He kept a hard stare on me and then blinked. “Yes. We’re done. Get back to lunch.”
I stood up and walked out of his office. In the hallway, I sighed when I saw Daniel standing outside his classroom. We locked eyes and I turned to go the other way. I heard his footsteps growing closer and I stood still.
“Can I help you?” I questioned inimically. In the history of bad first days of school, I had to hold the record for the worst one ever.
“Theo Robinson is in my first hour. I can already tell he can be a real prick. And he’s not the brightest kid.” Daniel slid his thumb across the bridge of his nose. He glanced down the hallways to make sure no one was watching and moved an inch away from me—just to be safe. “He thought Macbeth was some kind of new McDonald’s sandwich and scolded me for forcing him to study the manslaughter of cows.” He snickered to himself, but he looked so sad.
“What are you doing?” I whispered.
He ran his hand over his face and cursed under his breath. Merged in an unutterable sadness and confusion, he shrugged. “I don’t know.” He frowned perplexedly. “I don’t even know what this means.”
“And you think I do? You think this is easy for me?”
“Of course not.”
“Listen. It’s not like anything really happened between us anyway,” I lied. “I’ll pretend it never happened,” I lied again. “Only if you promise not to look past me as if I don’t exist. I can deal with the bullies. I can’t deal with you ignoring me.”
His hand ran across his mouth before he crossed his arms and stepped a few inches closer to me. “Your eyes are puffy. I made you cry.”
My skin prickled by his proximity. “Life made me cry.” I hugged my books closer to me and closed my eyes. “’When we are born, we cry that we are to come to this great stage of fools,’” I quoted from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met.”
I sighed. “You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met.” I paused. “I’m not stupid, Daniel. I know that we…can’t be anything. And I would switch out of your class but Henry made sure that I was placed in it.”
“Yeah…” he said. “I just wish I didn’t like you so much.”
I didn’t know why, but I felt like crying when he said that. Because I liked him too. We had connected on Saturday. At least I had… He’d awakened me after I’d been asleep for so long.
“I would never jeopardize your job,” I promised. I didn’t know how it happened, but somehow we were closer, so close that I could smell his clean soap from his shower that morning. Did I step forward or did he? Either way, neither of us was going to step back. I closed my eyes and allowed his scents to wash over me, bathing me in fantasy and false hope.
When my eyes reopened, I saw his stare, strong and determined. He took my arm and pulled me around a corner. We went through a door to an empty staircase. He glanced up and down the stairs before he pressed his mouth against mine. My lips instantly separated and my tongue twirled against his.
My fingers ran through his hair, bringing back my ‘Joe’s bar’ Daniel and making Mr. Daniels disappear for a moment in time. His hand gripped around my back. Kissing him in the silent stairwell felt dangerous, but safe. Adventurous, however idiotic. Depressing, yet real.
When he withdrew his mouth from mine and stepped back, we both knew that what we had done couldn’t happen again. He bit the corner of his mouth and shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Ashlyn.” The bell rang before I could reply, and he went on his way and I went on mine.
The saddest part?
I’d missed him before he’d even left.
Don’t be who you are today.
Be the person I saw yesterday.
~ Romeo’s Quest
I’d felt something pulling me to her the moment I saw her on the train. I’d felt an even bigger pull when I saw her breaking down behind Joe’s bar. Yet nothing felt as right as it had when I bumped into her at school. Which I knew was wrong. All of this was wrong.
There was no question about it—teachers didn’t date students. The ethics behind it were strong, something they’d hammered into us in college. Never in my life would I have ever considered it.
At least I wouldn’t have before Ashlyn Jennings showed up.
Now my mind was considering crazy things. She made me think about breaking the rules, finding the loopholes, holding her close to me in the hidden hallways, and reading her Shakespeare in the abandoned aisles of the library.
I spent over an hour after school tracing the building, searching all corners for secret hideouts, for places we could maybe meet, maybe hold each other between the school bells ringing. That was crazy, right? I was crazy. But I looked, I searched, and I was extremely disappointed in myself after the hour passed by.
When I arrived home at the lake house, Randy was sleeping on the sofa. I headed for the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and sat down at the kitchen table, staring out the window above the sink counter. The sky was darkening with clouds moving in. The smell of the air pointed to a downpour of rain coming soon.
I sat there for a long time—long enough to witness the first raindrop dance down to the windowsill. Long enough to witness the crack of lightning igniting the sky.
Maybe we could be friends. I sighed at my idiotic thought. Of course we couldn’t be friends. She was a student in my class. Besides, after that kiss, there was no part of me that simply wanted to be her friend. Plus, her life was already complicated enough. I couldn’t add to her issues.