“I don’t want to go in,” Graham said roughly. He pulled his gaze away from the classroom door and back to his co-workers, three of the English/Language Arts teachers at Rockdale High. “I thought we were friends!”
“Oh, just go in. It’s not that bad. Don’t be such a baby,” said Marian, the eldest of the four teachers.
He felt the narrow walls of the freshman corridor closing in on him. To them, he was simply trying to get out of going into a room that he clearly didn’t want to visit. To him, this was a trap and his life was in danger. Obviously they wanted him dead, otherwise they would never ask him to visit such a wretched place. His imagination ran away with him as he half-expected the locker doors to throw themselves open, shooting spikes that would narrow in on him as their primary target. Student-made banners hung on the cinder block walls and, rustling and ripping in the blown air, threatened to twist and transform into basilisk. They would consume him whole and it would be a terrible way to die, but at least then he wouldn’t have to walk through that classroom door.
His apprehension, dramatic as it was, was felt by his colleagues as he pleaded with Marian to instead. “Then you go.”
“Oh, heavens no.” She paused, shaking her head. “It’s all yours.”
With a groan, he stuck his hand into his mess of curly blonde hair, tangling fingers and fighting the temptation to pull it all out. “Why me? Why do I have to go in?”
Shrugging, his so-called best friend Aaron replied, “You drew the short straw.”
His gaze dropped to the bent twig in his other hand. It was considerably shorter than those his cohorts gleefully grasped. “Well, they’re twigs. So standard ‘Drawing Straws’ rules shouldn’t apply.” His teeth grated on his bottom lip as he paused, contemplating calling a mulligan. “Drawing twigs. That was a stupid idea.”
“It was your idea,” replied Julia. Her tone was matter-of-fact as she clasped her hands behind her back. “It was your turn to go in and you refused. Said taking turns was ridiculous. Should be left to fate instead. Well…” She smiled.
Frowning, Graham turned his gaze back to the door. Their task was actually one of Julia’s responsibilities. Each teacher had to send the next week’s lesson plans for review by the administration, which meant she was supposed to collect all the binders. Yet she dragged the cluster of them around to do it with her. Most lesson plans were gotten without incident, but they shared a mutual dislike for that very last teacher. Every week, the debate raged on – who would have to pick up that final one?
“Come on now, you’ve managed to get out of collecting her lesson plans each week,” Marian said as she gave Graham an encouraging wink. “Just stop moping and go get it.”
If it was that easy, he reminded himself, they’d be volunteering and no one would have to take turns in the first place.
Aaron smirked as he twirled his twig deftly between fingers. “Yeah, you worm your way out of this every time, kid. We’re lucky if we can get you to come along with us at all, better yet grab this one. In fact, I had to do it two weeks in a row because you had come down with…what did you call it? Torulopsis?”
“Torticollis,” he replied smartly.
The other three stared at him with varied expressions of confusion.
“It literally means a pain in my neck,” he added with a sigh. “If I have to explain it, the joke is wasted!”
“Go!” Julia’s finger jutted firmly at the door.
Part of him felt awful, like he was applying some unfair prejudice to the entire ordeal, but not a mean bone resided in his body. Graham Miller was a good man. He went to church regularly, gave to the poor, loved his students, and volunteered at the retirement home. His nights were spent alone at home, not bar hopping. Above all, he tried to show responsibility, kindness, and fairness to all. There were just some things that he didn’t want to handle.
The woman behind that classroom door was one of those things.
She was the purveyor of clipped charm, with a sing-song voice and the kind of alluring smile that would leave tongues wagging. Beneath that veneer, however, she was something else. He’d liken her to a wolf in sheep’s clothing but sheep weren’t as gorgeous and wolves, far too tame.
He had no clue what would set her off, either. She handled them all carnivorously, devouring the weak and leaving behind bones that were stripped of all the joy in the world. She seemed to pick off her victims carelessly and at random, which meant her co-workers never knew which side she’d err on. Her preference flipped like a leaf in the breeze and only stayed constant with those she didn’t like.
And Graham Miller was the one she seemed to despise the most.
With one last cautionary glance at his companions, who were slowly edging away from him, he cracked his knuckles and prepared. “If I’m not back out in ten minutes, please alert the authorities. And if this is the last time you ever see me,” he said as he whirled his finger in the air around his face, “and gaze upon this wonderful visage, just know that I cherished you all.” With his jaw set, he strolled to the door. “Except for you, Aaron, you rampallian.”
Well, he thought as he straightened his tie and cleared his throat, here goes everything.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.
A big thanks go out to my beta readers – Joshua, Esther, Danielle, and Chasity!