Authors: Devin Claire
Copyright © 2016 Devin Claire
Published by Devin Claire
Edited by Lauren Dee of Daisycakes Creative Services
Cover Art Design © Croco Designs
Book Formatting by Croco Designs
All rights reserved.
his book contains
material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author/publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental or has been used in a fictional manner.
amantha Henry is waiting
for the phone to ring to receive a college professorship. After graduate school she’s back in her hometown working as the high school secretary to pay the bills. The town was always too small for her dreams. Dreams she imagined while eating pizza huddled over a book in the local pizzeria. This time after she’s gone she’s never coming back.
The problem is between attending Friday night football games with the quirky town, helping her best friend recover from heartbreak, saving a friendly bobcat, and writing memos for her sexy, former pizzeria employee, high school principal, Sam may have more trouble saying yes to a job offer than she’d ever imagined.
a substitute teacher for high school students wasn’t supposed to be this hard five minutes in. Samantha Henry tried to ignore the whispers coming from the freshmen. If she could be a graduate TA for eager college students, she could also teach the younger variety of teenagers. She looked down at the roll call sheet.
“Andrew Parker,” she said.
“Here,” said a student. Muffled giggles escaped his mouth. Something his friends were doing in the back of the classroom was funny. The other students, bored with listening to their names, followed Andrew’s lead.
The classroom erupted with chatter.
Sam gritted her teeth.
“I’ll wait,” she said.
Her best friend, Layla, an actual teacher at Grover High School, had said this phrase would quiet any class down.
"Works every time," Layla had promised.
Sam cleared her throat.
“I’ll wait,” she said again.
The noise grew. It expanded in the room like a hot cloud. Sam inhaled quick breaths of air. She felt no oxygen go to her lungs. Her vision began to fuzz. Were her glasses fogging?
I’m going to faint. I’m going to faint. I'm going to faint. I need to get out of here.
She stumbled toward the classroom door, down the hall to Layla’s classroom. Her old college roommate was prepping for her next class. Sam hunched over in the doorway and sucked in deep, gasping breaths of air.
The look on Layla’s face sent Sam into a deeper panic.
“God Sam, what’s wrong?” Layla said.
“I can’t teach. The class, I can’t,” said Sam.
Layla nodded in complete understanding. She rubbed Sam’s shoulder.
“I’m going to go watch them. Can you sit and hang out here?” she said.
It took all of Sam’s strength to meet Layla’s eyes and give her friend a quick nod.
Layla gave Sam’s arm a quick squeeze of reassurance and bolted toward the abandoned freshmen. Her thick amber braid whipped behind her.
Alone, Sam stepped into Layla’s classroom. She sat down. Her stomach lurched.
Paper clipped stacks of homework sat on Layla’s desk. Journal prompts were written in cursive on the chalkboard for students similar to the ones Sam had just run out on. The perfection was overwhelming. Sam’s breath began to shorten again. She had to get out of Layla’s classroom.
Sam quickly moved down the hall of classrooms, toward the cavernous hallways lined with orange lockers. She jumped at the sound of a lone locker slamming shut. The last thing she needed was a rumor going around about how Sam Henry had been seen wandering the halls of Grover High. It was bad enough taking a substitute teaching job in her hometown. She didn't want anyone thinking she was getting nostalgic about the place, or was questioning her plan to leave as soon as she received a job offer to be a professor.
She traveled up the flight of stairs leading to the second story bathroom. If things hadn’t changed in eleven years the bathroom was going to be empty. Being next to the administrative offices, no one ever thought to hide out in the second floor bathroom, no one except for Sam. Back when she’d been a student at Grover High, it’d been the best place to take a book when class got boring.
At the top of the stairs Sam heard footsteps coming around the corner. The bathroom was too far to reach. She'd be seen dashing towards it. She pivoted into the empty office at the top of the stairs. Sam sat down and rested her burning forehead against the wall.
I need to get out of here.
She remembered thinking the same thing as a teenager. Back when her main goal was to leave Grover forever. It had been her mantra. Now the statement plagued her today. At twenty-nine she was back in Grover and dealing with the same situation she'd promised her younger self she'd figure out.
She bumped her sweaty forehead against the wall. She had a Ph.D., and she still couldn’t get her life together. She planned to get a job as a professor at a small liberal arts college. Soon the hiring committees would call her back for interviews. She just knew it. Until then she simply had to wait.
Sam took a deep breath. It was time to sneak into the bathroom. She would splash water on her face, and figure out what to do next.
Standing to leave, she scanned the office. She couldn’t remember who’d worked in this space when she’d been a student. It'd probably been a guidance counselor or something.
The desk was covered with papers and a clunky desktop computer. Diplomas hung on the wall. Sam would have a similar wall display when she was a professor of art history.
She leaned forward to read one of the diplomas. Her eyes widened. This office belonged to the one person, besides the freshmen, she really didn’t want to see.
Why is his office here? It should be down the hall. This office was always down the hall!
She panicked. She had to leave and not be seen. The bathroom was so close. A new set of footsteps, heavier this time, came down the hall. She froze.
He walked into the room in long strides. His dark, straight hair fell across his forehead. It was in desperate need of a cut. Her stomach caught. Was there a chance he hadn’t seen her? She could still scoot past him out the door.
“Sam?” he said. She heard the surprise in his usually deep voice.
She bit her lip. He looked the same, only older, and yes, if she was being honest, handsomer. He was truly a man now. It only added to her fluster.
“Is everything okay?” he said. His concern made Sam cringe.
She straightened, embarrassed about hovering over his credentials.
Sure, everything was okay. She was having a nervous breakdown about substitute teaching high school students. As a TA in graduate school, she could handle college students. Subbing was an entirely different thing. No one had told her fourteen-year-olds were awkward little monsters. Monsters she'd just abandoned, officially making her a bad person. Oh, and she couldn’t find a job in the field in which she’d been trained. Four years of undergrad and seven years of graduate school were slowly swirling down the drain of her life.
She forced a small smile.
“Hi Otto, sorry about all this,” she said.
He looked surprised.
“Why are you apologizing? I’ve been meaning to find you. I wanted to hear how your first day was going,” he said.
Sam stopped. It had been years since she’d seen Otto, Zelda Harrison’s rebellious nephew. During the school year his parents sent him to boarding school. They often sent him to his aunt Zelda’s to work in her pizzeria in Grover for the summer. Rumor had it summer camp hadn’t agreed with him.
He’d always arrived in Grover pale and a little sallow looking. It had worked for his bad boy image. He’d always left with a good tan and extra weight from leftover slices of pizza. The slight tan now seemed to be a permanent fixture and the pizza weight now appeared to be solid muscle under his flannel shirt.
The night of Sam and Otto’s almost kiss was a distant memory. Too bad it’d just shot to the front of Sam’s mind. She shook her head. Otto probably didn't even remember. She’d probably jumped to conclusions based on wishful thinking anyway.
What mattered now was Otto had become a responsible adult, principal of the high school, and had no clue she’d left a room full of rabid teenagers unattended.
“Um well, I was just kind of lurking as you can see. This didn’t used to be the principal’s office,” said Sam. She noticed her arms were waving wildly around as she talked. She set them firmly at her sides.
Otto laughed. Sam prayed he didn’t ask why she was lurking.
"You're right; the principal’s office used to be down the hall. I just figured here I’d be closer to the action. You know, try and be a little less of a looming figure,” he said.
He grinned at her. Her stomach dropped. His plan wasn't working; at least it wasn't for her. His warm welcoming gaze stayed fixed on her. It made Sam want to fidget. She felt like she was a teenager all over again.
“What?” she demanded to his warm demeanor. It was making her uncomfortable.
“Nothing, I just like you lurking. Remember you used to do the same in my aunt’s restaurant. Do you have a book on you?” he said.
Sam felt prickles on her skin and decided to ignore them.
“No,” she said. She shot him a glowering look. To her dismay, he burst out laughing. She needed to get out of here. She was starting to feel hot again.
In her earlier rush to escape, she’d missed the tornado of papers covering the small desk outside Otto’s office. She stepped out of the office toward the desk and began forming small piles. She wasn’t quite sure why she wasn’t walking away from Otto, excusing herself to go to the bathroom and go back to hiding in Layla's classroom.
Sam would leave as soon as the papers were organized. She needed to start being more organized like Layla. It was the newest part of her self-improvement project. The end goal was to have the job of her dreams and to have basically every other realm of her life together. The first step was getting out of Grover.
Otto leaned against his door frame, watching her.
“Layla mentioned you’d be subbing while waiting to hear back about professorships. How’s that all going?” he said.
“Fine,” said Sam. She shuffled a stack of papers into place.
“My last office assistant quit yesterday, and as you can see, I desperately need someone,” he said.
Sam stopped shuffling. She hoped the look she gave him sent daggers.
He held up his hands in defense.
“Look, I know subbing can be stressful. I need an assistant, an office manager really. You need a temporary job. Maybe we could make this work. You know, until you get a position and I find the perfect assistant,” he said in a halting voice.
A vision of Irma, Grover High School’s secretary from Sam’s days at Grover High appeared in her head. Irma’s stiff frown and watchful eyes never missed a thing. Irma’s desk had always been immaculate.
Now retired, Irma lived down the block from Sam’s parents. She spent most days in her garden. She grew voluptuous rose bushes and was trying her hand at heirloom tomatoes. The cool efficiency of Irma’s work brought a feeling of calm to the overwhelm Sam felt about the chaos of her failing life.
It’ll be part of my project. I need to finally learn how to be organized, especially before I become a professor.
It sounded fun when she treated it like a short term project.
The last thing Sam wanted to do though was take a handout from Otto Harrison. The problem was, unless she wanted to move back in with her parents, she had to find a way to pay her half of the rent for the bungalow she’d been sharing with Layla for the past month. After today, the prospect of substitute teaching made moving in with her mother seem like checking in to a spa.
Channeling Irma, Sam looked Otto up and down. She issued him a pert nod. She could handle him for a few weeks.
“Why’d your last secretary leave?” she said.
“My last office assistant was Casey Dempsey—” he began.
“Oh, that’s why,” said Sam.
Otto gave her a quizzical look.
“She was never the brightest bulb,” she said.
Otto tried to muffle a laugh.
“Still blunt as ever,” he said.
“It’s true. Anyway, is there anything urgent in need of consideration now?” she said.
He stared at her for a moment. Sam held her breath. She hoped there wasn’t anything else. Shuffling papers was all she could handle at the moment.
He looked down at his watch and said something about a P.E. department meeting.
“So, make yourself at home. It’s nice to see you Sam,” he said.
Sam held out her hand for a shake. As soon as she did her stomach twisted. She squashed the feelings down. Obviously, it had been some time since she'd been in close quarters with a handsome man. Too much paper writing while shut away in graduate housing was the problem.
Otto looked at her hand for a moment before taking it in his. Her first impulse was to not look at him.
Get it together Henry.
She felt a jolt. It sent her eyes upward. She looked him straight in the eyes to ignore the way his hand felt in hers.
His eyes had a sense of knowing and were flecked with pieces of green. They hadn’t changed.
“Bye Sam,” he said.
Sam watched him walk away. His long legs fit perfectly into his pants.
Otto had always been handsome and sexy. It used to be a boyish handsomeness. The sexiness used to come from a carefree sense of recklessness only attainable to boarding school boys. Now the boyishness had been stripped away and he was a dangerous sort of handsome. It wasn’t easy making school principal sexy, but Otto had nailed it.
* * *
he almost kiss
had come the summer after her senior year. During her teenage summers, Sam would hide in an air conditioned corner with a book and a slice of pizza at Zelda’s while Otto worked for his aunt. He always asked what she was reading. He wanted to know what new ideas were going through her head. He’d gotten her back then.