So… this is my first shot at any kind of competitive writing. Let's hope it goes down well 'cuz only I know how long I slaved in front of the computer, trying to make the deadline.
Thanks to those who persuaded me to post this; I would be nothing without your support and encouragement.
Also, this one's for my editor, who's currently plotting pre-meditated murder. I'll always love you, even when you hold a knife to my throat.
Don't forget to vote and enjoy this! ~L.
"Paging Miss Summers. Miss Summers, please proceed to the General Office."
The bleep of the PA system sent a spark of excitement – or was it relief? – through me. It was the third day of the open house for Junior Colleges, and this was the first time that I'd been beeped to meet with a student or parent. It was a depressing fact, that – especially when the other teachers seated around you couldn't get back to their seats for ten minutes before they were paged to be met with again. Thus, you could tell why I'd be excited to be paged to meet with someone who was actually interested enough in the English Language to want to meet with me.
Patting my straight, strawberry-blonde hair in place as I passed a mirror, I quickly descended the stairs from the Staff Room that led to the office. The five-inch heels on my feet clicked loudly as I flung the glass doors open with a flair that was probably too much for a drab day in school.
"Peggy," I said, slightly breathlessly to the receptionist. "You paged?"
"Yes. Someone wanted to speak to you," Peggy returned in her sharp, Chinese accent. I followed her nod to someone who was standing in front of the notice boards, her hands shoved deep in her pockets. A student, I thought, dressed in faded, holey jeans and a black shirt. Her hair was short, straight and curled slightly around her neck. Skin the color of milk coffee told me that she was probably Indian or Malay.
I cleared my throat and she turned, her hands still in her pockets. The first thing I noticed about her was her eyebrow ring, something I hadn't seen on anyone in a long time. And even if I had, I was sure that it wouldn't look as good on others as it did on her. The gold of it made her dark skin look absolutely stunning, which gave me a good first impression of her. I was always impressed by someone who knew how to make themselves look good. It spoke of their confidence and self-understanding, I suppose.
I extended my hand. "I'm Candy Summers, English Lit and Creative Writing lecturer."
Her hand was warm in mine when she grasped it. The handshake was strong and confident, not like most people's, who shook my hand as though they were afraid that they would break the petite little blonde, expat teacher. One point for Miss Eyebrow-piercing.
"Hey, it's nice to meet you. I'm Alex."
And with her first words, she earned another point from me; she also made me realize that she was different from the average student. Believe me when I say that not many students in Singapore use 'Hey' as part of their daily vocabulary. In fact, I'd almost forgotten that there was such a word after two years of living abroad. Here, most people stuck to 'Hello', 'Hi' or simply, 'Wassup, 'cher.' Yeah, 'Hey' was a rarity indeed. I was starting to like this girl.
"I'm actually," she continued, reaching into her backpack for her notebook, "interested in the Creative Writing course that the school offers."
Clear grammar. Good lord, another point.
"Of course, sure. Let's take a seat and we can discuss it." I smiled, thinking that this girl in my class would be a godsend. Only I knew how grumpy the students could get when they were posted to an English class only because they hadn't done well enough to get into their beloved Science and Math classes. Having one student who was actually interested in the subject would be a really nice change.
We sat – with me crossing my legs and her sprawling on the chair in a very guy-like manner, which reminded me of a friend from home. I watched her every movement as she flipped open the very-worn black notebook of hers and started asking me questions pertaining to the course.
I answered each one of them as carefully as possible, my eyes flickering to the eyebrow piercing every one in a while when she raised her eyebrows at something I said. I found that I liked looking at it, although I knew that she would have to take it off if she was enrolled in the school.
After she was all out of questions, I decided to ask her some, just to pick at her brain a little. I wanted to know if she was as good as seemed to be, or if it was just a front she put on.
I un-crossed my legs as she leaned forward to listen to me. As she did so, a slight whiff of her perfume drifted to me… wait, was that perfume or cologne? I shook my head clear of those thoughts.
"As you know, in the class, we're going to re-visit some of the basic syntax/punctuation rules. Is your foundation of the language strong?" I asked, trying to sound as formal as the informal thoughts running through my head. It wouldn't do me good to admire a student in that way. Besides, I wasn't even gay.
"Yeah. Pretty much," she said with a smile. Well, it wasn't really a smile. Just a tilting of the corners of her shapely lips. It reminded me of the smiles that Vamps and Werewolves gave their preys before they bit them; the kind of smile that says 'I'm totally harmless, baby.' It looked good on her.
"All right, then. Let me ask you a couple of questions," I said after clearing my throat. Jeez, there was something playing around in there. "At which point do you use a semi-colon instead of a full-stop?"
I still remembered asking that question to the previous batch of students that I'd taught. The responses had been… horrible.
"Hmm," she said, obviously thinking of how to phrase her words. "I usually just follow my gut on punctuations… but I have to say that I'd use a semi-colon when I have an idea that flows through two sentences. Because if I insert a full-stop between the two, the sentences would appear to have different ideas, when the idea is, in fact, the same. Is that right?"
I was shocked. "Yes. Yeah!" I said around a pretty bright smile. That was exactly right! Wow, I thought. The girl was good for a seventeen year-old. "Where did you learn that?"
She shrugged. "Just picked it up along the way."
"That's good. That's really good." I was still smiling. The girl held so much potential that if she got into my class, I knew I'd be squeezing every last drop of creativity and imagination from her. I mean, after years of teaching kids who didn't want to learn, won't any teacher get excited when she managed to catch someone who actually did want to excel in the subject?
"Can I ask you something?" she said as she put away her notebook.
"Sure," I retuned, watching the way her loose jeans hugged her thighs as she reached over for her backpack. They were nice thighs; I could tell that they were well-muscled.
"Where do you call home? I can't place the accent and it's killing me," she said, then licked her lips. I had to tell myself to look away.
"Home's New York," I replied, "It's just that I've been traveling a lot, and that kind of mangled my accent."
"Oh. Yeah, that's cool," she nodded, rising to her feet. I followed suit, adjusting my skirt as I did so. When I turned to her, I came to realize that even in my heels, I barely reached her chin. Granted, I was only five foot two without the extra height, but she was really tall. Especially for an Asian. Where Asian women were usually my height, she was definitely at least six feet tall.
I took a step back so that I didn't have to crane my neck too much to look into her eyes.
"I've got to get going," she said, looking at her watch, "I've got a couple more schools to check out before the day's out."
"Yes, of course," I said, holding out my hand again. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Alex." The statement was one from my heart, for it had been a pleasure for me. It wasn't every day that you found someone who was as crazy about a language as yourself, for I could tell that she was crazy, especially from the way she drawled in perfect grammar and tense. It was darn sexy, even I had to admit.
"It most definitely was," she said with that perfect smile.
"Do you need help in finding the main road?" I asked when we exited the General Office. I knew how confusing the school compound could be on a first visit, but I hadn't expected Alex to take me up in my offer for directions. She seemed like the macho I-don't-need-any-help-from-you kind of person. Obviously, I was wrong in that aspect.
"Yeah. That'll be nice. Which way's the bus stop?"
I started to draw a mental map out for her, but decided against the confusing thing. "Aw, hell. Come on. I'll show you."
I walked a couple of steps ahead of her, leading her away from the main building. A wind was picking up, and I looked back at her as it blew against us.
I commanded my salivary glands to stop working on overdrive, but it was no use. The sight of Alex's black shirt plastered to her flat tummy was too sexy for me not to ogle for a few seconds. God, she looked like one of the guys on Baywatch.
Midway through my ogle-fest, I misjudged a step and lost my footing. Being the clutz that I was, coupled with the heels, would've sent me sprawling down the excitingly long flight of stairs. But you-know-who just had to be as quick as the suave, hot guys in romance novels, and reach out to steady me.
"Whoa," she said, a little more loudly than her usual drawl. "Careful there. Those heels weren't meant for brisk walking."
I gave her a tight smile, for her hand on my shoulder was unnerving. If I'd been absolutely truthful to myself, I would've said her touch had made me hot.
But I wasn't being truthful.
"Yeah. I'd have to agree with that. Well, um, the main road's just a hundred meters that way. You can find the bus stop on your left." I pointed in to the right, feeling my heart-rate accelerating for some unknown reason. OK, I knew the reason. It was because she was standing so close to me again. I took a step back. Was it just me, or was that the second time that I had to do that?
"All right, then. Thank you, Miss Summers," she replied with a twinkle in her eye. I narrowed my eyes at her retreating back. There had been something wrong with the way she had said my name, like she was being kinky with me, or as though we were in a role-play session. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought she was hitting on me. But why would she do that?
For obvious reasons, the little voice in my head replied. Because she thinks you're cute.
Yeah, but I'm also her teacher, and probably at least ten years older than her.
What do you mean, 'so?'
So, what difference does it make?
It makes a hell of a lot of difference. She's not even legal, yet!
Yes, she is. Sixteen is the legal age for sex here, and you know it.
No, I don't.
Yes, you do.
Oh, just shut up.
She didn't sign up for the course.
That was the first thing that hit me when I looked at the attendance sheet of the new JC1 Creative Writing class that year. No matter how many times I looked through it, the names didn't change and I clearly didn't see an Alex on it anywhere. To say that I was disappointed didn't cut it. Over the past three weeks, I'd looked forward to having her in my class. Not for the fact that I thought she'd hit on me, but for the fact that I knew she was good in English, and I wanted to read what her writing would be like. I'd thought about her frequently, especially when the students in my JC2 classes bored the hell out of me with the calculated, pre-packaged answers from their English text or guide books. Somehow, I knew that Alex would have answers of her own, other than the ones in her textbook.
So, when I didn't see her on the attendance sheet, I marched into my new class like a cranky old bear, hiding the frown on my face with a plastic smile. The student's stood as I came in, looking identical in their uniforms. They sat, one by one, as I ticked off their names for attendance. Then, when I came to the final name on my fifteen-name list, I began reading it, just as someone interrupted me.
"You can call me Alex, Miss Summers."
I started. Damn it! That voice! I didn't know if I was happy to hear it or not. On one hand, it made my gut tie up into funny knots. But on the other, it meant that I would be having her in my class for the next two years. I decided to look on the positive side. I'd at least have one student who was devoted to the class.
"Alex," I announced, "I see you made it."
"Yes, ma'am." There was just something about the way she said it… was she mocking me?
If anyone should be mocked, I thought, it should be her. The compulsory uniform that she wore looked pretty ridiculous on her, after the jeans and T-shirt I'd seen her in the other day. The red skirt almost made her look girly. It was laughable, especially since she looked darned uncomfortable in her attire.
"All right," I said, turning away from the class and picking up a marker. It was time to get down to business. "My name is Miss Candy Summers…"
The rest of the class flew right by, especially when I realized that some of the pupils in the class were also genuinely interested in the art of writing creatively. I answered as many questions as possible before the bell rang, noticing that Alex never did raise her hand to ask me a thing. But, I was curious about my students' abilities, and so, before they left, I handed out an assignment: 800 words on a topic of their choice by next week. A few of them groaned at this, but most of them looked intrigued.
They came forward to grab the instruction sheet as they left, and as I guessed, Alex was the last one. I smiled when I noticed that one side of her skirt was higher than the other, and that her shirt was hanging out partially. She could've gotten in trouble for that, but I doubted that she cared, and I wasn't about to start nagging. I tried to keep the laugh to myself, but as she passed my table, I could've sworn she murmured, "It's not funny."
But that made it a hell of a lot funnier.
As I'd predicted, Alex turned out to be one of my best students. No, she still didn't ask many questions in class, but the assignments she handed in were better than most of the short stories that published authors write. The first story I read by her was one entitled, 'Stranger'. She talked about a man whom she'd just met, and how they were having this very normal conversation. But in the end, there was a twist in the story, and the man she'd been talking to was actually her father. That was the start of a very long list of interesting stories she sent my way. I mean, the other students in class were pretty good as well, but she was outstanding. The eloquent way she used her vocabulary really drew the reader in and played with their minds. That, and the fact that she was the only student who cussed in her assignments. Cussing was all right with me, as long as it furthered the plot. And with her, it definitely did.
I saw her around school almost everyday, hanging out with a group of girls who looked like they had really bad-ass attitudes. There was also this petite, fragile-looking Chinese girl who hung around Alex a lot. And more than once, I'd seen Alex put her arms around the girl. I'd raised my eyebrows at that, but didn't say anything.
I was so not affected.
It was late one evening, about six months into the school year, when I had some sort of confirmation that Alex was, indeed, gay. I'd just finished meeting with the Arts faculty in the school, and it was really late. Besides that, the meeting room had been freaking cold, and I really had to pee. My briefcase was already in my hand, and I had no reason to walk up to the third floor just to use the staff toilet, so I made my way to the student one on the first floor instead. Teachers didn't really use student toilets, but I was willing to bet that there weren't any students in school anymore, so what harm could it do?
At first, I didn't hear anything, and I thought the whole place was empty since it was nearly six. I clickity clacked into a stall and unzipped the pleated black skirt that hung just above my knees. It was while I was handling business when I heard the ruffling. With a frown, I listened closely to the noise. It was coming from the last stall. Faint rustling of clothes, then a giggle. I rolled my eyes, sighing. College kids. They knew that sexual activities on campus weren't allowed, but they had to break the rules. Well, I thought – been there, done that.
As I pushed my way out of the stall, the door to the last stall opened and out came the little China-doll that hung around Alex all the time. Her face was flushed and her eyes held a just-fucked twinkle that I really didn't want to see… especially when I noticed the someone who was standing behind her.
"Alex," I said, giving her a once-over. There was nothing amiss about her except for the locks of hair standing like spikes on her head. I could just imagine how her normally flaccid hair had become spikey.
"Miss S," she replied, giving me that lazy smile. She obviously knew that I knew what they'd been doing. And it brought a lick of flame to my cheeks.
"Who's your friend?" My voice sounded weird, even to myself.
"Oh, this is Mindy, my girlfriend." It was said without the slightest of hesitation, as though she was proud of the little porcelain doll.
I gritted my teeth.
"Mindy," I said, grabbing a paper towel to dry my wet hands. "Well, it was very nice to meet you, but I'm afraid that I have to leave now. I'll see you in class tomorrow, Alex." With that, I turned on my heels and walked out the swinging toilet doors, clenching my fists when I heard the giggling in the toilet start again.
OK, I was pissed, but I didn't know why. Alex was just a student, and it shouldn't matter to me if she was fucking the bloody Queen of England. As long as she produced results and gave me no trouble, I shouldn't find any fault with her. But the problem was, I had felt this searing pain when dollface had stepped out of the stall in front of Alex. I couldn't really explain it; I couldn't really place what I felt, either. It was a feeling of something between anger, pain and jealousy. And why either feeling should rise in me, didn't make any sense at all.
I drove home in a pretty shitty mood, honking at drivers that I normally wouldn't honk at. Every radio station seemed to hate me, and even the traffic lights had plotted against me. But after the third honk at some poor soul, I managed to convince myself that I was merely PMSing and wasn't angry at what I'd seen back in school. It took me the whole ten minutes of the drive to tell myself that, and even after that, I didn't feel a whole lot better.
That night, I did nothing but indulge in a tub of Cookies and Cream ice cream, neglecting the scripts that I had to look through for my Lit class. That was a first for me. I'd never neglected work before, but there was always a first time for everything. As I stared at another episode of a re-run of Friends on TV, my mind couldn't resist wandering back to the episode this evening. The look on Alex's face… like a contented, well-satisfied woman. I realized that I wanted to put that look there – which was absurd, since I wasn't even a lesbian. A large spoonful of ice cream went into my mouth. No, I definitely wasn't a lesbian, and I needed to stop thinking of my student as a sex toy. She was off-limits, for god's sake.