French Kissing

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12. Advanced French

There was a parcel for her when she arrived home. Marcy instantly recognised the handwriting: it was from Addy. She had sent Marcy an assortment of deliberately tacky New York souvenirs and a postcard.

"Just getting you excited to visit me! I miss you up here, it’s too far. A."

There was a pen in the shape of the Empire State Building, an "I heart NY" key ring, several fridge magnets, and a cool pendant with a piece of vintage New York map set into it, under a glass dome. Marcy put it around her neck. Best of all, given her current mood, there was a foil-wrapped chocolate Statue of Liberty.

Unwrapping it and biting off its head, Marcy headed to her room to phone Addy. Before she could do so her mother called out to her.

Marcy went to the kitchen where her mother was cutting up some carrots.

"Mrs Helberg has been on my back again about her theatre group. They’re desperate for some new young people. Why don’t you join, Marcy? It’s only a couple of nights a week."

"I’ve told her before, acting’s not my thing," Marcy said.

"You wouldn’t have to go on stage. They need people to help with other things. I told her you might be able to help design the programs." She saw Marcy’s face fall. "She’s a good-hearted person, I know she can be a bit…"

"…overbearing?" Marcy said. "Pushy? And a total busybody?"

"She has her faults, but she’s always been a good neighbour. She’s been very kind looking after Pegasus when we go away."

Pegasus, as fat and grey as ever, was curled up smugly on a cushion. Marcy ran a hand over his plush fur.

"I might not have time. They want me to enrol in Advanced Placement for French," she said. She avoided saying who "they" were. She couldn’t yet bring herself to say the words: "our new French teacher".

Her mother was delighted. "That’s wonderful!"

"It means extra classes so I’m not sure I can help Mrs Helberg out this time. What with my job and all," Marcy said.

"See how you go. If it’s all too much you can drop something."

Upstairs, Marcy was about to call Addy when her phone rang. "You must be psychic."

"So? What happened? I’ve been literally burning to know since we spoke yesterday. And I do mean literally burning, I was messing around with a candle and I singed my hair. All your fault, because I was distracted."

Typical Addy. "I managed to face him."

"Gray? Or Mr Grayson? What was he like? Are you going to have a secret affair?" Addy asked.

"Hardly. We’d both get kicked out of school. He was kind of angry at first, but he did admit he liked seeing me. But that no one could ever know and it was all over."

Addy made a sympathetic sound. "I’m sorry. But you never know, maybe when the year’s over?"

"I don’t think so," Marcy said. "He’s bound to be dating someone else by then, he really is that good looking. I’m kind of amazed he was single. Oh, and he’s making me do AP French."

"What?!" Addy was practically bouncing around at this, at least as far as Marcy could guess thousands of miles over the phone.

"I have to enrol in Advanced Placement for French. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate," Marcy said.

"There’s only one reason he wants you in AP and that’s because he wants to see more of you."

Marcy managed to laugh. "I don’t think so. You know that Mrs Vansittart also mentioned it, she probably put it in my notes."

Addy was not convinced. "If he really meant to keep you at arm’s length then he wouldn’t try to spend any more time with you."

Secretly Marcy hoped there was some truth in this, but in reality Mr Grayson was probably just being professional and helping her to get the best education. "Your parcel arrived, thank you so much! I already ate Liberty."

"I figured you might need some chocolate, facing Brittanny and everyone. I didn’t know about Mr Grayson then or I would have sent a crate."

There weren’t many other students in Advanced Placement French that year. They were just six, all up. Marcy didn’t know any of them very well. One girl, Emilie, had moved with her family from Quebec a couple of years ago, so obviously spoke great French.

Mr Grayson came in and Marcy tried to focus on him just being her French teacher. She had to admit that he was a really good teacher. He’d managed to ignore all the girls swooning over him in class, he kept good order and so far people seemed to like him.

In his shirt and tie, instructing them from the front of the classroom, he also seemed older. It gave Marcy the horrible feeling that she must look much younger.

She loved the way one strand of hair randomly fell over his forehead, and he had to push it back. He had such a great body, you could tell through his clothes, even though she obviously had more intimate knowledge.

Marcy pinched herself. She had to stop daydreaming. They were supposed to be going over a French magazine article and she found the vocabulary pretty challenging. She really didn’t want to put her hand up and have to ask what a word meant.

They were reading around the room, a line each: first in French, and then translating. Marcy’s line was just awful, full of long words for which she had no clue of the meaning. The only thing that gave her courage was that the students who had already read seemed like they were struggling even more.

She made her way through the line. The pressure was worse because she knew Mr Grayson had French parentage, so it must have sounded even more terrible to his ears.

Then it was time to translate. She knew the article was something to do with the environment, but beyond that she was stumped.

"What’s sécheresses?" she asked.

Mr Grayson’s eyes met hers. His expression seemed neutral. Cool, but not cold.

"Can you guess? Can you remember what séche is, or sec?"

She knew that one. "Vin sec" was dry wine. "Dry".

"So from the context, what do you think it means?" he asked.

"Drynesses - " suddenly the light bulb went on " - droughts!"

"Very good." He smiled at Marcy, the first time since the school semester had started, and she felt her stomach flip over. "Now this is an example of many words you can figure out through context, without needing a dictionary. It will making reading French much smoother if you don’t keep stopping to check," he said, addressing the whole class.

When it was finally time to go Marcy rushed to get her things together so she could get away first. She didn’t want Mr Grayson to think she was lingering to talk to him or something.

But as she was about to go, he called her back to his desk.

"Yes?" she asked. The other students made it past her and out of the room.

He looked directly at her. "You did well today. I’m glad you signed up for this class."

Once again her stomach was fluttering. She returned his gaze, looking into his green eyes, and felt certain he wanted to say something more.

But he couldn’t. They both knew how it had to be.

"Me too." She hoped she could somehow convey everything in her expression. How she was sorry, how she really liked him, how she missed him already even though she had only known him for a short time. That she had no regrets, and that she understood.

Even if she wished things could be different. She thought - she hoped - that he felt the same way.

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