Authors: Katie Graykowski
Copyright © 2013 by Katie Graykowski
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express, written consent of the copyright holder.
is a work of fiction. All characters portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.
For teachers everywhere…you make a difference every day.
This book wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of many people. For my husband, thank you for always being my hero. For my daughter, thank you for writing your first novel at the age of five—Jessie the Jellyfish is a wonderful tale. For the Shady Grove crowd—y’all are the best friends a writer can have. For the Chez Zee crowd—dessert is always a good idea. For my mother, you are the person I strive to be. And last but not least, for Linda Green McCaffity, one of the teachers who made a difference in my life, may you have an endless supply of chick flicks and Mexican food in heaven.
It was seven forty-two, and Summer Ames was late. With a can of Diet Coke in each hand, she jumped into the cab of her grandfather’s 1959 Chevy Apache pickup and stowed the drinks in the two plastic cup holders she’d super-glued to the dashboard. Through the windshield, cheery morning sunshine glared disapprovingly down at her.
Teachers were supposed to be in their classrooms a minimum of thirty minutes before morning classes started at eight o’clock. On a good day, she made it in ten minutes before the bell, but today wasn’t a good day. Not only had her alarm clock failed to ring in the morning, but she was meeting Vice Principal Evans in her room before school. They needed to, in his words, “have a little chat.” No doubt this was about her outburst at yesterday’s staff meeting. She had no idea her view that school funding should actually be used on education instead of football would be so wildly unpopular. Perhaps the fact she’d been standing amongst the coaching staff had put her at a disadvantage.
Summer shoved the key into the ignition and hoped for the best. The pickup, aka Beulah the Bitch, only worked when the temperature was below seventy or a Republican was in the White House. Luckily for Summer, it was March in Austin, and the temperature was in the sixties. With a hiss and a cough, Beulah turned over. Summer took a millisecond to sigh in relief and then rammed the gearshift into reverse and backed out of the driveway. Two wheels stayed on the pavement while the other two edged over the side, cutting a deep groove into her lawn.
Since her ex-fiancé was tootling around in the Audi TT she was paying for, Beulah was the only transportation Summer could afford. Her ex, Jack—all-around asshole and driver of her new car—had once said her internal clock needed a new battery. Too bad it had taken her a year to figure out his moral compass needed a new needle.
She popped open a Diet Coke and slammed half. Sipping was for people who had the luxury of time, while caffeine loading was for those who’d experienced alarm clock failure. She shifted into third, changed lanes, cutting off a UPS truck in the process. She shot the driver an apologetic grin and wave before flooring it. The school was a mere five minutes away.
Chopin’s Funeral March droned on her iPhone. Her mother’s ringtone. Summer didn’t reach for the phone. Her latest strategy in mother-daughter relations was to avoid Lillian Summerville Ames like she avoided self-mutilation, handling uranium, and reality TV. It was all about choices. And she was choosing to be an orphan.
Her heart mule-kicked in her chest as she nearly overshot the entrance to the teacher’s parking lot but turned at the last minute, jumping the curb and swerving into the lot.
Summer screeched into the nearest parking space, rammed her truck in neutral, stomped on the parking brake, and opened the door. Her Birkenstocks hit the asphalt, and she took off in a full-on sprint across the parking lot. Birks weren’t her first choice for running; then again, for her, running was right up there with body piercing—it was fine for other people but why go asking for pain.
Lungs burning and sweat gathering under her arms, Summer threw open the door to the annex and sprinted the last five feet to her classroom. Her hand closed on the doorknob, and she shoved the door open with enough force that it banged off the wall and smacked her in the chest. “Ouch.”
She stepped into the room.
Photoflashes exploded in her face, burning neon squiggles onto her retinas. Blind and still breathing heavily, she leaned on the door for support. On the other side of the psychedelic fireworks, smiling faces stood in front of TV cameras and shoved microphones at her. She glanced at the number on the door—yep, one twenty-seven—this was her classroom.
She shaded her eyes from the bright lights of the cameras.
Wait a minute. Those people looked like reporters. What the heck was going on? The Teacher of the Year winner was supposed to be announced next week—yes, she was in the running, but the big day was not until Monday.
This was a bad dream. Mental eye roll. Of course, she was still in her bed, sleeping away. That was the only explanation. With her right hand, she slapped herself on the cheek. Pain heated her skin. The room went absolutely still.
“Ms. Ames, are you well?” It was Vice Principal Evans.
Summer sucked in a breath through her nose. “Yes, just making sure this isn’t a dream.”
Laughter filled the room—people laughing at her, not with her. Story of her life. She took a step back.
Backlit by the glow of TV cameras, VP Evans’s form cast a hulking shadow. He headed toward her. “Everyone, this is Summer Ames.”
More cameras flashed, and the reporters pressed closer.
Summer smoothed down the wrinkles of her black
Come to the Dark Side…We Have Cookies
tee shirt and tucked a stray lock of curly, blonde hair behind her ear. She wasn’t anywhere close to photo-worthy. Her hair might have been styled by an F5 tornado, and she was pretty sure the gamey scent wafting through the air was coming from her. If only she could rewind the morning, take a shower, and tame her hair, but life didn’t come with a DVR.
“Just go with it.” Vice Principal Evans’s eyes sent a message that said,
smile or else
“What?” Summer pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose. Because her alarm hadn’t gone off, she’d had to choose between teeth brushing and contact lens. At the time, good oral hygiene and minty-fresh breath had seemed like a priority—she touched a lens of her thick, serviceable, black plastic frames, which were the only ones she hadn’t managed to break. Next time, she’d opt for a breath mint and contacts.
Don Chapman, news anchor for KAUS, Austin’s Only Trusted News Station, stepped in front of her and thrust a microphone in her face. “How does it feel to be Austin ISD’s Teacher of the Year?”
“Teacher of the year?” Summer choked on the spit in her mouth. So much for Monday. Couldn’t someone have mentioned this yesterday?
“How about that prize? Can you believe it?” Don smiled directly into the camera with the big, red light.
“Prize?” If she’d received this honor from anyone else, she’d be jumping up and down, but she was pro-student, and Evans was pro-making-himself-look-good, so there had to be a catch. Principal Ellen Traverse, Summer’s champion and good friend, was out on maternity leave, leaving VP Evans in charge. Since he wanted Ellen’s job and Summer was her friend, Summer was enemy numero uno.
“Please excuse Ms. Ames. I wanted to surprise her.” Evans eyed her fresh-from-the-floor tee shirt. “That wasn’t a good idea.”
Summer plastered a big, fake smile on her lips and waited for a pithy comment to burst forth from her lips. She smiled some more and…nothing. Two hours from now, she’d be plagued with the perfect comeback. In her life, pithy ran later than she did.
She took a deep breath and lied.
“I love surprises.” Doing her best to ignore Evans, she focused on the positive.
Teacher of the Year. This was her fifth year to be nominated, and finally, all the hard work she poured into her job had been noticed. Last year’s winner had gotten a brand-new Prius donated by a car dealership. The year before that, a travel agency had kicked in an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. Excitement and the Diet Cokes she’d guzzled buzzed through her system. “What did I win? A car? Money? New classroom supplies? A two-week vacation to Tahiti?”
“Ms. Ames, I’d like you to meet your new class mentor.” He gestured toward a tall, blond man who looked slightly familiar. “Clint Grayson.”
going to hand her the keys to her new car?
Adios, Beulah, your days are numbered.
“Nice to meet you.” Summer nodded as she looked around for one of those huge cardboard checks commonly used for prize money.
Clint Whoever stuck out his hand, and Summer shook it, expecting to see his other hand slip inside the left breast pocket of his navy pinstriped suit and pull out a golden envelope containing an all-expenses-paid vacation to Tahiti. She glanced down at the pocket, back up to his face, back down to his pocket, and finally landed on his face. “You look familiar.”
“I’m the quarterback for the Austin Lone Stars.” His Sprite-bottle green eyes narrowed a fraction as they roamed down her body inspecting her appearance. She knew that look. Her mother always combined it with the you-have-such-a pretty-face-why-don’t-you-lose-thirty-pounds lecture.
Summer swallowed her craving for chocolate chip cookies, her childhood comfort food of choice, and focused on the positive. “Where’s my prize?”
the prize. I’ll be mentoring your class for the rest of the school year.” His mouth tightened into a smile showing lots of pearly white teeth.
Now she recognized him. Clint Grayson. He was the shy yet playful Mr. September from her next-door neighbors’
NFL Hunks of the Gridiron
calendar. If memory served, Mr. September loved long walks on the beach, helping starving children in Darfur, and wanted to find Ms. Right through meaningful conversation. All of which—the picture implied—he did while naked and holding a football in a very strategic place.
A reporter shoved a microphone an inch from Summer’s mouth.
“I don’t understand.” Summer stared at the quarterback while her mind did its best to process the situation. So, Mr. September wanted to play teacher…this was her reward for years of hard work? What about a new laptop or a SMART Board like the coaching staff used? “Is it too late to trade you in for two weeks in Tahiti?”
Stone-cold silence ripped through the room, and every head turned to her.
“Did I say that out loud?” Summer glanced from person to person. It appeared the mistress of the two-hours-later comeback had been struck by lightning wit.
Clint pressed his lips together like he was trying not to laugh. “Yes, ma’am. And right now, it’s bouncing off satellites and beaming directly to TV sets all over the world.”
Vice Principal Evans shot her a dirty look.
Summer’s stomach clenched as she backed toward the door. Her class was experimental and existed solely on grant money. For the last two years, Evans had been looking for a reason to snatch away her budget, and now he’d found one. She was about to get fired on live TV. Who would take care of her students once she was out on her butt? She put her hand over the mike in her face and gently shoved it away. “Excuse me while I step into the hall and ponder my new career working the drive-thru window at Taco Bell.”
Clint glanced at her hair. “Don’t be too hasty. I own all the Taco Bells in Travis County, and I don’t think all that hair will fit under the black baseball cap mandated by the health department.”
. Was it possible for the day from hell to go south?
He winked, and a slow, cocky smile worked its way across his face.
Every square inch of her body blushed, and the corners of her mouth turned up, returning his smile. She couldn’t help it. Anyone with matching X chromosomes would’ve fallen victim. He turned back to the cameras, and his smile brightened.
He was playing to the reporters, so the smile wasn’t for her. How could she have been so gullible? The only reason a pretty boy like him would give her the time of day was because he needed something. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. She would always be the awkward, chubby outsider letting the star quarterback copy off her history test because any attention was better than being invisible. This man was just another Jack.
“I’ll call my HR guy. We’ll put you on the fast track to management. You’ll be measuring meat temperatures and inspecting taco shells before you can say, ‘Think Outside the Bun.’” Grayson nodded like a bobble-head.