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By Ray Garton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Ray Garton
All rights reserved.
The classroom door opened a few seconds after the bell sounded, and students began to file in and take their seats. Donald Ellis sat behind his desk at the front of the classroom checking over the test he was about to hand out, looking one final time for any mistakes he might have missed. The side of his face rested in the palm of one large hand and he sucked in on his lower lip as he scanned the three-page English exam, his eyelids heavy.
"Hey, Mr. Ellis," one of the boys greeted him.
Donald looked up and gave a slight, heavy smile. He glanced over the quickly growing group, then looked back down at the test. His already crinkled brow tightened some more and he slowly raised his head again, his tired eyes going from student to student.
An attentive audience of four girls huddled around Leslie Newell, who spoke quietly and slowly, with confidence, her eyebrows bobbing slyly, her hands moving animatedly. Her sweater was tight and the neckline was cut low: cleavage on display.
Randy Stone, considerably overweight and unbathed, had his wide eyes glued to a comic book—Iron Man, Donald saw with dismay.
Mark Shewer and Brigitt Landis were quizzing each other with determination.
Donald blinked a few times, then scanned the room again, positive that something wasn't right.
Students were still coming in; a couple had their heads down on their desks.
Donald's brow relaxed when his eyes came to rest on Barry Sereno. He sighed quietly and rubbed one eye with three fingers. He started to get up but decided he was too tired.
"Barry," he said softly, with a smile.
The boy looked up from the Destroyer paperback he was reading, a bit of his dark, kinky hair hanging down over his forehead. He had chubby, rosy cheeks, but his body was lean and hard.
"Yeah?" he replied.
"Could you come here a second please?" Donald gestured to him with one hand.
Sereno stood and walked to Donald's desk, a little cautiously. The other students continued to buzz and study, hardly noticing.
"Yeah?" he said again, leaning forward over Donald's desk.
"I know you're probably worried about the test," Donald began, "but it's not really that hard. It's pretty straightforward. I think that, if you put your mind to it, you could do quite well on your own. I mean, without the, uh ..." Donald sucked his lower lip in and sniffed once. "Do you have crib notes, Barry?"
Sereno's mouth became a tight little Cheerio and a bit of the color left his face. "Crib notes?"
Donald raised a reassuring palm and one side of his mouth turned up in a smile. "I'm not accusing you, Barry. I mean, I'm not going to dock you or anything. I just ..." This was always a problem, Donald realized as he groped for the right words. He tried to imagine the frantic thoughts going through the poor boy's mind as he tried to figure out how the hell his crib notes had become so obvious all of a sudden. "I'm just trying to say that I don't think you need them, Barry. That's all. Okay?"
The look of shock on the boy's face began to relax a little. "Okay. Whatever you say, Mr. Ellis." His head bobbed up and down agreeably. He backed away from Donald's desk, then turned and walked to his seat without ever acknowledging Donald's smile.
Donald sighed as he stood up to hand out the tests.
The coffee in the teachers' lounge was no better than usual, and his first swallow made Donald grimace. He plopped his large but firm body down in a chair and put the stack of exams on his lap, skimming some of them briefly. One hand swiped at his short, rusty-brown hair, then trailed down the side of his weary face.
"That stuffs a slow poison, Donald."
Donald didn't look up from the papers. He didn't even blink. He just said, "It must be, Charlie. I've been drinking it for thirty years and I'm not dead yet." He took another sip from the Styrofoam cup.
"Well," Charlie Montoya grunted as he dropped into the chair next to Donald, "all I've got to say is, you'd think that with the piddly-squat little salary they expect us to live on, they could at least supply us with coffee that doesn't burn a hole right through the seat of your pants, know what I mean, Donald?"
Donald made a noncommittal sound without opening his mouth.
Charlie stared at Donald a bit from the side. "You growing a beard, Donald?"
This made him look up. He ran his palm over his chin and felt the prickly stubble that he had somehow overlooked. He shrugged. "Guess I just forgot to shave."
"Forgot?" Charlie leaned toward Donald. "Look at me, Don."
Donald turned to face the short, bullet-shaped man next to him.
"God, are you all right? You look like you dropped outta the back end of a sick dog. You lost weight?"
"I don't know."
"Your eyes are bloodshot and you got rings under them. You okay?"
Donald shrugged again. "Guess I haven't been sleeping very well at night."
"You're even slurring your speech, for crying out loud; You know what I think you need?"
Donald turned his attention back to the tests on his lap.
"I think you need some exercise. Why don't you come over to the weight room with me and pump a few? Usually nobody's over there at this time. Ah, hell," he grunted, swatting a hand through the air, "that wouldn't matter anyway. These damned kids love to see their teachers get down and do something like that. 'Specially you, Donald; they love you, anyway." He paused thoughtfully, but only for a couple of seconds. "I don't really understand why, though. I mean, they're supposed to love me, I'm the goddamned P.E. teacher, know what I mean? I'm fun. You teach English, for crying out loud. What kinda kid likes English? I don't know, Donald, they're all screwed up. It's those goddamned video games. It keeps 'em out of the fresh air and the sunshine, know what I mean?"
Donald nodded slightly, not really knowing what it was he was nodding to. He'd learned to tune Charlie out.
"Well, whatta you say, Donald, you want to hit the iron?"
The long pause that followed startled Donald and his head shot up. "Hm? Oh, no thanks, Charlie. I just don't feel up to it. And I've got another class in a while." He smiled at his colleague and nodded once gratefully.
"Whatever you say, Donald, but I sure think it would do you a world of good."
Charlie rattled on for a while longer, then bid Donald goodbye. Once he'd left, Donald swallowed the last of his coffee and tossed the cup into a nearby wastebasket. He leaned his head back against the wall, wincing at the stiffness in his neck. His arms felt like lead pipes, and at times his legs seemed to be water balloons, incapable of holding him up. He felt sticky and dirty, even though he had showered that morning. Whenever he moved, it was like being trapped in a movie dream sequence: slow and labored. Even sucking air into his lungs had become a somewhat burdensome task.
He closed his eyes and tried to relax the tension across his shoulders, hoping to doze a little. Just a little.
If only he could get a few nights of solid, uninterrupted sleep, he knew he would feel better. Sleep had become something that Donald longed for in much the same way most men long for beautiful women. He ached for it! But, night after night, it came only long enough to whet his appetite. He'd sleep two or three hours at the most before the nightmare took over. All that blood and those haunting voices ...
"What?" Donald snapped, jerking in his seat so suddenly that the exams on his lap slipped to the floor and scattered in a heap.
"I said, could you jump me?"
Donald blinked his watery eyes as he looked up at Anne Cramer, feeling disoriented.
"Donald, is anything wrong?" she asked, taking a step toward him.
He breathed in deeply and stood up, trying to smile convincingly. "No, no, I'm fine. I was just nodding off. Now, what did you say?"
"I was wondering if I could get a jump from you. My car won't start and I have a dental appointment. I'm parked right next to you," She squinted up at him, tilting her head with concern. Her voice became a whisper: "God, Donald, you look sick."
"So I hear." He bent down and gathered the exams together.
"Anything I can do?"
"Nah, I'm fine." He put the tests down on a small coffee table covered with issues of Time and Psychology Today, reached into his pocket for his car keys, and headed for the door of the lounge. "I don't know if I even have a jumper cable in my car," he muttered through a yawn.
Anne fell into step beside him. "Sure you're okay, Donald?"
"Positive." He smiled. "Want to run a race?" He went through the doorway into the corridor, car keys jangling in his hand.
They walked in silence for a few moments, Anne glancing occasionally at Donald's profile. Finally she said, "I have an idea, Donald. Why don't we have dinner tonight? We could drive up to St. Helena, go to St. George. Or we could just go to my place. I've got a roast, and I could pick up some wine. You look as if you could use a good meal. How does that sound?"
Donald slowed his pace a little and lifted one hand to massage a temple. "Oh, I don't know, Anne. I've got a truckload of book reports to read and I ... well, I'm very tired."
They'd reached the glass doors that led to the parking lot, and Donald was already reaching out to push the door open when Anne lightly touched his elbow and stopped walking. He half turned to her. When she spoke, her voice was barely audible, even though there were only a few other people walking quietly about them.
"Donald ... please?"
He looked down at her sharply angled face, her narrow nose, the fine crinkles around brown eyes that looked out through large, tinted glasses. The glasses had a very sexy, intelligent effect on her face. She had some gray hairs among the shiny black ones, but he thought they added dignity rather than age.
"Please, because I think we should talk. I really do. And I'd ... well, I'd just like you to, you know? We haven't gotten together for ... Have I done anything, Donald?" She was moving her head back and forth nervously, something she did unconsciously, but something with which Donald had become familiar.
"No, Anne, you've done nothing. It's just me. I'm very tired. I haven't been—" He froze, glanced at his wrist, and scowled angrily when he saw that he'd left his watch at home. "God, what time is it?"
"Quarter after one."
"Shit, I've got a class." He quickly handed her his keys. "Here, take my car. I'll be in my office when you get back. Bring the keys by."
"Dinner?" she asked hopefully as he hurried down the hall.
"We'll talk later," he said over his shoulder, then disappeared around the comer.
As she went out to the parking lot, Anne thought that, even when rushed, Donald moved very slowly these days.
* * *
"This kindness will I show—
Go with me to a notary, seal me there
Your single bond; and, in a merry sport
If you pay me not on such a day.
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Express'd in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me."
Teddy Jacobs read the part of Shylock with as much evil as he could muster, but he sounded flat and bored, just like all the other students who had been assigned parts.
Donald sat behind his desk, staring down at his own copy of The Merchant of Venice as if following along with the students. But he never turned the pages. Normally, Donald would stop every few minutes to discuss the play, to make sure the students knew what was going on, to try to instill some enthusiasm in them. Today, though, he hardly heard the droning voices as they read their lines, barely even saw the words on the pages before him: they kept blurring, fading in and out of focus. He reached up and rubbed one of his watery eyes hard, wondering if perhaps he should go over to Anne's. Things hadn't been great between them, and he doubted they would ever be great again, but maybe just being with her, with someone ... maybe if he didn't sleep alone, he might sleep better. Then again, he thought, he might just keep her awake with his nightmare.
Donald considered telling Anne about the nightmare, describing it in detail, just to get it out. But there was a possibility there that he feared: the possibility that she would think he was suffering some sort of breakdown, however minor. Knowing her, she would probably assume that what had happened between them had hit Donald hard and he was just sort of giving up. Letting everything "go to pot," as his brother Bill would say. He wouldn't want her to flatter herself by thinking such a ridiculous thing. But still, he felt he needed to talk with someone about that nightmare, and she was his closest friend.
If it was just a nightmare, it might not be so bad. But there was that feeling that came with it. That goddamned feeling ...
Donald's eyelids were slowly beginning to descend when the bell pealed loudly, almost startling him to his feet with his watery, bloodshot eyes wide open. The students stood in unison, like one organism, and fled out the door. Only one stayed behind and walked over to Donald's desk: Kyle Hubbley.
"TGIF, huh, Mr. Ellis?" Kyle said with a smirk. He held two books and a bulging notebook under his left arm. He slapped them on Donald's desk heavily.
"More like TGVMIF, Kyle."
"Vee For Very Much. Thank God Very Much ..."
Kyle chuckled, looking Donald's face over carefully. One eye squinted just a bit, characteristically. "Are you sick, Mr. Ellis?"
Donald stood up behind his desk, a folder in one hand, the other hand pushing a knuckle into an aching spot in the small of his back. "That seems to be the popular opinion today," he said, walking around the desk and past Kyle.
Kyle picked up his books, as well as the copy of The Merchant of Venice that Donald had left on the desk, then turned to follow his teacher out of the room. "No offense," he said apologetically. He pushed his black-rimmed glasses up on his crooked nose with his free hand.
Donald glanced at the boy, whose smile had collapsed some. He waved a hand casually and said, "No offense taken, Kyle, none taken. Actually, I don't feel well, I just wish it wasn't so obvious."
"Yeah, probably a touch of the flu." He spotted his book in Kyle's hand and chuckled as he reached out and took it. "Thanks," he said, muttering something under his breath about forgetting his head if it weren't screwed on tightly. "So, what have you got planned for the weekend, Kyle?" Donald asked, stopping a moment at a water fountain for a drink. When he stood again, two drops of water clung shakily to the end of his stubbly chin. He clumsily wiped them away with the back of his hand.
"Nothing." The boy stuffed one hand into the pocket of his jeans. "My parents are going to be gone again this weekend."
"Another business trip of your dad's?"
"Nah, I think this one is more of a pleasure trip. Most of them are, in fact. They're going to Denver this time."
They went around a corner and into Donald's office. Donald sat down at his desk with a sigh, as if he had just exerted himself. He tossed the folder and book on the desktop. "So, it's just you and the tube, huh?"
"Yeah." Kyle sat down in the chair facing Donald's desk, making air whoosh out of the green vinyl-covered cushion. "I was wondering."
Donald sat back in his chair and laced his fingers together over his stomach, lazily rubbing his fingertips over the softness of the blue sweater he was wearing. Kyle always started questions that way: "I was wondering." Then there would be a pause and he would tell you what he was wondering.
"I was wondering if you were gonna be busy tonight. I thought maybe I'd rent a couple of movies maybe and bring them over and watch them on your VCR if you didn't mind."
Excerpted from Seductions by Ray Garton. Copyright © 1984 Ray Garton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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