Authors: Teresa Roman
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
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For my sister
Thank you for always having my back
Nothing good ever happened to me without a little bad mixed in. Like the time I got hired to work at Radio City Music Hall over the Christmas season. I thought for sure I’d get to see at least a little bit of the Christmas show, but instead I got stuck outside working the doors and freezing my butt off.
My summer internship was apparently not going to be an exception to that rule. Between the ten-minute walk to the subway station and the three different trains I’d need to take to get to work, my mornings were not going to be fun. If it weren’t for my absurd paranoia about being late I would’ve been freaking out as I waited for the A train that was apparently stuck somewhere in the tunnels under Manhattan. I still had over an hour before I needed to be at work, but there was no doubt in my mind that the ride from my crappy apartment in Brooklyn to my job on the Upper West Side was going to take a lot longer than I wanted it to. But still, it was a job. One that would look really good on my resume
help me pay my share of the rent. The extra money was coming at the perfect time, too, because frankly, I was getting tired of eating hotdogs and pecan sandies for dinner every night.
By the time I made it to the 87
Street Community Center, the back of my shirt was drenched with sweat and clung to my skin—thanks to another hot and muggy day. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the nervous fluttering in my chest as I walked inside. The security guard looked bored and hot sitting behind a desk with only a small table fan to keep him cool. He looked up at me as I approached.
“I’m looking for Mrs. Connor,” I said. “I’m supposed to meet her here at nine o’clock.”
“Name?” the guard replied. He wore a navy blue uniform. The little gold nametag pinned to the left side of his chest read Donald.
No one could ever pronounce my last name the right way. “Ma-ra-vich.” I sounded it out slowly. Donald picked up the phone and pressed a few numbers.
“Girl named Jessica here to see you,” he grumbled into the phone and then turned to look at me again. “She’ll be right out; you can take a seat and wait for now.”
“Thanks,” I said before finding my way over to one of the chairs in the corner of the room. It had been about three weeks since I’d been to the community center for my interview, and I was so nervous then that I’d barely paid attention to my surroundings. There wasn’t much to the entrance area. Just an old beat-up metal desk that Donald sat behind and a few scratched-up royal blue plastic chairs with chrome legs.
“So, you’ll be working here?” Donald asked as he mopped his forehead with a handkerchief and adjusted his collar.
“Just for the summer.”
“My name’s Donald by the way. But you can call me Don.”
“Nice to meet you.” Something about the way he looked at me made me uncomfortable, but since I’d be seeing him almost every day for the next three months I managed to muster a friendly smile figuring I’d be better off if he didn’t think I had an attitude.
“You live around here?”
I shook my head. “Nope, I live in Brooklyn.”
Just then the door behind Donald opened and Mrs. Connor stepped out. She glanced down at her watch. “You’re early.”
“Sorry,” I said as I stood from my chair. “I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get here, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late.”
“That’s fine. It gives me some time to show you around before the kids get here.”
I followed Mrs. Connor down the hallway. She pointed to the restrooms and then poked her head through a door that had the word gymnasium stenciled on it. “Ah, you’re here.” I heard her say. “There’s someone I want you to meet.” She pushed the door open and walked inside with me right behind her. “This is Jessica,” she said to the man standing in front of her. He was holding a basketball in his hands and tucked it under one of his arms to shake my hand.
“I’m Justin. Nice to meet you.”
“I told Justin about you already. He usually helps me conduct most of my interviews, but he was out the day you came for yours. Justin’s in charge of our sports programs here and pretty much the second in command. If I’m not around and you need something, he can help you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said. Justin smiled and his amber eyes reminded me of twinkling Christmas lights. He had perfect teeth, straight and white like he’d worn braces when he was younger. He was handsome, there was no denying that. His hair was a deep brown, like mine, but what really stood out about him were the freckles that were scattered over the bridge of his nose and his cheeks like raindrops. I tried not to stare at him too closely, I didn’t want him to think I was flirting, which I wouldn’t do. Not on my first day at work, and not with a complete stranger, but in my experience guys were weird like that. You looked at them a second too long and they convinced themselves that they were your dream come true, and that was the last thing I needed.
“I guess I’ll see you around,” Justin said as Mrs. Connor and I walked off. She showed me the break room and her and Justin’s offices next. Then we moved on to the computer lab and finally the classroom I’d be tutoring in for the rest of the summer. I was supposed to be helping high school students who’d gotten stuck taking summer classes with any subject they were having trouble with. I was also supposed to encourage the students to apply for college and teach them how to decide which school was the best fit for them. Mrs. Connor also had a handful of summer field trips planned, and I’d be coming along with her on those. I’d gotten the job through the work study program at the university I went to and was really excited about it; not just because of the paycheck, but because I was an education major, which made it a perfect fit.
“Why don’t you put your bag in here?” Mrs. Connor opened up one of the desk drawers and I deposited my belongings inside it. “Your first student should get here just after nine. She’ll let you know which subjects she needs help with.”
Mrs. Connor walked away, leaving me alone in the classroom. I was less nervous now that she was back in her office. It wasn’t as if this was my first job. I’d had plenty of them, but I was always shy in new situations, and worried about making a good first impression. After I got to know people, I was perfectly fine.
I took out a notebook and some pencils and waited. It was almost ten before my first student showed up, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she even wanted to be there at all.
“Come on in.” I smiled and stood as she walked through the doorway towards me. I was trying to exude confidence and authority. A nervous teacher wasn’t going to get very far. “I’m Jesse,” I told her as she placed her backpack on the floor and took a seat.
“My name’s Linnea.” She reached into her bag for a book. It was covered with a paper shopping bag to protect it, so I couldn’t tell what subject it was.
“So what do you need the most help with?”
“Everything,” she grumbled.
I thought for a moment about what to say next. “Are you planning on going to college?”
“And what do you think you’re interested in studying?”
“I don’t know. Maybe nursing. My mom’s friend is a nurse, and she makes a ton of money.”
“You should pick what you like, not what you think you’ll make a lot of money doing. Do you even like the medical field?”
Linnea shrugged. “I don’t really like blood.”
“You should probably try for a different major then,” I said, trying my best to sound helpful and friendly, instead of judgmental.
“You go to college, don’t you?” Linnea asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“What do you want to be?”
“A teacher, eventually.”
“Yeah, that ain’t for me either.” Linnea shook her head. “Can’t deal with a bunch of wild kids. I do like computers though.”
“That’s good,” I said, encouragingly. “But you need to be really good at math, what kind of grades are you getting?”
“Math?” Linnea slumped in her chair. “Not good ones.”
“Well, then you’re in the right place, because I happen to be really good at math.”
Linnea finally cracked her first smile and a feeling of satisfaction came over me. Maybe I was getting off to a good start after all.
Two more students showed up after Linnea. While I was finishing my third tutoring session of the morning Mrs. Connor poked her head into the room.
“Take a lunch break after you’re done.”
Without knowing if I’d have access to a refrigerator to keep my lunch cold, I hadn’t brought anything with me, so I left the community center in search of something to eat. I found a pizza place a few blocks away; a slice and a soda wouldn’t set me back that badly so I went for it because I was starving. It would be another two weeks before I got my first paycheck and I needed to be careful or I’d run out of money.
On my way back from lunch, Don, who wasn’t at his desk earlier when I’d left for lunch, looked up from the magazine he was reading and grinned as I walked back into the community center.
“What’s up, Brooklyn?” The flirtatious tone in his voice matched the look he had on his face.
“Hey Don,” I replied curtly, hoping he’d hear the lack of interest in my voice and get a clue. I rushed in through the door behind his desk before he could say anything else.
I tutored three more students that afternoon. They all seemed wary of me at first, but after we started talking I could tell they began to feel more comfortable. It seemed crazy to me that not that long ago I was the one sitting in their seat. Now I was about to enter my junior year in college, and if you’d asked me four years earlier if I thought I’d be tutoring high school kids, I’d have called you crazy. The leap from someone suggesting that I should go to college, to applying, then getting accepted, and actually going was gigantic for me. Maybe that’s why Mrs. Conner decided to hire me. During our interview I was honest with her and told her how hard things had been for me and that I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life the way other people had made a difference in mine. As cheesy as it sounded, it was all true. And now, sitting in the community center talking to kids who were still so scared to admit they wanted more from life, I felt like I was doing it, making the difference I’d wanted to since I picked education as my major.
I left work that afternoon happy. My first day turned out better than I expected. It was so good in fact that I didn’t mind the ride back home jammed into the train like a sardine in a can. When the train was that crowded it was unpleasantly hot despite the air conditioning, but the heat coming off so many bodies wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the body odor that wafted through the air.