Authors: Jade Stratton
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2016 by Jade Stratton
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Mark sat at his desk, trying to focus on a short story in his book while the rest of the class descended into chaos, with voices raised in a cacophony of gossip and laughter while crumpled wads of paper and rubber bands sailed overhead.
He glanced up to see a triangular paper football whirling through the air, straight at his face. With a sigh of annoyance, he batted it aside with the book.
“That would’ve been a score!” Jerry Kennedy crowed. The star quarterback of the school football team, he was everything that Mark wasn’t: big, tough, popular with the girls, and a total asshole. Jerry gave Mark the finger as his two sidekicks laughed, then flicked another paper football that Mark dodged with a slight movement of his head. Fortunately, Mark only had to deal with Jerry in this class, and Mark still wondered how Jerry had made it into advanced English composition, or why he had even bothered.
With a sigh of resignation, Mark closed his book and looked at the clock: ten minutes had passed since the bell had rung, signaling the start of the first English class of his last semester in high school. The class was going ballistic in part because their teacher, Mrs. Pauls, had retired at the end of last semester, and a new teacher had been hired over winter break to take her place. Speculation was that it was some old battle-ax from another school in the district, but no one had been able to wheedle any more out of the teachers or counselors except that their new teacher was a woman.
All eyes turned to the door as it flew open and a woman in her early twenties strode into the lion’s den. Conversation ceased and the last salvo of projectiles fell to the floor as her heels clicked across the vinyl tiles.
She was petite, and had she been standing beside Mark, the top of her head would have just reached his eyes. Her chestnut hair, which was pulled back into a bun, framed a heart-shaped face that held inquisitive brown eyes, a pert nose, and lips that were accustomed to smiling. She had an athletic body that was clad in a shimmering cream-colored blouse that almost masked the bra that contained her perfectly proportioned breasts, and form-fitting dark maroon pants that left little of her lower body, particularly her amazingly tight ass, to the imagination.
Mark blinked. A single word flashed through his mind that captured the overall impression she made upon him:
. An elvish princess, come among them disguised as a mere mortal.
“Oh, my God,” someone whispered, and for one terrifyingly embarrassing moment Mark thought he might have been the one who’d said it. It turned out someone else had, but if the words hadn’t slipped from his own lips, they had certainly echoed through his mind.
The young woman turned to the boy who had spoken, her face lighting up with a bright smile. “Good morning,” she said, to him and everyone else. “I’m sorry I’m late, but I had a bit of trouble getting away from one of the other teachers in the lounge.”
“Mr. O’Neil,” Mark said automatically before clamping his lips shut. Giggles rippled through the class.
The teacher, the elvish princess, turned toward him, flashing a smile that turned Mark’s insides to jelly. “How did you know?”
“Because he’s an extrovert with no social skills,” Mark managed.
“And Mark should know,” Jerry chimed in smoothly with a sidelong glance at Mark. “He’s O’Neil’s favorite student.”
“I see,” the elvish princess said, with a look at Mark that he translated to
Oh, you poor thing
. He felt a rash of heat creeping up the back of his neck and resisted the temptation — barely — to throw his book at Jerry.
Picking up a dry erase marker, the princess faced the white board and began writing her name in the upper left corner, “I’m Ms. Nikki Baumann. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’m your new advanced English composition teacher.” She continued writing on the board with every pair of male eyeballs (and a few of the female ones, Mark noted) glued to her ass as she stretched up on her toes to reach the upper part of the white board. “These are my regular hours if you need to come see me for anything, but if you really need me you can just leave a note with the secretary and I’ll get in touch with you. Or just drop me an email any time.” Done with writing her contact information, she set down the marker and turned around to face the class. “Does anybody have any questions before we get started?”
“Are you married?” one of the boys in the back row asked.
She laughed and held up her left hand, which was bereft of an engagement or wedding ring. “No, but if you think you can find a ring with a big fat diamond, let me know.”
Everyone laughed, and a few of the girls threw paper wads at the inquisitor.
“Okay, don’t kill him,” Nikki scolded, again with a smile. “That leads to way too much paperwork, and I’ve got enough to deal with already.” After making sure she had everyone’s attention, she said, “Okay, we’ve got a lot to do this semester, and I’m sure all of you are ready and eager to dive in!”
She laughed as the class let out a collective groan, and Nikki got down to business.
Nikki was used to being stared at, and she politely ignored the dreamy gazes of the boys as she stood in front of the class delivering her first lecture. This was her second time teaching at the high school level, but her first time with seniors, and the difference in the testosterone level was readily apparent. A number of the boys made a big show of puffing out their chests and trying to look like real men. If they’d been peacocks, their immature tail feathers would have been erect and quivering in an earnest, if threadbare, mating display as they competed for her attention. Their antics earned lots of eye rolls from the girls, along with a few angry looks between girlfriends and boyfriends. Nikki had to turn away to the board a few times, her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter at a few of the more outrageous quips they exchanged between themselves and with her. She was careful to rein them in so they didn’t go too far or get the wrong idea. She knew some teachers would either have been upset or dropped the hammer on the boys, but in truth Nikki didn’t mind as long as it was just in good fun.
A notable exception was Mark Tillman, who was allegedly Mr. O’Neil’s pet. He sat quietly, his green eyes meeting hers when he happened to look up from taking notes. He didn’t raise his hand when she called for volunteers to answer her questions, but when she began to call on students who hadn’t yet contributed and came around to him, he gave her a thoughtful reply that impressed her.
“That’s good, Mark,” she told him with a nod.
“You’re such a nerd,” Jerry Kennedy muttered, and more than a few in the class sniggered. Nikki had already pegged Jerry as the classic stereotypical jock. While one of his two friends was bigger in terms of overall mass, Jerry was clearly more muscular, and made a big show of flexing his impressive biceps and periodically twitching his pecs under his tight fitting t-shirt. He was handsome enough to be on the cover of a magazine, but her first impression, after observing how he looked at her and the others around him, was that his beauty was only skin deep. He did, however, have a brain: in addition to being a champion athlete, he was also a straight A student, which had landed him in her class.
Ignoring Jerry, still looking at her, Mark shrugged. “Guilty as charged.”
Before anyone could say anything else, the bell rang.
Over the sudden uproar of everyone scooping up their books and rushing to the door, Nikki half-shouted, “Remember, be ready to discuss the first three chapters tomorrow, and don’t wait until Friday to have your outline finished!”
She smiled and waved as everyone piled out the door. Her smile faded as she saw Jerry deliver a carefully concealed elbow to Mark’s lower back just as they disappeared out the door.
The rest of the day disappeared in a blur as she got the students in her other morning classes, Senior English Literature and the first of two periods of Intermediate Composition, started on their with their first assignments. She had an off period before lunch, and she took advantage of the quietude to work on her lesson plans and update the on-line daily grade records.
“There,” she said to herself as she entered the last one before closing her laptop. Her stomach growled, and she realized that she was ravenously hungry.
Grabbing her purse, she left the classroom, locking it behind her. Taking a glance at her watch, she saw that she had thirty minutes before her first afternoon class. Setting out along the mezzanine walkway that connected the second floor classrooms in the circular main building, she headed outside and toward the cafeteria. She nodded greetings to the students she passed, and from the looks she got she was sure that many of them momentarily assumed she was a student until they realized that she was wearing clothes that only a professional woman would wear. Beyond the fashion gap, however, Nikki wasn’t far removed from the girls around her: she was only twenty-four, and was the youngest teacher at the school. But the six years that had passed since she’d been a senior in high school seemed like a lifetime. The thought brought a brief pang of sadness that she quickly pushed away.
Pushing open the door to the cafeteria, she was struck by the noise, which hit her like rolling thunder. She never ceased to be amazed how loud a group of a few hundred teenagers could be. Just as she was about to grab a tray, she heard a familiar voice say, “Ah, Ms. Baumann! Here, have a tray.”
She found Mr. O’Neil standing right behind her, two trays in his hands, one of which was extended toward her. He blinked at her through his thick horn rim glasses, an earnest smile plastered on his face.
I obviously have my weirdo magnet turned on full blast
, she told herself with an inward sigh, wondering how he’d managed to ambush her without her seeing him first. His attention might not have been quite so bad if he’d not been a full thirty years older than she was and about as attractive as a rotting tree stump. Forcing herself to smile, she took the proffered tray and allowed herself to be swept forward in the line. O’Neil chattered away, constantly invading her personal space, and Nikki wondered if she wouldn’t be better off feigning the sudden onset of a fatal bout of dengue fever and dashing to the administrative offices where she could find a closet in which to hide.
Nikki and Mr. O’Neil turned to see Mark pushing his way through the stream of students who, having finished eating, were heading past them out of the cafeteria.
“What is it, Mark?” O’Neil asked, the annoyance in his voice tempered by his obvious respect for the young man calling his name.
“Mrs. Price needs you in the admin office right away,” Mark said. “She said it’s important, something about Todd Berkeley.”
O’Neil blinked and clamped his mouth shut with an audible click. “Oh. Oh. Umm, here.” He handed his tray to Mark and, without another word to Nikki, dove into the salmon run exiting the cafeteria and quickly disappeared.
Nikki looked at Mark for a moment, narrowing her eyes. He was affecting an innocent expression, but she couldn’t fail to see the twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “Mrs. Price didn’t really need him for anything, did she?”
“Well, she does, but it’s not exactly urgent.” Mark shrugged. “I was in the office and heard her mention that some paperwork had come in about Todd.”
She cocked her head as Mark led her back into the food line. “What happened to him?”
“Mr. O’Neil managed to get him expelled after Todd got caught running bets on races with the belt sanders in the shop room.”
Nikki’s mouth fell open. “What? You’re kidding!”
He shook his head. “Nope. For real.”
Nikki laughed. “That’s the most outrageous thing I think I’ve ever heard.” She gave him an appreciative smile. “Thank you for coming to my rescue.”
He bobbed his head, averting his gaze to the floor. “You’re welcome.”
She paused a moment, not sure whether to ask, but she decided to go ahead: “Were you in the office over some trouble with Jerry Kennedy?”
Mark gave her a sharp glance, no doubt betraying more than he’d intended, but then he looked away. “No, I had to bring in a permission form. And Jerry’s no big deal.”