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Authors: Penelope Douglas

Misconduct (9 page)

BOOK: Misconduct
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I could see the muscles in his jaw flex in anger, reminding me that my son was growing into a man with a fight of his own.

“She assigned this today?” I asked, trying to stay calm even though I knew the answer.

After I’d told her specifically that my son would not be allowed on social media for homework.

He had his phone after his schoolwork and on weekends, but clearly he was still able to get online and borrow friends’ phones.

Christian shook his head and tossed his friend’s phone back at him.

“No, right there.” His friend leaned over and pointed out a pic on the screen, referencing the map on his phone. “This one’s on the corner of Ursuline.”

And I was forgotten.

But I’d barely noticed anyway, my jaw hardening at the mention of Ms. Bradbury and her foolish determination to continue to piss me off.

I yanked at my tie as I walked out of the room, and ignored the food I’d left on the table.

I
leaped to the right, landing on my left foot as I held the racket with both hands and slammed the tennis ball back across the court. Popping back upright, I raced to the center again, oxygen rushing in and out of my lungs as I bounced on my feet.

The next shot fired out of the ball machine low and high, and I lurched my arm back, taking the racket over my head and swinging hard, sending the ball straight for the ground and out of bounds on the other side of the net.

Shit.
 

I ran my sandpaper tongue over my lips, desperate for water from all of the exertion as I ran frontward, backward, and left to right, trying to keep up with the speed, trajectory, and spin I’d programmed into the machine.

I’d clearly overestimated the shape I was in.

Sure, I exercised. I ran and used my own small equipment to do strength training at my apartment, but tennis required muscles I rarely used anymore.

Every six months or so, I’d start to miss the game, the new challenge that every serve would offer, and I’d use my membership to access the pristine private courts at the gym.

I never played anyone, though. I hadn’t played with a partner since the first round of Wimbledon, July second, five years ago, shortly before I moved to New Orleans with my brother. That was the day I’d gotten a code violation, a default on match point, and so, with no hope of winning, I’d walked off the court before the game was officially over and never returned to competitive tennis again.

My brother had tried comforting me, telling me that I couldn’t expect to get my head in the game after what we’d been through earlier that summer. It had been a hard time.

Hell, it had been a hard two years prior to that, but it was still a moment I wished I could go back and change. My last match on a professional court had been my worst, and it was the only thing in my life I was ashamed of.

I’d behaved like a brat, and despite everything I’d accomplished up until that point, that’s how people remembered the old Easton Bradbury.

But I would make damn sure that this Easton Bradbury never made that same mistake.

It was strange how something that felt like second nature at one time now felt so foreign. I used to do this every day. I’d wake up at five o’clock in the morning, eat a light breakfast or drink a protein shake, put on my gear, and hit the court for five hours.

In between I’d do my home study and eat, and then I’d go back out for either more practice or another workout.

At night I’d ice sore joints and muscles and read before bed.

I didn’t go to school, I didn’t go to parties, and I didn’t have friends. That’s probably why Jack was my BFF.

I grunted, feeling the ache in my grip as I squeezed the racket and backhanded the next tennis ball, sending it over the damn baseline.

“Damn it,” I mumbled, pulling to a stop as I put my hands on my hips and dropped my head. “Shit.”

I dug the remote out of the waistband of my tennis skirt and pointed it at the ball machine, powering it down just as a ball came flying toward me.

I ducked and then twisted my head in the other direction, hearing a car honk behind me.

Jack sat in his Jeep Wrangler laughing at me as “Untraveled Road” by Thousand Foot Krutch blared from his car.

I rolled my eyes and walked for the gate, handing the remote to the attendant and grabbing my gym bag. I tossed my towel into a bin before swerving around the fence and down the sidewalk.

“You only caught the end of that,” I protested, climbing into the passenger seat. “I was hitting balls like crazy.”

He smiled to himself, shifting into gear and pulling away from the curb. “You know you could play with me, right?”

I snorted. “No offense, but I want to be challenged, Jack.”

His chest shook with laughter. “Brat.”

I smiled and dug my phone out of my duffel before stuffing the bag onto the floor between my legs.

Jack had actually been a great sparring partner when I was younger. He’d even competed before it became obvious at an early age that it just wasn’t a passion for him.

When my parents noticed that I was more interested and a lot more pliable, they let him off the hook and nurtured me. I never understood why it was so important for one of us to be competing at a high level in a sport, but I basically just wrote it off as a desire for them to be in the limelight and live vicariously, both of them amateur athletes in their day.

“You only come out here sporadically, and you always want to be alone,” Jack commented, turning onto St. Charles and traveling past Tulane, heading toward the Garden District. “It’s like you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. As if you still feel obligated to play.”

Spills of gold fell across my lap from the sunlight peeking through the trees overhead, and I checked my e-mail as I tried to ignore Jack’s constant invasiveness.

He’d been like this since that summer five years ago, but I thought once I’d graduated college, he’d refocus more on himself.

“Easton?” my brother pressed.

My eyelids fluttered in annoyance, and I scrolled through messages, forgetting my brother as soon as I saw one from Tyler Marek.

I swallowed the thickness in my throat, my eyes moving over his name and trying to ignore the strange hunger that filled my stomach at the enticing thought of an interaction with him.

“Easton?” Jack pushed again, his voice sounding annoyed.

“Jack, just put a cork in it,” I barked, clicking on the e-mail and reading Marek’s message.

 

Dear Ms. Bradbury,

I was under the impression that we’d handled this.

While I understand you are a trained professional, there are certain things I will allow and certain things I will not. My expectations for my son’s education follow the state standards, and I suggest you find a way to do your job – like all the other teachers in that school – that does not increase the burden on families more than the tuition we already pay. In the future, I expect the following:

1. My son is NOT permitted on social media for homework. I encourage an atmosphere free of distractions, so I demand work where this is not required. No argument.

2. I will be notified BEFORE anything less than an A for an assignment is entered into his final grades.

3. The rubrics for the presentation grades don’t make sense. The presentations happen in school and are not something I can see, assess, or help him with. Performance assignments should not be graded.

4. Observing more experienced professionals in your field may yield a better understanding of student learning. If you’d like, I’d be happy to suggest to Principal Shaw that you shadow more adept teachers.

I trust that we will not have any other problems and you’ll prepare accordingly. My son will NOT be bringing his phone to class in the future. If you have any concerns, please contact my office anytime for an appointment.

Sincerely,

Tyler Marek

Silvery shots of pain ran through my jaw, and I realized I was clenching my teeth and not breathing.

I closed my eyes, drawing in a long, hot breath.

Son of a bitch.
 

I dropped my head back. “Ugh!” I growled, slamming my fists down on my thighs.

“Whoa,” I heard Jack say to my left. “What’s wrong?”

I shook my head, seething. “A burden on families,” I bit out, barely unlocking my teeth. “This asshole is a millionaire, and social networking is free! What the hell is he talking about?” I shouted at my brother. “Son of a…!”

“What the hell happened, Easton?” he demanded again, this time louder as he swerved and then righted the steering wheel. A streetcar passed us on the left, its bell dinging.

I ignored him and looked down, scrolling through my phone. I’d programmed in parents’ home and work numbers the first week, so I clicked on Marek’s and found his cell phone number.

It was a Saturday, so I was guessing he wasn’t at work. I refused to e-mail back. I wanted this dealt with now.

“Easton, what are you doing?” I could see my brother working the wheel nervously and glancing at me.

I shook my head, laughing to myself. “Shadow more adept teachers,” I mocked, repeating his e-mail in a fake masculine voice as I looked to my brother with the phone ringing in my ear.

“I have to take time out of my hectic day to notify him personally every time his little prince gets a B?” I continued, complaining. “And why? So he can threaten me into not entering the grade?”

“Did a parent e-mail you?” he asked, slowly putting the pieces together.

I nodded. “Yeah. He expects and demands that I make changes, because he has a hang-up about my methods. Arrogant, entitled —” I stopped myself before my temper got away from me.

When there was no answer, I pulled the phone away from my ear and ended the call, clicking on his work number next. For men like him, the office never really closed. Perhaps he had a receptionist who could make an appointment.

The phone rang twice, and then I heard a click as someone answered.

“Good morning. Tyler Marek’s office,” a woman’s pleasant voice chirped. “How can I help you?”

My heart pounded in my ears, and I could feel the pulse in my neck throb. I held back, almost wishing he wasn’t in his office after all.

I needed time to calm down.

But I swallowed and pushed forward anyway. “Yes, hello,” I rushed out.

“Easton, keep your cool,” I heard my brother warn from my side.

I bit my lip to keep the anger out of my voice. “I’m Easton Bradbury calling for Mr. Marek,” I told her. “I’m sure he’s not in today, but —”

“Just a moment, please,” she interrupted, and disappeared.

I sucked in a breath, realizing that he was in after all.

“Marek?” my brother asked. “Tyler Marek?”

I glanced at him, arching an eyebrow in annoyance.

“Easton, get off the call,” Jack ordered.

His arm shot out, trying to grab the phone, but I slapped his hand away.

“Watch the road!” I barked, pointing at the street ahead.

“Easton, I’m serious,” he growled. “Tyler Marek has a workforce of more than ten thousand people. He may be a senator, for crying out loud. It isn’t your place to argue with him.”

I shot him a look.
My place?

My brother was worried about his career, but I didn’t care who Marek was. He was still a man.

Nothing but a man.

“Ms. Bradbury.”

I turned my head away from my brother, suddenly hearing Marek’s voice in my ear.

Thick anticipation filled my chest, and I dropped my eyes, disappointed that I was actually excited.

“Mr. Marek,” I replied curtly, remembering why I had called. “I received your e-mail, and I’d love to…” I trailed off, wiping the sweat off my hairline. “I’d love to schedule a meeting to sit down and work out a plan for Christian.”

“We’ve already met,” he pointed out, his voice clipped. “And it was not a productive use of my time, Ms. Bradbury.”

I tried reasoning. “Mr. Marek, we both want what’s best for your son. If we work together —”

“Ms. Bradbury.” He cut me off, and I could hear people talking in the background. “Apparently I wasn’t clear enough in my e-mail, so let me save us both some time. My son has no problems with any other teacher, so it goes without saying that
you’re
the problem.” His stern voice cut me, and I felt like shrinking. “You suffer from an overindulged sense of entitlement, and you forget that your job is on a yearly contract.”

My eyes widened, taking in his threat that my job this year could belong to someone else next year. I fisted the hem of the skirt at my thigh.

“Now, I’m a busy man,” he continued, sounding condescending, “and I don’t have time for silly young women who don’t know their place.”

My skin stung from where my fingernail dug in. His son didn’t have problems with me. Perhaps I graded harder than other teachers, and I might have had unorthodox methods, but most of the students enjoyed my class, including Christian. When he participated. If he ever challenged me, it was because his father wouldn’t allow him the freedom to have the tools to participate like all the other students.

“Now, can I get on with my day and consider this issue settled?” he sniped.

Heat spread over my skin, and I bared my teeth. “You can go to hell,” I shot back, raging. “No wonder he can’t stand you.”

“Easton!” Jack burst out next to me.

But it was too late.

My eyes widened, and my hand tingled, nearly losing my grip on the phone.

What the hell did I just say?
 

I opened my mouth, unsure of what to say.
I didn’t just say that to a parent.

I did
not
say that to a parent.

There was only silence on the other end of the line, and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to find the words.

“Mr. Marek,” I inched out in a softer voice. “I’m sorry. I —”

But then I heard a
click
, and the line went dead.

“Shit!” I cried, bringing the phone away from my ear and seeing
CALL
ENDED
on the screen.

“He hung up.” I looked at my brother. “I’m screwed.”

Jack shook his head at me, his lips tight, clearly furious with me. He swerved to the left and downshifted, taking a sharp turn onto Poydras.

“Where are you going?” I asked, thoughts of Marek calling Shaw right now running through my head.

Insulting a parent wasn’t good.

“To his office,” he answered, his tone unusually defiant. “You’re going to go apologize before he has a chance to file a complaint.”

To his office?
 

“I… I,” I stammered. “No!” I yelled. “No. Absolutely not! I can’t talk to him right now.”

But my brother didn’t say anything. He just kept driving.

I put my hand to my forehead, panicking. “I can’t believe I just said that. What was I thinking?”

“You weren’t thinking,” he retorted. “And you’re going to go beg for forgiveness.”

I shook my head. “Jack, it’s completely inappropriate,” I pleaded with him. “Please. I’m not dressed right.”

BOOK: Misconduct
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