Today's Reading

After I reviewed my schedule and noticed the bait and switch, I asked Ms. Pinsky if Dean Stinson was in his office.

"End of hall. On the left," she said.

I stormed in hot. I shouted some things, including 'fraud' and 'liar.' Greg had a student with him, whom he quickly dispatched. I waved my class schedule in the air and then smacked it down on his desk.

"I teach English. Not creative writing. We had a deal," I said.

I braced myself for a fight. Instead, Greg sat down in his chair and deflated. I swear, he lost four inches with a single sigh.

"Oh my," he said, cradling his head in his hands. "My apologies, Alex. Len said that you wouldn't mind the schedule change. I tried to reach you repeatedly. Len said you were at the monastery."

"You spoke to Dad?"

"I did. Len insisted that if I simply presented you with a new schedule, you wouldn't notice the difference."

That trick worked once, maybe twice, when I was fifteen and smoked a lot of weed. I was stunned my father had the balls to provide tactical advice against his own daughter, and lousy advice at that. I sat down in one of the well-worn chairs across from Greg's desk.

"You can't change my schedule because my father told you it was okay," I said.

Greg scrunched up his forehead like a shar-pei. Then he leaned back in his chair and crossed his long legs. I could tell he was settling in for a lengthy negotiation.

"I should not have listened to your dad, but I am in a terrible bind."

"What happened to your previous writing teacher? Did he die?"

"No, no. Of course not. He is still on the faculty and I'm sure he'd honor our old agreement, if need be. However, he is currently working on a novel and feels that teaching writing at this time is stifling to his art."

I liked the dead version of him better.

I wasn't going to do any favors for an unpublished hack who thought of himself as Van Gogh with a laptop.

"I know this is all last minute. And I deeply apologize. But I need you to be flexible here, Alex. In fact, if you do this for me, we can forget about fencing."

"I already told you I don't fence. You can't expect me to teach something that I don't know how to do."

"Okay," Greg said. "Fencing is off the table."

"It was never on the table," I said. "Back to writing. I've never taught creative writing before. And I already prepared my literature curricula."

"According to Len, you don't really need a lesson plan."

"If you mention my dad one more time—"

"Okay. Okay," Greg said, with just the right dose of panic in his voice. "If you agree to the switch, you are released from any supervisory responsibilities."

One of the worst things about private school employment was the boundless chaperoning responsibility tacked on to a full teaching schedule. I was unlikely to get a better deal.

I entered my class, Headquarters room 203, without a word about my tardiness. I wasn't going to start the year in their debt. This time, I would not let down my guard. This time would be different.

As I gazed at my students, I had the same thought I always had on the first day. They looked so young and innocent. Then I found a dead rat in the bottom of my desk drawer and remembered the tenet I had learned over the last eight years. The young may have a better excuse for cruelty, but they are no less capable of it.

For someone looking for omens, it's odd how many exit signs I chose to ignore.

If a century of tradition were the only thing my time at Stonebridge brought to an end, I'd be okay with that. It's the two deaths that keep me up at night.

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