“You’re a bitch.”
I paused, mid-bite of mushroom and black truffle ravioli, and stared up at my boyfriend Trey. For months, I’d been looking forward to having dinner at one of the hottest new restaurants in Manhattan so I could get their renowned mushroom and black truffle ravioli in a delicate cream sauce. I love truffles and any time I see any item on the menu that contains them, I immediately order it. Of course, only the best restaurants in the city have truffle-containing foods. I’d been hoping I’d run into someone I knew here so they could see me having truffles at the hottest new restaurant in Manhattan. But now, not so much.
“Excuse me?” I said, laying down my fork.
“I think we should see other people,” Trey said.
“Excuse me?” I said again.
“You’re a bitch and I want to break up,” Trey said. “What part of this are you having trouble with?”
I folded my arms across my chest and stared at Trey. He was 5’7”, only an inch taller than I was, and had a sizable gut, and he was also balding. This guy should have been kissing my feet every second of the day just for being willing to be seen with him in public, much less allowing him to eat me out. If anyone was supposed to be breaking up with anyone, it should have been me breaking up with him. This was total bullshit.
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “Why am I such a bitch exactly?”
“Come on, Holly,” he said. “You look down on everyone, you always have to get your way, you’re ridiculously high maintenance…”
I was not high maintenance. What does high maintenance even mean? That I like men to buy me flowers? If liking flowers made me high maintenance, then fine, I was high maintenance. Not that Trey ever bought me flowers in the six months we’d been together, except on special occasions.
“You may be hot,” Trey admitted. I smiled, despite being broken up with. “But it’s totally not worth it.”
“Can we at least wait to do this till we finish dinner?”
“No,” Trey said, shaking his head. “I just… I can’t spend another second sitting here, watching you eat your pretentious pasta. I mean, for forty dollars, how come you only get four ravioli? That’s ten dollars per ravioli!”
“You have no sense of class,” I said. I dug my fork back into the ravioli and took another bite. “You’re just doing this because you know I’m completely out of your league.”
Trey threw his sky blue napkin on the table and stood up, showing off his unimpressive frame. For the first time since he started this ridiculous rant, I began to panic. He was actually leaving. I wasn’t sorry he was breaking up with me, but why now? Why here, in Manhattan’s trendiest new restaurant? This was so mortifying.
Then again, maybe there would be some news reporter here who might find the story interesting, and I’d end up in the society pages. I could just see the headline: Beautiful Girl Gets Heart Broken In Style. There would be a photo of me dabbing gently at my eyes with a napkin. Of course, I wouldn’t actually cry, because that would ruin my make-up.
“Goodbye, Holly,” Trey said as he turned away from me to leave. “Enjoy your chocolate ravioli.”
“A truffle is a type of mushroom, you idiot!” I yelled after him. A few people turned to stare at me, but I just huffed a bit and continued to eat my food. This pasta was just as good with or without Trey here. I guessed he’d realize right around when he was getting onto the subway (Trey always took the subway… he had something against cabs) that he had made a huge mistake. I wondered if he’d try to call me and get me to take him back or if he’d be too embarrassed to admit he’d screwed up with the hottest girl he’d ever dated.
I recently got a huge promotion at work and today was my first day. I’m a math teacher and I was transferred to a better school with a higher salary. Trey, in a prime example of his jealous assholery, tried to suggest that the reason I was transferred to another school was because they hated me at my last school. That was absolutely not true. I was the best math teacher on staff at my last school, where a lot of the staff was barely competent. I’m sure they were pretty sad to lose me.
I always loved the first day of school. Not so much as a student, but definitely as a teacher. I especially loved the way the boys looked at me as they entered the classroom, probably psyched to have such an attractive teacher. Especially since I was noticing the girls at this school were not terribly easy on the eyes. You know teenage boys only think about one thing and that S-E-X. I was willing to bet at least a dozen boys were going to be thinking about me when they jerked off tonight.
Some teachers would not have been happy about teaching freshman algebra to a bunch of pimply-faced fourteen year olds, but I actually liked teaching the freshman. By the time you got to the seniors, they were completely checked out and focused on college. But you could still put the fear of god into the little freshmen. They honestly believed I had the power to ruin their lives, and the truth was, I did. This was the first time that everything they did would go on their transcript for college and it was a concept that was pretty frightening to those kids.
“Hello, I’m Ms. Woodrow,” I addressed the kids. I always went by Ms rather than Miss. Once you get out of college, Miss is never appropriate. “Welcome to algebra. It’s going to be a lot of hard work.”
There was a boy in the front row who was eying my breasts. I’d made a shopping trip yesterday to cheer myself up after Trey so rudely walked out on me during dinner, and I’d hit Macy’s and a few other stores to buy myself some new clothes for work. I got a new white blouse from DKNY that hugged the curves of my tits without being work inappropriate, and I was glad to see that my efforts were noticed. Even if it was just by a fourteen year old boy with more grease on his face than a pepperoni pizza.
I passed out their textbooks, fully intending to assign them homework tonight. Some teachers gave the kids a break on the first night, but not me. I heard a collective groan when I started writing the assignment on the board.
“Get used to it,” I told them. “You’re going to have homework every night from now on.”
A boy in the second row leaned in next to his friend and whispered loud enough for me to hear: “What a bitch.”
My head snapped up. I glared at him. “What did you just say?”
The boy looked like he was about to piss in his Levi’s jeans. “Nothing,” he gulped.
“What can I do for you, Holly?”
The principal of the school, Ray Hoppenfeld, was looking at my breasts as he spoke, just like the student forty years his junior had been looking earlier that day. I took this as a good sign, considering I was about to ask him for a favor.
“Well,” I began, crossing my legs and hiking up my skirt about two inches. “I noticed you assigned me to be ‘assistant’ math team coach this year.”
Hoppenfeld nodded. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Why ‘assistant,’ exactly?” I asked. “Why can’t I be the main coach?”
“Well, we already have a coach,” Hoppenfeld explained. “Ben Graham has been coaching math team for years.”
“Right, and you hired ME to inject some new blood into this school.”
“No, I hired you because Mrs. Rhodes retired.”
“I don’t want to be assistant math team coach, Ray.”
“Holly,” Hoppenfeld began patiently. “I understand how you feel, but in your contract, it says he have to help manage an after school club. Now Ben told me he really needs help and I’m sure he’d appreciate you being there. If you don’t want to be assistant math coach, you can be assistant chess team coach.”
“What do you say, Holly?”
I uncrossed my legs and straightened out my skirt. “Fine.”
It wasn’t really like me to compromise, but I wasn’t compromising. Some seventy year old guy had been running the math team for the past million years and it made sense for someone young and new to take over. I’m sure Ben Graham would see things my way and step down once I explained it to him. That or I’d show him my boobs and he’d probably drop dead of a heart attack right on the spot.
I showed up to math team after school the next day with a plan in mind. I didn’t want to be anyone’s assistant, much less an old fogie math teacher. I needed to get Ben Graham to step down as coach. I didn’t think it would take that much convincing—I just had to explain to him how much better I’d be as a coach. Plus I was a woman, which is practically a minority, so that gave me an edge.
I came armed with Graham’s track record. He had done okay as coach, but the kids were losing as many competitions as they won. He clearly wasn’t tough enough on them and hadn’t tapped their true potential. I, on the other hand, knew how to be tough. I’d have those kids taking the state championship by the end of the semester.
It was pretty surprising and impressive how many kids showed up to math team. If I were a 16 year old kid, the last thing I’d want to do at three o’clock was hang around to do math problems twice a week. Then again, most of these kids looked like huge geeks. It wasn’t like they had any hot dates to go on that were occupying their Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
“Hey,” I said to a kid with bright red hair, lots of freckles, and coke-bottle lenses. “Where’s your coach?” Tardiness was another thing I could add to the list of reasons why Ben Graham needed to step down.
“Mr. Graham will be here,” the kid said. “The elevator is all the way at the other end of the school.”
My god, Ben Graham must have been even more ancient and infirm that I had thought. He couldn’t even take the stairs. It was beginning to seem like I could just blow on him real hard and he’d be gone. This guy needed to retire. Like, now.
I whirled around at the sound of my name. For a split second, I didn’t see anyone and I was confused. Then I looked down and there he was: Ben Graham. In a wheelchair.
I was shocked. Shocked. Why hadn’t anyone mentioned this to me? It seemed kind of like important information, you know? All they had to say was, “Hey, the guy you’re working with can’t freaking walk.” A heads up would have been great. Would have helped me avoid this awkward moment.
“Uh, hi,” I said.
He smiled and held out his hand to me. “Nice to meet you. I’m Ben. Ben Graham.”
I took his hand, which was surprisingly rough for the hand of a calculus teacher. There was nothing about Ben Graham that hadn’t surprised me so far though. First of all, he might have been in a wheelchair, but he sure wasn’t old. He was maybe early thirties like me. And actually, he wasn’t bad looking, at least from the waist up, which was definitely the only place I was going to be looking. I also happened to notice, just incidentally, that he had really nice hazel eyes and his smile was incredibly cute.
“What’s wrong?” Ben asked, furrowing his brow at me. “You look perplexed.”
I tried to smile. “I just didn’t expect you to be so…” Shit, how did I complete that sentence? So crippled? So cute? So young? “So young,” I finished.
Ben laughed. “I’m 34, but… um, thanks, I guess.”
This was too weird for words. Usually, I know what to do in any circumstance, but I felt completely awkward right now. “Should I just sit down or something?”
“Whatever you want, Holly,” he said. “It’s your first day, so you can just watch, if you’d like. I’ll introduce you to the kids though, so they get to know you. We’re all pretty nice here.”
As I stood there, a kid walked past Ben and gave him a high five. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. So he was that kind of teacher. If you ever see me high-fiving a kid, you’d know they slipped something in my morning coffee.
“Hi, everyone,” Ben said to the kids. “My name is Mr. Graham for those of you who don’t know me, and I’ll be the math team coach for this year.” Not if I could help it. “I’d also like to introduce you to Ms. Woodrow, who will be helping me out this year.” He winked at me and I waved awkwardly at the room full of students.
With the introductions out of the way, I slipped into a desk near the front and watched Ben Graham in action. One thing I noticed right away was that Ben was nice. I mean, he was REALLY nice. Way too nice, if you asked me, especially for a teacher in a city public high school. He passed out some math problems he’d typed up for the kids, then actually let them volunteer to demonstrate the answers on the board. He didn’t even pick on anyone. Then when they got the answer right, he practically fell all over himself saying, “Good job.” I was not impressed.
I’ll be honest about another thing: I was looking a lot at Ben himself too. I’d never known someone in a wheelchair before. Well, that’s not entirely true. In my last school, there was this special ed program that had some disabled kids in it, and some of them used wheelchairs. Also, there was a kid back when I was in high school who used a wheelchair, although he wasn’t in my class and I never spoke to him. (Actually, nobody did. He was creepy.) So it was awkward that Ben was in a wheelchair. Yet nobody in the classroom seemed to think it was a big deal at all, which I thought was pretty weird.
I didn’t know why he needed a wheelchair. Why do young people need wheelchairs anyway? I had no idea. Cerebral palsy, maybe? Presumably there was something wrong with his legs. I stared at them for a few minutes and didn’t see anything obviously wrong with them. But also, I didn’t notice them moving at all. When most people are sitting, especially high school kids, they shift their legs a lot, crossing and uncrossing and all that. Ben didn’t move his legs at all. At all. The only time he even came close was when he grabbed onto the wheels of his chair and inexplicably lifted his butt into the air for a second. His legs moved then, but mostly because they were dragged along with his weight.
Ben kept the kids for about 45 minutes, then called an end to the session. I still hadn’t figured out why he needed a wheelchair, but it didn’t matter. My resolve to be the new math team coach hadn’t dissolved a bit. Holly Woodrow wasn’t going to be anyone’s assistant.
“So, Holly,” Ben said, as the kids filtered out. “What did you think of your first meeting of the math team?”
I stood up and walked over to him as he erased the chalkboard. At first I considered sitting at the chair by the desk, then thought better of it. I wanted to be standing up when I talked to him. “It was okay,” I said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just okay.” I cleared my throat. “Listen, Mr. Graham…”
“Don’t call me Mr. Graham.”
“I’m sorry, Ben…”
“No,” he said. “I mean, I’ve got a PhD. So you should call me Doctor Graham.”
I stared at him.
He grinned. “Or you could call me Ben.”
I wasn’t amused. I wondered if he really had a PhD. If so, what was it in? Wheelies?
“I’m going to be frank,” I said. “I think you’re doing everything wrong.”
“Everything?” He looked amused. “That’s a lot of things to be doing wrong.”
“You’re too nice to the kids,” I went on, ignoring his sarcasm. “That’s why you’re losing.”
“We’re not losing.”
“Yes, you are.”
Ben set his lips in a straight line. I had actually managed to rile him up a bit. I was proud of myself. “So what do you suggest?”
“I suggest you step down as coach,” I said. “Let me take over.”
Ben burst out laughing. Then he looked at my face and narrowed his eyes. “Wait, you’re serious?”
“But Holly, you just started working here one day ago.”
“I’m fresh blood. That’s what this school needs.”
He actually rolled his eyes at me, the bastard. “Look, Holly, we could share the responsibility of coaching and I’m really willing to consider all your suggestions. But I’m not stepping down.”
“You just don’t like the idea of a woman being in charge of math team.”
Ben shook his head. “Are you really trying to play the minority card with me? Look at me: I’m in a wheelchair. That isn’t going to work.”
I folded my arms and tried to stare him down, but he just started packing up some papers into his briefcase. He placed the briefcase in his lap and looked back up at me. “It was really nice meeting you, Holly. I look forward to working with you in the future.”
It occurred to me that I wasn’t going to convince him of anything right now. But it was going to happen eventually. I just had to be a little underhanded.
To be continued....