Authors: Kirsty McManus
Copyright © 2015 Kirsty McManus
All rights reserved.
A very special thank you to three awesome people: Moira Maclachlan – for your librarian / editor perspective, Natasha Daraio – for your endless support, and Belinda Kaberry – for being the best reader a writer could hope for.
Thank you also to everyone who read this prior to publication. And to those who humour me when I go on and on about writing (Mel, Deb and Bec), I am eternally appreciative.
‘…And lastly, I’d like to introduce you to our new senior English teacher. As you know, Mrs Carlton has gone on maternity leave, so Mr Brandon Thomas will be filling in this year. Please give him a warm round of applause.’
Lizzie looked up, mildly curious. She never usually paid much attention to the first assembly of term, but most of the school’s teachers were well over fifty, and Brandon Thomas didn’t sound like the kind of name belonging to an old fogey.
She was right. Wow! Mr Thomas was hot! And young!
She glanced over at Taylor in the next seat, who clapped a hand over her mouth, indicating she was thinking the same thing.
English was going to be fun this year.
Mr Thomas walked up to the podium and cleared his throat.
‘Thank you for introducing me, Mr Jenkins,’ he said to our principal. ‘And thank you everyone else for your kind welcome. I’m really looking forward to meeting you all over the coming weeks…’
‘You’re not the only one,’ Taylor murmured.
Lizzie giggled quietly.
‘In case anyone is actually interested, I studied at the University of Queensland and have worked at two other schools as a student teacher, but this will be my first official placement…’
‘Fresh meat!’ she whispered to Taylor, who grinned.
Lizzie tuned out what Brandon was saying and instead took the time to study this beautiful specimen of manhood on the stage in front of her. She was sitting several rows back, so he probably hadn't noticed her. Yet.
He had gorgeous dark brown hair that was long on top and brushed messily to one side. His eyes were almost black, but twinkled as he spoke. He had a wide mouth with very kissable lips, and his nose was slightly bigger than normal, but it complemented his face perfectly. And was that a nose ring?
Lizzie was in love.
He wasn’t dressed like the other teachers either, opting for a white stripy shirt, black blazer and jeans with suspenders hanging loose down the sides. He looked like he should be an MTV presenter, not teaching English at a Brisbane high school. He even had a bunch of woven leather bracelets on one wrist.
Right then, Lizzie swore he made eye contact with her. It was fleeting, but it was definitely there. And she was sure she noticed a tiny movement in one eyebrow, acknowledging her existence.
But then he looked away and continued talking. She kept her gaze on him the entire time. He didn’t look back again.
After the assembly ended, Lizzie and Taylor hurried out into the main courtyard.
‘He was totally staring at me!’ Taylor squealed.
‘Was he?’ Lizzie asked, smiling. But inside, she was confused. Maybe he
looking at Taylor. After all, she did have the long blonde hair, blue eyes and pouty mouth. She could date nearly any guy she wanted. Lizzie, on the other hand, seemed to attract all the nerds and misfits. The cool guys never went after her. She supposed flat-chested, curly-haired brunettes weren’t interesting enough.
The class schedule was taped to a wall on the administration building, so Lizzie and Taylor followed the mass of students all heading over to note down their classes and rooms for the year.
It took at least ten minutes for them to get close enough to one of the print-outs to see who they had first up.
‘Bleugh, Mr Smart for Maths,’ Taylor groaned.
‘At least we have most of the same classes together,’ Lizzie pointed out.
‘That’s true. Except Chemistry. I’m so glad I switched to Home Ec. You should too.’
‘I quite like Chemistry.’
‘Loooser,’ she teased.
Lizzie slapped her arm. ‘Whatever. I already know how to cook and sew. I learnt when I was like ten.’
‘All the more reason to do Home Ec. You would get top marks.’
‘Thanks, but I’ll stick with Chemistry. I want to leave my options open for uni next year.’
‘You know, sometimes I wonder if you’re a robot. Always doing everything according to plan.’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘Sorry. I didn’t mean any offense. I’m just saying, I envy your self-discipline.’
‘I think I’m just scared of my dad,’ Lizzie confessed.
‘I’m not surprised. He’s a scary dude.’
‘It’s not like he’s evil or anything,’ Lizzie clarified. ‘It’s just that he has such high standards.’
‘Whatever. I don’t think I could handle having him as my dad.’
Lizzie didn’t bother arguing. She was used to Taylor being tactless. She changed the subject.
‘Anyway, we should go to Maths now or we’ll be late. We’re over in the A block.’
Taylor sighed. ‘I can’t wait to graduate.’
Maths dragged. Forty minutes of boring algebra with an equally boring teacher. Lizzie didn’t actually mind Mr Smart, but after seeing Mr Thomas this morning, no one else could possibly compare.
They didn’t even have English until just before lunch, so they had to sit through a double Music lesson and Modern History before they got a chance to check out Mr Thomas close up. Lizzie usually really looked forward to Music too, so it was saying something if she was wishing the time away.
In Lizzie’s head, she was already calling him Brandon. She’d just have to remember not to say it out loud.
The two girls stopped by the bathroom to fix their hair and put on some lip gloss.
‘I wish they weren’t so strict on the no-makeup policy,’ Taylor fretted.
‘What are you complaining about? You have perfect skin and naturally awesome eyelashes. You don’t need makeup.’
She smiled at her reflection. ‘I just want to make the most of what I’ve got.’
‘Do you really care what anyone at this school thinks?’
‘Only Mr Thomas,’ she said devilishly. ‘I wonder if he’s single.’
‘You know he can’t date any of the students, right?’
‘Who says anyone would have to find out?’
‘Would you tell me?’
‘Of course Lizzie! But if you told anyone else, I would have to kill you.’
‘You know I wouldn’t.’
‘Yeah, I know.’
The bell rang and they quickly ran off to English. This was one class they didn’t want to be late for.
Normally, everyone fought to sit at the back, but today was the opposite. And because Lizzie and Taylor spent that extra couple of minutes in the bathroom, they had to sit in the back row. Damn.
Lizzie could hear the other girls whispering about Mr Thomas and speculating about his private life.
‘I wonder how old he is?’ she heard Zoe Carmichael say to Heather Pearson.
‘Twenty-three, actually.’ Mr Thomas walked in at that exact moment and answered the question himself. Zoe’s face went bright red. The other girls in the class laughed. The guys seemed indifferent, although Lizzie could tell they were kind of intrigued by the idea of having a younger teacher. She just hoped that he knew how to control everyone. She hated it when teachers let students get away with murder.
Mr Thomas strode purposefully to the front of the classroom and towered over everyone. He was well over six feet tall. Maybe even closer to seven.
‘OK, I know it’s a bit disruptive getting a new teacher when you’re supposed to have the same one for all of Year Eleven and Twelve, but hopefully we can use this opportunity to maximise your exposure to a wide variety of literature. I’ve looked at what you did last year and saw that you read some Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, but I’d like to mix things up a bit and introduce you to two of my favourite authors, Nick Hornby and Haruki Murakami. Do any of you know who they are?’
A general consensus of ‘no’ went around the room.
‘Has anyone seen the John Cusack movie
More blank looks.
‘Come on! I know you guys were only about three when it came out, but it’s a classic! OK, so I’m setting you your first assignment. Read the book and watch the movie, in that order and then write a thousand word essay on the key themes and how you feel they apply to your life.’
Everyone groaned. Homework already?
But secretly, Lizzie was pleased. She vowed to be the best student in the class. She needed this guy to notice her.
‘Alright, well how about we go around the room and introduce ourselves, and then tell everyone the one thing that makes you different from everyone else. I’ll start. My name is Brandon Thomas, and the one thing that makes me different from everyone else is the ability to recite the entire script of
Everyone tittered. A few of the guys rolled their eyes. Zoe actually swooned.
‘Alright, you,’ he said, pointing to Gabriel Reiser in the front row. ‘Go.’
Gabe was the class clown and took it in his stride. ‘Hi all. I’m Gabe and the one thing that makes me different is the ability to do this.’ He held up his shirt and started moving his stomach in a wave motion.
‘OK, thank you Gabe. That will do.’ He looked at Taylor. ‘Your turn.’
Taylor smiled prettily and flicked her ponytail over her shoulder. ‘I’m Taylor Walsh, and I can sing the national anthem while standing on one hand.’
Mr Thomas smiled. ‘Great. I’ll take your word for it.’ He then surveyed Lizzie. Her heart started racing.
‘And you?’ he asked.
Taylor seemed put out that Mr Thomas didn’t want to see a live demonstration of her unique ability, and crossed her arms grumpily.
‘My name’s Lizzie White and I can beatbox.’
Mr Thomas looked impressed. ‘Really? Do you want to show us?’
A few of the guys stared at Lizzie. She didn’t normally tell people she could do it because then they would ask her to perform in really inappropriate places, like in the middle of a family dinner or while waiting in line at the cinema. Taylor was the worst. She was always treating her like her own personal iPod.
She glanced at Taylor now, who gave her a thumbs-up for encouragement. Lizzie didn’t really want to show off, but she hadn’t been able to think of anything else on the spur of the moment.
‘Um, OK.’ Lizzie covered her hands over her mouth and dropped a long bass beat before settling into an improvised dubstep sequence. The guys cheered. The girls just gaped.
But Brandon looked even more impressed, and he clapped along with everyone else at the end of the routine.
‘Go dizzy Lizzie!’ Gabe yelled.
‘Alright, calm down everyone,’ Brandon urged the class. ‘Lizzie, that was great! Thank you for entertaining us.’ He shot her one last grin and then moved on to Megan Young.
‘I can’t really compete with that,’ Megan said. ‘But I’m Megan and I can tell you all fifty American states in alphabetical order.’
‘That’s pretty cool. Have you spent time in the US?’
‘Yeah, my stepdad is from California.’
‘Awesome. An understanding of geography will serve you well in the real world.’
They continued going around the room, and Lizzie actually found that she learned some fun facts about her classmates. Joey could do the
dance. Lara ice skated at an almost Olympic level. And Mark apparently had a set of turntables that he could use quite well. Lizzie made a note to find out where he got them from. DJing had always intrigued her, and she was interested in learning more about it.
At the end of the lesson, Brandon clapped his hands in appreciation. ‘I must say, I am stoked that you guys embraced this challenge in the spirit it was given. On the way out, you can grab a copy of
from that pile over there.’ He pointed to a bookshelf at the back of the room. ‘We’ll leave Haruki Murakami for a couple of weeks. But feel free to study his work before then if you feel so inclined. I’ll see you all tomorrow.’
They filed out for lunch, each picking up a book on the way.
‘Well you certainly made quite the impression,’ Taylor said begrudgingly as she walked with Lizzie to their lockers.
‘I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t really have any other talents.’
‘Yes you do. You’re one of the most talented people I know.’
‘But saying I can make a lasagne for ten people, or sew a dress isn’t very exciting.’
‘Ah. So you wanted to come across as exciting.’
‘Well, yeah. Didn’t you?’
‘I suppose. Anyway, I’ve decided I’m going to ask Mr Thomas for some private tutoring.’
‘For what? It’s the first day!’
‘I know, I know. I’ll leave it for a few weeks, of course. But I think by then I’ll find the course material a bit tricky and need someone to explain it to me.’ She batted her eyelashes.
‘Be careful. You don’t want to get him in trouble.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t.’
Lizzie had brought her lunch that day, but Taylor was buying hers. Lizzie sat under a tree on the edge of the oval and waited for her friend to return. She opened up her lunch bag and pulled out a sandwich made with Turkish bread, cheese, lettuce and tomato.