A/N Well, needless to say, this wasn't planned. The objective was to work on one of my four ongoing Veronica Mars fics, and out came a 52-page Ringer fanfic instead… I feel a bit like I'm cheating on VM, but I couldn't seem to stop writing this.
I've totally convinced myself that this is what's actually going on with these characters. So I figured I'd write it, just for fun. No copyright infringement intended. Hope you enjoy :)
I was sweet, as a child. That's what everyone says, anyway. They look at me now, and I know they're all wondering what happened. When did it all go so wrong? Maybe somewhere between my parents divorce, and my realization that I'm merely an afterthought, for both of them. A casualty of war. That would be my reply.
No one knows quite what to do with me, and I get tired of feeling like I'm a situation that needs to be handled. I start drinking, doing drugs. Maybe for attention, at first, but then because I like the way it makes me feel. My friends tell me they don't like the way I'm acting. They tell me I've changed. Eventually, they all stop calling me.
So I find new friends. Well not friends, so much. Just people who I hang out with. People who don't give me a hard time about what I'm doing, because they're doing it too. My old friends don't even look at me, now.
I say it doesn't bother me. Maybe that's not true. But when I get high enough, I don't have to think about it anymore. I stride through the hallways at school with my chin up, eyes quick to narrow at anyone who looks at me a little too long. No one would call me sweet, now.
I'm in English class, one day, when my teacher asks me a question about the book we're reading. I'm not paying attention, as usual, so I make up some smartass answer in response. My classmates laugh. My teacher asks me to stay after class.
I'm prepared for detention. Looking forward to it, even. It means I don't have to go home and deal with her, and that's always a good thing. But he doesn't give me detention. He doesn't even get angry with me. Instead, he just looks at me, his brown eyes full of concern.
"Why are you so angry?" he asks gently. "Why are you so defensive?"
I stare at him, speechless. No one has ever asked me that before.
A large part of me wants to tell him to fuck off, that it's none of his damn business. Instead, I break down and start to cry.
He passes me a tissue and listens to me in silence, as I tell him all about my crappy life. And then he lays a hand on my shoulder and tells me that things will get better. The crazy thing is, I believe him.
English is my last class of the day. And every day, I stay late. Not because I'm in trouble, but because I like talking to him. He actually listens, when I talk. He tells me that he sees though my bullshit, without using the word bullshit. He tells me how smart I am, how much potential I have. He gets me to care about what he's teaching.
I haven't buckled down in awhile, academically, so I'm way behind. I ask him if he'll tutor me, and he agrees. When our first session is over, I should be in a big hurry to get out of there. I hate school. But I find myself lingering. I don't want to leave. So I keep asking him questions, and he seems to have every answer. I'm amazed at how much knowledge he has.
Our discussions become longer and longer, over the next couple of months. We talk about all sorts of things- school, family, my future, my life. We even talk about his life, sometimes. He becomes my confidante. My mentor. My friend.
This is right around the time when I realize how good looking he is. Yeah, I know I'm not supposed to think about him like that. He's my teacher, and he's an adult. But the guys my age are such idiots. And he's just so… different. When he looks at me, it's like he actually sees me.
I mention it's my birthday, one day after our session, and he asks what my family has planned. I don't answer, at first. The truth is, I'm pretty sure no one's remembered. I look down at the worn, grey linoleum floor as I finally respond. "Oh, you know, the usual. Cake, presents."
He doesn't reply right away, and I glance back up at him. I'm not sure if he can tell that I'm lying or not, but he's studying me intently. Like I'm some sort of mystery that he's trying to solve.
"If I'd known it was your birthday, I would have gotten you lunch or something," he says.
"That would have been better a much better present than that pop quiz you sprung on us today," I remark dryly.
He laughs. It's a good sound, and one I don't hear from him often. He crosses his arms over his chest. "Well, now I feel terrible. Can I make it up to you with a slice of pizza? My treat."
"Uh, yeah," I reply quickly. "That sounds good."
That's the day everything changes.
We're at the pizza place for so long that it's dark out when we leave. A light snow has begun to fall, melting as soon as it hits the ground. He offers to call me a cab, and I laugh and tell him no. We're in a perfectly good neighborhood. And besides, I don't mind the cold. But he insists on walking me to the subway, and offers me his scarf after scolding me for wearing only a light hoody in this kind of weather.
There's a bite to the air, so I accept his scarf. I wrap it around my neck twice. It smells wonderful. Sort of woodsy and spicy, like Central Park in autumn. The subway entrance is about five blocks away, and we begin walking. He tells me a little about his old high school, as we walk. He was starting quarterback in his junior year, but then his family moved again. At his new school, they told him there wasn't any room on the team.
He sounds kind of sad as he tells me the story. His eyes are dark and far away. I realize that he's just as lonely as I am.
When we reach the top of the stairs, we turn to face one another. He gives me a very sweet smile. "Happy Birthday."
"Thanks," I reply softly.
He's the only one who's said it all day.
Impulsively, I reach out and hug him. I can tell he's surprised, but he hugs me back. It's a good hug, warm and tight. He smells just like his scarf, only stronger. Even under his thick wool coat, I can feel how muscular his arms and back are. It's a shame he didn't get to stay quarterback, in high school. I bet he was amazing.
When he moves to pull away, I turn my head and kiss him on the lips.
He returns the kiss for a few brief, beautiful, seconds. Maybe it's instinctual; or maybe it's because he's been thinking about me, too. I don't get the chance to ask. He pulls back abruptly, and his eyes are dark and wide with shock. He places both of his hands on my shoulders and pushes me away gently. Then he drops his hands and takes a step backward.
We're both silent for a moment. I watch his eyes dart back and forth from my left to my right, and back again. "Tessa…" he finally says. His voice is so quiet that I can barely hear him, over the screeching brakes and blaring horns on the street behind us. "You know we can't do that. I'm your teacher."
I look away. There's a cute blonde guy walking down the street towards us. He's got a little girl with him, and she's holding tightly to his hand. She's dressed head to toe in pink. Even the puffy top of her hat is pink. She says something to him, and he grins and picks her up. He looks about the same age as Mr. Carpenter.
I turn back towards him. "I don't care," I say calmly. He looks taken aback; but before he can say anything, I reach forward and squeeze his arm. "Thanks again."
Then I run down the stairs without looking back.
It's a Friday night. But for the first time in ages, I don't go out. My step-mother is away, at some relative's house upstate, and she's taken her daughter with her. Her daughter's name is Nicole. She's thirteen and perfect, and I hate her. She moved in with us two years ago, when my dad got re-married, and I've had to listen to how amazing she is ever since. I have no idea if Nicole is actually amazing, and I don't care. I avoid her like the plague.
It turns out that my dad hasn't forgotten my birthday, after all. He surprises me with dinner from Martio's and a Carvel cake. I eat until I'm stuffed. It's present enough that I don't have to listen to my step-mother's pointed comments about watching my figure. But then my dad gives me a new iPod and some money, and tells me he's taking me to see Wicked in the spring.
My step-brother asks me to help him build a Lego spaceship, and it's actually kind of fun. His name is Tommy, and he's not a bad kid. I should really hang out with him more. Anyway, it's the best birthday I've had in years. For several reasons.
I think about Mr. Carpenter a lot, over the weekend. I sleep with his scarf around my neck, and I try and picture what he was like in high school. I decide that his school colors were black and silver, and I imagine him wearing his football jersey and throwing the game-winning touchdown. All of the cheerleaders want him, but he only wants me.
I wonder if he's been thinking about me, too.
In class on Monday, he doesn't look in my direction once. I raise my hand a few times, but he never calls on me. At the end of class, I've just started packing up my stuff to leave when he comes up behind me.
"Can I talk to you, for a minute?" he asks. He looks nervous. He keeps glancing at the other students, probably wondering if I've said anything to anyone.
"Sure," I reply.
We wait for all of the other kids to filter out, and he closes the door behind the last of them. He leans against the desk across from mine and clears his throat. "I think we need to talk about what happened."
"Why?" I ask. I flash him the most coy smile in my repertoire and go back to packing up my books. The feel of his hand on my arm makes me look up. He lets go once he knows he's gotten my full attention.
"Tessa. What you did was… inappropriate. You see that, right?"
"Can I ask you something?" I counter, turning to face him fully.
"Okay…" he replies uncertainly.
"Do you like me? I mean, let's say I was your age. And you weren't my teacher. Would you date me?"
"That's an impossible question to answer, and you know it."
"Why's that?" I ask.
He sighs. "Because if I say no, you'll be offended. And if I say yes…" He scratches the back of his neck and adjusts his tie. "Look, the point is that it doesn't matter what I think of you. Okay? This can't happen. It's immoral, and it's illegal. Not only would I lose my job, but I care about you too much to do something like this to you."
I smile at that. I can't help it. "So you do care about me?"
He shakes his head at me. He's fighting a smile, but the smile wins. "You're impossible. Do you know that?"
I lift my backpack onto my shoulder and stand up straight. "I think that's what you like about me," I say with a grin. I move to leave, but change my mind and turn to face him again. "Can I ask you one more thing?"
"Go ahead," he says resignedly.
"What's your first name?"
He studies me for a moment before answering. "James."
"James," I repeat. "I like that. But you look more like a Jamie, to me."
He gives me a strange look, the ghost of his former smile playing on his lips. "That's what my friends used to call me," he tells me softly. "Back in high school."
"Well then, that's what I'll call you," I decide. I turn and walk away, before he has time to protest.
It's like that for awhile. In public, we barely interact. But in private, I don't hide the way I feel about him anymore. And he doesn't hide the fact that he knows it. I don't try and kiss him again. I don't need to. There's something new between us, and he's every bit as aware of it as I am. He chastises me for flirting, constantly reminds me that it's wrong, and insists that nothing will ever come of it.
I just smile. If there's one thing I do well, it's wear people down.
We continue our tutoring sessions. And when the sessions are over, I continue to stay afterward. He never tells me to stop. I stand very close to him when we talk. In the beginning, he looks uncomfortable and moves away. After a few weeks, he doesn't move away anymore. I like the way I can feel the heat coming off of his skin when we're close. I want to touch him, so badly. But I know I can't. Not yet. He has to be the one to make the first move.
But I grow impatient waiting, so I try to hurry the process along. I'm not above using cheap tricks. My skirts become shorter and shorter, and my tops become lower and lower. I know he notices, because I can see how hard he struggles to keep his eyes on my face when we talk. One day, I "accidentally" drop my pen. As I bend down to pick it up, I can feel his eyes on me. So I look at him, directly, until his face flushes pink.
When he moves around the room to drop off our papers, he pauses at my desk. "Tessa, please see me after class." I can hear the tension in his voice, and I know something's about to give.
He waits until everyone is gone and closes the door, as always. Then he turns on me, and his eyes are sharp with anger. "You have to stop this. And don't say stop what. You know exactly what I'm talking about." He walks towards me and stops at the desk across the aisle from where I'm standing. He leans against it and puts one hand on his hip.
"I'm not going to deny it," I respond. "All I want is for you to admit that you feel it, too."
His jaw tightens, but he doesn't reply. He stands up and walks over to his desk, and then back to where I'm standing. He opens his mouth to say something, but stops and walks back to his desk again. Then he strides towards me, and leans against the desk.
I love how agitated he is. I love seeing him lose his normal calm. It's incredibly sexy, watching him pace back and forth, and knowing that it's all because of me. I feel sort of powerful, in a way I've never felt before. "So are you going to admit it, Jamie?" I ask. "Or do we have to keep pretending?"
"I told you to stop calling me that. How many times do I have to remind you that I'm your teacher?" His eyes flicker to the door, and he lowers his voice. "You having a crush on me is one thing," he continues. "You dressing like this, trying to make something happen…" He gestures to my outfit, eyes sweeping up and down my body as he does, and stands up straight. "That's crossing a line."
"And what's so wrong with crossing lines?" I ask. I take a step closer to him.
"Tessa-" he begins. His voice sounds odd. Almost like he's choking. And the next thing I know, he's pulling me towards him roughly and his mouth is on mine. His hands are on the back of my head, tangled in my hair, and his lips are hot and insistent against my own.
My surprise is quickly overshadowed by my need for him. I wrap one arm around his waist and cup the other against the back of his neck. I scratch at his skin lightly, and he bites down on my lower lip in response. His tongue duels with mine for dominance, and I happily let him win. His fingers tug at my hair, almost painfully, as he runs his left hand down my back. He stops at my hip and squeezes it tightly, pulling me even closer to him. And then, with one last, hard kiss, he pushes me away.
I look up at him, too shocked to speak. He's glaring down at me, eyes still dark with passion. His lips are slightly swollen, and his normally neat hair is sticking up in disarray. "There. Is that what you wanted?" he demands.
"Yes," I answer breathlessly.
We stare at each other in silence. And then he shakes his head and walks out of the room.
The next day after class, I wait for all of the other kids to leave before approaching his desk. I take my normal seat in front of his desk, and wait to see how he'll react. Without meeting my eyes, he grabs his copy of our English textbook and sits down at his usual seat beside me. "Turn to page 175," he says quietly.
I do as he says, and our session passes uneventfully. But the tension between us is almost palpable. When the hour is up, I turn to face him. "Well?" I ask.
He closes his book with a decisive thump, but doesn't stand up to leave. Instead, he turns to look at me. "Well, what?" he asks. "Did I like kissing you? Yes. Does that make me a terrible person? Yes. Am I going to hell? Probably."
I grin at his confession, and roll my eyes. "Oh, stop being so dramatic. You're not going to hell for kissing me. It's not like I'm a little kid, or something. I'm seventeen years old."
"Right. Seventeen," he stresses. "And my student." He sighs and looks down at the desk. "What I did… It's the exact opposite of what my role should be for you. I'm supposed to be someone who you can rely on, someone who you can trust. Not someone who takes advantage of you."
I laugh lightly. "If anyone is taking advantage of anyone, here, I think we both know that I'm the one who's taking advantage of you." I put one hand under his chin and lift it up, so he's looking at me. "Look, I don't want you to have any illusions, like you're… corrupting me, or stealing my innocence, or whatever. If you're worried about protecting my virginity, don't be. Trust me, that's long gone."
Something flashes through his eyes that I can't identify. He takes my hand off of his chin and places it on my own desk. But he doesn't let it go, right away. "So it doesn't bother you that I'm nearly twice your age?"
"No," I answer honestly. "Does it bother you?"
"Yes. Of course it does," he says. He lets go of my hand and stands up abruptly. "And frankly, it concerns me a little that it doesn't bother you."
I shrug, and start putting my books in my backpack. "Age doesn't matter to me," I tell him. I zip up my bag and stand up. "All that matters is that there's something here, between us. You can deny it all you want, but I know you feel it too."
"You just have it all figured out, then, don't you?" he asks, voice thick with sarcasm. "You want what you want, and you don't care what the consequences are." He runs a hand through his hair and frowns at me, then walks over to his desk.
I watch as he stuffs his books into his messenger bag, his movements quick and terse. When he's finished, he looks up at me. "Don't you realize what'll happen to me, if people even suspect there's something going on between us?" he continues. He looks down, and his voice drops to a whisper. "This has already gone way too far. As far as it ever can go, and as far as it ever will go."
"So what does that mean?" I ask heatedly. "You stop tutoring me? We don't talk at all, anymore? Is that what you want?"
"No," he admits quietly. "It's not. But it doesn't matter what I want. We're just going to have to-"
"Act like strangers?" I interrupt. He frowns again, but doesn't reply. I take a step closer to him, lowering my voice. "Look, I'm not an idiot. I know how things would have to be. Neither one of us would be able to tell anyone. Big deal. Do you ever see me gossiping with my friends?"
"It's not just that," he replies, shaking his head. "It's illegal, Tessa. If we ever…"
"Have sex?" I supply, raising an eyebrow.
He exhales heavily. "Yes," he says, his voice rough. He looks at me, eyes unblinking and intense. "If we had sex, it would be illegal."
"Okay," I say with a shrug. "So we won't have sex." He looks at me with surprise, and I continue. "I'm going to stay after class tomorrow, like I always do. And I hope you'll stay with me. If you don't, I'll know what it means. And I'll leave you alone."
He opens his mouth to speak, but I continue on in a rush.
"Just think about it," I plead. "Okay? Promise me that you'll think about what you really want." I hurry out of the classroom before he can respond.
I can barely sleep that night, wondering what's going to happen. The next day in school, I snap at everyone who tries to talk to me. I'm so anxious I can barely stand it. What will I do if he rejects me, just like everyone else has? During English class, I don't say a word. I see him glance in my direction, a few times, but I keep my head turned slightly away.
When class is over, I almost lose my nerve and walk out with the rest of my classmates. But, very slowly, I head to the front of the room and sit down in the first row. Instead of sitting down in the desk next to mine, he walks to stand beside me. He doesn't say anything, for a moment, just stands there in silence.
I've completely convinced myself that he's going to tell me to leave, when I feel him place his hand on top of my head. I look up at him, and he's smiling. He crouches down so we're at eye level, and touches my cheek very gently. "I'm glad you stayed," he says softly.
I close my eyes, leaning into his touch, and then I feel his lips on mine. This kiss is nothing like the last. It's soft, and slow, and I never want it to end. When he pulls away, he takes hold of my hand and sits at the desk beside me. We look at each other for a moment, and then I smile. "I'm glad you stayed, too."
He squeezes my hand once, and then lets go. "Okay. Turn to page 193," he instructs.
I grin and start flipping through my textbook. "All business, all the time," I tease.
"Not all the time," he corrects me, a devious glint in his eye. "Work first. Then play."
My heart pounds in anticipation. "It sounds like our tutoring session are about to get a lot more interesting," I remark.
And they certainly do.
Our kisses quickly turn into full-on makeout sessions, both of us pressed against the side wall in case someone passing by decides to casually glance inside the room. I'm constantly pushing for more, and he's constantly drawing and re-drawing the lines. The first two times I guide his hand to my breast, he pulls it away instantly. But the third time, he lets it linger. By the fourth time, he doesn't need any prompting.
I feel like the guy in the relationship, when it comes to getting physical. I'm always the aggressor, and he's always the one who's holding back. I remind him over and over that this is what I want. But there are certain things that he won't do, and he firmly tells me no when I bring them up. I can only push him so far, especially in a well-lit classroom with an unlocked door. I suggest going somewhere else, a few times, but he stresses that it's a very, very bad idea.
So we remain in a holding pattern, for the next few weeks. We're both well aware of the fact that things can't stay this way for long. It gets harder and harder to say goodbye, at the end of the day. Fridays are the worst. We text, and sometimes talk on the phone, but I know he won't agree to meet me. The weekends drag out, long and lonely; and by time our Monday tutoring sessions rolls around, neither one of us can keep our hands off each other.
One specific weekend is even shittier than most. I run into my dad in the kitchen, Sunday morning. I'm making myself a cup of tea, and he's already working on his third or fourth coffee. We sit down at the table together. He passes me the crossword puzzle and I pass him the obits. We sit in silence for awhile. It's nice. It reminds me of the way things were, right after my mom left. When all of the screaming stopped, and there was finally just peace and quiet.
I'm working on a 7-letter word for "forbidden" when Nicole walks in. She's wearing that stupid pink leotard she's always wearing. The kid lives and breathes ballet, I swear. I wish she'd just discover beer and weed, already. Hell, even wine coolers. Something. The last thing on my mind at thirteen was ballet, I'll tell you that much.
"Hey, Tessa," she greets me. "You working on the crossword?"
I ignore her. Undeterred, she takes a seat next to me and turns to my dad. "Mom says we can all go out to dinner, after my recital Friday. Can we go somewhere with good sushi?"
"Sure, kiddo," he replies absently.
Precocious little shit, I think to myself. What thirteen year old girl willingly eats sushi? But then what she just said registers on a different level, and my head snaps up. I stare at my dad, but he's still reading the paper. I turn to Nicole. "This Friday?"
"Yeah," she smiles. "Swan Lake, remember?"
"Dad?" I ask, trying to keep my voice even.
"Yeah, sweetie?" he replies, finally glancing up.
"This Friday is Wicked."
"This Friday is Wicked," I repeat. "Remember?"
I can see it sink in, finally. Nicole is looking from him to me and back again, clearly confused. And then she walks in, and I see the expression on my dad's face become resolved. I know what he's going to say before he says it, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach.
"You understand, don't you sweetie?" he asks me, nodding to Nicole. "She's worked so hard." He stands up and walks to the refrigerator, taking the white envelope out from under the banana magnet and handing it to me. "I'm sorry, Tess. But I'm sure you'd rather go with a friend than with me, anyway. Right?"
I make no move to accept the tickets, and he sighs and takes his wallet out of his back pocket. He pulls a hundred dollar bill out and slides it into the envelope. Then he sets it on the table in front of me. "Treat yourself to dinner too, okay? I'll take you somewhere even better, next year." He sits back down at the table and picks up his paper, like nothing ever happened.
"Hey, Tessa?" Nicole asks. "Can I help you with the crossword?"
"Sure," I say calmly, still staring at my dad. "What's a 7-letter word for jerk, starting with 'A'?" I toss my pencil down on the table and stand up. "Oh, that's right. Asshole."
My step-mother gasps and Nicole starts to giggle, and I walk out of the kitchen before the yelling starts. My dad doesn't talk to me for the rest of the day, and I don't talk to him. But when I wake up on Monday morning, I see the envelope sitting on my dresser. I ignore it and get ready for school.
After English, the door has barely closed on the last student when Jamie reaches for me. I return his kiss, but I'm distracted. He stops and looks at me in concern. He pulls away slightly, leaving his hand on my face. His thumb strokes my jaw lightly for a moment, and I close my eyes.
"Hey," he says quietly. "What's going on with you today?"
I open my eyes and look at him, not saying anything right away. I didn't want to get into this, with him. I don't want him to think I'm being a baby. "It's nothing," I shrug. "It's stupid."
He sits down next to me and rubs his hand up and down my arm gently. "Tell me what's wrong," he urges.
I sigh heavily. "My dad and I had plans to see a play this Friday, and he bailed on me for my step-sister's ballet recital." I laugh bitterly and look down. "See? I told you it was stupid. I'm just pissed because it was supposed to be a birthday present. And he always picks them over me. Always."
He runs his hand down my arm to my hand, and squeezes it tightly. "I'm sorry. He should have kept his plans with you."
I'm relieved that he understands, so I go on. "He told me to take a friend," I continue. "I guess he's been too busy to notice that I don't have any friends, anymore."
Jamie leans over and kisses me on the forehead, offering me a small smile. "What about me?" he asks. "Aren't I your friend?"
I roll my eyes at him. "Yeah, but I can't exactly take you, can I?" When he doesn't answer right away, I look at him carefully. "Can I?"
"Actually, it just so happens that Friday is my birthday."
"Oh," I say flatly, looking down. "So you already have plans."
He places his fingers on my cheek and tilts my chin up with his thumb, until I meet his eyes. "On the contrary," he corrects me, "I don't have any plans. And I can't think of anyone I'd like to spend my birthday with more than you."
I smile widely at him, and lean over to kiss him on the lips. I'm pretty sure that's the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. And the prospect of getting to see him outside of school fills me with elation. "So I guess it's a date," I say.
"I guess it is," he agrees with a smile. But then his expression becomes more serious, and he clears his throat. "We'll just have to, you know, be really careful."
"I know, I know. I can keep my hands to myself. Can you?" I tease.
"I guess we'll see," he replies. The tone of his voice doesn't change. But when he drops his hand from my face and tells me we better get some work done, I can tell that he's worried.
He doesn't think I understand this part of it, but I really do. Manhattan is a lot smaller than everyone thinks, and people love to talk. The chances of anyone seeing us together are slim, but what we're about to do is still dangerous.
On Friday, I sneak away from Spanish class because I know he's got a free period. I find him in his classroom. He looks up in surprise at the sight of me. We're always really careful not to do stuff like this. But before he can protest, I hurry over to his desk and kiss him on the lips. "Happy Birthday," I say quickly. "I just wanted to tell you that." Then I turn and walk away.
I'm almost to the door when I feel his hand on my arm. I twist around, expecting him to reprimand me for breaking the rules. Instead, he pulls me toward him and kisses me hard on the lips.
It's insane, what we're doing. The door to his classroom is wide open, and we're in plain sight if anyone happens to walk by. But all of that only makes it hotter. Our kisses become more and more desperate, and before I know it he's backing me up against the wall and my mouth is on his neck. I bite down, right where his neck meets his shoulder, and he groans and pulls away abruptly.
I frown and reach for him, but he clasps both of his hands around mine and shakes his head. We're both breathing heavily, and he's holding onto my hand so tightly that my fingers are starting to go numb. I know it's because he's afraid of what will happen next, if he lets go. Personally, I can't wait to find out.
I pull my hand out from his grasp and wipe my lipstick off his mouth and cheek with my thumb. He doesn't say anything, just stares at me intently. The desire in his eyes makes my stomach flutter nervously. I know that he's finally losing his composure; that he's finally starting to break. And he knows it too.
"So no tutoring, today," I remind him. "I'll meet you in front of the Gershwin at a quarter to eight. You know where it is?"
"Yeah," he replies. "I'll be there."
I adjust his tie and run my hand through his hair, smoothing it back down. He doesn't protest, just stands there in something like defeat. And then he glances at the door and shakes his head. "That was-"
"Fun," I finish with a grin. "I'll see you tonight." I kiss him on the cheek and hurry back to Spanish class.
I take my time getting ready after school. I know I can get away with jeans, but I feel like dressing up, a little. It's a mild spring night, so I go with a classic, knee length black dress and black heels. I wear my hair down in loose waves, and decide to replace my usual eye makeup with something a little more natural. I'm guessing that'll appeal to him. Besides, it makes me look a little older, and that might come in handy.
I'm so excited about the date that I find it in me to wish Nicole good luck, before I walk out the door. I even thank my dad for the tickets. He tells me I look beautiful, and to have fun with Valerie tonight. There is no Valerie, of course. I made her up months ago, to explain why I was coming home so late, almost every night. I remind him that I'm staying over her house, hoping I'll actually need that alibi.
Jamie's already waiting for me, when I get to the theatre. I spot him leaning up against the building, one knee bent with the sole of his shoe against the wall. I take a minute to watch him, before he sees me. He looks even more handsome than usual, in a blue button-down shirt and a blue and white striped tie. When he notices me walking toward him, his face breaks into a smile.
He places a chaste kiss on my cheek, but then he whispers in my ear. "You look unbelievably sexy."
"Thanks," I whisper back. "So do you."
He's giving me that look of his, and I know he wants to kiss me. But instead, he gestures towards the door. We walk inside, careful not to stand too close. The inches between us feel like miles. I stare jealously at the couples around us, who are holding hands or walking with their arms around each others waists. They have no idea how easy they have it.
The play is wonderful, but I'm incredibly distracted. Being just inches away from him, out of school, in the dark… It's too tempting to ignore. I put my hand on his knee, finally, just wanting reassurance that he's actually next to me. After a moment, he covers my hand with his, and leaves it there.
When the show is over, we get our coats and follow the crowd onto the street. We walk down the block slowly; I'm not even paying attention to which direction we're heading in. I'm feeling strangely nervous, and I just want to get some distance from the crowd. When I glance up at him, he's scratching the back of his head and looking around. I can tell he's nervous, too, and that makes me feel a little better.
We finally pause at the corner of 51st and 9th, and I look up at him. "So my dad gave me money, to get something to eat. Do you wanna have dinner?" I ask. "Or would that be too wicked?"
He chuckles at my pun. "Okay," he agrees after a moment. "We'll have dinner. But then I'm going home, to my house. And you're going home, to your house. Agreed?"
I shrug, which isn't quite the same as agreeing, but he doesn't call me out on it. "So, you know anywhere good to eat around here?"
"There's a great Italian place, Angelina's, on 11th? If you don't mind walking a bit."
"No, I don't mind," I tell him quickly. I want this night to last as long as possible.
We're seated at a dark table in the corner, a candle in a glass amber holder flickering between us. When the waiter comes around to take our drink order, Jamie asks for a glass of Cabernet. "And for the lady?" the waiter asks in a thick Italian accent.
"I'll have the same," I reply loftily.
He nods and walks away, and when I glance at Jamie he's shaking his head at me.
"What?" I ask innocently.
"So it's not enough that I'm taking my seventeen year old student out on a date," he says, his voice low and tense. "Now, I'm contributing to the delinquency of a minor, too?"
"Oh don't you worry, this minor is already a delinquent," I return with a wink. He still looks pissed, so I reach under the table and squeeze his leg. "Relax, Jamie. Okay? One glass of wine isn't going to get me drunk. And it's not like I'm driving anywhere."
He takes a deep breath and nods, and he doesn't bring either subject up for the rest of the meal. Not even when one glass of wine becomes two. We talk about the play, and about the places he's lived, and I jokingly threaten to tell the wait staff that it's his birthday so that everyone will sing to him.
It seems like only minutes have gone by when the check arrives. Jamie refuses to let me pay, even though I tell him I wanted it to be my present to him. "You've given me enough," he says cryptically.
When we leave the restaurant, I ask him to point me in the direction of the nearest subway entrance. "Absolutely not. You are not taking the train by yourself, tonight."
We argue back and forth, and after much discussion, we agree to share a cab downtown. He's in SoHo, and I'm in Brooklyn, so he makes me promise to head right home after he gets dropped off. I consent, and he hails us a cab. He opens the door for me, and I slide across the vinyl seat to make room for him.
After he climbs in next to me and closes the door, I look at him for a moment. "Are you dating anyone?" I finally ask.
"What?" he laughs.
"Are you dating anyone?" I repeat insistently.
"You mean aside from you?" he asks in quiet amusement, touching the side of my face affectionately.
"Is that what we're doing?" I counter.
"Well…yeah," he says. "Aren't we?"
"So we're dating, but we don't actually go on any dates," I clarify.
"Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think dinner and a show qualifies as a date."
"Right. And I was the one who had to ask you," I say pointedly.
He pulls his hand away from my cheek and looks out of his own window. Then he turns back to me. "You're right. I'm just… trying to be cautious."
"How is making out with each other in school safer than meeting up somewhere in private?" I press.
He's silent for another moment, his lips turned down in a frown and his brows furrowed, as he looks at me. "It just is," he says quietly. He clears his throat. "But listen, I want you to know… I'm not seeing anyone else. I haven't even talked to anyone else, since you and I started spending time together."
I smile at that. I've always wondered, and I've always been too afraid to ask. "So this is something, then?" I ask. "Something more than just-"
"Yes," he interrupts me, his voice rough with emotion. He puts both of his hands on my face and pulls me towards him. We're heading down 7th Avenue on a Friday night, thousands of people milling around on the streets outside, and he's kissing me with abandon behind the darkened windows of the cab. It feels reckless, and dangerous, and so, so perfect.
By the time we reach his place, I'm dizzy and breathless. He has to pull away from me to get his wallet, but I stay close to him while he reaches forward to pay the driver. "Can I come up?" I whisper. "For a little while?"
He takes a shaky breath, and runs his fingers through my hair. Then, without a word, he opens the door and steps out onto the sidewalk. Disappointment courses through me, until I notice that the door is still open. I see him holding his hand out towards me. I take it with a smile, and he helps me out of the cab…
And the next thing I know, we're pressed up against the wall of his living room. My fingers are working on the buttons of his shirt, and his are sliding up my thighs. I pull his shirt apart, running my nails up the bare skin of his stomach and chest. And then he's lifting me up onto his hips, and I'm wrapping my legs around him, and we're heading down a dark hallway with our eyes closed, bumping into walls and knocking down picture frames as we go.
We fall down onto his bed, lips and bodies still pressed together. I tug at the sleeve of his shirt, and he shrugs it off quickly. We flip over so that I'm straddling him, and he pulls my dress up and over my head. He runs his hands down my back, stopping briefly to unclasp my bra and toss it to the side. His hands are warm and soft against my bare skin, and I shiver with need. He wraps his arms around my waist, and we roll over so that he's on top again.
"I know I'm going to hell," he breathes into my ear, as he places kisses down my neck. "But I want you so badly that I don't fucking care, anymore." He stops kissing me for a moment, and I can just make out his face in the darkness, hovering above mine. "I need to know this is what you want, Tessa. Because once we do this…I can't take it back."
"Yes," I insist, pulling him down for a kiss. "Please…"
And then we're tearing off the little clothing that's still left on each other, and he's doing things with his hands and his mouth that I never knew were possible, and I can hear him fumbling around in the bedside table next to us. I know what's coming and I start to shake in anticipation. And then he's inside of me, and it's not like anything I've ever experienced before.
I wasn't lying about not being a virgin. But all of my hookups have been with guys I couldn't have cared less about, in some twin bed or on some shabby old couch, hurrying to finish up before his parents came home. Or in the backseat of someone's car, cold and uncomfortable, the smell of stale cigarettes and pot smoke thick in the air. It's always quick and dirty and pretty fucking pointless.
This… this is an enigma.
Instead of hurrying, he's making it last longer. Instead of focusing on himself, he's focusing on me. He's being so tender that it hurts. I feel more exposed than I've ever felt in my life, yet it's completely dark around us. And I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, yet part of me wants to cry.
And he talks to me. He tells me how beautiful I am, how he never stops thinking about me, how I drive him crazy every single day. How I drive him even crazier at night. For the first time, he's taking off that carefully composed mask and letting me see who he really, truly is. And what's underneath is so beautiful that I fall in love with him, right then and there.
He keeps kissing me, and touching me, and I'm more than happy to let him take control. As usual, I'm his willing student, eager to learn and eager to please him. I feel so inexperienced, at first. Almost shy. But then I remember that it's Jamie, the guy I've been driving insane for months, and I know exactly what to do.
I've been unconsciously cataloging his reactions, every time we've been together. I know what makes him breathe harder, what makes him moan, what makes his heart beat faster. I know just where to kiss him, and just where to touch him. And I must be right, because suddenly his movements become more urgent, and his nails dig into my arms. And then his whole body starts to shudder, and so does mine, he collapses on top of me.
We lay in each others arms, too awake to fall asleep but too breathless to talk. He strokes my hair back from my face, and I run my fingers up and down his arm. His skin is so soft, but the muscles beneath are hard. It's the exact opposite of him; and of me, now that I'm thinking about it. We both have a hard shell on the outside, with a soft and gooey center.
My entire body is warm and flowing, like melting chocolate. My limbs seem to be missing their bones. I feel like I need to lie down, and then I realize I already am. My heart is still beating rapidly, so I try and slow my breathing. Jamie turns and slides one leg in between mine, pulling me closer to him. He kisses my forehead, and then my lips. "You okay?" he whispers.
And I laugh, because it's such a ridiculous question. Of course I'm okay. Our night together has surpassed every expectation, driven every doubt out of my head. "Are you kidding?" I ask.
I can feel him smile against my cheek, and then he kisses the hollow of my throat. "I wish you could stay."
"I can," I tell him. "My dad thinks I'm staying at a friend's, tonight."
He sighs, but doesn't let me go. "You had this all planned out, didn't you? Playing me like a piano, right from the beginning. As always."
"No," I deny. I bite my lip on a smile. "But I just may have brought a condom, just in case."
"I hope that means 'sexy'," I reply.
"It doesn't," he says. He runs his hand along the length of my body, dipping into the valley above my hipbone and squeezing my waist. "But you're that too, in spades." His fingers continue to explore my body, until I can feel his heartbeat speeding up again, and mine racing to match it.
And it turns out that it's a very good thing that I brought that condom, because we end up needing it. The second time is, somehow, even more incredible than the first. Needless to say, we don't get much sleep that night. But our bodies finally give out; and, exhausted, he pulls the blanket up and over us and draws me close. I fall asleep in his arms almost instantly.
When I wake up in the morning, I blink a few times in the unfamiliar light. I look around in confusion for a moment. And then the night comes back to me, and I realize that the arm around my waist is his, and I turn quickly to find that he's already awake. He gives me a sleepy smile and greets me good morning.
We get up. He lends me an old college t-shirt of his and a pair of boxers. He puts on a pot of coffee and we sit down at his little kitchen table. I take a few minutes to look around. Everything is very neat, which doesn't surprise me at all. When I glance back at him, he's watching me.
I notice how quiet he's being, and I ask him what's wrong. After a little pressing, he finally speaks his mind. "Are you… do you have any regrets?"
"None," I tell him without hesitation. "Do you?"
He doesn't answer right away, and I begin to get nervous. But then he reaches across the table and takes my hand. "No," he says with a smile. "Whatever happens, you're worth it."
I smile up at him, amazed that he thinks so highly of me. He stands up and walks around the table, placing a kiss on top of my head. "So. What do you want for breakfast?"
"You can cook?" I ask doubtfully.
"I happen to be a fantastic cook," he informs me.
"Is there anything you're not good at?"
He grins and opens up the pantry.
We decide to spend the weekend together. I stop home in the afternoon to grab some clothes, and tell my dad I'm staying at Valerie's another night.
"Okay, sweetie," he says vaguely. "How was the play?"
"It was excellent," I reply with a secretive smile. It doesn't matter, he's not even looking at me.
In class on Monday, we can't meet each other's eyes without smiling. He's in a visibly good mood, joking around with us and telling us to forget about the quiz he had planned for today. The girl next to me, Andrea, leans across her desk to whisper in my ear. "Looks like Mr. Carpenter finally got laid."
I bite my lip on a smile and stare at my desk. "Looks like."
Everything is different, after that weekend. I'm different, for one thing. I'm less defensive with people. Friendlier. Jamie's different too. He's more relaxed, not so stoic. Quicker to smile, quicker to laugh. I guess we're both just…happy.
We stop our tutoring sessions. Truthfully, I haven't really needed them for awhile, and we both know it. Instead, I meet him at his place every day after school. I stay there for dinner as often as I can get away with it. He really is a fantastic cook, and he'll make anything I request. I warn him that he's spoiling me rotten. He tells me I deserve it.
I stay over almost every Saturday night, too. I live for waking up to his kisses in the morning, knowing we have a long, lazy day ahead of us. His little apartment starts to feel like home, to me. A cozy oasis where we can relax together, without any scrutiny or suspicious glances.
But we go out now, too. We have to be careful about where we go, obviously. Angelina's becomes one of our favorite spots. It's the only place where people know us as a couple. The host, the wait staff, even the owners all greet us like family when we come in. We tell them I'm in my senior year at Fordham, and they tease Jamie that he should pop the question at my graduation.
It's tough to find other good places to hang out, but we begin to figure out what works for us. Movies are perfect. We buy our tickets separately and meet inside, under cover of darkness. We purposely go to movies that have been out for weeks, at odd times, so that we have as little company as possible. Sometimes, we get the whole theatre to ourselves. I couldn't tell you the plots to any of those movies if I tried.
School ends, and summer stretches before us invitingly. I get a job as a camp counselor, and every day after work I meet Jamie. When it's nice out, we go to the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park. It's his favorite spot in the city, and it soon becomes our spot. We usually meet in the middle of the arched bridge, and then wander through the gardens while we kiss lazily and tell each other about our days.
One day he's late meeting me, and I take a seat under a willow tree to wait for him out of the sun. I look at the stone steps in front of me. I like the way the light is hitting the path, filtering in at a slant from above. I pull out my sketch book and a charcoal pencil and begin to draw, concentrating on the shadows first and then filling in the detail. I'm just finishing up when Jamie takes a seat beside me.
I close the book quickly and turn to him with a smile. "Hey. What took you so long?"
He kisses me on the lips. "Sorry about that. The president's in town today. You know how it is." He glances at my sketchbook curiously. "What's that?"
"Nothing," I reply, stuffing it into my bag and standing up. "C'mon, let's go get some ice cream."
He gives me a weird look, but doesn't push. "Okay, sure," he agrees. He takes my hand and lets me pull him up and toward the ice cream vendor.
When the weather is bad, we go to his apartment. We'll lounge on his couch or his bed, watching movies or talking for hours, when we're not otherwise occupied.
One rainy Wednesday in July, we're lying down on his bed listening to music when I ask him to tell me something about himself. "Something I don't know about you, yet," I add.
He gives me a sort of sheepish look. "I'm writing a novel," he finally tells me. "Such a cliché, right? Every English teacher in the world is a novelist, in the summer."
After a lot of encouraging, he agrees to read me the first chapter aloud. The female lead sounds suspiciously like me, and the male suspiciously like him. I don't mention it, but it makes me smile. "I love it," I tell him honestly. "You have to keep going."
He closes his laptop and flops down onto the bed. "We'll see," he says. "Okay, now it's your turn."
"To read you my secret story?" I joke. "You know I'm no writer."
"But you draw," he prompts. "Will you show me?"
I want to say no. I've never shown my drawings to anyone except my dad, and I haven't shown him anything in years. But I find it impossible to deny Jamie anything, so I reach into my backpack and hand him the book silently.
He flips through it, as I watch him nervously. There's no rhyme or reason to what I draw. It's whatever strikes my fancy. Faces, buildings, sneakers, a subway car… Whatever happens to be around me at the moment. He looks at me in surprise. "These are amazing. Why didn't you ever tell me you could draw like this?"
I try and take the book back, embarrassed, but he hangs onto it. "You really think they're good?" I ask doubtfully.
"I think they're incredible." He closes the book and hands it back to me. "Have you ever thought about art school?"
"Not so much," I reply. "I'm not sure how I feel about the whole college thing, in general."
"So what are your plans for the future?" he asks.
I'm not sure if he's asking about my future or about our future, so I just shrug.
"Well I think you should at least consider it," he urges me. "Maybe community college or something, just for a year? You know, to see if you like it. And if you do, you can transfer to a four-year school. I could help you with applications…"
"I can see you've given this some thought," I remark dryly.
"Maybe I have," he admits. "You're too smart to end up at some dead-end job. I don't want that for you."
"Oh yeah?" I ask lightly. "What do you want for me?"
"Only the best," he replies with a smile. "Always."
"And what do you want from me?" I tease, running my hand down his chest.
But he catches my hand before I can go any lower. "I'm serious, Tessa. Before you know it, you're going to be graduating. You need to start thinking about these things."
I agree to consider community college, to see how I like it. I can tell by his expression that he's not done talking about this, but he leaves it alone for now. Truthfully, the only thing I can see in my future, the only thing I can focus on, is him. But I don't want to tell him that. I don't want to scare him away.
One particularly muggy day in mid-August, we're taking our usual stroll through the Garden when we hear the rumble of thunder above us. Within minutes, we hear another rumble, and I notice that the sky has turned dark grey.
Jamie starts to pull me toward Belvedere Castle, to get some cover from the oncoming rain. But I know that's where everyone around us is heading, and I want to be alone with him. So I shake my head and sit down on a stone bench, refusing to go.
He looks at me like I'm nuts. "C'mon, we're gonna get soaked!"
"Who cares?" I ask. "It's just a little water. Let's just hang out and listen to the rain falling."
Before he even has time to argue the point, it starts to pour. I laugh at the expression on his face and pat the seat next to me. He walks over to the bench. But instead of sitting down, he pulls me up and wraps his arms around me. And we just stand there, holding each other, as the rain soaks through our hair and clothes.
When I look up at him, he pulls away slightly and returns my gaze. I watch the water dripping off his cheeks and his nose, and I laugh. He looks absolutely adorable. I'm sure I look a mess, and I don't even want to think about the state of my eye makeup.
Jamie's staring at me with an expression I can't quite place, but it's definitely not disgust. He smiles widely; and then he's kissing me, over and over. He says something to me, in between kisses. Something I'm sure I hear wrong, over the rain.
"What?" I ask.
He pushes the wet strands of hair out of my face and strokes my cheek with the backs of his fingers. "I love you," he repeats.
"That's what I thought you said," I reply softly. I pull him down for a long, hard kiss, and hold onto him tightly. I'm terrified that he's about to evaporate from beneath my arms, like fog in sunlight. "I love you too," I whisper into his ear.
We talk that night. Really talk. I'll be eighteen in five months; but we can't even think about going public with our relationship until after I graduate. And even then, it'll be tricky. The age difference is always going to be an issue, with people. We both realize that. And the fact that he's my teacher… neither one of us is sure how it'll ever be accepted, even when he's not my teacher anymore.
Thinking about all of this brings me down a little. But then he gives me some good news. He's been asked to teacher Senior English, this year. And somehow, he's figured out a way to make sure I'm in his class again.
Before we know it, the school year is starting again. I'm happy to be in his class, but it's very different, this time. So much harder to pretend we're strangers. This is the man who knows me better than anyone else in the world. My best friend, my lover, my reason for rising from my bed in the morning. When he treats me just like everyone else, in public, it sort of sucks. I mean, I know he has to, but… it still sucks.
And there's something else. He's become a really popular teacher. I'm not sure how I never noticed it before. I guess I was so wrapped up in my own feelings for him that I didn't pay attention to how other people treated him. But I pay attention, now. My classmates don't talk shit about him, the way they do about some of the other teachers. They listen to him. They respect him.
Certain girls, in particular, seem a little too interested in what he has to say. I watch the way they slide their pen caps across their lips, as they listen to him talk, and I know exactly what they're thinking about. He's polite and friendly to them, which is of course completely appropriate. But it pisses me off. I hate the thought of him thinking about anyone else besides me. And the way some of these girls dress… Well he is a guy, after all. He'd have to be blind not to notice.
I can't help but wonder what he thinks about these other girls. How does he act around them, when I'm not around? Has he ever considered doing anything, with them? It's not that I don't trust him… I do. I just wonder how he'll react, if he's ever faced with a girl who makes her feelings about him known. A girl who pursues him, aggressively. The way I did. How exactly will he handle that?
I struggle for a way to maintain our connection somehow, during school hours, but it's difficult. My schedule is tough this year, and I no longer have study hall. To top it off, he teaches a class during my lunch hour. So I start to call him Mr. C, in class. Sort of as a private joke. It's as affectionate as I can be with him, in public, without raising any eyebrows.
Unfortunately, it catches on, and everyone starts calling him that. It pisses me off, at first. But I get over it. The way he looks at me, when he knows no one else is watching… that makes up for it.
There are fun parts about our secret, for sure. Like the times we find a way to sneak a few minutes together, in the back of the library, or in the science lab that's being renovated. Or that one time, in his dark, locked classroom. Those times are always the highlight of my day. But there are just as many times when I'm frustrated by the entire situation. The times when I'm having a really bad day, and I just want to talk to him. But I know that I can't.
A couple of weeks after school starts back up, I'm sitting at Jamie's kitchen table while he makes us shrimp scampi. It's a Thursday night, and I have to get home as soon as we're done eating. My step-mother has started making pointed comments about how strange it is that she and my dad have never met Valerie, and my dad is finally starting to listen.
"So Principal Caruso asked me to run an after-school club, today," he says, as he stirs the pasta. "It's called Young Samaritans."
"What? Why?" I demand.
"Mrs. Hughes retired, and they need someone to run it," he explains calmly.
I don't say anything. This is seriously going to cut into our time together, and I'm not pleased. Jamie walks over to the table and puts his hand on mine. "Maybe you should join?" he suggests.
I give him a look. "Young Samaritans?" I ask. "You really think people are going to buy me joining a club like that?"
He tries to hide a smile. "No, probably not. But it's only two days a week. Okay? Every other day, I'm all yours."
"Well, I like the sound of that," I concede.
He grins and pulls me up from the table. "C'mon, try this sauce."
I do, and it's delicious. And I don't end up leaving right after dinner, after all.
His club does cut into our time, a little. But Jamie finds plenty of creative ways to make up for it, and I really can't complain.
I'm doing better in school than I have in years. Jamie's talked me into taking Drawing. My teacher, Miss Grayson, asks me why the hell she's never seen me in her classes before. I tell her it's just something I do for fun. She convinces me to drop Spanish for Painting, and strongly urges me to consider majoring in art, after I graduate.
So over all, things are going pretty well. In fact, I'm happier than I've ever been before…
And then she comes along.
As soon as I see her walking up to him in class, that stupid, sparkly barrette in her hair and her boobs popping out of her tank top, I know she's going to be trouble. I watch him as he talks to her, and I don't like what I see. Jamie glances over and catches me staring. He flashes me what's probably supposed to be a reassuring smile; but it comes off looking more like a smirk, to me. It just pisses me off more.
So yeah, I'm a bitch and a bully to the new girl. I kick the back of her chair, and dub her "rich girl" and demand that she give me some money. Not the most creative nickname, sure, but I'm too annoyed to care.
I know, even as I'm taunting her, that I'm acting like a baby. But I want to put her in her place. She doesn't roll over as easily as I expect her to, though. Before I know it, we're trading insults. And all of the other students are listening to our exchange with interest.
Jamie tries to pretend he doesn't notice what's going on. He turns around and glances at me questioningly, but doesn't say anything and goes back to writing on the board. I guess he's hoping I'll behave myself. He should know me better by now.
Finally, he can't ignore us any longer. "Is there a problem, Tessa?" he asks me pointedly.
"No, Mr. C," I return sarcastically. "Teach away."
I can tell he's annoyed by my attitude. But what can he say?
When class is over, I pack up my things and leave without looking at him. I don't want to hear it. But when he texts me to meet him in his classroom after lunch, I go.
He's sitting at his desk grading papers when I walk in. I close the door behind me but don't approach his desk. "I only have a minute," I tell him. "What do you want?"
Jamie gets up from his desk and walks over to me. "What's going on with you? Why are you acting this way?"
I don't answer, just stare at the floor.
"Can you at least tell me what all of that was about, before?"
I shrug. "I don't like her."
"You don't even know her, Tessa. You laid into her the second she sat down." He looks at me with such disappointment that I get defensive all over again. But before I can respond, he continues. "You're acting childish, and there's no reason for it."
"Are you sure about that?" I press, finally looking him directly in the eyes. "Because from where I was sitting, it looked like I might have a reason."
He rolls his eyes at me. "You're being ridiculous. She's a new student. I was just trying to make her feel welcome."
"Like the way you made me feel welcome?" I retort.
"No. Not quite that welcome," he says with a smile. I don't return his smile, and he continues. "Do you know what it's like to transfer to a new school in your senior year? It's not fun, let me tell you."
"Aww, it's sweet that you two have something you can bond over."
Jamie sighs. "Where is this coming from?"
I bite my lip, and cross my arms over my chest. "I didn't like the way you looked at her," I admit.
"Oh, give me a break," he replies. "I talked to her for, like, three seconds."
"Do you think she's pretty?"
He just shakes his head. "Stop this." He lowers his voice, and reaches out his hand to touch my arm. "Come on. I don't want to fight with you."
I shrug his hand away. "I'll take that as a yes," I say coldly. "I have to get to class." I walk away quickly, and he doesn't follow me.
I'm still stewing over our conversation when I spot Juliet, in the hallway. She's looking at her reflection, in a mirror stuck to the inside of her locker, and the expression on her face is far too smug for my current mood. I'm feeling reckless and angry, two emotions that don't mix well, with me. I nod to the girls walking down the hall with me. "Hey, watch this."
So I slam her locker door shut and start talking to her. I'm not even sure what I'm saying; I just know that with every word out of her mouth, I want to hit her more. She says something about wanting an apology, and I finally lose it. "Here's your apology right here," I tell her. And then I throw her into a row of lockers.
The next thing I know, we're rolling on the floor fighting, and there's a crowd of people standing around us. Then Jamie is there, of all people, pulling her off of me. He hands her off to someone else and points a warning finger at me. "It's over."
And he's not even looking at me, to see if I'm okay. He's totally focused on her. Then, he puts his hand on her back and rubs it soothingly, like she's the one he's worried about. Like she's the one he's been sleeping with for the last six months. Like she's the one he's in love with. I feel people herding me away, and I'm happy to leave. I'm seething mad.
I blame the fight on her, of course. And since it's been a while since I've done anything like this, Principal Caruso actually believes me. It cheers me up slightly; so I'm caught off guard when I see Jamie heading down the hallway towards me.
"I'm on my way to Painting," I inform him.
"You have five minutes," he replies shortly. He glances around, and then pulls me into an empty classroom. He keeps his hand on my arm and spins me around to face him. "What the hell was that?" he asks in a rough whisper. "You haven't gotten into a fight in over a year. What were you thinking? That girl did nothing to you."
I've never seen him so angry. But I'm angry too, and I don't say a word.
"You're being a bully, Tessa. And I won't condone that kind of behavior. Not even from you."
"So you're taking her side?" I demand.
"I'm telling you to stop acting like this. You're putting me in an impossible situation. If you keep this up, you're going to force me to tell the principal that you're the one who's instigating this."
"Go ahead," I say. "Tell on me. Protect the little princess from the big bad wolf."
And you know what? He actually does. They slap me with three weeks detention.
I'm beyond angry with him. I feel hurt, and betrayed. I avoid him for the rest of the week, ignoring every text and every phone call. In class, I refuse to meet his eyes, and I'm the first one out the door as soon as the bell rings.
Juliet turns out to be exactly who I thought she was- an ass-kissing, spoiled brat. Every time she opens up her mouth to say something in class, I cringe. It takes every ounce of willpower I have not to smack her in the back of her pretty little head. And the worst part about it is that Jamie eats it up. I don't know if it's the attention that he's liking, or the fact that she's an eager student. Either way, it does nothing but make me angrier with him.
On Friday, he makes the mistake of calling on me to answer a question, and I just glare at him. After a few seconds hesitation, he approaches my desk. "Please see me after class," he says quietly. Everyone can hear him say it, of course. But only I can see the pleading expression in his eyes.
So I stay after class, swearing to myself that I won't break down and forgive him. He waits for everyone to leave, while I pack up my books and stand up. I make no move to approach him. He walks over to my desk slowly, but stops several feet from where I'm standing.
"I know you're angry," he says quietly. "And I know you feel like I betrayed you. But you have to understand something. When you and I first got involved, I promised myself that I wouldn't treat you differently from my other students, when it came to school. That I wouldn't give you unfair advantages, just because I have feelings for you. Giving you a free pass, when I know you're in the wrong… it's not fair, Tessa."
I shake my head at him, but remain silent.
"Juliet was about to get suspended- maybe even kicked out of school. And I felt like I was responsible for that. If I'd reprimanded you in class, like I should have, maybe this wouldn't have gone so far."
"If you'd reprimanded me?" I repeat incredulously. "You did reprimand me, Jamie. Don't you remember? Twice. And did you even once ask me if I was okay? No. You were too worried about your precious little Juliet."
"Tessa-" he begins warningly.
"What?" I demand. "Let me guess, you're about to defend her again, right? Tell me how crazy I'm acting?" I shake my head. "God, you're fucking blind. Don't you see the way she looks at you?"
I see his expression change and hear the footsteps behind me at the same time, and I know we have company. I turn to see Principal Caruso standing behind me. She crosses her arms at the sight of me.
"Is there another problem, Miss Banner?" she asks with a sigh.
"No, no problem," I say quickly. "We're just discussing my Taming of the Shrew paper. I, uh, thought I deserved a higher grade. But Mr. C here doesn't seem to think my work was up to par." I shoot him a pointed look. "At least, not compared to some of the other students."
"That's not quite what I said," Jamie replies. "Your work is excellent. I'm more concerned about your interpretation of the reading."
I smirk and glance at the principal. "We're in disagreement about who the 'shrew' in the play actually is."
"Well," she replies, looking thoroughly confused. "I had no idea you were so passionate about Shakespeare."
"Nobody really knows that about me," I reply. I shoot Jamie a pointed look. "But I'm not so sure I like him as much as I used to, anymore." I see the hurt flash across his face before I turn away, so I know he understands my full meaning. "Well, I better get to my next class. The last thing I need is more detention."
I get a text from him, a few minutes later. Need to continue discussion. Can you meet tonight?
I hit delete and toss my phone into my bag.
Jamie doesn't try and contact me again all weekend. I try and convince myself that I'm relieved, but the truth is that I'm miserable. My step-mother asks me why I'm not staying at Valerie's house this weekend, and I tell her that we got into a fight. I'm so despondent I think she actually believes me. She may even feel bad for ever insinuating that Valerie doesn't exist.
On Saturday night, instead of spending the night curled up on Jamie's couch, I hang out in the park by my house and get completely wasted. Some random guy hits on me. I consider it for about three seconds, before telling him to get lost. On Sunday, I nurse my hangover with an Oxy I find in my jewelry box, and watch a Teen Mom marathon with Nicole.
I don't feel angry, anymore. Just numb. It's a hell of a lot easier.
On Monday morning, I make a pact with myself. I'm not going to think about Jamie all day. And I'm not going to react to anything Juliet says. I realize within seconds that not thinking about Jamie is a ludicrous proposition. But as far as Juliet… Well, I make it until the very end of class, and then I blow it.
He asks a ridiculously easy question about Of Mice and Men, and she raises her hand to respond. The tone of her voice is so simpering and babyish, and he sounds so damned pleased with her answer, that I can't help but lash out again. We exchange words, as quietly as I can manage.
Jamie hears us anyway, and diffuses the situation before it goes too far. "Don't tell me, ladies. You find the book so enriching that you can't help but discuss it amongst yourselves?"
I know he's just trying to make light of the situation. He even says it with a bit of a smile. But I'm annoyed enough to leave without even glancing at him, when class is over. So I don't hear about her staying after class to talk to him until later that day, from my friend Rebecca. She sits at the easel next to mine in Painting, and provides me with a steady stream of gossip about our fellow students while we work.
"So are you really getting kicked out of our English class?" she asks me.
I stop mixing paint and look up at her. "What?"
"Juliet told Andrea that she talked Mr. C into getting you transferred to another class. I guess she complained about you, after your little fight in class today, and he said he'd take care of it. And then Charlie told me he saw Mr. C go into the principal's office today."
I stare at her, dumbfounded. And then I set down my brush and glance around the room. Miss Grayson is busy helping another student. "Cover for me for a minute, okay?" I ask Rebecca. "If she asks where I went, just tell her I felt nauseous or something."
She agrees, and I hurry towards Jamie's classroom. But when I get there, I remember that he teaches a class, this period. I lean against a row of lockers, not sure what to do. This whole thing has gotten way out of hand. Deep down, I guess I thought it would all blow over. But now, he's getting me transferred out of his class? How the hell did this happen?
I head back to the art studio. But when the bell rings, I decide to skip out on my last couple of classes. I meet up with my friend Oliver down in Chinatown. We take bong hits and play Mario Kart all afternoon. I tell him I'm in love with my teacher, and he starts to laugh hysterically. "You're fucking crazy, girl. We gotta hang out more."
I head home in a fog, and pass out on the couch watching Beavis and Butthead.
When I wake up the next morning, I see that someone has carried me to my bed and taken off my shoes. My dad, I guess. I see my phone blinking on my nightstand. I have several texts from Jamie, but the last one catches my eye. It was sent at five this morning.
Can we meet in park before school please? Really need to talk.
I take a deep breath and text him back. Ok. What time?
He's already standing on the bridge when I get there, looking decidedly nervous. I walk up to him slowly, unsure of what to say or how to greet him.
"Hey," he says, attempting a smile.
"Hi," I reply.
We lean against the side of the bridge, facing forward. It's a crisp fall day, and the leaves have already started to change in the park. It's the kind of day I live for; the kind of day I used to imagine us spending together, back in the summer time. Being at this spot is bringing up all sorts of old memories, and I wonder if he's thinking about them too.
But instead of being nostalgic, I cut to the point. "Did Juliet ask you to have me transferred to another class?"
He takes a deep breath. "She did," he confirms.
I shake my head. "Unbelievable," I reply. I start to walk away, but he calls after me.
"You were right," he says, raising his voice in desperation. I stop walking and turn back towards him, and he meets me halfway. "You were right," he repeats quietly. "About her, and about the way I treated you, and… everything. And I was wrong. And I love you, and I miss you terribly. Don't you miss me?"
"Maybe," I say softly. And then I sigh. "Yes."
He takes a step closer to me, and puts his hand on mine tentatively. "I should have made it clearer to you that you're the only one I give a damn about. You know that, right?"
I can feel myself thawing at his words, at his touch. But I'm still upset, and I want some answers. "You said I was right about her. What happened?"
"Exactly what you said would happen. She mistook my kindness for interest in her. And yesterday, she asked me out on a date."
I grit my teeth, but I have to know more. "Was this before or after she asked you to kick me out of the class?"
"After. And Tessa… do you really think I'd ever have you transferred out of my class?"
I shrug. "I don't know what to think, anymore. I just wish you would have listened to me. I always listen to you. But you wouldn't even consider what I was saying. Instead, you just brushed me off like my feelings didn't matter at all."
"You're right," he says. "I did. And that wasn't fair. I just didn't like to see you acting like that. I got… picked on, in school. A lot. People like to pick on the new kid, you know? They're easy prey."
I take his other hand, wondering why I hadn't considered that, before. "I know I acted like an ass," I admit. "I am sorry, for that part."
"And I'm sorry I hurt you," he whispers. "Can we stop fighting, now?"
I nod, and the next thing I know I'm in his arms. He's holding me so tightly that I can barely breathe. And then he relaxes his grasp and kisses me, long and slow and soft. I lay my head against his chest and breathe in his scent. I smile to myself, because he really does smell like the park in autumn.
We pull away from each other slightly, and I look up into his eyes. "So I'm still in your class, right?"
"Of course. I had Principal Caruso transfer Juliet out, instead. I thought that may make you behave a little better." He grins and kisses the tip of my nose.
"But I thought you liked it when I misbehaved?" I remind him, running my hand down his chest, to his stomach. He catches my hand just as I reach his belt buckle.
"Mmm, you can't do that to me now," he groans into my neck. "That's just cruel. But please, please tell me you can come over tonight?"
"Well that depends…" I tease. "What's on the menu?"
"I'm thinking just dessert, tonight," he mumbles, kissing down the side of my neck.
"How about your famous chicken parm, followed by dessert?" I suggest.
"I suppose that can be arranged," he smiles. "Anything else, your highness?"
"Yes," I reply. "Stop wearing these cardigans, will you? It makes me feel like I'm dating my grandfather."
He rolls his eyes. "And what would you prefer I wear?"
"A shirt and tie," I reply with a grin. "You look hot in a tie."
English class without Juliet is heaven. Jamie keeps glancing over at me with a smile, and I can't help smiling in return. After class, I linger just long enough to sneak in a few quick kisses, while Jamie whispers a detailed summary of exactly what he's going to do to me later in my ear.
That night, everything finally feels right between us again. We spend the bulk of our night making up for our time apart, and I feel all of the tension and frustration of the previous week slip away. Unfortunately, it's a school night and I can't stay over. We take our time kissing goodbye at the door, but I really do need to get home. I'm just about to leave when he catches my hand.
"Hey," he says. "I just wanted to let you know… I spoke to Juliet today. And I made it clear that I don't have any feelings for her. Okay?"
"Okay," I reply, with a sigh of relief. It seems like this whole mess is finally over.
I should really know better.
The next day, I see Jamie walking down the hall in a button-down shirt and tie. I smirk at him, and he rolls his eyes before heading into his classroom. When I get to class later, however, I see that he's put on a maroon sweater over his shirt. I go up to his desk to drop off my paper. "Cold?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.
"Not particularly." He drops his voice so only I can hear him. "I just know how dangerous it is to always give you your way."
"But things run so smoothly, when you do," I remind him.
He grins at me, and I take my seat.
So things should be good when I get to his place later. But instead, he looks tense and uncomfortable when I arrive. After a few minutes of watching him move around the kitchen, silently making dinner, I speak up. "Okay, what the hell is going on?"
Jamie closes the oven door and turns to look at me. He leans his back against the kitchen counter and crosses his arms. "If I tell you, will you promise me that we're not going to argue about it all night?"
I'm instantly suspicious. "What did she do now?" I ask.
He hesitates for a moment, but finally replies. "She joined my club."
"I know," he sighs. "But what could I say? It's open to everyone."
I narrow my eyes at him. "I thought you told her that you weren't interested."
"I did," he insists. "I don't know why she'd think otherwise, Tessa. Honestly, I don't."
"Have you ever done anything to make her think you have feelings for her?" I ask carefully. "I mean, aside from acting like everything she said in class was genius."
He makes a face at me. "I think that's a slight exaggeration."
"Okay then. Aside from the time you took her side against me, in the fight," I say pointedly.
Jamie scratches the back of his neck and doesn't quite meet my eyes.
"What happened?" I demand, standing up and facing him fully. I swallow painfully, before continuing. "Did you-"
"No, Tessa. Jesus. Don't you trust me at all?" he asks. I nod, after a moment, and he continues. "She got into a car accident, last weekend. And she called me for help."
"She called you?" I repeat angrily. That really sinks in, and I look down at his floor. "You gave her your number?"
"No," he replies. "I swear, I didn't. I have no idea how she got my number."
"And did you go?" I ask him quietly. I already know the answer before he replies.
"You've got to be kidding me." I start to pull my jacket on, and he crosses the kitchen and puts his hands on my shoulders.
"Please don't go. I know I should have told you, okay? But we weren't even speaking at the time. And then, once I realized you were right about her, I knew how it would sound. I mean, what was I supposed to do? She called me for help, I didn't know how badly she was hurt… I had to go. But I left, as soon as her father arrived."
I shake my head. "Well no wonder she won't let this go. You're her knight in shining fucking armor. She probably thinks you're in love with her."
"I'm not," Jamie says quietly. "I'm in love with you." He kisses the top of my head. "I was just trying to do the right thing. I don't care about her at all, I promise you. Do you believe me?"
He looks so earnest that I reply almost instantly. "Yes."
But I don't; not completely. He hooked up with me, after all, didn't he? Maybe he's just moving on to a newer version? And now they're going to be spending all of this time together, after school... Just like we did.
I hate feeling like this, so uncertain and paranoid. If I can't trust him, who the hell can I trust? I hate that her name keeps coming up. I hate that we keep arguing about her. I hate that she has this much power over my life, my relationship.
And I hate her, more than ever. I know she isn't giving up on him, no matter what Jamie may think. He has no idea what she's capable of. But I do. So even though I drop it, for the moment…something inside of me knows that it's not over.
The rest of the week is quiet. I don't bring her up, and neither does Jamie. I tell my step-mother that Valerie and I made up, and that she's invited me to her uncle's house in the Hamptons. She buys my story, and I get to spend the entire weekend with Jamie.
He surprises me with dinner at Angelina's on Friday. On Saturday, we head to the aquarium in Coney Island. By Sunday night, I'm solidly convinced that I have nothing to worry about. We're snuggling on his couch, watching The Usual Suspects, when he turns to me.
"You still have detention tomorrow, right?" he asks.
"Yes," I reply. "Thanks to you."
"Why good?" I demand.
"Well," he replies, brushing my hair out of my eye, "I just may have suggested to Principal Caruso that the people in detention help out my club, tomorrow. Does that make it up to you at all?"
"That depends… What exactly are you goody goodies up to, tomorrow?"
"Something very helpful to the environment."
I make a face at him. "Is it something lame like picking up trash?" I can tell by his smirk that I'm right, and I sigh heavily. "That sounds awesome. Thanks a bunch."
He chuckles and pulls me closer, so that my back is to his front. "Hey, at least we'll get to see each other for a little bit."
"Well, to show you my appreciation, I'm planning on wearing something incredibly short and slutty, and bending down every time I know you're watching," I inform him. "Just so you know."
"Mmm," he replies, wrapping his arms around my waist tightly. "Leave it to you to make picking up garbage sexy." He lays soft kisses down the side of my neck, sending chills down my spine. "And since I know you're going to torture me silly with that little skirt of yours," he murmurs, "is there any chance we can meet up when we're done?"
"If you're lucky," I concede.
"Good. When we're done, just pretend to leave. And then we'll meet up-"
"At the Starbucks down the block," I finish impatiently. "Don't you think I know the drill, by now?"
He ignores my attitude, and gives me a kiss on the cheek. I lay my head against his chest, and he rests his chin on top of my head. I've just started getting back into the movie again when he speaks up.
"Juliet is going to be there."
I know he can feel me tense up, because he starts to run his hands through my hair soothingly. "Right," I finally reply. "I forgot she joined your stupid club."
We both know that's a lie, but he doesn't call me out on it.
"Hey," he protests. "It's not stupid."
"I know, I know," I say quickly. "I'm sorry. I just hate being around her."
"I know you do," he says softly. "But at least you'll be able to see firsthand that I have no interest in her. I don't want that to even cross your mind, anymore. You're the only one I want. Okay?"
"Okay," I smile. I twist around so that I'm facing him, and he lifts me up onto his lap. I straddle his thighs and kiss him very gently on the lips. His hands slide up my back, underneath my shirt, and I can tell by the movement of his hips that he's in no mood for gentle. So I start kissing him hard and fast, biting his lower lip and scratching my nails through his hair.
Our kisses quickly become more urgent, our breathing heavy. He peels my shirt off and tosses it onto the floor, and then he pulls his own shirt off before I get the chance to do it myself. I run my nails down his chest to his stomach, and he groans and pushes me forward suddenly, so that I fall backward onto the couch. He tries to reposition himself so that his full weight is off me, but I don't let him. I love it when his body covers mine like a blanket.
But he props himself up, after a minute, and reaches behind me to unclasp my bra. I pull it off the rest of the way and let it fall to the floor. He trails his fingers across my bare skin, watching my reaction intently. His eyes are dark with need, and I can tell he's struggling to keep his control. So I pull him back down on top of me. And while his mouth covers mine, I unbutton and unzip his jeans and slide my hand beneath the waistband of his boxers.
Within seconds, he's pushing his jeans down the rest of the way and scrambling off the couch for a condom. I pull my own jeans and underwear off while I wait, impatient for his return. When I realize he's been gone far too long, I head into his bedroom.
He's pulled his drawer completely from the bedside table, and he's shaking the contents onto the floor and sifting through them quickly. Jamie looks up at me as I enter. His eyes sweep down my naked body longingly, and I can see the disappointment clear on his face. "We're out," he announces, standing up straight.
He moves to skirt around me and leave the bedroom, but I catch him around the waist. "I don't care," I tell him. I take his hand and guide him over to the bed. But he stops me before we reach it, giving me an exasperated look.
"Of course you care," he replies. "Don't be crazy. I'll run down to the bodega, just give me five minutes."
Without a word, I push him down onto the bed and climb on top of him. He manages to sit up, but I wrap my legs around his waist tightly to prevent him from standing. "Tessa," he protests. "Come on. You're not making this any easier."
I kiss him in response, long and slow, until he stops protesting. Then I shift my hips so that I'm rubbing up against him, and start nibbling at his neck and running my fingernails up and down his back. He makes a strangled sound and attempts to push me off of him again. "This is a bad idea," he says weakly.
"I don't care," I whisper. "I want you inside of me. Right now."
And that's when I can see his willpower finally slip away. It's exactly the same look he had in his eye when he kissed me for the first time.
I lift up my hips and slide down onto him, very slowly. We both gasp at the sensation, and he holds my hips so tightly that I'm sure I'll have bruises there the next day. I watch as the last trace of regret fades from his eyes. And when he's completely inside of me, and he dips his head down to give me a kiss, I know all is forgiven.
The next day, after school, I stand in the hallway waiting for Jamie to arrive. There's a whole group of us here, including Juliet. I'm standing as far away from her as I possibly can. I see Jamie walking down the hallway with a bunch of black garbage bags in his hand, and I grimace. Looks like we really are going to be picking up trash, after all. Fantastic.
He grins when he spots me standing there. "Thanks for being here, Tessa," he says aloud. He squeezes my arm quickly and continues walking down the hall.
"Mmm. See, I don't have a choice," I remind him. "It's called detention."
"Well, the planet still thanks you," he returns.
I smirk at him as he walks away, but he doesn't see it with his back turned towards me. I see him talk to Juliet briefly, but I don't notice anything on his side that looks remotely like interest. So I relax, for the rest of the night. I avoid Juliet and she avoids me. I see her watch him, of course. But I'm no longer concerned. After last night, I know that he's all mine.
As for Jamie and I, we play our parts admirably, as always. Not a person there would suspect that there's anything going on between us. Not even Juliet, who can't go five minutes without staring at him. I feel sort of smug, knowing that she wants him, but I'm the one who gets to have him. Knowing that, when she goes home to her bed tonight, I'll be in his.
Detention passes by pretty quickly. When we're done, Jamie springs for pizza. He lets me stay and have some, even though technically he shouldn't because I'm not a member of his club. I wait until almost everyone has left, and then I head for the door. I thank him for the pizza and toss my soda can into the recycling bin. And then I walk the couple of blocks down to the Starbucks to wait for him. I hope everyone leaves soon, so we can finally be alone.
I feel like I'm waiting for him forever, but it's probably only ten minutes or so. Still, I'm sort of cold and annoyed by the time I spot him. He's hurrying down the street, and when he reaches me he's out of breath. "Why are you standing out here in the cold?" he scolds me. "Without a jacket on, as always."
"Well I didn't think you'd take so freaking long," I retort.
He shrugs off his black wool coat and wraps it around my shoulders before I can protest. "I'm sorry about that," he replies vaguely. "I just had to deal with something really unpleasant. But I'll spare you the details."
Before I can ask what happened, he changes the subject abruptly. "So are you stuffed from the pizza, or can I treat you to some dessert?" he nods at the entrance to the door, as he takes my hands in his and rubs them between his own. "Your fingers are like icicles. Do you want some hot chocolate or something?"
"No thanks," I reply with a smile. "There's really only one kind of dessert I'm interested in right now. And it's not hot chocolate."
Jamie raises his eyebrow and steps closer to me. "Mmm. Well in that case, maybe we should go back to my place. I think I have just the thing."
He reaches beneath my coat and runs his hand up my thigh, just below my skirt. I slap his hand away playfully and step back. But he follows me, pressing me up against the wall of the building and kissing me deeply on the lips. It's a full minute before he breaks away and steps back again, and I look at him in surprise.
"What's up with you, tonight?" I laugh.
"What do you mean?"
"You're breaking your own rules. Kissing in public, so close to the school?" I glance around us, and for a second I think I see someone staring at us from the opposite street corner. But Jamie calls my attention back to him, kissing me on the neck and biting my earlobe.
"I don't care," he mutters into my shoulder. He moves back and looks into my eyes. "I missed you. And well-played with the skirt, by the way. Very effective payback."
I shoot him a satisfied grin, and he takes my hand and leads me towards the street. The next thing I know, we're in a cab heading towards his place. Jamie can't keep his hands to himself, in the backseat. He gives up all pretenses of civility almost instantly, pulling me close to him and kissing me hard on the lips.
"I think you're making the driver blush," I whisper in his ear.
"And what am I doing to you?" he returns, as he nibbles at the hollow of my throat and runs his hands down my body.
I tilt my head to the side to give him better access, and close my eyes. "Mmm. I think you know exactly what you're doing to me."
"Well then I don't give a damn how much the driver is blushing," he says with a grin. And then he pulls me into his lap and slides both hands beneath my shirt.
He certainly has changed, in the last year. I smile to myself as I wrap my arms around him, knowing that I'm the one responsible for that.
The next day in English class, I notice a lot of activity around me. People are whispering to each other and giggling, and I see a lot of pointed looks being thrown in Jamie's direction. After a few minutes, he turns and addresses our whole class. "Guys, come on," he says. "I know it's Wednesday, and no one wants to do anything. But can we try and focus, please?"
Everyone gets quiet, and he goes back to writing on the board. As soon as he turns his back, the girl next to me drops a note onto my desk. I glance at her questioningly. Her name is Shelly; we talk occasionally, but we're not overly friendly. I quietly unfold the note and read what she wrote. Do you think it's someone from our class?
I lean across the aisle. "What are you talking about?"
"Are you kidding?" she returns quietly, her eyes lighting up. She looks over at the front of the room, but Jamie still has his back to us. She gestures for me to come closer, and whispers in my ear. "Word is, Mr. C is hooking up with one of his students."
I'm pretty sure my heart stops beating, as I turn and stare at her blankly. "What?"
"I know, right?" she replies.
Jamie turns around and glances at us. We move away from each other and go back to taking notes for a few minutes. Well, she does, anyway. I just pretend to. My mind is racing. How did this happen? Did someone see the two of us together? When? And if so, why doesn't Shelly seem to know that I'm the one he's hooking up with?
He starts talking again, and I lean back towards her. "Who did you hear that from?"
"Like, ten different people." She looks around the room speculatively. "So, who do you think it is?"
"I don't know…" I say vaguely. "Maybe-"
"Tessa?" Jamie finally speaks up. "Is there a problem?"
Yes, there's a problem. A big, fucking problem, and I want to scream it out loud. I wish he could read my mind right now, so he'd know what's going on right in front of him. But he's just standing there, oblivious to the fact that our world is quietly crashing down around us. He's not even looking properly annoyed with me for talking in class, and I feel like it's only a matter of seconds before everyone will realize the truth…
Everyone will know it's me…
And then what?
"No, no problem," I manage. But he must see something in my expression, because his eyes linger on me, and his brow furrows in concern. He clears his throat and continues his lesson, and it feels like hours before the bell finally rings.
I take my time putting my books away, as I wait for everyone to filter out of the classroom. But there's a whole group of students around Jamie, now, all asking him questions about our upcoming paper. I glance at the clock, frustrated. Of all the days for people to start to give a shit about their grades…
But it's no coincidence that everyone wants to talk to Jamie today, I realize suddenly. Every single student waiting to speak to him is a girl. And they're all looking at him as though they're really seeing him for the first time. I even spot Shelly in the mix, looking him up and down appreciatively.
My frustration and anger mount, and I continue looking between the clock and the group of girls. I take a deep breath, knowing that it's absolutely crucial that I don't show an ounce of emotion, and walk slowly towards his desk. Eventually, all of the other students leave and it's just me and him. But the bell is about to ring, and I have a test next period for a class I'm in danger of failing due to complete lack of interest.
Jamie greets me with a big smile. "Hey, what's up? Don't you have to get to Economics for-"
"There's a rumor going around that you're hooking up with a student," I interrupt him.
His smile fades instantly, and all of the color drains from his face. "What?"
"I know," I reply. "What the hell are we going to do, Jamie?"
"Tell me exactly what you heard," he says quickly.
"There are no names. I mean, no one seems to know that it's me. But that's the part I don't understand. If someone saw us together, why wouldn't they be calling me out on it too?" He doesn't reply, just stares at me in silence. A terrible thought occurs to me, and I blurt it out in a rush. "You don't think I said anything, do you?"
"Of course not," he says distractedly. I can tell that he's deep in thought, trying to figure this out just like I am… and wondering what happens next. He glances up at me. "See what you can find out, okay? I need to know what people are saying. I need to be prepared."
"Okay," I promise. I reach out and grab hold of his hand, squeezing it tightly. "I'll see you tonight."
"Maybe that's not such a-"
"I'll see you tonight," I repeat firmly.
He sighs, and squeezes my hand in return. "Okay."
The bell rings, and I know I'm in deep shit now. But I give Jamie one last look. "It's going to be okay," I tell him. "It's just a stupid rumor. No one can prove anything."
Jamie nods, and then he pulls his hand away. "You better get to class."
I make it my mission to talk to as many people as I can about the rumor, asking everyone who told them, and what they think about it. Most people seem to think it's not true, but it's too juicy a piece of gossip not to pass along. It takes me all day, but after talking to everyone I know, I finally trace it back to Andrea Blake.
I find her at her locker, right after school lets out. "Hey, Andrea. You going to Alexi's party this weekend?"
"Wouldn't miss it," she grins. "Hey, do you still have a hookup for Oxy?"
"Sure," I tell her. "Let me see what I can do."
"You're the best."
"So, that's some crazy shit about Mr. C, huh?" I say, leaning against the row of lockers next to her.
"I know, can you believe it?"
"It's gotta be bullshit, though, don't you think?" I reply. "I mean, he totally doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd hook up with a student."
"Right? He's so, like, by the book." She frowns and shakes her head. "I mean, if I didn't hear it from her myself-"
"Hear it from who herself?" I interrupt. I know I sound far too eager, but I can't help myself. I have to know what's going on, and she's the only one who can make sense of this.
She glances around the hallway. There are still a lot of people milling around, and I can tell she's debating whether or not she should say more. But I've been hooking Andrea up with various illicit substances since we were fourteen, and she knows I can keep a secret.
"C'mon, you know me," I remind her, keeping my voice as light as possible. "I'm not gonna say anything."
Andrea considers me for a minute. Then she nods and drops her voice to a whisper. "Juliet."
"Juliet?" I repeat. I go from disbelief to horror in a millisecond, and I'm pretty sure I'm about to vomit. "Juliet Martin?"
I hold onto the locker behind me for support. I feel dangerously close to either screaming or crying, but I swallow hard and continue. "She's saying that she hooked up with him?"
"Yeah. Last night."
Relief washes over me, because that's impossible. Jamie was with me last night. All night. In fact, I got home so late that I had to listen to a fifteen minute long lecture from my step-mother about how irresponsible I am.
So I start to laugh, and Andrea looks at me like I'm crazy. "Sorry," I reply. "It's just- you know she's lying, right?"
Andrea frowns and looks at the ground. "I thought she was for sure, at first. I mean, between you and me, she totally has a thing for him. But…" She glances around again, but the hallways are close to empty now. "If you saw how upset she was last night… She was crying and everything."
Now I'm completely confused. "If she likes him so much, why would she be upset that they hooked up?"
She drops her voice to a whisper. "She said he, like, forced himself on her."
My mouth drops open in silent indignation. It's bad enough that she's making up lies about her and Jamie being together… now she's calling him a rapist?
Andrea continues before I can speak up. "And honestly, he did seem pretty angry with her, before I left them."
I'm in the midst of plotting ways to get back at Juliet for her disgusting lies, so it takes a few seconds for what Andrea just said to kick in. "What do you mean, before you left them? I thought you said this happened last night?"
"Yeah, after we all had pizza. Everyone took off, except for me and Juliet. And she was being totally flirty with him. You know, like asking him what he was doing later and saying she could stay and help. He got really pissed off, and he told her she needed to stop acting like that. And then he asked me to leave so he could talk to her alone."
"So she's saying that something happened, after you left?"
"That's what she told me," Andrea replies. She sighs heavily. "But would he really do something like that in school? In his own classroom?"
I stare at her, forcing back the wild urge to laugh again. Oh, honey, I want to say. You have no idea what he's willing to do in his own classroom. What he's done in his own classroom.
No. This is insane. Jamie would never do this; I'm absolutely certain of that. But… why didn't he tell me he spoke to her? Why did it take him so long to meet up with me, if all they did was talk? And why was he acting so weird, when he finally got there?
She's lying; I know she's lying. But I need to talk to Jamie, immediately. I need to get some answers.
His classroom is empty when I get there. I try him on his phone, but it goes straight to voice mail. By the time I get to his apartment, I'm a little bit panicked. When he answers the door, I'm so relieved that I want to hug him. But the day has taken an emotional toll on me, so naturally I yell at him instead.
"What the fuck, Jamie?" I push past him and head into his apartment, walking over to the couch but not sitting down.
He closes and locks the door, and turns to face me cautiously. "Um, hello to you too…"
"Why didn't you answer your phone?" I demand. "I really needed to talk to you."
"My battery died. I forgot my charger at-"
"What happened last night?" I burst out, unable to contain myself. "What happened after I left the school?"
Jamie sighs and looks down at the floor. Then he walks into the living room, takes a seat on the arm of the chair and glances up at me. "I had to have a talk with Juliet. That's why I was late meeting you. But I'm guessing that you already know that."
"Why the hell didn't you tell me?"
"C'mon, Tessa, why do you think? Every time her name comes up, we end up fighting. And I'm tired of arguing about her. I just wanted to have a nice, relaxing night with you."
"Tell me exactly what happened," I say quietly.
He shrugs. "Just more of the same. She was flirting with me, asking me what I was doing later, that sort of thing. Then she, uh, grabbed my hand." He glances at me to see my reaction. I clench my jaw but say nothing. "So I made it very, very clear that she needed to stop. And I told her that if she didn't stop, I'd have to get the principal involved. And possibly her parents."
"And how did she react to that?"
I cross my arms over my chest and stare at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means she started to cry, and begged me not to say anything to anyone," he says with a sigh. "She told me that she… had strong feelings for me. That it was more than a crush, and that she was sure I felt something for her too." Jamie clears his throat. "She brought up the fact that I came to help her, after her accident. And she brought up the fact that I defended her, after your fight." He glances at me with a wry smile. "Just like you said she would."
I take a deep breath before I ask my next question. "So how did you leave things with her?"
"I told her that I didn't want to hurt her feelings, or get her in trouble, but that she was putting me in a bad position. I reminded her that I was her teacher, and that it would be inappropriate for anything to happen between us. I told her that she was crossing a line, and that I wouldn't tolerate it anymore."
"Sooo… basically you told her exactly what you told me, right before you grabbed me and kissed me for the first time?" I note, my voice thick with sarcasm.
"Tessa," Jamie says, looking hurt. "Stop. It's not even close to being the same."
"I fail to see what's so different."
"How about the fact that I actually had feelings for you?" he replies, and I can tell he's getting angry. "And that I did from the beginning?"
I'm sort of taken aback by that. "You did?"
"Of course I did," he replies, clearly offended now. "Do you really think I would have risked getting involved with you over some meaningless attraction?"
In the midst of all of the confusion and anger and frustration I'm feeling, I'm somehow incredibly flattered by what he's just said. I've never been certain if there were feelings on his side from the beginning, or if he just gave in because I pursued him so strongly. So I relax slightly, trying to figure out the best way to break the news to him. But he's continuing before I've decided what to say.
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you what happened last night," he tells me, standing up and walking closer to me. "I know you're pissed, and you have every right to be. But I think there are more important things to discuss right now. Did you find anything else out, about what people were saying? Did you find out if anyone saw us together?"
I can't seem to look at him, so I take a seat on the couch and stare at my reflection in the TV instead. Then I take a deep breath and glance up at him. "The rumor isn't about us," I finally say. "Juliet is telling people that you hooked up with her, last night."
"What?" Jamie walks over to me immediately, taking a seat next to me and grabbing hold of my hand. He looks at me intently. "You know it's not true, right? You know I'd never-"
"There's more," I interrupt. I run my hand through my hair and take a shaky breath, but eventually manage to meet his eyes. "She's saying that you raped her."
His mouth drops open, and I can see the disbelief and horror clear on his face. He stares at me for a moment, not speaking. And then he drops my hand and stands up abruptly. He walks over to the door, then turns and walks back to the couch.
"As far as I know, she's only told Andrea Blake," I continue. "I don't think Juliet's said anything to anyone else, like her parents or anyone… but you know Andrea can't keep her mouth shut, so it's just a matter of -"
Without warning, Jamie picks up a candle holder from the coffee table and throws it at the wall. It's ceramic, and it takes a chunk out of the plaster wall and shatters onto the hardwood floor below. Then he sweeps his arm across the remainder of the items on the table, and they crash and scatter in every direction. I gasp and stand up to avoid getting hit with debris, then turn to stare at him in stunned silence.
Jamie sees my expression and takes a step towards me. I step back instinctually, but he grabs both of my arms and moves closer. His eyes are wide and wild as he speaks. He moves his hands up to my face, and he's just inches away from me now. "I never touched her. I swear to god, I never touched her. You have to believe me, Tessa. You have to know that I'd never do that…"
My heart is pounding now, but I struggle to remain outwardly calm. I put both of my hands on his, and gently pull them off of my face. I keep hold of his hands, though, as I look him in the eye. "I believe you," I say quietly. "But you're freaking me out a little, right now." I let go of him and take a step backward.
He stares at me, and I can see a little bit of focus return to his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm just…"
"I know," I reply. "But I think maybe I should go."
Jamie steps closer to me again. "Please…"
I sidestep him and head towards the door.
"Tessa, please… Please believe me." Jamie gestures to the coffee table, and the items scattered all over the floor. "I'm sorry about that, I'm just…" He takes hold of my hand again, and squeezes it hard. "I don't give a shit what anyone else thinks. But you have to believe me."
"I do believe you," I say. It doesn't sound nearly convincing enough to my own ears, and I can only imagine how it sounds to him. "It's just… maybe it's better if I'm not here, tonight. Okay?"
Jamie looks into my eyes, as though he's searching for something. But apparently he doesn't find it…because suddenly he lets go of my hand, looking utterly defeated. "Yeah. Okay."
I hesitate, because the expression on his face is breaking my heart. But I'm exhausted, and my brain feels cluttered, and I don't know what to think anymore. "We'll talk tomorrow," I promise.
"Sure," he says flatly. "See you tomorrow."
And just like that, without even a kiss goodbye, I'm walking out the door. I can hear him lock it behind me, and his footsteps heading further inside. I lean my forehead against his door for a moment. The painted wood is cool and slick against my skin. And then I'm running down the stairs, wiping the tears from my cheeks with the scratchy wool arm of my sweater and looking desperately for a cab to take me home.
I can't sleep that night. Every time I close my eyes, all I see is a mess of jumbled images and memories. Of Jamie. Of Juliet. Of Jamie with Juliet. And no, the man I know isn't capable of doing what he's being accused of. But how well do I really know him? Can I trust myself, my own instincts? Or am I blinded by my own feelings for him?
What if something did happen, just not the way she's saying it did? What if they did have sex, but she had regrets and decided to call it something else? What if they've been hooking up from the beginning? If there's one thing I know about Jamie, it's that he can keep a secret…
But just when I've convinced myself that he's keeping something from me, an image will flash through my mind… a beautiful memory of a time we've shared. Laughing with our waiter at Angelina's, kissing in the rain in the Park, lying naked in his bed as we make plans for the future. And I'm suddenly just as certain that he's innocent, and that I'm a terrible person for ever doubting him. And I remember the way he looked at me tonight, so defeated and so disappointed, and I want to run to him right now and tell him how much I love him.
So I'm not in the best state of mind when I arrive at school. I go to Jamie's classroom immediately, even though I'm already late for homeroom. I know I can't talk to him; I just need to see him. But when I peek through the window in his door, there's some strange woman sitting at his desk. A substitute.
I turn around slowly, staring down the hallway at nothing. And then I see her. She's heading towards the bathroom, and she's alone. She's wearing black and white, and some part of my brain registers that she always seems to wear black and white…
And then an image comes to my mind. A lone figure on a street corner, wearing black and white… Someone who's staring at me and Jamie, as he wraps his arms around my waist beneath his wool coat, and playfully bites my earlobe.
Suddenly, everything makes perfect sense.
I don't think; I just act, hurrying into the bathroom after her. Just before she heads into a stall I grab her arm, hard. She turns around with a start, and I can see the fear in her eyes when she sees that it's me. Before she can regroup, I back her up against the wall. My hand goes to her throat, my fingers squeezing hard enough to make her eyes grow even wider.
"You lying bitch," I hiss. "You picked the wrong girl to mess with."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she denies, her voice pitched high. "I didn't-"
I tighten my grip on her throat. "You saw us together, didn't you? The night before last?" Juliet doesn't deny it, and I can see by the recognition in her eyes that I'm right. "You saw us, and you were so mad that he wants me instead of you that you decided to make up this story to get back at him." Again, she says nothing, and I let her go in disgust. "God, you're pathetic."
Her hand goes to her throat, rubbing at it as she looks at me. "You actually think he has feelings for you?" she says. "The only reason he's with you is because you're a slut, too stupid to realize when you're being used."
I can feel my temper flaring, but I refuse to rise to her challenge. The more I say, the more damaging it is to Jamie. And she already knows far too much…
As I think back to what she could have seen between us that night, examining my memories with new clarity, something occurs to me. Despite what she's saying, what she saw wasn't some cheap hookup. She saw him put his coat around my shoulders, take my hands tenderly, treat me with familiarity and care…
Yes, she saw him kissing me and touching me too; and she probably saw us get into a cab together, and drew her own conclusions about the nature of our relationship. But it was the affection between us that really hurt her. Especially after his firm rejection of her. I look at her with new eyes, and I actually feel a little bit of pity. She's drawn to him, the same way I was. How would I have reacted, if he'd told me no?
Not like this.
I make my voice as un-hostile as possible and take a step backward. "Listen, Juliet. If you really care about him, you have to stop spreading these lies. Don't you understand what will happen to him, if people actually believe you?"
She falters for a moment. Maybe she's confused by my tone. But then her eyes harden, and she steps away from the wall and walks over to the mirror. "Of course people will believe me," she says loftily, smoothing one palm over her hair and adjusting the collar of her shirt. She turns around to face me. "You may have friends, here. But I have money. Let's see which one ends up being more important."
The smug expression on her face brings back every ounce of anger, and I instantly lose the speck of tenuous control I had. I put my hands on her shoulders and shove her into the sink. She grabs hold of the edge of the sink, steadying herself from falling, and glares up at me. Before she can retaliate, I bend down and look her in the eyes, grabbing hold of her shirt collar. "This is my life you're fucking with, do you understand that? Don't test me."
And then I push her to the ground, and hurry out of the room as fast as possible. Because the way I feel right now is scaring me, and I'm not sure what I'll do if I don't get away from her right this second. I keep walking, down the hall, down the stairs, and out the door. There's only one person who I want to see right now; and I need to go to him before it's too late.
I'm a little alarmed by Jamie's appearance, when he answers the door. He's unshaven, and his eyes are glassy and pink. He's dressed in a wrinkled green t-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms, and he smells like stale whiskey. He doesn't gesture for me to come inside, just stares at me with a blank expression while I stand in the hallway.
"I'm not so sure it's such a good idea for you to be here, right now," he finally says.
"C'mon, Jamie. Just let me in. Please?" I plead.
He looks at me coldly, and he crosses his arms over his chest. "You sure you want to be alone with me?"
"I'm sorry, okay?" I reply. "It's not that I doubted you. It was just… a lot. You lied to me, and then you were throwing things…" It all sounds so stupid now, as I say it aloud. I sigh heavily and place a tentative hand on his arm. "I know you're mad. And you don't have to let me in, if you don't want to. But I just want you to know that I believe you. Okay? And I'm here for you, if you need me."
His mask slips, then, and I see all of the doubt and uncertainty and hurt beneath. I push the door open farther and wrap my arms around him. He drops his arms down to his sides, standing still as a stone as I hold him. "Please," I whisper. "I'm so sorry." I repeat it over and over, but he doesn't respond. "I love you," I say desperately. "Please…"
And then his arms are around me, and he's holding me back, and I start crying from sheer relief. I lace my fingers through his and kiss him across his stubbly cheek, and he pulls me inside and closes the door behind us. I won't let go of his hand, so he guides me over to the couch and we both sit down.
"You're supposed to be in school," he says quietly, wiping a tear from beneath my eye with his thumb.
"So are you," I remind him.
Jamie manages a smile, and I squeeze his hand tightly. He looks down at our intertwined fingers. "I couldn't face all of that, today. All of the whispers, and the looks, and knowing that people think that I could do something like that… That you could think that I'd do something like that."
"I don't," I say forcefully. "I swear I don't."
"What changed your mind?" he asks quietly. "Because last night… the way you looked at me…"
I shift uncomfortably on the couch, but look him in the eyes. "I'm sorry," I say again. "I'm so sorry I doubted you." I lean forward and kiss him on the lips, and then I continue. "Juliet saw us. She must have followed you, after you two talked. And she saw us, together. That's why she started that rumor."
Jamie stares at me, and I see the same emotions flickering through his eyes that ran through my own mind, earlier that morning. We're both silent, as he processes this new information. When he finally speaks, his voice is rough. "This is bad."
"I know," I reply. "But she doesn't have any proof. Against you, or against you and me. It's all just her word."
Jamie is shaking his head. "Tessa, you don't understand. Juliet's father is a really wealthy, powerful guy. If he gets wind of this, there are going to be private investigators, and lawyers… and I will lose my job."
"But you're innocent," I protest.
"Guilty or innocent doesn't matter, to these people. My reputation will be ruined, forever. I'll never be able to get another job teaching in the city again. Maybe not even in the state. And as for you and me…" He shakes his head. "I don't know how we're going to be able to keep this secret, with everyone watching. Now that Juliet knows…"
I move closer to him on the couch, touching his cheek with my free hand until he meets my eyes. "She can't prove anything. She's just a spoiled rich girl who's pissed off because she isn't getting her way."
"That just makes her more dangerous," Jamie replies. "She won't give up easily."
"Neither will I," I reply, kissing him gently on the lips.
Jamie smiles half-heartedly. He's still looking at me like I don't quite understand the situation, and I frown. The truth is, I understand the situation completely. Right now, Juliet is standing between me and the man I love. I don't say it aloud, but I know that I'll do whatever I have to do to get her out of the way.
"You're getting ahead of yourself," I say soothingly. "We'll figure out a way to make this work, somehow. We always do." I tug at the hem of his t-shirt and make a face. "Why don't you go take a shower, and I'll make us some breakfast."
"You're going to make breakfast?" he asks doubtfully.
"Well, I can handle toast and coffee," I amend.
He grins and kisses me on the cheek, then heads into the bathroom. As I watch him leave, there's one thing that I know with utter certainty. No matter what happens next, I'll never doubt him again. I'll stand by his side, even if it's me and him against the world.
And there's no way in hell I'm going to let that bitch win.
I get up off the couch. But instead of going into the kitchen, I walk to the bathroom. I can hear the water running, so I open the door and head towards the shower, pulling off my clothes as I go. I slide the door open and step inside, slipping my hands around his waist and kissing his back and shoulders. He spins around in my arms and dips his head down to kiss me on the lips.
"So much for my breakfast," he jokes.
"I'm better at this, anyway."
"Mmm. I agree." He holds me for a minute, as the hot water splashes around us. And maybe he's reminded of standing in the rain in Central Park, because he pulls away slightly and looks down at me with the same smile he wore on his face that afternoon. "I love you."
"And I love you," I return. I wrap my arms around him more tightly and put my head on his chest, as he rubs my back slowly. And we stand that way for a long time, holding on to each other as the water rains down on us from above.
I know how our relationship looks, on the outside. I know, if things get out, everyone will think that I'm just a naïve teenager, and he's just some pervert who's taking advantage of me. But what we have is real, and it's going to last. Despite all of the obstacles that continue to pile up against us, it's going to last. I know it will.
It has to.
A/N I know I had to fill in a lot of blanks, here. But for now, this works within canon up to episode 1.10. I think the hints of an affair between Tessa and Mr. Carpenter are definitely in place, if you watch carefully. (And anyone who reads my blog knows I've been a Tessa/Mr. Carpenter shipper pretty much from the start lol.) So I'm really hoping they'll go in this direction :)
This is a one-shot, for now. But I may yet revise and continue this, if they actually go here with the storyline.
Thanks for reading! Please review :)