Saturday, July 25, 2009

Schooled by RaeLynn Blue

Harper Perry despised the annual parent-teacher conference. A ten year veteran of the open warfare between students and parents, to which the United States government had declared those in her profession Public Enemy Number One, Harper groaned at the prospect of getting into a skirmish tonight. The battle of blame had been marked on her calendar in red. She’d had plenty of warning and time to prepare. Nevertheless, she could feel the knot of tension and stress take refuge in the base of her neck and throb to a rancorous rhythm all its own. She knew with absolute certainty that by night’s end, it would emerge like a monster, tearing through her usual calm and tranquility with scary accuracy and deadly consequences.

Like the loss of her professionalism.

Harper fidgeted and awaited the first hurling verbal assault bomb to begin the start of a long night. Her feet ached and her back hummed in soft agony. She’d been at the school since six-thirty that morning and now, she had an additional three hours of school-related engagement to contend with.

“You’re hoping against hope, you know,” Carlita advised. “His parents don’t ever show. Kids like him don’t have parents who get out of their beds and drive to visit the likes of us.”

Harper sighed from behind the table. She watched the scores of students clutching their portfolios and walking to the bleachers. The sprinkling of parents slipped into the gym. Whispers and nervous twitches moved through the warm forced air, and Harper suppressed the grimace threatening to sour her face. She sipped her bottled water, washing the hunk of anticipation back into the pit of her stomach.

“Scott Pearson’s parents show up yet?” Mark Shoemaker asked, sliding his metal folding chair over to their table with a screeching scream as a soundtrack. The special education teacher, Mark co-taught classes with Harper, the team’s language arts teacher, and Carlita, who taught math. Despite co-teaching the two content areas, Mark’s actual caseload came to a whopping twelve students.

Dwarfed by the paper box crammed with Harper’s and Carlita’s folders, Mark’s student portfolios sat latched together by a thick rubber band.

Harper bit back a bitter retort. She had sixty-five students to his twelve.

“It’s only two minutes after five,” Carlita snapped, rolling her large ginger eyes.

“Come on, Mark, at least pretend you think the kid’s parents are coming.”

“Why give false hope?” he replied, stretching like a lazy cat. His blonde hair had begun to lose its sun-kissed highlights, turning instead to the dirty dishwater shade of his other strands.

Carlita actually snorted.

Teachers at the surrounding tables shot them warning glances and one even shushed them. Somber tones and fake laugher drifted among the pockets of three-teacher teams spread throughout the gym. Harper and Carlita also had a science/social studies teacher, but she was out on maternity to leave. The long-term substitute had opted out of attending the event, leaving their team down to two-and-a-half team members.
Harper sighed as one of her star students, brightly scrubbed and expensively dressed, bounced over to their table with parents in tow. The daughter presented a complete copy of the father, down to the dimple in their right cheeks.

“Come for the report card,” the father said, way too happy for Harper’s taste.
She erased the scowl on her face and muttered some polite noises. The student’s mother joined in, and thus the game began.

For the next hour of her life—to which she would never ever get back—Harper flashed the high-wattage, no-warmth smile and shook hands with people she’d only see once this year. Students snatched their report cards and scampered to the outlying edges of the gym, far from the teachers’ tables tucked in its center. The students hopped around with their parents tethered behind them, attempting to corner them long enough for explanations and congratulations.

“God, I hate this,” Carlita sighed as a temporary reprieve arose from the lack of fresh parents. “Come on, seven-thirty.”

“And to think we get to do it all again tomorrow,” Mark added, reclining in his folding chair as if at the beach. “Back here at seven-fifteen in the morning.”
Carlita snorted again, and Harper pressed her fingertips to her temples where the ball of stress had split and crawled painfully up to these new locations. She opened her eyes, and through thin slits she could make out the doorway of the gym. More people had arrived.

Why do all the parents seem to wear that same smile? The plastered-on-with-glue-stick farce that they believed hid their pain. Why? Show the whole world you hate this shit as much as I do. Don’t fake it. They’re not paying you to sham it up. Be real.

“At least it doesn’t smell like wet socks or feet in here like last year,” Mark was saying as Harper tuned back in to the conversation around her. His fingers drummed in absolute boredom.

“What?” Harper coughed out.

Mark rolled his eyes. “Never mind.”

“Oh, did you hear about Scott’s latest attack against education today?” asked Carlita with all the suspense of one who enjoyed gossiping immensely. “Down in art class?”

Harper screwed up her face and said, “Not really, Car. The boy is always in trouble. No home training, respect for authority figures, or any responsibility. His homework is nonexistent, and contacting his parents…” She shrugged unable to finish. Talking about Scott only managed to make her blood pressure high and the cadence of the headache at her temples pound.

“It’s like trying to find a virgin on prom night,” Mark concluded for her. “I know. Social worker has been trying to pin down the mother for weeks. No luck.”

“Anyway, Ms. Turner told me that in art today, Scott—”

“I need a break,” Harper confessed and scooted her chair back with a loud scrape on the gym’s once-polished wood floor. Finding her water bottle empty, she seized the opportunity to flee. She didn’t wait to hear the story or even want to engage in any more conversation about Scott Pearson’s deviant behavior. The boy should be locked in a group home if his parents were so damn inconsiderate as to allow him to rear himself.

Waving politely to the other teachers, Harper took out a small pill container from her pocket. Not normally a medicine taker, this pill case came out only once a year—for conferences. The bottle contained the sweet nectar of surviving the next hour and a half, pain reliever.

She had stopped at the water fountain, tossed in the two ivory capsules, and sucked in a bunch of water to send them on their way, when she spied a man emerging through the front doorway.

Wow.

The word smacked her psyche like it owned it. A male with tousled honey-brown hair, a body rippling—literally—beneath a tight, slightly dusty white tee-shirt, and hardened thighs that threatened the seams of faded, well worn jeans. The baseball hat cast a disturbing shadow over his face, hiding his eyes. Harper swallowed hard, so noisily she thought the little sixth grade student who scuttled by heard her. As the hunk passed her, reeking of sweat and musk and raw masculinity, Harper eyes attached to his ass so quickly, her neck complained. Her heart, hell, her clit didn’t. She suppressed a squeal as his ass, snugly clad in those tight, terrific jeans came into view. That perfect ass would feel hard in her greedy hands.

Hmmm, damn, that’s a photographic ass right there. What is a man like him doing at a thing like this?

She shook her head and sighed. If only she could latch onto something perfect like the delicious man in the tight jeans and dusty tee-shirt. He didn’t seem old enough to have a child in middle school, but stranger things had happened. Moreover, he probably was either married to one of those Teach for America wannabe teachers.
Yeah, her luck ran like that, from bad to horrid to atrocious.