My parents died on my 18th birthday. Later that year I slept with three of my high school teachers.
The roads were icy, we couldn't see and we were driving too fast on the way home from a family dinner. I never really dropped out of my last semester in high school; if you just stop going, they eventually stop calling your house.
When she was around, the aunt who had taken me in was very understanding. But after a summer of video games and bad pizza, come fall, I found myself walking up a well-maintained brick path to the front entrance of a massive stone building built in the gothic style.
Two stone gargoyles perched over an immaculate oak door and snarled down at passers-by. Well, they might have been snarling. The male seemed oddly...pleased, and the female's back was arched in a peculiar way.
"Admiring our mascots, I take it?"
I hadn't heard the door open. The voice, as hard and unyielding as the building's granite, came from a spindly, white-haired woman; she was laced up tight from the soles of her well-polished shoes to the large bun on the top of her head.
"Oh, yeah. They seem pissed at me."
She stared at me disapprovingly from behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. The smile she flashed was thin, and when she offered me her hand to shake I thought the touch might kill me.
"Mr. Roe. Welcome to Eros Academy. I'm Janice Mitchell, your counselor here."
"Thanks. But Jeff is fine."
The disapproving stare again. She motioned for me to enter the school.
"We're not a first name establishment, Mr. Roe."
I looked down. The floor was actual marble. We were in a long, narrow hallway, bounded on both sides by portraits of what I assumed were the school's very distinguished, very wealthy, very white, alumni.
"Well, gosh, Janice. Does that mean I'm not invited to the cotillion?"
She didn't even look back at me. The hallway ended in the school's main office; to the left and right branched off routes to the rest of the school. Mrs. LastName led me into the school's command center; it was light and airy, all glass and expensive computer equipment.
Her office, on the other hand, was the domain of someone who cultivated and cherished an air of Spartan...well, nothingness. Her walls were bare, the chairs hard-backed and without cushions. I didn't wait for her permission to sit.
She scowled, but said nothing and sat behind her cherry oak desk, the one ostentation she allowed herself; I could see my reflection in the polish. It was empty, save for a computer and a thin manila folder. Janice took her glasses off and put them on the folder; she folded her hands precisely on the desk and tried quite admirably to effect a look of concern.
"Mr. Roe, I wish to express the Eros Academy's sincere regret at the tragic circumstances surrounding your-"
"Thank you Janice, but that was six months ago. I'm done with condolences."
She cleared her throat.
"Yes, of course. But that doesn't mean-"
"Move on, please."
She looked about to press the issue, but thought better of it and pressed a few keys on her computer with precise, swift strokes.
"Well, regardless of the circumstances of your entrance to our school, we are pleased to have you here. Tell me Mr. Roe, what do you know of Eros Academy?"
"Well, you're rich and good and my aunt says you're waiving my tuition. Oh, and I imagine you've been shaping children into adults since 1673. Is there anything else I should know?"
Again, her smile was not pleasant. The lines at the corner of her mouth hardened and she replaced her glasses. Those bony hands opened the folder on her desk.
"Your transcript says you just need four classes to graduate," she said. "History, English and two electives?"
"Sounds about right, Janice."
"Might I be so presumptuous as to make a couple of suggestions?"
"You may be so presumptuous."
"For your electives, I would recommend drama with Miss Drosus and computer software with Miss Sharp. They're both fine teachers, and I think you can learn a lot under their supervision."
I thought about that for a second. I also thought of putting my feet up on her desk, but that seemed over-the-top.
"Well, drama would be fine," I said. "But I don't think I really need a computer course. I can type, run Microsoft Excel and find porn on the internet with the best of 'em."
I made it a point to look her straight in the eye when I said "porn." She shook her head and looked at her watch.
"Yes, well, those skills notwithstanding, Miss Sharp is really very good. And would I be incorrect in assuming that, during your time at Eros, you're not looking for the most stimulating educational experience?"
"So," she continued, "can I sign you up for computer software?"
I conceded the point with the slightest nod imaginable. She made a few more keystrokes and looked at my file again.
"For English, I'd recommend Miss Wainwright. She's new here, and a bit unorthodox, but her student evaluations have been excellent."
This time she didn't wait for me to say anything. Her fingers flew over the keyboard.
"And," she said, "for history, I would-"
"Actually Janice, I had some thoughts there."
She raised her eyebrows, clearly shocked that I had some thoughts anywhere.
"Do you offer any sort of honors history? Advanced Placement, that kind of thing?"
"Why, yes, we do, but our honors courses are much more difficult and not nearly as...pleasant for our students as the regular offerings."
"I'm sure. Still, I want to take the class, and I think my transcript says I can do that."
She shook her head gravely and made one last entry in the computer. She took another look at my record.
"Now, Mr. Roe, it says here you played basketball at your old school. We have a pretty good team here. Were you interested in trying out?"
I shook my head.
"No. I'm here for my four classes and graduation. I don't need the other distractions."
At that she smiled again, but this time, there was an actual hint of mirth on her face. She extended her hand across her desk.
"Mr. Roe, you are now a student at Eros Academy. I trust your time here will be well-spent."
"Well, you have more faith than I do, but whatever."
She stood up, walked around her desk and beckoned me to follow her out the door.
"I'm awfully busy Mr. Roe, and from now on I'll trust that the student sponsor I've assigned will take care of you. He's waiting for you in our cafeteria; I'll take you there."
She didn't give me a chance to object. We took the left fork outside the main office; Janice explained to me that the school was basically a diamond, with the main office at the apex. The left and right wings jutted out and ran a parallel course before coming together at the top of the complex. That was the cafeteria.
"So why the two wings," I asked.
"Left wing for the gentlemen, right for the ladies," she responded.
"They didn't tell me this was a sex-segregated school."
"Oh, don't look so aggrieved Mr. Roe. Only the classrooms are single-sex. Everywhere else, you are free to mingle as you please. And most other schools of our caliber would make you wear a uniform and cut your hair."
I ran a hand through my hair and jauntily raised my chin.
We walked along in silence for awhile, the only sounds coming from the floor cleaners of the janitorial staff. (The floors were just tile here) Again, the hallways were bright and well-lit from the outside. The designers had built in stained glass windows every few steps; they struck me as somewhat extravagant.
Janice cleared her throat again.
"So Mr. Roe, do you have plans post-graduation?"
"You mean college? Yeah, I'm going to Florida. Early entry in January. I'll tour the campus in a couple of months."
"Uh-huh. Do you think that'll happen?"
We had, mercifully, reached the cafeteria, which was more of a cathedral than a dining hall. There were a few dozen large, oaken tables scattered around. A massive stained glass window dominated the front of the room. It was nothing complicated, just bright red glass, but it cast an eerie glow over the serving line. The cafeteria was empty, save for a couple of students making out in the far corner. I thought it was nice that they were in school during the summer.
Janice checked her watch one last time.
"Mr. Roe, classes start in two weeks. We have block scheduling here; classes are an hour and a half. You'll have history and your computer lab on Mondays and Wednesdays, drama and English Tuesdays and Thursdays. First and fourth period, respectively. What you do you with the time in-between classes is up to you."
"OK Mr. Roe, I believe that's all I need from you. Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave you in the hands of your student supervisor?"
"Yeah, quick question. Why the 'Eros Academy?'"
"We're named after our founder, George Eros."
"Nothing to do with it being the Greek name for Cupid?"
I could see the muscles in her neck tighten.
"No. Not at all."
"You don't get that question all the time?"
"Not usually from students, no."
"Your students aren't big fans of books, huh?"
She didn't say anything, but a vein in her neck began to throb.
"Come on," I needled. "That was a little funny."
"Mr. Roe, do I strike you as the type to laugh easily?"
"Janice, you don't strike me as the type to laugh."
With that, she turned on her heel and strode decisively out of the cafeteria. I could only hope I would never see her again. But at the moment, I was more concerned with finding my "student sponsor." I waited for a few minutes, but no one came in. It was just me and the couple making out.
"Excuse me," I yelled across the room. "I hate to interrupt, but I'm looking for someone. Can you help me?"
The man looked up from his girlfriend's lips. His eyes seemed to widen, and he started jogging across the room toward me, blond girl in tow. When he reached me, he extended his hand. The grip was like a vise.
"Oh, hey man, sorry," he said. "Jeff, right?"
"Yeah. You're my 'student sponsor?'"
He nodded his head enthusiastically, and cast an apologetic glance back at his girlfriend.
"I'm Brock. This is Tricia, my girlfriend. Sorry 'bout that. I got a little...distracted, I guess."
The word "stereotype" might well have been tattooed on Tricia's forehead. Short, blond, bubbly, with a chest that just screamed "implants," she was every cheerleader cliche come to life. Her skirt was an inch too high and her shirt a size too small. On the other hand, I wasn't a snob, and hey, I'm a sucker for a nice pair of breasts. Even phony ones.
"No, no, it's fine," I said. "If she was my girlfriend it would take everything I had to avoid having sex with her in the hallways."
Brock just guffawed and Tricia giggled. She didn't even bother pretending to look offended.
"Aw, now aren't you sweet," she purred.
"If that's the word you want to use for it," I said. "You folks aren't easy to offend, are you?"
Brock shook his head and flashed a toothy, All-American boy kind of smile. He kept his blond hair cropped low, and his strong jaw line just screamed "football player." We chatted a bit, and Brock said that, yes, he was a linebacker, and yes, Tricia was a cheerleader. In a way, it was comforting to see a perfect 50's couple. Plus saline.
"So, why come here now," Tricia asked.
Brock's eyes grew wide. Janice must have filled him in on the details.
"I moved in the summer," I said. "I'm just here to finish my senior year."
"Why'd you move?"
Brock reached over to his girlfriend and pulled her close. She squirmed a bit in surprise, but then Brock whispered into her ear. Tricia's shoulders slumped and she looked up at me. To her everlasting credit, she hid the pity. Instead, she smiled; awkwardly, to be sure, but it was nice to see. Her boyfriend joined her in the expression.
"What's your schedule," he asked.
"History and a computer class on Mondays and Wednesdays, drama and English Tuesdays and Thursdays," I said.
"Rigorous. Who are your teachers?"
"I don't know about history; it's an honors class, and the Crypt Keeper didn't say who taught it. But English is Wainwright, drama is...Dawson? Drawsus? The computer lab is Miss Sharp."
Tricia's eyes widened, and she giggled again. Brock grinned and clapped me on the shoulder.
"Josh, someone upstairs really likes you," he said.
"They're good teachers?"
"I've heard good things, yeah," he said. "But that's not really what I meant. Your teachers are...oh, what's the best way to say it? They're very...blessed in the chest."
I nearly fell over laughing.
"Really? 'Blessed in the chest?' That's the best way you could put it?"
He grinned sheepishly.
"Yeah, well, they don't ask me to write the school paper. Let's just say that if you're a breast man, school's going to be fun for you."
"Considering how I'm digging your girlfriend right now, that seems like a safe bet."
Tricia teasingly flipped me off and puffed out her chest. Brock seemed overcome with pride. These two were on my most favored people list.
"OK kids, I've got two more weeks of nothing ahead of me and I'd like to get started on those," I said. "You know, before life intrudes. Quick question though. I parked in front of the school today. Where do I go during the year?"
Brock smiled and led me over to a small door inconspicuously laid in the wall of the cafeteria. He opened it and made a broad, sweeping gesture with his hand. He looked ridiculous, but I didn't care much.
For beyond the door was the most beautiful thing I had seen all day, including Tricia's surgically-enhanced chest. Acres and acres of wide-open concrete, divided into hundreds of parking spaces.
"Oh, Brock," I sighed. "You've made me the happiest girl in the whole wide world. "
He smiled and again clapped me on the shoulder.
"Only the best at Eros," he said. "You got two weeks. Class starts at 9:00 in the morning. Meet me and Trish here at 8:30; we'll show you where you need to go. Don't be late to your first day of school. You wouldn't want to give a bad first impression, would you?"
"Oh, no. Heaven forbid. I wouldn't want to miss any chance to ogle my teachers."
The next two weeks passed as they usually do before school starts. I spent most of the time trying to ignore the looming deadline, staying up late, ordering pizza and playing video games. I did some back-to-school shopping a few days before the start of classes, by which I mean I bought a pen and three notebooks. I'd be damned if I was going to take notes for a drama class.
But time moved on, and for the first time in seven months I woke up before noon to go to school.
Eros Academy wasn't hidden, per se, but they clearly did not have convenience in mind when they built the thing. The diamond school was laid out deep in the Kansas boonies, a good 35 minute drive from any real center of civilization. Of course, that isolation gave them the luxury of plenty of cheap land, and that gave students the luxury of plenty of free parking.
So it seemed like a fair trade.
A cold wind howled as I opened my car door. It continued to howl as I bundled myself up as best I could and jogged toward the school. A dozen other stragglers shielded themselves from the weather with wool overcoats and leather gloves. I jammed my hands in my pockets.
Brock and Tricia were cooling their heels against one of the cafeteria's walls when I came inside. I rubbed my hands and scowled.
"OK, this shit won't work for me," I muttered. "What the hell is this? It's August. Why is there a wind chill? And I swear to God Brock, if you say, 'If you don't like the weather in Kansas, wait five minutes,' you're going to think football is a non-contact sport."
He raised his hands in mock surrender.
"Slow down, turbo," he said. "Do you want to find your classroom, or do you want to rant?"
"Move it soldier."
Brock gave Tricia a peck on the cheek, then, predictably, lingered. The two kissed again, and were a few seconds away from another make-out session when I grabbed Brock's sleeve and tugged him. Tricia sauntered away to the right hallway and the ladies' wing; Brock tilted his head and watched her leave for a few seconds, before my exaggerated eye rolls and loud sighs pulled him away from his girlfriend's admittedly perfect ass.
"I've been with her a year and I still can't keep my eyes off her," he said, a slight smile slipping on his face.
"I know what you mean," I said. "I've known her two weeks and I can barely keep my hands off her."
He lightly pushed me into a wall. A blade of pain sliced into my shoulder. I pitied the innocent running back who actually pissed him off.
We walked down the men's hall, Brock occasionally stopping to exchange pleasantries with a friend and introduce me as "the perverted new guy." I liked that, as it gave me cover to describe his girlfriend using sweeping hand gestures and various hip movements.
Truth be told, I didn't really need the tour. It was a straight hallway with 30 classrooms, numbered, creatively enough, 1 to 30. I could find my room easily enough. But I enjoyed the back-and-forth with Brock, and when we reached the right room he clapped me on the shoulder.
"And here you go," he said. "Honors history. Your first step toward graduation. Your first step toward freedom. Your first step toward-"
"Brock, if you don't shut up and let me take the first step toward the classroom, I'm going to be late."
"Yeah, yeah. Just a quick warning. Remember, this is an honors class. It's not exactly the best we've got here. Don't get discouraged. The...talent gets-"
"More blessed in the chest?"
"I'll keep it in my mind," I said. "Believe it or not, there are aspects to the educational experience above and beyond the quality of the teacher's rack. Now get going. Don't you have a math class to fail?"
He scrunched up his nose, though I suspect it was less my questioning of his academic prowess and more the implication that a teacher's chest size wasn't all that important that offended him. But he looked at his watch, grimaced and jogged away. I was on my own, and class was about to start.
An hour and a half later, I stepped out of the classroom about as sexually charged as a wet cat. The teacher, whose name has escaped my mind at some point over the years, was a Janice Mitchell clone, a throwback to a rightfully long-lost mold of educator. At some point during her youth, someone lodged a meter stick up her ass and she never bothered to get it removed. I was surprised she never got around to smacking her students on the hands with a ruler.
I spent the vacant hour and a half I had in place of a second period class exploring the grounds. The main building wasn't built for anything other than classrooms and the school's office. Eros had a library and auditorium in separate buildings, both massive and ornate.
When second period was finished, I spent the lunch hour with Brock, Tricia and a whole gaggle of their friends. Several of Tricia's cheerleader friends had suggestions for places where I could get my hair cut, and Brock's teammates were very disappointed that I wouldn't be going out for basketball. For a bunch of trust-fund kids at an elite private school, they were decent folks.
Brock offered to escort me to my computer lab, but as I explained to him, I was capable of navigating a straight hallway with 30 classrooms. Room 3 was easy enough to track down, and I walked in talking with one of Brock's friends who was also in the class.
I looked up, saw Miss Sharp and tripped over a power cord.
Brock's friend helpfully stood off to the side and laughed uproariously. Cursing him under my breath, I stood up, brushed myself off, took another look at Miss Sharp and nearly fell down again.