Olivia Beckett was leaning against her ancient navy blue Volvo trying to catch her breath. Today was Tuesday and it was supposed to be Tracy’s turn to pick her up to go to work. Tracy Lowell, her best friend since forever, was the arts and music teacher at the same school where Olivia taught history. They were known throughout the school as Ms. B and Ms. L.
But since her wedding was the weekend after Thanksgiving, they’d decided to each ride on their own to work so that Tracy could come and go from the school to deal with last minute wedding details. It was the first time she was glad she didn’t have her best friend to talk to on her way to the school.
After the second attempt, she got her unsteady hand to hold the car key properly and unlock the door. Throwing her bag on the seat next to her, she turned on the engine praying her car wouldn’t mind the morning’s low temperature and start right away. When the purr of the engine filled the silence, she let out the breath she’d been holding and started backing out from her driveway.
The familiar sights of the streets got her heart rate to slow down and her unsettled nerves to calm down. Clearly, Emilia had been no dream because she was back at her house right at this minute. So now, all she had to do was come up with a logical explanation.
“Oh no, what if I am really sick?”
“You’re perfectly healthy, Ollie.”
Her feet pressed down hard on the brakes while the sound of the screeching tires pierced the stillness of the morning air. Since she always drove to work avoiding any major traffic-congested roads, her daily route included the many neighborhoods next to hers and that belonged to her school’s district. The other moms walking to the bus stops or driving their vans to drop off their kids at school turned to glance at her in a funny way.
It was the early morning hour and light traffic that saved her from having another car slam into hers with her abrupt stop.
“How did you get here?” Olivia whimpered.
Emilia frowned as she wasn’t sure of the answer herself. One minute she’d been standing paralyzed inside Olivia’s house and the next she started to panic because the house owner was leaving for God knew where. Just like yesterday at the hospital, an unseen force had engulfed her in a whirlwind until she found herself seated next to Olivia. As she glanced down, she noticed the other woman’s bag protruding from in between her legs.
“Ah, gross. Could you maybe uhmm……move your bag?”
Olivia risked a sideways glance and saw the upper side of her black leather bag sticking out from Emilia’s thighs, while the bottom half looked like it was part of her lower body. Because it was really an unattractive sight, she grabbed it quickly and threw it to the floor.
Don’t speak to her, maybe if you ignore her she’ll go away. As soon as she finished having that thought, Olivia cursed at herself as she recalled Emilia said she could listen in on whatever was going on inside her head.
“Wow, no need to be so rude about it. It’s not like I enjoy listening to your private thoughts. But I’m afraid until we figure out why I was suddenly standing outside your window, we’ll have to deal with each other.”
“I don’t have time for that right now. I have a job and…..and….I just can’t start having regular conversations with a ghost.”
Somehow she’d started moving again at some point and she could see the familiar outline of the high school’s main entrance. Classes didn’t start until seven thirty but there was always a staff meeting plus their religious fifteen minutes of gossip before the school day began.
As steadily as she could, Olivia parked her car in her designated space and turned to stare at Emilia. Her hair was the same length as hers only the coloring was lighter, like melted caramel. Her eyes were a pale blue, almost gray. She had a pretty looking face, a nice round nose, perfectly defined cheekbones and thin lips. Her skin, despite its newly acquired transparency, was the memory of milky-white. It reminded Olivia of a porcelain doll.
“You work here?”
The rapping on her window had both women jumping out of their seats. Tracy’s beaming smile felt like a sliver of sanity in this crazy morning. Olivia rolled down her window and said hi to her best friend in a tight voice.
“What are you doing here? Come on, new student today, remember?”
“Damn it, I forgot.”
Pulling her bag from the floor, she avoided looking at Emilia and got out from her car as Tracy opened the door for her. Because she really needed it, she gave her friend a tight hug that crushed them both until Tracy pulled back and looked into her eyes.
“Honey, are you okay?”
“I am now. Let’s go.”
“This should be fun. I haven’t stepped foot in high school since I miraculously escaped mine a while ago.”
Olivia tuned out the voice she could only hear and focused on Tracy’s latest gossip and drama with her wedding details. The ones that hadn’t fallen into her role as maid of honor, thank god.
Once inside the teacher’s lounge, she greeted the rest of her colleagues and tried to pay attention as Virginia Falls High School principal, Ms. Rosenberg, went through their morning ritual of new announcements, upcoming parent-teacher meetings, etc. But all Olivia did was fret over Emilia’s massless body standing between her and Tracy.
Startled, she realized Ms. Rosenberg had been talking to her for the past five minutes.
“What? I mean, sorry. I got distracted. You were saying?”
“Right.” Ms. Rosenberg frowned. “Well, I was saying we have a new student coming in today. Her name is Camila Hurst and I believe she will be in both yours and Tracy’s classes during first period, so if any one of you could take Camila to her first class which is history….” Ms. Rosenberg’s gaze landed on Olivia.
The brunette felt a cold sweat run down her spine as she saw Emilia attempting to touch Professor Bell’s toupé. The man was oblivious to the ghost’s hands failing to mess with the stiff mass of hair on top of his head.
“Damn it. I wish I could like blow it away or something. He looks just like my old biology teacher, who by the way flunked me because I refused to dissect a frog.”
“I’ll do it.” Tracy answered, noticing Olivia’s stare glued on Professor Bell. She kicked her under the table and saw her friend’s eyes focus again on the school’s principal.
“Excellent. Well, I’ll let you people gossip about whatever it is you gossip about every morning. Have a good day.”
“Wow, my boss Amanda was a total bitch. We were never allowed to gossip inside the office. Your boss seems like a nice person, though. So, history teacher, ha? Just for the record, I hated my history teacher. I think she never got over the Cold War being over and she was madly in love with Fidel Castro. Once she showed us a picture of him inside her wallet.”
Olivia’s involuntary chuckle had several of her coworkers turning around to look at her. Tracy pulled her to a corner of the teacher’s lounge and shook her shoulders.
“What the hell is wrong with you today? You seem so…..not here. Did you and Noah have a fight?”
“No, we didn’t.” Olivia avoided her friend’s gaze.
“Oh, oh……You had the talk didn’t you? Tell me everything!”
Before Emilia could go wandering about the school and manage to cause any trouble, Olivia picked up her things and headed for the door.
“Later, I have to get ready for class. I’ll see you when you bring the new girl to class, okay?”
Olivia was already out on the main hallway and heading for her classroom, before Tracy could object to being denied the juicy details of her failed conversation with Noah,
Her classroom was at the other end of the hallway. Like any other history classroom, it was filled with maps, charts, and pictures from important American and world history characters. Every year, those images changed as they were part of the first assignment her new students got at the beginning of each year.
They had to pick a historical character and develop a project about him or her during the whole school year. Olivia knew her students saw this project as a piece of cake but there was a twist to it. Apart from choosing their character, they had to choose any event in contemporary history studied during class. They had to create a scenario about the decisions and actions that character would’ve taken if he or she had been alive during that particular moment in history.
It was a way for them to understand how the decisions and actions from important leaders have helped shape their country’s present. And how different these outcomes could’ve been, had someone with a different set of values and thinking process been involved. In the end, some of her students really put a lot of effort into their final project. Some of those projects had even been published by their community’s local newspaper, the Arlington Gazette.
This year there were some familiar faces like George Washington, Lincoln and Napoleon, plus some new additions like Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, John Adams, among others.
Plus, it gave her students an opportunity to reconnect with their objects of study from previous grades, and see them as real people, rather than a picture on their history books. Besides the mandatory research, the kids had their own shot to rewrite an important moment in history. And when it came to making stuff up, teenagers had a natural talent for it.
Olivia opened her bag and took out her books and her course planner to review the topic she was going to teach today. From the corner of her eye, she caught Emilia roaming around the classroom while reading aloud the quotes her students picked out every month and wrote on the small white-boards located at the back of the room.
Only that now, these quotes also appeared on another board, a virtual one. Olivia knew that high school, plus being a teenager and history were not a good combination, so she always tried to keep in tune with the novelties her students were raving about these days. This year she’d started this experiment of opening her class’s first online forum.
Of course, the idea turned out to be very appealing for her students. She would post almost everyday interesting facts about that specific date in history, extra credit assignments, class assignments, upcoming texts, class announcements such as upcoming field trips, parent-teacher meetings, etc. Her students had come up with the idea of writing on their page’s wall quotes from historical characters at the beginning of every month.
At first, the school’s principal had been afraid the students would use the page in an irresponsible way, such as cyber-bullying. There had already been cases of students from other schools who used social networking sites such as Facebook to slander, spread rumors and virtually bully classmates. Luckily for Olivia, that hadn’t been the case. Yet.
That didn’t mean all of her students were perfect and got straight A’s every time. Every once in a while, someone would forget to deliver an assignment on time, or study for an exam, or they would skip class to go see their boyfriend or girlfriend. However, most of the times she was able to show them history wasn’t just a bunch of boring facts.
“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.” Winston Churchill.” Emilia read aloud this month’s quote.
“And tear your hair out while you’re at it.” She added under her breath. More loudly she said to Olivia. “It looks like you really like your job.”
Because they were alone in the classroom and the last thing she wanted was to have this ghost terrorizing her students to get her attention, Olivia answered the same thing she did when anyone else asked her that question.
“I do. My mom is a history teacher as well. I guess I learned how to be a good teacher from her. Some people say it’s a nightmare, you know to be teaching high school. But I just think as long as you don’t treat your students as nightmares, then they can surprise you. And I certainly don’t carry a snapshot of Fidel Castro on my wallet.”
Emilia let out a loud laugh, and leaned to peer over Olivia’s shoulder as she was getting her desk ready for the day. The bubbling of voices from outside signaled the students already filling the hallway. Emilia’s weightless body hovered over to the door. There were several teenagers taking books out and putting stuff inside their lockers, while a group of girls moved their hands animatedly while sharing what to Emilia sounded as the highlights of last night’s Gossip Girl episode.
Her name pulled her back from the door and she faced Olivia’s concerned face.
“Look, I know we’re supposed to deal with us, although technically you’re not real, I mean you can’t be..”
“But I need to ask you not to distract me while I’m in class. It would look weird if the history teacher began chatting to the wall. I promise, once I’m done here we’ll try and figure this out.” Or I’ll go and get myself committed.
Emilia sneered her way when she heard her thought.
“You know I’m going stick around you all day, right?”
That’s what I was afraid of.
When hurt flashed on Emilia’s eyes, Olivia almost reached out for her until this morning’s episode had her retracting her hand.
“Sorry, sorry. I keep forgetting you can listen to me this way, too.” She tapped her head with her finger. “It’s just….well, I don’t usually have to deal with having a ghost following me around.”
“Yeah, try dying, not something I thought I would have to get used to either.”
But the hallway bell rang and soon her students were starting to fill the room and taking their seats. In less than five minutes, the second bell rang indicating all classes had to begin.
Emilia had decided to sit on the edge of Olivia’s desk.
Her brown eyes did a quick scan of the room. No one seemed to notice the strange woman.
Counting to three, she took a deep breath and began today’s lesson. A knock on her door had her turning her head to see Tracy with a nervous-looking girl standing outside her classroom. Before signaling them to come in, she cleared her throat and addressed her students.
“Okay, you guys. Today we’ll have a new student join our class. Now, it would be nice if you could just skip the whole let’s-make-the-new-kid-feel-as-unwelcome-as-possible routine and just remember what it was like for some of you when you joined this class under the same circumstances.”
“You got it Ms. B.” Damon, who had moved from Chicago to Washington earlier this year was the one to answer for the whole class.
With her head, she gestured for Tracy to come inside.
Once Camila Hurst stood awkwardly in front of the whole class, Olivia placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder while Emilia did the same intense staring the rest of her class was doing.
“There’s something about this girl.”
What do you mean?
“I don’t know, it’s strange. Like something about her is why I’m here, too.”
Oh no, don’t tell me she’s….
“Jeez, Olivia lighten up on the whole the end is near paranoia. I seriously doubt I’ve been chosen to be some sort of dead angel or something.”
Remember you promised to be quiet?
“Class, this is Camila Hurst. Camila, these are my students. I’m pretty sure you’ll see them around in the rest of your classes.”
In a barely audible voice, the new girl replied. “Okay.”
“I know this is the very please-earth-swallow-me-whole moment new students dread when I’m supposed to ask you to tell us about you. But we can skip that part and you can just post something on the class’s page tonight when you get home. Don’t worry I’ll give you your access code and password.”
At the mention of the word page, Camila turned around with her eyes wide in surprise and the faintest of smiles touched her lips.
“You have a class page?”
“We most certainly do. After class I’ll give you that info plus the material you’ll need for next week’s exam.”
Olivia had to fight hard to smile as the entire class groaned over their upcoming test.
“Now, just take a seat. From what I saw from your latest school transcript you’ve been reviewing more or less the same topics as us, but if there’s anything you don’t understand just let me know.”
Camila then turned back to face the class, clearly dreading the part where she had to find a seat for herself. Damon’s hand shot up and he called out to her.
“Hey, there’s a seat here.”
Her eyes lighted up and she mumbled. “Thanks.”
Again, her students had proven they could really be more than just the annoying bunch grown-ups expected them to be.
An hour later, as the rest of the students were emptying the classroom, Olivia caught the faintest excited banter from the back where Damon, Elisa and Samantha were rapidly questioning Camila about her old school, friends, boyfriend, music, favorite Gossip Girl character and what not.
“You’re sure you didn’t have a kid or something in your crazy college days?” Emilia stood next to where Olivia was sitting down. The blue eyed woman had felt a weird vibe pulling her towards this new kid that surprise, surprise, she’d also never met in her life.
Because the four remaining students were busy gathering their book bags, Olivia answered in a low whisper. “Of course not. I majored in history, how crazy do you think things got?”
“Okay, you’re right. I just…..maybe you should find out her story.”
“She’s a student not some ex-convict, Emilia.”
Before Emilia could reply, Camila was walking toward both of them. At the door, the kid Emilia had seen raise his hand during class several times, Damon, yelled over to the new kid.
“Hey, Camie so we will save you a seat, okay?”
Olivia’s attention was now on the girl clutching her purple Kipling schoolbag hanging from her left shoulder. Camila’s honey colored eyes danced nervously around as she took a look at the pictures displayed on this part of the classroom.
“I know it might sound lame but I don’t think I’ve ever been so awake for history class before today.”
“I’m happy you liked it. I know high school can be really hard and being the new kid adds extra pressure.”
With her fingers, she found the information she’d put together for Camila yesterday before dinner. It was basically their group’s page info and rules of use, the rules for her class, grading criteria, assignments; the inner working’s of Ms. B’s History class at Virginia Falls High School. Along with that, there was a thicker folder containing this month’s topics for next week’s exam. It was hard not to notice the girl’s expression of alarm as she saw the size of the folder. Anticipating what was probably going on inside her mind, Olivia tried to make her day less overwhelming.
“I know it looks like much but I’m sure you’ve already seen most of it at your old school. The last pages are the instructions for your class project.”
“Oh yeah, Damon sort of mentioned something about it.”
“You can tell me which historical character you decide to talk about by Monday, after Thanksgiving break. Don’t worry, I assign this project at the beginning of the school year but I know almost the entire class waits until the last minute to work on it.”
“Right.” Taking the heavy information with both her arms, Camila began walking towards the door when she stopped and turned around to glance at her new history teacher.
“Thank you for whatever you said to them before I came in. You’re right, being the new kid kinda sucks.”
“You’re welcome. Although I have to warn you, this is still high school so you’ll probably meet some not very forthcoming kids at your other classes.”
“Yeah, I know how it works. Anyway, I…..it was a cool thing to do.”
“Anytime Camie, see you next class.”
Camie smiled as the door closed behind her. Maybe not everything was going to suck about this new place.