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Although I’ve strived for perfection over the years, I’ve come to accept that ‘Alex’ will never be perfect. I’ve edited / rewritten it for over 8 years and I can’t seem to figure out what I’m missing. So, here you go. I hope each word makes you as nostalgic as it does me.
Yes, the story has been overhauled entirely and is now a novella (including a preview of my work in progress). If you’re just going to point out the differences between the old version and the new one (or the slow start) in the comments section, please don’t. Just enjoy it!
New York and Singapore – two cities where taxi drivers had way too much power.
I flung my arm out yet again, hoping that flashing my underarm sweat would gain a pity stop. The old bastard drove right past without so much as a glance, only to come to a stop at a traffic light ten feet in front of me. I knew an act of fate when I saw one. I rushed forward and grabbed at the handle – once, twice, three times. It didn’t budge. The passenger side window whizzed down.
“No, lady. No taxi.” An old Asian man shifted in his seat to stare at the crazy blonde woman pawing at his cab.
“Come on. Please? Your light is green – you’re supposed to take passengers.”
He looked up to where I was pointing, as though he could see the sign from inside the vehicle. Then he reached over with a scraggly old finger and switched the sign off.
The traffic light turned green and he put the taxi into gear.
“I’ll pay you twice the fare!”
He skidded to a stop, forcing the cars behind him to step on their emergency brakes. The locks popped open and I barreled in, head first.
“Where you go?”
“Uh…” Where was I going? How was I supposed to get to Alex if I didn’t know where she’d gone? I looked down at my phone on instinct.
“Lady!” the old man’s voice was sharp. Grating. “Where you go?”
Pressed, I rattled off the name of the college. Maybe I could look up her address?
The driver mumbled under his breath and signaled for a U-turn. I put my head in my hands and tried to take a big, calming gulp of air. But all I could smell was her on my skin.
Two Years Earlier
“Miss Summers, you have a student here to see you. Please proceed to the General Office.”
The bleep of the intercom on my desk sent a spark of excitement – or was it relief? – through me. It was the third day of the open house for Junior Colleges, and this was the first time that I’d been beeped to meet with a student. It was a depressing fact, especially when the other teachers seated around me couldn’t get back to their seats for ten minutes before they were paged to be met with again. Finally, I thought. Someone who cared enough about the English language to want to speak with me.
Making sure the oppressive heat hadn’t deflated my topknot hair bun, I quickly descended the stairs from the Staff Room that led directly to the General Office. The five-inch heels on my feet clicked loudly as I flung the glass doors open with way too much flair for a drab day in school.
“Peggy,” I said, slightly breathlessly to the receptionist. “You paged?”
“Yes. Someone wants to speak to you,” Peggy returned in her sharp, Chinese accent. I followed her nod to a lean figure casually leaning against the notice boards, her hands shoved deep in the pockets of her jeans. The fitted denim was faded and bore holes at the knees. A black slogan tee and a one-strapped plaid backpack completed the decidedly hipster look.
I cleared my throat. She turned and the first thing I noticed was her eyebrow ring, something I hadn’t seen on anyone in a very long time. Any type of alternative lifestyle wasn’t particularly encouraged in Singapore and she’d be severely punished in college if she ever dared to pair an eyebrow ring with her uniform. Still, the glint of silver looked absolutely stunning against her dark, sepia-toned skin, which I assumed, was indicative of her Indian heritage.
I extended my hand. “I’m Cady Summers, English Lit and Creative Writing lecturer.”
Her hand was warm in mine. The handshake was strong and confident, not like most people’s, who shook my hand as though they were afraid that they’d break the petite little blonde expat teacher.
“Hey, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Alex.”
Her first words confirmed my niggling suspicion that she wasn’t the average student. Believe me when I say that not many students in Singapore use ‘Hey’ as part of their daily vocabulary – many didn’t even employ the rules of grammar. They were usually more interested in how they could use English to excel at Math and Science rather than learn the intricacies of the language itself. Instead of ‘it’s nice to meet you’, here, most students stuck to ‘Hello’, ‘Hi’ or simply, ‘Wassup, ‘cher.’
“I’m actually,” she continued, reaching into her backpack for her notebook, “interested in the güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri Creative Writing course that the school offers.”
“Of course, sure. Let’s take a seat and we can discuss it.” I smiled, thinking that this girl in my class would be a godsend. Good grammar? Check. The ability to string a sentence together? Check. A Sylvia Plath slogan tee? Check. What more could a teacher ask for? Only I knew how grumpy the students could get when they were posted to a Literature class because they hadn’t done well enough to get into their beloved Science and Math classes. Having one student who was actually interested in the subject would be a really nice change.
We sat. She flipped open an exceedingly worn black notebook and started asking me questions pertaining to the course. I answered each one of them as carefully as possible, my eyes flickering to the eyebrow piercing every one in a while when she raised her brow at something I said. It was oddly mesmerizing.
After she was all out of questions, I decided to ask her some, just to pick at her brain a little. I wanted to know if she was as good as seemed to be, or if it was just a front she put on.
I un-crossed my legs as she leaned forward to listen to me. As she did so, a slight whiff of her perfume drifted to me… wait, was that perfume or cologne? I shook my head clear of those thoughts.
“As you know, we’re going to re-visit various styles of writing and literary periods, just as a class exercise. Which is your favorite literary period?” I asked, trying to sound as formal as the informal thoughts running through my head. It wouldn’t do me any good to admire a student in that way!
“That’s tough,” she said with a smile. Well, it wasn’t really a smile. Just a tilt of a corner of her shapely lips.
“…I suppose Modernism would be my pick.”
“What?” Her brows furrowed. I’d lost track of the conversation. I tried to reel it back in. “Oh, of course. That’s great! Any favorite authors?”
She leaned back a little and waved a hand in front of her tee. “Well, there’s Plath.”
I smiled. “I noticed that. It’s a great shirt. Unusual.”
“Thanks. A friend made it for me at her printing shop. A birthday gift.”
“That’s very cool.”
“But I do love Beckett as well. Huge Beckett fan. I love how his settings and characters are always minimal but the overarching message is bleak and profound.”
It had been so long since I heard a student speak passionately about literature. I was still smiling and I didn’t think my face would stop doing that anytime soon. The girl held so much potential that if she got into my class, I knew I’d be squeezing every last drop of creativity and imagination from her. I mean, after years of teaching kids who didn’t want to learn, won’t any teacher get excited when she managed to catch someone who actually did want to excel in the subject?
“That’s an excellent analysis of Beckett. I think his work speaks to different people in different ways. Some see it as a warning; others as a sign to just give up.”
“Exactly.” She tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ears and I couldn’t look away.
“Can I ask you something?” she said as she put away her notebook.
“Sure.” I watched the way her jeans hugged her thighs as she reached over for her backpack. They were nice thighs; I could tell that they were well-muscled. My mind was definitely in the gutter today.
“Where do you call home? It sounds like an American accent but I can’t place it and it’s killing me,” she said, then licked her lips. I had to force myself to look away.
“Home’s New York,” I replied, perusing the notice boards behind her as casually as I could. “It’s just that I’ve been in Singapore for a while and I studied in the UK. It’s kind of mangled my accent.”
“Oh. Yeah, figures,” she nodded, rising to her feet. I followed suit, adjusting my skirt as I did so. When I turned to her, I came to realize that even in my heels, she still had a couple of inches on me. Granted, I was only five foot two without the extra height, but she was really tall. Where most Asian women were usually my height, she was definitely at least five foot nine.
“I’ve got to get going,” she said, looking at her watch, “I’ve got a couple more schools to check out before the day’s out.”
“Yes, of course,” I said, holding out my hand again. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Alex.” I meant it; it truly had been a pleasure for me. It wasn’t every day that I found someone genuinely interested in language and literature. Not in this part of the world.
“It most definitely was,” she said, holding the glass door open for me.
“Do you need help finding the bus stop?” I asked when we exited the General Office. I knew how confusing the school compound could be on a first visit, but I hadn’t expected Alex to take me up in my offer for directions. She seemed like the macho I-don’t-need-any-help-from-you kind of person. Obviously, I was wrong in that aspect.
“Yeah. That’ll güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri be nice. I think I walked in that way? ” She pointed to the right.
I started to draw a mental map out for her, but decided against the confusing thing. “Oh, hell. Come on. I’ll show you.”
I walked a couple of steps ahead of her, leading her away from the main building. A wind was picking up, and I looked back at her as it blew against us.
I commanded my salivary glands to stop working on overdrive, but it was no use. The sight of Alex’s black shirt plastered to her flat tummy was too sexy for me not to ogle for a few seconds. God, she looked like one of the guys on Baywatch. With boobs. Nice boobs.
Midway through my ogle-fest, I misjudged a step and lost my footing. Being the klutz that I was, coupled with the heels, would’ve sent me sprawling down the excitingly long flight of stairs. But you-know-who just had to step in at the last minute and grab me by the arm.
“Whoa,” she said, a little more loudly than what I now assumed was her usual drawl. “Careful there. Those heels weren’t meant for brisk walking.”
I gave her a tight smile; her hand on my shoulder was unnerving. If I’d been absolutely truthful to myself, I would’ve said her touch had made me hot.
But I wasn’t being truthful.
“Yeah. I’d have to agree with that. Thank you. Well, um, the main road’s just a hundred meters that way. You can find the bus stop on your left.” I pointed in to the right, feeling my heart rate accelerating for some unknown reason. OK, I knew the reason. It was because she was standing so close to me again. I got a whiff of something masculine – cologne? Hair wax? I took a step back. Was it just me, or was that the second time I’d had to do that?
“All right, then. Thank you, Miss Summers,” she replied with a twinkle in her eye. I narrowed my eyes at her retreating back. There had been something wrong with the way she had said my name, like she was trying to hit on me, or as though we were in a role-play session. Weird. I kinda liked it.
The little voice in my head chose that moment to come alive.
She thinks you’re cute.
Yeah, but I’m also her teacher, and probably at least five years older than her.
What do you mean, ‘so’?
So, what difference does it make?
It’s not appropriate!
Sure it is. Why are you denying this? You always knew you were attracted to females. You’re just too chickenshit to do anything about it.
No, I’m not.
Yes, you are!
Oh, just shut up.
She didn’t sign up for the course.
That was the first thing that hit me as I scanned the attendance sheet on the first day of college. No matter how many times I looked through it, the names didn’t change – I clearly didn’t see an ‘Alex’ on the Junior College 1 attendance sheet. To say that I was disappointed didn’t cut it. Over the past three weeks, I’d looked forward to having her in my class. Not for the fact that I thought she’d hit on me (by now, I’d convinced myself that she had), but for the fact that I knew she was good in English. I’d already begun looking forward to reading her creative exploits. I’d thought about her frequently, especially when the students in my Junior College 2 classes bored the hell out of me with their calculated, pre-packaged answers from their English text or guidebooks. Somehow, I knew that Alex would have answers of her own, one I didn’t have to teach her.
So, when I didn’t see her on the attendance sheet, I marched into my new class like a cranky old witch, hiding the frown on my face with a plastic smile. The students stood as I came in, looking identical in their uniforms. They sat, one by one, as I ticked off their names for attendance. Then, when I came to the final name on my fifteen-name list, someone interrupted me just as I began reading it.
“You can call me Alex, Miss Summers.”
I started. Damn it! That voice! I didn’t know if I was happy to hear it or not. On one hand, it made my gut tie up into funny knots. But on the other, it meant that I would be having her in my class for the next two years! I decided to look on the positive side. I’d at least have one student who was devoted to the class.
“Alex,” I announced, “I see you made it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” There was just something about the way she said it… was she mocking me?
If anyone should be mocked, I thought, it should be her. The compulsory uniform she wore looked pretty ridiculous on her, after the jeans and T-shirt I’d seen her in. The red skirt almost made her look girly. It was laughable, especially since she looked darned uncomfortable in her attire.
“All right,” I said, turning away from the class and picking up a marker. It was time to get down to business. “My name is Miss Cady Summers…”
The rest of the class flew right by, especially when I realized that some of the pupils in the class were also genuinely interested in the güvenilir bahis şirketleri art of writing creatively. I answered as many questions as possible before the bell rang, noticing that Alex never did raise her hand to ask me a thing. But, I was curious about my students’ abilities, and so, before they left, I handed out an assignment: 800 words on a modernist author of their choice by next week. A few of them groaned at this, but some of them looked intrigued.
They came forward to grab the instruction sheet as they left, and as I guessed, Alex was the last one. I smiled when I noticed that one side of her skirt was higher than the other, and that her shirt was hanging out partially. She could’ve gotten in trouble for that, but I doubted that she cared, and I wasn’t about to start nagging. I tried to keep the laugh to myself, but as she passed my table, I could’ve sworn she murmured, “It’s not funny.”
But that just made it a hell of a lot funnier.
As I’d predicted, Alex turned out to be one of my best students. No, she still didn’t ask many questions in class – probably playing up to her ‘cool’ image – but the assignments she handed in were better than most of the short stories that published authors churned out. The first story I read by her was one entitled, ‘Stranger’. She talked about a man whom she’d just met, and how they were having a very normal conversation about life, the weather, sea lions. But in the end, there was a twist in the story, and the man she’d been talking to was actually her father. That was the start of a very long list of interesting stories she sent my way. I mean, the other students in class were pretty good as well, but she was outstanding. The eloquent way she used her vocabulary really drew the reader in and played with their minds. That, and the fact that she was the only student who cussed in her assignments. Cussing was all right with me, as long as it furthered the plot. And with her, it definitely did.
I saw her around school almost everyday, hanging out with a group of girls who looked like they had really bad-ass attitudes. There was also this petite, fragile-looking Chinese girl who hung around Alex a lot. And more than once, I’d seen Alex put her arms around the girl. I’d raised my eyebrows at that, but didn’t say anything.
I was so not affected.
It was late one evening, about six months into the school year, when I had some sort of confirmation that Alex was indeed gay. I’d just finished meeting with the Arts faculty in the school, and it was really late – later than I usually cared to stay. I was usually home by six every day so I could wind down and have a gabfest with my mom before her workday started at Macy’s. Anyway, the meeting room had been unreasonably cold that day and it had kicked my bladder into overdrive.
Briefcase already in hand, I glanced up the winding stairs that led from the ground floor to the teachers’ room and staff toilets. Call me lazy but I just didn’t want to climb two flights of stairs in my heels at the end of a workday just to use the ladies’. So I made my way to the nearest student toilet on the first floor instead. Teachers didn’t normally use student toilets (I didn’t think it was forbidden, though), but I was willing to bet that there weren’t any students in school anymore, so what harm could it do?
At first, I didn’t hear anything, and I thought the whole place was empty since it was nearly six. I ducked into a stall and unzipped my pleated black skirt – it was while I was handling business when I heard the ruffling. With a frown, I listened closely to the noise. It was coming from the last stall. Faint rustling of clothes, then a giggle. I rolled my eyes, sighing. College kids. They knew that sexual activities on campus weren’t allowed, but they had to break the rules. Well, I thought – been there, done that, burnt the t-shirt.
As I pushed my way out of the stall, the door to the last stall opened and out came the little China-doll that hung around Alex all the time. Her face was flushed and her eyes held a just-fucked twinkle that I really didn’t want to see… especially when I noticed the person who was standing behind her.
“Alex,” I said, giving her a once-over. There was nothing amiss about her except for locks of her hair puffed up like a bouffant on her head. I could just imagine how her normally flaccid curls had become bouffant-like.
“Miss Summers,” she replied, giving me that lazy smile. She obviously knew that I knew what they’d been doing. And it brought a lick of flame to my cheeks. Her eyes met mine and I couldn’t look away.
“Who’s your friend?” My voice sounded weird, even to myself.
“Oh, this is Mindy, my girlfriend.” It was said without the slightest hesitation, as though she was proud of the little porcelain doll. As though being gay wasn’t frowned upon – or was it illegal? – in Singapore.
I gritted my teeth.
“Mindy, hello,” I said, grabbing a paper towel to dry my wet hands. “Well, it was very nice to meet you, but I’m afraid that I have to leave now. I’ll see you in class tomorrow, Alex.” I hesitated before adding, “Please be careful, you two. Anyone could’ve walked in.” Then I turned on my heels and walked out the swinging toilet doors, clenching my fists when I heard the giggling in the toilet start again.
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