Happy Ever After & Other Rumors
Copyright © 2011 Heather Horrocks
“Hey, slow it down,” Leslie Morgan called out. “Yeah, you. In the Taz tee-shirt.”
The Taz-clad student opened his eyes wide, as though Leslie couldn̓t possibly mean him, and muttered, “Whatever. You don̓t gotta̓ yell at me,” as he slumped down the hall.
Leslie sighed. Here it was, the first day of school, the first class wouldn’t begin for another five minutes, and she’d already had her first run-in with one of the kids. She definitely loved teaching, sharing her love of the English language, and nourishing her students’ dreams of writing stories. Unfortunately, babysitting junior high kids with bad attitudes was like a fairy tale gone bad. And it only made the situation tougher when the school was so big you couldn’t possibly know every kid’s name or even recognize all the faces.
A girl Leslie did recognize from last year waved. “Hi, Miss Morgan.”
“Hi, Amy.” Now there was one of those rare students who really wanted to learn. Leslie hoped she had lots of students like that this year, but her last eight years of teaching had taught her that she'd be lucky to have even one in each of her classes.
From the left corridor, a tall handsome man who looked to be in his thirties entered the flow of students in front of Leslie. A couple of girls turned, pointed at him and giggled—and Leslie didn’t blame them. Just a glimpse made her feel like Sleeping Beauty awakening from a long sleep. He did kind of resemble a Prince Charming. How long had it been since she’d found any man truly attractive? Far too long. But that’s how she preferred her life. Uncomplicated.
When the man disappeared into Clark Euley's classroom, she shuddered. What a reprehensible man. Clark Euley, not this hapless parent whose child happened to have him as their teacher. Leslie had the ill fortune to have the classroom next to Clark's, so she got the double pleasure of listening to him yell at his students all day and then fending off verbal advances he made to her after hours. She'd come this close last year to filing a complaint on him about the advances. And she finally had filed one about the yelling. She couldn't with good conscience allow someone with that much anger to verbally abuse children, even if they were junior high students with bad attitudes. If she was really lucky, Clark'd be so ticked off at her he’d keep his distance. She could only hope. But regardless, this year would be better because this year she wasn’t going to take any crap from Clark at all. And by now he already knew that.
* * *
“And they all lived...” Leslie paused and let the class join her for the well-known ending, “...happily ever after.”
A girl on the front row raised her hand. “I think there is no such thing as happily ever after. Prince Charming is as real as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.”
“Oh, I hope not,” Leslie said. “I believe in fairy tales. And in Prince Charming.”
A boy turned to the girl, acting shocked. “Santa Claus isn’t real?”
The bell rang and Leslie called out, “See you tomorrow. Remember to get your papers signed.”
The Seventh Period kids shuffled out, noisy and boisterous and hyper. The day had seemed to last forever and yet passed quickly, all at the same time. She had some pretty good classes this year. There only seemed to be one with any serious troublemakers, and that period was early enough in the day that she’d still be energetic enough to deal with them.
As she straightened her room, laughter burst from the hallway. Amazed, she realized she hadn't heard any yelling the whole day from Clark’s classroom, only what had sounded like a warped Tarzan yell a couple of times. She’d actually heard laughter from his students today. Clark must have gone to counseling or something. Electroshock therapy. What else could have mellowed him out like that? Could it possibly be a wonderful change because of the complaint she’d filed? Whatever had done it, she was impressed.
She gathered her things, turned off the light, and locked her door. She glanced over at Clark's door. It was already shut, not that that was a surprise–he never put in a moment extra on his students. What a relief. Any day without encountering Clark was an excellent day.
Outside, the parking lot was nearly empty except for a few students milling around and a few cars. Her friend and fellow teacher, Mary Beth, drove by, honked and waved. Juggling books, Leslie waved back.
After being free all summer, she was as glad as the kids to be out of the confines of the stuffy, too-warm building. She was looking forward to relaxing with her shoes off, lying in the path of her air conditioner, and enjoying a cherry-flavored shaved ice and the murder mystery she’d started last night. Her life had fallen into a nice routine.
With that comforting thought, she climbed into her car and turned the key. Only nothing happened. She tried again. Nada. No whirring noise, no coughing, no sputtering. Just...silence.
With a sigh, she popped the hood latch and climbed out of the car. Like she'd know what was wrong if she looked. But she was single and had to fix things on her own and so she'd look, if for no other reason than to tell a funny story to her students later--“and then I propped up the hood and stared at the engine, and then Prince Charming came along and...” Yeah, right. Better check the car yourself, Leslie, my girl. There are disturbing rumors that Prince Charming is dead and buried.
With a sigh, she started poking and prodding, trying to remember what she’d learned in that auto mechanics class she’d taken several years ago.
“Need some help?”
At the unexpected sound of the man’s voice behind her, Leslie looked up. When she recognized the handsome parent she’d seen this morning, her heart picked up tempo.
He looked chagrined. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Leslie laughed shakily. “That’s okay. Being startled in trade for being helped. I get the better deal.”
The man smiled, and beautiful dimples appeared. Wow. The last dimples she’d seen like that had been on the news guy on Channel Two, and she suspected those were air brushed on. This guy sure looked like Prince Charming. “Let me take a look.”
As he stuck his head under the hood and fiddled with some wires, she reminded herself that this guy was a parent and, since parents have at least one child, he was probably married. More likely he was King of the Hill instead of Prince Charming. Not that she was looking to get involved, anyway. But with someone this good-looking, at least you could wake up in the morning and smile at the view. She waited for a moment, then asked, “Waiting for your kids?”
“Ah, ha,” he exclaimed as he shifted position under the hood. “No, actually, my students have all left for the day.”
The truth dawned on her. “You're a teacher? I haven't seen you here before.”
“This is my first day, so no one has seen me yet except my students and the person who hired me. I missed the orientation meetings because of a prior commitment.” He adjusted a black metal thing with wires coming out of it. “There, let’s try it now.”
He leaned in through the open window, and the engine roared to life. The man dropped the hood back into place, and dusted off his hands.
“Thanks.” Leslie looked up a good six inches into the man’s warm brown eyes. “I really appreciate your help.”
“My pleasure.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m David Leonard.”
“Pleased to meet you.” She reached out and took his hand. His hand shake was warm and firm, not too tight, not too loose, and not held for too long. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Just like Goldilocks. “Leslie Morgan.”
His smile broadened. “I’ve heard about you. I didn't hear a peep from your class today. How do you manage that?”
She started to answer, and then realized she’d seen him going into Clark's classroom this morning. “Are you in the classroom next to mine?”
“So you're the one who yelled like Tarzan? And made your students laugh so hard?”
“Guilty.” He smiled, dimples appearing again.
“What an incredible talent you have for reaching your students.” Her smile broadened. “So where is good ‘ole Clark now?”
“I've heard a lot about good 'ole Clark, mostly from the students. Actually, he’s no longer here. And it sounds like it's good he's gone.”
In more ways than you can possibly imagine.
He continued. “The principal told me your complaint was the one that got the ball rolling.”
Surprised, she tilted her head. “Spencer never told me.”
“He and I go back years. And he mentioned it when he called me because he didn't have anyone to replace Clark.”
“So you're temporary.” She chided herself for being bothered by that news.
“I'll be here for the entire year. If the kids like me, maybe they'll keep me around for longer.”
“If today was any indication, you'll be around for decades.” Long enough for her to get to know him. I mean, if you work side by side with someone, you learn to know them. Clark had looked good, too, when he first started. But there was something about this guy that let her know he was nothing like Clark. If she only knew if he was married or not. He wasn’t wearing a ring, but that was not necessarily a good indicator. “How long have you been teaching?”
He laughed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Long enough to know better, actually. Ten years.”
“Five for me.”
He glanced at his watch. “It’s getting late. I've got to run.”
Oh, yeah. Just because he was a teacher didn't mean he didn't have a family somewhere. Just because he didn't wear a ring didn't mean anything, either. “Oh, sure. Thanks for helping me. I guess I'd better let you get home to your family.”
He gave her a funny look. “Yeah, Old Shep is probably really missing me right about now.”
“You’re kidding?” she blurted out. “You named a child Shep?”
“The only kids I have are the ones in my classroom. Shep is my dog.”
“Oh.” Warmth crept up her cheeks.
“But, as long as you brought up the subject, I am not married, I'm not dating anyone and haven't for a long time. But things are looking up. If you’re not involved with anyone, would you like to have dinner with me next week?”
Surprised, she didn’t have time to answer before he forged ahead.
“Think about it, Leslie” he said and she liked the way her name sounded rolling off his tongue. “I've got to run now to pick up my sister from the airport. She's here for my mom's sixtieth birthday bash.”
She didn’t need extra time to answer. “I am not involved with anyone and I would enjoy going to dinner with you.”
“You would? That's great.” With a big grin, he started jogging backward, stopping beside a black Jeep. “I'll talk to you tomorrow then. Maybe at lunch? We can set a date and time then.”
She nodded, waved and watched him drive off. As she climbed in her Suburu, she found she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. Yes, you most certainly will talk with me tomorrow, Leslie thought.
It was too soon to tell if he would lead to her very own personal happily ever after.
For now she was just glad to have met him and know that Prince Charming was alive and well.