I’d like to start with a bit of a preface:
I liked to think that I’d learned my lesson when it came to dating. After my last boyfriend turned out to be a scumbag, I had been much more careful. My heart was guarded — I’d built an ivory tower around it that not even the bravest of knights could hope to scale. I was untouchable, and never again would I allow my emotions to be so carelessly tossed around by men who cared nothing for me.
Ah, yes. My weakness — the class of kindergarteners I taught. Of course, who could blame me? Who wasn’t weak for young children and their cherubic little faces? Even if they tended to be a bit emotional at times—
“Miss Anderson!!!” Billy Barker screamed, waving his hands frantically to get my attention. I smiled to myself, all thoughts of my ex-boyfriend dismissed as I strode across the room to help Billy with his daily writing assignment.
“What’s wrong, Billy?” I inquired soothingly, smiling as he seemed to calm down somewhat. His face was still beet red from screaming, however, and I hoped he hadn’t been trying to get my attention all that long.
“These dang B’s, ma’am. I can’t ever remember how to do them right, and there’s two in my name! Two!” he said urgently, thrusting a paper in my face. The B’s were backwards, with the loops curling up in a way that made them vaguely resemble the number nine. I chuckled a bit, ruffling the boy’s hair affectionately.
“That’s a wonderful try. B’s are the ones I have trouble with too, sometimes. Do you want to come to the chalkboard and practice with me?” I kept my voice soft and gentle. It really was a good effort, especially considering what little time we’d spent on writing the ABC’s so far.
Billy was an excellent student, even if he tended to be a bit temperamental at times. When things didn’t come naturally to him, he more often than not wanted to abandon the task altogether. It took a bit of pushing, but I had managed to get him to come out of his shell a bit — at least, academically. Among his classmates, he was a social butterfly, so there was no problem there. The cheerful tales he regaled about his father “whooping his butt” were a bit disconcerting, but overall, he was a good student.
“Can Bailey help me? She’s really good at making B’s,” Billy asked with a toothy smile, glancing to the corner where the Grady twins sat hunched over their joined desks. At that moment, Bailey herself looked up and waved cheerfully at Billy. He stared pleadingly at me, and in spite of how jaded I was about the idea of young love, these kids didn’t even understand the concept of romantic love yet. It was just play time for the two of them.
“Alright, you can go ask her. If she says no, though, respect her boundaries, okay?” The idea of boundaries was probably lost on a child his age, but he nodded excitedly and bolted from his desk. I stood upright, watching as the two spoke animatedly. As usual, Bailey asked if Lily could join them, and Billy was quick to agree. Apparently, he could use some help on his L’s as well. I resisted the desire to laugh as the three of them rushed to the chalkboard, the girls’ pale blue dresses ruffling around their ankles. I took a moment to scope out the rest of the class, stopping next at Penny Roma’s desk. Her eyes were focused on the top corner of her paper, and as usual, there were no letters scrawled on the assignment.
“I feel sick.”
The usual excuse, though she didn’t even look up at me as she used it. Sucker that it may have made me, I always believed her. I took her by the hand, helping her up from her chair and guiding her to my desk. I always kept a pack of peanut butter crackers in my desk for such emergencies. She smiled thankfully, nibbling on the corner of a cracker as she watched the children at the blackboard. This was relatively normal for my classroom, and truth be told, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The only thing that could have made my life better was having a child of my own. That was just a distant fantasy, however. My ex seemed to think I was barren, which was the whole reason he’d broken up with me. We’d been trying to conceive for months to no avail, and truthfully, I couldn’t blame him for wanting to find someone else. I just wish he had broken up with me before fucking some other woman.
That was in the past, though. Nothing worth fretting over now. I had a fulfilling life, although my social life was certainly lacking. I was supposed to be meeting up with a coworker that night — Tiffany Rodriguez, a fifth grade math teacher who failed to understand how dearly I loved children. During work hours, I usually found an email from her in our usual message thread. Our work emails were meant for just work, but try telling the sassy blonde that. It was a relief at times to read through her messages while the children were working or off enjoying recess for the day. She was my only friend, really, which probably said a lot about me as a person.
As the children were busying themselves with their writing assignments, I clicked on the latest email I’d received from Tiff and scanned over it with a faint smile. Yet another failed date on her end, though I had to give it to her — at least she went on dates. Although I had never known Tiffany to be in a serious relationship, she was off dating some new guy every other day. She liked to have fun, and I guess I was just boring by comparison.
Scanning over the final line of the message, I swallowed a laugh as she mentioned a night out at the Red Room, the most chic nightclub in town. Yeah, that’s how I wanted to spend my evening: getting hit on by drunk idiots and having my eardrums blasted out by the sound system. I’d been to the Red Room once or twice before, and while I could see the appeal for a younger crowd, it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t imagine dating any of the men who frequented the place. Granted, I couldn’t imagine dating much of anyone in my current state.
I clicked the reply button, watching the children doodle on the blackboard out of the corner of my eye. I expressed some sympathy for her failed date, keeping my amusement regarding the situation to myself. I promised to consider going out with her that night, which I had already considered and decided against. It wasn’t a lie, per se.
I clicked send just as a shrill scream erupted in the back of the classroom. I jolted to my feet, my expression panicked as I sought out the problem. Jenny Pilsner was a solid five feet away from her desk, pointing at it with a horrified expression. I approached warily, relieved to see that it was just a small lizard that had managed to sneak into the classroom. I placed my hand in front of it, allowing it to crawl on me and considering it with a faint smile.
“Miss Anderson, it’ll bite you!” Penny exclaimed, her expression aghast. I chuckled warmly, keeping the small reptile on my hand as its beady eyes examined the room around it.
“Oh, Penny, it’s nothing to be afraid of. He’s a sweet little guy, aren’t you?” I cooed, tracing a finger along his back. His tail twitched, and it was obvious that he was nervous to be trapped in such a full room. “Alright, time out, kids! Put away your pencils, and place your writing assignment in your folders. We’re going to take this little guy out to the courtyard and let him loose. How does that sound?” I said cheerfully, careful to keep my voice low so as not to spook the creature.
Its tail continued to twitch in agitation, and it flicked its tongue out as if to taste the air. I knew very little about reptiles, but I knew enough to realize that our classroom wasn’t an ideal home for him. I had considered getting a class pet, but considering the petrified looks on the faces of half of my class, this guy seemed to be a no go.
Just the same, the children seemed eager to get out of the classroom — not that I could blame them. It was an extremely nice day.
“Does this count as our recess?”
“Can we go to the playground?”
“I’m hungry! Can we have lunch outside?”
It was normal to receive a plethora of such questions any time some new opportunity presented itself. Though there were some school rules to abide by, I saw little harm in letting them bring their lunch bags along for a picnic of sorts. I gestured toward their locker wall, and the group cheered as they gathered their lunch bags — ranging from Billy’s usual brown paper bag to Penny’s unicorn lunch box.
“Now, we’ll need to stay in the courtyard, so that means don’t run where I can’t see you — especially not to go chasing this little guy when he skitters off,” I announced, waiting for them to form a single-file line before leading them out the door. The trip to the courtyard wound from the back of the school, where the kindergarten classrooms were located, around to where the upper grades studied. As I led the students, I kept a constant watch to make sure there weren’t any stragglers.
We passed Tiffany’s classroom; it appeared to be the fifth grader’s lunch hour. There was a lunch monitor in the cafeteria at all times, so lunch was when she took her break. I waved through the window, and her eyes lit with excitement upon seeing me. She lurched from her seat and rushed to the door of her classroom, though I thought little of it. At least, I thought little of it until I heard her shout.
“Wait up! I’ll join you!”
That could either spell fun or trouble. Possibly a combination of both. All the same, my students obligingly came to a halt when I paused. The lizard was beginning to get adventurous, crawling up my wrist toward my arm. I made a face, trying not to get too creeped out by the idea of it crawling into my shirt.
“Miss Anderson,” Tiffany said in faux professional tones as she approached me, falling into step beside me. Before I could answer, the lizard on my wrist leaped the distance between the two of us, landing on the side of the other teacher’s shirt.
Of course, she immediately panicked, screaming and thrashing in an attempt to get the lizard off of her. The children in my classroom were torn between amusement and terror at about a fifty/fifty ratio. All hell broke loose as Tiffany flung the lizard. It hit the ground with a soft thud before skittering in the direction of my students. Of course, they shrieked, bolting in all directions while I tried to maintain some sense of order.
“Wait! Wait! Come back! Miss Rodriguez, help me!” I started in a shout before lowering my voice to a hiss and receiving a chagrined look from Tiffany herself.
Thankfully, we managed to gather the children in one place. To make up for the fright, I made the executive decision to let them take an early recess. Tiffany looked apologetic as she walked alongside me, but I couldn’t stay mad at her for terribly long. At least the children hadn’t been in danger.
“So…about the Red Room tonight,” she began, her expression shifting to one of excitement.
“I don’t think it’s such a good idea, Tiff,” I said quietly, watching the kids as they bolted across the various playground equipment. She chuckled, giving me a slight nudge.
“You never have any fun, girl. You need to get out more — put yourself out there. What’s it going to hurt?” she pressed, glancing at her watch before shouting abruptly. “Shit, my class is probably waiting for me! I’ll see you later!”
I watched her go somewhat pensively, considering her words.
Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.