Authors: Jade West
Teach Me Dirty © 2016 Jade West
The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
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Cover design by Letitia Hasser of RBA Designs http://designs.romanticbookaffairs.com/
Edited by John Hudspith www.johnhudspith.co.uk
All enquiries to [email protected]
First published 2016
For breathing life into this book when it was just an idea…
It wouldn’t be what it is without you, and neither would I. xx
This novel is absolutely, totally, one million percent a product of my imagination
Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable – Cesar Cruz
I am a teacher.
A high school teacher.
I’ve known thousands of kids; thousands of faces, thousands of names, thousands of prospects, and dreams, and frustrations.
Thousands of characters, some with talent, some with none. Some who care, some who coast, a few who are outstanding. A few who create true beauty in my classroom, a few who can bring life to the canvas.
I teach art, and I love my job. I love being Mr Roberts the teacher.
But I’m also a man.
A man with urges.
Mr Roberts the teacher and Mr Roberts the man rarely cross paths. They don’t need to. They’ve
Helen Palmer is one of the few true artists.
Helen Palmer is my greatest pleasure of all.
Helen Palmer is my student.
I slammed my sketchbook closed, guarding it from prying eyes, but my stuttering heart needn’t have worried. It was only Lizzie. She dropped her satchel down by my side and lit up a cigarette.
“You’ll get a wet ass sitting out here,” she said, dropping to the floor regardless. “Grass is damp.”
“And you’ll get suspended if they catch you smoking again.” I held out my hand for the cigarette, and she’d swapped it for my sketchbook before I had time to protest.
She flicked to my current work in progress, and laughed her usual laugh. “And to think a few months from now this will all be over. How are you going to cope? Cold turkey? I’ll take care of you, Helen dearest. At least you aren’t going to forget what he looks like. You could paper the entire dorm with your little sketch mementos.”
“It’s Aberystwyth university, not the moon.”
“May as well be the moon.”
“Thanks for brightening my day.” I handed back her cigarette and wrenched my half-finished sketch from her clutches. I resumed my work, soft pencil lines etching out the brooding darkness of his brows. He was concentrating, just like he had been that morning, demonstrating the finer craft of pastel blending to a very unappreciative Harry Sawbridge. He’d been magnificent, so intuitive, so… brilliant. I shaded the perfect contours of his cheekbones and my stomach fluttered at the memory.
“Maybe you’ll finally get over him,” Lizzie said. “Plenty of hot, creative weirdo students to distract you. Even
have to find someone there to your liking.”
Lizzie Thomas could say it as many times as she wanted, and she did. She said it all the time, like some kind of mantra, as though if she said it enough it would somehow turn out to be true. But no. It would never be true.
I’d been crushing on Mr Roberts since the very first day he stood across from me in the art room and talked our class through Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory. Since he’d smiled at the doodles on my maths book and told me I had a good eye for shade and colour. Since he’d taken my hand in his and guided my paintbrush to achieve the perfect curve of the apple on my first still life.
I’d been crushing on Mr Roberts since twelve years old, and right now, at eighteen and just a few months from leaving his classes forever, it felt like I’d be crushing over him my entire life. Maybe I’d turn into a bitter spinster with twelve cats and just a roomful of scrappy pencil drawings to remember him by.
My insides knotted. Aberystwyth may as well be the moon, Lizzie was right. What reason would a freaky, obsessive little weirdo like me have for running into her brilliant ex art teacher in the holidays?
The thought made me feel sick and it must have shown all over my face.
“I was joking,” she said. “You can’t
see him in this little shithole of a town.
“Too little, too late.”
“Seriously, you will.” She flashed me a smile. “Plus, you know where he lives. You could take stalking to a whole new level. You’d be good at it.”
“I’m already good at it.” I closed my book and dropped the pencil back in its case. “You’ll meet someone way before me. Don’t begrudge me being the third wheel when you score some hot rocker type and I’m left on my lonesome.”
“As if that would ever happen.
be the third wheel.” She rustled in her satchel and groaned. “That’s if I even get to Aberystwyth. Our dorm buddy plans might be scuppered. I flunked trig again.” She tossed me the paper, red lines all over the place. “I’m aiming for a C grade now at best.”
“You only need two Bs.”
“And I may not get them.”
“You’ll get them.”
She flicked the cigarette butt in the bushes and peered around the corner. “Urgh, Sarah Jennings and the bitch brigade at twelve o’clock. Benches, duck-pout selfies.”
Sarah Jennings was born popular. Her type and our type didn’t mix, and I was glad, truthfully. Her type were big hair and pink lipstick and fake personified. I’d rather be an outcast any day of the week than one of those bitchbags. Just as well, really.
Lizzie let out a sigh and scrunched up her curls before giving me a mock pout. She was pale and proud, with hair too dark to be natural, and it suited her. Lizzie was Lizzie. Spunky and weird and
kind of person. My
“Hey, can I stay at yours tonight?” she said. “Mum’s off at Nan’s, and Ray’s having the guys round.”
“Sure.” I felt the niggle squirming away like a little worm. “Everything ok?”
She shrugged, smiled too brightly. “Yeah, course. Same old. Just can’t be done with his jerky mates. I’ll pack for the weekend if that’s ok? I don’t know when Mum’s heading back.” She checked her phone. “Shit. Biology time with Sarah bitch. Where are you going to be when I’m done?” My cheeks flushed and she rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll catch you after school. I’ll come drag you out of the art block, and I’ll walk as slowly as I can on my way.”
She held back until the popular crowd had dispersed then made a dash for it. I watched her leave, and her jaunty little steps in winter boots warmed my heart. Pale legs without tights, goose-pimpled in the October breeze, and the same skirt she’d been wearing since grade seven. She had pink butterfly clips in tiny pigtails, and she’d painted fresh glitter patterns on her satchel strap. She really was my kind of person.
I buried my sketchbook back in my bag and got to my feet as the first spots of rain landed.
Second year of sixth form in a school this size meant a lot of free periods. There were only five of us studying A-level art, and the other four didn’t really give too much of a shit. I was the only one left in our year who took it seriously, seriously enough that it had blown everyone’s mind when I turned down the option to take my A-levels at sixth form art college just a bus ride away.
I’d turn it down all over again in a heartbeat. Only now I didn’t have an option, Much Arlock High School stopped at sixth form, and I’d be out on my ear at the end of the summer term.
Better make the most of it.
I set off for the art block.
A year eight lesson was already in full swing as I let myself into the art room. Mr Roberts had them all gathered around his workstation, staring at the whiteboard as he sketched out some guidelines on perspective in squeaky red pen. His hands were fluid and natural, his grasp of depth and angle faultless, but few of them appreciated its value. Most of them were hyperactive and half-interested at best.
It broke my heart, but he didn’t let it faze him. Nothing ever seemed to faze him.
He was wearing his blazer today, a navy blue tweed that fitted like a dream but had definitely seen better days. A blue tie to match over a white shirt already decorated with a fine mist of green paint. His hair was wild, a tumble of crazy jet black curls to his collar, with the lightest dusting of grey at his temples. Dark stubble ghosted the hard line of his jaw. His eyes were a bright ocean blue under heavy brows, his nose was strong, slightly Roman, and his cheekbones were strong and defined. The autumn light coming through the windows played beautifully across his features.
Mr Roberts looked like an artist.
A real artist.
He looked perfect.
I set myself up in the far corner, on my regular stool, arranging my materials in their usual position, a perfect pyramid of mediums covering my sketchpads. The awareness of having my private musings so close to the muse himself both petrified and excited me, a secret thrill I loved more than anything.
Even Lizzie didn’t know the full dirty depths of my desire. She didn’t know every seedy fantasy that kept me awake at night, and she hadn’t seen every private scribbling in my sketchbooks. Not even close.
The year eights dispersed to their individual stations to work on their assignments, and Mr Roberts worked the room, glancing over shoulders, dipping in to help, praising when it was working and barking for quiet whenever the volume of chatter grew too loud. I loved his voice that way, deep and commanding and without any kind of fluster. He was calm, but he was in control.
It was a great balance.
I set out my palette, a sombre collection of deep, dark sapphires with an occasional splash of red. I was working on a Picasso-inspired acrylic piece, but my spin was more edgy, more sinister, more…
My brush moved freely, slashing at the canvas in a blur as I added definition to the landscape. The figures were huddled impressions, tormented and scared. A panicked horse eyeballed the sky, mouth wide as it reared against the onlookers. I darkened the shadows at its feet, black-violet pools stretching into jagged lines.
“I’m sure Picasso would have greatly approved of your interpretation.”
His voice prickled the tiny hairs on my arms. My heart leapt. I felt the heat of him at my back, a stray spiral of his hair tickling my cheek as he leaned in to gesture at the canvas.
“I love this,” he said, his fingers ghosting the horse’s flared nostrils. “So expressive.”
My mouth turned dry. “Thank you.”
His face turned to mine, just a fraction. “I see fine white highlights.” He gestured to the huddled crowd, pointed out the spots. “Here… and… here… Maybe some contrast, some russet, here…yes, that would be…
I couldn’t hold back the smile, lifting my palette and tapping on the colour I’d envisaged. “This one, I already picked it out.” Of course, in my mind those russet touches were hints of flesh. My chest prickled at the thought.
He smiled back at me, and I felt it in my stomach. “Great minds, Helen. This is great work.”
“Thank you, Mr Roberts.”
I breathed him in as he maintained the close proximity, soaking him through my skin, watching his eyes admire my work as I admired him.
One shrill little voice and the spell was broken.
Mr Roberts! Mr Roberts!
He squeezed my shoulder as he left, a firm grip, encouraging, and my heart soared.
I held the feeling tight inside, twirling it around and channelling it through my fingers. My canvas took on a whole new stage of life, of beautiful
life, and I was there, in that terrifying scene, smelling the stinking sweat from the horse’s tense haunches, the smell of fear and dread and despair, but I wasn’t scared, I was burning with passion.
Year eights were replaced by a smaller group of more sedate year elevens, yet I barely even noticed, I was flying free, consumed by the desire of the muse.
The end of school bell sounded and I barely noticed that, either. Mr Roberts took to the sink, washing out neglected palettes and leaving them to drain on the side. I felt his gaze flicking over my canvas, and over me, too. I twisted my ankles around my stool legs, pulled my shoulders back as I watched him approach. He wiped his hands on a paper towel before casting it away.