‘Oh, Annie,’ Julie, our admin woman greeted in shock.
‘Hey Julie,’ I smiled walking passed the office and headed straight for the staffroom. My heels clicked lightly on the grey tiles as I passed the grade six pottery projects on display.
‘Wait, Annie,’ Julie called out, jumping up from her chair and rushing over to me, as quickly as a sixty-year-old woman could waddle. ‘Fiona told me she needs to see you as soon as you get in,’ she gasped, out of breath from her run across the corridor. I frowned for a moment and then remembered about the excursion I had asked to go on a few days ago. That’s what she probably needed to see me about.
I wanted to take my class to the local park for our sustainability unit. There was very little you could show them in a school made entirely out of concrete.
‘Oh, thank you, Julie,’ I smiled brightly, but the look on her face didn’t really set me at ease as I headed towards the principal’s office.
I knocked lightly on the door before ducking my head in to see Fiona staring intently at her computer screen the image reflecting off her wide-rimmed glasses.
‘Hey Fiona, you wanted to see me?’ She looked up for a moment dazed until she recognised me.
‘Yes, Annie, please come in, sit,’ she instructed, clasping her hands over the desk after straightening her glasses.
‘Is this about the excursion because I was hoping to take them out next week-’
‘Annie,’ she cut across me, heaving a tired sigh. ‘This isn’t about the excursion.’
‘Oh,’ I frowned, not sure what she might need to see me about if it wasn’t for the trip to the park. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘Well, it has come to my attention that you are in a...relationship with a man,’ she started awkwardly and I inwardly groaned.
‘I don’t see how my personal life has anything to do with my ability to teach,’ I started cautiously.
‘Well, ordinarily it wouldn’t but because the man you are with is such a public figure it starts to bring unwanted attention to the school. Did you see the cameras as you walked in Annie?’
‘Cameras?’ I asked, thinking back to when I had walked into the school earlier. When I had walked through the black, steel gates I hadn’t seen anything but I was learning that it didn’t always mean they weren’t there.
‘People have been calling the school for information on you. This is a place of education, not a circus. I can’t have Julie fielding calls from talk shows and magazines all day.’
‘I don’t know what-’
‘Parents are upset too Annie. They don’t want their children exposed to this and having a teacher in the spotlight, well, it’s risky. What if you’re caught doing something you shouldn’t?’
‘I would never do something that careless,’ I shot back defensively. I couldn’t help but wonder just how little she really thought of me. When had I ever given her any indication that I was a wild child, hell bent on having a night I wouldn’t remember in the morning?
‘The threat is too high. If something was to happen, the backlash from the parents and the board could be damaging to the school and your students especially. It’s hard enough in today’s society for parents to trust anyone with their children even their teachers. Your relationship with this man is just an added pressure. One, I’m afraid we aren’t willing to risk at our school.’
‘What?’ I gasped, feeling my heart beat erratically as my vision started to narrow. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We think it’s best if we find a replacement for your position in the grade two class.’ She answered cautiously.
‘You can’t do this,’ I breathed. ‘Teaching is everything I’ve ever wanted to do. I have done nothing wrong.’
‘You should have thought about that before you got into a relationship with such a high profile man in an unreliable industry.’
‘No, please, you don’t understand. We aren’t even together. There’s no need to fire me. I’m sure I can straighten this all out,’ I pleaded, as Fiona got up from her chair and started moving for the door, holding it open.
‘Why are you holding that door open as if we are finished this discussion?’ I demanded.
‘We are finished Miss Lewis. Your employment has been terminated and we ask that you pack your things and leave the premises immediately.’ She answered formally, not looking me in the eye.
‘No, I refuse to leave,’ I answered defiantly.
‘Don’t make this hard, Annie,’ she sighed, wisps of her grey hair falling across her face.
‘I can’t lose this job,’ I whispered, feeling my chest constrict as the rest of my body went numb.
‘Pack your things, Annie,’ she repeated stiffly. Reluctantly, I raised myself from the chair, keeping my eyes trained on the floor as I left her office.
‘Leave your keys and ID at the front desk when you are done.’ She instructed and all I could do was nod my head weakly.
I walked from her room in a daze, my mind rebelling against everything that had just transpired. How could I have ever allowed this to happen?
I moved through the hallways of the school listlessly, carrying a box of my belongings as each of the other teachers tried to avoid my gaze. I felt ashamed and disgraced. How could this be happening? Teaching was all I ever wanted to do. After everything that happened back home it was the only thing I had to hang on to. Now, I felt like I was drifting, in an unfamiliar city, with no prospects of getting another job. No school would hire me now.
I walked dejectedly down the sidewalk as I left the gates of the school behind. I didn’t even notice that there were several people following me until I was about to go down into the subway. When I saw the men with those beady black eyes pointed at me, capturing my shame, I felt flames of anger ignite inside of me but I kept my mouth clamped tightly shut. They were done taking things from me. They had already taken my job, my anonymity and any semblance of truth in my life how could they possibly take more from me?
Swaying gently on the train, my thoughts were blank, my body numb. I sat there for three stops before I got off, lugging my box of junk with me.
Everything the kids had ever given me, all my favourite books I liked to read to them, everything. All of it packed up inside a brown box. I was tempted just to throw it all away but those kids had made those things with care. It wasn’t their fault my life was falling apart. It wasn’t their fault a movie star had dragged me into the limelight and seemed intent on keeping me there. No matter how hard I tried to shrink back into obscurity. Then, when he had his fun he would dump me back into the ruins that have become my life, oh joy.
Sighing heavily, I pushed through the door to my apartment building past the lingering press who still tried to press me for answers to questions that were baseless. I trudged up my stairs, slumping into my apartment and dropping my things on the dining room table before collapsing on the couch.
Sarah was at work until later tonight so I had the place to myself and I planned on running a bath and laying in it until the water ran cold.
Moving from the couch I went to brew a pot of tea but froze when I saw a package sitting on the counter. It was in a large white box with a bright red bow tied over it.
Slowly, I walked over to it thinking maybe it was something for Sarah, but why wouldn’t she have opened it already? She loved presents.
Frowning, I looked it over and saw a post-it note stuck to it reading,
This came for you while you were at school. I didn’t peek I swear,
Removing the note, I looked at the box, perplexed by its presence in my kitchen. Who would be sending me gifts? Instantly, my mind flashed to home and I wondered if maybe they were trying to reach out to me again but it had already been over a year and I had been very careful with my address. Although, I never banked on a TV crew camping outside my apartment. Evidently, I hadn’t been as careful as I thought.
I held my hand over the ribbon with trepidation. I was terrified of what I might find inside and more importantly what it would mean.
Slowly, carefully, I untied the ribbon until all that was left to do was lift the lid. I felt myself cringe as I started to lift it aside, squinting slightly as it revealed red tissue paper. What the hell was this?
Sighing I pulled the paper aside and saw a dress laying innocently on the remaining paper. A note sat atop the dress and I warily picked it up.
I guessed your size. I’ll pick you up at eight as promised.
‘The nerve of that man,’ I hissed, using much less care to toss his note aside and rip the dress out of its wrapping. Anger flashed through my veins as I looked at the ankle length, navy blue dress, the jewels glittering around the waist in the mid-morning sun.
I spun it to look at it from all angles and saw it had no back and only thin spaghetti straps to hold it up. Admittedly, it wasn’t a tasteless dress by any means but he was insane if he thought I was putting that dress anywhere near my body.
I glanced at the box and saw it came complete with heels so high I may as well have auditioned for the circus as the woman who walked on stilts.
I let out a frustrated growl, throwing the dress back in the box and stormed towards my room, muttering the whole way. How dare he do this?
One thing was for certain, this time, he wouldn’t be getting his way.
Hours later, my body was starting to tremble from the cold bathwater startling me from the light sleep I had slipped into. I begrudgingly got out of the water, wrapping myself in my towel before crossing back to my own room and slipping into some comfortable clothes. A quick glance at the purple fluffy clock on my bedside table told me I had about three hours before the devil himself arrived for our “date.”
I shuffled into the living room, wrapping myself in the worn blanket on the back of the couch to try and warm up. Turning the TV on, I quickly switched it out from the entertainment news Sarah had been watching non-stop and turned on the home shopping channel. Quickly, the over enthusiastic, incompetent people numbed my mind. Despite my anxious heart beating with an uncertainty that had been plaguing me since this morning.
What was I going to do? Rent was due in a week and even with the money I had put away I wouldn’t be able to cover everything. I could ask Sarah to spot me but she was already paying as much as she was able.
This was a nightmare. I couldn’t stop the groan that escaped, drowning out a man trying to sell a small esky for your milk in case of a blackout. It came in three patterns.
Angrily, I pushed to my feet and crossed to the kitchen in search of something to eat. Opening the fridge, I found it as bare as yesterday. Half a litre of milk due to expire today, an empty carton of pineapple juice, three brussels sprouts, a tub of butter and a half eaten carrot. Slamming the door closed I moved to the only cupboard that still had a door on it and again found it bare. Mother Hubbard definitely wouldn’t be finding any food in this place.
Thinking I would just order something, I went in search of my phone only to remember that Mr Hollywood was holding it hostage.
‘What is life?’ I moaned, face planting the couch. I couldn’t even go out and buy something because he also had my wallet. I was going to starve on this very couch.
Despite my anger, I had managed to drift off to sleep at some point only to be woken by a harsh knock at my door. Frowning, I pushed myself to my feet.
‘I didn’t order food,’ I mumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I remembered thinking about ordering food but I didn’t have a phone.
The knock came again and I scowled at their impatience.
‘I’m coming,’ I grumbled, stumbling into the wall before I finally reached the door.
‘I didn’t even lock this,’ I muttered, twisting the door nob and pulling the door open.
‘Hey sweetheart,’ shock ran through my body and before I could stop myself the door was slamming on wonder boy’s precious face. Unfortunately, it sprung back open as he forced his way back inside, pulling the hat from his head. His hair fell into the same mess it had been the night I met him and I couldn’t help but run a self-conscious hand through my own blonde hair. I was pretty sure some of it was plastered to my cheek, mixing with the drool from my nap.
‘W-what are you doing here?’ I demanded, taking several steps back as he moved in and closed the front door.
‘You should really lock that,’ he scolded, turning back to face me.
‘It’s been a long day,’ I grumbled, walking back into my living room with my stalker following closely behind me.
‘That’s all right, I can wait while you get ready,’ he offered graciously before getting comfortable on the couch.
‘Our date sweetheart,’ he smiled before he looked over at the TV and frowned. ‘Why are you watching the home shopping channel?’
‘It’s soothing,’ I answered defensively.
‘Right, well, get moving. We have reservations for eight.’
‘That’s nice,’ I answered flippantly, turning my back on him and heading for the kitchen. Absently, I opened the fridge again, ducking inside so It was impossible for me to see the man sitting on my couch.
‘Don’t you like the dress I picked out for you?’ He asked, his breath warming the back of my neck. Startled, I slammed the fridge closed, clutching at my chest as I tried to catch my breath.
‘You need a bell or something,’ I gasped, pushing passed him and slumping back on the couch.
‘Why are you sitting down?’ He questioned, coming around to stand in front of the man on the TV trying to sell a hybrid tennis/squash racquet.
‘I have better things to do than spend a night with you,’ I spat as he raised an eyebrow with an amused smile.
‘Home shopping channel?’
‘Better than watching the entertainment news and finding out I may be pregnant with your imaginary child.’ I shot back, anger flaring in my veins.
‘That was one magazine.’
‘What?’ I was only joking.
‘Never mind,’ he said quickly. ‘Just go and get your cute butt into that dress so we can get going.’
‘Why’d you even get me the dress?’ I demanded and he shrugged his shoulders, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his black slacks. ‘Was it because you thought I didn’t own anything good enough to be out in public with you?’
‘What?’ He frowned, taking a step back from me as I pushed up from the couch.
‘Or maybe you just thought I wouldn’t be good enough to be seen with you the way I am?’
‘Hey,’ he started, but I was already steamrolling down the corridor leading to mine and Sarah’s bedrooms. One thing was for certain, I wasn’t going anywhere with him tonight or any other night for that matter.
As I entered my room my eyes instinctively looked across the alley to see that Jake wasn’t by his window. It was Thursday, he played chess in the park on Thursday’s with Mr Giovanni.
‘Annie,’ came his irritating voice. I quickly busied myself, rifling through my bedside drawer in search of my chequebook. ‘Annie, will you just listen to me, for a minute?’
‘No,’ I answered flatly, slamming the drawer closed, chequebook in hand. Before he had a chance to say anything else I was moving back through the apartment and grabbing the bills from the fridge before opening the freezer and pulling out a small box.
I dumped everything I was holding on the table before sitting down and setting to work.
‘Did you just pull that money out of the freezer?’ Came the annoying superstar’s bemused voice.
‘Sarah likes to freeze her assets so she can’t touch them,’ I shrugged, writing a cheque for the rent. Thankfully, our landlord allows us to pay on a month to month basis, in cash.
‘You know, my celebrity may give me some power to hold a table but even I have my limits,’ he announced as he sat in the wonky chair across from me. There were still piles of workbooks on the table that I would need to return to school. Just another thing I needed to do after being fired thanks to the arrogant man sitting across from me.
‘You should get going then,’ I answered without looking up at him.
‘You should get dressed,’ he countered, my face blank.
‘Where’s my phone?’
‘At my apartment.’
‘Wanted to make sure you went through on our deal.’
‘I didn’t agree to anything,’ I hissed, slamming my pen down and glaring up at him from across the table. ‘I just want my life back you...you arsehole.’
‘I hope you don’t use that dirty mouth around the children,’ he laughed. I felt a white-hot anger flash through my body as he joked at my expense. I didn’t need a reminder for everything he had ruined in my life.
‘I don’t need to worry about that anymore, thanks to you,’ I spat back bitterly. Without waiting for his reply I picked my pen up and set to work again.
‘What are you talking about?’ He frowned. He shuffled over to the chair beside me causing me to glare at him harshly.
‘What did you do?’
‘Date you,’ I growled, stuffing Sarah’s money and my check in an envelope before returning my glare to him.
‘Does Sarah know you pay the majority of the rent each month?’ He asked, a curious frown on his face.
‘Sarah pays what she is able.’
‘How do you-’
‘Our arrangement is none of your business,’ I shot back. I glared down at the rest of the bills waiting in anticipation for his next words. He always had something to say. It seemed that the only opinion he valued was his own.
When nothing more was said, I pushed back from the table, anger fuelling my movements as I stormed back to my room and slammed the door. Did he need to intrude on every aspect of my life?
‘Annie?’ His voice was tentative as my door creaked open. Instead of answering him I curled away from him on my bed, my back to the door.
‘Annie, I’m sorry,’ I tensed at his words, not wanting to hear his apologies. I wanted to stay mad. It was always easier to be mad. ‘I tend to act without thinking it through.’
I offered no reply, trying to ignore him.
‘That’s not true,’ he sighed. ‘I knew exactly what I was doing when I got on that talk show.’ I knew this and having him remind me of it only seemed to make me angrier.
‘But, you need to understand-’
‘I don’t want your explanations,’ I growled, spinning to face him before jumping to my feet. ‘You have cost me everything I have ever worked for. I may never teach again and it’s all because of your childish actions. Just because you didn’t get your own way.’ I yelled, jabbing my finger harshly into his chest. Then he did something that only enraged me further. He smirked. The bastard had the audacity to smirk.
‘What are you going to do, teach? Put me in timeout? Send me to the principal’s office?’ He teased, leaning forward so there were mere inches between us. His presence crowded me until it was all I could think about. His scent overwhelming me as the heat from his body brushed against my skin until my cheeks flushed red. I was flustered by his nearness, but I tried to keep it hidden, but one look in his green eyes and I knew I had been unsuccessful.
‘You care for no one but yourself,’ I spat, standing my ground and refusing to be the one to take a step back.
‘That’s not true sweetheart,’ he breathed, his eyes dipping from mine and I barely had a moments warning before he struck.
In an instant, he had closed the gap between us and all the breath was stolen from my lungs as his lips pressed firmly against mine.