Authors: Jason Conley
Rob stood up before the ass had a chance to get to Carissa. “No!”
“Wha-“, Rob through a right cross connecting with the ass’s jaw. The guy tripped over something in the floor giving the impression Rob’s fist exuded more damage than in reality.
The ass jumped to his feet. “You can’t sucker punch me now, bitch!” The guy stood in some stance that attempted to look intimidating but lacked the actual fear factor to do so. Then a look came across Rob’s face. A look of total separation, relaxed. The cold unfeeling glare that Carissa had just seen.
The next thing she remembered was Rob on the floor punching the guy. Blood and profanity spewed into the air. The majority of the crowd watched as they cheered for the fight, not the fighters. The crowd celebrated their adrenaline soaked ecstasy without the pain of actual combat. The crowd did not break knuckles across the ass’s cheek. The crowd did not care that the ass’s nose was shattered so badly it took two surgeries over the next ten years to repair the resulting deviating septum. All they cared about was the three minute fight in the living room of some guy that was having a party. Carissa stood to the side realizing she was the cause of this mess.
At first, Carissa had wanted Rob to hit him, Rob knew it. When they fought, she felt wanted and he liked that he was protecting her. Watching as he hit the guy the first few times, made her happy. But then, she knew the problem was hers but the consequences were theirs. She would not wake up sour or broken. She would sleep and come to be known as the fucking girl with two people’s bloody faces on her proverbial plate, her fault. Their pain, her fucking fault.
Carissa screamed. She could not remember what she said but it drew her attention from the crowd and the fight was soon parted. The ass went to the hospital. Rob was convicted of assault and sentenced to two years of probation. He never regretted it.
Scott looked at Carissa speechless, his eyes saying, “What the fuck!” The lack of remorse, on her part, told Scott that she did not care, but she had no idea why he was so mad. Scott stared for another moment. His loss of words, while understandable for him, was confusing to Carissa. Scott trotted off after Rob without saying anything.
What was that all about?
Carissa had no idea what to think.
“Well shit, I need to go back to the store,” April said breaking the awkward silence without thinking twice about what had happened.
“For what?” Carissa said annoyed with her demeanor.
“I need a soda,” April said. She had already turned and walking toward the store. “You coming?” she yelled over her shoulder.
“You sure you’re not mad at me to?” Carissa said as she walked fast to catch up.
“Oh fuck, he’ll get over it. Besides, I could have warned you,” April said with a slight smirk on her face.
“Warned me about what?” Carissa said. It was more of a statement than a question.
“He only told me like two seconds before you showed up,” April said with an evil laughter slightly mixed into the words.
It was in that moment she knew what had just transpired. He asked her out on a date. It was not some “hey friend, it’s movie night” situation.
He wanted to go with me. To be with me. Alone. Together.
She did not have feelings for Rob but she did not want to hurt him either, but she had.
Where do we go from here? Do I give it a day, a week, a month?
“Carissa!” April said, snapping her attention back. “You’re mumbling!”
Carissa was surrounded by empty desks. She had all the necessary materials: book, paper, pen. She just needed, well, a teacher. She was hoping that Mr. Gilbert would be there just in case the tutor needed any help. At least, that’s what she told herself. She really wanted the man there because she had no idea who she was seeing and expected the worst. Maybe, a creepy kid who was tutoring just so he could be close to some girl or guy or a stinky kid, the possibilities seemed endless. She had already made the decision to be nice just in case the next school shooting was at Millard Johnston High and it was the creepy, stinky, or stalkerish math nerd pulling the trigger.
She tapped her fingers on the table trying renditions of any random drum solo that came to mind. She had once thought of learning the drums. She had always been infatuated with flailing arms and sweat flying, the normal drummer look. She loved all the different sounds. From the harsh sound of the snare to the soft chimes of the belles, beautiful and rich. Most of all, they were natural. The entire set a player needed was something that made noise and a hand to make a beat.
Carissa had asked her father for a drum set several years before. “What do you need those for?” he laughed.
“I want to play them, daddy.”
“Well, you know Casey already has enough drums beating in her head. She can’t handle anymore. Sorry, baby.”
In Carissa’s seven year old mind, she thought if she listened hard enough she would be able to hear the Casey’s drums. If she could find those drums and make the person stop playing them, she would be able to have a set. She listened but never could hear the beats that Casey had in her head. Eventually, she stopped listening. After alcohol had made its first nasty visit to her lips, she realized the drums her father described were not real. The next morning, Carissa’s own pounding head played the beat that prevented her from having her own set.
David stopped at the door to catch his breath. He had never tutored anyone so he was understandably nervous. His day had already been
. David was not good with people, had no friends, and could only hold a conversation about literature, classical music, and the bible. Sometimes he found it hard to talk about the bible because of others skewed views on fundamental principles; well, skewed compared to his biblical education.
David took one last deep breath and rounded the corner. Even though Carissa was not looking his way, he recognized her. He stopped, legs shaking. A strange sensation of excitement and fear swept over him. He muddled, not being able to speak. Carissa did not notice.
David watched her as she sat in the desk tapping her fingers, looking to the windows. He was rude to her that morning, and now he had to tutor her.
A teacher must be stern and command respect.
His mother’s words, not his. He still could not separate his actions from the morning and how they would meld into the now. They had never met until today. Now, twice their paths have crossed.
David believed deeply in fate. Even with God’s hand on the world, protecting the believers from the Satanists, he believed that God had planned events that were going to happen. David believed God would put people in his life when he needed them. Up until now, he just never needed them.
Of course, he never let his mother know. Mrs. Shelton had never even gave the notion a second thought. David had once asked about fate. He was young and had heard the Smurfs say it. He wanted to know what it meant. “Fate is a sin. God does not like boys who believe in such things. They draw His children away from their true purpose. God has a plan for you. He told me what it was but I cannot tell you just yet. But, in time you will know.” The television was removed later that day.
David was inquisitive even as a boy. He had gone to his mother’s library (what most people would call the living room) and looked up the word. He had only needed two seconds to realize that his mother had absolutely contradicted herself. Predestined events. She told him God had a plan; would that not be a predestined event. In that moment, he knew that his mother was not always correct. She could be wrong. However, the bible also teaches children not to question their parents.
A pencil slid from David’s notebook tapping against the linoleum floor. Carissa heard the low thump as it hit the ground. David quickly crouched down to retrieve it. Carissa turned and saw his thin fingers grasp the yellow wood gently.
, Carissa thought, focusing on the button-up shirt and Khaki pants.
He’s my tutor!
David stood timid and still as if he were trying to not be seen. They stared at each other like boxers before the fight, no expressions. A cold stare was the only barrier between their awkward silences merging with their mutually flummoxed reaction to the strange twist of the day.
“So, you are going to be my tutor?” Carissa asked only to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Yes. My name is David,” he said just before the bell rang.
David sat so that there was a desk separating him from Carissa. He knew that if he sat next to her the devil would tempt him. He had been warned about the temptation of the harlots his entire life. The women of the night would corrupt him, derailing him from his chosen path. “Your path is the Lord’s path,” Mrs. Shelton would tell. “You must move toward all that which is good and righteous, David. The Lord has revealed you to me. He has revealed you not as you are now but as you will become. The harlots will keep you from the path he has for you. You must be prepared and you must be strong.”
David also did not want his mother seeing him and thinking he was trying any “vile” acts. David’s mother did not want him to as much as talk to girls just in case they were harlots. They were the reason for the fall from grace and David’s “male appetite” could be sparked by any encounter that he did not guard himself from. David feared his innate afflictions. His mother had told him how evil his father had become by letting the “demon” (as she sometimes had called it) control him. David’s fear lay more in consequence than the deviation from the called path.
“You were almost late. You live on the edge, huh,” she said, trying to get a little under his skin. David was not amused. “Hey, it was just a joke.” David replied with a sigh.
Carissa watched as he opened the Velcro strap binding his notebook, “So, what are we going to do first?”
David pulled three pages of paper out. “I thought we could do a few problems to see where you stand. You know, intellectually.”
Carissa wanted to call him an ass hole. Carissa wanted to throw her books across the room. She wanted stand up and leave. However, even though he was rude, she knew he made sense. She was the one being tutored, after all.
David arranged the papers on his desk. Each sheet had three problems from three different concepts that Mr. Gilbert had insisted David teach.
“I didn’t mean to get you in trouble this morning,” she said as he looked to the stack.
“How,” David paused, his eyes catching Carissa’s. Pretending to clear his throat, he continued, “How did you know I was in trouble?” David was now keenly locked on Carissa. Her soft cheeks glowed under the florescent lighting. He noticed the slight spread of her lips. He hair lay long across her shoulders and fell contoured to her breast. She was beautiful. Harlot, maybe but her beauty was undeniable. David tingled where every other teenage boy tingles at the site of his first physical attraction. The temptation set in and he felt a lump grow in his chest. As his heart raced and hands began to sweat, he felt his pants tighten.
David was frightened by the sensation. He began to think he was being possessed by a demon. Maybe it was a Smurf, but David highly doubted it. He had a passion, a draw, a pull, and in that moment faith did not exist. The girl in front of him was real and she was beautiful. In an instant of vulnerability, he doubted everything and knew nothing. He believed in God and Jesus and all that, but he knew that everything his mother told him could not be true. He knew that men and women needed each other. He knew that sometime down the line he would have to leave his mother. He had an idea that the rod his mother used, could not be the rod that was referred to in the Proverbs. His mother had told him that God knows what is going to happen, but he could not imagine the point of creation if God knew, before he was born, if he was going to hell or not. And in this moment, Carissa was a catalyst.
“David, did you hear me? I saw you and Mrs. Shelton talking. And, I heard some of it,” Carissa repeated.
David, flustered, fumbled with his papers. “Let’s just do some math.” He slid from the desk careful not to let Carissa see him from a front or side angle. He walked to the white board trying not to cause any unnecessary pressure, or friction to that matter. He could feel Carissa’s eyes follow his ginger steps. She wondered why he was walking so slowly but she did not ask. He took the marker from the tray lining the bottom of the board. The red ink smeared onto the white plastic with flowing ease. David’s hand jutted, the smell of the ink filling the room. David stepped to the side, back still facing Carissa even though he could have turned around at this point, and 5(2-8+4x)=x+4 glared back at her.
Carissa stomach knotted as she examined the problem. A sharp pain shot into her eyes. Too much thinking, she was sure of it. But she needed to get this down so she could get a good grade thus ensuring her leaving this town after next year. So she picked up her pencil and worked the problem as if she were a mathematician.
With pride, she looked up at David. She worked the problem beautifully. She had each line of numbers drawn out making sure she used as much space as needed for the actual figuring. She was sure she had the right answer.
Carissa handed the paper across the vacant desk. David reached for it with a small wince. Carissa heard but did not acknowledge it. He looked at the elegance in her handwriting. Being an English teacher’s son, he could appreciate fine penmanship. He graded the problem. “Am I right?” Carissa said. Soft, her voice landed with a sweet splash against David’s eardrum.
“No, but I know where your mistake was,” He said painfully. “When you start a simple equation, you do the problem in the parenthesis first. It’s not like reading; sometimes you start in the middle.”
“But wouldn’t you get the same answer,” Carissa said, embarrassed.
“No, because the problem is changed,” David said as he walked up to the board. “See you have an addition and subtraction problem in the parenthesis.” He then worked both problems. The first he worked the same way Carissa did it. The second he worked correctly. “By multiplying the five before you work the problem in parenthesis, you come out with X=15 1/3. If you work the problem inside the parenthesis first, then the rest of the problem you end up with X=-11 1/3.”
David looked at his notes and wrote a second problem on the board. Carissa worked the problem, her answer correct. “Good job. Now, try this one,” he said. He handed her the problem and eased into the desk next to hers.
Carissa felt the tension of the situation easing. David looked at her in a way that she had never expected. The kindness on his face drew her in. She felt the corners of her mouth begin to curl. She tried to stop it but it was inevitable. She smiled.
Carissa could not remember the last time she had an uncontrollable smile. She felt…happy in the moment. She had happy memories but they had been so long ago that they seemed like dreams, now. Smiling without force was something she missed, but only knew in this moment just how much.
Being unhappy is normal. The way she felt was not, it was strange. Almost another world to her. This boy she did not even know was doing this to her. If she knew how, then maybe she could control it, but some force was pulling the two together.
“Great, you’ve got it,” David said with only having to glance at her paper.
“Well, I’ve got a great teacher,” Carissa said to her own amazement. She had no idea where the thought had come from, but it was there and she agreed. She knew that the way she said it might have scared David. She blushed knowing that she was letting this boy draw something from her. Carissa’s wall was down and could not go back up, at least not with him.
“Thanks,” David said as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. David had no idea how to take a compliment. He had never had one, well, not from someone like her. He could see the pull that she had in her eyes. He had never seen that look from a girl; not toward him.
“You must take after your mom,” Carissa said.
“I am nothing like my mother,” David said as the bell rang relieving them both of the fragile situation.
“Shit, I gotta catch the bus. You ridin’?” Carissa said as she gathered her books.
“No, I am riding with Mrs. Shelton.”
Carissa was confused by his answer. The fact that he called his mother Mrs. Shelton was at the least different. Carissa had heard the lashing that David had received earlier, so she did not bother to ask.
“What about in the morning?”
“Yes,” David said more as a question than an answer.
“Cool, save me a seat,” Carissa said leaving the room too quick for him to protest.
David sat dumfounded by the request. It had not quite registered yet. Then excitement hit.
Save me a seat.
Had she really said it?
Did she say that to me?
The questions raced but soon faded because she had said it. David was not even sure how to save a seat for her. Plans began to form. All seemed to obvious, desperate. Finally, one clicked.
I will put my jacket in the seat next me.
Smiling, David gathered his books and walked out of the class. He turned toward the front doors of the school and noticed Carissa walking down the hall. He stood watching and listened to clanks of her shoes taping heavily on the tiles. The sound was sweet.