One is the loneliest number
"Ms. Sinclair, stay a minute after class. I need a word with you."
Mr. Keats stone like voice makes me nervous.
Out of all my teacher Mr. Keats is the one that scares me the most.
We never seem to get along and every time I'm in his class I feel guilty of some untold crime.
I nodd my head and curse internally at my luck.
I've never had the good kind, it's like they say if I didn't have bad luck then I wouldn't have any luck at all.
Shuffling my books into my bag and grabing my jacket I watch the rest of my class leave me behind to be at his mercy.
I don't know what it is with this man but he always makes me feel like the worst kid. Like nothing I do is right.
My unsmirched perfect grades hit a downward spiral in this man's hands.
"Miss Sinclair, would you like for me to just go ahead and give you a failing grade and it over with? It's like your not even trying."
He sighs while leaning back on his metal desk, crossing his ankles and locking his fingers together laying them down at his belt buckle.
Snapping my eyes back to him I scramble for the right thing to say.
"Nnn-no sir, I truly am trying my hardest. I'm working on my grade in your class sir. I hope this next assignment will show you that effort."
I nodd again, watching his cold brown eyes wash over me.
Like he's trying to tell if I'm lying, or maybe he is just not a fan of my fashion sense.
"I highly doubt you will be able to pass this class on your own miss Sinclair. Have you thought about getting a tutor?"
His whole presence makes me sqirm.
I feel scrutinized and dismissed at every level with him.
"Mr. Keats while that is an excellent idea I couldn't afford it. I'm not sure what I'm messing up on, if you could please give me a little more time I'm sure I will bring my grade up."
I fiddle with my nails, clipping them together while I tip back on my heels to relieve some of this anxiety he couses.
"I don't believe in optimism Miss Sinclair, in fact I think it's an ill choice for you at this time."
His tone makes it feel so final like he has already made up his mind that I cant possibly pass his class so why try.
"Sir, please. I'll do whatever assignment for extra credit to help bring my grade up. I can't fail this class, I need every credit on my curriculum to pass. If I fail this class then I can't graduate with my class next year. Please sir, please reconsider."
I plead with him, with my whole heart I need this class to pass. I can't fail, I have to graduate so I can get to collage.
I need collage to make a living and I need the money to help support my family.
It's just Erik and I.
He has worked his butt off to even get us this far.
He works two jobs, I barely see him as is and if I fail then all his work is for nothing. If I fail this class then I fail Erik and that can't happen.
I owe him more then that.
After mom died, he took the world on his shoulders for me.
Dad left a long time ago, I don't even remember him. It's us against the world now.
I have to pull my own weight, I asked to get a job but Erik nixed that idea and told me to focus on school.
Mr. Keats unlocks his hands bringing his middle finger to his cheek and running it along his five o'clock shadow.
His grey suit bunches at the shoulders and pull back at the side to show more of his white dress shirt that's tucked into his matching grey slacks.
"Hmm.. if you're interested I might have a way for you to secure your grade. Come to this address at five tonight and I'll help you with your work. I won't offer it again so take it or leave it."
He turns from me, pulling a yellow post-it note from his top desk.
Using a black ink pen he scribbles out an address and holds it out for me to take.
With out haste I take hold of it and grip it for dear life.
"Thank you Mr. Keats. I promise I will be there. Thank you for this opportunity."
I flash a smile, my chest filling with gratitude.
Mr. Keats nodds as he dismisses me officially, I practically skip out of the room an down the hall to my locker.
Finally some good luck.
Yeah it's gonna be hard to work directly with Mr. Keats but as long as I pass then it will be worth the struggle.
My brother is only four years older then me, I know how much is riding on my dedication to school.
He can't take care of the both of us forever. He didn't even get to grive over mom before he had to go back to work.
He was just eighteen when she died, leaving me his fifthteen year old kid sister completely in his care.
He quit college and picked up another job. Taking care of me made him loose alot.
I know he try's so hard and he keeps most of it out of my way.
He lost his long time girlfriend Dana becouse he didn't have any time for her, he gave up his scholarships and put his future on hold.
His friend list dwindled down to just Ross and Ben who he doesn't get to hang out with much, his always working.
Erik is my personal superman. I can't let him down.
I just can't.
If he can handle the world, all the stress, the debt mom left us, the bills, leaving and freezing his life and taking full responsibility for me.
The lest I can do is deal with Mr. Keats.
Or whoever stands in my way.
If Erik can be tuff, so can I.
Making sure I have everything before leaving school I walk home. It's only a few blocks so it doesn't take me long before I'm home and hurrying to finish my chores. Erik won't be home untill midnight tonight so making sure he has dinner ready and clean clothes when he does is a big deal. Cooking and cleaning up the mess I make sure to be on time for Mr. Keats.
Leaving my house with fourtyfive minutes to spare I take a buss across town and get off at the right bus stop. Rechecking the post-it atlest ten times I find the address in time. Only three minutes till five so I go ahead and knock.
When Mr. Keats opens the door I'm taken back. His normal attire at school is always suits and ties but seeing him at his home is strange to say the least. His plan white shirt fits him well, his lounger light grey sweatpants seem to be a bad fit but I don't says anything.
"Your late Miss Sinclair." His cold eyes bore into me, making me self-conscious. I look at my watch to see I'm actually on time.
"I'm sorry about that Mr. Keats, I thought you said five o'clock." I look down, keeping my eyes on his black and white sliders. Mr. Keats dresses like one of the kids at my school in his spare time. I know he isnt much older maybe mid thirtys at the latest but still.
"You heard right, if you're not early then your late. I won't accept tardness from you. In case you have forgotten miss Sinclair, I'm doing you a favor and won't be taken advantage." He says sternly, so much so I flinch at his words.
"Yyy-yes sir, I understand completely. I am sorry about that. It wont happen again. I promise." I keep my eyes down, not having the courage to look him in the eyes. It's like I'll be sucked into his evil vortex if I even spare a single look. Like he is Medusa and I'll turn to stone or something.
"Mhm this way." He walks away, waving a hand to usher me in after him.
Not waisting a second I follow in behind him, shutting the door softly so I can give him my full attention. Unstrapping my bag from my shoulder I wait for further instructions. Mr. Keats seems preoccupied with some work he is putting away.
His home is nice, very much a man's home. I can tell he lives alone, his bachelor pad smells of a man's cologne and the lack of decoration reeks of a single man. I'm sure my house would look the same if it was just Erik, Mom wasn't much into interior design. Not like she could be since we didn't have the money before but all the extra went on her habbit of snorting it up her noes.
Mom was a cocaine addict. I don't think she was for long, I can remember when she started to change. When she overdosed it didn't seem like something that was possible untill we cleaned her room. I found a small bag of it under her matress, a tiny little bag in her dresser drawer and dust of it smeared on her bedside table. When we got her purse back it looked like it was hit with a powder puff from one of those gag reels.
My mom overdosed on New year's two years ago, she didn't come home for two days but I thought she was with her boyfriend Scotty. When that third day came and our electric got shut off I didn't know what else to do but go look for Erik.
When I told him about mom and the power getting cut he didn't seem to concerned. To be fair he was at a frat party and was more upset with me showing up there then what was actually going on. When I realized he was drunk I looked else where for help. Ben happened to just arrive when I was loosing hope so I told him what was up.
Ben pulled Erik out of the party and took us to his apartment off campus. He roommates with Ross and another guy, Stevie. We sat there for hours untill Erik sobered up and understood what was wrong. Ben stayes with me while Erik went to moms work and asked around. Come to find out mom lost her job two months before that. Her friend Cindy said she hadn't seen mom in weeks and the last she heard about her was she was getting into some trouble with a guy they called the gas man.
Two weeks went by with out a word.
We cheeked hospitals and jails, we asked around. The police didn't seem interested and brushed us off. Since it was Christmas brake I didnt have school and couldn't go home with no heat in the house. Ben kept me. Erik went out, looking for mom every day and kept coming back with nothing. So when the police came to Ben's apartment to notify the next of kin, it was almost a relief.
I had been the one to answer the door, Ben was out getting dinner, Erik was out looking for her. Stevie and Ross gone at work. It was sunset, the chill in the air felt like winter time and I was watching reruns of Drake and Josh on some bootleg site that Stevie had hooked up for us. I remember it like it wasn't two years ago. I remember the officers that came. Detective Fordmen and officer Harris.
They asked if I was alone, if my brother could come back. I told them he was out and was on his way but if it was about my momma then they could just tell me. I could feel the bad news rolling off them. I knew whatever it was that they had to say wasn't good at all. When detective Fordmen said they had found a women matching my mother's description and needed her body identified I just said okay and that my brother and I would be down to the morgue.
I showed them out, left alone with the news to bask in bitter taste of the truth. Ben came back with arms full of take out bags. He took one look at me and new something was up.
(Mari is said like mar-ee. It's a short hand for Marcella)
"Mari? What's up?" Dropping the bags on the countertop he gets to my side in one stride. His strong toned arm's tensed at his side. His hands clenching open and closed repeatedly. His pale blue eyes made me feel warm, like under the summer sky.
"My mom's dead, and Erik and I have to go claim her body. The police were just here." I said it with no feeling, the sweeping hand of death fell over me and made me feel numb. Ben's face fell for a second before he regained his iron composure. I saw his jaw click, I saw the contemplation cloud his eyes. Ben has always been massive. When I was alittle kid I would swear he was a bear. The dark brown hair made me think about a brown grizzly bear. He has always been so much taller then all of us, and now he has been working out for so long he is massive for different reasons.
"Maybe they got the wrong person and she's still out there. Maybe she's not dead." His voice is the softest I've ever heard it. Ben has always been like a stone wall, he is Erik's best friend and the same age but I always felt close to him too.
I shake my head no, I knew the moment the officers knocked. My mom is truly dead. I know it in my heart. When Ben slides his hand in mine and intertwines our fingers I could feel the wall give way and the sadness flood me. Before that first tear stings my eyes Ben has me in his arm's. Holding me tight to his chest as I sobb and damp his shirt. I couldn't breathe I cried so hard, no one had ever held me like that, like he needed me as much as I needed him in this one moment.
I cried till my heart ran out of tears and I just felt empty. Ben never let go of me, he never told me to stop or calm down. He just held on me and played with my hair. When Erik got back Ben was the one that told him while I washed my face. My brother and I went down and looked at Mom's corpse. The next few days were nothing but a blur.
The only thing I really remember is Ben.
The way he took care of me and made sure I was okay. For a grizzly bear he never left my side. When I asked Erik to let the state take guardianship so he could go on about his life, the whole house fliped on me. Ben, Erik, Ross and Stevie gave me an earful for even asking.
I stand by that choice.
It would have been easier on him.
"Mr. Keats would you like to start in here?" I ask while he clears the stacked paper work and clear off his dark red leather couch. He didn't say anything, he didn't acknowledge my presence at all. I stood behind him, quietly waiting for our tutoring lesson to start. It felt like eons before he finished and motioned for me to drop my bag here and follow him out of the room.
Here we go.