“Look,” I said, grabbing the doorknob to the chem lab. “I’m sorry I’ve avoided you. I’m nervous, okay?” And that was true. I was practically squeezing the life out of the strap of Tate’s messenger bag. “Just give me a couple of days to get settled in. We can do dinner Wednesday night. Sound good?”
Shane twisted her full lips to the side, looking displeased, but I couldn’t help it. Jax’s hateful words from the other night were still flowing through my mind, an ever-present whisper, and to make matters worse, I masturbated to him the very next day. Seriously?
Right now a nice, long walk with Tate’s iPod sounded like heaven. It was really the only company I wanted.
“All right.” Her mumbled answer took some weight off my shoulders. “Do you want a ride home? I get done at eleven. I’ll stick around,” she offered.
“No.” I shook my head and smiled. “I’m actually enjoying the walks.” Looking forward to them was more like it.
She gave me a playful sneer, her hazel eyes amused. “But it’s so hot. Really?”
“I like the heat.”
“Do you?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief as she backed up, walking away.
I smiled. Yeah, I guess it was weird. At first I thought that living in Phoenix got me used to the high temperatures, but Shelburne Falls was a different kind of heat. The thickness of the air saturated everything with moisture. It was wet, and it made every pore on my skin sensitive and aware. I was constantly conscious of the way the hem of my coral-colored skirt brushed across my thighs and the heat pouring off my chest made my shirt stick to my skin. The back of my neck was already damp, and although I was glad that I wore a light white sleeveless blouse, I wished I had pulled my hair up instead of leaving it down. Brushing it over one shoulder to lie on my chest, I turned the knob and walked into the classroom.
The smell hit me right away, causing me to stop. I hadn’t been in a classroom in this school in two years, and that smell took me back to bittersweet memories. The whole school smelled the same. Like basketballs and construction paper. I inhaled, suddenly feeling alone but at home. I had nothing I had the last time I was here. No boyfriend. No best friend. But it was here that I was last happy.
“Hi, Ms. Penley,” I said right away, trying to appear less nervous than I was.
“K.C.!” She smiled one of those smiles where you can see both rows of teeth. “It made my summer when I heard you’d be helping me out.”
I nodded, looking around the nearly empty lab. A few other students—or possibly tutors, judging from the fact that they had files like mine—sat at tables around the room.
It was weird to see Ms. Penley in here, since her literature and writing classes were always in a standard classroom. This room made my legs stiffen with fear, whereas Ms. Penley’s usual classroom made my toes curl with comfort. Chem lab was my least favorite place, because I hated science. Luckily I’d had Tate to get me through those classes.
“Well.” I shrugged. “I just hope I can be of help.”
She waved me off. “It’ll be fine,” she assured me. “I’ll be in the room, and there are three other tutors here as well. That’s why we’re in the lab. Lots of room.”
I nodded, it finally making sense.
She continued talking as she organized files on her desk. “You’ll be sitting at a table with four students. We’re going to spend the first half hour or so reviewing the basics: gathering and organizing their ideas, main idea and supporting details, and the revision process. Most of these students still need a lot of practice on forming a thesis statement. You already have their diagnostic assessments.” She stopped to look at me. “So when we break into groups, I want them to each share a sample paragraph and discuss how it could be made better. I simply want them to analyze their work today, and I want them to see how their work compares to others’.”
That sounded easy enough. “Got it.”
Scanning the room again, I noticed all the other tutors seated on their own, so I headed for an empty table and unloaded my bag. I glanced up at the clock next to the door and counted down three hours and fifty minutes until I could leave. I’d have two sessions, each lasting an hour and forty-five minutes with four students in each session. Some kids were here for more than just writing, so they’d rotate to physics, English, or whatever math class they needed. And as icing on the cake, we’d all get our fifteen-minute snack or Facebook break.
One of the tutors—I think his name was Simon if I remembered him correctly from when we were in school together—smiled at me, and I nodded a greeting back.
Students trailed in, most of them later than the eight fifteen start time, and I let my eyes wander as some took their seats. I recognized a few kids, but I didn’t know any of them. They had just been finishing their freshman year when I’d graduated.
Did I look that young only two years ago? Did I wear that much makeup?
As Ms. Penley began her lecture, showing examples over the classroom projector of what excellent papers looked like, I noticed that barely any of the kids paid attention.
This must be hard for her. Some of the kids clearly just didn’t care. They covertly played on their phones under the table. They whispered to one another, ignoring Penley. They doodled in their notebooks.
And I remembered that that was what I did in my science classes in high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I’d just gotten tired of struggling.