As you may or may not know, I’m a part-time teacher by day. To celebrate World Teacher Day, here’s a chapter from a trilogy I’ll be publishing next year (after a darn good edit). It’s not erotic romance, so I’ll publish it under another name. It’s a comedy drama, or dramatic comedy (or something like that), set in the world of education. I’ve used plenty of my own experiences in the book, especially daft conversations with kids! There is a romance at the heart of it, between the main characters, Sarah and Ed (or Ted, as he’s sometimes called). Here’s a bit from early in the first book, Dangerous Snacks, where Sarah and Ed are only just realising their mutual attraction …
She‘d found the chocolate brownie on her desk. While she’d been taking her time in the ladies’ toilet thinking about Ted’s buttocks, some kind stranger had crept into her classroom and left the brownie next to the computer monitor. It was packaged in a sandwich bag and sealed with a plastic tie. She couldn’t work out who’d left it there. Occasionally, some of the younger pupils brought her a cup cake or a biscuit they’d made at home. But they were never packaged in anything. She’d sling this one in the bin later on (like she normally did), but for now it had to stay where it was.
‘So where was you then, miss?’
‘None of your business, Liam.’
She sat down and pushed the brownie to one side. The bell had only just rung but Liam Smith had already found his way into the classroom, plonking himself into a chair directly in front of her desk. He’d been lurking in the corridor, waiting excitedly for the opportunity to interrogate his teacher. He’d always reminded her of a badly drawn cartoon character. The head was nowhere near symmetrical, with a nose that was far too short for the face, placed just that little bit too close to the mouth. The mouth was roughly twice as wide as it should be. And then there were the eyes: they were way too big for his head, placed so far to the side that he looked like a frog. Those eyes were blinking at her now from out of the sides of the asymmetrical face.
‘Was it cancer, miss?’ Liam asked, lowering his head to emphasise the seriousness of his tone.
‘Well, that’s serious, isn’t it? I mean you’d have a lot of time off with that.’
‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘It wasn’t cancer.’
‘Was it lupus, then? My auntie’s got that.’
‘Lupus? No?’ She leaned forwards, slapped both of her hands on the desk and looked down at her register. ‘I don’t even know what lupus is,’ she muttered.
‘Did you break a leg?’
‘No, I didn’t break a leg.’
‘So …’ Liam leaned forwards over the desk, resting his chin on his hand. He wasn’t about to give up any time soon. ‘Did you have a brain tumour?’
‘No … What?’
‘Was you pregnant?’
She gazed at him, open mouthed, knowing that she really ought to dismiss the question, but she just couldn’t help herself. She had to know.
‘How long do you think you’re pregnant for?’ she whispered.
‘Dunno.’ Liam shrugged his shoulders. ‘Four months?’
‘Jesus …’ She thought about banging her head on the desk but settled for rummaging through the pile of papers. ‘Hand out the books,’ she ordered, nodding at a red plastic box that she’d left ready by the door.
With a sigh, Liam Smith pushed himself up from his chair and began to slope around the room, carefully placing a copy of Romeo and Juliet onto each desk while the rest of the year nine class began to file in around him. She watched as the others spilled into the room. Occasionally, somebody threw a surprised glance in her direction, or nudged a friend, or muttered something under their breath. Bags were flung onto tables, coats dropped onto the floor. A wave of noise seemed to flow through the doorway. She watched and listened until the final few bodies had settled themselves down into chairs and the noise had begun to ebb away. At last, apart from the occasional mutter, the class had fallen into silence. She called out the register, put down her pen, picked up the copy of Romeo and Juliet and opened her mouth to speak …
‘Was you depressed, miss?’ Liam asked suddenly, lowering himself back down into his chair.
Sarah gave a start. Depressed? She fiddled with her own copy of Romeo and Juliet and thought about a possible response. Yes, she wanted to explain, I was depressed. You’ve guessed it. Well done, frog face. I’ve just lost a year of my life trying to claw my way out of a dark hole. And I’m still popping pills and drinking too much. And I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. And I don’t know where the hell I’m going. I’ve tried archery and pottery and yoga, but none of those seemed to help. My best friend thinks I should shag your head teacher and while I found him suddenly and inexplicably attractive in briefing this morning (and I’ve recently been thinking about his buttocks), I’m not so sure that it would be a good idea.
‘No, I wasn’t depressed,’ she muttered.
‘Only Sigourney saw you in town one Saturday. She said you was with your daughter and you didn’t look too happy.’
‘Well, that’s my natural face.’
‘Sigourney said it must be depression ‘cause you was off work but in town.’
‘That’s interesting. It wasn’t depression.’
Liam narrowed his badly drawn eyes. She could see that he was sifting through his brain for other possible medical conditions. She really ought to have thought about this before now. She really ought to have put a story together. It would have made everything so much easier. But for now she just needed to put an end to Liam’s search through his memories of medical dramas and family afflictions. Who knew what he’d come up with next? Severe diarrhoea? Alzheimer’s? A tape worm?
‘Romeo and Juliet,’ she said quickly. ‘Let’s get reading.’
Before Liam Smith could say anything else, she’d given him the job of reading out the prologue. By the time he’d finished blundering down the fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, she’d written the other parts onto the board. ‘This is who’s reading,’ she snapped, tapping the board. ‘No arguments. Act one, Scene one. Go!’ And so, the reading continued almost seamlessly. Slowly, wading through a mire of four hundred year old language, the selection of hapless pupils stumbled over their lines. Sarah listened, helped with a word here and there, wondered idly if she should stop to explain what was going on to the furrowed brows, and decided against it. If an Ofsted inspector had been in the room, he (or she, because women could be evil bastards too) would have lost the will to live by now. But while the kids were reading, there would be no questions. They made their way through the streets of Verona, past the usual thumb biting and the insults, arriving inevitably at a fight. Benvolio tried his best to keep the peace (in a very squeaky voice) before Tybalt arrived, apparently full of hate and fury (but sounding very bored). And all the time, as if she’d only seen him for the first time that morning, Sarah Pickering thought about Edward King. She thought about his buttocks. How firm were they? She’d like to give them a squeeze. She thought about his blue eyes. She could lose herself in those things, especially in between kisses while he ran his big hands up and down her body. She even thought about his chest hairs. And finally, with the sex gremlin whispering in her ear, she allowed herself to think about the bulge in his pants.
‘Miss, I don’t get it.’ Liam had started again.
Sarah sighed. ‘What’s not to get?’
‘How they fall in love so quickly.’
‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Sarah stared back down at the page. They were still on the first scene. Romeo hadn’t even turned up yet.
‘Let’s not talk about love. We’ve not got to that bit.’
‘Yeah but …’
‘Yeah but nothing. Let’s just read this scene.’ She gave him her best attempt at a withering stare.
‘But, miss …’ Liam sat back in his chair and picked his nose. ‘I’ve seen the film, miss. You know, the one with Leonardo da Vinci. It’s proper good. It’s got guns.’
She let out a long sigh and glanced at the chocolate brownie. Suddenly, it looked quite appealing.
Liam had a pained expression on his face, as if he was constipated. ‘I need to know now, miss. How do they fall in love so quickly. I mean, they’re at a party, right? And he’s dropped a tab …’
‘Only in the film,’ Sarah explained. ‘Not in the play.’
‘Not in the play?’
‘No, just in the film. In the play, there are no drugs.’
‘Oh, I thought that might have been why. I mean if he’s high, then he’s gonna go with anything, right?’
Sarah slammed her book down onto the desk.
‘I think they’re just attracted to each other. That’s all.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘My dad says it’s all chemicals.’
‘I’m sure he does, Liam.’
‘He says that’s why he ended up with my mum. Because of the chemicals and everything. And then by the time it all wore off and he was thinking straight again, it was too late and he was married.’
‘Well … your dad’s probably right … about the chemicals.’
‘So, it is drugs then?’
‘I think your dad means endorphins.’
‘Jesus, Liam. Let’s just read.’
She wanted to tell him about Blackpool Tower, about how it was lying in a splodge of ketchup in her kitchen bin because, engulfed by endorphins, she’d fallen in love with the bastard ex far too quickly. She wanted to tell him that she’d ended up in a down-market bed and breakfast having dirty rotten sex five filthy times, and then she’d gone home with cystitis. Less than a year later, she’d found herself married in a cheap dress from British Home Stores, and now she was already nearly divorced. A piece of paper was about to flop through the front door, announcing that she was no longer married, certifying that she was a complete failure in love. She wanted to tell Liam that these days she hated the bastard ex, but that there was a thin line between love and hate, and that hate she could deal with, but love she could do without.
‘Read!’ she snapped again.
She listened as Benvolio recapped the situation (still squeaking) and the Prince of Verona dealt out his judgement (in a broad Leicester accent). She was thinking about Ted again, about the way he’d looked her up and down in briefing, about the way he’d asked her if she was alright. Did he really fancy her? Could it really be possible?
‘Miss, why do the Capulets hate the Montagues?’ a voice was pleading.
‘We don’t know,’ Sarah explained, shaking her head and snapping herself out of her thoughts. ‘The Capulets and the Montagues have hated each other for a long time. Nobody can remember why.’
‘But that’s stupid,’ the voice whined. Sarah didn’t even know where it was coming from. She was just happy that it didn’t belong to Liam.
‘In a little while, Romeo says, ‘Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.’ That’s our only clue in the whole play. What do you think that could mean?’
‘Oh, I’ve got it, miss!’ Liam was bouncing around in his seat. ‘It’s like these two families on our street, miss. They’re always putting dog shit through each other’s doors.’
‘Sorry, miss. Dog turds. Only they can remember why they hate each other. ‘Cause the dad of one of the families shagged the mum of the other family.’
‘I’m just saying.’
She drummed her fingers on the desk. Turning her eyes back to the class, she raised an eyebrow. That was all it took. Thirty pairs of eyes were lowered. She congratulated herself on the fact that she still had it.
‘Read!’ she ordered sharply.
While the reading went on, she scanned the class, letting her eyes fall on the new boy, Ellis Burton, a small, squat bundle of pent up rage and frustration, ready to go off at any second, bubbling under with silent threat. He wasn’t listening. That much was obvious. He hadn’t even opened the book. Instead, he was busy staring at something. Following the direction of his gaze, she found herself looking at a girl with bright blond hair and a bright red cheek. Leanne Taylor. A mean girl. An it girl. The sort of girl you really wouldn’t want to mess with. She glanced back towards Ellis. Was it love, she wondered. Had Romeo and Juliet had brought out his romantic side? Was he run through with the blind bow boy’s butt shaft?
‘Ellis!’ she called out abruptly.
Ellis Burton barely moved.
‘Ellis!’ Sarah repeated herself. ‘Can you tell me where we are in the play? What’s the next line?’
Ellis gazed back at her without saying a word, his face expressionless.
‘Where are we, Ellis?’
‘Dunno,’ he grunted.
‘Dunno, miss,’ she corrected him.
He tightened his lips, refusing to play her game.
‘He’s not concentrating, miss,’ Liam called out. ‘His things are hurting.’
‘Things? What things?’
‘You know, miss. His man things.’
A quiet ripple of sniggering flounced its way around the class, a very quiet ripple. It might only be his first day, Sarah realised, but it was clear that Ellis Burton had already made his mark. He was not to be laughed at, not out loud, just like Hitler or Stalin. Don’t laugh, or you’re gonna to get it.
‘Right, back to the play,’ she announced.
‘But don’t you want to know how it happened?’ Liam went on, apparently oblivious to the ‘Don’t piss off Ellis’ code.
‘No, Liam. Now be quiet, or it’s a detention.’
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the figure of Ellis Burton move about in its seat, dark and menacing.
‘But miss, it’s well funny.’
‘And it’s not for here.’
‘Leanne did it.’
Forgetting all pretence of silencing the class, she glanced over at Leanne.
‘Yeah,’ Liam was starting to laugh now. He forced out the rest of his explanation through a growing crescendo of guffaws. ‘He kicked a ball at her this morning, and … she … she … she kneed him in the nuts.’
‘Right, that’s fucking it!’
At last, Ellis Burton had spoken. There was a terrible scraping of plastic against vinyl. As Ellis Burton shoved his chair back, it hit the wall, ricocheted off and landed on its side. Sarah watched in horror as in a split second, Ellis launched himself across the room, lurching over a row of tables and pushing people out of his way before landing on top of Liam. He was like some sort of prehistoric predator, full of primeval fury. A thick, sinewy forearm locked itself around Liam’s neck from behind, while a wrecking ball of a fist swing itself against his face over and over. Liam’s eyes bulged out of the side of his face in astonishment. He gasped, scratched ineffectually at the arm that held him in place. At last, Liam managed to get to his feet, with Ellis still attached to him from behind. The pair of them staggered to and fro, knocking tables and chairs over in their wake. The sound of thumping was soon drowned out by the screams and shouts of the rest of the class, half of them screeching for him to stop, the other half chanting ‘Fight, fight, fight …’
Feeling a lightening bolt of adrenaline surge through her body, Sarah decided that there was no time to weigh up the pros and cons of action, just time for action.
‘Go and fetch someone!’ she shouted to anyone who’d listen. ‘Now!’
Before she’d had time to think, she found herself in the middle of the fight. What the hell was she doing? First day back and she was trying to break up a scuffle. Liam had managed to squirm around to face his attacker and was now aiming pathetic fists into his steely stomach. Sarah pushed her way between the two, forcing an arm in between their bodies. For a split second, she wondered if it was legal. What had been the latest guidelines issued by the Department for Education? Could you touch kids these days? Was the law on her side? Could she get sued for this? Would she lose her job? Liam’s face flashed into view. It was dripping with blood. That made up her mind. Guidelines on her side or not, she needed to stop this fight.
She was hit on the nose. She had no idea who’d done it. Out of the maelstrom of flailing limbs, she found it impossible to tell. Aware of the gasp from the rest of the class, relieved that the flailing limbs seemed to retract towards their owners, she staggered backwards, fell against the wall and found herself sitting on the floor. Suddenly, everything seemed to slip into silence, apart from the sound of her own breathing, quick and rasping, her own heart beat, thudding at a fast pace. And then she heard a man’s voice.
‘What’s going on?’
‘Liam wound Ellis up, sir. And then they had a fight, and miss just got hit. She’s over there.’
‘Liam, get to reception. Ellis, stand in the hall.’
She felt a hand touch her shoulder.
‘Are you OK?’
She opened her eyes to find Ted crouching in front of her. In the midst of the pain and the chaos she couldn’t help but notice that his flies were undone, gaping wide, showing off his pink underpants.