I can't believe I'm still getting called to the principal's office after all these years!
As I walked into the too-familiar setting in my old elementary school, seeing the same, dusty plastic plants and hardware store wall calendars got my heart racing. My palms grew sweaty. It was silly. I'd done nothing wrong - I was a parent now, for goodness sake! But just being in the principal's domain brought back bad memories.
Undoubtedly, this trip to the office would be nothing as traumatic as the time my parents were called into school to witness the lecture after I'd filled the toilets in the boys' bathroom with Jell-O. And the incident in fifth grade where I was accused of pushing over Suzie Watkins on the playground, when in fact I'd done nothing of the sort... nothing could ever live up to that horror. But still, I was nervous.
It was foolish, but I felt I might bolt from my chair at any moment. Trying to distract myself, I grabbed the nearest magazine. I chuckled nervously at some writer's opinion on the season's newest television shows and wiped my damp hands on my trousers. But nothing worked as I waited for Mrs. Taylor, the principal's secretary, to wave me in.
"Mr. Weaver?" the elderly lady said at last, looking up at me from her computer. Or at least I thought she was looking at me, but apparently she was scanning the room for anyone who might like a meeting with the principal. "Mr. Jacob Weaver?" she repeated.
"Yes, here!" I said, half-standing and waving to get her attention. It had been quite a few years since Mrs. Taylor had last showed me into the principal's office. For a moment, I thought there might have been a spark of recognition in her rheumy brown eyes, but it quickly passed.
"You can go back now," she said, curtly turning back to her typing.
"Thanks." I moved past her desk and down the hallway.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Weaver," the principal stood to shake my hand as I entered his office. "Please, take a seat."
Thankfully, mean Mr. Hackford, my old grade school principal, was no longer in the district. That would have been too weird. It would also have been awkward for him, no doubt. How often does it happen that an educator in charge of disciplining someone as a student, later is also responsible for that student's child?
"What can I do for you?" I asked as I took my place in the uncomfortable, institutional chair opposite Jim Bickford, the principal. Even though the man behind the desk was different, I still felt on the defensive. "Is there a problem with Billy?"
"Problem?" the principal said, considering for a moment. "Not really a problem, per se. It's just that..."
"I know he can be a little wild," I blurted before I could stop myself. "I wish I could do something more about it, but I'm gone so often, and..."
"Please," the principal said, raising his hand... I sank back into the chair, chagrined to have rambled on so hurriedly. This really was like old times.
"He's not in trouble?" I eventually asked, breathing a sigh o relief as the principal shook his head. I was happy to know that Billy wasn't in trouble, but then why I had been called in to see Mr. Bickford?
"No," he chuckled. "It's nothing like that. Miss Palmer says Billy is actually quite the good little student. She just... you said you're gone quite often?"
"Yes," I nodded. My job was a real problem. I sold lawn furniture to area hardware stores, but it was a pretty rural area so the hours are lousy. It wouldn't mean much to Mr. Bickford, but I felt I had to explain. "I'm a regional sales rep," I said, "and I'm on the road three or four days each week."
"That would explain it then."
"It seems you were unavailable for the recent round of parent-teacher conferences," he said.
"Yes, I was down in Winnetka last Thursday. Sorry." Sometimes it wasn't easy being a single parent. "Ever since Billy's mother..."
Principal Bickford shook his head, cutting me off "Oh, it's not a problem, not a big one, at any rate. Believe me, I understand what you're going through. I do." I looked at him in surprise. "I had to raise my two boys from the ages of twelve and fifteen," he said. "Not quite what you're going through, certainly, but I do understand."
"What does this have to do with the parent-teacher conferences?" I asked, more confused by the minute.
"It's just that Miss Palmer was hoping to have a chance to talk to you."
"Miss Palmer?" I said uncertainly. "She is... ?"
"Your son's teacher," the principal smiled
How could I not know her name? "Ah, sorry," I said sheepishly. "Certainly, I'd love to meet with her. Did she have any thoughts on when we might meet?"
I looked around the cramped office, wondering if I had somehow missed the presence of a third person, this elusive Miss Palmer. Couldn't this have been taken care of by a simple phone call? "Did she want to hold our meeting today, or what?"
"Oh, no," the principal answered. "Not today. Well, actually, yes, that was the plan, but not anymore, no. Sorry for the confusion. Miss Palmer had hoped to sit in on our little chat and possibly hold your conference in one of the meeting rooms," he said. "Unfortunately she was called away at the last moment."
"Called away?" I asked.
"Miss Palmer's aunt took ill," Mr. Bickford lamented. "Apparently the woman raised Holly... Miss Palmer, from a very young age. She was quite broken up about it."
I nodded, not sure what would be appropriate to say.
"We did try to call you," the principal continued apologetically. "But obviously our message didn't get through."
"I came straight from work," I said, beginning to grow impatient. "I should really be heading back if this is all today's meeting was for." I took a long look at my watch.
"Certainly, certainly." Principal Bickford nodded. "We'll have to set up a meeting for you two some other time. I do apologize for the trouble," he added.
I waved off the apology, wanting to straighten out the matter as soon as possible. "Did... did Miss Palmer say when she was hoping to meet with me?" I stood, hoping to stave off a follow-up call from the principal or, I shuddered to think it, the curmudgeonly secretary, Mrs. Taylor.
He checked a piece of paper in front of him. "Miss Palmer didn't name a time specifically."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm a bit confused, and I feel like I'm repeating myself. Why exactly does she want to meet with me?"
"As I said, it's nothing serious. Miss Palmer simply wanted to make sure she was able to give Billy's progress report to you in person, in case you had any questions you felt needed answering immediately."
"Oh. Is that really necessary?" I figured there would be another conference date set up for the next quarter, so what was the rush?
The principal eyed me as if I was now officially the world's worst parent. I was sure I'd made a mistake. But this all seemed like overkill if Billy was doing okay in school.
He kept his thoughts about my parenthood to himself and continued. "Miss Palmer looked at your son's records. She lives quite close to the two of you. She said it would be no problem to drop by your home, if that works for you? Are there any times I could give her when you're free?"
"Actually, I'm working out of my home office all this week," I said. "Let her know she can just call or stop by whenever she gets a moment."
"Wonderful," said the principal.
I breathed a sigh of relief, now that I'd managed to redeem myself somewhat in his eyes.
"I'll let her know you stopped in today." He glanced at the wall clock behind me and started to shuffle papers on his desk. Our meeting was obviously finished.
"Was there anything else?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No, that should be all. Thank you for coming." He grabbed my hand in a firm handshake as a way of dismissal. Luckily, my palms had stopped sweating.
"No problem," I said.
I rushed out of the office, glancing at my watch as I headed through the hallways and out into the parking lot. If I hurried I would be able to get a couple sales calls done before Billy was home from school. As I drove away, I wondered what kind of a teacher Miss Palmer was. I hoped she was nothing like my old kindergarten teacher. I didn't hold out too much hope, however. They were all the same: mean, grumpy, overweight and half-blind.
Does this make me look fat? I asked myself before I could block out the thought. I grinned, looking at my reflection in the mirror. Haven't gained a pound in six months. Fantastic! I turned sideways, avoiding the life-long temptation to suck in my gut. Never again, I thought. The weight hadn't been easy to lose, but I had done it and was determined to keep it off.
After years of teasing for being the "fat girl," I had finally managed to lose the extra forty pounds I'd been carrying around all through school and now thought of myself as a new woman. All you need now is a bit of self confidence, I thought. Get that and the guys will come running.
In truth, no guys had come running for years. I was fairly popular with the boys in my class back in high school, but that was before I was informed by one of my girlfriends that not all girls gave handjobs on the first date. After that important piece of information I changed my ways, and to my dismay, the boys stopped calling.
I was determined not to let my lack of a social life interfere with my schooling, so I studied like a madwoman all through high school and college. Thanks to a few advanced placement exams and a lot of hard work, I managed to complete my education degree in three years, and now here I am - kindergarten teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, home of the Eagles.
The school year had been going pretty well so far, until my Aunt Mary had taken ill. She just collapsed in the bathroom at church, and it wasn't until after the service had ended that another of the ladies found her.
I never really knew my parents. Aunt Mary had raised me most of my life, so I was really broken up when I first heard about her accident. The doctors told me she should be fine, that it wasn't uncommon for a woman her age to be a bit feeble, but when I heard the fall was caused by a stroke, I about went to pieces.
Thankfully, Jim Bickford, the principal at JFK, was a nice guy and even though I was supposed to be at a meeting - a meeting I had called - he let me out of it to visit Mary in the hospital.
That was a couple days ago, and while Mary certainly wasn't feeling wonderful yet, everyone at the hospital seemed to think she would be fine. Aunt Mary hadn't exactly kicked me out of her room, but she'd made it perfectly clear that I would be doing her more good if I would just stop worrying over her.
Ugh! That stupid meeting. I suppose it was my fault. As a new teacher, I want to get involved in my students' lives, but I never imagined I'd actually be going to their homes to do it! Parent-teacher conferences had been a week ago. The conferences weren't required, but everyone else had shown up, hadn't they? Why hadn't Billy's father? It just didn't feel right.
Unfortunately the conference was scheduled for Monday - the same day I heard about Aunt Mary.
When I came back to school on Wednesday, I had a note in my box from Mr. Bickford, telling me that he hadn't been able to get in touch with Billy's father ahead of time, and that the two of them had met without me. I cringed a little. My absence certainly wasn't the best introduction to one of my students' parents, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I'd never really expected Billy's father to agree to meeting me in his home; most parents feel awkward having a teacher coming into their home, and I imagine the child feels just as strange, but it had been my idea. Checking myself in the mirror one last time, I grabbed my purse and headed out the door.
It was a short drive from my apartment to where Billy lived. We didn't live in the same complex but, as it turned out, our buildings weren't more than a short walk away. I hadn't needed my car. I pulled into a visitor's parking spot and walked to the door. The building didn't have a secured entrance. I checked the piece of paper I'd scribbled the address on and walked up to their floor.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door.
"Hello?" Standing at my front door was a very attractive young woman. She was dressed in a light blue top, a denim skirt, and a tall pair of gray heels. I wondered if one of the local sororities was running some type of fundraiser. "How can I help you?"
The girl momentarily stood, a mildly confused look on her face, before she seemed to snap out of her fog. She smiled brightly, tiny dimples forming on her cheeks and extended her hand.
"Holly," she said. "Holly Palmer."
My son's kindergarten teacher? I fought back a gasp of surprise. She's a babe! Short reddish-brown hair framed a beautiful face. The only indication of her academic background was a bookish pair of glasses. She seemed vaguely familiar, but I passed it off as her having one of those faces that just looked familiar.
I shook my head, stepping back from the door.
"Sorry," I said. "Where are my manners? Come in, come in."
Miss Palmer smiled and stepped into the apartment, looking around appreciatively. My son and I generally aren't the neatest of individuals. We're not slobs by any mean, but we don't try as hard as we should, if you know what I mean. In honor of his teacher's visit, however, Billy had decided to clean the place as best he could.
"Is Billy here?" Miss Palmer looked around for any signs of her student.
"He's at a birthday party tonight. Should he have been here?" I hoped it wouldn't be necessary to schedule yet another meeting.
"No," Miss Palmer said to my relief. "I just wanted to say hello if he was around."
"Sorry. I'm sure he'll be sad he missed your visit." I guided the two of us over to the couch and she sat down. "Would you like something to drink, Miss Palmer? I have milk, water, cherry Kool-Aid and beer," I said.
"I really shouldn't," Miss Palmer said, "but a beer sounds fantastic right now. And it's Holly, not Miss Palmer. At least not in school."
"You sure you're old enough for a beer, Holly?" I regretted the words immediately when I saw the wounded look in her eyes. "I'm sorry. You just... I never had any teachers who looked quite like you do," I stammered. "If I had, then I might have paid a little more attention in class."
Miss Palmer blushed at my compliment but happily accepted the beer I offered. I grabbed one for myself and we sat down.
"Like I said, I'm sorry Billy isn't here," I said.
"That's okay," Holly said. "I really wanted to talk to you."
"Is he doing okay?" I was still a little nervous even though Mr. Bickford had assured me Billy was doing fine. "I try, but it isn't easy... I don't have a lot of experience as a parent," I added apologetically.
"He's doing fine," she said. "I really just wanted to make sure I'd met all my students' parents before the year was over." She giggled. "Next year, because of school restructuring, I'll be taking over both the first and second grade classes. So I'll be seeing a lot more of these students."
"Whew!" I said, wiping my forehead with my hand for effect. "That's a lot of kids! But I'm glad to hear that's all this was. I have to admit I was worried there for a minute."
"Don't be, he's doing fine."
"Good to hear," I said.
The two of us discussed some of Billy's school projects and certain areas Miss Palmer - Holly, she corrected me again - felt he could be doing better.
"He just doesn't seem to relate well to... to a lot of the class," Miss Palmer said hesitantly.
"Oh?" I asked. "Any students in particular?"
"The... ah... the girls," Billy's teacher answered.
"Really?" I asked in surprise. I'd never noticed Billy behaving any differently with the rest of the children in our apartment complex, but I suppose I wasn't watching for something like that. I had an inkling I knew the reason.
There didn't seem to be any reason to tell Miss Palmer what that reason might be, and she quickly caught on that I was unwilling to talk about it, and dropped the subject. By now, the two of us were out of beers. I went and grabbed two more, taking our empty bottles back to the kitchen with me.
I couldn't believe it when Billy's father answered the door. To say I was surprised would be a huge understatement. I was flabbergasted! I know he didn't recognize me, and I tried to hide my surprise as well, but the second Jacob said "hello" to me, I started to melt inside.
You have to understand that when I was in junior high, I had the biggest crush on Jake Weaver. His house was two blocks over from mine so I saw him all the time during the school year. Sometimes we even managed to walk together on the way to the bus stop, although that only happened if I was early and waited around until he burst out of his house. If I ran late, he wouldn't wait for me, but I didn't mind.
Like I said, I was always a little chubby, and Jacob was always more interested in the prettier, skinny girls in our grades, like Shelly Moynihan or Stacy Horner. I had no doubt that he didn't recognize the new and improved me when he let me in. Maybe that was just as well. Jacob was a great guy, but he was way out of my league. I had moved away before high school and attended college out of state. I came back into town when a job opened up, and I had no idea what had gone on in Jake's life.
I can't believe I didn't recognize his name in Billy's records, but I always knew him as Jake anyway. As we talked about Billy's schooling, and how he was behaving and performing in the classroom, I was more than a little distracted. I couldn't understand why Jacob didn't at least give a noticeable reaction at my name before I realized that he had always known me as Holly James. It wasn't until college that I decided to take Aunt Mary's last name and became Holly Palmer.
Maybe Jacob really did recognize me after all, but was just confused by the name change. And the fact that I'd lost so much weight. After we were mostly finished talking about Billy, and we had each drunk a couple of beers, I couldn't hold back the question burning in my mind.
"Can I ask you a question?" I asked nervously.
"Is Billy's mother around often?"
Jacob grimaced and for a moment, I thought I'd made a big mistake. It was obvious just from looking at Jacob that Billy's mother was a sore spot for him, but there was no way I could have known that. It wasn't in Billy's file, and aside from my own curiosity I thought I should know as his teacher.
"No," he eventually answered. I could tell he didn't really want to say anything more, but either he was too kind to say anything or he actually thought I needed to know. "Stacy isn't around," he said. "Are you sure you want to hear this?" he asked.
"If you don't mind," I answered. But suddenly I realized I had another question. "What was Stacy's last name, by the way?" I asked. "It wasn't Stacy Horner, was it?"
"Who are you?" Jacob asked in amazement. "Do I... do I know you from somewhere?"
I tried to hide my smile, but don't think I did a very good job of it as I stretched out my hand.
"I thought it was you," I said. "Although I had no idea who you were until I got here tonight. Holly... Holly James."
"Holly?" he laughed, giving me a quick once over that I don't think he realized I noticed. I wanted to be offended, but it had been a while since a guy had really checked me out, I may have blushed a bit.
"How have you been?" I asked. "I know you've been raising a boy, and by the look of this apartment you're doing it all by yourself, but... what happened?"
Holy shit! Holly James! I would never, not in a million years, guessed that this... babe... sitting next to me on the couch was the same Holly I'd known back when we were in school. There was just no way. I mean, the fact that she'd lost a lot of weight was obvious, but... she just seemed more vibrant, more alive than when we were in eighth grade.
"Like I said, it's kind of a sad story," I said.
"Did you and Stacy get married?" Holly asked softly, and I thought I saw a hint of a blush forming on her cheeks.
"No," I answered, more bitterly than I'd meant to. "Nothing like that."
"Oh..." she said. "What happened then?"
"Okay..." I sighed, caving in to the inevitable. "Stacy and I got involved way too young, didn't take any precautions, and to our surprise, we found ourselves parents while still in high school. Junior year, in fact."
"Oh!" Holly said. "What happened?"
"Stacy freaked out about the whole thing," I shook my head at the memory. "We decided to have the baby but after that, Stacy wanted nothing more to do with him... with either of us," I said in disgust. "Billy hasn't seen his mother in four years."
"Oh my, I'm so sorry," she said, reaching out with her hand and laying it on my leg protectively. "If there's anything I can do to help, let me know."
I nodded, very aware of her hand, now gently stroking my leg. At only twenty-three years of age, I should have been in my prime, just barely out of college, my life ahead of me. Instead, I was forced to care for my son, who I loved dearly, but at a very high price. This meeting with his teacher was really the first "date" I'd had in a few years, and I found her touch and scent to be nearly intoxicating.
"I'll let you know," I said.
To my dismay my prick began to swell in my slacks, filled with blood and ready for action. I squirmed in my seat, hoping my erection wouldn't be too obvious. As gorgeous as Holly now was, she was still my little boy's teacher and somehow it really didn't seem appropriate to be having these kinds of thoughts about her, no matter how long it had been since I'd last been with a woman.
I know I shouldn't have done it, but there my hand was, resting on Jacob's thigh. He jumped a little bit at my touch, although he covered his surprise extremely well. I hadn't meant for there to be anything sexual about it. It's just when I heard what he had been through, my heart almost broke. I had never really liked Stacy when we were in school together. She had always been too popular or too pretty, but now... especially now that I knew she had almost ruined Jacob's life, and abandoned her own son, I hated her more than anything.
When neither of us spoke, I got embarrassed that my hand was still resting on Jacob's leg. I imagined, if I was more adventurous or bold than I was, sliding my hand up to see the effect it might have on him. But I wasn't that brave. Instead, to my dismay, I started laughing.
"What?" He looked at me in amusement.