Thanks to Nyxiee and HandcuffGirl for proofreading and advice.
"What were you thinking?" the principal roared.
Stacy cringed. "I'm sorry sir. I just lost my head."
"I'm very disappointed in you. Frankly I expected better."
Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes as she wiped her nose. "I'm sorry sir."
"Maybe you should consider another line of work. If you can't deal with one difficult student, that doesn't bode well for your career."
Fear gripped Stacy. She had become a teacher after determining her intended career was beyond her reach. Failing at her backup career would be too much to bear.
"Sir, please give me a chance to prove myself. I can improve. I know I can." A note of panic was evident in her voice.
Mr. Bo nestled his chin in the palm of his hand and sighed. "I might have something for you. Darren Tate is a young man that, by law, can't be left behind. He's an annoyance but never crosses the line enough to be expelled. His eighteenth birthday is well behind him, which should tell you enough right there. I've spoken with him and have been unable to convince him to drop out. The school board and I are concerned that his poor performance combined with similar poor performances by other young people may impact our funding."
Stacy gulped and nodded.
"You'll tutor him every day after school. I'll administer a weekly test to monitor your progress. At the end of the semester he will take a standardized test. It is imperative that he score in a desirable percentile. Let me remind you that you are the most junior teacher here and we will be facing budget challenges next year. This is your chance to prove you are worth keeping."
Hope with an undercurrent of anxiety welled within Stacy. "Thank you, sir. I'll do it."
He pulled a stack of books from a drawer. "Here is the material, please have a lesson plan ready to go on Monday."
Stacy scooped up the books. "Thank you, sir. I won't let you down. I swear." She scurried out the door. As she passed through the outer office, she locked eyes with a young man lounging in a chair. He was plain with a slight boyish look to his face. A tangible menace radiated from him. Stacy hoped she didn't look as nervous as she felt as she hurried past.
After dinner she immediately went to work. It had taken patience and determination to find this position. For almost a year she worked odds jobs to make ends meet while she searched. All that time she had sheltered a spark of hope and had not allowed it to extinguish. There was no way she was going to give up just yet. Bit by bit a plan of attack solidified as the hours passed. Sunday night her cheek rested on her pillow while visions of success danced in her head.
Stacy waited nervously behind her battered oak desk. She preferred nurturing and guiding students rather than being stern. Conflict always unsettled her. Stacy fantasized exciting Mr. Tate about his education, becoming his mentor, and turning his life around.
Mr. Bo opened her door and stepped inside. "Ms. Simm, this is Darren. I'll leave him in your capable hands." The young man following him was the same young man she passed in the office on Friday.
Without acknowledging her, Darren slipped into a desk and slouched in his chair. After exchanging pleasantries Mr. Bo excused himself and departed. Stacy wiped her hands on her pants and began her lesson. After thirty minutes he hadn't moved, or even taken notes. The surface of his desk was empty.
"Do you have any questions?" she asked.
"Yeah, can I go now?"
Frustration welled up in her. "Yes, that was enough for the first day. We'll start in earnest tomorrow." He was out of her room in a flash. She took a modicum of comfort in that fact that he expressed interest in something; even if it was leaving her class room. His behavior repeated the next two days. No notes were taken or questions asked. His disengaged, bored look never wavered. She stopped her lesson halfway through on Thursday when her frustration got the better of her.
"You're aware you have a checkpoint test tomorrow aren't you?"
"Do you understand what's at stake here?"
He shrugged. "Nothing for me, really."
She ground her teeth and clenched her fists at her sides. "This is your future we are talking about."
"I was in the office on Friday. I heard him yelling at you. It's really your future we are talking about."
Stacy blinked in surprise. Anger quickly replaced her initial shock. She thrust her pointer finger at the door. "Get out. Now." Darren shrugged and sauntered out of the room. Stacy paced back and forth for almost thirty minutes attempting to formulate a course of action for her troublesome student. Her anger didn't cool until late in the evening.
Butterflies flittered in her stomach as she sat in the lobby of the office. After what felt like an eternity, the door cracked open and Darren slipped out. He gave her a knowing smile as he walked past. Mr. Bo loomed over her. With trembling hands she took the test and glanced over the results. Darren had only answered two questions correctly. A small part of her was surprised he knew two answers.
"You are off to a rough start. I hope you have plans to improve," grumbled Mr. Bo.
As Monday ended she took a firm grip on her courage. Her usual approach hadn't worked so it was time for plan B. She slapped the test down in front of him. "Only two questions? A ten year old could answer more than that. If your future plans include living under an overpass and begging for change, then you are well on your way." Her intent was to spark his anger and use that as fuel to motivate him. His bored expression never changed.
"Are we done here?" he asked in that smooth, calm voice.
Stacy nodded. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday found her illustrating concepts on her whiteboard while Darren slouched deeply in his chair.
"Do you have any questions?" she asked as her Thursday lesson drew to a close.
"Yeah," he mumbled.
She perked up as a ripple of excitement ran through her. A notebook was in front of Darren and during the lecture she had seen his pencil move. She had snared his interest.
"What is me passing worth to you?" Darren asked.
Stacy stalked to his desk and turned the notebook towards her. It contained a rather elementary and quite rude sketch of her. She ripped the page free. "That's it. I've had enough of your behavior. I'm going to report you," she said.
"Do you want me to pass the test tomorrow?" She froze in her tracks. "I know you aren't Bo's favorite. I'm betting you are freshly minted from some fancy college. With a fancy education comes lots of bills. With jobs the way they are right now, it's gonna be hard to find work."
Stacy stared at the floor, extended an arm, and pointed at the door. "Leave now," she growled.
"No problem. I'm not the one with something to lose," Darren said over his shoulder as he departed.
Her stomach was sour and a sharp, acrid taste lingered in her mouth despite the mint under her tongue. Darren didn't look at her as he walked past. Mr. Bo handed her the test. All the answers were incorrect.
"I dare say this is almost becoming a trend, Ms. Simm," rumbled Mr. Bo. His voice was heavy with disappointment.
After dinner Stacy spread out all her financial documents on the kitchen table and set to work. Painstakingly, she tallied her income and her expenses. Stacy put her head in her hands. She was teetering on insolvency. After a long, hot bath she crawled into bed.
The next day she tried her luck at the numbers again. The result was the same. Lunch gave Stacy time to ponder her options. Her determination wrestled with her shame as she picked up her phone and dialed her sister. After exchanging pleasantries, she got down to business.
"Oh, Stacy. I thought this was behind us, especially after your sophomore semester."
"I know Jill. I know, but I'm in a bind and need help."
"Times are hard. James' commissions haven't been what they used to be. The twins needed braces. We are down to one car Stacy."
Her heart sank. One of her options, as few as they were, wasn't going to pan out. "I'm sorry Jill. I didn't know."
"I'll talk to James."
"Thanks Jill. I appreciate it." They chatted for a while longer. Having dispensed with the unseemly business they were able to talk casually. With the phone back in its cradle Stacy slumped in her chair.
It was mid-afternoon but her living room felt dark. Stacy swallowed down the catch in her throat and promised herself she wouldn't cry. Her eyes fell on the papers spread over her table. During the summer break she would need to work a couple jobs to begin to improve her position. Her thoughts drifted to Monday. She was an adult and it was time should took control of the situation. Darren was just a teenager after all.
When Monday arrived, Stacy felt calm. The day passed normally and for the first day in two weeks she felt like her old self. At the appointed time, Darren sauntered into her room. She positioned herself in front of his desk and planted her fists on her hips. The night before, she had practiced this pose in front of a mirror. Stacy felt it emphasized her authority, especially over a seated teenager.
"We've had a bad start Mr. Tate. Today we are going to remedy that. Get out a notebook and let's begin."
Darren lifted an eyebrow and reached into his bag. Stacy launched into her planned lecture. As she expanded on the material Darren never moved his pencil.
"That's all for today. You are dismissed," she announced.
Darren gave a lazy smile, gathered his things, and left. Stacy wanted to jump around and cheer. Once the hallway had cleared, she did just that. On the drive home she purchased a fancy, iced coffee to celebrate her success.
Tuesday and Wednesday followed the same pattern. There was no give and take between the two of them. Stacy controlled the tempo and atmosphere of her classroom. No inappropriate comments were uttered by Darren. No unsavory sketches were drawn. With a supposedly troublesome student well in hand, Stacy began to believe that she had indeed selected the proper career.
"That's all for today. Go home and prepare for the test tomorrow," she said as she concluded her lecture.
Darren didn't move. That lazy smile reappeared as he put his feet up on the desk next to him. "You want something from me, so what are you going to give me in return. That's only fair."
"I don't 'want' anything from you Darren. Your education is an obligation and duty to yourself to perform to the best of your abilities."
Darren snorted. "It's an obligation and a duty," he said while mimicking her tone. Stacy clenched her teeth until her jaw ached. He held up both hands, palms towards her. "I think a good will gesture is needed on my part." With that Darren swung his feet off the neighboring desk, picked up his things, and departed. Stacy blinked at the now empty door and wondered what he meant.
She had too much nervous energy, so she tapped her foot against the floor as she waited. The door swung open and Darren flashed a wink as he walked by. The smile on Mr. Bo's face told her all she needed to know. Her jaw dropped as she examined the test. Nine questions were answered correctly. Darren hadn't taken notes all week or even looked at her handouts.
"Now you are moving in the right direction. Keep it up," rumbled Mr. Bo.
A tingling of excitement lingered within her the whole weekend. Darren had the ability to pass; she just needed to encourage him. Maybe this whole exercise was possible after all. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. If she simply reached the young man she could keep her job and impress her boss.
Darren plopped into his desk with a large smile. "How'd you like my test?"
"You did a nice job, Darren."
"Yeah, I thought a perfect score would have been too much considering my previous tests. Nine out of ten seemed about right."
His chipper attitude was a little disconcerting. "Now, let's begin our lesson."
Her arm froze mid way to the board. She stood with her left hand on her hip and gestured with the marker to emphasize her point. "This is my class room. I make the decisions here." Darren crossed his arms over his chest and slithered deep into his chair. The next two sessions Darren didn't speak. He quietly took his seat and left promptly at the end of each.
"Review the material tonight in preparation for tomorrow," said Stacy as she concluded Thursday's lesson. Darren didn't move. She sat behind her desk and gave a flick of her hand. "You are dismissed."
"I think I've proven that I can pass the checkpoint tests. I think it is also clear that I don't care if I do."
Stacy sighed heavily as she made an impatient gesture. "Get to the point Mr. Tate."
"If you want me to pass the test tomorrow you'll need to do something for me."
She furrowed her brow. "Spit it out or leave Mr. Tate."
"I want to take some pictures of you."
Stacy gaped. "You can't be serious?"
He gave her his lazy smile. "The guys around here have been trading shots of your ass since your second day. Look for yourself." He brandished his phone and pointed it towards her. With quick, sharp gestures he scrolled past screen after screen of pictures. Stacy's face burned with embarrassment. There were pictures of her in skirts, pants, and even jeans. Shock rippled through her. The only time she wore jeans was away from work. Boys had snapped pictures of her while she was about town.
Darren had a dozen of her in her black knit pants. She's accidently shrunk them in the wash, but didn't have a clean alternative. In a fit of panic she'd decided to wear them and had hoped that no one would notice. Apparently the boys in her class had.
She was mortified. As a younger teacher she had expected some attention from her male students. Maybe an innocent crush here or there but this was beyond her wildest imagination. How many young men were polite and respectful to her face all the while trading pictures of her backside with one another?
"I just want a couple. They will score me some points with the guys."
Stacy stomped her foot and raised her voice. "Get out!"
Friday afternoon arrived quickly. Darren's test result was what she had quietly dreaded since ordering him out of her room the previous day.
"Well, improvement is rarely linear. I'd like to remind you that time is slipping away," admonished Mr. Bo.
As she walked through the front door of her apartment Stacy sifted through her mail. With nervous fingers she opened an envelope from her sister. Accompanying the hand-written note was fifty dollars. She dropped her mail on a table, turned, and strode out of her apartment.
At the neighborhood liquor store she paced the aisle until she found her intended target. The large bottle of Irish cream made a heavy sound as it touched down on the cashier's counter. As she handed over one of the bills sent by her sister she tried to convince herself that problem drinking only counted with straight, hard liquor.
On her way home she purchased decaffeinated coffee. There would be nothing wrong with having some enhanced coffee at night. It would help her sleep if nothing else.
That night she stared at her ceiling as sleep evaded her. Despite what she had believed earlier, the situation with Darren had slipped out of her control. Monday would most likely be the turning point. She tossed and turned as her mind refused to quiet itself and accept slumber. In the early morning hours exhaustion finally overcame her.
The harsh sound of the bell announced the end of yet another school day. As students made their way down the halls Darren entered her classroom.
Stacy tried to steady herself for what was to come. "What type of pictures?" She asked as Darren approached his desk.
He gave her a smug smile and gestured with a hand. "Drop your marker over there by the board and bend over to pick it up."
Stacy swallowed the lump in her throat as she followed the instructions. Despite facing the white board she could feel Darren behind her.
"Keep your knees straighter and bend more at your waist. Good. Now reach for the marker."
The clicks from his phone made her flinch.
"OK. Now I want a set of you reaching across your desk."
Stacy's face was on fire with shame.
"Keep your knees straight and really stretch across your desk."
She jumped as he nudged her feet apart with the toe of his shoe.
"Stand on the balls of your feet."
The sound of his phone snapping pictures thundered in Stacy's ears and haunted her dreams that night.
She sat in the outer office with her right hand over her stomach. Despite nibbling on saltine crackers and sips of water during lunch, her stomach would not stop churning. Sweat formed on her brow despite the air conditioning.
"I suggest you work on consistency," chided Mr. Bo.
The paper in her hand with nine correct answers sealed her fate. She had sold her soul. Only the total cost was in question now. She loitered in her apartment only long enough to change her clothes.
At the nearby park she broke into a run as soon as her lead foot hit the path. She lost count of how many times she passed the bronze statue of the bear fishing for trout. The sun hung low in the sky when she toppled into the grass. Each breath hurt and dark spots danced at the edge of her vision. The surge of her blood and labored sounds of her breathing filled her ears.
"Are you alright Ma'am?" inquired a young woman. She had stepped off the path and was examining Stacy with concern evident on her face.
"I'm fine," Stacy croaked. She pulled herself to her feet and grimaced as she limped away. The woman couldn't have been five years younger than Stacy and she had called her "Ma'am". At home she eased into a hot bath and allowed the heat to take the soreness from her body. The bottom of her feet had been rubbed raw from her exertions but eventually their protests succumbed to the soothing water.
She groaned as she rolled out of bed. Everything below her shoulder blades ached and her throat felt raw. Stacy grumbled as she limped to the kitchen.
When Stacy's eyes fell on a male student she wondered if pictures of her were on his phone. She found herself suspicious of her favorite student, James. He simply smiled too much. At the end of each day she couldn't decide if she wanted to scream or cry.
"I need more pictures. Dress cute for tomorrow," Darren called over his shoulder as he departed on Wednesday. He was gone before she was able to protest.
That night she had three cups of coffee with generous amounts of Irish cream stirred in. She fretted over her attire to the point she was five minutes late to her first class. Simple, dark pants and a cream-colored silk top struck her as the least exploitable.
"Let's get this out of the way shall we?" Darren announced upon entering her room. "Now, on your feet and give me a nice stretch as if you just woke up."
Stacy closed her eyes, extended her arms above her head, and arched her back.
"OK, undo two buttons on your blouse and do that again."
She obeyed and repeated the pose. When she relaxed she found Darren in a position to shoot a silhouette of her.
"OK. Now, keep your knees together, squat down, and lean forward until your hands lightly touch the ground. Kind of like you are looking for something."
Stacy moved into the request position and tried to convince herself it wasn't that bad.
"Alright, let's get on with the lesson." Darren's voice shocked her out of her reverie.
The pattern repeated for two more Thursdays. Darren directed her poses, she complied, and he passed his tests. Her runs increased in length and duration. It was much easier to sleep at night when she was too tired to think.