Getting schooled, p.21
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       Getting Schooled, p.21

           Emma Chase
 
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  Big, diamond tears spill from her eyes, and she smiles so big at me. Like I'm the only thing she sees, the only thing that matters. And, Christ, that's a rush. I feel drunk . . . dizzy on her happiness.

  "I want that, Garrett. I want you to come with me. I want to live with you, love you, every day until forever. I want that more than I have ever wanted anything in my whole life."

  I brush her cheeks again, wiping away all her tears, and I kiss her lips.

  "Then you got it, Callie."

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Garrett

  "I can't believe you're not going to be teaching here next year. My whole graduation aesthetic is totally destroyed," Nancy whines, tapping on her phone.

  In the weeks after opening night, word gets around town pretty fast about my and Callie's moving plans. It doesn't go over well with the kids.

  "This blows. Who's gonna keep us in line?" Reefer asks.

  I point at him from my desk chair. "You're going to keep yourselves in line."

  "Yeah, right," he scoffs, "like that'll happen."

  "I don't have to worry about that." David Burke smirks. "Miss McCarthy's so far up my ass it's a wonder I can stand up straight."

  And I can tell by the way he says it that he really doesn't mind at all. Kids are complicated little bastards. They may revolt and push back against it, but deep down, even if they don't realize it, they want to be watched over.

  "Who's gonna give a shit about us?" Dugan asks.

  "Every teacher in this building cares about you guys."

  "Not like you."

  "Yeah, you're right--I'm pretty awesome." I smile. "But just remember what I told you--don't be idiots. You remember that, and you'll be okay."

  "You're gonna forget about us. Go off to California and coach some other kids." DJ frowns. "Dicks."

  They all pout and give me the sad puppy dog eyes.

  And I admit it--they get to me.

  "I'm gonna come home to visit. DJ--I'm gonna still be checking out the games, and if you guys aren't kicking ass and taking names, you're gonna hear about it."

  Still not good enough.

  So I cave, and offer to do something I swore I never would.

  "All right . . . I'll join Facebook. You guys can all friend me."

  Nancy bites her lip and laughs.

  "Coach Daniels . . . no one's on Facebook anymore, except our parents." She shakes her head. "Old people are so cute."

  ~

  Callie

  "Hey, Cal!"

  I stand in the bedroom near the open window with the warm, June breeze wafting in from the lake--watching a flock of geese land on the sun-scattered jewels of the water. The last few weeks have been busy--there's been so much to do. I turn and look around Garrett's bedroom. It's almost completely packed up. The top of the dresser is empty and the walls are bare, a tree-high pile of boxes stacked neatly in the corner.

  And it makes me . . . sad.

  I don't understand it. There was so much joy the night Garrett told me he was moving to San Diego with me. But the next day, and every day since, it feels like I'm walking around with a heavy gray blanket covering me. Every movement feels weighted and hard.

  "Callie!" Garrett calls me again from downstairs in the kitchen.

  My footsteps are sluggish as I walk down to him, and I chalk it all up to the packing and busy days--they've tired me out.

  Garrett stands in front of the open cabinet doors. Those gorgeous muscles in his arms flex tight beneath his short-sleeved Lakeside Lions T-shirt as he reaches up, taking plates down from the shelves. He wraps them in newspaper, with those strong, graceful hands.

  And something trips . . . tugs in my chest . . . as I watch him put them in the box.

  Garrett catches the look on my face.

  "Hey--you okay?"

  "Yeah." I smile--but I have to force it. "What's up?"

  "We need more boxes. I was going to make a run to Brewster's Pharmacy and grab some."

  Woody's big furry paws pad into the room, smelling my shoes.

  "I'll go. I'll take Woody for a walk."

  Garrett leans over and kisses me. "Okay."

  I grab Woody's leash and load him into Garrett's Jeep, and drive over to Main Street, parking a few blocks from Brewster's.

  I walk Woody up the street and down the blocks, passing The Bagel Shop and Zinke Jewelers, that old haunted house on Miller Street, Mr. Martinez's furniture store and Baygrove Park. They're rebuilding after the fire--with newly planted trees and landscaping, and a big, bright, colorful swing set. I pass Julie Shriver, pushing her daughter in a stroller--she gave Miss McCarthy notice that she's not coming back to teach at the high school and has gone the way of my sister into full-time, stay-at-home motherhood.

  Simone Porchesky's little brother rides past me on his bike, calling, "Hi, Miss Carpenter!"

  "Hi," I call back.

  But still, that sadness, the melancholy fills my chest like heavy sand.

  By the time I walk back up Main Street, two hours have passed. I look to the left and see Ollie Munson, sitting in his chair on the lawn, waving to cars as they go by. Woody sticks his black puppy nose against Ollie's sneaker and he pats his head.

  I move closer. "Hey, Ollie."

  He smiles, but doesn't make eye contact.

  "Do you think . . . would it be okay if I sat here with you for a while?"

  He nods. And I sit down next to his chair on the grass. The muscles in my legs loosen and relax now that I'm off my feet. For a few minutes I gaze around and see the world the way Ollie sees it.

  And I get it--I get how this can be fulfilling for him. Because Lakeside is a pretty interesting place to watch--its own little universe of people, woven into each other's lives, all different but still the same. I hear Garrett's words in my head--something he said to me once--in that steady, confident voice.

  Growth is painful; change is hard.

  And life-changing decisions are scary. It's easier to cling to the path that's already there. To the plan we know and have already pictured for ourselves.

  But sitting here on the grass next to Ollie, looking as this little town that I know so well hums and buzzes around us--I don't feel scared. I feel safe. Welcome. I feel known and cared about. I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. I think about my students--Michael, who's so smart and kind, and Layla, who's like a butterfly--just starting to come out of her cocoon. I think about Simone, whose hard exterior protects so much sweetness inside, and . . . David. My stomach shifts and emotions swirl around in my chest like a hurricane.

  But then the whirlwind stops. And everything inside me slides into place. And it feels peaceful. It feels right.

  A smile comes to my face--a real smile--and energy suddenly bubbles in my veins. Because I know what's been wrong with me these last few weeks. And I know what to do now--exactly how to fix it.

  I stand up, brush the grass off my butt, and grab Woody's leash.

  "Thanks, Ollie," I tell him. "Thank you so much."

  For the first time in my life, Ollie Munson meets my eyes. His are calm and knowing.

  Then a passing car beeps its horn, and Ollie turns away and waves.

  ~

  I march up the front walk and spot the For Sale sign marring the perfect house. And it looks fucking terrible--wrong. I yank the sucker out of the lawn and throw it in the bushes.

  I go in the front door and unhook Woody from the leash.

  "Hey, you were gone a long time," Garrett says, setting the box in his hands on the dining room floor with a dozen others. "I was just going to come looking for you."

  "Stop. Stop packing." I shake my head. "I don't want you to come to San Diego with me."

  The dark-brown eyes that I have loved since I was fourteen years old crinkle with confusion.

  "Babe . . ."

  "I want us to live here. I want to quit the Fountain Theater Company and be a teacher. I want to be . . . your wife." I step closer to him. "I want us to have babi
es and raise them in this house. I want to teach them to fish and ice skate on the lake, and push them on the new swings at Baygrove Park. I want to take them to The Bagel Shop every Sunday and wave to Ollie Munson every single day."

  "Callie . . . slow down." He rests his hands on my shoulders, squeezing. "This is a big deal. Have you really thought about this?"

  I move closer, swinging my arms around his neck, pressing my body against his.

  "I don't need to think anymore. This is right, this is real, this is what I want."

  "But your job . . ."

  "Managing the Fountain Theater isn't my dream anymore. They don't need me, Garrett. Not really. But our school, these kids, they need me . . . and I need them."

  I shake my head, because the words stutter in my throat, and I'm not explaining it right. How sure I am.

  "The night I got the call from Colleen, when she told me about the accident, I looked at Bruce and Cheryl and do you know what I said?"

  "What?"

  "I said, I have to go home. This is home, Garrett. It's always been home to me; I just forgot. But I know now. I could live anywhere with you and be happy--but if I can choose where that is, I want it to be here. I want our life to be here--you and me--together, in our home."

  I know him well enough to see the relief that lights up his face--the joy. And I know, deep down, this is what he wants too.

  Garrett hugs me in those strong, solid arms and my feet leave the floor. Then he sets me down, holding my face in his beautiful hands and my future--our future--in his eyes.

  Epilogue 1

  Mrs. Coach D

  Callie

  Garrett and I met the first time in the fall, and we reunited in the fall . . . so it's fitting that we get married in the fall too. He proposed on a sunny, summer Sunday, while we were on his bass boat, in the very middle of the lake . . . with the same ring he bought me all those years ago. After I said yes and Garrett slid that beautiful ring on my finger, I rocked his world--both our worlds--literally.

  I flung myself into his arms so fast, the boat capsized.

  But even when we fell into the water . . . Garrett didn't stop kissing me.

  When we eventually came up for air, he offered to replace the diamond with a bigger stone, but I shot that idea straight down. My ring is perfect, just the way it is.

  Picking the location for the wedding wasn't as easy. Garrett wanted to get married on the fifty-yard line on the high school football field.

  Yes--really.

  Because he's a guy, through and through. A quarterback, so to him, the football field will always be a sacred place. I wanted to get married in a beautiful old theater about an hour away--because--guilty as charged--I guess I'll always be the theater girl who loves the lights and smell of the stage. We toy with the idea of getting married on the lake . . . but neither of us like the thought of my dress dragging through goose shit, so that idea gets kicked to the curb pretty quick.

  We settle on a beach wedding. One of Garrett's old teammates from Rutgers, who did pretty well for himself, owns a big Victorian house with a private strip of beach in Brielle. It's close enough, open enough, that the whole town can come . . . and they do.

  I peek out of the white tent at the clear, churning blue ocean. I spot the football team taking up the last three rows of pale wooden chairs on the groom's side. My theater kids are in the same rows across the aisle--David and Simone, Michael, Toby, and Bradley. Miss McCarthy is here, checking her watch and tsking that we need to get this show on the road. The whole faculty is here--Jerry Dorfman and Donna Merkle finally came out of the relationship closet and are actually holding hands.

  The kids are going to lose their minds over that development this week.

  My sister, Colleen, is my matron of honor. Cheryl and Alison and Sydney are my bridesmaids--all wearing matching silk pale-blue gowns.

  Garrett stands beneath an arch of white roses--so tall and handsome in his black tux. He's confident--not nervous like most grooms--his mouth settled into that relaxed, gorgeous smile. Dean stands beside him--his best man--because he couldn't choose between his brothers. Woody sits at Garrett's feet, adorable and perfectly behaved--wearing Snoopy's blue collar around his fluffy neck--our something beautifully borrowed.

  Layla agreed to sing at my wedding. And when the flute echoes and the string quartet joins in, and her beautiful voice starts to sing our wedding song--"After All"--I take my father's arm and step out onto the red, carpeted aisle that covers the sand.

  Everyone we care about--everyone we love, from our childhood days until now--is here to celebrate with us. They all stand, watching me with wide eyes and delighted faces.

  Garrett's gaze finds mine. His eyes drift slowly down over my long, white, strapless beaded gown. He pauses at my boobs--because they're still his favorite. And then he gives me a devastating grin that makes my stomach flip deliciously and tears spring into my eyes.

  They say you can't go home again . . . but they're wrong.

  I did.

  I came home and found the love I never really lost.

  The air is September warm, the breeze is light, and the sun is just starting to set. Halfway down the aisle, I stop and turn to my dad.

  "I love you, Daddy."

  He smiles back, warm and proud. "I love you too, my Callie-flower."

  I glance at Garrett and turn back to my father . . . because it's unconventional, but it feels right.

  "I think . . . I think I'm going to go the rest of the way on my own, Dad."

  My father nods. Then he lifts my veil and kisses my cheek. "Go get him, sweetheart."

  I turn back towards Garrett, kick off my shoes, lift the hem of my dress--and I run. I run to the boy who always had my heart . . . to the man who always will.

  My bouquet bursts when I jump, showering us in white and indigo petals. And Garrett catches me, laughing. He'll always catch me.

  He kisses me long and deep. Then he sets me on my feet, and the priest from Saint Bart's begins the ceremony. And I become Mrs. Coach Garrett Daniels.

  At last.

  Epilogue 2

  Baby D

  Garrett

  It's our first game in October--Parker Thompson's a junior this year--still a great kid and now, post-growth spurt, he's a full-out monster on the field.

  "Yes!" I clap my hands as he completes a thirty-yard pass for a first down. "Beautiful! That's the way to do it, boys!"

  "Nice play, Parker! Woo!"

  I hear my wife's voice loud and clear from the stands behind me. My wife. I look down at the thick platinum band on my left hand. How fucking cool is that?

  Then I turn around, finding her pretty blond head, checking up on her. She's safe and sound, sitting between her parents and her sister. Callie's wearing a long-sleeve white shirt under an extra-large Lakeside Lions football jersey that I had custom made for her last month. It matches the one I'm wearing right now, but where mine says COACH D. across the back, Callie's reads, MRS. COACH D. across her shoulder blades. And in front--right above her round, adorably gigantic, pregnant belly--it says BABY D.

  On the field, the ref makes a shit call and throws a flag on one of my guards. I open my mouth to bitch . . . but Callie beats me to it.

  "What the hell was that? Get some glasses or get off the field!"

  The pregnancy has made Callie fantastically insatiable in bed . . . and ferocious in the stands. It makes my heart . . . and my cock . . . a very happy camper.

  Even though she's scheduled to pop any second now, she's been teaching the first few weeks of school--she loves it that much. After the baby comes, she'll take a maternity leave, but has sworn to McCarthy she's coming back. Between my parents and her parents, her sister and my sister-in-law, we have no shortage of child-care helpers who will adore the hell out of our kid. We've spent the weekends getting the nursery ready and more hours than I can say, just staring at her bump, watching our baby move and stretch inside her.

  It's miraculous. More exciting tha
n football--the most wondrous thing we've ever done.

  I don't worry anymore about not being as good of a teacher because I have a kid of my own, or screwing them up when they get here. Because Callie and I make the best team--it's impossible for us not to be awesome at anything we do together.

  Sammy Zheng kicks a beautiful field goal, adding another three points to our side of the board. I clap and tap the players' backs when they run in . . . and then I realize something's wrong. Because I don't hear Callie cheering.

  At that same moment, the voice of Callie's theater student and the announcer for the football games, Michael Salimander, comes through the speakers. His tone starts off semi-robotic, the way rote announcements always sound.

  "Coach Daniels, please report to the announcer's box. Coach Daniels please report . . ."

  And then rote goes right out the fucking window.

  ". . . what? Holy shit, Miss Carpenter's having the baby!"

  My head whips around so fast it almost snaps off.

  Then Miss McCarthy's voice echoes in a hail of loudspeaker feedback.

  "Daniels! Get your ass up here now!"

  In an instant Dean is at my side, eyes flaring wide behind his glasses. "Dude. Looks like there's somewhere you need to be."

  I throw my clipboard and headset at him--swing my legs over the fence and practically leap up the stands in a single bound.

  The way Superman would if he knocked up Lois Lane.

  Callie stands in the announcer's box with her dad's arm around her back, her hands on her stomach, and a giant wet spot on her maternity jeans.

  "Apparently that last call was so bad it broke my water," she tells me.

  Holy shit, we're having a baby. I don't know why this thought is really just occurring to me now--but it is. Holy. Fucking. Shit.

  Mrs. Cockaburrow whispers something to Miss McCarthy, who turns to us raising her arms in protest. "There is no giving birth on school grounds! Our insurance premiums will go through the frigging roof!"

  I hold up my hand. "I got it."

  My father-in-law tells me they'll meet us at the hospital. I swoop my wife into my arms and Miss McCarthy's voice follows me out the door.

 
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