Chapter Description: Clark starts teaching back at Oakshire Elementary after a rested summer break.
A week later: It was Monday.
I was being a bad teacher. It was just after lunch; it was our class’s first naptime of the school year. The kids who needed protection were in fresh Pull-Ups. The blankets and nap mats were distributed. Quiet naptime music was playing just loud enough to be white noise and drown out the sound of passing classes walking around campus.
Within two weeks, this would all be routine and second nature to my students. Right now, however, I had three-year-olds who were new to my class giggling and playing peekaboo. I had returning four-year-olds, of course, but they weren’t even close to back in step with the usual routine, (and there’s a big difference to just turned four and not quite five).
If I was being a good teacher, I’d be politely but firmly coming down on them like a hammer. Maintaining proximity so they knew I was paying attention. Giving gentle reminders that now was a time to rest. That kind of thing.
The entire first two weeks for students was pretty much all about establishing routines and procedures. Gotta teach them the game before they can play. Gotta teach them the rules before they can follow them. This was regardless of grade level, but it was particularly important for my students who had never been in an academic setting before.
Tracy even volunteered to take her lunch in the classroom to help me. More eyes. More hands. An admittedly more intimidating presence. That kind of thing. Standard procedure, really.
If I was being a good teacher; I’d be hawk-eyed and almost on patrol until the darlings started lightly snoring. I’d be all business.
But I wasn’t being a good teacher. I had other business on my mind.
Tracy and I were instead in the little passage between my room and Beouf’s. The door was cracked open so we could hear any of them, and both Tracy and I could see in well enough, but we weren’t paying attention to the napping toddlers.
“I’ve been thinking,” I said.
“‘Bout what, Boss?” Tracy asked.
I chewed my lip for a second. I didn’t like bringing this up. It felt like taking an umbrella was inviting rain. “Remember what you told me about on Spring Break? Car ride over to my in-laws’ place?”
I had to resist the urge to smack my forehead. “The uh…” I was hoping Tracy wouldn’t make me say it. Hope was not on my side. “The adoption plan?”
“I’m not planning on-...” Tracy’s memory caught up to her. “Ooooh yeah. You mean in case things go bad.”
I nodded. I scratched the spot just beneath my eye. Another little itch popped up on the back of my neck. I scratched it. The quiet and the whispers and the anxiety and the paranoia.
“So I’ve been thinking…” I said.
“Do you think maybe you could do something like that…” I almost left the last part unsaid. “...for me?”
Tracy frowned. “Like whaddya mean.”
“It’s just that…” my throat was already beginning to tighten up. “Last year I had more than a couple of close shaves.”
“Uh-huh.” I couldn’t tell if my assistant was just letting me get my thoughts out or was just having a complete ditz moment and not being able to read me.
“And the thought occurred to me that if I’m gonna get snatched up by an Amazon, it’s gonna most likely be here.”
Tracy winced. “Yeah. That makes sense.”
“But then the idea occurred to me. If I got snatched here...maybe you could adopt me?”
Tracy squinted at me, her face not suspicious as much as uncomprehending. “Why would I…?” Then it clicked. “Oooooooh…!”
The words came out in hushed whispers spoken in rapid fire with no breath in between them. “I know Tweeners don’t adopt Little normally, but a Tweener with an Amazon husband might raise fewer suspicions and it wouldn’t have to be long just long enough for me to get out of danger and meet back up with Cassie and we could leave town kind of like what you were planning with your husband and I don’t know who else to ask this favor and it’s probably never gonna be a thing but after last year it would just give me such a feeling of relief and security and-”
My assistant cut me off “Oh, Clark!” She kneeled down and gave me a hug. “Of course I’ll do that. If anybody tries to snatch you up, I’ll get you first and you can get out of dodge.”
“Thanks.” I needed to hear that. I blinked away tears while still in the hug. “Okay. I’m going to get back to work.”
Cassie was panicking when I got home, Monday evening. “Don’t be mad,” my wife said. She looked like she was close to tears.
My instincts immediately shifted from prey to protector. Inwardly I braced myself for the worst. I dug my fingers into my slacks and held my breath for Cassie to break whatever bad news she had to me. “Okay. Talk to me.”
“The washing machine broke,” her voice was trembling. “And I can’t get even a Tweener mechanic to come and fix it till Thursday. I’msosorry!”
Broken washing machine? That was it?! I immediately relaxed. “Alright…” I said cautiously. Cassie had never been the type of person to hit me with a bad news/worse news combo. The washing machine was the biggest problem Cassie had to tell me about.
My wife was shaking. “I know how you like to have all your work clothes nice and neat and we’ve still got laundry piled up and I don’t want you to get in trouble! I’m so sorry!” I was the hug giver now. I squeezed her and rubbed her back until she stopped trembling so much.
Emotionally speaking, this was more precarious than it might at first seem. Inwardly, I wanted to laugh and wave it off as no big deal. But nobody wanted to be told that their feelings didn’t matter. And with Cassie’s temper...
I let Cassie out of the hug and held her hand. “Alright,” I said. “That kind of sucks. Gonna be expensive to get it repaired. Probably more expensive for a Tweener to do it because I’m going to want to bribe whoever just in case the neighbors still don’t know we live here.”
Cassie nodded, avoiding eye contact like a scolded puppy.
“We’ve got enough money though,” I said. “It just means we’re going to have to hold off on any other major expenses for a couple of months. Eat out less.”
Cassie nodded. “So you’re not mad?”
I shrugged and gave a little smile. “Shit like this happens. It’s just part of being an adult, y’know?”
“Yeah. I know,” she said. “And it’s silly. It’s just that things have been getting to me a lot lately. I think I’m just starting to lose it. I feel like one false step and we’ll end up dolled and mind-fucked.”
Welcome to my life, Cassie. “A broken washing machine isn’t one of those things. I’ve got enough clothes to get me through the week.”
We had sex that night. I couldn’t tell (never could tell) if it was love making, or make up sex or whatever, but it felt good. Good and wild. Good enough that I almost passed out immediately after with only the alarm to wake me up out of a near coma the next morning.
On Tuesday, I was back to being a brave Little, and in the full swing of my morning ritual. The aftertaste of my morning breakfast shake blended well with Beouf’s coffee, and I was speed walking my way to the front office with Beouf and Tracy in our de facto formation.
“Mr. Gibson. Tracy,” our coworker, a Tweener, acknowledged us as she passed. “Mrs. Beouf.”
“Good morning,” I said, sounding my cheeriest.
“Mrs. Beouf. Tracy. Mr. Gibson.”
“Mrs. Springfield. Mr. Renner…” I hesitated. “Ms. Grange.”
All our colleagues walked right by us and on their way to their respective classrooms and morning duties. Yup. Everything was about back to normal.
My gut rumbled as I stood on tiptoes to clock in for the day. “Tracy,” I said. “How much longer before buses come out?”
Tracy glanced at her watch. “About five minutes.”
Damn. Not enough time to get to my room and back. And on the second day no less…
Raine Forrest literally swiveled her chair around and ignored a parent trying to get a volunteer form so she could look at me. “Don’t think you’ll make it to the bathroom in time?” An addict had just gotten a whiff of their favorite brand.
I would’ve thought she’d poisoned me, except I’d had only Beouf’s coffee as per usual. I looked down at myself. Yeah, that explained it. My hand was hovering around my belly, reflexively. A shark sniffs around for blood, soon enough it's going to find some. Such was the case with Forrest.
“Not a problem,” I said, waving her off. “I'll just go to the staff-”
In leaps and bounds that practically defied physics, the school secretary was out of her chair and running to the staff bathrooms. “Gotta go! Emergency!” I looked at the confused Tweener parent on the other side of the reception desk and just gave him a shrug.
Beouf shook her head. “I’ll be by the bus loop if you need me,” she called back. I gave her a thumbs up.
Casually, I walked to the mailroom. Tracy didn’t even need to ask me for help. Like was routine, she reached up into the mail slot and handed me whatever administration had left for me to sign, send home with the kids, or just toss in the garbage. I couldn’t help but notice her grimace.
“Just look,” she said.
Another Little Voices pamphlet; a whole pack of them. The local chapter was sponsoring a fundraiser at school in about a month. The fundraiser, I knew about. We always did a fall festival or makeshift carnival or some such as a way to get extra school supplies. This year's sponsor Brollish had neglected to mention.
These advertisements would have to go home in students’ backpacks by the end of the day.
Pamphlets in hand, I made to go to the staff bathroom. “Don’t do what I think you’re gonna do,” Tracy jokingly called out to me.
I grinned, and handed them back to my assistant. I wasn’t going to use them to wipe my ass or flush them in the toilet...but the thought had occurred to me. “Pocket these for me till we get back in the classroom.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
The knob to the men’s room wouldn’t turn. “Occupied,” a far too familiar voice, with more than a hint of anticipation. Damnit, Raine. “Out in just a couple minutes.”
Locking me out of the bathroom….
My four-year-olds had more creativity than that.
All I had to do to circumvent Forrest’s terrible plan to deny me toilet access was to go into the women’s room. Both bathrooms were unisex and single occupant. Nobody was going to bat an eye at me going into the women’s room; especially if Raine had sequestered herself in the men’s.
The only problem I had was that I had to do a kind of a balancing act on the too wide rim of the toilet. Difficult. But not impossible. I’m a Little. I’m used to working in a world that’s too big for me.
After flushing and walking out, the wheels in my head started to turn. It’s surprising how well one can think with freshly emptied bowels. By the wall were a pair of tiny wooden wedges. They were intended to act as a kind of door prop. Leave the bathroom doors open and slide a wedge under them so they wouldn’t budge. No need to knock or worry about walking in on somebody who forgot to lock the door.
During high traffic times such as in the morning, such things were forgotten. People had too much to do to bother kicking away a wooden triangle and replacing it just before the buses came.
“Miss Forrest?” I called out in my most pathetic sounding voice. “Miss Forrest? Are you still in there?”
“Just a minute,” the giant bitch practically sang out.
I picked up the wedges. “But Miss Forrrrrrest,” I whined. “I really have to go!”
“Just a minuuuute!”
“But I don’t wanna be laaaaaate! You know what will happen if I’m late!” I slid both wedges under the door. Not even Amazon strength would be able to budge them from the inside. Physics was in my favor.
“I’m almost reeeeady!”
The bell rang, and I walked away, shaking my head. Time to go to work. I chuckled under my breath as I heard the knob twisting. I could almost hear her starting to bang on the door as I walked outside to go meet Tracy, Beouf, and yes, Zoge. At least Forrest wouldn’t poop herself. My plan was kinder than hers in that regard.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mrs. Beouf came to my room.
“Uuuuuuuugh!” she groaned. She sat down in the child sized chair and banged her head on the kidney table where I held centers.
I got up from my teacher desk and walked over to her. “Rough day?”
She laughed a little. It was a tired laugh, but a happy one. “Oh, just getting back into routine.”
“I hear that,” I said noncommittally.
“You think they’re gonna remember the rules from last year but then…” She didn’t finish the sentence. Just smoothed out her hair.
She was talking about grown adults as if they were children. Clearly, my diapered peers were rebelling. Thinking that made me feel better than the possibility that most of them had ended up like that one girl on the bus: Too far gone and loving it.
“That’s a shame,” I said. “But it’s how it goes every year, this time. Right?”
“Right.” My mentor muttered to herself. “Must be some kind of bug going around.”
I arced an eyebrow. “Why’s that?”
She was still shaking her head. “Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’m losing diapers.”
“Parents all sent in diapers with their kiddos,” she told me. “But I feel like some of the supplies are already starting to run a bit low.”
“New cafeteria food, maybe?” I offered.
“Not that I know of,” Beouf said. “The weirdest part is, I don’t think I’m changing anybody more than usual. It’s like the extra diapers are just...disappearing.” She laughed when she said that. “That’s stupid, I know.”
I gave a half hearted laugh, mostly to be nice. “Not stupid, but I get what you mean. I’m a good two weeks away from being out of crayons; I just know it.” Then I said, “Maybe you’re just frazzled because you’re about to be a Grandma?”
“Maybe,” she replied. “Maybe. I might just be frazzled. My job doesn’t end when I go home…” She sighed and yawned. “How’s this week going for you?”
I gave my own exaggerated groan. Ah yes! Teacher Bitching! The great educational pastime revived!
“I’ve got an I.E.P. meeting tomorrow,” I said. “First of the school year.” I even made a whoop-de-doo circling motion with my finger for ironic emphasis. “One of my new students, no less.”
“This early?” Beouf said. “Why? You’ve had literally no time to collect data.”
“It’s supposedly because the mother wants to make sure that I’m properly briefed on the child’s needs but-”
Beouf interrupted me. “It’s because you’re a Little.”
I sat down next to her. “Yup. Happens every time. They find out their kid’s teacher is a Little, and then they become-” I held up air quotes, “- very concerned about their child’s education.”
“Mmmmhmmm.” Beouf patted me on the back. “And by the time they’re going to Kindergarten, the same parents that were calling for your job are begging you to move up to Kindergarten so they can have another year with you.”
I leaned back in the chair. “Pretty much.”
“Well, it sucks,” she agreed. “But you’re an old pro at this.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I am. I was a real mess that first year.”
“Everybody is,” Beouf assured me. “You should’ve seen me.”
“You? As bad as I was?”
Beouf smirked. “Okay, maybe not as bad, but this place is proof that experience is the best teacher.”
“And you’re very experienced,” I said.
She leaned back in mock surprise. “Are you calling me old, sir?”
My grin went full shit-eating. “I don’t know. Am I...Grandma?!”
We both laughed. “I’ll let you get back to planning,” she said. “Practice your parent schpiel for tomorrow.” She got up and started to go back to her room.
“Have a good night Mrs Beouf,” I called out to her.
“You too, Mr. Gibson.”
I needed that. I really did. Sometimes when I’m feeling really down, I still think about this moment and it makes me happy again; if only for a little while.