Getting schooled, p.5
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       Getting Schooled, p.5
 

           Emma Chase

  "You look great too, Cal, as beautiful as ever. What's going on? What are you doing here?"

  I gesture in the direction of the principal's office and stumble over my words, because I still can't wrap my mind around it.

  "I'm . . . getting a . . . job. Here. At Lakeside. I just met with Miss McCarthy . . . she really hasn't changed at all, has she?"

  "Nope. Still bat-shit crazy."

  "Yeah." The wind picks up, whipping at my hair. I tuck the blond strands behind my ear. "So . . . I'm subbing for Julie Shriver--teaching her theater class. I'm staying with my parents for the year while they recuperate."

  His forehead furrows. "What happened to your parents?"

  "Oh, God . . . You're not going to believe it."

  "Try me."

  I feel my cheeks go pink and warm. But . . . it's Garrett, so only the truth will do.

  "My mother was giving my father a blow job on the way home from AC. He crashed into a ditch--breaking both their legs. One each."

  Garrett tilts his head back and chuckles. His laugh is smooth and deep. Then he sobers to a smartass grin. "Yeah, my brother already told me--I just wanted to hear you say it out loud."

  "Jerk." I push at his chest, and it feels like warm stone beneath my fingers. "It's so embarrassing."

  "Nah, it's awesome." He waves his hand. "You should be proud. Your parents are seventy years old and still getting jiggy with it in the big, bad Buick. They've officially won at life."

  "That's one way of looking at it." I shrug. "How are your parents? I saw Ryan at the hospital but we only talked for a minute. How's the rest of your family?"

  "They're good. Everyone's pretty good. Connor's getting divorced, but he got three boys out of the deal, so it's still a win."

  "Three boys? Wow. Carrying on the great all-boys Daniels tradition, huh?"

  "No." He shakes his head. "Ryan has two girls, so we know who got the weak sperm in the family."

  I roll my eyes, laughing. "Nice."

  "I'm just kidding--my nieces kick ass and take names. Yours do too from what I hear. Colleen's oldest is a freshman this year, right?"

  "Yeah. Emily. I've told her to get ready; high school is a whole new world."

  And it all feels so un-awkward. Seamless. Talking to Garrett, laughing with him. Like riding your favorite bike down a smooth, familiar road.

  "Are you still in California?" he asks.

  "Yeah, I'm executive director of the Fountain Theater Company in San Diego."

  "No kidding?" Pride suffuses his tone. "That's amazing. Good for you, Cal."

  "Thanks." I gesture towards the football field behind the school building. "And you're teaching here . . . and coaching? Head Coach Daniels?"

  He nods. "That's me."

  "You must love it. My sister says the team's been outstanding the last few years."

  "Yeah, they are. But I'm their coach, so outstanding is to be expected."

  "Of course." I smile.

  Then there's that quiet lull . . . comfortable . . . but still a lull, that always comes towards the end of a conversation.

  I gesture towards my rental car. "Well, I should probably . . ."

  "Yeah." Garrett nods, staring down at my hands, like he's looking for something.

  Then his voice gets stronger--taking on that clear, decisive tone he always had, even when we were young.

  "We should hang out, sometime. Since . . . you're going to be in town for a while. And we're going to be working together. We should catch up. Grab dinner or get a drink at Chubby's . . . legally, for once. It'll be fun."

  My eyes find his--the eyes I grew up loving. And my voice is quiet with sincerity.

  "I would really like that."

  "Cool." He holds out his hand. "Give me your phone. I'll text mine, so you have the number. Let me know when you're free."

  "Okay."

  I put my phone in his hand and he taps the buttons for a minute, then gives it back. I slip it into my purse. And then I stop and just look at him. Because there were so many times, so many days when I thought of him--when I'd wondered, and wanted the chance to look at him again, even just one more time.

  My voice is gentle, breathy. "It's . . . it's so good to see you again, Garrett."

  And he's looking back at me, watching me, just like the first time.

  "Yeah. Yeah, Callie, it really is."

  We hold each other's gazes for a moment, taking each other in, absorbing these new, older versions of ourselves.

  Then he opens the car door for me--and I remember that too. He used to do this all the time, every time, because Irene Daniels' boys were rowdy and rough and a little bit wild, but she raised them right--to be men. Gentlemen.

  The feeling of being precious and protected and cared about warms my muscles as I climb into the car, the same way it always used to. Garrett closes the door behind me and taps on the hood. He gives me one last breathtaking smile and steps back.

  Then he stands there, arms crossed, watching me pull out of the parking lot and drive safely away.

  Later, once I'm parked in my parents' driveway, I remember my phone. I take it out of my purse. And when I read what Garett texted to himself I laugh out loud, alone in the car:

  Garrett, you're even hotter than I remember.

  I want to rip your clothes off with my teeth.

  ~Callie

  Nope--Garrett Daniels hasn't changed a bit.

  And that's a wonderful thing.

  Garrett

  "You called her name out the window and ran across the parking lot to talk to her? Jesus, did you hold a boom box over your head too?" Dean asks.

  "Shut up, dickweed."

  "Why don't you borrow the pussy costume Merkle wore to the women's march last year?"

  Merkle is Donna Merkle--the megafeminist art teacher at Lakeside.

  I flip him off.

  We're sitting down at my dock later that day, fishing and drinking a few beers while I tell him about seeing Callie again, the story with her parents, and how she's going to be subbing at the school this year.

  Dean shakes his head. "Just be careful with that, D."

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean, I was here, dude. I remember how you were when you came back from California after you guys broke up. It was rough. And that's being really fucking generous."

  I reach down to where Snoopy is lying on the dock and scratch his belly. He rolls over to give me full access, the shameless bastard.

  "That was years ago; we were kids. We're adults now. We can be friends."

  He shakes his head again. "See, it doesn't work like that, man. Like, take me and Lizzy Appleguard. We were neighbors, friends--borrowing cups of sugar, I helped her hang her TV, shit like that. We screwed for a few weeks and it was good while it lasted. And then, we went back to being friends. I was an usher in her wedding. You and Tara, same thing--you knew each other in high school, passed each other in the halls, you bumped uglies for a few months, now you're friends again, passing each other in the grocery store, "Hey, how you doing? What's up?"

  Dean reels in his line, giving his fishing pole a little tug. "But you and Callie . . . I remember how you two were back in the day. It was intense. A ton of heat, and there was love . . . but I don't remember a single day when you two were anything close to friends."

  Chapter Six

  Callie

  Days go by, and I'm not able to text Garrett to catch up. Because time really flies when you have ten thousand things to do: paperwork, fingerprints, background check--all so I can get emergency certification to teach in New Jersey. There are phone calls to make--to the HR department to set up my emergency family leave, and to Cheryl and Bruce who prove their BFF worthiness by packing up my whole wardrobe and other essentials and shipping it all to me.

  My parents coming home from the hospital is a fiasco in and of itself. Between picking up the medical equipment--matching wheelchairs and crutches--and the stress of ordering and fitting a double-wide hospital bed in
the middle of the living room--Colleen and I drink through half of her "supplies" in the first week.

  Then, before I know it--before I'm anywhere close to prepared or organized--it's the day before the first day of school, and I have to report to the high school at 8 a.m. sharp for a staff in-service meeting.

  I step through the side door of the auditorium a few minutes early. The rows of dark seats, the thin black carpeting beneath my feet, the dim lighting, and quiet, empty stage hidden behind the draping of the red velvet curtain . . . it all takes me back to twenty years ago.

  Like it was just waiting here for me, frozen in time.

  I made a lot of memories in this room--on that stage and in the secret lofts and caverns behind it--and there's not a bad one in the bunch.

  The heavy metal door shuts against my back with a resounding clang, turning every head in every seat my way. Of course.

  Most of the faces are new, but some I recognize--Kelly Simmons, who was the head cheerleader and top mean girl of our graduating class. Her eyes drag up and down over my body before she gives me a tight, unfriendly smile--then whispers to the two equally blond, long-acrylic-painted-fingernailed women on either side of her. Alison Bellinger adjusts her yellow-framed glasses and gives me a vigorous open-palmed wave. She was the student council president in the class above me and judging from her unruly, brown curly hair, effusive expression, and brightly colored Lakeside sweatshirt, she's just as boisterous as she was then. And look at that--Mr. Roidchester, my old bio teacher, is still alive. We figured he was like a hundred years old back then, but his crotchety, gray, wrinkled self is still kicking.

  Obviously voodoo.

  Towards the back, I spot Garrett's dark hair and handsome face. He lifts his chin in greeting, then tilts his head towards the empty seat next to him. I smile, relieved, and head straight for him, like he's my own hot, personal dingy in a sea of choppy water.

  Something I can hold on to.

  Before I reach him, Dean Walker stands up from the seat behind Garrett and meets me in the aisle. In relationships, friend groups usually mix, meld together. When we were young, Garrett knew a lot more people than I did--his brothers' friends, the football players and their girlfriends, were a crew, a pack. Over the years we dated, my old friends became acquaintances, people I'd talk to in school and celebrate with at the cast parties after the fall drama and spring musical but didn't hang out with otherwise. I was pulled into Garrett's group--and his friends became mine.

  "Hey, sweetness," Dean purrs, giving me a hug that lifts me off my feet. "Adulthood looks good on you."

  "Thanks, Dean. Good to see you."

  He hasn't changed, at all--still tall, blond, wearing hot-nerd glasses with a swagger in his stance and a naughty smirk on his lips. Dean was a player with a capital "play." He had a different girlfriend every few weeks and he was faithful to none of them--though that never stopped the next girl from wanting a crack at taming him. But he was a good, loyal friend to Garrett--to both of us.

  "You too, Callie-girl. Welcome home." He spreads his arms, gesturing to the building around us. "And welcome to the jungle, baby. Just when you think you're out . . . your parents' BJ pulls you back in, amiright?"

  My eyes roll closed. "I'm never going to hear the end of that one, am I?"

  "Never. It's officially Lakeside legend--I've deemed it so."

  "Lovely."

  Dean sits back in his seat and I slide into the one beside Garrett. Our elbows share the armrest, and our biceps press against each other--sending dancing, ridiculously excited sparks through my body.

  "How's it going?" he asks softly.

  I sigh. "It's going."

  "How are your parents?"

  "They're home, mending, but already starting to get on each other's nerves. They're stuck in bed next to each other basically every hour of every day. One of them may not make it out alive."

  Garrett's lips curl into a grin. "My money's on your mom. I could see her pulling off a Gone Girl."

  I laugh at that imagery. Then I ask, "Why were Kelly Simmons and the Plastics looking at me like they hate me?"

  "Because they hate you. Don't you remember what it was like for the new kid in school?"

  "But we're teachers. We're not kids anymore."

  Garrett holds up his finger. "Connor has a theory about that. He told me once that teachers like me, who've only ever lived by the school calendar--winter break, spring break, summers off--never really leave high school. Add to that the fact that we're trapped in this building with a thousand teenagers, and we absorb their energy and personality traits--he thinks our brains are still partly stuck in adolescence. That we're all still teenagers, just walking around in grown-up bodies." Garrett shrugs. "Kind of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers." He scans the room, glancing at Kelly and a few of the other teachers. "It would explain a lot."

  Wait. Hold on . . . what the hell did I sign up for?

  Before I can challenge his theory, Miss McCarthy walks down the main aisle clapping her hands. "Let's get started, people. Everyone sit down."

  There's a gust of shuffling and muted whispers and then everyone settles in and turns their attention to Miss McCarthy, standing in front of the stage, with Mrs. Cockaburrow bowing her head behind her like a scared shadow.

  "Welcome back. I hope you all had a pleasant summer," she says, in a tone that indicates she really doesn't care if our summer was pleasant or not.

  "I'd like to welcome Callie Carpenter back to Lakeside--she's taking over the theater classes for Julie Shriver."

  Miss McCarthy motions for me to stand, and I do, straight and smiling, feeling the weight of fifty sets of judging eyes.

  "Hi, Callie," some in the crowd murmur in unison, sounding like an unenthusiastic group at an AA meeting.

  Cockaburrow hands McCarthy a folder, and she holds it out to me. "Callie, here's your class rosters for the year." She addresses the others in the room, "The rest of you should have gotten your rosters last week. Check your emails."

  I walk up to get the folder, then head back to my seat, while Miss McCarthy talks about changes to the parking lot regulations.

  Garrett leans over my shoulder and Dean huddles behind me.

  "Who'd you get, who'd you get?'

  And I have deja vu--an image of our fifteen-year-old selves comparing sophomore-year schedules. Right in this room.

  Garrett looks at the list and grimaces.

  "Tough break."

  Dean shakes his head. "Oh boy."

  I look back and forth between them. "What? What's wrong with it?'

  "That's D and B all the way," Dean says.

  "D and B?"

  "Dumb and Bad," Garrett explains. "See, some kids are dumb--not book smart, no matter what you do."

  "Jesus, Garrett, you're a teacher."

  "I'm honest. And I don't mean it in a shitty way. My dad didn't go to college--he was an electrician. The world needs electricians, and pipe layers, garbage men, and ditch diggers. Nothing wrong with that."

  "Okay, so those are the D's. What about the B's?"

  "Some kids are bad. They might be smart, they might have potential, but they're still bad. They like to be bad. Major pains in the asses, and not in a fun way."

  "Hey! You three in the back!" McCarthy barks. "Do I need to separate you?"

  And the deja vu strikes again.

  I shake my head.

  "No," Garrett says.

  "Sorry, Miss McCarthy," Dean says, leaning back in his seat. "We'll be good. Please, carry on."

  McCarthy narrows her eyes into slits and points to them with her two fingers, then points those same fingers back at us.

  And, Jesus, if I don't feel like she might give us detention.

  The real fun starts when Miss McCarthy begins talking about the student dress code. And a frizzy, red-haired woman shoots her hand up to the ceiling.

  "That's Merkle," Garrett whispers against my ear, giving me delicious goose bumps. "Art teacher."

  "Miss
Merkle?" McCarthy asks.

  "Will we be adding MAGA articles to the banned clothing this year?"

  Before McCarthy can answer, a square-headed, deep-voiced man in a USA baseball hat inquires, "Why would we ban MAGA clothes?"

  "Jerry Dorfman," Garrett whispers again. And I can almost feel his lips against my ear. Automatically, my neck arches closer to him. "Guidance counselor and assistant football coach."

  Merkle glares across the aisle at Dorfman. "Because they're offensive."

  Dorfman scoffs. "There's nothing overtly offensive about a MAGA shirt."

  "There's nothing overtly offensive about a white hood, either--it'd still be a bad idea to let a student walk around in one," Merkle volleys back.

  "Anyone ever tell you you're delusional?"

  "Stick it up your ass, Jerry."

  "That's enough, you two!" McCarthy moves down the aisle between them. "There will be no talk of sticking anything up any asses! Not like last year."

  Miss McCarthy takes a deep, cleansing breath. And I think she might be counting to ten.

  "MAGA clothes will not be banned--it's a can of worms I don't want to open."

  Merkle gives Jerry the finger behind McCarthy's back. Then he returns the favor.

  And I feel like I'm in the twilight zone.

  "Speaking of clothing," a younger-looking, light-brown-haired man in a gray three-piece suit volunteers, in a British accent, "could someone advise these lads to pull up their trousers? If I glimpse another pair of Calvin Klein pants, I'll be ill."

  "Peter Duvale, pretentious asshole. Teaches English," Garrett says, and I feel the brush of his breath against my neck. Delicious heat unfurls low and deep in my pelvis.

  "Jesus Christ, Duvale--I am too hungover to listen to your bullshit British accent today. Please shut the hell up."

  "Mark Adams," Garrett says, whisper soft. "Gym teacher, fresh out of college. Only, don't call him a gym teacher--he'll be insulted. They're physical education teachers now."

  I swallow, my skin tingles from the sound of Garrett's voice so close.

  Another man raises his hand. This one middle aged with dark, thick hair sticking up at all possible angles.

  "Speaking of dress code, can we make sure Christina Abernathy's breasts are covered this year? There was nipple-peekage last year. Not that I was looking--I wasn't. But if I had looked, I would've seen areola."

  "Evan Fishler--science teacher," Garrett tells me quietly, and I squirm in my seat, rubbing my thighs together. "He spends his summers in Egypt researching the pyramids. Believes he was abducted by aliens when he was a kid." A smile seeps into Garrett's tone. "He'll tell you all about it, for hours and hours . . . and hours."

 
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