I’m distracted as my students spread out in the middle of the football field to begin stretching. My mind is on her. Julie Horton. Anger surges through me every time I think of her pretty blonde hair and innocent smile. She said she loved me and even accepted my fucking ring last Christmas. And not even five months later, with a quivering lip and fake-ass tears, she told me she’d been sleeping with someone else. The entire fucking time. Sean Polk, of all people. The motherfucking guidance counselor at Brown Senior High and someone I once considered a friend.
I’d managed to make it all summer without having to see either one of them. The breakup had been devastating. Julie moved out of my house, and my heart. I’ve been dreading the first day of school ever since—the day I’d no doubt run into Sean. So far, I’ve managed to avoid him. I’m afraid if I see his stupid face, I’ll pop him right in the nose and lose my damn job.
Clearly, my anger hasn’t cooled one bit this entire time.
“Are we doing laps this morning?” Caleb, one of my best sprinters, asks.
I shake my head a bit to clear Julie and Sean out of my mind and give him my attention. “Hurdles. I want to see where the newbies stand. Keep stretching.”
He looks mildly irritated but doesn’t argue. Caleb has run track for me three straight years. Now that he’s a senior, he’s most likely looking to step up his game to nail down some scholarships. The kid will have no problem. He’s our fastest runner and his determination is admirable.
I check my watch while they stretch and let my mind drift back to Julie. We’d have ended up in divorce eventually, probably. What was I thinking anyway? Just because she fit the mold, doesn’t mean she was a good person. I had been hellbent on marrying her because she checked off all the boxes in my head that equated to a suitable wife. Blonde, flawless, successful. Polite and popular with our peers. Everything about her screamed marriage material. Sure, she hated to give blow jobs but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. At thirty-seven years old, I’d been ready to settle down.
Of course, that’s now all fucked up.
“Yo, Polk!” Caleb hollers past me.
My hackles raise and I jerk my head to see Sean walking onto the field with a tiny girl in tow. Irritation poisons my blood when his plastic smile on his tanned face comes into view. His pink polo shirt makes him look like a goddamned fairy. What the hell did Julie see in this guy? Sure, he’s fit, but he dresses like a douchebag and I hate that he’s Mr. Personality with the students.
“Caleb,” Sean says, his voice grating on my nerves. “Coach Long.”
I clench my teeth and glare at him. “Mr. Polk.”
It’s really fucking hard to maintain my composure in front of forty teenagers but somehow, I manage. Barely.
“Everett, this is River Banks,” he introduces. I don’t miss his plastic smile faltering under my murderous stare or the slight squeak of his voice.
I snort and glance at the small woman standing next to him who’s clearly a student here based on her young features. “Tell me that’s not your real name.” It falls out of my mouth before I can even stop it and my comment earns a few sniggers from my students.
“Tell me that’s not your real face,” she spits out, soft enough for only Sean and I to hear.
Sean tries to hide a laugh and I pin him with an evil stare. I cross my arms over my chest. “Can I help you two with something?”
He composes himself and puts his hand on the girl’s shoulder. Something about the casual way he does it makes me want to yank his arm off. He shouldn’t be touching the students. The bastard pushes the code of ethics for damn sure. “River here will be attending Brown this year. She and her family just moved from Chicago.”
I look at her again. Her dark, almost black, hair has been straightened smooth, and highlighted strands of pink and purple shine through. Her eyes, which are currently shooting lasers at me, are the palest blue I’ve ever seen. Like she’s wearing some weird contacts or some shit. Nobody has eyes that blue. She’s outlined them with a ton of heavy black eyeliner and wears glittering pink eye shadow. It’s her lips, though, that I find myself staring at. Pink and glossy and plump.
“And?” I ask, dragging my gaze from her lips that I shouldn’t be focusing on in the first place. “What does this have to do with me?”
Sean sighs, but still, I don’t look at him. “She wants to try out for the track team.”
I stifle a groan. I’ve already got my team in place. That was what summer tryouts were for. “The team is full.”
River’s dark eyebrows furl together and I don’t miss the flash of hurt that passes over her features. But then she schools it away, lifting her chin in a defiant manner. “So make room.”
My nostrils flare at her blatantly disrespectful tone. “Excuse me?”
“I need this,” she tries again, this time softer. “Please.” Her unusual eyes find mine and this time I see plenty of stories locked up behind them. Stories I’m curious about. She’s had a painful past and I can relate.
“You can try out after school,” I concede. I’d planned on going to the gym after school to take out my anger on the weights. I didn’t think I’d be watching some Punky Brewster-looking girl try and jump hurdles with her short ass legs. But at least I can give her a fair chance and not feel guilty when I tell her she doesn’t make the cut.
“Thank you,” she says, beaming at me. “Thank you so much, Coach.”
I soften a little because she looks so fucking happy right now. “You can’t wear that.” I motion at whatever the fuck she’s wearing. A black tank top with a beaver on the front that says: Dam the Man. She’s also got on a pair of cutoff denim shorts that I know are against dress code but she gets away with it because she has black torn up leggings underneath. I think they call this style Homeless Chic. Or Emo. Whatever.
“I have other clothes,” she assures me. “What should I do until then? Mr. Polk already gave me my schedule. I’m in your class for first hour.”
I shoot him a nasty glare but then shrug it off. “You can stretch and then sit over there on that bench.”
She flicks her tongue out to lick her bottom lip in what seems like a nervous manner. A flash of silver catches my eye. My curiosity is piqued.
“You can go,” I bark out to Sean. “I’m sure you have students to guide.”
He bristles and I smirk. I watch him stride off the field as if his pants are on fire. When I turn back, she’s looking at me curiously. “Stretch, Brook.”
She huffs. “River.”
“Same thing. Go.”
“You don’t have to be an asshole,” she mutters before stomping off.
The girl can’t be any more than five foot three. A tiny little hurdle in my way for today. I ought to write her a detention slip for cussing but I am being an asshole. It’s not really her fault that I’m still pissed at being fucked over by her guidance counselor.
Caleb trots over to her and chatters with her as if she’s a shiny new toy that was given just to him. They look silly together. Caleb is tall and lanky, a little on the goofy side with a mop of sandy blonde hair.
And she looks…
Good. Too good.
She chooses that moment to bend down and touch her toes. I immediately realize she’s flexible as shit. Her body folds in half as if she’s been doing it her entire life. I wonder if she’s been trained in dance. Ballet, more specifically, because she does it with such practiced ease. Despite the black Doc Martens and Rainbow Fucking Brite socks, she’s graceful.
Why the hell does she wear that stupid shit?
She grabs her calf and brings her leg up against her body so that her foot is in the air above her head. Every person on the field, including me, is staring at her little show. It looks like a breeze could blow her away and yet she stands there on one leg with the other one high in the air, strong and steadfast. When I notice Caleb about to bust a nut in his shorts, I decide it’s far past time to shut this shit down.
“Emo,” I holler with my hands cupped at my mouth. “Enough with the stripper routine.”
She drops her foot to the ground and she sends me a scathing glare. “River.”
“Stretch. And not like that.”
She rolls her eyes but thankfully parks her little ass on the grass beside Caleb. Today is going to be a really long fucking day.
In addition to coaching track and field, I also teach AP pre-calculus. I prefer teaching over coaching but they needed someone to do both. So here I am. Six years at this school and I still look forward to the math classes I teach.
Everyone who walks in tries to find a seat up front because it’s the seat they’ll have for the rest of the year. Not that they are studious and willing. It’s because they’re smart little shits. My desk is in the back of the classroom. They know if they sit in the back, I’m more likely to see them texting or cheating. All of the desks fill up except for the one right in front of me. It remains empty and I wonder who it is that’s late. I looked at my roster briefly earlier and took note that I’d have a full period.
Sure enough, just after the bell rings, a certain funky-haired newbie comes waltzing in, stealing the damn show. I’m irritated she’s already in two of my classes and seems to draw the attention of every damn boy in both of them. She glances my way and smirks before sauntering past everyone to sit down right in front of my desk. I begin to call roll, but then get distracted when she lifts her bare toned arms and starts smoothing her silky hair into a ponytail. Then, she twists the dark locks to make a bun before stabbing it with a pencil to hold it in place.
“River,” I say in a husky tone.
She looks over her shoulder and smiles. “Here.”
I tear my gaze from her to look at the roster. I hadn’t meant to say her name, it just slipped out. With a sigh, I call out the rest of the names without problem. I’m not sure why she’s so eye-catching but I can’t stop looking at her. She’s intriguing. The other students here are mostly preppy. River stands out like a sore thumb.
I quickly pass out some pre-tests to gauge what the class remembers from last year and instruct them to take the entire hour to finish. When I drop back into my seat, I find myself staring at her again. I tell myself it’s because she’s sitting right in front of me.
She’s so little.
The girls at this school remind me of thoroughbred horses. Smooth, refined, groomed to marry the successful men these boys will no doubt turn out to be. Everyone around here comes from money. Well, everyone except for me. I’m a transplant. I actually went to school on the other side of town. My mom still lives in a trailer over there. She’s on disability and I try to help out when I can.
River is less like them and more like me. We sort of stand out. A couple of wild ones amidst a sea of normalcy.
Her black hair wiggles loose from her bun as she furiously scribbles shit down on her paper. Before the pencil falls from her hair, she twists it back up and stabs it again. A tendril of pink slips out. I’m fixated on her. My phone buzzes
Mom: Come for supper Sunday, sweetie. I’ll put a roast in the crock pot.
I smile, still looking down at my phone, but feel it drain away when a small hand with black painted fingernails slaps a paper on my desk. She wears a smug smirk that gets under my skin. There’s no way she finished the entire test in fifteen minutes. Before she walks away, I stop her.
She frowns and crosses her arms. It makes her perky tits seem larger. I drag my gaze away and quickly scan the test so I don’t get caught gawking at a teenager’s breasts. Every single answer is correct except for one.
I toss her a skeptical look. “Did you cheat?”
Her pouty lips part and she seems genuinely hurt for a moment. Then, she hisses. Cute like a kitten. Not fierce as fuck like I’m sure she wishes. “No, I didn’t cheat.”
“This one is wrong,” I grumble, and point to one of her answers.
“No it’s not,” she scoffs. Then, she bends over to read the answer. Her tank top hangs down, rewarding me with a perfect view of her bare tits. I’m so stunned that I can see them, I let out a hiss of air. She’s still frowning over the answer that she doesn’t notice she gave her coach a fucking hard-on. A good man would peel his stare from those little tits and show some responsibility. Apparently I’m not a good man.
What do they taste like?
Would she squeal if I bit one of them?
They’re the cutest fucking tits I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t seem like a squealer though. She seems the type to claw my eyeballs out if I bit her. I suppress a groan and attempt to force my gaze elsewhere. She’s a fucking kid, for crying out loud.
“Oh,” she utters, and brings her palm to her chest. “Oops.”
Her little show ends and I lift my gaze to hers. The smug look is gone and her creamy cheeks have turned bright pink. I clench my jaw and then point at the paper. “The answer is fourteen.”
She huffs. “That’s what I put.”
When I glance back down, I see that she scribbled out her answer and changed it. That little shit. She must have done it while I was staring at her goddamned tits.
“I ought to give you detention,” I hiss under my breath.
Her hands go to her hips and she practically yells at me. “Why?”
A few kids turn our way, curious about the outburst.
“You know why,” I seethe, my eyes dropping to her chest briefly before raking over the paper.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Wow.”
She stalks back over to her desk, but not before muttering that I’m a prick under her breath.
I call after her. “Detention, Emo.”