I felt like I was being haunted by an unrelenting ghost. Ophelia was in every sound I made from the moment I saw her last. The click of my bag as I packed up for the day, the lock of my classroom door, the start of my engine, the clink of my fork when I ate dinner, the water gushing when I brushed my teeth, the silence as I laid to rest, and all of that in reverse order as I started my day today. I was counting down the hours until I would see her again. Her melody was stuck on repeat in my head and I needed to hear her song again, to get her out of my heart.
I was fearful that this was becoming an obsession. That I was a on the verge of a psychotic break-down. How could I feel this drawn to another person, a student, a young woman when I hardy new her at all? Julie told me all about Ophelia, but until yesterday she was just another student. A name on my attendance list.
When she walked into my fifth period ethnomusicology class I literally let out an audible sigh of relief. She was wearing a white cotton button-up dress that hung loosely over her delicate frame. Over her dress was yellow cardigan that contrasted heavily with the dark braids lining her shoulders. I watched her as she made her way to the grand piano in the far left corner of the room. As she begun to settle in I wondered if she sat there because she liked to hide from her classmates or if she wanted to sit there because that is were she would be working during her independent study. I loved that her last two class periods were in my classroom. It meant I had at least two hours a day to enjoy her. Even thinking these things made me feel like a creep but I couldn’t help it. The heart is a tricky beast and it draws itself to the most unlikely subjects.
For the majority of my day I taught different levels of band and composition which is why I had the large music room to teach my only lecture class. The class was a two hour Monday through Friday study of musical influences and cultures. It was great that I had Ophelia with me everyday after lunch, though I was surprised to, that Ophelia wasn’t in any of my other classes. Especially my advanced composition class but I was sure she had her reasons. The sad reality was that I wanted to know what those reasons were. I had the intense desire to know everything about her. How I was going to get any of that information without abusing my power of authority or coming across as a pervert would be tricky. Through, Ophelia was really close with Julie so maybe friendship wasn’t so far out of reach? Or was being a male teacher an automatic no-friendship rule? What was I saying to myself? I turned to face my whiteboard because I needed to get a hold of myself and my wayward thoughts.
I was starting to freak myself out. I have never felt this way about a student or a young woman before and I never once foresaw this as an issue. Not once, but here I was attracted to a seventeen-year-old. The reality of this made me feel like a monster.
I labored through my lecture doing my best not to look at Ophelia but when I did she would glance up at me in return. She seemed to have some built in radar to let her know I was going to look over at her. It looked as if she was taking a generous amount of notes hunched over on the piano bench. Every time she looked up she had to adjust her glasses. Which, of course, made me smile every time because it was impossibly adorable.
When my lecture ended and the bell sounded I was surprised at how quickly time flew by. No other class period seemed to end this quickly. I made my way over to the right side of the room were my desk sat. I had my room arranged so that my office area was to the right of the entry way directly opposite to the grand piano. I didn’t know that when I was setting up my room the week before school that I was setting myself up for the perfect view of Ophelia. I was eager to watch her work again, to hear her creations, her voice…
Though, I promised myself I wouldn’t get overly involved like I did yesterday. My hand grazed my thigh remembering how close we sat on that bench and how deeply I wanted to be that close to her again.
After the classroom emptied I walked over to her as causally as possible. She was already hard at work. Pounding a random note, quickly scratching out her idea, biting her lip, and then humming out her new lyric. The process was entertaining to watch. Especially because it was Tuesday and she didn’t have her independent study period today. I was grateful that she would spend a lot of time here after school to practice.
“You don’t miss a beat do you?” I asked unable to hold back my smile. She just looked up at me and shrugged, quickly getting back to work. I knew I was interrupting her but I didn’t care, I waited all day for a little piece of her. “I am surprised that you aren’t in any of my other classes. Isn’t your focus songwriting and composition?” I added.
She looked up at me, tucking her pencil behind her ear and said simply, “I already took them.”
“All of them?” I leaned back a little when I asked because of the shock.
“Yes, all of them.” Ophelia looked up at me with an amused look on her face, forcing me to beam at her.
“What about all your core classes? How did you find the time?” I asked confused yet still wearing a slapstick smile on my face.
“I took my core classes in summer school so I could take more electives. I wanted to get as much out of this school as possible because it isn’t cheap for me to be here. I’m a scholarship kid as you probably already know, but there is still a million other added costs.” Ophelia lifted one side of her lip upward and shrugged slightly, like it was the most natural thing in the world to spend all of high school studying.
“Wow that’s impressive.” I said because it was the truth. She gave me a half-smile and let out a modest laugh. “Well let me know if you need anything.” I said making my way back to my desk. I didn’t want the conversation to end but I could tell that she didn’t want anymore distractions. I haven’t been teaching very long but she was already the most focused student I had ever had. I was still reeling from her confession about attending summer school voluntarily. I admired that she wanted as much out of this school as possible. She wasn’t taking anything for granted and that spoke volumes about who she was as a person.
The next hour flew by as I prepared for tomorrows classes. Hearing Ophelia work was the perfect background noise. She wasn’t distracting me from my tasks, instead her focus kept me focused. Her noises and her overall presence made me feel peaceful. All the crap that was going in my life melted away when she was near me. How was that possible? Their was an unmistakable calmness in my heart. A calmness that hadn’t been their two days ago. She was humming and playing a slow melody with her eyes closed completely unaware that I was watching her. Ophelia was lost in her own world and I found myself getting lost inside her world too.
A knock sounded at my door and I looked up to find Steven, a senior in my advanced band class, walking in. He was my lead percussionist and a very talented young man. “Hello, Steven. What can I do for you?” I asked trying to pull myself together. I was across the room and working at my desk so nothing seemed out of the ordinary but I had no idea what my face looked like. Or if he saw me staring at her.
“Oh hey, O’C!” He sang out seemingly unaware, which made me let out a small sigh of relief. It was only the second day of school yet students had already taken to calling me O’C. Apparently O’Connor was way too long winded. “I’m actually here for Ophelia.” He added smiling her way but she hadn’t even noticed he entered the room, let alone that we were having a conversation. She was still lost in her own creative bubble.
It made sense that Ophelia had a boyfriend but it still caused a sting of sharp pain in my chest. A seventeen year old girl had a boyfriend.
Students dated all the time.
So why in the hell did I feel like staking claim or starting some wild-west style brawl. It was juvenile thinking and it worried me. I was seriously becoming the sick pervert type you see on the late night news. I could hear the tagline now, ‘Another older teacher seduces a young student.’
“Ophelia, your boyfriend is here!” I hollered over her music trying to shake off my immature thoughts. Though claiming him as her boyfriend when I didn’t know that for a fact was also immature. There was something seriously wrong with me.
She looked up, pink filling her checks, “Oh, Steven isn’t my boyfriend.”
“Not yet anyways.” Steven said giving her an quick wink and laughing.
Her blush only deepened and she let out a small chuckle. I was hugely relieved that she was single. I hadn’t realized it until now but I was holding my breath.
“Steven is my dance partner.” She explained even though she didn’t have too.
“Dance?” I asked arching my brow, I didn’t know her all that well but she didn’t seem to be the dancing type.
“Stupid P.E. requirement.” She said rolling her eyes. “Sucks , because I had to drop voice seminar for it but Ms. Jung said I could graduate in December if got this class out of my way.”
“Thats great Ophelia! Are you actually going to do it?” Steven asked.
“I think so, but I have to get permission from my Nana first.” Her Nana? Was she raised by her grandparents? I wondered what the story was there. Everything about her made me so damn curious.
“I can help you with your voice anytime you’re in here, Ophelia. Don’t hesitate to ask.” When she gave a me a confused look I added, “Because of having to drop voice seminar.” Suddenly my offer sounded too eager, like a vulture coming down on its prey.
“Oh, thats so great of you, Mr. O’Connor. Thank you.” She gave me her quick disappearing smile.
If she graduated in December did that mean I only had to wait a couple months before I could pursue her? Would she be eighteen by then? My heart raced at the thought. I was making myself sick but if I felt this strongly for her when I had only known her for a few short hours I knew that I could really fall for her. I had to get over the fact that this was sick. Because if I waited until she wasn’t my student and eighteen would that make me a creep? I didn’t think so. Sure the, seven-year age gap would still be there but I could get over it if she could.
What was I thinking? I needed to get this out my head. The back and forth whiplash was making my head spin. The right thing to do would be to encourage her to pursue someone her own age. “Steven, can you sing?” I asked suddenly.
“Sure can.” He said shoving his hands in his pockets and rocking on his feet. I shot Ophelia a look that said, ask him.
She cleared her throat, her face was freckled with pink. Man, she embarrassed easily. “I need someone to sing a duet with me for the album I’m working on, for my senior project…are you interested in trying out? Not that it is an audition…or anything… I would just want to make sure we sounded good together before I decided anything final…” Even her rambling was cute.
“Sure.” Steven said causally walking over to her. He picked up her music and she began to play. Once he picked it up, which was surprisingly fast, he sung along with her. Even I had to admit that their voices sounded great together. I may have been biased, but I thought our voices sounded a million times better but Steven and her sounded good too.
I could tell by her smile that she agreed. Her eyes moved towards me and our eyes locked together. I didn’t look away, even though I should have. We shared a moment then, as she sang with Steven. Her eyes gleaming a certain sadness. As if wishing I was the one singing with her. I could call it my imagination but for some reason I knew that this what she was trying to communicate.
Ophelia looked up at Steven, “Your hired, that is, if you want the job?” She said taking a nervous nibble of her lower lip.
Steven grinned mischievously, “Hell yeah!”
Mission accomplished, I thought.
“So where are we going?” Steven asked as he guided me out of Mr. O’Connor’s class room. Or as he called him “O’C.”
I had the strangest feeling that Mr. O’Connor was trying to set me up with Steven. Why had he called him my boyfriend? Wasn’t that a little odd for a teacher to assume? Maybe not, and I was just reading way too much into things. There was this moment, however, when I was singing with Steven when I looked at Mr. O’Connor wishing he was singing with me. Steven could sing surprisingly well and our voices meshed. But you couldn’t feel the same ache that I could feel when I sang with Mr. O’Connor. There was a madness and love that stretched across each note when Mr. O’Connor and I sang together yesterday. It was as close to perfection as I had ever felt. It felt like shooting up heroine for the first time and getting the ultimate high. I needed more, wanted more, craved more… but that was impossible because he was my teacher.
Not that I knew what shooting up heroine was like, heck I didn’t even know if you shot up heroine or if it was inhaled, but I had feeling that getting high was just like singing with Mr. O’Connor.
“Can we go to your house?” I asked Steven, pretty sure Nana would freak out if I brought a boy home. Not in a bad way but in a very surprised, what is Ophelia doing with a boy kind of way.
Thirty minutes later I was in a small two bedroom apartment. It was full of photos of Steven, floor to ceiling, ages zero to seventeen. The furniture was well loved and the place smelled like they frequently burned sage. It was messy in that well lived in sort of way.
“Cute, place.” I said for the lack of something better to say.
Steven chuckled, “Hardy, but its been my home since before I can remember. Thank God, for rent control. Can I get you something to drink?” He waved me into the kitchen, which was a small hall-like space separated from the living room only by a breakfast bar.
“Water if fine.” I said taking a seat one of the bar stools. I felt very nervous being here. It wasn’t like I’ve never been alone with a boy before but, somehow, with Steven it felt different. Maybe it was because he seemed to flirt with me every chance he got and I was kind of liking the attention.
Steven, sat down beside me putting a glass of water in front of me. “So how should we honor each other?” He said leaning into my face. Right then a door smacked open and a woman wearing neon-green scrubs came bustling into the kitchen. I startled because I hadn’t realized anyone else was here. The woman walked right up to Steven and wrapped her arm around his back, kissing the top of his head. She looked young enough to be is sister so I was surprised by the actions of what was clearly his mother.
“Honey, I didn’t know you knew any girls! Nice to meet you, I’m Suzanna.” She exclaimed extending her hand out to mine.
“Nice to met you Suzanna, I’m Ophelia.” I said doing my best smile and taking her hand. Nana always was on my case about manners.
“Well, aren’t you sweet! I wish I could stay but I am on my way to work. Bye sweetie, I’ll talk to you tomorrow!” She said walking towards the door. “And don’t forget about our hot date on Saturday! Love you!” She added as she slammed the door.
“Don’t mind my mom, she is big on mother-son dates.” Steven said clearly embarrassed.
“She seems very nice,” I said taking a sip of my water. Part of me was envious of Steven in that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time my mom wanted to spend time with me. “What does she do?” I put my water back on the counter.
“She is a night nurse for Hospice. She works Monday through Thursday and then has the weekends off. Which is why she is big on our dates because it’s the only time she sees me.” He said shrugging.
“She seems so young.” I blurted out.
“Yeah, she had me when she was only fifteen.”
“Making her only thirty-two,” I said doing quick math.
Steven clapped, “Ladies and gentlemen she can do math!” I went to give him a light shove but hit him more aggressively then planned and he ended up stumbling off the stool. I starting laughing because I couldn’t believe I just shoved him off his stool like I was some she-man who worked out a lot. Which was ironic considering we were partners in a dance class neither of us wanted to take but had to because we both somehow bailed on our P.E. credits. Steven stood up laughing too and patted his stomach, “Are you hungry?” I nodded and he moved back into the kitchen.
Steven starting to un-thaw some ground beef he took out of the freezer and then got out a cutting board and a knife. “Are you ok with taco salad?”
“Yes, that would be great, thank you.”
“You’re so polite, can you help cut the vegetables?”
I nodded and reached for the knife, “So you cook?”
“Yeah, I am not a big fan of frozen food, plus it’s expensive.” He said taking the meat out of the microwave and tossing it in a frying pan.
“I know what you mean, preservatives kill.”
Steven laughed, “Yeah and I’m on scholarship. I would feel bad wasting more of my mom’s money when she works hard enough. Besides, this way she gets the leftovers and I get to impress the ladies.”
This time I laughed and I wondered for a brief moment if Mr. O’Connor liked to cook too. “Hmmm, what was it your mom said about being surprised that you knew girls?” I teased and then gave myself a pat of the back for being able to flirt.
“Did you just pat yourself on the back?” Steven asking laughing harder.
Frick nuggets, he saw that! I just shrugged and changed the subject, “So how are we going to honor each other?”
It was nearly eight o’clock by the time I entered the house. The place was eerily quiet as usual and lit only in the various greens, blues, and reds that our electronics made. I kicked off my shoes, tossed my sports jacket over the couch, and dropped my keys and bag on the kitchen counter.
“How is she doing?” I asked the hospice nurse, Suzanna, who was sitting at my mothers kitchen table eating some sort of baked chicken. It smelled delicious. I walked over to turn the kitchen light on. Why was she eating in the dark?
“About the same as yesterday. She is still incoherent and confused. I got her to fall asleep about an hour ago. She did ask for you though.” She said giving me a sad smile.
My mother was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, aka kidney cancer, four years ago. She went though every type of treatment and last year she went into remission. Four months ago however, she starting coughing up blood. I flew home to take her to her appointment with her oncologist. Only to find that the cancer had come back with a vengeance.
When it came back it spread throughout most of her vital organs. There wasn’t much we could do except watch and wait. She was the real reason I came back to my hometown. Someone needed to be with her when she went and I was all she had. We lost my dad, her husband, to heart failure my senior year of high school and unfortunately I was the only child they ever had.
Suzanna had been working with my mother for that last four months and stayed with her every night. She was a pretty woman with chestnut hair and big blue eyes and she couldn’t have been that much older then myself.
“I’m afraid she isn’t going to make it much longer.” Suzanna said gently. I opened the fridge mostly to hide my face from her. I was swallowing back tears. Loosing my mother was killing me. I hated that I had a meeting with Principal Bain after school, which made me late on getting my paperwork done. Which in turn, made me late getting home.
The good news was that Principal wanted to let me know that there may be a permanent position available for me next year if I played my cards right filling in for Julie.
The bad news was that I always tried to come home before mother fell asleep. It was my way of comforting her. Slamming the fridge shut I reached into the cabinet above it and pulled out the whiskey.
I poured myself a class and shot it down straight, letting the sweet burn wash out my thoughts of my dying mother and my super-charged emotions about Ophelia. Damn Ophelia, what are you doing to me? I gripped hard on the kitchen counter and looked down letting out a small groan before pouring myself another glass and allowing myself feel the sting once again. Sighing, I put the whisky away because no amount of alcohol was going to drown out thoughts of Ophelia.
Opening the fridge again I pulled out the bread and some cheese, “I am going to make myself a grilled cheese, do you want one?” Grilled cheese was one of the very few dishes I knew how to make. I was a terrible cook.
Suzanna chuckled and waved her fork full of chicken in front of her face, “No I’m good.” Right, she was already eating. I’m an idiot.
“Do you have plans Saturday? I was thinking it would be nice to get out of the house and do something fun.” I asked completely out of left field. I wasn’t sure where that came from but I knew we had another nurse for the weekends.
“I have a date with my son, we are going to play ice hockey. But, I’m free on Sunday.” She said grinning.
“You have a son?” She didn’t seem old enough to have a son that played ice hockey.
“Yeah, he is a senior over at Willows Edge. Isn’t that where you teach?”
“Yes, it is. What is his name maybe I know him?” I asked spreading the cheese over my bread.
“Of course Steven, he is very talented. I have him in my advanced level band class.”
“He is talented, I’m very proud of him.” She beamed with pride before continuing, “So what do you want to do on Sunday?”
I flipped my sandwich over in the griddle. What had I been thinking? I don’t want to date any body let alone a students mom. Was this a crappy attempt at trying to date an adult woman? Now I felt like an even bigger creep going after a slighter older woman to not think about going after a slightly younger woman.
“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked you about your plans, you probably can’t see clients socially anyway.” I said trying to get out of my stupidity politely.
“Technically your mom is my client so it’s really not an issue. Unless it bothers you?” She asked with hope in her eyes.
It had probably been a long time since someone asked her out, ”Great, I’ll pick you up at seven.” I gave her my best smile. What have I done?
By the time I got home Nana was already in bed, she was going to bed earlier and earlier these days. Which was fine with me because I really wanted to finish my homework and go to bed early. I missed valuable practice time today having to do that project with Steven. I would have to bribe Paris tomorrow to get into the music room early in the morning. Which meant I had to whip out my none-famous but equally delicious brownies tonight.
Four hours later my teeth were brushed, homework was done, and my brownies were made. I laid in my bed thinking about the emerald in Mr. O’Connor’s eyes and his wonderland smile. I probably should have been thinking about Steven and the great afternoon we had together, but I wasn’t. I wanted to know everything about Mr. O’Connor. What was his first and middle names? How old was he? Too old for me to date even after I turned eighteen? I won’t lie, part of me liked the idea of graduating early so I could entertain the idea of dating him. However absurd that was. I wondered about him in every possible way. I missed him with an ache so severe it was hard to breathe. It was like I was being drawn to him. An unexplainable feeling, a raw, unquenchable need, which was foolish because I am sure someone like him wouldn’t be interested in me. A lowly school-girl with a crush.
Scrolling down through my contact list I found Paris’ name and clicked the call button.
“Yes,” He answered gruffly.
“I’m here, can you let me in?” He hung up without a word. Five minutes later he was at the door unlocking it. I was grateful too because at five am it was cold and dark outside.
Once inside I handed him the plate of brownies which he smelled loudly. I tried not to make a face. I didn’t do this often but I buttered him up freshman year so I could get into the school way before it opened if necessary. Nana, doesn’t like too much noise in the house and I didn’t have anything to practice on except my dads old guitar anyway. Practice time was vital. I have managed to make it through all my school on borrowed instruments and technology and I dreaded the day I didn’t have all of this at my disposal. Paris only nodded before walking me down to the music room and letting me inside. I told him thank you and went inside to settle myself.
At some point, Mr. O’Connor walked in and starting watching me. When I noticed him, I let out a loud scream of fright. I had been so absorbed in practice, that seeing another human being took me by such surprise that it was hard for me to place who he was for a moment.
“Easy tiger, it’s just me,” He said with a laugh.
I put my hand over my heart trying to calm myself, “Sorry I didn’t see you come in.”
“Obviously,” he said putting his stuff down at his desk and started walking towards me.
“How long have you been in here?” I asked wondering how long he had been spying on me and why.
“Long enough.” He answered somewhat shyly before taking a seat beside me. We were thigh to thigh again and goodness it felt good. It was like he finally got rid of the inner chill I’ve had since he touched me last. “How long have you been in here?” He asked arching that brow of his.
“I came in a little after five,” I said stifling a yawn.
“How did you get in here?” He asked full of suspicion.
“I bribed Paris.”
“You mean the guy who looks like he could be a professional wrestler is named Paris?”
“Yes.” I said laughing and then he laughed, a beautiful, beautiful laugh.
“How did you bribe him?”
I leaned over and grabbed the large cellophane wrapped brownie I set aside just for him and handed it to him, “This is your bribe. Thanks, for letting me use you classroom.”
He took the brownie and let out a hearty laugh, “You’re something else, Ophelia Micheals.”
What did that mean? “What’s your first name?” I asked randomly but I couldn’t wait a moment longer. I stayed up half the night obsessing over it.
“Curious,” I said, “It’s good to know I’m not the only one with an odd-ball name.”
“You think my name is odd?”
“I guess so.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-five, when do you turn eighteen?”
“You’re something else, Ophelia Micheals,” He said again.
A silence dragged on between as we stared at each other. I wanted to know what this conversation really meant because it obvious we were trying to ask each other something without asking it. Without crossing any lines. The tension between us was surreal.
We were having the type of conversation that was completely unfiltered. After my dad died, I was taken to therapy because my mom said I forgot how to communicate effectively. Not that she was around enough to know. Nana and Pop both agreed it would be good for me to go though, so I went.
Sometimes I went by myself and other times I went with my brother, Leo. When I went with Leo, the therapist told us to take turns asking each other questions. We had to answer those questions with the first answer that come to our minds. No filters just raw truth. It reminded me the type of conversation Mr. O’Conner and were having now.
The warning bell sounded for first period and we both jumped back. I have been known to be lost in my own world on numerous occasions but never once had I been known to be completely lost in someone else entirely.
I gathered my things and stood up. Mr. O’Connor stayed still watching me, his gaze was both electrifying and alarming. Was I reading too much into this? Was I just a hopeless girl with a crush or was he feeling gravity pull him towards me as much as I felt it pulling me towards him.
“See you later, Mr. O’Connor.” I said as I made was towards the door walking backwards, not ready to look away from him.
His eyes locked with mine, holding me in a steel-motion freeze, “You can call me Archer,” He let out a sharp gasp of air, “When its just you and me.”
It was like something unspoken shifted between us, something fable and exotic. Life-changing, even, I swallowed as I made way to the door.
“Oh, and Ophelia?”
“Yes.” I clutched my messenger bag in an effort to compose myself.
“I have the keys to the building too, in case you ever need to come in early again. You can just let me know and I’ll meet you here.”
“At five am? No one will be here that early.”
“You will.” His voice was rough around the edges, his eyes a dangerous whisper.
My heart become a snare drum inside my chest, a wild rat-a-tat-tat-tat. “Paris, will miss the brownies.” I said adjusting my glasses.
“I never said I didn’t want your brownies.” He said showcasing his huge grin.
I walked out of the classroom and straight to first period English. That moment was so perfect I didn’t want to ruin it with another word.
I blatantly crossed the line. There was no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I crossed the line and she knew it. I wasn’t sure what was worse my dead give-away that I was interested when I asked when she would turn eighteen or if it was when I told her to call me Archer. Either way what happened, that heat, that intensity, that connection…should not have happened. And it was my fault that it had.
I rubbed my temples and let out a deep semi-angry breath. It wasn’t that she was gorgeous, I mean she was gorgeous, but that isn’t what drew me to her. I saw her sitting on the bench when I started my first class with her and I didn’t bend at the knees at the mere sight of her. It was the moment I heard her sing along side me and our voices melted together in such a way it felt as if my soul was leaving my body and dancing with hers.
As if we were always meant to meet.
As if I born to find her.
I had never been one to believe in love and first sight because it all sounded like over-the-top rubbish. Attraction at first sight, maybe, but love? No way.
Ophelia had only just left the room yet my fingers trembled and my body shuttered as if it ached for her to be near.
It was crazy and unethical but my heart was slowly becoming hers, undeniably and uncontrollably.
****Next section will be posted 01/22/20 ****
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