt like I had immersed myself in a field of lilies, her soft, sweet scent filling my nose and lungs.
Yeah, her neck is mine.
Among other things.
“Good morning,” I said, not wanting to stir her from her paper reading. But very much wanting to also.
She turned around.
“Oh, there you are,” she said with a sense of familiarity that made my nerves tingle. “Good morning back.”
God, all she had to do was smile and I swear I would have done anything she asked. Including commit serious crimes.
“Is this your first meeting?”
“No, I came to the meeting on Tuesday also.”
She lowered her head and her voice, “They are so much fun!”
This time I smiled. Sarcasm almost always made me smile.
“Why are you sitting back there?” she asked. “You’re dumb. Sit next to me.”
She patted the chair to her right and I went straight for it, like a dog being called to the side of its owner. There hadn’t even been a second thought, just an immediate response. Surely, anyone paying attention would have thought I was pathetic.
The meeting better start soon or I can’t be held responsible for what I do next.
“What are your thoughts on James Joyce?” she asked as more teachers shuffled in.
Her question caught my lily-obsessed mind off-guard.
“You’ve read him, yes?”
I could read the look on her face as she read the look on mine. I had never read him, and she could clearly read that on my face.
“Oh my God,” she said under her breath. I couldn’t tell whether she was mortified or repulsed.
“There are plenty of authors, April. I haven’t had a chance to get to them all!” I said, feebly trying to defend myself.
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “No. That doesn’t fly with me.”
My mind was trying to race through a list of authors I had read, ones I thought maybe she hadn’t.
“Well, what about Michener? Have you read him?” I asked.
She looked at me with a look of incredulity. And then she laughed.
“Are you asking me if I have ever read a Pulitzer Prize winner?”
“You’re going to have to try a little harder with me, Luke.”
God, I loved this woman.
“What about Joseph Conrad?”
“Heart of Darkness, Nostromo. Come on, Luke.”
The meeting started, and we had to stop. But my mind continued. I started compiling a list in my head of authors that I could try to use against her. I wasn’t about to lose this easily. I paid attention to nothing that was said during the meeting. A passing mention was made about my return, I think. But my mind was occupied.
As soon as we got out into the hallway and started our walk together to our classes, I picked up again where we had left off.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I read that in high school because I thought it would be particularly scandalous. It wasn’t what I expected.”
She actually stopped when I said his name.
“Any person worth a damn has read Howard’s End. Fact.”
I glanced around quickly to make sure no one was around to hear the damn. Thankfully, no one was on our end of the hallway.
“Less casual swearing in the hallway, ma’am. You don’t want to get fired before you even get hired.”
“Are you going to turn me in?” she asked, and I could have sworn she batted her eyes.
“No ma’am,” I said, knowing that even though I wasn’t a blusher, I was probably blushing now. She was sexy.
“There you go with that ‘ma’am’ shit again,” she said, putting very clear emphasis on the word shit. She wasn’t going to back down.
“Are you normally this defiant?” I asked, wanting to jump her right there in the hallway.
She shook her head, slightly.
“I guess you just bring out the best of me,” she said.
With that, she turned, and walked into her classroom, giving me a splendid look at her ass.
God, when did I become an ass guy? Better yet, when did I become the kind of guy who had the hots for a married coworker?
Classes may have started but that didn’t keep us from communicating. I felt a little childish for basically texting her as soon as I sat down at my desk.
I figured I could judge by the amount of time it would take her to answer whether or not she was looking the author up. Even if she had read it, if she took a while I would just assume so and hold it against her.
Her response was immediate.
I thought we already discussed you asking me about Pulitzer winners?
Dammit. Age of Innocence.
I needed someone who hadn’t received any significant awards. Time for a curveball.
Who? she asked. Then followed with, Jackie Collins? Do you take me for a reader of trashy novels?
No, not Jackie. Suzanne.
I’m not familiar with that name, she replied.
This time I was shocked.
If you tell the students that, they might lynch you.
Why? What did she write?
Oh, just this little series about games. And hunger.
The Hunger Games!
Oh God, she said. I think I knew that.
And you haven’t read the series??
No sir…you can’t judge me for not reading a book written for teenagers.
Sure I can, if you are working with teenagers. Which you are!
Well, that didn’t happen until just recently! Are you giving them your seal of approval?
How should I know? You think I’ve read them??
God, you’re such an ass. Stick with classics, Luke!
The bell chimed to let the students into the building.
I would have to look up some authors, books that I might have forgotten reading. Yeah, she was an English major also, but she hadn’t read every book ever written. I would find one.
And how was James Joyce the determining factor on whether or not I’m an imbecile??
H.G. Wells, I sent next, thinking perhaps science fiction wasn’t her forte.
A few of my first period students started making their way into the classroom.
“Hey, Mr. H!” a few of them simultaneously said.
One of my students, Warren Gold, stopped at the door, saw me, and shouted down the hallway, “Hey guys, Mr. Harper’s back!”
I wasn’t entirely sure if he was excited to see me, or warning everyone else that they needed to get to class on time and not expect a substitute again.
My phone vibrated.
Wells does not belong in the same category as the aforementioned names. But, I begrudgingly read War of the Worlds freshman year.
The bell to signify the start of class was about to ring,so I shot out one more name.
Maugham was my next attempt.
I had read Of Human Bondage in high school because I was bored and found it at the library. I was most definitely not a fan.
I HATE Maugham. Hate, hate, hate!
Wow…such strong feelings.
If you bring him up around me, I’ll spike you in the face with my heel.
Fair enough! Frequently bring up Maugham in your presence…
There will be serious consequences for breaking my rules, buddy!
Oh yeah? Like what?
You’ll see. Don’t underestimate me.
The morning flew by, thanks to movies and a texting partner that was as into the conversation as I was. My classes were all occupied watching videos, but I had no idea what she was doing over there that allowed her to be on her phone the whole time. I hoped she wasn’t interrupting class every two minutes to text me. I could just hear it now, kids wandering the hallways and lunchroom saying “Mrs. Batista and Mr. Harper texted alllll morning!” Then the glances would come from other teachers, then someone would inform the principal, and then pretty soon we would be called in for meetings and threatened with punishment if we continued this little texting game. I could try to convince them it was harmless. “It was an author game!”— I would say — but they would kick me out, fire me. I’d end up homeless, living out of my roller skate, begging Holly to take me in, along with her delinquent alcoholic of a brother. She would say family comes first, and I’d be stuck in my car until Marco eventually found me and shot me in the head. Or had one of his Cuban cronies do it for him. At my funeral, they would all be muttering “Supposedly it was just an ‘author game’… if you can believe that!” I’d be dead, and it would all be James Joyce’s fault.
Yeah, so maybe my mind can turn everything into the worst-case scenario. My mother was a worrier.
But, these thoughts of being murdered in my house-car stop us from talking. We continued the game, back and forth with authors we had read: London, Hughes, Achebe, Stein, Chesterton, Dostoevsky, Browning, Longfellow. On and on we went, and she seemed to have a story behind every author she was familiar with, every story she had read. I hadn’t met anyone who shared my love of literature to quite the extent that she seemed to.
As the lunch bell chimed and my class dismissed, she was immediately at my door waiting for me.
“You are a persistent man,” she said, smiling.
She was doing bad things to my mind. I was contemplating a throw down on the death couch with her, but if I was worried about texting getting me fired and killed, having sex with her in my classroom would probably achieve that end much more quickly.
“Can you blame me for trying?” I asked, getting up from my desk to meet her at the door.
“No,” she replied, “I’m just not used to someone so competitive.”
“Please,” I said as we began walking down the hall, “You are married to a professional athlete. I am fairly certain he’s competitive.”
“That’s different,” she said. “So, you need to read James Joyce,” she added, clearly wanting nothing to do with the fact that I brought her husband into the conversation.
“Okay. I will.”
“Yeah, tell me what to read and I will.”
“Okay. Well, you have to read Dubliners then. Short stories, mostly depressing.”
“Sounds like my kind of pleasure reading.”
“Oh shut up. You’ll love them. He’s my favorite author.”
“That’s a pretty bold statement coming from someone who has read so many different books.”
“I can be a fairly bold person.”
“I can see that,” I said, wondering why certain things she said gave me goose bumps — the good kind.
“So you promise you’ll read it?” she asked as we neared the lunchroom. The sound of the students waiting in line was almost as offensive as the smell of fried food wafting through the halls.
“I do. I’ll just have to hit up my local public library and find it. It’s probably covered in dust.”
She jabbed me with her elbow.
“I have two copies at the house. Come by after work sometime tonight and I’ll let you borrow one.”
“Are you sure your husband won’t mind if I stopped by?”
“He won’t be home.”
And with that, she smiled and walked into the lunchroom.