Always Alone

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Chapter Three

MY ALARM CLOCK goes off sharply at 6:00 am on Friday. Today, I'll be meeting with Mrs. Garcia, the principal of Biscayne Shores, for our meeting where she'll be giving me the ground rules of the school and I'll be signing some paperwork I wasn't able to because of the state distance.

Getting out of bed with a nervous smile on my face, I brush my teeth and do a quick facial scrub before applying moisturizer on my face. Walking over to the kitchen, I turn on the coffee machine and reach for Angie's leash on the kitchen counter.

It's a humid day in Miami, all the cars on the parking lot are fogged with perspiration and doors open and shut with students in their uniforms and Mom's ready to start the day. I stare up at my building painted a deep yellow, almost orange, trying to see if I can get a glimpse of the neighbors that live above me, but no one comes out. Angie seems to be hyperventilating by my side, so I head back home.

Once we're back in the coolness of our house, I make myself a cup of coffee to-go. Since I am in a hurry and a nervous wreck, I don't bother making breakfast because I know the food will come up.

I'll be meeting Mrs. Garcia in person for the first time and I want to make a good impression. Being that this is a prestigious public school, I can't go around wearing ratty jeans and a polo shirt like I did back when I was substituting. Rummaging through my clothes, I opt for a navy-blue, sheath dress and slip on the only pair of heels I own—black pumps.

With the help of my curling wand, I twist a few strands of my flaxen hair and apply some argan oil in my hands before running my fingers through the curls, making it look like natural Miami waves.

I comb my eyelashes with mascara and apply blush on my cheeks with a plump brush. Since I have blonde eyebrows, I have to fill them in with a dark blonde pencil and finish off my look with an earthy matte lipstick. Spraying perfume before I head out the door, I grab my tote and kiss Angie on the nose as I look around the room.

"Please, don't mess up my brand-new furniture, Angie," I plead. Her head turns to the side.

Miami traffic is a disaster.

I got out of my house roughly around 6:40 am and got to work at exactly 7:55 am. These drivers are fierce, nothing compared to the courteous drivers from up north. I got honked at on a red light just as it was about to turn green. It wasn't even green when I got there.

People don't bother with their blinkers when they want to switch lanes, expecting me to be some kind of magician who's supposed to guess when they want to get into my lane.

Taking a calming breath, I step out of my car and head over to the school. From the outside, I can tell the school is enormous, taking up about four blocks.

It stands high on three levels and there are windows all throughout. They have two playgrounds, a basketball court, and a soccer field. The school is painted white, making the gold lettering of Biscayne Shores Elementary stand out against the Miami sun.

As I step into the school a security guard greets me, "Good morning, Miss. How may I help you?"

"Good morning, I'm here to speak with Principal Garcia. We scheduled a meeting."

The man taps on the computer a few times and asks, "What's your name?"

"Genevieve Peterson," I reply.

"Ah, yes. Can I see some identification, please?" he asks with a thick Hispanic accent.

After looking at my license and giving me a visitor's pass, he takes me over to the main office and lets the secretary know why I'm here. I sit down on the ample black seat and reach for a pamphlet on the brown coffee table.

From my research, I found out that Biscayne Shores is a well-known public school, ranking high with an A+ grade. I read over the pamphlet and find out that the school has a theater/drama program, soccer and basketball teams, ballet, ceramics, and arts.

Woah, all of this in just an elementary school. I know some colleges that don't even have this, but it's good to get kids moving early on, it sets up a routine that'll be easy to follow the older they get.

"Hello." I look up to see an older petite woman, probably in her late forties. She's dressed in a black pantsuit with a pearl necklace and matching earrings. "You must be Miss Peterson." The lady, who I assume is Mrs. Garcia, extends her hand out to me.

I put the pamphlet down and stand up, shaking her hand in the process. "Yes. You must be Mrs. Garcia. It's very nice to meet you in person."

Principal Garcia and I had a Skype interview a few months back where she asked mostly about my philosophy on education and gave scenarios for me to answer and react to. A few weeks later, the call came in saying that I was hired as a full-time teacher. Nevertheless, today feels as nerve-racking as it did back when I spoke to her, so I'm taking today as an interview in person sort of thing, wanting to make the right impression.

"It's very nice to meet you, too," she says and guides me to a corner office where she takes a seat behind her desk and motions to the chairs in front for me to sit.

I look around her office and notice how homey and welcoming it feels. The walls are painted a warm beige with a wall covered in a green leaf wallpaper. A large bookshelf stands against the far side of the room. There are pictures of her family everywhere throughout the office—a few on her desk, some on the bookshelf, and on a bulletin board.

"How are you finding Miami so far?"

"So far so good. The traffic, however..."

She laughs. "Oh yeah. We Miamians are harsh drivers. We don't mess around. Have you gotten a chance to settle down in your new place?"

Seemingly genuinely interested in her question, I answer, "Yes. Just missing a few furniture pieces to finish it up but everything's fine."

"Good. I'm glad you've enjoyed your time so far."

She crosses her legs and puts her hands on her knees. "I wanted to meet with you today so you'll have time over the weekend to get everything sorted out. What I have planned is to go over some of the school guidelines, give you a tour of the school, and possibly show you your new classroom. You'll probably see your students today and meet with your cooperating teacher for a few minutes. I also need you to finish signing a few papers that are required before getting our hands dirty. Once that's been settled, you'll be able to start Monday."

Mrs. Garcia goes over my responsibilities as a second-grade teacher, the school's guidelines, and the Miami-Dade County Public School policies I need to follow.

During our meeting, she mentions that I will be working with a cooperating teacher. I'll be teaching reading and science while Mrs. Ruiz teaches math and social studies. She goes on to praise my degree saying that one of the reasons why she was interested in hiring me was because of my ESOL endorsement.

With Florida's growing Hispanic population, they're looking for teachers who can convey with English language learners and students from low-income families.

A little while later, Mrs. Garcia sends me over to Human Resources to sign over some paperwork and then she's giving me a tour of the grounds.

There's something about her that exudes power and intimidates me. Maybe it's the way she dresses with her fancy necklace and her confident stride, or the fact that she's been doing this for over twenty years and is extremely knowledgeable. I don't know what to say for most of the tour so I just smile and nod, not wanting to say something foolish.

According to the principal, the school was renovated in the summer to accommodate the large population of students. It has two cafeterias—one is for the early childhood kids while the other is for the intermediate grades. She goes on to show me the theater and music room along with the art rooms. There's a butterfly and vegetable garden with over two hundred patches of fresh vegetation.

"Every classroom plants their own patch," Mrs. Garcia says proudly. "We ask our cooks to use some of the food we plant for lunch."

We reach the second floor via an elevator where we pass the library and walk through an extended hallway. As we take a left turn, she knocks on a classroom door buzzing with loud noise, indicating a packed room.

A lanky brunette dressed in nice jeans and t-shirt opens the door. "Principal Garcia, nice to see you."

"Mrs. Ruiz, this is Miss Peterson, your new cooperating teacher. She'll be starting on Monday." Mrs. Ruiz looks me over with a worried expression on her face as if asking if I'm capable of handling this job. I assure her with a nod.

I was born ready...or so I think.

"Oh, it's good to meet you," she says with a smile and half-opened eyes speaking of sleepless nights. "Please, come in."

"Mrs. Garcia, we need you in the main office," the walkie-talkie informs the principal.

She turns the volume down and says to Mrs. Ruiz, "Oh it's fine. I just wanted to introduce you two. We must get going."

We go back to the office and where she hands me my new class roster and students' previous test scores to analyze and look at over the weekend. She also gives me a few lesson plans that Mrs. Ruiz had planned on teaching next week for me to go over and be ready to teach as soon as possible.

Mrs. Garcia finishes the short interview by handing me a manual on how to set up my teacher's portal and manage my gradebook online.

I don't know why but as soon as I get in my car, I burst into tears. For some reason, I thought I had more time. More time to get acquainted with the school, my classroom, and Mrs. Ruiz who I'll be working with. This is all happening too fast and I suddenly feel overwhelmed. I pick up my phone and dial the only person I know will fix all my worries.

"Mom?" I sniffle.

I hear voices in the background then a door shutting as the noises cease.

"Genna, what's wrong, sweetheart?"

I connect my phone to the Bluetooth system on my car and drive off the school property. "Mom, I start teaching on Monday."

"That's great. Why are you crying?" she asks, confused.

"I...I don't know. I thought I had more time to set things up. I feel like I'm going to be a substitute all over again, teaching lessons that aren't my own. Teaching things I don't know if my students are capable of comprehending because I have no idea where they stand."

"Tell me everything from the beginning."

I go over my day. From the minute I woke up to the impatient driver who honked at me on a red light. I tell her about Mrs. Garcia, the school, and how I wasn't able to talk to Mrs. Ruiz who I'm dying to inquire about my new students.

"And now I have to go over these lesson plans and teach something I'm not passionate about," I finish just as I get home.

"Genevieve, Mrs. Garcia gave you a roster, correct?"

"Yeah."

"And you mentioned she gave you a report on the students' previous test scores and lesson plans." I nod, even though I know she can't see me. "Today is Friday, you have the rest of the day, Saturday, and Sunday to go over those reports and get to know your students that way at least. You'll be fine. Stop stressing over something you, God, and I know you can do."

I don't know how she does it, but my mother holds the panacea to all the disasters in my life, making the worst things possible seem like a grain of snow.

We say goodbye and I promise to call her on Monday after school to tell her how my first day went.

As I open the front door, I slip off my heels and take out Angie for her afternoon walk. I'm pleased that she's finally getting the hang of things and is walking in front of me as opposed to sitting on the grass waiting for something to happen. We take up the walking trail lining a beautiful lake while I think over my day today.

I know God won't ever give me something that he knows I can't handle. First Corinthians 10:13 is testimony to His words. So what if I couldn't speak to Mrs. Ruiz like I wanted to? I'll get to school early and see if I can speak with her before school starts. I'll study over the reports and as for the lesson plans, once I get a feel of where my students stand, I'll be able to differentiate instruction according to their individual needs.

I'm feeling chirpy now, at ease really, and continue on the trail that surrounds the green lake with swimming ducks and turtles, consequently passing by the pool and gym as well. This would be a great time to check it out again and get a closer look at the equipment they have.

Glassed walls encompass the gym and the mirror on the opposite wall gives the room an endless look. I reach for the handle but can't manage to open it. Looking down at it, I notice you need a code to be able to get in. Hmm, I think Alec wrote some numbers down on a paper. I make a mental note to look for it when I get home.

From the outside, I can see a long row of power racks lining the far wall and in the middle of the room is a nevatear bag with few mats underneath. The punching bag seems to be swinging in circles, then left and right by itself.

That's odd.

I step closer and put both palms on the glass to get a better look. A man wearing gray gym shorts and a white sleeveless shirt is punching the boxing bag.

The way the setting sun hits the back mirror and echoes against his body, makes his golden skin look like it's glowing. He isn't wearing any gloves, but his hands are wrapped with black athletic tape. Dark, Celtic lines imprint his right forearm and the ink lingers all the way up his arm, turning into a black koi fish around his shoulder.

As the bag retreats the man advances, never letting it get away. His rapid movement causes perspiration to build on his forehead and from the way his nostrils flare, I can tell his breathing is increasing.

The man gets ready to issue another blow, standing in a powerful stance. His right foot is in front of him, his hands rise to cover his face, and his chin stays down the whole time.

When the heavy bag comes forward, the man uses his left arm upward and delivers a punch, over, and over again. The switching of his feet make his shirt shift to the side and I notice his tattoo continues across his pecs and down to his ribs.

I shouldn't be spying on a stranger and should probably head home right about now, but I can't. There's something about the way his muscles contract when he throws a punch that draws me to him. It's as if he were thinking of a person he hates with all his might, taking no mercy on whoever they are.

I wish I could do the same and hit the crap out of the man who destroyed my sister's life, but I can't. So I stand on the sidelines, watching this man as he delivers punch after punch to someone he, like myself, can't reach. I know why I can't touch Hansel, but I wonder why this man can't touch the person who's clearly hurt him.

He's relentless. Furious, like he's been holding on to his anger for so long and has finally let it loose. His jaw locks as the bag comes down and he raises his foot from the blue mat and kicks it. Once the bag stills, he reaches down for a water bottle and takes a drink. Sweat covers his well-sculpted body and a trail of water runs down his strong jaw and to his neck, getting absorbed by his shirt.

I bite my lip and close my eyes as for the first time my body desires a man's touch—this man's touch. Powerful. Strong. Standing for anything he believes in. I need that in my life.

A rush of heat accumulates in my ears as I picture this man, in all his muscular glory, kissing my neck and defending my honor like many of my hypothetical book boyfriends have done in the past.

Just then, Angie gives her first bark and I'm brought back from my far-fetched fantasy. I get down and pet her behind the ears, saying in a high pitch voice, "Good girl!"

Chancing one last look at the man, I see him staring at me. His eyes blaze and swell up with rage, but it soon vanishes with...surprise? He puts the water bottle down and rushes to me.

Holy crap! I've been caught staring.

Oh, God, he's coming my way. What do I do? What do I do? My eyes pop wide as I think, is he going to hurt me?

"I'm sorry," I say and shake my head, though I doubt he can hear me and turn around, rushing back home.

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