Get in here, Aidan. You are so not going to believe this.
Aidan jumps at Celia’s voice inside her head. Sharp with excitement, it stabs through all Aidan’s standard mental defenses. Aidan glances at the reflection of the stalls behind her. Damn it, Celia, Aidan shot back. We discussed boundaries.
Celia ignores her. Freshen up and get your butt in here.
An image shimmers in Aidan’s head…black hair, green eyes– Aidan cuts her cousin off mid-pic sharing. If he’s that great, don’t ruin the surprise.
Aidan shoves lip gloss back into her purse, grabs books off the sink, and strides into the hall. A couple of lockers slam and hurried steps chase the echoes as stragglers race to class. She glances at her phone. Less than a minute before the tardy bell rings.
She pushes through the door at the back of the classroom and heads for her seat behind Celia. Filled with the chatter of students, rustles of notebooks and thumps of large literature books hitting the desks, the room looks no different from any other day.
Aidan glances around, not seeing any new faces in the seats around them. “Where is he?” she whispers to the back of Celia’s dark head.
“Up there,” Celia answers softly and gestures to the front.
The teacher scratches out an assignment on the board. With his back to the class, Aidan sees no more than a trim figure and longish black hair. Certainly, it is not the very pregnant and familiar Mrs. Roman.
Aidan shrugs and pulls the literature text and notebook from her stack before she dumps the rest beneath her desk. What is so great about a sub?
You can’t see his face yet, but get a load of that tight ass.
Celia! Aidan glances up briefly then digs into her purse for a pen.
For crap’s sake, Aidan! You’re not a nun. Show some appreciation for something God clearly spent time on.
Fine. For crap’s sake.
The bell rings. For a long time after, Aidan isn’t sure at that moment if it is the tardy bell or a warning siren in her head.
Aidan looks up and meets brilliant green eyes that spark with recognition.
Chills run down her spine.
The hair on the back of her neck prickles.
Goosebumps erupt over her entire body.
Her fingers and toes tingle as if they are losing circulation.
Her scalp crawls.
A faint sense of dizziness followed by nausea pours over her.
For the briefest of movements, she is in the middle of a horror movie just before the monster reaches out from the shadows to grab her.
She shivers and refocuses on the man at the front of the class.
Straight black hair falls across his forehead. Long fingers rake through the dark length carelessly and settle strands away from his eyes in a gesture of long habit. The entire class ceases its random noises abruptly as he smiles at them…at her. There is the barest hint of a dimple in his left cheek. Her heart skips. The term “breathtakingly handsome,” means something real.
A picture flashes in her mind: a white shirt drenched in blood so fresh the copper tang burns in her throat. A drop rolls off the top button, leaving it clean and shining before soaking into the red wetness below.
She opens her eyes.
“Done?” Her own voice echoes in her head, fades to nothing.
He is still looking at her, a genuine smile spread across his face. His eyes narrow in a flicker she would not have seen had she blinked again. He knows something she does not.
His gaze drifts elsewhere, no longer holding hers.
She takes a deep steadying breath. She orders her fingers to unclench. She watches her right hand release the pen. It clatters on the desk and rolls to the floor. Her left hand stings. She looks at it. Blood beads in moon-shaped imprints left by her nails. From her purse, she grabs the handkerchief her father shoves at her every morning.
Celia picks the pen up from the floor and turns, “Are you all right?”
“Sure.” Aidan forces a smile.
Celia arches a brow.
“I’m fine.” Aidan insists. “I just think I’ve seen him before. Maybe I dreamed about him or something.”
Celia grins. “Hell, every girl here has dreamed about him.”
The man at the chalkboard steps behind the desk and pulls out the seating chart. Celia whips around at the sound of her name. Aidan focuses on the lit book on her desk to avoid his eyes until he calls her name. Then he introduces himself as Victor Morgan.
He continues speaking. His melodic, unidentifiable accent informs the class of Mrs. Roman’s new baby boy and something about cards and gifts. Somewhere between “born on Friday night” and “Mrs. Roman will be gone indefinitely,” Aidan loses sense of his words. She watches him, watches the unnatural grace, watches the gestures as he speaks, and watches his eyes now pointedly avoiding hers.
When he finishes, he sits behind the desk, leans back and props worn boots on the edge. He flips through the teacher’s copy of their text until finding the page he wants he begins to read.
A long moment later, Aidan forces her eyes to the blackboard. She jots the assignment in her notebook, then, in the margin, she carefully spells out Victor Morgan.
She looks up at him again, unable to stop herself. She absorbs every detail of him: his jet-black hair, his green plaid shirt, his faded jeans and his worn boots. She closes her eyes and tries to remember the image she’d seen before and finds only darkness.
She almost gasps aloud when Celia’s voice bursts through the clouds in her head.
Well. What do you think?
Him! God bless, Aidan. No wonder you don’t date. If the opposite sex never senses your appreciation, of course they’re not going to be interested.
What’s wrong with you? He’s a teacher!
So. Think about what he can teach us.
I’d like to see someone try to teach you.
Celia giggles softly and sends detailed pictures into Aidan’s brain.
You can stop now.
Oh, don’t be such a prude.
Educate me later.
Sure, you’re driving me home.
Aidan shakes her head and flips open her textbook. Her eyes skim over the poem, once, twice. She can’t focus. Her eyes keep drifting to the front of the classroom.
Clearly, the man knows her. Try as she might, she can’t place him. Her head starts to pound with the effort. She sighs with relief when the dismissal bell finally rings.
Even though she rushes to gather her things, she is one of the last to leave. On her way to the door, her heel catches on James’ backpack. Her books thud to the floor as she catches herself on the nearest desk. She kneels to pick them up, James not far behind to help her.
Slender hands that aren’t James’ joins hers. Her heart skips. Victor Morgan is so close she smells him: soap, fresh laundry, expensive cologne and something else, something spicy and primal. She looks up. He smiles softly and hands her a book and few of the scattered papers. His fingers brush hers.
Nausea rolls in her stomach. Her knees tremble. This is not an attraction.
“Aidan is it?”
Is he really pretending not to know her?
She opens her mouth.
“Your name? It’s Aidan?” he asks.
“Yes,” she manages feebly and takes with gratitude the books James hands her.
“For a girl, I think. I’m told it’s a family name.” Her voice actually cracks.
“It’s lovely.” He stands with her and glances into the hall at the river of students. “You’d better hurry.”
“Yes. I mean, thank you,” she stammers. She leaves a little too quickly right on James’ heels and almost pushes him into Celia waiting just beyond the door.
James says nothing, merely uses the momentum to hug Celia brusquely and walks away with a smile.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” her cousin asks.
“You’re holding a handkerchief.”
Aidan looks down and finds that Celia is right. Her fingers curl tight around what is now a dense wad of cotton. She studies the three crescents on her palm. They are red and puffy, but no longer bleeding. There are drops of blood on the white cloth. Drops that unsettle her in their brightness and make her quickly hide the cloth away in the depths of her purse so that Celia won’t see them.
“What did you do to yourself?”
“Paper cut. It’s nothing.” Quickly, Aidan folds her fingers and drops her hand to her side before Celia can see the lie. She can’t remember ever lying to Celia before. Nor does she understand why she does now.
Celia peers into her face. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not lately.” They walk to the locker they share on this floor. “Besides, if I remember right, you were the one afraid.”
Celia pushes her aside and twists the combination lock. “I’ll thank you not to remember that. Or at least remember that we were only six,” she says as she trades their lit books for those needed for the next class, different because they don’t share the last block of the day. “See ya after class.”