Because I CarebyMrPezman©
"David Funicelli! What did you just call me?" Miss Hatch stood, her small hands fisted at her sides, the color high on the otherwise light-olive complexion of her face as she stood at the front of the class trying to teach Literature to her seventh period full of teenagers that, for the most part, didn't want to be there, didn't give a shit about the material.
"Nothing, Miss Hatch," David lied, the grin on his face showing his lie for what it was. Another five guys around David were doing their best not to bust out laughing, and others snickered or tittered behind cupped hands. Everyone in that class, as well as pretty much every kid in school, and many of the faculty also, knew Miss Hatch's unfortunate nickname, and most of them called her that behind her back, when discussing her, wondering how many dicks she sucked, wondering how big of a slut she was to have such a nickname. As Miss Hatch, still upset, regaining her composure with difficulty, the pain in her eyes obvious to anyone who cared to look close enough to see it, continued to teach about authors from a time when being an author brought little income. Andy Domingo saw it, plain as day.
The class ended, and Andy took his time, shuffling his papers together, tucking them in the pocket of his binder, using a folded piece of paper as a bookmark for his copy of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, and carefully depositing the binder and book in his scuffed, worn backpack. Andy had been held back a few grades, most recently being his senior year, quite embarrassing for him, as he had just turned eighteen, and was still in high school, unlike his friends, who had already graduated and were either getting into colleges or getting jobs. His dad, if the asshole was still around, would probably give him a bunch of shit for this, just as he had when he'd flunked eighth grade, but he'd taken off about six months later, and Andy had no idea where he'd gone, nor had he given a shit. Andy's mom worked hard to provide for them both, busting her ass at the tire recycling plant, figurative and literally. Andy held down a part time job at the same plant, slinging tires into the Monster, a shredding machine that ate up old tires and spat out rubber crumbs.
So, here he was, repeating his senior year, having to be tutored in math, and taking Literature for the second time, though, this year brought an unexpected surprise: Miss Hatch. Miss Hatch had gone to this same high school when she was a teen, before going to college in Massachusetts for a teaching degree. She came back to her hometown the past July when her mother fell ill, and remained here, teaching at the high school while taking care of her mother. Immediately upon her return, that nickname started, and Andy had trouble understanding why, beyond the simple word-play, people would attach such a horrible nickname to such a timid, petite, bookish woman. He didn't share in his classmates' enthusiasm for making fun of her, and he had little patience for others who did. She was an awesome teacher, and thanks to her, he didn't require a tutor for Literature. In fact, he had one of the highest grades in this class, and he owed it to Miss Hatch, who inspired him to try harder, to do better in class. Having a crush on Miss Hatch might've been a part of this inspiration.
As most of the other students filed out of class, sneering and joking along the way, Andy shouldered his backpack, adjusting the strap, which was always slipping loose, and slowly made his way to the front of the class, working up his courage to say what he felt he needed to say to the tormented woman who now sat at her desk, her teeth clenched, but her composure still in place, at least for the moment, until she was alone, and then nobody could witness the sob-fest that was most likely about to take place. She froze as she realized that one of the students wasn't making his way to the door.
"C-Can I help you, Andy?" she cleared her throat, straightening a pile of homework into a semblance of order, trying to keep herself occupied as so to not betray the tremors of anger in her hands.
"Miss Hatch," Andy started, and then hesitated.
She clasped her hands together tightly in front of her, perhaps anticipating some more torment, "Yes, Andy? I'm a little busy right now."
"I'm sorry... forgive my language, but... those guys are assholes."
She flinched, and then realized what he'd just said, "W-what?"
"And David's the worst of the bunch. I think he redefines that word, and... well..."
To his dismay, tears had begun to form over the lower lids of her big, grey-green eyes as she stared at him, caught completely off guard.
"I didn't mean to... to stick my nose in your business... it's just that, well, I... can't stand the way they talk about you, and that nickname... I don't believe any of it, and I just wanted to tell you that. I know it probably doesn't mean much to you..."
She wiped at her eyes, and, from somewhere within that might've atrophied over the years, she found a genuine smile for him, "Thank you, Andy. Just... thank you. That's so sweet of you to say, and it means a lot to me."
He nodded, captivated by that smile, by the sudden spark of joy that transformed her into someone he could fall for... and was falling for. He wasn't stupid, he knew that teacher/student relationships were illegal, and teachers would bear the brunt of the punishment if discovered. But still...
"Andy," she spoke unevenly, her voice choked up a little with emotion, "I think you're the first student I've taught that... has actually shown some real kindness to me, since I came back to Longford. And, not surprisingly, you're also one of my best students. I know you were held back, and I'm guessing that you had some real difficulty with the class, but, the way you've done in my class, I don't for the life of me see how."
"Mrs. Gonzales taught it last year, and I guess... the way she taught class... I just couldn't seem to understand any of it. That's why I'm glad you're teaching it this year... you're just a much better teacher than she was. That's probably why she retired, but I don't know for sure. If you also taught math, I wouldn't have any problem graduating this year."
Miss Hatch blushed, humble, and replied with a shrug, "Unfortunately, I'm just awful at math. If not for calculators, my checkbook would be a complete mess. It's too bad I can't have more students in my Lit classes that are half as nice as you; maybe then I wouldn't be at the end of my rope here. I just don't know how much longer I can cope with all the horrible things people are saying behind my back, thinking I don't hear it."
"You know, you ought to make an example of David, maybe show the others you won't tolerate the stuff they're saying."
"I can't let them see that it affects me as bad as it does," she lowered her eyes, frowning slightly.
"I think it only tells them that you won't do anything about it, that they can just walk all over you. If you show them you won't stand for it, maybe it would help."
Miss Hatch sighed sadly, "I... I just can't. I appreciate your concern, Andy, you have no idea how it warms my heart, but I don't think I can do that... I just couldn't... go through that sort of circus, all that attention..." she shuddered, "I just couldn't..."
"I understand," Andy nodded thoughtfully, "Putting yourself in the limelight like that, on display for everyone to see... I would testify, though, as a witness. I hear it all, from a lot of students."
"It would all be hearsay, though, your word against his, and he would only have his friends tell people that you were heard saying the same things, just as guilty as they."
Andy's brow furrowed with anger, "I've never-"
"I know that," she placated him, "And you know that. It would simply be a defamation of character, making you an unreliable witness. I'm sorry, Andy, I... I just can't... and I wouldn't do that to you, either. Not to mention, the consequences of your attempting to testify, your peers would put you through the wringer."
"Those people are nowhere near my peers," Andy scoffed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't intend to lump you in with them. No, you're not like them at all, are you? Maybe, just maybe, there's hope that there are more people like you in the world. God knows we all need that."
"There's gotta be something that can be done. We can't just let them keep talking about you like that."
"No matter where you go in the world, there will be people like them, dense, cruel, shallow, close-minded, and self-righteous, and no matter what you do, they will do as they do, convinced that there's nothing anyone can do about it. Nothing any of us can do will change that sort of person."
Andy deflated a little at that, seeing the wisdom in what she said, "It's just so unfair."
"I couldn't agree more, Andy," she wiped her eyes again, blotting them with a tissue, "It's unfair, and it's not right...except for you... nobody else has ever come to me to apologize for something that someone else has done or said, not once this whole year, or... well, not ever. That makes you fair, and it makes you right. And that means the world to me. Um, you're gonna miss the bus, aren't you?"
He glanced at his watch, seeing that yes, the buses had left about five minutes ago, but he shrugged, "It's no problem. I can use the walk, anyway. Besides, if I have to sit anywhere near David, I might just put his head through a window. And he always insists on sitting next to me on the bus, because our mothers are friends, and we grew up together."
"Much as a part of me rejoices at the thought of envisioning David's head being put through a window, I wouldn't want you getting in trouble like that over me. The consequences aren't worth the actions."
"So, in that case, I'm happy to walk home."
"Will you be okay walking home? How far from the school do you live?"
"It's just a few miles, I think, if I take a few shortcuts. I'll be fine, but are you gonna be okay?"
Miss Hatch gave a weary half-laugh, "Me? Oh, I'll make it. It'll take more than a bunch of cruel children to keep me down."
Andy nodded, "That's good. They're a bunch of jerks, and not a one of them is half the person you are. Okay, I guess I'd better go. I have some Dickens to get through. He's such a downer, though. Even the title is so depressing."
Miss Hatch laughed again, this one with genuine mirth, "I know, it's just awful how depressing it is, but Dickens is an amazing writer, and he's worth knowing."
"Yeah, I suppose," and, as he walked through the door of the classroom and into the empty hallway, he turned back briefly and added, "But then again, so are you, Miss Hatch."
He walked out of the school, feeling a little better than he had all day, now that he had made at least a bit of his feelings for Miss Hatch known. He was planning on saying more, but then refrained. After all, they were at school, where their surroundings would impose, reminding her that despite his feelings, there were lines not to be crossed. Perhaps, if he happened to see her outside of school, then he might, if it were the right time to do so, that was. Still, even the little bit of exchange between them in her class buoyed him, mostly because she had appeared genuinely grateful for his opinion of her. He smiled a little as he walked, crossing the students' parking lot, hopping the small drainage ditch between the lot and the road, and crossing the street into the empty, weed-choked, gravelly lot.
Miss Hatch untwisted the shoulder-strap of her sky-blue purse, both comforted and dismayed at it, as she'd had it for years, and it was scuffed, nicked, and a little faded, looking secondhand, but it was still dependable, having lasted her this long. Such could be said about many of the people in Longford... except for Andy, who had completely shocked her with his insight. He seemed to work harder in class, putting up a struggle to absorb everything she taught with a ferocity vastly unmatched by any other student she'd ever taught. And, on top of it all, he seemed determined also to defend her honor. She was glad he'd kept quiet in class, as, if he had spoken out against David, he seemed to possess an anger, righteous though it may be, and he might well have attacked David and would be suspended at the very least, no matter what the reasoning was. And this might put him back yet another year, maybe discouraging him from finishing school at all.
She walked out to her car, got in, and then looked through the windshield.
"Damn it!" she cried, hitting the steering wheel in anger.
Someone had used something sharp to scratch that damned nickname into her windshield in large, jagged letters. She sobbed into her hands, despairing that she would never be shed of that title, not until she went somewhere else, where nobody knew her, and hopefully nobody would come up with it there. She finally sobbed herself out, sniffling, and started her car, heading home to her mother's house to look after her.
Andy was almost at the corner of Alphman and Franklin, about six blocks from his home, when he saw a gray Honda Civic jerk to a halt just down Franklin, about half a block away. Its tires appeared to be flat. He stopped, debated whether or not to offer assistance, and was about to decide against it, when he saw none other than Miss Hatch get out, looking miserable and frustrated. She smacked the top of the car with a pitiful cry, and stood there with her head on her hands. Andy jogged down Franklin and stopped within a few feet of the back of the car.
"Miss Hatch? Are you okay?"
Miss Hatch jerked back, startled, her eyes wide, and fell backwards, tripping over the small curb and falling to the ground with a short yelp.
"Shit, I'm sorry," he went to her and helped her to her feet, "I didn't mean to scare you. Are you okay?"
"I just don't know anymore," she sighed, her voice sounding hollow, emotionless, "Name-calling and rumors are one thing... but vandalism is a whole different problem."
"What do you mean?" Andy crouched next to the passenger rear tire, examining it, and cursed, "Of course. And it's a slow leak, so you wouldn't even notice until it was too late. I'm guessing your other three tires will look just like this one. Do you have a camera on your phone? You should get some pictures of this."
Miss Hatch hesitated, and then took her phone out. Not that anything might ever come of this, but it couldn't hurt to have evidence of it. She unlocked her phone, turned the camera feature on, and handed it to him.
"No, you can take the pictures," he replied, "I'll have to move the valve stem to the side so you can see where the cut was made. Can you see it?"
Miss Hatch nodded, dejected, despondent, and took a few pictures. From there, he moved to the front passenger tire, and then to the front driver tire, holding the valve stem out of the way at each one, waiting while she snapped pictures, and then ended at the rear driver's side.
"Those bastards!" he thumped the trunk lid, and then winced, "Sorry, this is just a new low."
"If only this was the worst of it," she corrected in that same hollow tone that worried him, and she pointed to the windshield, "You'll probably have to sit in the car to see it."
He got in and looked through the windshield, and yup, there is was: COCKHATCH.
When he got out, shaking with fury, Miss Hatch simply stood, leaning against the car, staring blankly at the ground. He borrowed her phone again, and took five pictures at different angles, until the scratches were visible. He took five more pictures before getting out.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Hatch," he handed her phone back, "I'd like to find out who's responsible for this, and maybe etch a few words of my own into the bastard's forehead."
"But what will it matter?" she spoke flatly, "What will it ever matter? So you catch the person, beat him up. Then what? You'll get in trouble, and it will serve to stop nothing. There'll be five more just like him to take his place. It'll never end."
"Don't say that, Miss Hatch," he insisted, "You've got to have some hope. Otherwise, you just give up... oh shit, don't tell me you're giving up now."
"Andy," she shook her head slowly, still speaking in that tone, and he saw it for what it was, she was giving up, "You're sweet, but it's just too much for me. Everyone has their breaking point."
"No!" he snapped, startling her, her eyes jumping up and finally focusing on him, "Stop that! Just... no more of that. Don't you dare give up."
She tried to speak, and a wretched, miserable sob leapt from her throat again. It seemed she had some more tears after all, and they were hot against her cheeks. He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her to him, and, as the floodgates of her misery opened once more, he held her as she cried, her hands clutching the front of his tee shirt on either side of her face, accepting the comfort as she might've accepted comfort from her mother after a scary encounter with a stranger, or bad news, letting it out, until her sobs became hitching gasps, and then small, watery hiccups. Finally, her eyes itchy and burning, she felt hollowed out, but a little better.
Reluctantly, as she stepped back, he let go of her, and his arms went back to his sides again, feeling useless, unable to really help. She took a few minutes to recompose herself, and then looked at the car, and another watery hiccup threatened to work her into another bout of sobbing. She swallowed it down with great effort.
"What... what am I supposed to do about my car? I can't afford four new tires and a windshield, not on my salary, not with the medications I already can't afford!"
"Well, maybe I can do something about the tires. I don't know about the windshield, though. Maybe there's some way to buff out those scratches. Something like that'll probably cost a lot less than trying to replace the windshield."
She continued, "And what happens after that? How do I know it won't happen again? How do I know it won't get worse, sugar in my gas tank, windows bashed out? What happens if they vandalize my mother's house? My m-mother wouldn't respond very well to that, she's in no condition for nasty shocks like that!"
"I'd tell you," Andy sighed, "That when you get knocked down, you've gotta get right back up. But you've been doing that all year."
She derided herself, "Oh, please! I've been hiding, scurrying around, trying to dodge attack after attack, hoping it would end, praying..."
Andy shook his head, wishing there was something he could do, or say, that would undo the past year of Miss Hatch's torments, but he had nothing.
Miss Hatch sat down on the curb, her arms around her legs, as if she were trying to scrunch herself up into nothing, to disappear, "Did you know that I grew up here, that I went to high school in the same building you did, even sitting in the same classroom?"
Andy shook his head, "But I figured it, considering you came back to take care of your mother."
"I had friends then, had a social life... even had a boyfriend, if you can believe that," she shook her head as if she could hardly believe it herself, "Football player named Jimmy... I was happy once."
"But something happened," Andy frowned, guessing.
"You see, Jimmy, he... well, I thought he was a nice guy... but, behind that, he was still a guy. I never... never went all the way with him. He wanted that, and I suppose I would've given in... sooner or later... but I did something else. I hoped it would be enough, and I could keep from going all the way by doing this."
Andy's frown deepened; he didn't want to hear this, but Miss Hatch seemed to want to unburden herself of this memory. So he stood there, and listened as she continued.
"It was my first time trying... that... and, well... when he... finished, he held my head on it, and his... stuff!" she spat," He made me swallow it before he'd let me up. But it wasn't enough for him. He wanted more, and what I'd done... it didn't make a bit of difference. And I wasn't ready... I didn't want that, and I was still angry about what he'd made me do, so I said I wouldn't.