Jade's in a witch's outfit, or at least her version of one; a black taffeta dress down to her knees, low-cut and no bra, her small breasts swimming around in the expanse of material. Her 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Channing, or Josh, as he insists everyone call him, the only teacher at the school who makes the students call him by his first name, stands in the doorway in front of her in nothing but a pair of boxers. Blue with yellow sailboats.
"Just got out of the shower," he says by way of explanation, his hair hanging wet and long behind the ears.
Jade stands mute before him, drinking in the scent of what must be a fresh application of cologne—he's the best smelling teacher at the school—trying not to focus on the feint goody trail of red hair running from his navel and disappearing into his underwear.
"Just go sit on the couch, kid. She'll give you a set of orders. She's good at giving orders." He points a thumb backwards. "Nice outfit, by the way. Sweet. You kids, you crazy, crazy kids . . . ." His voice trails off as heads down a hallway. He works out. She can tell. Yoga too. There's a blue mat leaning against the back of the couch and she assumes it's his. His body looks flexible.
She scans the room. A piano. Pictures of Josh and his Blah of a wife, a few with the kid, a handful without. A clutter of toys shoved behind a chair. A pile of unopened bills on the coffee table, some of them with postmarks several months old. A stack of CDs and DVDs strewn about the floor in front of the entertainment center. An explosion of papers bursting from the top of a book bag, seemingly frozen in mid escape. There's some sort of dorky angel motif, small porcelain cherubs lining the shelves, a couple of lamps shaped like celestial creatures, the shades thankfully plain. A handful of metal-framed and hokey posters with inspirational quotes of the kind one sees at the swap meet or discount stores. That has to be her hang-up, not his. Angels. Grow the fuck up, for Christ's sake. Poor Josh.
The Blah comes plodding out wearing white tights and what else but angel wings and a halo fashioned from aluminum foil and a bent coat hanger over her dull, straight hair. She looks hideous, a roll of pudge across her middle, legs short and chunky, bluish veins glowing under a translucent layer of splotchy white skin. She goes over the details, what few details there are being that Jade's not babysitting; her only job is to hand out candy while Josh and the Blah take their kid trick or treating. And even then it takes her forever to explain. Her face might have been pretty twenty pounds ago. Jade will give her that. And she has big boobs. Another score for the Blah. Then again, she's blonde and Josh prefers dark haired girls. Jade's hair is totally black but for a few brown undertones. He told the class more than once. He said he married a blonde even though he always preferred brunettes. One time she was sure he looked right at her when he said it and her best friend Ronnie noticed the exact same thing. He's always telling them personal things. He also stares a lot; at the girls anyway, or at least the pretty ones. He ran away from home once, with a girl three years older than him. He used to have a ponytail and a big, bushy beard. He showed them a picture in which is hair, now leaning toward copper and still a bit shaggy, was the red of Vikings in legend, worn over his shoulders like a shawl, his beard engulfing his face in flame. He was the lead singer of a band. He's writing a novel, a big, bouncing romantic tale with multitudes of characters and filled with what he calls, smirking, Inappropriate Adult Content. She's older than him, the Blah is. Josh is 28 and looks younger than his age while the Blah's hair is already streaked with gray, going the color of dishwater. I married an old woman, he told the class more than a few times. I married my mother.
"This isn't going to be an all night thing," he says, coming into the room, carrying a miniature version of himself in a bunny costume. You'd think nobody in the history of the world had ever thought to throw a pair of fuzzy ears and a cotton tail on a kid before the way the Blah gushes over him. She keeps calling him her Little Man. Josh looks bored and rightly so. He's dressed like a normal person, in jeans and a black tee shirt that is just a little too tight for his arms, his hair still damp. "An hour. An hour, tops," he says.
"Well, it might be longer than that," the Blah says. "We said maybe we'd stop by my parents' house."
"This is not going to be an all night thing," he says. "Here." He shoves the kid into her arms. "We're going to get this thing knocked out as quickly and painlessly as possible. That does not include parents. It won't break their hearts not to see me. I have essays to grade."
"There's a notepad next to the phone in case anybody calls," the Blah tells Jade while wrestling with the kid, trying to get him in his stroller. He looks like his father, right down to the hair and blue eyes and splash of freckles, like a rascal.
"If it's toll free, don't answer," he says. "Actually, just don't answer the phone, no matter what. These people have no decency. They call even on a Friday night. Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee." On his way out the door he turns around and looks at Jade. He points at her dress and gives a double thumbs up.
She could be in the forest right now, drinking vodka from blue disposable cups and smoking pot and instead she's opening the door, reaching into a large orange plastic pumpkin with a black metal handle and doling out candy to hordes of kids, hardly any of whom say thank you, which is fine, because when they do say it she never reciprocates with a you're welcome. What a stupid fucking custom. As if anyone cares. She would be there, Ronnie said there would be some college guys there, if it wasn't for her asshole of a father. She was just getting ready for the party when he told her she had to do this. He's your fucking teacher, for Crissakes, he said. You can't leave him hanging. I told his wife you'd do it a week ago. I must have forgot to tell you. But that was just his second and smaller offense of the day. An hour before that, she was sitting next to him on the couch, trying to snuggle, and he said, Jade, let me breathe. There comes a point when a daughter should no longer try to sit on her father's lap and once she has tits is that very point, no matter how small those tits may be. She hates him, even more now that her mother is once again away, no longer able to serve as a buffer. But this is an opportunity, a chance. She senses it. Her pale skin grows goosebumps. In between answering the door for the little fuckers she snoops. She's not sure if the numbers on their pay stubs mean they make a medium amount of money or a little. She knows enough to realize that it is not a lot. This house is the first piece of evidence toward that conclusion. It isn't much. Two bedroom, two bath. The floors sag toward the middle of the rooms. Linoleum in the narrow kitchen, it wilting upward at the edges. No dishwasher and a sink filled with dishes. There's a computer out on a table and she checks the browsing history. Mostly recipes and news articles, child-rearing columns, what porn there is is nothing exceptional. A refrigerator filled will beer and baby food and little else. As she had already speculated, he smokes pot. She finds a bag in his underwear drawer, all colorful boxers, and pinches a bud, stuffing it into a Mentos tin. No exotic pharmaceuticals in the cabinets. The Blah uses maxi-sized tampons. Gross. A vibrator and some lube. Even grosser. There are nightstands on either side of their unmade bed. A half-filled coffee cup sitting on stack of papers, the top page stained beyond legibility, on what is presumably his side, and on hers there's a book having to do with how to negotiate a raise at work, a box of tissues and a small, opened jar of Vaseline. Jade lies down on his side of the bed and buries her face into his pillow. She breathes him in. He smells so fucking great. She rolls over and imagines what it feels like to be him, to have an ugly hog lying next to him at night, longing for a much younger someone else. Then she switches sides and pretends she is the Blah, a younger, thinner, prettier, dark-haired version of the Blah. She hikes her dress up to her waist, takes off her thong and starts with her fingers. Then she grabs Josh's pillow and puts it between her legs. She rolls over and rides it, grinding her pelvis hard. Humps it. Pretends it's a part of him. She's almost there, she's on the edge, tighter, tighter, tighter, when thinks she hears the front door open and then knows she hears him calling her name. She stuffs the thong into her purse, adjusts her dress, sniffs her fingers and comes sneaking out, suddenly feeling much larger physically than she actually is. So big she can hardly fit through the door.
She runs into him in the hall, her face flushed red. "I had to use the bathroom," she says.
His eyes are narrow and accusatory. "That one? You could have used the bathroom out here."
She stares at his feet, not sure what to say. She feels like crying, her perfectly round blue eyes welling. It's what she does when she's not sure what else to do. It usually works. He has freckles on his shoulders. A light cruciform of hair emblazoned on his chest. She noticed earlier when his shirt was off.
"It's okay," he says. "Jesus, calm down. That one back there is dirty is all. It's the one I use. You look like you're all dressed up with no place to go, kid. That outfit for our benefit? If so, I do appreciate the effort."
"I was going to go to a party," she says.
"I'll give you a ride if it's not too late. Me and the Missus have parted ways for the evening. Don't get married, kiddo. The temptation to do it will be there. You'll be sure that he's the right person. Do not give in. I'm having a beer for the road. Join me? You're not the type to tell, are you?" He ponders for a moment, scratching his head. "No, you won't tell. You aren't the telling type. I've been in this game long enough to know the telling kind and kiddo, Jade Rossi, you are not it."