Missy Taylor peered over my shoulder as I struggled to remember the combination to my locker from the past two years. “Lyla,” she paused, holding out the end of my name for much longer than was necessary.
“Did you hear?”
“Hear what, Missy?” Missy loved discovering the latest gossip at Walburn High School. We were juniors, finally upperclassmen, but all Missy wanted to talk about was which football player hooked up with which cheerleader who was actually dating that soccer player. I had college visits and advanced placements tests to worry about.
“Let me help. What’s your combination,” Missy asked, pushing me out of the way.
“That’s the problem. I don’t remember.” Missy sighed, rolling her eyes at me.
“Why don’t I tell you my news as we walk to the office for you to get your new combo?”
“I guess so.” Missy interlocked our arms, and smiled widely at me, ignoring the distress in my face. “Okay, so I’m sure you’ll like this news.”
“What is it, Missy?” “So, I hear there is a new creative writing teacher this year,” she said, nudging my ribcage with her elbow.
“Wait. They fired Mrs. Cummings? Who could possibly be more qualified than she?”
“It doesn’t mean she wasn’t qualified,” I stated, opening the door to the office.
Missy slammed it shut. “I haven’t finished.” Missy tossed her bottle blonde hair behind her right shoulder and checked herself in the reflection of the office door. “The new teacher is really cute and super young. I think he’s like only 27 years old. I heard that he graduated from Yale. Like as in the Ivy League,” she gushed, exhaling dramatically and smirking at me. “Rachel who was in biology class last year told me that apparently he was fired from his last job in a private school and that’s why he is working here now–but Rachel is not that reliable of a source.
“Why does this matter to me?” “C’mon, Lyla. I thought you would find this news interesting. All the girls in your writing class are talking about him.”
“Look, Missy. I have bigger things to think about than the new creative writing teacher.” “Like what,” she sneered.
“Um, like maybe getting my locker open before lunch.”
“Well, first period starts in five minutes, you better hurry.” I glanced at the clock, realizing Missy was right. I ran into the office, hoping they would be able to save me, not just from my locker woes, but also from Missy. Missy wasn’t wrong. The new creative writing teacher was cute. He actually tucked his buttoned down shirt into his khaki pants, and his hair was slicked back without any gel, unlike most of the boys in my grade. Even though I was late to first period, Mr. Davis did not really seem to mind. He had the desks arranged in a circle; he sat at the head of the circle, on top of a desk, rather than in the desk like the rest of us.
The class was retelling their favorite moments from summer. Aaron mentioned that he went on a fishing trip with his father, but they didn’t catch any fish because his father went into anaphylactic shock from a wasp sting on his finger. Sydney, swinging her ponytail from side-to-side, told a story about how she got to visit her new baby cousin in Maryland for a few days. She got to hold him, and he was the first baby she ever held. The baby spit up on her. Then, the circle stopped at me. I swallowed hard and glared at the clock, hoping the bell would ring before I had to utter my first word.
“Lyla. Lyla Douglas.”
“Very well, Lyla. What did you do this summer?” “Uh, well…I wrote a few short stories.”
“Really,” he paused, “what about it?”
My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. “Nothing really that interesting.”
“Well, I have a feeling that you’re not being all that honest,” he laughed. “But, that’s quite alright. A great writer never reveals his secrets,” he said, winking at me before moving on to the next student.
I learned that Mr. Davis was also a painter. Since teaching took up most of his time, he could only really paint on the weekends. He showed me his artwork once when I stayed after school to edit one of my stories with him. One of his paintings would be shown at a gallery in town. It was reminiscent of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’avignon, or at least that’s what he said. It was a painting of an ex-girlfriend. Her body was all distorted–only visibly displaying her face, which looked both fearful and relieved at the same time. Mr. Davis gained inspiration after his girlfriend threatened to leave him if he didn’t agree to marry her. According to him, she had issues–but she inspired his best work. I always wanted to share something interesting and elusive about myself, but the only snippet from my life that I could ever think about was how when I was ten my parents had left me at a carnival. It took my parents two hours to realize that I was missing. I was too embarrassed for the both of us to tell Mr. Davis that story.
Usually, we discussed the piece for a few minutes and then moved on to other conversations. Mr. Davis was a great storyteller; I longed to be able to tell stories like him. I had never met a person who seemed to take me so seriously. My mother was often consumed with her eating and exercise habits, refusing to allow anything other than raw food in the house, while my father stayed way too late at the office and smelled like brandy and cigars when he did finally make it home. Mr. Davis made me feel important.
It had been two months that we had been meeting after school to look over my writing. Mr. Davis had finished more paintings for another gallery show in town. He told me that he had just decided on a theme for this new show: heat. I stared at him blankly, waiting for him to explain what he was talking about. He just smiled at me and continued to mark up some poor student’s short story with his red pen.
“What do you mean,” I asked, trying to sound intelligent, while still being confused.
“Hmm” “Why ‘heat’? Oh, that,” he paused.
“Was it like really hot when you painted these?” He laughed to himself.
“No, that’s not the heat I’m referring to. I mean, heat as in the feeling a person gets when they feel passion.”
I glanced at the two misplaced commas in the student’s story. “How does that relate to your paintings?”
“Well, as you already know, my ex-girlfriend inspired most of these paintings. We had a pretty tough relationship–lots of fighting and making up, which led to more fighting and eventually our break up. We had a lot of passion for each other, despite the fact that we ultimately hated each other. Does that make sense?”
“I think so.” “Yeah,” he asked, refusing to let go of our gaze. I shifted in my seat. “Heat embodies the nature of that relationship, all the tension and the passion. I couldn’t imagine a better word myself.” “You know, Lyla,” Mr. Davis hesitated. “You are more than welcome to come to the art gallery showing on Friday. I mean, that is, if you’re free?”
I could feel my cheeks burning up and beads of sweat forming on my upper lip. “Uh…well…sure, I’m not doing anything.” “Really, you would like to come?” “Of course. I wouldn’t mind coming to see your paintings.” “Perfect,” He smiled, biting down on his red pen.
I was hardly able to see Mr. Davis until close to when the show was finishing. He spent the evening chatting with other local artists and art curators, who seemed genuinely interested in his work. Near the end of the gallery show, I made my way out to the patio. The bushes were decorated with white lights and matching candles were flickering on each table. Mr. Davis was sitting on a bench with a cocktail in his right hand. I couldn’t help but notice how handsome he looked that night–wearing a gray tailored suit with a thin black tie, his hair combed over, and he wore thick rectangular framed eyeglasses. As I got closer to him, I could smell his cologne, a mixture of pine and cinnamon, which seemed like an unlikely combination, but made my knees begin to quiver. He jumped when he noticed me standing in front of him.
“No, that’s okay. I understand. Do you mind if I take a seat,” I asked, pointing to the spot beside him. Mr. Davis patted the wood. Our knees touched slightly as I took a seat next to him. He shook the ice around in his glass. I could smell the whiskey on his breath as he exhaled heavily.
“Did you have fun tonight,” he asked. “I did. It was really nice to finally see your artwork. I could really feel the heat.”
Mr. Davis grinned. “Yeah? I’m glad you could understand what I was going for.” “Well, thank you for inviting me.” He shifted closer to me. “I appreciate you coming.” I shivered as a gust of wind flew past. I knew I should have listened to my mother when she told me to wear my winter coat, but a purple puffer jacket lacked the sophistication I needed to uphold at this party. Mr. Davis wrapped his suit jacket over my shoulders.
“Of course. We’ve been talking about this for months.” He moved in closer, resting his left hand a little above my knee. Startled, I scooted down the bench, but he pulled me in even closer to his body. “I’ve been really enjoying getting to know you these last couple of months. You’re a really special person, Lyla. You know that?”
Before I could answer his question, Mr. Davis placed his right hand on my cheek. His other hand moved up my leg, sending an impulse through my entire body. He lodged his tongue into my mouth. I didn’t know how to respond. I had never kissed a boy before, but I tried to mirror his movements to show some semblance that I knew what I was doing. His hand glided up my stomach and landed on my chest, grasping my breast with so much intensity that I gasped. This only seemed to make him more excited. I tried to maneuver my hands around his body like he did with mine, yet I was not as suave as he was.
After five minutes, Mr. Davis pushed me away. I didn’t really know what to say after a moment like this. I sat slumped on the bench trying to regain my breath. He began smoothing the wrinkles on his shirt and readjusting his tie. “I hope that you know that this is our little secret,” he stated, emphasizing the word secret. “I can trust you, right?” I shook my head in agreement. Mr. Davis smiled at me, kissing me lightly on the forehead before standing up.
“Thank you again for coming, Lyla,” he said, after swallowing the last of his whiskey. “I’ll see you on Monday.” I barely heard a word Mr. Davis said as he rushed back to his party. The only sound I could hear was my entire body throbbing as I wiped away my tears.