Read For Lovers Only Online

Authors: Alex Hairston

For Lovers Only (7 page)

Erin laughed. “You're crazy.”
“No, I'm good at reading facial expressions.”
Erin bit her bottom lip, looked at Joel out of the corner of her eye and said, “All right, maybe a little something did cross my mind real quick. You are a hottie.”
Erin always presented herself in a respectable manner. Her last relationship ended on a sour note because of her prudish sexual nature. She was a good girl, far from being promiscuous. This time she really wanted to step her game up to the next level. She was kind of interested in a hot intense hookup with Joel without titles or strings attached. She had never in her life been so flirtatious with a guy she had just met.
Joel felt a rush of excitement. “Thanks. See, I knew I saw something. Don't be embarrassed ... I like that.”
“Boy, stop playing. You made me forget what I was saying.”
“Something about Kenya.”
“Oh yeah. She called me a little while ago. She'll be calling back to check in again soon. Anyway, NSA sent her away for two months of intense training.”
Joel gave Erin a silly suspicious look. “What kind of intense training?”
“I don't know. That's all she's allowed to say. She can't discuss her job in detail. I have no idea what her exact job is. All I know is that she took some self-defense and weapons qualification classes and now she carries a gun and a badge.”
“I'm impressed. And who do you work for—the FBI, CIA or Secret Service?”
As Erin unlocked her front door she said, “No. I work for the Baltimore County school system. I'm a third grade language arts teacher at Winands Elementary.”
“For real?” Joel asked as he stepped inside of Erin's apartment and followed her to the kitchen.
“Yeah. Don't I look like a teacher?”
“None that I ever had, but I'm sure I don't look like a teacher either. I teach fifth grade social studies at Mary E. Rodman in the city.”
“Oh my God. You're a teacher.”
Erin entered the kitchen and set her box on the counter. She turned around and said, “You're not gonna believe this, but Mary E. Rodman is my old school. I mean, I actually attended school there from kindergarten to fifth grade.”
Joel set his boxes next to Erin's and said, “Me too. This is a small world. I grew up in the Edmondson Village neighborhood.”
“So did I.”
Leaning against the counter Joel asked, “Why don't I remember you from around the way?”
After talking to Erin a little more, Joel found out that they grew up four blocks from each other, but had never met until this evening. Erin's family moved from the old neighborhood the summer before she started high school. Her parents divorced earlier that year and her mother struggled like hell to take care of her daughters. Erin was the oldest of three girls and had become an intelligent career-oriented woman with a bright future ahead of her.
Erin showed Joel around her two-bedroom apartment, which smelled of fresh paint with a tiny hint of commercial carpet cleanser. It didn't take long to tour her empty apartment. She quickly described how she planned to hook the place up after the mover delivered her furniture.
When Erin and Joel were finished looking around they stood in the living room near the patio doors, talking. They seemed to click on all kinds of levels. They both had majored in education and had graduated from local historically black colleges—Erin from Coppin State and Joel from Morgan State.
Joel asked, “So, what made you decide to become a teacher?”
“I was always a teacher's pet.”
Joel laughed. “Oh no! One of those, huh?”
“Yeah, I was kind of nerdy. At an early age I fell in love with books. Something amazing happened the first time I stood in front of a blackboard; it felt like I was in the spotlight.”
“I know, that all-eyes-on-me feeling.”
“Yeah. I can't even describe how good it felt standing there writing in pure white chalk on a blackboard and seeing my words stand out so clearly and brilliantly for everybody to see.”
“Wow. I've never heard anybody describe their first experience writing on a blackboard so passionately. I think I'm probably more passionate about the first time I erased a blackboard than my first time writing on one. I loved erasing my teacher's writing.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. That just goes to show how differently men and women think.”
“I guess you're right, but let me finish telling you about why I became a teacher.” Erin got her thoughts back on track and continued. “I love being around kids. I love learning and always had a natural ability and desire to teach. It's so exciting helping to mold young minds. Every day I feel like I've helped someone. To me it's the most rewarding career. Now what made you become a teacher?”
“I always wanted a career with a hefty salary, bonuses and summers off.” Erin gave Joel this you've-gotta-be-kidding-me look and then he said, “Nah, I'm just playing. I definitely didn't become a teacher for the money. I wanted to rewrite the rules of exclusion and help make certain opportunities available for underprivileged kids. A lot of top-achieving students come from low-income communities.”
“I know, because we're proof of that.”
“True. But in too many cases there are needy kids with the least amount of resources available and it's my responsibility to help them.”
“You're so right. We need more men like you.” Erin paused for a second and with a look of adoration she said, “Wow, you're handsome, intelligent and you stand for something real ... I like that.”
Joel smiled. “Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. But more than anything, I stand for kids that remind me of myself back when I was in school. I had bad experiences with teachers when I was growing up. I only had a few teachers who were passionate about teaching. Most of them used the same cookie-cutter lesson plans from year to year or they taught directly from the same outdated textbooks. They were never willing to adapt to the changing needs of their students. I always wanted to show kids that learning could be fun and exciting. I'm flexible and know how to use different approaches to learning. I try to personalize learning and make it interactive. History has always been my favorite subject, especially anything dealing with the Civil War. You can ask me anything about the Civil War, from Fort Sumter to the Appomattox Court House, and I guarantee you I'll know the answer.”
“I believe you, and I can tell that you're one of the passionate ones, like me. I agree with you one hundred percent. Plus, I think students really admire male teachers, especially black men because brothas are a rare sight in schools.”
“That's true.”
“So basically, your desire to help the underprivileged and your experiences with bad teachers made you want to become a teacher.”
“Yeah, that's exactly what motivates me. I used to hear my teachers tell students, ‘I got mine and you got yours to get.' I hate that saying because it shows arrogance on the teacher's part and belittles the kids.”
Erin agreed. “I had teachers say that crap my whole life, but that probably motivated me to strive a little harder to be better than them.”
Joel said, “I see your point, but a lot of kids get discouraged and end up quitting because they feel that teachers like that are against them.”
“Yeah, that happened to a bunch of kids we grew up with and they ended up stuck in our old neighborhood.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” Joel paused for a second and then redirected the conversation. “It's hard to believe that we grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same elementary school. The fact that we never met before is crazy.”
“I know.”
Talking about the old neighborhood gave Joel a new energy. He said, “We have to know some of the same people. Do you remember a guy named Arthur Washington?”
“I dunno.”
“You had to have seen him before. He looked like a little strong-ass midget. They called him Baby Hercules or Big Pee Wee.”
Erin laughed so hard she almost choked. “Oh yeah. You're talking about the little bodybuilder with the big head and short thick stubby legs who hardly ever wore a shirt and jogged around in those freaky little shorts. Who's that, your brother or something?”
“Heck no!” Joel doubled over laughing. “Aw man, you're trying to joke me.”
“I was just trying to catch you off guard and make you laugh, that's all.”
Still laughing, Joel said, “That was funny though. I mentioned Big Pee Wee because he stood out more than anybody else and I figured you'd remember him. It's rare that you see a crazy midget jogging around the hood in Speedos, and once you've seen it you never forget it. And if you grew up in Edmondson Village, then you have to remember the block parties.”
Erin nodded and smiled. “Every summer, I remember.”
“And you gotta remember Daddy Milton's Snowballs.”
Erin playfully tapped him on his arm. “Oh yeah. I had one of those things almost every day during the summer when I was a kid. Oh my God, they were so good! Wish I had one now.”
“Remember the marshmallow topping?”
“The marshmallow topping made the snowballs even more delicious and was worth the extra money.”
“Yeah, Daddy Milton had everybody walking around looking silly with white stuff around their mouths.”
Erin laughed, then caught her breath and said, “One day, me and my sisters were wearing our little matching pink-and-white short sets and new tennis shoes. Boys were trying to talk to us. I thought I looked real cute walking around until I looked in the mirror and saw dried up marshmallows all around my mouth and on the tip of my nose. My sisters let me walk around like that and didn't say a word.”
“That's funny. I wish I could have seen you.” Joel paused for a few seconds because he was having a flashback. “Hold up, I remember you now. You have two younger sisters and all of y'all used to look just alike.”
“You lived right across the street from my old church. I used to see you and your sisters all the time when I was in the church's front yard.”
“Don't tell me you were one of those little bad-ass church boys who used to yell and throw rocks at us.”
“No. At least I don't think so.” Joel made a strange facial expression. “On second thought, I probably was one of those little boys. I'm sorry. I was like eight years old back then. I didn't know any better. Little boys are dumb. I'm sure that was just our way of telling you and your sisters that we liked y'all.”
“Uh-huh. Tell me anything.” Erin gave Joel a playful but stinging slap on his arm.
“Aw! You're really gonna hit me when I tell you this. I just remembered something else.”
Erin put on a silly frown. “What?”
“Didn't you and your sisters sing, ‘We Are Family' back when we were kids at one of Mary E. Rodman's talent shows?”
Erin laughed. “Oh, no! You're not supposed to remember stuff like that.” Erin hid her face. “Yeah, we did sing, ‘We Are Family.' That was so embarrassing. Our mother thought we were going to be the next successful girl group on the scene, but all we did was make fools of ourselves.”
Joel laughed and said, “Y'all looked real cute. I swear, I loved your performance.”
“Thanks, but I know you're lying. You probably thought I was ugly back then and that's why you never tried to get to know me.”
“No, it wasn't like that at all. It's hard to get to know everybody in a huge neighborhood. And you weren't ugly at all. If anything I was intimidated by your beauty, but now I can't get enough of you.”
Erin smiled. “All right, you redeemed yourself nicely.” She sighed. “It was so much fun back then. I miss the old neighborhood. I remember how we used to have stores on almost every corner. Back then the corner stores were black owned.”
“That was way back when they had real penny candy. Then all of a sudden the black store owners sold their businesses to the Koreans. I have to admit that some of the Korean store owners kept their shelves stocked a lot better than some of the black store owners.”
“That's true. I hated when they ran out of any of my favorites.” Erin looked like she was really into their conversation. “I used to love eating pumpkin seeds, Jolly Ranchers and Now & Later candy.”
“Yeah. How about eating a bag of Utz Bar-B-Q flavored potato chips with a pack of butterscotch Tastykake Krimpets and then washing them down with a cold bottle of pineapple soda?”
“Mmmm. Growing up in the city was the bomb. I know you used to go to Mondamin Mall to that store called Somethin' Good. They had the best candy apples and cotton candy.”

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