Skyler Foxe knew they weren't listening. Tenth graders. The toughest audience in the world and here he was trying to tell them about Julius Caesar.
He soldiered on, hoping that the enthusiastic tone of his voice would impart similar enthusiasm in them. "Shakespeare gave us less history and more melodrama," he said. "Of course, we must remember the times in which these plays were first performed. There wasn't a lot of room for subtlety in the sixteenth century." He pushed his platinum blond bangs off his forehead and raised his gray eyes once again to row on row of blank faces. He wasn't much older than they were. A room full of fifteen-year-olds versus one eager twenty-five-year old. He remembered being bored by his instructors when he was their age--and that gave him pause. Being new at this, he hoped he wasn't one of those.
All in all, they were a good bunch of kids. A little preoccupied by today's technology, perhaps. He was constantly plucking earbuds from ears and frowning at visible iPods and cell phones while they were texting their friends or playing games. Likely the only reading they actually did was text messages, checking out their friends' Facebook page, and the instructions for setting up the next Xbox.
None of you gives a rat's ass about Shakespeare, do you? Nod if you're still alive.
Hey. Xbox. There's an idea.
"Look at it this way," he said, suddenly inspired. "Picture Julius as Arthas in Warcraft and he was betrayed by Brutus, his sword of power." Several heads popped up at that. Aha. Alive after all. He walked between the rows of desks, students nodding at the reference. Spiked-haired Alex Ryan looked up only momentarily, his large square face almost animated, but he soon returned to the sullen and methodical destruction of his desk with his pen. Skyler plucked the pen from his hand as he strolled by, gaining an even more sullen expression and a grunt from the boy.
Even after a month of teaching, it was still a weird feeling to be standing in the front of a classroom where only seven years earlier, he sat as a student. James Polk High, his alma mater, seemed smaller somehow. But familiar, like a comfortable old shirt. He remembered his old English teachers fondly; two of them were still teaching at the school. How strange to be their peer now and call them by their first names, albeit awkwardly.
A poster of a Shakespeare festival covered a crack in the wall by the door that Skyler remembered well from his day. An earthquake in his junior year had caused the old plaster to open and in nine years, no one had repaired it. He liked his classroom all the more for it.
Skyler lifted his paperback copy of the Folger Library edition. "So here was old Julius, surrounded by what he thought were his loyal supporters. Instead, he was lying on the steps of the Senate covered in his own blood from multiple stab wounds. And he looks up into the face of his best friend and says--holy shit!"
The class perked immediately. Skyler's eye caught the goings on out the window. A bright October sun sheened off the black asphalt parking lot below...where someone was beating the crap out of his new VW Bug with a baseball bat.
"Shit! I mean...um...I'll...I'll be right back." He tossed the book toward his desk and raced down the stairs, grabbed the rail to make the tight turn, and ran hell for leather for the door. Down the front steps and he was soon in the parking lot heading toward the maniac with the bat.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!" he screamed.
The man looked up, his large dark eyes filled with tears. "So now you notice me!" His midriff top was a shimmery magenta, something like club wear and certainly not for high school parking lots. His trousers, too, were skin tight and made of an exotic fabric reminiscent of shark skin.
"Rodolfo! Jesus Christ!" The headlights were a shambles of broken glitter on the pavement, the windshield a spiderweb of cracks. The door, once a smooth expanse of white painted metal, was now dented from the battering. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
Rodolfo threw the bat to the ground. It rang with the pure sound of a Louisville Slugger before it rolled away under an SUV. "I called you and I called you," whined Rodolfo, his accent growing thicker. His long hair whispered over his shoulders. "And I get nothing but your answering machine. So fuck you!"
"But I--we just--" Skyler slid his gaze toward the windows where faces of students as well as faculty were beginning to gather. Fuck. He dropped his voice. "Jesus, Rodolfo. Don't out me here. I'm a teacher, for Christ sake. I'll lose my job!"
The dark-haired man jutted out his lower lip and raised his chin. His arms clasped over his bright shirt. He looked just like Antonio Banderas and was probably about the same age. Two reasons why Skyler picked him up in the first place. "Then why didn't you call me back?"
Skyler glanced helplessly back to the window before taking Rodolfo's arm and steering him behind the battered Bug. "Look, we had a good time for a few nights but now it's over, okay? I never promised you anything."
"Oh yeah? That's not how I remember it, Sky-ler."
"Well that's the way it was... And now you broke my fucking car!"
"Hmpf. A car is nothing compared to the heart."
"I'm going to rip yours out," Skyler said between clenched teeth. "And my car isn't nothing. Do you know how long I saved up for a down payment?"
"I repeat. Fuck. You."
"No. Fuck you!" Skyler knew he was on the brink of hysterics. He was already on his toes, jabbing an accusatory finger into the taller man's face. He reined himself in and stood squarely. "You are not going to stalk me," he whispered harshly. "If you leave now I won't call the police. But I'd better never hear from you again!"
Rodolfo glared. His eyes misted again and he blinked it away. "Okay. You win, heartless bastard."
"I'm not a heartless bastard," he said, lowering his voice again. "It's just...it was just... Oh hell. Just go, all right?"
"I will go." He punched a finger into the air. "But I will not be forgotten." With one last smoldering glare, he turned on his heel and swiftly left the parking lot.
"Crazy lunatic bastard," whispered Skyler, watching him go. The adrenalin dribbled away and a sick feeling replaced it. He turned to his car. His beautiful car. Should he call Sid? No, a detective didn't deal with shit like this. Better to call his insurance company. He circled the car again, shaking his head. "Oh man!" Crazy, crazy bastard. That was the last time he picked up a foreigner. Well. Maybe. He hadn't seemed so crazy that night last week. He'd just looked hot in those low-slung pants and that furry, tanned chest. Skyler had liked his accent, too. Rodolfo said he was from Ecuador or Honduras or something. It seemed exotic. And he was great in bed.
Skyler glanced at the window. The students were gone but some of the adults remained.
Uh oh. How much had they heard? He didn't need this now. He never had any intention of revealing his sexual orientation to his colleagues. It was bad enough being a gay high school teacher, but a gay high school teacher in southern California's Bible belt? The Inland Empire? Not the sort of place one wants to be caught with one's pants down...um... Well. He certainly couldn't afford to lose his job. And if he lost it because of his sexuality he may never get another one. Teaching was his whole life.
He sighed and looked at his watch. His class was just about over. Might as well go to the office and see if he could salvage his job and his car.
He trudged up the front steps, passing the security guard who wore a perplexed look on his face. Security? Where the hell had he been? He couldn't stop himself from looking back over his shoulder toward his battered Bug. Dammit, dammit, dammit! He pushed opened the front doors to the main building and came face to face with Mr. Wesley Sherman, the principal.
"Mr. Foxe," said Sherman tightly. With his white, short-sleeved dress shirt and boring tie the principal was something out of the 1960s. All he needed was a crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses. Skyler never thought of him as just "Wesley Sherman" or "Wesley" or even "Sherman." Mister Sherman commanded a tight-assed sort of respect whether he really deserved it or not. "Is everything all right?"
No, Mr. Sherman. Some maniacal trick just bashed my fucking car! "I guess so. I need to make a call."
"You can use my office." Which was principal-speak for "Get your ass in there and explain yourself."
Skyler grabbed the phone from his pocket, flipped it open, and began punching numbers as he walked. He was trying to think of a plausible explanation to give to the insurance company when the agent picked up. "Hi...um, yes. This is Skyler Foxe. I've had an accident. Well...not so much an accident as an incident. Um...my car was bashed. Beaten. Baseball bat."
Skyler waited. By now he'd crossed into Sherman's office where the principal was making his way behind his desk and lowering himself into his high-backed chair. He actually steepled his fingers while watching Skyler and Skyler helplessly conjured up the image of the evil Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. He turned away so he wouldn't giggle hysterically.
Funny how he'd never been in the principal's office during his entire high school career, but now he seemed to be a frequent visitor for some reason or other.
The agent came back on. "Okay. So were there any witnesses?"
Only the entire student body and staff. "Yes."
"Did you know the assailant?"
Okay, touchy here. Should he lie? "Not well. Just through a friend." Liar, liar.
"Is he still present?"
"No. He's gone."
"Mr. Foxe, can you give me the assailant's name and address?"
"I only know his first name--" which was true "--but I don't know his address--" which was not.
"It would help a great deal if the police could--"
"Oh! No police!"
"A police report would facilitate--"
"But there are witnesses. Am I going to have trouble getting it fixed?"
"Is it drivable?"
"Well it looks terrible."
"But is it drivable?"
Skyler sighed. "Yes."
"Okay. Here's an address to a claim center. You'll have to take it there for an evaluation as soon as possible. They'll give you further instructions from there. Got a pen handy?" He gave Skyler the information and he wrote it down on a pad from Sherman's desk.
"Got it. Is that all?"
"For now. Sorry about this, Mr. Foxe."
"Not half as sorry as I am." He closed the call, snapped shut the phone, and stuffed it back in his pocket. When he turned, Mr. Sherman was still looking at him through his fingers.
"Well, Mr. Foxe. That was quite...something."
"Yeah. Something." What did Sherman want him to say?
"You seemed acquainted with that man."
They were acquainted all right. Rodolfo's dick was thoroughly acquainted with Skyler's ass. But then Skyler remembered that his conversation with the insurance agent was well within Sherman's hearing. "Just someone I barely know. A friend of a friend."
Skyler shrugged. "He's just nuts."
"Fruits and nuts," Sherman said under his breath. He picked up his pen and drummed it on the desk.
Skyler was sure the principal was talking about Rodolfo, not him, so he swallowed what he wanted to say. But Mr. Sherman was already talking again, his voice stretching higher with agitation. "People doing whatever the heck they want all over town. It's a disgrace, really. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned family values?" Mr. Sherman drummed mercilessly on his desk. "We just can't have that sort of thing on school grounds. What if a parent was here? What if the students were out there? People like that..." The pen drummed harder.
"You're acting as if it's my fault, Mr. Sherman. I can assure you--"
He shook his head. "No, I certainly didn't mean that, Mr. Foxe. It's just something that shouldn't happen on school grounds. When the district hears about it I don't know what I'm going to tell them. At least as soon as the police arrive--"
"Wait. Police? I don't want police." Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Foxe, but when I witness a violent assault like that on school property, I take no chances. I called the police immediately."
Oh fuck. Great. It was one thing to lie to the insurance company but another thing entirely to lie to the cops. Maybe he should call Sid after all.
He waited with Mr. Sherman, trying not to bite his nails. Wasn't this day over yet? The cops would probably arrive just at the same time classes were let out, and wouldn't you know... The bell rang and the doors released streams of students. Skyler glanced out the window just as a patrol car pulled into the staff parking lot. The staff lot was only divided from the student lot by a chain link fence and students had slowed or stopped to gawk at the goings on. Skyler didn't wait for Sherman. He hurried out to the lot and stood by his car, hating what had happened to it and hating Rodolfo even more.
The policeman opened the black and white's door and stepped out. Even as agitated as he was, Skyler couldn't stop the usual perusal of the nearly six foot tall cop in his tight black shirt and trousers. The cop's eyes were hidden behind Raybans but his short-cropped hair framed his face nicely; square jaw, straight nose, kissable lips. His name plate said "Hooper." He was packing, too, and not just a gun.
"Hi," said Skyler, feeling a little displaced.
"Are you the one with the car?" asked the officer.
"Yes, sir. That's me." He looked sorrowfully at the Bug. With its sagging headlight rim hanging from a wire, the car wore a forlorn expression.
"Did you see what happened?"
"Your name, sir?"
Skyler whipped around. He hadn't noticed the sedan pull up behind the squad car. Sidney was coming toward him. He seldom saw her in her "detective get-up," as he was fond of calling it; skirt, suit jacket, stockings, heels. But there she was in full regalia. Her dark hair hung to her shoulders in long ringlets and her pretty, longish face showed more than business-like concern. She caught up to him in front of the annoyed cop and at the same time flashed him her badge. "Are you all right? I heard there was a disturbance at that school so I came right over-- Oh no. Not your car! Are you okay?"
Skyler suddenly choked up. He could keep his emotions at bay, especially with righteous indignation roiling inside him, but the adrenalin rush was ebbing and with a friend beside him, he suddenly felt unaccountably vulnerable. He said nothing and merely gestured toward the car.
"What happened?" she asked.
Skyler looked over his shoulder at the handsome cop and took her arm, steering her away from him. "A hook-up from last week," he whispered. "He didn't like that I didn't call him back."
Sidney suddenly switched to Mother Hen mode. Angry Mother Hen. "Goddammit, Skyler. You've got to settle down. Quit this tricking shit."
"Who are you, my mother? I don't need a lecture." He gestured for her to lower her voice. "I just need to get this cop out of here. I was damn near outed. I can't lose my job."
"They can't fire you for your sexual orientation. How many times do I have to say that?" She glanced back at the school just as Mr. Sherman descended the steps.
Skyler moaned. "Oh great." But Sidney was already talking to the hot officer. He was nodding and flipped closed his notebook, nodded some more, gave her a friendly salute, and got back into his car. Mr. Sherman approached just as the black and white pulled away.
"What's going on?" he said to Skyler and glared at Sidney.
"I'm Detective Sidney Feldman," she said in her official voice. "And you are--?"
"I'm the school principal, Wesley Sherman."
"Oh. Mr. Sherman. Look, everything seems to be under control. Mr. Foxe here gave me his statement and I can assure you that the security of the school is not compromised."
"Oh. Well. Okay. Will I be getting a copy of the report?"
Sidney blinked. "There's no need for that. This is a personal issue between Mr. Foxe and his insurance company."
"But it happened on school property. I'll probably have to make a report to the school district office--"
"It's just routine, Mr. Sherman. One of those things. Could have happened anywhere. But you do what you have to do." She looked around. "Well, I'm done here."
Sherman had a lost sort of expression as he surveyed the car and the students loitering by the fence. When he noticed them it seemed to give him a new sense of purpose and he shot forward. "Gentlemen, ladies. Time to go. The bell has rung. Move along, now."
Skyler grabbed Sidney's arm and mouthed "thank you." Sidney stood for a moment longer and stared up the wide steps to the school's main entrance. "It's been a while," she said.
"You haven't been back since graduation?"
She shook her head. "How about you? Getting used to it yet?"
"It's still kind of weird. But it's working out. Except for this," and he gestured to his car.
"It will be okay." She caught sight of Sherman looking their way and she quickly took her leave.
Skyler motioned a "call me" gesture and gave his car one last look before climbing back up the school steps to get his things.
Up the stairs he turned the corner and just passed over the threshold of his empty classroom when he was startled by the sight of Alex Ryan vandalizing his desk. Alex looked up and made a dive for the door, but Skyler nabbed him by the collar. "Sit down, Mr. Ryan." He shoved him hard into his desk chair and spun the boy toward him. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Ooh, Mr. Foxe. You shouldn't be swearing at a student, dude."
"I'll do what I damn well like!" He was on the verge of losing it. He knew it. He pulled himself back, took a deep breath, and stepped away from the boy. He glared down at him instead. "I just had a very unpleasant encounter in the parking lot. And I come back to my classroom and find you trying to break into my desk. Looking for money, Alex? Think again. I'm a brand new teacher. Not much money to be had, dude."
Alex scowled and folded his arms over his chest.
Skyler stared at him for a moment before he sighed and sat on the edge of the desk. "What am I going to do with you, Alex? Everything you do is destructive. Why do you do that?"
Alex shrugged, offering no more than that. He glared out the window.
"I want to help you get through whatever it is that's happening, but I can't do a thing if you don't say anything. I mean, do you really think detention is the answer here?"
"No. So why don't you let me go. I didn't do nothin'."
"'Anything'. You didn't do 'anything.'"
"That's what I said!"
Skyler studied Alex's sullen expression, the thick, dark brows that always seemed to be drawn together in a terse line, his palpable attitude waiting to target some other unfortunate. Something was eating at the boy, but what was it? He realized in that instant that it wasn't the good students he got into teaching for, but the troubled ones, the Alex Ryans of the world.
"I'll let you go, Alex, on one condition. You give me a five-page report tomorrow on who betrayed Julius Caesar and why."
"What? That's harsh, Mr. Foxe!"
"Not as harsh as a ten-page report." He tilted his head toward the door. "Go on, Alex. I'll see you tomorrow."
The boy muttered a few rough epithets which Skyler chose to ignore and shuffled out. Skyler blew out a breath and slumped against the desk.
Sometimes being a teacher was murder.