Michael Hurst was having a meeting in his office near Georgetown early in the morning. While he pretended to listen to his team briefing him on the development of the newest project he was in charge of overseeing – the renovation of some residential apartments five minutes away from The Capitol- his mind was busy thinking about Olivia.
Despite her downright refusal to see him again, Michael wasn’t one to let things go as easily. Even if that meant taking his pride and just handing it over to some woman so she could step on it, again.
Regardless, after much tossing and turning last night, he’d decided he would test his theory. He knew finding the woman again would be like searching a needle in a haystack. How many teachers were there in the D.C. area? Not to mention the other schools in Arlington, Alexandria, the list went on and on. If he hadn’t been nearly catatonic, he would’ve asked her what she taught or her last name.
“So, of course, the initial project cost scared our client a little bit, but after we explained the necessity of the materials we needed to use, they just……”
Michael tuned out what he had already read in an email sent to him yesterday, after their team’s meeting with their client.
Then, the gears inside his mind began grinding together until an idea popped into his head. Apart from learning that his niece’s new favorite teacher’s first name was the same as the woman’s from the whole deodorant situation, Michael recalled Camie mentioned something about joining Ms. B’s book club which happened to meet later today in the afternoon, after class.
Certainly it wouldn’t hurt to check, right?
From under the table, he grabbed his Blackberry and began texting his adorable niece, Camila.
“Hey, kiddo, at what time does your book club wrap up?”
Not expecting an answer for a while, Michael only shook his head as he felt his phone vibrate when Camie’s answer came back.
“Five thirty or six, why?”
“I’ll pick you up, okay? I’ll call your dad and tell him.”
Not able to help himself he texted back:
“Aren’t you supposed to be in class, right now?”
Her answer made him chuckle causing several of his coworkers to eye him suspiciously.
“Aren’t u supposed to be @ work?”
“Busted. Okay, here’s the deal. I won’t tell your dad, if you don’t tell my mom.”
“See you later, love ya kiddo.”
“Luv u 2, uncle M. C u later.”
Michael knew it was a long shot, but at least if Ms. B turned out to be not the Olivia he was looking for, then he only had a thousand or more teachers to go.
Olivia was arranging the chairs from her classroom in a circle, while she eyed Emilia’s slumped form on the chair she had saved for her in one corner of the room. Sadly, the brief moment of bonding the women had enjoyed last night had flown out the window as soon as this day had begun.
The minute Emilia had joined Olivia, as she had stood like she always did, listening to her kitchen’s radio while eating her traditional bowl of Rice Krispies, the ghost had begun insisting that her mission before crossing over was to convince her very much alive friend that Noah didn’t want to marry her and that she was wasting time waiting for him.
Of course, that had ensued in Olivia slamming the front door on her way to work. Her brooding time had been cut short when Emilia’s weightless body materialized right next to her on the passenger seat. Neither woman spoke to each other as the history teacher went through her daily routine of meeting with the school’s principal for special announcements, then her gossip time with Tracy and the rest of the teachers. When it had been time for Olivia’s first class to start, the other woman had just dragged her feet over to the classroom, sulking.
But now, after the school day was over and everyone was getting ready to hit the roads or take a flight to meet with family for Thanksgiving tomorrow, Olivia wondered if this silent treatment was more Emilia’s way of plotting her ridiculous plan of causing trouble with Noah, or because the woman was just angry at her.
Olivia was more than determined no to let her own foul temper dampen her book club meeting.
Apart from teaching, reading was one of Julia’s passions. It hadn’t been enough that she had had to devour all those history books for both her own education and to prepare her lessons. Olivia also enjoyed dipping her brain into a variety of genres outside the all too big bubble of world history. One of her favorites right now was young adult fiction, even though she was far from being a young adult herself.
As a way to make the teenagers at her high school more prone to reading, she had started a book club in partnership with Ms. Bell, the English teacher. At first, the club’s members were only hers and Ms. Bell’s freshmen students, but as word got around that their reading assignments included titles such as Eragon, Brisingr, the entire Harry Potter collection, classics such as The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies, as well as some new series teens were so into nowadays such as The Vampire Diaries, House of Night series, Twilight series, Graceling and so on, their membership had now expanded to include some senior students as well.
They got together once a month, generally from four to five-thirty, although sometimes their discussions extended to past six in the evening. It gave her an enormous surge of pride to see how much her kids had become engaged with this project of hers.
Her sole mission had been to make these kids read more. Even if what they read was considered by the rest of the literature world as light and non educational reading, it was nothing short of amazing how the members of the book club could come up with mind blowing opinions about the stories they read. And when all of this was done in a non-stressful atmosphere, instead of slacking, her students made sure they always came to their meeting fully prepared and fully read.
Before Olivia could say something to break the awkward silence between Emilia and her, the door swung open and Olivia’s students, plus some other older kids, began filling the room and taking a seat.
Several kids waved at her or greeted her with a friendly “Hi, Ms. B,” while they took out their copies of this meeting’s book. Just when she thought everyone was here, the door opened up again and Camila Hurst came in along with Damon, Elisa and Samantha. Apparently, the new kid had quickly found some good friends with these three kids. Olivia felt happy for her.
“Camie, I’m glad you decided to join us.” Olivia flicked a sideways glance to her ghost still brooding at her chair on the corner.
You still get that vibe with Camie?
“Oh, so now you want to hear my opinion?”
Emilia, not now. A simple yes or no will do.
“Then fine, yes.”
Any idea why?
How long are you planning on being pissed off at me?
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you just start with you geek club already?” The ghost snapped at Olivia.
Startled, Olivia shook her head and realized, mortified, that Camie had been telling her about why she had decided to come today.
“Sorry. You were saying?”
“Oh, that Damon said I should give the book club a try, plus I totally love reading.”
Camie followed Ms. B’s gaze to the empty chair and frowned. It was as if her history teacher had been looking intently at something only she could see.
“Oh, okay. Like I said, I’m glad. Have you read today’s book?”
Camie showed her the paperback copy uncle Michael had given her for her birthday last year. Her dad had already promised to buy her the next book, as a bribe for not fussing too much about her new school.
“You’ve read it?”
“Yep, twice, actually.” Camie blushed.
“Excellent. Well,” she gestured to the few chairs available in the circle, “grab a seat so we can get started.”
When everyone was finally seated, Olivia picked up her own paperback copy from her desk and started their session.
The two hours passed away in a blink. Everyone was eager to share their thoughts on each of the characters, their motives, the plot, and their favorite moments throughout the story. It never ceased to fascinate Olivia how the same story could produce such different reactions and cause such a wide variety of impressions in every kid.
One of the main rules about this club, besides reading the assigned book, was that there was no need to impress the teacher because there really wasn’t one. On the contrary, during this hour, hour and a half, she was just Olivia or Ms. B minus the history teacher title, and these high school kids saw her as just one of them. It made it easier for them to feel confident and express their opinions during each session.
Of course, the whole extra credit bonus didn’t hurt their enthusiasm either.
“Remember,” Olivia spoke to her students while they were getting ready to leave, “Fragile Eternity is next, but I need your suggestions for the next two sessions after that since our next meeting will be after the holidays. So, we will do two books instead of one. Post your suggestions on our page and the two with the most votes win. Don’t forget, suggestions must be posted by Friday of next week at the latest. I’ll post the winners the following Tuesday. Camie, just ask Damon or Elisa to give you that info, okay?”
The three kids shook their heads at the same time.
The rest of the book club’s members mumbled an “‘Kay Ms. B.”
The noise of chairs being dragged back to their proper place filled the room until it was only Olivia, Camie and Emilia left in the classroom.
“I have to admit it, I thought I was going to die a second time listening to a bunch of kids talk about a book, but it was fun. You just never know what the hell is going on inside their heads until they open their mouths. It turns out most of them have several brilliant things to say. I’m already looking forward to the next meeting. It was like reading the book but way cooler because I didn’t have to actually read it.” Emilia spoke, looking out the window as kids got into cars and drove away.
I….yeah, I suppose.
“What? Your mind sort of skipped a bit, what?” She turned around, started at the history teacher.
Well, don’t take it the wrong way, but…you’re sure you’re still gonna be here for the next meeting?
“Ah…..yes well, if you’d listen to me and start doing something about Noah and Michael, then I would probably answer no. But seeing as you are as stubborn as a rock, then, chances are will be roomies for a very long time.”
Not this again…….
“Olivia, why can’t you just accept the fact that I may be right?”
Because, it’s ridiculous. Eavesdropping on one conversation doesn’t make you an expert on my relationship with Noah.
“Well no, but listening to the same lame excuses Sam used to give me, sort of makes me believe Noah might be just like him.”
“Ms. B?” Camie stood right in front of her teacher. Ms. B had that faraway look she’d had before their meeting started, but this time it seemed she was having some kind of internal fight with herself. Her brows were furrowed and her mouth was pressed in a thin line. Just like Camie’s mother used to, when she would go nuts about her room not being cleaned up.
This discussion is soo not over, Emilia.
“Fine by me. Just so you know, I can be as stubborn as you.”
May the best nutcase win.
“Are you okay?” Camie’s tone was filled with concern and just a hint of unease.
Olivia waited a beat before giving her brightest of smiles and saying.
“Yes. I just have a lot on my mind lately. Mind if I walk out with you?”
“Nope.” Camie shrugged.
They sat outside on one of the benches facing the parking lot. Olivia offered Camie to stay with her until her uncle came by to pick her up. Also, she had to wait for Noah to come pick her up, too. Earlier today, Tracy had come running into her classroom muttering incoherently about flowers and killing someone. Since her fiancé had driven her to school today, she needed a car. Olivia threw the keys at her, afraid the mad look that shone from her friend’s eyes might make her hurt the person nearest her. No wonder they called them bridezillas.
One day she would be just like that planning her wedding to Noah. Though that idea didn’t seem like a very real possibility right now.
“So, I read what you posted on the class’s wall last night. I’m sorry about your parents’ divorce.”
With a slight shrug of her shoulders, Camila tucked her hair behind her ears and was glad her parents’ divorce didn’t hurt as much as it had at the beginning.
“Thanks. I know they are both very sad about it but…..I guess they didn’t love each other anymore.”
“I suppose that happens sometimes. What’s important is that they love you very much.”
“You sound just like my uncle Michael when he talked to me about it.”
“He’s the one you’re living with, right?”
“Yep. He offered my dad his house so we could move in. He’s really fun to be with. He’s just all goofy and funny and likes to pick on me, you know in a good way. Just like a big brother.”
Olivia didn’t miss the love and total awe this kid felt toward her uncle. Besides talking about her life with her parents, Camie had also written on and on about her dear uncle Michael on her post.
“Wait a minute, did she say her uncle’s name is Michael?”
Not now, Emilia. This kid already suspects there’s something seriously wrong with me. I can’t just “go away” so I can talk with you, too.
“Oh, would you just chill? Every teenager thinks there’s something seriously wrong with every grown up they have contact with. I wonder if…”
“If it’s just a coincidence this uncle has the same name as…….
Creepy, fake, deodorant guy?
“I was going to go for hot, interesting and totally-into-you-guy, but yeah, sure.”
Nonsense, I don’t think he is the only Michael living in Arlington.
Fortunately, Camie seemed to be engrossed in her own thoughts, unaware her favorite history teacher had, once again, absented herself from the present to have a conversation with the ghost next to her.
“And how’s this school treating you?”
“Fine. I have tryouts next week for the volleyball team. I wanted to join the soccer team but coach Roberts told me I should wait for next year’s tryouts.”
“Wow, volleyball. Me, I can’t play any sport at all.”
This had Camie turning to stare at Olivia with an amused expression.
“Well, let’s just say my eye-hand coordination sucks. I tend to either close my eyes when the ball comes my way or instead of kicking the ball, I end up falling flat on my face.”
“Ah, I wish I could see that.” Emilia said.
The sound of a car coming to a halt had the three of them staring at the shadowed driver’s silhouette behind the wheel. When the door opened, the young girl next to her let a squeal of delight and went off to greet her uncle. Pulling him by the hand, Camie urged his uncle to get down and meet her teacher. His feet hit the pavement and Olivia had to fight hard not to grab her bag and run as fast as she could, as soon as she recognized him.
Camie was walking back with the same man whom her teacher had accused yesterday of being nothing more than a sad, pathetic loser trying to get lucky at the supermarket.
Oh no, no, no, no. Olivia was utterly mortified.
“This is way better than watch you try and play soccer.” Emilia sneered.
Indeed, Olivia could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment. The memory of his dinner invitation and her accusations were making her head spin dangerously. Although, she suspected the latter had more to do with her own hormones going into overdrive as those warm and intense honey colored eyes stayed on her.
Much to her dismay, uncle Michael was indeed, creepy, fake deodorant guy.