Brittany’s Do-Over

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Another little vignette from Seaborne High School… this isn’t autobiographical, but it could be. Maybe. I’m entering it in Lit’s Valentine’s Day contest; make sure you read all the excellent entries and vote for your favorites.

* * *

“So, you’re looking great!” She was, too; petite, fit, luminous, she looked exactly as she had in high school, sitting on the table in my classroom, swinging her dancer’s legs. She smiled her gleaming smile.

“Thank you! You too!”

“Aw,” I replied, self-deprecating as always. “Nah. I’m a slug this time of year.”

She eyed me. “No, you look fine.” She was eating some of those cheese crackers shaped like fish, carefully, nibbling them.

I glared at her. “I’m eleven pounds overweight, Brittany,” I told her severely. “I don’t like that.”

She shrugged and went back to her fish. “Well. Looks fine, anyway,” she muttered under her breath, and that’s the kind of interaction we always had. Friendly, open, easy, not a bit like the kinds of stilted and awkward conversations I sometimes had with other students. Oh, excuse me! Alumni. Brittany was well into college now, but she was one of those kids who still liked to come back to visit her favorite teachers. And it was painfully obvious I was her most favorite, but in fairness she was one of my favorite students, too.

But not like she became after Valentine’s Day. Oh no, not at all.

* * *

I was always delighted to get a text from Brittany, though I didn’t usually get them quite this late at night. Or, shit, this early in the morning: the text notification was waiting for me when I got up one dry day at the tired end of January, right after midterms. At work everything was new and hopeful, the poorer students revved up and focused on success during the new semester; that kind of determination lasted about two weeks, usually, sometimes three for the AP kids. I stumbled into the Lego minefield of my living room at five-thirty, chilled from my shower and still looking forward to coffee. Nobody else was up.

Nope. Motherfucker. One of the Legos got me after all.

My phone had two notifications, the first very short and the second long enough to require me to open up the app to read the whole thing. Both had Brittany’s tiny picture next to them, the beautiful shot she’d sent me of the two of us from Prom, where she looked about thirty-two, her hand lying on my chest with what looked like casual possessiveness. I looked at the picture differently now, since New Year’s, remembering her smell now, her lips, the supple little body hungrier in my arms than it had been during her many perfunctory hugs.

I shook my head. It had just been a kiss, nothing more. And a ceremonial one, too, that first time: a nice, chaste New Year’s kiss for luck between friends. Not the second, though. God, her lips, her passion…

The texts shimmered into life as I opened the downstairs blinds. The first had a winky-face emoji, along with the short question I’d seen before I’d opened up the phone. “You up?”

No, I thought in reply; she’d sent it at two in the morning. The next text needed two extra looks before I took it in. “When has sex happened?”

The fuck? She’d asked me weird, oddball questions before, always after that grave pause of hers, but huh? Was she drunk? I felt my eyes narrow involuntarily. I scrolled up; her last message had been an innocuous statement about a gig she’d had on the 12th, and then before that were the ominous New Years texts of ours, the emojis. The kissy ones. Nothing led up to this question.

I frowned, then decided on something simple. “Huh?”

And then I put the phone down and got ready to face my day. I can do that pretty easily; I didn’t grow up with cell phones, so unlike my students I’m not obsessed with them. Besides, there were things I had to do: breakfast, then get Junie up, then Timmy, then their mother; that had grown more difficult over the years, my wife Steph napping more and more and sleeping later and later. Something to do with pregnancy and birth and, to be honest, laziness: her body needed an incredible amount of sleep.

But even as I puttered around, doing my well-rehearsed morning routine despite the Lego, I found that thoughts of Brittany kept sliding back in, like a kid peeking over a fence. There was no point, of course, in pretending she was just a normal alum, but then she hadn’t ever been a normal student either: teachers who tell you that they view all their students exactly the same are lying to you. She’d been a grave but bright-eyed spark during sophomore Bio, then a smiling and eternally luminous junior in my forensics elective.

By the time she was a senior, Brittany had become the class vice-president, and with me as the class advisor and the class president being a shithead, we’d worked together closely. She was the kind of kid who spent her lunches and prep periods with me, conversing lightly about poker oyna school and band and class events and life, her conversation far more mature than most. She had a way of pausing before she spoke, so that everything she said seemed… wise? Careful? Hard to say, but then Brittany was a hard girl to categorize.

I called it the Brittany Pause, a vaguely intimidating look, always preceded by a small frown and followed by a profound question.

It had seemed natural, always, to treat her as an equal, to talk to her like I would a friend instead of a student. It had seemed natural to cuss in front of her, which I’d done one memorable day after a student council meeting, when I’d talked about how “fucking stupid” the class president was. She’d just smiled faintly, arched her fine brows over those massive grey eyes, and said nothing. And, eventually, it had seemed natural to exchange phone numbers, platonically, when she went away to college and kept checking in with me.

Of course, her father was a colleague of mine, a history teacher. So she could have gotten my number anytime. But still. She wasn’t the only former student who kept in touch with me, but she was the only one who had my number.

She was also beautiful, luminously and lustrously beautiful, lovely in that special ethereal way you see in Victorian art. She didn’t seem to realize it, or if she did she gave the impression of not caring very much. But she had to know. In a school full of gorgeous women, teachers as well as students, she had something extra that set her apart. Long hair? Short hair? It didn’t matter; she looked stunning either way. Glasses? No glasses? That didn’t matter, either. There were days she dressed carefully, her fashion choices always tasteful and understated, but other days she showed up in an old sweatshirt and yoga pants: either way, it didn’t matter.

I do try hard not to look at my students in any kind of a romantic or even emotional way, but let’s face it. An attractive woman is an attractive woman. And Brittany was among the most attractive women I’d ever met. She wasn’t sexy, really; you didn’t look at her and want to bend her over a desk. But you looked at her and wanted to walk around with her beside you, drawing jealous stares and admiring glances.

But as I dropped Junie off at second grade that January day and headed in to work, I really wasn’t thinking much more about her early-morning text… until my phone warbled when I was halfway there.

I waited until I was on a long, straight stretch of road, and then glanced down. Again, Brittany’s smiling tiny face. I frowned while I dug through the pre-six-a.m. memories of what she’d texted, and then I snatched up my phone and thumbed it to life.

“Damn,” she’d texted. “I can’t believe I texted you that.” I smiled faintly. She’d put the apostrophe into can’t. Brittany always used good syntax when she texted; this was unusual among her peers, many of whom had even started using textspeak in their school work lately. Just last week I’d graded a midterm with LOL in the middle of a paragraph on mitosis. The little dots on the smartphone screen told me she was typing more, so I set my phone down and watched the road for a change. Long, streaky lines of white reflectors zipped past as I crossed the marsh, and just as I neared the stoplight at the end of the causeway my phone vibrated again. I glanced over.

“Drive faster, Daddy,” Junie advised from the backseat. Her school was just ahead, so I didn’t pick up my phone until I was in that long, painful line of parental cars, inching forward to dump our children into their educational mill for another day. The phone screen glowed.

“I was out with someone last night, and needed some advice, but now it’s all awkward.” The next text materialized even as I watched. “Forget I said anything.”

I paused. She’d be expecting a witty retort, like usual. “You didn’t,” I replied. “You typed it.”

There were long minutes of silence after that, as I kicked my kid out of the car and at last aimed myself for Seaborne High School down the street. I was nearly there before my phone warbled again. “LOL.” She was being ironic, I knew. I waited for more as I pulled into my space. “I’m telling you, it’s awkward. I should have texted someone else.”

I parked and finally had both hands available. “I’m the most awkward person I know,” and I’m not, not really, but it’s the kind of thing I say to my students. Even the graduated ones. “Try me.”

She didn’t. Not then, anyway, and I wasn’t surprised. Brittany is the sort of young lady that signs up for eight a.m. classes, and then actually goes to them. She was undoubtedly busy. I meandered through my morning lesson on blood spatter. The forensics elective has always been popular, especially since I’d decided none of the content really mattered very much. So I taught what I felt like teaching, or rather what I knew the kids felt like learning. It canlı poker oyna was funner than bio, honestly.

Hence, blood spatter.

Brittany selected email for her next message; we’d communicated that way for months, lightly, before we’d given up and swapped numbers. It just seemed to make more sense. But when she had a lot to say, Brittany went ahead and resorted to email. The subject line, glimpsed as I headed for the lunchroom, gave me pause… HELP ME, OBI-WAN KERSHAW!

She knew I loved Star Wars.

The body of the email, which I took in leaning on the fridge in the faculty lounge, was shocking. Typically, it started abruptly and used impeccable punctuation.

“Speaking as a biology teacher, at what point has sex occurred? Recent experiences have confused me. Is it when the penis goes into the vagina just a little bit? When it goes in more than halfway? When it goes in all the way? When it stays in for a certain amount of time? When it ejaculates (I think that’s the word)?

“Like I said, awkward. But you said to try you, so here.”

And, at the end, the obligatory, “I’m asking for a friend.”

Jesus. “Recent experiences?” Why was she asking me this? Didn’t she have girlfriends she could discuss penile insertion with? I muttered a sighed “Motherfucker,” ignoring a sharp look from cranky old Mr Yamaguchi at the other end of the lounge, and wondered whether I should reply at once, or at all.

Plainly she wasn’t really asking for a friend. Obviously she’d texted last night, when she’d been “out with someone,” and had found herself with a cock wedged at least partway into her. And now she wanted to know whether she’d “done it.” Huh. A part of me was perplexed, but a larger part was already analyzing the question and realizing I didn’t really know the answer. But the largest part of me was proud that she’d actually thought of me when she needed to ask.

And a shadowy little secret part of me couldn’t shake the image of her taking a dick.

I let the phone screen go dark and walked slowly back down the halls to my classroom. I couldn’t answer at once, clearly; I felt like I should wait a half an hour or so, then text back something jokey-but-serious, before actually replying for real. Meanwhile, I had some thinking to do. Because, from a biological standpoint, it was actually an interesting question… but plainly, no matter how she’d started off her email, she wasn’t really asking me as a bio teacher.

I was aware that some kids saw me as some kind of father figure, or more like an uncle. It had been a weird feeling at first, when I’d started teaching twenty years ago and students had begun to hang out in my room after school or during lunch with strange questions and concerns. Inevitably, most of those students were girls, the kind that had trouble fitting into Seaborne’s usual cliques, which was of course why they were talking to a wisecracking, nonthreatening biology teacher.

Occasionally, I heard scattered hints of deeper, less offbeat questions and worries, but I always stressed during my lesson on research ethics that teachers are obligated reporters, and that you should be careful what you say to them. But there was no denying I was seen as a safe person to ask about these kinds of questions.

But this? This was the daughter of a coworker, a girl who had to know she was one of my all-time favorites, a girl I’d actually exchanged phone numbers with. And what was she asking me about? I think she was asking about whether she’d lost her virginity.

This was a new one for me, so I plunged into my second period repeat of the blood-spatter lesson for the other forensics section and tried to forget the email. But alas, I couldn’t, and the moment the bell rang I swept my phone out of my pocket. It had vibrated halfway through class, but of course I wasn’t about to check it in front of the kids. And there was the thumbnail contact photo of Brittany Taylor’s face.

“Did you get my email? Just checking.”

Well. So she’d been serious enough that she was dwelling on it. “Asking for a friend,” my ass. I guess, as I thought about it, that I could understand her urgency; as soon as I’d lost my virginity it had been pretty obvious, but I could imagine how I’d feel if it hadn’t been. But she deserved a reply, and in my haste I grasped at the subject matter I’d been teaching all morning. “I got it. I’m researching the answer. Was there any blood? Afterward?”

I sent it off quickly, before I could second-guess it or worry much about it. Her text reply came back quickly. “Yes.” A lengthier pause, then, “According to my friend.”

Sure. Right. Her friend. And I couldn’t stop myself, with more than a hint of prurience, from asking some follow-ups, even as my next class was filing in for bio. “Ejaculation?”

Again, quick. “No. That’s why I’m asking; that would have been obvious. It was only like two inches in.” Again, that damning pause. internet casino “She says.”

Does she indeed. I waited, quickly replied, “More later. I have a class,” and then with a slightly trembling hand I slipped the phone back into my pocket. I shivered, surprised at my own emotions; not excitement, really, nor anxiety. But it was weird and sudden and thrilling all at the same time, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it.

We’d had moments like this before. I remembered the time she had planned out the Valentines’ Dance Faire, impressing me with her efforts; even more impressive, in a different way, had been her demeanor as she and I stood off to the side during the event.

“Well,” she’d murmured at my elbow, “I’d say this is a smashing success.”

Indeed. I couldn’t say much, though, for it was entirely her success, not mine. Brittany had marshaled all her friends, mostly band geeks and other assorted reprobates from the drama stage crew she worked with, to throw the whole thing together. The rest of the class officers, from the president on down, seemed perplexed by how nice everything looked, but like politicians everywhere they pretended they’d done everything themselves, and happily took all the credit.

The school’s gym was now a fairyland of hearts, lace, and little baskets full of valentines’ cards. The event, traditionally held by the junior class, was a combination fundraiser and dance, with parents strolling along at a silent auction while their offspring cavorted to the thumping beat of a hired DJ. Brittany had paid her friend Brad Slotnick to act as Cupid for the evening, and the poor young man had been far too smitten with her to say no. She had him waddling around with a toy bow and arrow made of foil-covered cardboard, with glittery wings pasted to his back, wearing nothing but a loincloth. He drew his share of appreciative whistles and catcalls, and in fairness he looked nice enough, all sinews and skinniness; he ran cross-country in the fall.

I didn’t ask what she’d offered him, but I suspected later.

People looked happy, or at least interested; more important for my purposes, they were bidding at the silent auction. Classes spend four years fundraising to pay for graduation and offset the cost of the prom, and after all that gets paid out the advisor’s stipend is authorized. Classes who sucked at fundraising produced advisors who worked gratis, and who never took on the job a second time.

Out on the floor I saw arms and legs swinging around in that weird, arrhythmic movement that seems to pass for dancing now. The class was not dumb: they were not twerking, not yet. I pointed that out to Brittany as we stood off to the side and watched the fun. She responded with her rare, high-pitched laugh.

“They’ll start the dirty stuff once the parents leave, Mr Kershaw,” she assured me softly. She often spoke like that, with quiet and gentle certainty. It made her sound like an oracle. “There’ll be plenty of opportunity to step in and prevent undignified acts.” She looked at me through her lashes, thoughtfully, and I smiled back.

“This class of yours…” I let my voice trail off. We’d spent many lunches discussing the various tomfoolery her classmates got themselves up to. Her class was famous for getting caught drinking, then charming the cops into taking them home without arrest. The parents, predictably, did nothing.

Naturally, nobody ever had those kinds of problems with Brittany Taylor.

“Most of them don’t dance well,” she observed critically. She’d spent her whole life taking dance lessons. I’d seen her at some kind of community event, a recital for the kids at the junior high. Like an orientation. She’d gotten up and, with the school’s jazz band doing the honors, launched into a pasted-smile tap routine that she clacked through with her usual tedious excellence. She was good at everything except, apparently, math and AP English. And French. Brittany stood well down the class list despite her many talents. I’d looked left and right at all the teachers, and all of us but her dad were gaping. He was merely thinking of how much all the lessons had cost.

“Feel free,” I blurted, jerking my head toward the dance floor. “Show them how it’s done.” And then Brittany turned her frank grey eyes on me, unreadable as ever, and did her famous Brittany Pause before she answered me.

“Are you asking me to dance with you, Mr Kershaw?”

I’m not smooth. Like, not at all. In no way. I courted my Steph on a wing and a prayer. But I’m a teacher, which means I can sound smooth. “You dance better than I do, Brittany,” I rapped straight back. “You’d need to lead me.”

She smiled, little dimples in her little face, but she wasn’t serious. So we’d stood together easily, calmly, scanning the success she’d made of the Junior Valentine’s Dance Faire, and I’d sighed knowing my stipend was safe, a light at the end of the tunnel. “Oh, I’d lead you,” she’d replied with a quiet shrug, but then Ms Therrien’s therapy dog had knocked over one of the silent-auction tables, and suddenly there were bigger fish for me to fry. We never did pick up the conversation.

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