David didn’t particularly like Jess – which was fine because she didn’t particularly like him either. He was a suited, efficient and serious maths teacher. She was a forgetful, emotional, harassed drama teacher and young, single mum. They had nothing in common, none of the same friends and probably none of the same interests.
She saw him at the end of the corridor and put her head down. She was tired and in no mood for false-sounding “Good mornings”, so she hurried along clasping a ripped cardboard folder to her chest, homework papers edging further out with every step. Under the cover of the folder, her long bead necklace had caught on a blouse button and was yanking it down dangerously, ready to pop at any second. The overfull handbag that had started at her shoulder was now swinging from the crook of her arm and walloping against her leg with every step. She was hot and uncomfortable and really struggling with PMS and tiredness.
Following a disastrous weekend attempting to mend bridges with Luke, including a painful two-hour sit next to him at the theatre – after he had told her it was over, she had driven home to perform the necessary wine bottle and tear-duct emptying. Damn it. Luke was perfect. She adored him. There wasn’t anyone else with all the same interests as her. Everyone had said that living apart would be a test of their relationship. Well it had failed the test. He just didn’t love her enough. “Oh Jessie, you’re great…A real pal. We have so much fun together! I do love you. And I get on so well with little Ollie. But I don’t want to live where you live and I don’t want to do this long distance thing. And, let’s face it – we’re still pretty young. It’s a bit soon to be chucking in my little black book” He winked. That’s when the play started and Jess had to sit next to him, with her stomach turning itself inside out as she imagined Luke buying drinks for another woman, chatting up another girl, taking someone else’s hand, cupping someone else’s face with his warm hands… The urge to shout, groan, sob, vomit was immense but she held back and tried to concentrate on the stage. It finished, they said goodbye, she drove home, picked up Oliver from her Mum’s and put him to bed. Then she slipped into a rejection and wine-induced misery, finally falling asleep in front of the telly at 3am.
So now, at ten to nine on a cold November Monday morning, empty of all the necessary inspiration or pizzazz to teach drama to thirty indifferent teenagers, she was staggering towards the staffroom with every intention of ignoring David bloody Fisher, then recomposing herself and her belongings and grabbing herself a large comforting coffee before the bell.
David had turned his back on her by the time she reached him and could be heard complaining about something that sounded like “wasting time teaching basic primary school stuff” and “ unprepared….” to fellow maths teacher, Joe Timms.
“Quadrilaterals Jess!” Timms suddenly bellowed. Jess started at the noise and lost half of her papers, which began to float about on the movement induced breeze circulating within the busy corridors.
“Hey? What? Me?” she answered as she struggled to keep her bag, folder and blouse all within safe realms whist stamping on the escaping sheets of homework.
This is bad, this is really really bad. I don’t NEED this. Shit. Damn him. Damn them. Damn all of them.
Without stopping to help her Timms explained himself: “You have a child at the primary, starting here next year, yes? How is his maths knowledge? Are they preparing him for secondary education? David and I were just saying how they don’t know the basic geometry required and we’re always having to backtrack. Quadrilaterals. I spent the whole lesson last Friday explaining quadrilaterals to year 8. I just don’t have time ”
“Er no. Me neither” muttered Jess as she scanned the floor for more papers and considered her next move. There was no need. David Fisher had rescued all the stray sheets and was handing them back to her. He turned and walked away abruptly. “Thanks” she called after him, but suspected he didn’t hear her.
No coffee time. No composing herself time. Straight to first lesson. Hot, tired, thirsty, broken-hearted, deflated and feeling quite detached from life buzzing all around her, she headed for room 53.
David Fisher came out of his final lesson and took his marking to the staffroom. That irritating airhead Jess Murphy was in there. He was still astounded at how rude she had been to Joe Timms that morning, but wasn’t at all surprised at her lack of gratitude when he had picked up her papers for her. He knew she didn’t like him. He had noticed that many of the homework sheets were quite smudged and splattered with what looked like red wine stains. Her marking had been done with a purple felt tip pen which he thought highly unprofessional. Unsurprisingly, neither one acknowledged the other as they shifted around the room, David turning on a laptop and boiling the kettle, Jess rummaging through bags for books and pens, turning on her mobile to text Oliver. Jess had a missed call from Oliver and immediately phoned him back.
“Ollie. Are you okay?”
David quietly seethed having to be party to this conversation
“Why? Did she? Oh, don’t worry I’ll come now. No, I’ll have to get the bus. Oh Ollie – don’t get upset, I’ll be as quick as I can”
Jess gathered her belongings and fled from the room, accidentally leaving her mobile phone on the arm of a chair.
The phone began to ring. “Great” said David and leapt up, grabbed the phone and dashed after Jess.
She was going so fast that he was outside and the phone had stopped ringing by the time he caught up with her.
“Miss Murphy! . . . Er – Jess!” he yelled.
She turned around and as she did so he could see tears streaming down her face. She looked terrible and he was immediately concerned for her.
“Crikey. Is he in trouble?” David asked.
“Oh, no. Not really” Jess replied and sniffed. “He had a call from my mum to say she’s got a doctor’s appointment and could he let himself into the house, but he’s forgotten his key”. He just doesn’t want to be outside in the dark on his own while he waits for me.
David’s car keys were in his pocket. “I’ll drive you. How far?”
“Really? Oh thanks. Just up to Mill Street in the centre of town” She didn’t care whether they liked each other or not. She wanted to be safely at home with her son right now.
Ollie was stood at the door to the flat holding something large and flat with tassels that quivered in the evening air. He looked totally unperturbed by his mini-ordeal “Can we go fly it?” he asked as he thrust a homemade kite at her. The sun was beginning to set and the three of them were lit by the golden glow of a low winter sun.
“Quadrilateral” said Jess suddenly and smiled.
David had an enormous urge to laugh, but instead he smiled and turned to them both.
“Enjoy yourselves. See you tomorrow Jess.”
“Thanks so much” she replied “And for earlier. I’m really grateful”
You can get people so wrong sometimes she thought, and hoped he was thinking something similar.