Principal's PetbyPenelope Street©
© 2007 by Penelope Street
Even looking back, I remember the exact moment I first laid eyes on Andrea Marshall. I'm certain my heart missed a beat. Or two. I guess I didn't know she was different at that moment, but I still felt it.
"Mrs. Larson?" she queried, rising from behind her desk to reveal a form that, even in an A-line skirt and tweed jacket, was curvy enough to make me look like a boy. She had that Mediterranean look- flawless olive complexion with jet-black hair pulled tightly behind her head. My son's principal wasn't supposed to be this pretty. Or young. Maybe even younger than me. And I was barely thirty.
"Mrs. Larson?" she repeated.
I snapped my head back and forth before forcing my attention back to her face. "Yes."
"I'm Andrea Marshall." She extended her hand across her desk, but I didn't really see it. Gleaming from behind the lenses of her black half-framed spectacles, her hazel eyes had captured mine. And those eyebrows. Too thick. Yet too perfect. She had to pluck them. Had to. But not as much as I would have. Her mouth moved again, but I heard nothing. And that nose. That impeccable little upturned nose. How I hated it. And loved it.
My spine stiffened. Intent on accepting her hand, I glanced down to find she had already withdrawn it. I inhaled a gasp and turned my attention to her face. "I'm sorry."
Again, her eyes bore into mine. "For what?"
"I, uh, this is all so embarrassing."
The principal motioned with her open hand toward the empty guest chairs, then waited until I looked back to her face. "It's going to be ok," she said. "Every child misbehaves now and then."
I slid into one of the chairs and pulled my purse onto my lap. "Sure, every child is naughty now and then, but hitting a teacher?"
"Yes," she said. "Quite a first offense. Misbehavior that occurs suddenly like this often goes with unexpected stress at home. I understand you and Robert's father have split?"
I grimaced while nodding. "Yes. Over the holidays. How'd you know?"
She smiled. "Robert told me. Went on for a good fifteen minutes how he wants you two back together."
My chest shuddered through a guffaw. "That's not going to happen."
"I know," she said, "but children often have a hard time accepting such things are permanent. I got the impression you haven't spoken with him about it much?"
"Not recently. I'm not sure what I can say that I haven't already."
Her head moved in a slow nod. "Then say it all again. That you love Robert. That it had nothing to do with him. And that... why did you and your husband split?"
"He couldn't keep his dick out of other women." I could all but feel my cheeks warm as my own words reached my ears.
To my surprise, the principal smiled instead of scowled at my risqué admission. "Well, I don't think Robert needs to know all the details, but he does need to understand things can never go back to the way they were."
I nodded my agreement. "It can't be easy on him."
"Still, we can't have him hitting teachers, can we?"
"Of course not!"
The principal placed her elbows at the edge of her desk before resting her chin on her folded hands. "Do you have any ideas on how he ought to be punished?"
I shook my head. "I'm afraid I'm still so stunned I haven't been able to think of anything."
"How do you feel about corporal punishment?"
"Spankings?" I sat upright in the chair and took a deep breath. "They aren't my favorite."
"So you don't like to give them," the principal began, sitting back in her chair, "or you don't like to receive them?"
My eyebrows fell to hover over my eyes. "Mrs. Marshall, I don't see..."
"It's Miss Marshall," she insisted. "But, really, do we need to be so formal? Call me Andrea."
"Ok," I agreed with a brisk nod. "I'm Courtney."
"Perfect," she said with a grin. "So you don't spank Robert?"
"I see. Did your husband?"
"I suppose. Once or twice."
"Only once or twice?"
"Well," I began, adjusting myself in my chair, "Robert certainly wasn't abused, if that's what you're implying!"
"Not at all. What do you do instead, when your son misbehaves?"
"Scolding. Time outs."
Miss Marshall nodded. "The good old corner is often the best choice. Is that what your parents used?"
My mind rushed back to my childhood. "No," I said with a sigh. "My mother was big into spankings."
"And your dad?"
"My parents divorced when I was young," I related. "My father never had much hand in my disciplining."
"How's your relationship now with your mother?"
I swallowed. "We were always close."
Andrea's continence melted. "Were?"
"My mom died two years ago."
"Oh," she said with a tisk of her tongue. "I'm sorry to hear that. Was it sudden?"
I shook my head. "Breast cancer."
Andrea's eyes bounced to my bosom before returning to my face.
I forced a grin. "Hers weren't any bigger. Hardly seems fair, getting cancer of something you barely even have."
Miss Marshall leaned over the desk and whispered, "Just between us, I feel blessed not to have really huge ones- all they do is attract the wrong kind of attention."
My forced grin widened to a genuine smile. "I've often thought the same thing."
"I lost my mother too," Andrea related as she leaned back again. "Back in college. I'm still not sure I'm over it. But that's not what you came here to talk about, is it? Where were we?"
"Oh, yes," she said. "That. Well, I have to suspend him, of course. Three days is the usual, but spring break coming next week makes that potentially awkward."
I leaned my head to one side. "How so?"
"Well, for a suspension to be most effective, it shouldn't seem like an extension of his vacation. You know?"
"I see. Do you have something in mind?"
"Depends. Do you have plans for the break?"
"Me?" I began. "No. But Robert's going to spend the break with Dave. That's my ex. They're going fishing up at our cabin." I paused for a dry swallow. "I mean, Dave's cabin."
"I see." Miss Marshall sat up and reached for her desk drawer. Retrieving a pen, she looked back to me. "In that case, I'd like to speak with Dave too. Do you happen to have his number?"
"Sure." My hands moved to open my purse. "It's in my phone." My fingers raked through pens, lipstick, perfume, my compact, a tampon, some tea lights, my hairbrush, tootsie rolls, a travel toothbrush, stray receipts, and more, all in an ultimately futile quest. "I must have left it in my car," I said with a sigh. "Or home."
"You don't know your husband's number?"
I shook my head. "No. He seems to get a new one every month."
"I see." Andrea's left hand disappeared into the drawer, reappearing a second later with a business card. On the back, she printed the digits of a phone number. "Call me later," she said, looking back to me and extending the card my way. "That's my cell number. I probably won't answer it this evening, so just leave his number."
I smiled. "Hot date?"
"Not exactly. I'm in a band."
"A band? Like a rock band?"
"Yeah," she said with a nod. "We just play local clubs, nothing big." She wiggled her hand, attracting my attention to the card therein.
"Ok." I agreed, accepting the card and depositing it in my purse. "I'll call you later."
"Also, I'd suggest Robert be grounded to his room for the days he's suspended, just to reinforce that it's not an extension of his vacation."
"That's exactly what I had in mind," I said.
"And I want to see both you and Robert the morning he returns, before school. Just to see how things have gone over the week." Miss Marshall glanced to the calendar on the wall adjacent to her desk. "That'll be the twenty-second," she said, looking back to me. "Will that be a problem?"
"Would seven be too early?"
"Not at all."
I smiled. "Then it won't be a problem."
"Very good." The principal stood and extended her hand. "I'll see you both then."
Without thinking, I stood and extended my own hand, sending my still-open purse from my thighs to the floor. My hand stopped. My head and eyes turned downward, following my bag for the split second it took to reach the carpet and scatter its contents beneath Miss Marshall's desk.
"Let me help you with that." Andrea withdrew her hand and started to stoop.
"No!" I insisted, leaping to my knees. "I'll get it." My eyes and hands rushed about the floor, gathering my things all the while seeking one item in particular. A smile formed on my face when I saw it, the floppy disc resting near her feet.
The next instant, my smile dissolved. My eyes roamed the smooth flesh of her foot amidst the broad, black straps of her heeled sandal. Not a principal's shoe. Not a principal's foot. Feet like hers should be kissed. Worshipped even. All of her should be worshipped. I caught myself inching forward and taking a deep breath, hoping I might catch a hint of leather. And her.
Closing my eyes, I pictured myself with my splayed fingers wrapped about her lower calf just above the straps of her heel and my lips suckling the exposed upper surface of her foot.
With a gasp, I shook my head and snapped myself back to reality. My hand flew like a striking snake, grabbing the black plastic square and thrusting it back into my purse in a single motion. Steadying my nerve with a single deep breath, I stood.
"Let me guess," Andrea said. "You like foofoo stuff?"
My lips formed a purse. I leaned my head to one side. "Foofoo stuff?"
"Scented things," she explained. "Candles. Perfumes. Lotions."
I looked down at my purse, trying to recall how many of the items in her list were inside. By the time I looked up, I was smiling again. "Yes. I like foofoo stuff."
Andrea's lips curved to mirror mine. "Did you find everything?"
"Yes," I said with a nod. "Found everything I wanted." I inhaled a crisp gasp. My eyes widened. "I mean, everything I lost."
The principal's eyebrows bounced into her forehead. "Good." She again extended her hand. "See you the twenty-second."
My eyes fell to her open hand. Clutching my purse to my body with my left hand, I reached with my right, putting just my fingers to her palm.
Andrea's fingers closed at once, trapping mine. Her heat rushed into my digits. I gasped and looked down at our joined hands.
"Your hands are cold," she noted, relaxing her grip until her palm lay open with mine atop it.
In no hurry, I withdrew my fingers and savoring the feel of my flesh sliding over hers. I looked back to her face. "You know what they say about cold hands."
"No." From behind the lenses of her glasses her eyes seemed bigger than ever as they bore into mine. "What do they say?"
I swallowed. "Cold hands. Warm heart."
Andrea smiled. "I'm feeling a bit warm too." Her tongue appeared just for an instant, its tip teasing her upper lip. "Must be the season."
My chest froze in mid-breath. "Yes," I agreed. "Must be."
I drove home in something of a daze, trying to keep every facet of Miss Marshall fresh in my mind. By the time I reached my front door, I was all but squirming. Thanking the fates that my ex had already picked up Robert, I let my purse fall to the floor and headed for my bath, disrobing along the way. There in the dark privacy of my retreat, I imagined the scents on my fingers were hers. The heat of the water was from her. The hands sliding over my form were hers. And the toes I suckled were hers.
~ ~ ~
With a towel wrapped about my still-damp hair, I headed for my bedroom, humming in the blissful afterglow of my bathtub fantasies, just daring to hope one day a few might come true. My attention wandered across my nightstand and the cell phone thereon. The smile already on my face broadened as I recalled that I owed Andrea a call. Sure, I would only hear her recorded voice, but that might be enough. It would have to be.
To the entryway I went with my phone in hand. My purse was just where I had left it. I dumped the contents on the sofa and my eyes alighted on the business card. This I reached for, but my hand never made it. My gaze settled on the little black disc nearby.
The label held my eyes.
The wrong label.
My eyes widened. My smiled vanished. Dropping the phone, I grabbed the disc and headed to my computer where I discovered file after file of academic drivel. My heart sank in my chest.
Steadying my nerve with a deep breath, I rushed to the entryway, picked up the phone and dialed the principal's number. When I heard her recording, my chest froze. I had no idea what to say. I tried to swallow, but couldn't. Pulling the phone from my ear, I closed it.
I repeated the call every hour for the next several, always hanging up just after hearing her greeting. At ten o'clock, I made my last attempt, then went to bed, resigned to calling her again first thing in the morning.
In spite of my hopes for sleep, I was still staring at the ceiling in the first hours of the morning when my cell's melody chimed through the silence. I tensed, gasped, and then sat upright, looking to the glow of my phone on the nightstand.
I rubbed my fingertips against one another for the half-second it took me to overcome my fears and snatch the device. Flipping the phone open, I brought it to my ear. "Hello?"
"Hello, Courtney. I thought you were going to leave the number, not call fifteen times and hang up."
I inhaled a crisp breath. "Oh, yeah. The number."
"That was why you called, right?"
My throat flexed through the driest of swallows. "Not exactly."
"I'm missing a floppy disc. From my purse. I think I picked up yours by mistake."
"Let me see. Does yours say 'monthly budget' on the label?"
My chest expanded even as it tightened. "Yes," I managed to whisper.
"I have it right here," Miss Marshall said. "Right in my hand."
"You haven't looked at it?"
"Sure I have."
"I'm looking at it right now. How else could I tell you what it said?"
I pictured her turning my little black square over with her fingers with a smirk on her face. "I meant the files."
"Should I look at the files?"
"No. They're, uh, private data for my company."
"Then perhaps you should keep better track of it."
"Of course. Can I come get it?"
"At this hour?"
"Yes. I, uh, need them first thing Monday morning."
"I could e-mail them to you."
"No!" I gasped, regretting my outburst in the next instant.
"Oh," she said. "That private, are they?"
"Yes," I said, trying to sound calm.
Several seconds of silence followed before Andrea again spoke. "I see," she said. "I suppose you could come by my house and pick it up, if you like."
"You have a pen for my address?"
I took a single large breath and spun my legs from my bed. "There's one in my purse."
Andrea giggled. "If I recall, there are at least three in your purse."
~ ~ ~
Only her face appeared in the crease of the door. I hadn't been this close to her before and my eyes rushed to take in what I could. Heavy eyeshadow- too much. Glittery blush at the corners of her eyes. Fire engine red lipstick. Big silver loops for earrings. Tendrils swarming over her shoulders like an ebony river wanting, but not daring, to stray from its appointed course.
"Forgive me," she said. "I just got home and haven't cleaned up." She stood to one side, taking the door with her. "Do come in."
With a gulp and a nod, I accepted her invitation and slipped inside.
"Why don't you have a seat," she said, motioning toward the sofa. "I'll see where I put that disc." Without awaiting reply, she closed the door and strode away. Only then did I notice the long gray bathrobe that so clashed with her makeup. I wondered for a half-second where she might have gone, but then decided I didn't care- I just wanted my disc.
Sliding onto the sofa, I took in her living room at a glance. White brick fireplace. White leather couch and matching chair. Glass coffee and end tables. Black wooden entertainment center. Abstract modern Art. Nice enough for suburbia, but somehow I'd expected a principal to live someplace extraordinary.
"This what you came for?"
I jumped and spun in a single motion to find her staring down at me with those eyes. Free from their shielding spectacles, her orbs were like the surface of a lake on a cloudy autumn day- you suspect the water's chilly, but have to put your toe in just to find out.
My attention slipped from her face down the seam of her robe to where her finger held the disc over her heart. But my eyes did not stop there. Below her bosom, her robe hung loose, providing a glimpse of the laces of a snug black corset. Was it....?
I couldn't stop myself from leaning a few inches and inhaling. My nose detected a scent, but it wasn't leather. My eyelids flew wide. Was this really my son's principal, the stoic, conservative woman I had first met at the school less than a day before?
"Is this what you came for?" she repeated.
My jaw fell. I looked up.
Andrea's thumb moved, sliding the robe open to reveal a sliver of her, from her corseted bosom to her gartered full-length stockings. "What's the matter?" she asked. "Some of the women on your disc are dressed like this. Most of them, as a matter of fact."
"You looked!" I gasped, searching her features for any sign of revulsion.
She smiled. Her eyes glistened. "I told you I looked. Do you still want to pretend you didn't want me to?"
My eyes and mouth opened in unison. "Pretend?!"
Andrea sighed and shook her head. "So it was all an accident, you leaving your little disc right at my feet?"
"Yes! It was!"
"Well, then," she said. "Guess it must be your lucky day." Her hand opened. The disc fell. My attention following the dropping black square only as long as it took her streaking hand to find my hair. Her fingers wrapped in my tresses. I inhaled a breath that left my chest rigid. She pulled.
To my shock, I helped her to drag my face to hers. My mouth to hers. I felt her. The subtle slickness of her lipstick. I smelled her. A trace of cigarettes in the hair that tickled my nose. I tasted her. A hint of sage on a tongue that licked the length of my stagnant lips.
She released my hair and withdrew, looking down at me with bright red smudged all along her lower lip.
With my vacant stare fixed upward at her, I just sat, unable to do anything other than shiver.
Over the next several seconds, her lips melted from a grin to a purse. Her eyes widened, losing their gleam. Her skin faded to a hue closer to mine. Her lower lip stuck out a shade and quivered.
"You really did leave it by accident?" she whispered.
With my lips pressed into a line, I nodded.
Andrea's chest collapsed through a lengthy exhale. "I'm sorry. I just thought, well, that you were clairvoyant or something."
"It's ok," I insisted. "I'd have probably thought the same thing."
Her eyes narrowed. "Don't lie." She stooped, vanishing behind the back of the sofa before reappearing with my disc held toward me. "I believe this is yours."
My head bobbed in a brisk nod, but I otherwise I could not move.
Andrea's lips formed a smirk. With her free hand she grabbed one of mine, spinning and opening it before slamming the disc into my open palm and curling my fingers about the hard plastic. "That is what you came for, isn't it?"
No! my conscience screamed, but still my mouth would not move.
Miss Marshall shook her head, then marched to her front door and held it wide. With the continence of a corpse, she just stared until I stood, dropped my gaze, and ambled my way toward her.
"Why do you even carry a disc like that with you?" she asked the instant I had cleared the threshold.
"At work," I muttered. "Sometimes I get bored and..."
"No," she interrupted. "Why don't you use a flash drive."