Okay here it is… the first two chapters of my novel – What the Heck, Dec?! (In the process of copying and pasting, I was unable to indent at every paragraph. However, the paragraph start and finish is pretty obvious. Whew!)
My father has forever lectured me about financial responsibility. Let me say right here, it is sadly ironic my father spews numerous homilies on responsibility. Daddy Dearest is so far from responsible that he would have to take a plane ride just to catch up with the r in that word. However, his words—his monotonous, redundant words—must have stuck with me when I applied for the teaching position at Noteah North Middle School because I did so without hesitation and even with full knowledge of the town’s reputation. (Hey, a girl’s got to pay her student loans off. It’s the financially responsible thing to do.)
Everyone in the teaching world knows Noteah pays their teachers well—very well, so well, in fact, that I pushed the reputation aside and forged ahead with filling out an application. What’s Noteah’s reputation? Noteah is known for its helicopter parents swooping down to talk above the noise of their child’s best interest. It is considered the Beverly Hills of Illinois, only with churches on every corner and Bible quotes spewing out of residents’ mouths like foam from a rabid animal. And the teachers’ turnover rate at the Noteah schools is higher than a coaching position with the Chicago Cubs.
Don’t get me wrong; I had dreamed of becoming a teacher since I began to capture the attention of my stuffed animals that lined up the stairs of my basement at the early age of eight. (My favorite game ever!) And, on Tuesday, April 28, at 9:15 AM (I’m not a numbers person, yet I am a bit of a savant when it comes to important dates), I was offered a teaching position for the following year.
I wish I could say it was totally dramatic getting my position at Noteah North Middle School, but really it was quite simple. I pulled up to the tan brick building with the pristine kept grounds in my twelve-year-old red Volkswagen Beetle, Red Beauty, which was the name I gave her the minute my Uncle Stan, my childless bachelor uncle, handed over the keys on high school graduation day. I fell instantly in love. Gear heads tell me she’s not considered a classic. What do they know? Red Beauty has hidden class. Okay, so I’m a bit over the top with my love for her. Oh, I know she’s a female. How else would you explain an interior resembling a woman’s purse—with tissues, receipts, and make-up strewn everywhere?
Anyway, the rain was coming down hard the day I went for the interview (April 28). The thunder started about a half hour after I woke up. The drops didn’t stop—not once—during my forty-mile drive from the Southside of Chicago northwest into Noteah. Red Beauty had a leak somewhere on her windshield that none of the eight mechanics I’d taken her to could seem to find (a small, minor wart on her otherwise beautiful self). Because of this tiny flaw, I had a pond on the floor of the passenger’s side. With every corner I took or quick stop I made, the pool of water splashed up on the sides like an ocean wave. In the winter, if the weather changes quickly enough, as it tends to do in Chicago, the water freezes, making a great ice rink for trolls. Classic, right?
I entered into the building wearing a raindrop-dotted black suit that I borrowed from my sister, Helen. Helen is about two sizes smaller than me. Not only is she shorter, but her body allows her to shop in the junior section of stores, even after birthing two kids. My body, since the age of fifteen, has not strayed from the misses section. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not heavy. In fact, I’m pretty normal with my weight around one-hundred-and-fifty pounds, depending on the time of the month or how much chocolate I eat during the week. Therefore, at five-feet-eleven inches tall, I may be even considered on the slim side (let me stress MAY and BE). Much of my weight is distributed between my boobs and hips, thus making it difficult to fit into clothes designed for a middle school girl’s body. So, while I inherited my grandmother’s womanly body (yes, I’m sticking with that description), Helen has my mom’s petite build. Needless to say, the suit was snug on me . . . awkwardly snug. I wore it anyway. I had to wear something other than my college uniform of faded jeans and hoodies. Helen insisted I looked nice, and maybe she was right. I do tend to be hard on myself, but for the record, Helen and Mother Theresa could have been best friends.
When I entered the front office, a bleached-blonde woman sat at her desk behind the main counter. She was talking to a woman in the next desk over with the hair color of burgundy. Do women really think they’re fooling anyone with a color so unnatural? Like someone would say, Hey, your ancestors must come from Burgundy, France. How do I know? Well, look at your hair!
As I went closer to the counter, Bleached-Blonde and Burgundy were so engrossed in a conversation about a reality television show that a gunman couldn’t have distracted them. You have to know the show. It’s the one where people call in their votes for their favorite singer. I tried grabbing the attention of one of these two women. First I let out a soft “excuse me,” followed by a dry cough. Their chat continued . . . oblivious to me. Next I put my large key ring on the counter, hoping the clunk would draw them out of their conversation, but to no avail. Finally, I said in my excited, you-just-won-the-lottery voice, “Excuse me!”
Blonde looked at me, openly annoyed probably because I interrupted her talk with Burgundy. I mean, I get it. The show was exciting, but I was there for an interview, damn it.
“Yeah?” Blonde asked with a look void of any expression other than annoyance.
“Hi. I’m here to see Dr. Morgan.”
Burgundy interrupted, “Dawn, I’ll go tell her.”
“Thanks, Dawn,” Blonde answered.
I did one of those cartoonish whips of the head in a double take. Two Dawns? Later I found out that they both had the same initial for their last names—S. Everyone just called them the Dawns. Clever, I know.
Burgundy Dawn lifted her tall body out of her desk chair. She was about the same height as me, but much thinner. When she came around the counter and began to walk down a short hallway, I glanced and then stared. Burgundy’s legs were small—stubby might have fit their description. All of her height was in her torso, causing her to waddle rather than to walk, and it was fascinating. Only Blonde Dawn’s tsk sound brought me out of my gawk. I looked down at my hands, embarrassed of my stare (but I still stole side glances).
“Are you Martina Karnawski?” Burgundy Dawn asked when she toddled back into the front office.
“Yes. Yes, I am.” I smiled, trying to make an impression. I got nothing.
“Dr. Morgan’s secretary will be right out.”
That was it. No, Take a seat. Would you like anything? That suit is too tight despite what your sister, the saint, might have told you. Or even a Yes, my body could be an attraction at a circus . . . nothing. I nodded with my feet glued by intimidation to the blue-and-gold-speckled carpet. Burgundy sat back down and continued her conversation about the reality show without even a glance my way. Eventually I found the courage to gather up my massive key ring and sit down on one of the chairs across from the counter.
As I continued to eavesdrop on their conversation, the office door opened and the most incredible looking man—no, make that an Adonis—walked in. He stood in the doorway, shaking off the rain that drenched his grey suit. The wetness made the suit cling to his body, including the sculpted muscles of his arms, his legs, and, well, even his crotch. Yes, my eyes went there from the habit I developed of peeking at men’s crotches. It’s not perverse; rather, it’s payback for all the glances my boobs get from men. And it didn’t take much staring. I saw his jewels in one fleeting look.
Gel held down his black hair in an attempt to tame a wild, punk-like haircut. It went with the piercings in his crooked Roman nose and the two in his left ear. All three were devoid of jewelry. His blue eyes were like dark crystals. He was a gorgeous specimen of man.
Adonis went up to the counter. Blonde Dawn had her back to him, talking to Burgundy. As soon as his velvety voice threw out, “Excuse me, ladies,” Blonde jerked her head away from Burgundy, leaving her in her cougar dust. Immediately a smile lit up her face.
She lowered her voice, trying to make it sound husky, “Can I help you?” She sounded more like she was talking into an empty soup can.
“I hope so,” Adonis-man said. “I am a little late for an interview with Dr. Morgan. Can you please tell her I’m here?”
While he talked, I was treated to his back side, and let me tell you, it was mmmm, mmmm, good. He had two apple cheeks tucked nicely under his narrow hips.
“Sure. Your name?” Blonde asked.
“Declan. Declan Reed.”
His delivery was very James Bond-like. He casually draped his arm on the counter and did a half-turn. He looked over at me and smiled. His smile called out two dimples that dug deep within his sculpted cheeks.
Flustered, I threw out, “Martina. Martina Karnawski.”
Okay, first off, I know he didn’t ask me my name. Second, Martina Karnawski just didn’t roll off your tongue like Declan. Declan Reed did. Still, he must have liked it a little bit, because he winked and said to me, “Nice to meet you, Martina. Martina Karnawski.” Either that or he was patronizing me, but I didn’t care. Any attention was attention.
The two Dawns fought each other out the swinging door of the front office, conversation of any reality show long gone. I finally got a full look at Blonde Dawn. She was as short as Burgundy Dawn was tall and was as petite as petite comes. They made an odd-looking pair, and my eyes (as hard as I might try) could not leave them.
Burgundy Dawn won the swinging door fight—or lost, I wasn’t sure—and scurried down the hall to what I presumed was Dr. Morgan’s office.
Blonde Dawn lit up and approached Declan. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
It sounded a bit too Marilyn Monroeish (if Marilyn ever spoke into empty soup cans) and it so didn’t fit her little girl body.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Declan replied and sat down next to me.
All hope drained from Blonde Dawn—along with her color, causing her skin to compete with her bleached-blonde hair. I think the ma’am part was her reality check. With her head hung down, Blonde Dawn returned to her seat as Burgundy Dawn came waddling back. Declan rose to greet her, making me believe chivalry never really died or that it was being reincarnated in one Declan Reed.
“I’m sorry, Declan. Dr. Morgan will not be able to see you now, but her secretary will be with you shortly.” Burgundy Dawn gave off a high-pitched giggle in a nervous, flirtatious sort of way. I checked the windows to make sure she didn’t crack them.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Burgundy Dawn’s face, much like her counterpart Dawn, showed disappointment. She, too, slunk back to her seat.
Sitting back down, Declan looked over at me. “So, why are you here?”
“I have an interview with Dr. Morgan,” I replied.
Declan smiled, revealing those dimples again. “Yeah? Well, isn’t that interesting? I’m here to interview with Dr. Morgan, but I’m late.”
“So I heard you say.” Way to give away my voyeur hand. “Not that I was listening. I mean, I was, but not because I’m interested. Oh, not that you aren’t interesting . . .”
Yeah, at this point I wished a gunman would come through the door and stop my endless rambling. Thank God Declan rescued me from myself.
“Are you a teacher?” He chuckled.
“Almost. I have a week left of graduate school. How about you?”
“Was a teacher . . . or still am, I suppose. But I’m now a social worker.”
“Oh.” This was my opportunity to dig more out of him and all I came up with was oh? First my rambling and then my non-response. I was turning into an idiot right before Adonis Reed’s—Declan Reed’s—beautiful eyes.
Undaunted by my lack of conversation, Declan continued, “What teaching position are you applying for?”
“Sixth grade.” While I answered, a strand of hair escaped the back of my ear and fell across my face. I tucked it back.
“Is that right?” Declan’s smile grew deeper.
I think he thought I was flirting, and maybe I was, just a bit. But, really, my hair is thick and curly. When it rains, especially when it rains, no ears, not even ones the size of Dumbo’s, can hold back my hair.
Silence filled the space between us. All I could hear was the cackling of the two Dawns. To break the silence I asked, “You’re here for a social worker position, then?”
I know, I know. In retrospect, that was an obvious question and did nothing to stop my idiot morphing, but I was desperate to keep gorgeous Declan Bond—I mean Reed—talking to me.
“Yup, that would be me.” He smiled and it caught in his eyes. “You’ve been waiting long?”
I heard a snigger come from one of the Dawns behind the desk. We both looked in their direction. Burgundy turned her back. Blonde’s eyes were on Burgundy and then shot at me and back to Burgundy again. They both erupted in laughter. Maybe it was the karma god paying it back to me for staring at Burgundy’s piano-like legs. Whatever it was, it made me uncomfortable.
“Okay.” I lifted my chin at them and looked over to Declan. “Now, I know I’m in a middle school and I should expect this behavior, but really? Did I miss something?”
“What do you mean?”
“The laughing from Boris and Natasha.”
“Now who’s being mean?” There was seriousness in Declan’s words, but his eyes held laughter.
“You’re right. Do you know why they’re laughing?”
“No.” Declan’s response was slow as he put his tongue to his front teeth.
“Really? Because the way they are going on—”
“Ms. Karnawski, you have something in your teeth.” Declan let out a breath. “Sorry. But you probably would want to know before you went into the interview.”
“Oh, God, yes! Thanks!” I reflected back on the broccoli-egg-white omelet I ate that morning. Protein is always good to get me going in the morning. Well, that and caffeine. “I’m embarrassed.”
“Don’t be. It happens.”
Probably not to you, Adonis, I wanted to say. Horrified, I ran my tongue along the front of my teeth, first the top and then the bottom. I smiled at him. “Is it gone?”
“No.” He lifted his hand and then pulled it back. “You may want to use your fingernail.”
I had no choice but to pick it out. Once I did, I didn’t have a clue what to do with a chunk of broccoli. I looked at it like somehow it would disappear with one mere look from me. Declan took out a handkerchief and handed it over to me.
“Thank you.” I wiped the broccoli off, folded it neatly, and offered it back to him.
“Why don’t you keep it?” He winked at me. “Think of it as a souvenir.”
“Thanks . . . again.” I placed my hand on his forearm and held it there. He felt so strong.
“You’re welcome.” He looked down at his forearm and smiled. I pulled my hand back and placed it on my neck. I’m not so sure if I was embarrassed because I grabbed him, or because I got caught. I put his handkerchief into my purse. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly through my nose.
“You okay . . . Martina Karnawski?” Declan leaned into me. I got a wonderful whiff of his scent. It was not a cologne smell, but rather a mixture of deodorant soap, toothpaste, and rain. It was intoxicating. Heat rose to my cheeks. Declan winked, which probably caused my color to turn crimson.
“Besides being mortified, I’m peachy.”
“Ah, don’t be. I actually was more interested in other things. I hardly noticed.”
As he spoke, his eyes traveled up and down my body, making a port of call at my breasts. Fire scorched my face and I believed I invented a darker shade of crimson right there and then. Declan Reed’s laugh—deep, rich laugh—filled the room and convinced me I did.
The Dawns’ heads snapped back up to us at the sound of his chortle. They giggled in an attempt to get in on our joke. Rude, right? I mean, couldn’t they just let me have this moment? Hadn’t they laughed enough . . . especially at my expense?
An elegant-looking lady appeared at the desk to ease my frustration. She had a soft beauty about her. Her brown hair was cut short in a professional way. Her brown eyes showed kindness and were framed by smile wrinkles. My mother once told me that wrinkles around the eyes were proof of a happy life. If that was the case, this woman was probably ecstatic about hers.
Approaching us, she said, “Hi, my name is Brooke Diamond. I’m Dr. Morgan’s secretary. Dr. Morgan has been detained. Mr. Reed?”
“Declan, please, Ms. Diamond.” Declan stood, allowing the charm to ease out of him like honey out of a pot.
“Mr. Reed, Dr. Morgan won’t be able to see you. Mr. Fintch, our vice-principal, will see you now.”
“Thanks, Ms. Diamond. Lead the way.”
Brooke Diamond smiled, and not in a flirtatious way (the way every other woman in that room had reacted). Her smile was kind and professional. She turned her attention to me.
“Ms. Karnawski, Dr. Morgan will see you in a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Ms. Diamond.”
She answered with a kind smile and nod. Turning to Declan, she said, “Please follow me, Mr. Reed.”
I wasn’t sure what they say in interview situations. I mean, would “break a leg” work like it does in the theater? So, I threw out a feeble “Good luck, Declan” after him.
“Good luck to you as well.” Declan turned and smiled one last time and then continued to follow Brooke down the hallway.
While I watched his gorgeous ass disappear, I hoped with every lustful part of me that Declan Reed and I would be hired to work at Noteah North Middle School. When I heard the Dawns’ cackles echo in the office, I knew I should be careful what I wished for.