By Judy Serrano
The blood was pulsating through my veins and when I looked down, my hands were shaking. All that schooling and relentless training still did not prepare me for what was coming next. What would I say, and how would they react? All the uncertainty was driving me mad. Sometimes I doubted my very own motives. I took this job out of necessity, not out of a passion for my craft and with every passing day, I grew just a little more disheartened.
I am a substitute teacher and this is my very first parent-teacher conference. Sometimes the meager pay that I bring home for this incredulous journey hardly seems worth it. I earned my degree, got my certification and couldn’t find a job as a teacher. So, the principal promised me a teaching position if I would just do this one last thing… be a long-term sub for a high school English class. This has not been my finest hour. The teacher I replaced had already made a mess of things and the students were failing left and right. One of the moms called and demanded to know why her little Michael was failing. Maybe if he did his homework… is of course what I wanted to say, but now I have to face her and tell her why little Michael is my least favorite student in the class.
I got all my papers together and sat back down at my desk when Michael walked through my door. “Michael,” I started. “What are you doing here?”
Just then a very handsome man walked in behind him. He was about 5ft. 10, blond and blue-eyed, wearing faded jeans and a button-down, powder blue sports shirt. When he smiled, my knees went weak and I’m sure my face flushed. “I’m Charles Cross,” he said, putting out his hand to shake mine. “My friends call me Charlie.” He smiled. “You look surprised. We do have an appointment today, don’t we? I hope I didn’t get the date wrong.”
“I’m sorry, I was expecting Michael’s mother,” I told him. “And yes, we have an appointment. I’m Daphne Foster.”
“She was unavailable,” he continued. “So now I guess you’re stuck with me.” He pushed Michael ahead of him so that he would move farther into the room. I’m sure my face was still red.
“I don’t mind,” I told him. Little did he know that my insides were doing summersaults. “Please, sit down.” I motioned to the two chairs that I had strategically positioned in front of my desk.
“I understand that you’re not even really a teacher yet,” was his icebreaker.
“I’m certified,” I replied, trying not to sound too defensive. “I have just been unable to find a full-time position yet. But I assure you, Mr. Cross, I am more than qualified to teach your son’s class.”
“Good to know,” he answered, sitting back and starting to relax. “Michael is generally a good student,” he continued. “But he appears to be carrying a 60 in your class. Tell me what you think the problem is so that I can help him fix it.”
Michael was staring down at the floor with his baseball cap on backwards. I’m sure if he was standing up, we’d both be able to see his boxer shorts, peeking out beneath his sagging pants. “For starters,” I bravely began, “he can lose the baseball cap.” Michael sneered at me. “He’s not allowed to have it on during school hours, yet he always walks through the door with it on his head. This is a continuous waste of my valuable time, since we seem to need to argue about its importance, daily.” Charlie laughed, which frustrated me a bit. “He hasn’t turned in one homework assignment since I’ve been here and he is very disruptive during class.”
“Well, Miss Foster,” he responded in a condescending tone, “sounds to me like you have a problem with my son.”
“Mr. Cross,” I replied, trying to conceal the agitation in my voice, “you are the one with the problem.” He sat up, giving me his full attention. I must admit that I began to feel my blood pressure rise. “I suggest that you get a handle on this boy before I fail him and do not underestimate me, because I will do it.”
“Miss Foster, do you know who I am?” he asked. Michael smiled at this point and looked me square in the eyes.
“I don’t care if you’re Obama’s long lost son. He doesn’t do his work, he fails… pretty simple, really.”
He stood up and motioned for his son to stand. “I suspect that you will change your mind.”
I stood up at that point and put out my hand. “Thank you for coming in to see me, Mr. Cross… Michael.”
“Daphne.” My name glided off his tongue like music. “Such a beautiful name.” He shook my hand. “The pleasure was all mine.”
When he walked out the door, I had to sit back down. My knees were still failing me even though I wasn’t sure if he was threatening me or hitting on me. After my conference, my next class was Michael’s. He came in with no baseball cap, pants pulled up and he swaggered through the door without saying a word. He sat down in the back of the room and said nothing, all through class. When the bell rang I called him over. “Thank you, Michael.”
“My dad…” he started. “Never mind. Just forget I said anything.” He turned and walked out. I was never more anxious to go home. I felt somehow unsafe.
I ran to my car and high-tailed it to my apartment. I dropped my keys twice, trying to get the door unlocked. I felt as though there were eyes on me, weighing me down somehow, and when I looked up, Mr. Cross was standing in the corner of my balcony, right beside my front door.
I was startled and let out some kind of embarrassing noise. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“My son can be a problem… I won’t deny that.”
“Then fix it,” I told him, still very aware that he was uninvited, staring me in the face with contempt.
He laughed at my bravado. “His teachers fear me, as they should.” He walked over to me and I took a step backwards. “You… you are nothing more than an overpaid, substitute teacher. Why can’t you just pass the boy? You have no real, personal investment in him.”
“I have a personal investment in all my students. And I would appreciate it if you didn’t show up at my door, uninvited, Mr. Cross.”
“I will be sure to wait for an invitation, next time, Miss Foster.” He put his hand on my face and ran a finger down the side of my cheek. I shivered. He smiled, knowing how tense he was making me. “Daphne. Such a lovely name.” He walked away and headed down the stairs leaving me speechless and paralyzed.
He was ridiculously handsome and I was attracted to him on so many levels. I’ve never considered myself to be unusually pretty. With my long, dark, straight hair and skinny body, I couldn’t imagine anyone laying awake at night thinking about me. I suppose my dark green eyes are my best feature, or so I’ve been told. This kind of attraction was not something familiar to me and being so close to someone that handsome was something I was not used to at all. Men like that usually keep their distance. The other side of my ego was furious with him for showing up at my door uninvited and touching me that way. And he has a wife. At least I think he does. I guess I should be grateful that he wasn’t inside when I got home.When morning came I drove back to the high school. I unlocked my door only to find the room full of daffodils. I was shocked but knew without even a glance at the card who sent them. I opened the card that had been left with a single daffodil on my desk. Miss Foster, I will be waiting for my invitation.
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