Authors: S. Walden
A group of students burst out laughing.
“Yeah, you did,” one replied, simulating a blowjob.
Cadence rolled her eyes and took her seat. Just a week and a half left. She could do it, if the substitute teacher didn’t fail her. She noticed that even
Ms. Donovan seemed to have it out for her. A punishment for her deceit. She left the subtle signs on Cadence’s quizzes.
“Hey! Let me see your quiz for a second,” Cadence called t
o Jacob after class.
“Just let me see,” she said, snatching his paper. She held up the quizzes side by side and compared the red marks. Sure enough, her wrong answers were marked with large, angry red X’s that spanned a quarter of the page. Jacob’s one X was much smaller. “What the fuck?”
ence stormed over to Ms. Donovan. She slapped the quizzes on the desk and leaned in.
“What is this?” she asked.
“What is what?”
X on my quiz. Why isn’t Jacob’s X huge like mine?”
“Are you serious
Ms. Donovan blinked.
“Why are my X’s huge and Jacob’s X is tiny?” Cadence asked. She wouldn’t let it go. It was straight up bullying, and by a teacher no less!
“Cadence, perhaps I graded the quizzes at separate times,” Ms. Donovan offered. She sounded annoyed.
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Frankly, I don’t care what you believe. You’re paranoid.”
“I know what you’re doing. Subtle intimidation? Give me a break. Bully me all you want. You can’t fail me. I’m passing this class and leaving this hellhole.”
“You need to watch the language.”
“You need to stop being a fucking bitch!”
And that was the end of that conversation. Cadence found herself back in Mrs. Jackson’s office being lectured about respect for authority.
“Explain this to me!” Cadence showed the assistant principal the quizzes.
“Why do you have Jacob’s quiz?”
“Mrs. Jackson, look
at the X’s, please.”
“Cadence, you’re spinning. No one is out to get you. No one is bullying you.”
Cadence’s mouth dropped open. Maybe Mrs. Jackson should have been in calculus this morning when some dipshit simulated a blowjob for her. Or last week when she was tripped in the hallway. Or two days ago when she was solicited for sex by four different boys. The bitch was crazy.
“You have a week and
a half. And I’d like to see you graduate, just as you’d like to see yourself graduate.”
“Suck it up and deal with it.”
Cadence raised her head.
“Really? What happened to the other week when I was in here, and you were consoling me about all the abuse I’ve been taking at school? Now I’m not being bullied? I don’t get it. Was that just a ploy to get me to say something bad about Mark? Because I won’t.”
That’s enough, Cadence.”
Cadence bit her tongue and stared out the window.
“Morning detention for the rest of the week. And an apology to Ms. Donovan.”
“I mean it,” Mrs. Jackson said. “She may not have the authority to see that you do not graduate, but I sure as hell do.”
Cadence snapped her head up at the sound of Mrs. Jackson’s threat.
“Do you understand me?”
Cadence nodded grudgingly. And then she left the office before being excused.
It wasn’t until she was halfway down the hall that it happened. Clarity. Bam! It punched her in the face. Big-fisted clarity that bruised her cheekbone. She finally got it. These women were angry at her—angry because she wasn’t a victim after all. They would have coddled her had she been a victim of abuse at the hands of a teacher. But she wasn’t. She was a willing participant, and therefore, became their enemy.
Why? She couldn’t say, but she wasn’t about to let these bitches treat her like shit for the next week and a half. And she was graduating,
too, even if she had to steal her diploma.
She decided to get her apology over with now instead of later. Waiting would only make it worse. She knocked softly on the classroom door, then entered.
Ms. Donovan raised her eyebrows. “May I help you?”
“I’m supposed to apologize to you,” Cadence said, standing in the doorway.
“So this is a fake apology,” Ms. Donovan replied, snorting.
“You don’t feel badly at all for calling me a fucking bitch, do you?” Ms. Donovan asked.
unsure where the conversation was headed. She didn’t know how she was expected to answer, so she told the truth.
Ms. Donovan’s lips curled into a nasty grin. “Then I don’t feel badly for what I’m about to tell you.”
Cadence steeled herself.
“You think you’re a really special girl because a teacher showed you some interest. Isn’t that right? You’re special because he said nice things to you and fucked you. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret.” She paused for effect. “You’re not.”
Cadence realized this ha
d nothing to do with breaking girl code. That’s what she originally thought as she walked back to calculus to fake apologize. She thought Ms. Donovan was angry with her because she was dating a man who should be dating an older woman—an older woman like Ms. Donovan. But she realized in that moment that it had nothing to do with girl code. It had to do with something terrible that happened in Ms. Donovan’s past.
“He broke it off, didn’t he?” she asked before she could stop herself.
“What are you talking about?” Ms. Donovan snapped.
“Your teacher. You loved him, and he ended it,” Cadence said quietly.
Ms. Donovan’s face twisted in disgust. “They all do. You’re not special, Cadence. He’ll leave you, too. You’re just a stupid little girl who can’t see past his charms and lies.”
Cadence shook her head. She knew it wasn’t true. This woman wanted to feed her poison because her hea
rt was warped and jaded. But Cadence wouldn’t let her. She folded her hands over her heart. They acted as a shield against Ms. Donovan’s putrid words.
“I’m sorry he did that to you,” Cadence said.
“I’m sorry he broke your heart.”
“I said get out!”
Cadence left the room, closing the door softly behind her. She peeked throug
h the window and saw Ms. Donovan bury her face in her hands. And then her body shook. And suddenly large angry X’s on Cadence’s quiz weren’t important anymore. It really had nothing to do with her—this pain she was witnessing inside Mr. Connelly’s old classroom. It was about heartbreak and an easy target. Heartbreak and ruin. Heartbreak and bitterness.
Mark sat in his car staring through the windshield. Any minute now, Cadence, dressed in graduation robe and cap, would round the corner with her brother and Fanny. All he wanted was to see her smile.
He knew her parents didn’t show up. They made their intentions clear three nights ago when Cadence called home
to speak to her mother. After she hung up, she told Mark she didn’t care that they refused to attend, but he awoke later that night to the sounds of her soft cries. She was curled up lying close to the edge of the bed, far away from him. He reached out to touch her, then stopped. Something told him not to, that it’d be disastrous if he tried to comfort her. So he left her alone. The next morning she was bright and cheery and as fake as he’d ever seen her.
He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Please smile. Plea
se smile. Please smile.”
He thought back to the first time he saw her really smile. She grinned at him on the side of Highway 28, but it wasn’t until she sat on a metal bench in the bus parking lot
on the first day of school that he saw a real smile. She giggled about the names she’d been calling him, revealing pretty teeth with one imperfection. She had a calcium deposit on her eye tooth. Yeah, he’d noticed. And he recalled feeling like a total creep for liking it so much.
He stopped drumming his fingers when he saw her. She was flanked by her brother and Fanny, and she was laughing. Thank God! The
relief was instantaneous, the coiled tension wrapped around his heart falling away. He could breathe again.
ce opened the passenger door and climbed in.
“It was hot as hell out there!” she said, leaning over to kiss Mark on his cheek.
“I thought the graduation was held in the gym,” he replied, turning the key in the ignition.
“Not enough room. They changed it last minute,” she said. She pointed to her face. “Am I disgusting, or what?”
He looked her over, the beads of sweat that glistened on her hairline. The slight smudge of black liner under her blue eyes. Her once-straight hair was curled into frizzy waves because of the humidity. And she’d spent so much time ironing her hair, he thought with a smirk. She was the prettiest mess he’d ever seen.
“You’re beautiful, Cadence,” he whispered.
“Gross,” Oliver muttered from the backseat.
Mark chuckled. He’d forgotten about the passengers in the back.
“Well, besides the heat, not so bad?” he asked, pulling onto the street.
It was lovely,” Fanny replied. “The ceremony was lovely. Cadence was lovely.”
Cadence. She grinned and hung her head, letting her hair fall forward to shield her face.
“I didn’t throw my hat up,” she said, fingering the tassel. “I wanted to keep it.”
“Like a trophy,” she went on. And then she whispered to herself, “I made it.”
He reached out and took her hand, placing it on the stick shift.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Holding your hand,” he explained, shifting to fourth gear. “While I drive.”
Cadence grinned and turned her head. She caught sight of Oliver rolling his eyes.
“And Kim and I are annoying?” he asked. “Please.”
“Did you talk to Avery?” Mark asked Cadence.
Three weeks. Three weeks since Avery yelled at her that Monday morning in the hallway at sc
hool. She’d tried repeatedly ever since to talk to her, but Avery ignored her. Avoided her. Was downright cruel to her.
felt Cadence’s arm tense. She shook her head. Oliver bristled.
“Avery’s a bitch,” he spat.
“Ollie!” Cadence cried. “Don’t say that.”
“Well, she is,” he went on. “It’s been three weeks. She needs to get over it.”
Fanny nodded but said nothing.
“She’s hurt, Ollie,” Cadence explained. “I ruined her life.”
“No, you didn’t,” Oliver argued. “
ruined her life. Why can’t people just take responsibility for the crap they do?”
“Because it’s easier to lay blame,” Fanny pointed out.
partly to blame!” Cadence said. “I messed up in the theatre.”
messed up in the theatre. It didn’t have anything to do with you,” Mark chimed in.
eah, dude. You did,” Oliver agreed.
“It doesn’t matter who messed up,” Fanny interjected. “The point is that you were wrong, Cadence. Avery was wrong. Mark was wrong . . .” She glanced at Oliver. “I’m sure you were wrong, too.”
“Hey! This has nothing to do with me!” Oliver cried. “I was all kinds of in the right! I rescued my sister!”
“You got me punched in the eye,” Cadence said flatly.
“Yeah, and then I rescued you,” Oliver replied. “Gimme a break. Jeez.”
Cadence cracked a smile.
“You’re a good friend, honey,” Fanny said, touching Cadence’s shoulder. “Remember that when Avery comes around to apologize. Be quick to forgive. Slow to anger.”
Cadence was uncomfortable. She didn’t want to think of that awkward conversation, if it even happened at all.
“Can we talk about something else?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mark replied, pulling into
his usual space in front of the apartment. He asked Cadence to hang back while the others went inside.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, noting his expression.
“My mom’s here,” he said quietly. “She wanted to come celebrate . . . my life choices.”
They looked at one another—passing the unspoken joke—and burst out laughing.
“Did she really say that?” Cadence wheezed.
Cadence cackled with laughter. “I’m a life choice! I guess that makes sense. I
a life choice. You chose me.”
“It’s so ridiculous. She’s trying her hardest to be cool with this.
” He sighed. “She just wants to know you better. Dad’s gone, and she’s got too much time and energy to focus on me. You know?”
“I get it,” Cadence replied.
“She was so worried about finding me a date,” Mark went on. “I don’t know why she’s not trying to find her own.”
Cadence’s grin faded as she remembered that
uncomfortable conversation so many months ago at church. Mrs. Connelly nearly revealed a secret about Mark, and Cadence had never forgotten it. She wanted on so many occasions to ask him, but she could never find the courage. And he never offered her anything.
want your graduation party to be weird,” Mark said. “If you’re not okay with this, I’ll tell her we’ll do it another time.”
, no,” Cadence said. “I have back-up anyway. This might be the best way to go.”
Mark chuckled. “She’s not gonna attack you or anything.”
“I know. But maybe it won’t be so weird with other people around.” Cadence thought for a moment. Actually, the entire group was weird—a hodgepodge of different ages, life stages, connections. She realized Mrs. Connelly would fit right in.
She wasn’t expecting a soul-crushing hug
, however, when she walked through the front door. And yes, it was soul-crushing. Mrs. Connelly hugged her so hard, she could feel the squeeze on her heart.
“Congratulations, honey!” Mrs. Connelly cried.
“You look beautiful!”
ew she looked far from it. She looked like a kid waiting to be picked up from the last day of summer camp. She probably smelled like it, too, having spent hours outside in the Atlanta sun wrapped in polyester.
Cadence pulled back and mumbled a shy “
“Were you nervous walking up on stage?” Mrs. Connelly asked.
Cadence nodded and grinned.
“Let me tell you what happened to me when I graduated . . .”
Mark hung back in the kitchen with Fanny grabbing plates and utensils for their lunch. He listened intently to his mother’s story and Cadence’s laughter, thinking that even though his girlfriend had lost one mother, she may have gained another.
Cadence walked into the living room later that night wearing her graduation robe and cap. Mark smiled.
“Wanna reenact everything for me?” he asked, sitting on the couch.
She said nothing as she moved her tassel from right to left. Then she stared at him. There was something primal in her eyes, and he caught on immediately.
“So what does that mean?” he asked, watching the tassel dangle and sway next to her ear.
She licked her lips then curled them into a sultry grin.
“Well, I’m a graduate,” she said, walking closer to him.
So I guess that makes me all grown up.”
Mark smiled. “You can
be grown up.”
She stood between his legs, waiting for him to continue what she started. He slid his hand under her robe and up her outer leg, shocked when he came to her hip and discovered she was naked.
“Is this a present for me?” he asked, steering his hand between her legs. She was soft and wet. “Because I’m not the one who graduated.”
For the both of us,” she replied.
He moved his finger in her.
“I can get behind that.”
He stood up and backed her to the center of the room next to the coffee table. Then he knelt in front of her and lifted her robe.
“Put your leg up,” he said, and she complied, placing her foot on the edge of the table.
He let the robe fall over his head, shielding himself from her view as he went to work on her.
How did he get so lucky, he thought, as he ran his tongue over her soft folds? She moaned while he teased her open, sliding his tongue inside her, tasting her essence.
placed her hands on his veiled head to keep her balance. She didn’t realize she was moving her hips, pressing into his face, silently asking him to lick her there. That tiny place where pleasure builds hard and fast, then comes undone against one’s will. He knew she wanted his tongue there, so he avoided it and waited until she begged for it. Didn’t take long.
“Please, Mark,” she breathed.
“Please, what?” he asked, raining kisses all over the insides of her thighs.
“You know what!” she cried, frustrated.
He chuckled and drew back. She tensed and waited, then watched his head move closer towards her body until . . .
He nipped her clit softly.
“Is that what you wanted?” he asked.
He swirled his tongue over her before taking her clit in his mouth again. He sucked gently while he slipped a finger inside her. She moaned and dropped her head back, listening as he hummed against her sensitive skin.
“Have you ever come standing up?” he asked.
“No,” she breathed.
Mark chuckled. H
e already knew what would happen, but he kissed her anyway because he liked her in this position and didn’t want to move her. He wrapped his hand around the back of her thigh and continued his sweet assault. Swirling tongue. Probing finger. He found a rhythm, and just like they were creating music together, she set a melody of whimpers to the pace of his tongue, his thrusting finger. The crescendo built as her body tensed.
“I can’t,” she panted.
“You better,” he said against her flesh.
He wouldn’t let up until he heard her scream, and she did. She screamed and shook, clutching desperately at his head, but her hands slipped on the slickness of the robe, and she fell backwards onto the living room floor.
“Jerk!” she yelled, laughing.
“What do you mean?” he asked indignantly.
“You let go of my leg!” she cried, fighting him as he climbed on top of her.