Laurette girded herself and took another essay off the stack. Thirty-five sophomore English essays, each one worse than the last. She spun her green pen in her fingers and tried not to overreact as the fractured syntax, broken sentences and blinkered grammar shouted out at her from a page that, for some reason, was printed in an eighteen point font that looked like it was scratched into the paper by the fingernail of a deranged lunatic. She sighed.
Tom Sawyer was a kid who didnt like painting so he got his, friends to do it 4 him.
She ground her teeth and clicked her pen to start the uphill battle of correcting the student’s writing. At this point, she was starting to miss her red pen, but the department head had gotten some study under his skin and insisted that red was damaging their little snowflakes’ egos. “Please… review the worksheet… on comma splices,” she muttered as she wrote in the most bilious green ink she’d been able to find.
A small, wrapped package was dropped onto her desk and a man said, “Having a rough time of it?” Laurette gripped her pen and tried to stop herself from wondering how the day could get any worse. She’d been a reader for a long time and knew how that kind of idle thinking would work itself out.
“I’m doing essays, Jeremy,” she said. “Can it wait?” She glanced up at him despite herself.
Jeremy Bates was a math teacher, and handsome enough that there were quite a few female students who came to him looking for extra help with their homework. He had an unflappable self-assurance about him, which was probably why Laurette had agreed to go out on a date a few months ago. He seemed nice, he seemed like he could be a good guy to get to know. He seemed all that.
What he was was a self-absorbed jerk. There was no topic she could bring up that he couldn’t turn back to himself within a few sentences. There was nothing they could do together that he couldn’t turn into some kind of desperate self-promotion, except that there was no real desperation to it. If there had been, she could have dealt with that, but he just seemed so convinced that the only thing anyone should be focusing on was him. After a couple of dates and one awkward kiss, Laurette had pulled the ripcord and bailed from that relationship.
The lesson she learned, of course, was to never date someone from work. That same self-assuredness that made him think he was so very interesting was what made him think that their breakup – if you could even call it that – was a ploy in some longer game that she was playing. If he just found the right tactic, she would open up to him.
In more ways than one, of course.
He was still standing there, just in her peripheral vision. Laurette kept scribbling on the essay. “Go away, Jeremy,” she said.
“Not until you open your present,” he said. She could hear the smug grin.
“Not opening it, Jeremy,” she said. “You don’t need to give me presents anymore.”
He picked it up off the desk. “C’mon, Laurie,” he said. She flinched at the familiarity. “You’ll like it.” He offered it to her and she dropped the essays into her lap with a growl.
“It doesn’t matter if I’ll like it, Jeremy,” she said, still not looking at him. “I don’t want it.”
He started to unwrap it himself. “Here,” he said. “Lemme show you.” Laurette couldn’t stop herself from clenching her fists, crumpling the essays. Students probably wouldn’t notice – they’d just looked at the grade and then shove it in their locker.
“Here you are,” he said, showing it to her again. This time he got her attention. It was a thin hardcover book, a leatherbound edition of a collection of poems she’d had her eye on for a while. Without thinking, she took it and started to flip through the pages. They were from some of her favorite poets, works she’d known for years. This collection was one that she’d been meaning to buy, but had never really been able to justify to herself.
“Where did you get this?” she asked. She looked up at him, and his smile broadened into a genuine aw-shucks grin, the kind that he seemed to do without any trace of effort or irony.
“A little bird told me you had your eye on it,” he said. “I knew you’d love it.”
She turned it over in her hands, looking at the way the light glimmered on the binding. She glanced over at the other teachers in the office, but if they were paying attention, they were doing a good job of hiding it. She wanted to open the book and start reading right there and then.
A little bird?
She looked at him again, her eyes narrowed. Suddenly that grin looked smug. Something in his eyes that said that he’d won something. Scored a point somewhere. “Jeremy, I know I didn’t tell you I wanted this. And I know I didn’t mention it to anyone here.” She wanted to hand it back to him, but somehow she managed to hold it close to her chest. “How did you know?”
“Laurette,” he said. “What does it matter how I knew? All that matters is that I wanted to do something nice for you.” He tried to put his hand on her shoulder, but she scooted the chair away. “What?” he asked. He set his shoulders and crossed his arms. That smugness just flowed off him like stink on a hot summer’s day. “A guy can’t do nice things?”
That did it. “No, Jeremy,” she said. Laurette stood up and slapped the book at his folded arms. His expression froze. “You did something, and I -”
The thought seemed to ooze into her mind, and she recoiled from it. There was something just…
“You looked me up, didn’t you?” she said. She sat down at her computer and navigated to Amazon. He tried to say something, but she held up the index finger that had the power to quiet a room full of teenagers. The book should be on her wish list, she knew that. She scrolled down a bit, and…
“Not there,” she growled. She spun around in her chair. “You looked me up, didn’t you?” she asked again.
He shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Guilty,” he said. “But how else was I supposed to know what you wanted?”
Laurette stood up in a shot. “Jeremy, I want nothing from you, okay? We dated, it was a mistake, and it’s over. Get that through your head!”
“C’mon,” he said, and she really, really wanted to punch him. “Laurette, we had a great time together. You and me, we could really be something.” He reached out to touch her arm and she pulled back. His eyes flickered to her balled-up fist, and he looked like he might have just figured out what was going through her mind. He turned the gesture into a shrug of helplessness. “C’mon, Laurie,” he said. “What’s a guy gotta do?”
She actually barked out a laugh. “You gotta not be a creepy stalker,” she said. “What, are you going to show up on Facebook next?” His face went carefully still and her gut sank. She didn’t remember ever friending him, but… “Oh, for the love of – What else have you done?”
He did that grin-and-shrug again. “Twitter,” he said. “And I have a Google alert.”
There was actually a moment of vertigo, and she had to sit down. “Holy shit,” she said. She had a blog that she updated from time to time, and she was on a fan-fiction forum. He probably knew about both of those. Her photo site popped into her head, followed an instant later by the sketch gallery she had started and then let grow fallow.
She stood back up, spinning the chair so that it was between her and him. “Okay,” she said in a harsh whisper. People were actually watching by this point, but she didn’t care. The more people the better, actually. “I’m not going to be in any way ambiguous or uncertain about this, Jeremy, so it’s really important that you listen: We. Are not. Getting back together.” She jabbed the finger at him this time, and he actually flinched. “Not now, not ever. You are a self-centered boor, an egotistical jerk, and incredibly creepy.” She handed the book to him, and when he didn’t take it, she let it fall to the floor. He looked down at it, then up at her again. “Never do this again, Jeremy. Never. Or I will file a harassment claim so fast it would make David Mamet’s head spin!”
His brow furrowed. “David who?”
“Never mind!” Laurette yelled. She pointed at the book on the floor. “Take that, and get away from me.” She clenched her hands on the back of her chair. Her hands hurt, and her legs felt like they were trembling. He wasn’t moving. Her mind put up scenarios where she’d have to run, or fight, or both. Given the choice, she’d really rather he just went away and went back to being the guy who couldn’t take a hint, rather than the guy who spent his time on the internet looking her up. The difference was palpable to her. At that moment, it wasn’t just that he was standing in front of her, or in the same room – he worked in the same school. They were in meetings together. She’d run into him at the supermarket once or twice before.
No matter where she went, he could be there.
Laurette wanted to throw up.
“All right,” Jeremy said. He bent down and picked up the book. “Guy tries to do something nice…” He put it under his arm and shrugged. “Guess I’ll be seeing you around, Laurie.” He turned to go, and then looked back at her. And winked.
When he was gone, Laurette dropped back into her chair. Some of the other teachers had watched the whole thing, but none came over. None had any words for her. They just went back to their work.
Laurette tried to take deep breaths until the feeling that she wanted to cry or scream or throw up passed. It was a long time coming, and those essays weren’t getting graded anytime soon.
Her computer chimed. It was a message on her Twitter client, from @Jer_the_MathMan.
> @RWHS_Hitch Maybe next time.