eventually

Mr. Shafroth, my year eight history teacher, stands in the kitchen of his campus house with my field hockey coach.

“Are you kidding me?” she shouts.

He is lucky she doesn’t have her stick.

“What could you possibly be thinking? Bringing her here?”

I sit quietly in the spare room, on a mattress platformed by cinder blocks, my arms resting atop the secondhand valise in my lap.

Aside from a woman’s ugly screams, I am surrounded by piles of National Geographic, a box of loose photographs, and a musty-smelling quilt that looks like it was made by a dying person.

“Do you have any idea what they say about her?” my field hockey coach screeches. “Do you even read the bathroom walls?”

The bad stuff is in the boy’s bathrooms. I wonder how she knows about that.

Mr. Shafroth’s hushed, even voice. I smile. We don’t have a man at my house. But I love the way men’s low words don’t translate through walls.

He told me if I was ever in trouble, come to him.

So I did.

“Listen, I can’t take this,” she says, and I picture her cupping her forehead, kneading her temple with her thumb.

As if this is the hardest thing that could happen to a woman.

“Either she goes, or I do.”

“Finally!” I think. I set my valise on the ground and hide by the side of the window to be able to watch her leave.

She slams the door on her way out. I knew she would. She’s that type. Small and innocent-looking, but packs a punch.

I change into night clothes and sit back down, stare at the wall. Wait.

Eventually, Mr. Shafroth comes in. He’s rugby-playing big, smells like green soap.

He sits down next to me on the bed. Latches his fingers through mine.

“We’re quite the pair, aren’t we?” he asks.

“What do you mean?” I ask back.

He shakes his head. Sighs. Drops his chin to his chest. Tired.

“She’s no good for you,” I tell him. “One day you’re going to want children. She’d make a vile mother.”

Mr. Shafroth looks at me.

“What are you wearing?” he asks.

I am wearing a blue gingham bustier with ruffle panties, and a matching robe.

“Mum works in the lingerie department,” I tell him. “I have more outfits like this than actual clothes.”

Mr. Shafroth pulls the robe farther across my legs.

“We’ll get things sorted in the morning?” he asks.

“Sure.”

He pats my knee and gets up to leave.

“Mr Shafroth?” I ask, when he is at the door.

He turns.

I want to ask him to tuck me in. Not in a pervy way. Just maybe if he could puff the pillows or pull the sheet up under my arms or something.

I’d like to feel his scratchy face kiss my forehead.

“Will you turn off the light?”

He smiles. Hits the switch. I wrap the sad quilt across my top.

“Do you want this open or closed?” he asks, holding the door.

I want it open.

“You can close it.”

The light from the hallway is but a thin shaft when I call out his name again.

“Mr. Shafroth?”

“What is it, kid?”

Kid.

I’ve never been called kid.

“Nevermind,” I tell him. “Goodnight.”

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