I hope you enjoy. I am in love with Mark and Cadence, and I hope you get butterflies for them from this scene. It won't be full-on love yet because you still won't know them well enough, but hopefully this scene ignites a little spark. And now I'll shut up and let you read. (Oh, who am I kidding?? You didn't read these intro paragraphs. You skipped right down to "I was shocked . . .")
Excerpt from Chapter 4
I was shocked when Mr. Connelly placed a large bag on the table in front of me in the cafeteria. All I could do was stare at the name of the restaurant printed on the front: Moe’s Southwest Grill.
“Your Dad left this for you in the office. I was in there, so I said I’d bring it to you,” Mr. Connelly explained.
It was a big, fat lie. Dad would never in a million years bring me lunch. And certainly not from Moe’s. It wasn’t completely Mexican—more of a Tex-Mex restaurant—but it was close enough. And Dad didn’t like any food remotely resembling Mexican. How did Mr. Connelly get it?
“Are you going to eat?” he asked, taking the seat beside me.
All I could do was nod and stare. Mr. Connelly chuckled and reached into the bag, pulling out chips and salsa and a large burrito.
“Your Dad got you chicken,” he said. “With guacamole on it.” It came out more as a question.
“I like chicken,” I replied. “And I love guacamole.”
“Good.” He sounded relieved, like he got my order just right.
I looked at Nicole and Riley who had sopping, unappetizing pieces of cafeteria lasagna on their plates. I looked back at my food knowing I could never eat it all. I felt a slight rumble in my stomach—something I hadn’t felt in a long time—but it wasn’t the kind of hunger that could put away all this food.
“Would you guys like some?” I asked.
They looked at me and furrowed their brows.
“I won’t be able to eat it all,” I said. “Nicole, let me have your knife.”
She handed it over, and I cut my burrito into three pieces before remembering Mr. Connelly.
“I don’t want any,” Mr. Connelly said, when I apologized to him. “But thank you, Cadence.”
I don’t know why he didn’t want any of the food he paid for. And I don’t know why he brought it for me in the first place. Did I look that desperate and disappointed in church yesterday when Dad rejected my lunch suggestion? I tried to ignore how weird the situation was and passed Riley and Nicole a piece of my burrito. I also pushed the chips and salsa to the center of the table. We all scooted closer together to reach the chips, and in the process, I accidentally nudged Mr. Connelly. I mumbled an apology, then bit into the best lunch I’d ever eaten at school.
I decided the mannerly thing to do was to thank Mr. Connelly for buying me lunch, but I was too embarrassed to do it face-to-face. Instead, I ignored the history lecture sixth period and wrote him a thank-you note. It would have been so much nicer on a piece of stationery and not my notebook paper, but I couldn’t be choosey if I wanted to give it to him by the end of the day.
I watched him leave his classroom at the beginning of seventh period, and slipped inside quickly to place the folded note on his desk. I hurried out of the room before he came back; I didn’t want to be caught in the act, and thought it was a silly feeling. I was only leaving him a thank-you note, after all. I tried to ignore the fluttering of my heart as I imagined him reading the letter before class:
Dear Mr. Connelly,
Thank you for bringing me lunch today. I know it wasn’t from my dad. He would never do something that nice for me so soon after my “big mistake.” Plus, he hates any food that resembles Mexican food. Come to think of it, I don’t believe my dad has ever stepped foot inside a Moe’s. I guess my question is, how did you have time to pick it up when you teach a class right before lunch? Maybe you have secret powers that I don’t know about? In any case, I thought it was a very kind gesture. I guess yesterday in church I looked really disappointed not to get my Mexican food. You better be careful. I could find other reasons to look “disappointed” that might incite your generosity. Would crying over a bad quiz grade count for anything?
Tuesday morning I opened my locker to another note. I picked it up and groaned. I couldn’t imagine what was written. I thought those bitches had exhausted every conceivable bad name to call me and considered trashing it. But curiosity, as it so often does, won out, and I unfolded the letter to take a look.
My heart nearly fell out of my chest. I wasn’t expecting anything nice, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it from Mr. Connelly. I hurried to the bathroom and locked myself in the far stall. I wanted complete privacy when I read it, especially since my emotions read so easily on my face.
I knew you were too smart to buy the story of your father bringing you lunch, but I couldn’t very well tell you I did in front of the students at your lunch table. And yes, your disappointment at church the other day spurred me to action. Every girl should be able to have Mexican food every once in a while. I hope you don’t think my actions were inappropriate. And as much as I’d like to claim secret powers, I can’t take credit for actually picking up your lunch. I was busy going over algebraic formulas with my ninth graders. It was my friend who dropped it off. He was in the neighborhood.
I must confess that when you look sad, it compels me to act. I’m not sure it would be ethical to change a grade over tears, but if anyone could do it, you would be the one.
I read the note five times. And each time, I convinced myself a little more that Mr. Connelly was the man I was going to marry. It was ludicrous and immature, and I clung to the fantasy as long as I could until the first period bell rang, screaming at me to get to class.
I walked into math class a complete wreck. I kept my eyes glued to the floor and then my desk once I was seated. I couldn’t look at him. I was blushing too badly, and I knew he would know it was because I’d read his note. There was really nothing inappropriate in it unless you wanted to look at the entire situation as completely inappropriate. What would the checklist look like?
1. Male teacher buys female student lunch: Inappropriate
2. Female student writes male teacher a thank-you note: Appropriate?
3. Male teacher leaves note for female student in her locker: Inappropriate!
4. Note states that female student “compels” male teacher to act: FREAKING INAPPROPRIATE
Okay. So I had no idea what Mr. Connelly was up to, if he was up to anything. Maybe he just saw me as one really pathetic, lonely student whose father was cruel to deny her Mexican food, and decided buying me lunch would be his good deed for the year. Why the focus on me, though? There were tons of other losers at this school who could benefit from his kindness. And why would he take the time (and risk) to write me a note and stick it in my locker? Was I over-thinking it?
“Mr. Connelly? Do you have a girlfriend?” I heard from the back of the classroom.
I perked up immediately. A girlfriend? No way. Just the other day at church his mother was trying to set him up.
“Well, that has nothing to do with factorials, and I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to ask me about my personal life,” Mr. Connelly replied.
The class laughed.
“Seriously, Mr. Connelly,” Derek said. “You never share anything with us. I thought you were supposed to be a cool teacher.”
“I can tell you with certainty that I’m not,” Mr. Connelly said.
“Oh, just tell us!” a girl pleaded.
“Why do you care about my life?” he asked.
“Because we find you fascinating,” Kara said. “Now answer the questions. Why do you like teaching teenagers, and do you have a girlfriend?”
Mr. Connelly scanned the room. I guess he figured no one would pay any more attention if he didn’t answer the questions first.
“I haven’t decided if I like teaching teens yet,” he said. “I’m only a few years in.”
A few chuckles.
I held my breath for the second answer. I don’t know why. I knew he didn’t have a girlfriend.
I swear Mr. Connelly glanced at me before replying, “And yes. I’m dating someone.”
Some of the girls squealed. Others groaned. I made no noise; I just listened for the fracturing of my heart. How? How was that possible?
“Where did you meet her?” Trisha asked.
Mr. Connelly smirked. “It was a set-up.”
God, my stomach hurt! All of a sudden, it hurt like hell. I guess my heart fragments punctured it or something.
“How long have you two been dating?”
“It’s brand new,” Mr. Connelly replied.
“Are you going to marry her?” came a question from the far side of the room.
“Moving on,” Mr. Connelly said, and I stopped gripping the sides of my desk. I hadn’t realized I was doing it. I guess it was a reaction to my aching stomach.
I kept my head lowered for the rest of the period. I didn’t hear a thing about factorials. I just doodled in my notebook, writing the same word over and over. Sometimes in bubble letters. Sometimes in block letters. Sometimes in cursive. Sometimes in all caps. By the end of class, I had a nicely decorated page filled with the same word.
© S. Walden, 2013