Sunday, December 2, 2012

Back To You by Priscilla Glenn

When Lauren Monroe first laid eyes on Michael Delaney back in high school, she had every reason to stay away from him; within minutes of their first encounter, his volatile actions confirmed his notorious reputation. But Lauren saw something in him that caused her to question his bad-boy persona, and against her better judgment, she took a chance. She had no way of knowing that the unlikely friendship they formed would become so important to her. Or that it would end so painfully. Eight years later, when Lauren begins her new job at Learn and Grow Day Care, Michael is the last person she expects to see. Refusing to revisit the hurt and confusion of their past, Lauren vows to keep her distance from him. But staying away from Michael proves to be more difficult than she thought, despite her lingering grief and her instincts for self-preservation. As Lauren and Michael recall the friendship that changed them forever and the events that tore them apart, will they finally be able to heal? Or will the ghosts of Michael’s past prove to be too much to overcome?


 Priscilla Glenn lives in New York with her husband and three beautiful children. She has been teaching English Language Arts at the middle and high school levels for the past eleven years. Glenn has written three books, although Back to You is her first published novel.

Lauren held her notebook tightly to her chest as she darted through the hallway, weaving in and out of the bodies that still lingered there, seemingly unfazed by the bell that had just signaled the one-minute warning.
“Why the hell are you walking so fast?” Jenn asked, slightly winded as she scurried to keep up with her friend. “That was just the warning bell.”
Lauren ignored her, glancing at the doors of the classrooms they were passing. It was the first day of the second quarter, which also meant the first day of new specialty classes. Basic Health was in room 228, and they had only just passed room 210; they were never going to make it in under a minute.
With that realization she broke into a jog, muttering her apologies as she squeezed in between and around other students.
“Lauren!” Jenn whined. “Slow down!” She caught up with her friend and grabbed the back of her shirt, but her pace was unbreakable, and Jenn ended up being towed behind her. “Everyone knows that teachers give freshmen a break for being late,” she said, her voice choppy as she struggled to keep up. “Especially on the first day of new classes.”
As they circumvented a group of students and came up on room 228, Lauren stopped abruptly, causing an oblivious Jenn to collide into her from behind. She flew forward, catapulted by the force, and crashed directly into the teacher who stood waiting outside the door.
“Oh God, sorry. I’m so sorry,” Lauren said, taking a step backward and discreetly elbowing Jenn.
The man regained his balance just as the bell sounded overhead, and he smiled. “Your timing is impeccable. Your method of arrival, however, could use a little work. Go on in and have a seat, ladies.”
“See,” Lauren said over her shoulder as they walked into the room, “we wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t run.”
Jenn rolled her eyes as she gestured toward the four students seated there. “And thank God! It would have been so humiliating if we walked in after the bell with the rest of the entire class.”
Lauren smirked as she put her notebook down on a desk. “Well look on the bright side; now we get first choice in seating.”
“Wonderful,” Jenn deadpanned, placing her books down on the desk next to Lauren’s. “So, will you come with me later?”
“To the drugstore.”
“I guess,” Lauren said. “Why do you need me to come?”
“I want to hold boxes of hair dye up to your head.”
Lauren turned, looking blankly at her friend. “Are you serious?”
“That’s the only way to guarantee it comes out just like yours,” Jenn said, going through her purse and pulling out ChapStick.
“Nothing ever comes out looking like the box. You’re better off just picking a color you like.”
“But I like your color,” she said as she applied the ChapStick. “So pretty but like, sexy at the same time, you know? It’s like…deep auburn. Rich mahogany. Or…mmm, dark chocolate cherry.”
Lauren shook her head as she looked through her bag for a pen. “You sound like you’re auditioning for a commercial.”
Jenn laughed as she capped her ChapStick and tossed it back into her purse. “Just come with me. It will take ten minutes, tops.”
“Fine,” Lauren sighed as she opened her notebook to the first clean page and wrote the date. “You’re a total weirdo, you know that, right?”
“And you’re my best friend, so what does that say about you?”
Lauren smiled. “Good point.”
“I can’t wait,” Jenn squealed, clapping her hands quickly in front of her. “I am so ready to get rid of this mousy brown mop. You’re so lucky it grows out of your head that way…”
As Jenn expounded on the wonders of changing her hair color, Lauren watched as the rest of the class filed into the room. The seating arrangement was set up in a large U, with the teacher’s desk and the blackboard set in the opening at the top. She had heard through the grapevine that Mr. Mavis was notorious for making his students debate controversial issues, which she could only assume was the reason behind a seating plan that allowed chatty high school students to face one another during class.
As her eyes scanned the students seating themselves on the other side of the room, Lauren immediately recognized Keith Wagner in the back corner and sighed. She’d had a few classes with him in middle school, and every one was torture; he would spend the entire class period obnoxiously trying to outsmart the teacher, arguing every point, questioning every statement.
He was going to make this class unbearable.
The sound of a chair scraping the floor caught her attention, and she turned her eyes to the boy taking a seat at the desk directly across the room from hers. She didn’t recognize him, but there were a lot of students she didn’t recognize in this class. It wasn’t uncommon for specialty classes to integrate different grade levels. In fact, as she took stock of the room once more, it seemed she, Jenn, Keith, and two others were the only freshmen in the class.
“Ladies and gentleman, your attention, please,” Mr. Mavis said as he sat on top of his desk facing the room. “This is Basic Health, room 228, and I am Mr. Mavis. Please make sure you are in the right place before I pass around the sign-in sheet.”
As the room rumbled with the slight murmur of students checking their schedules, Lauren’s attention went back to the boy sitting across from her; his eyes were downcast, watching his fingers twirl a pen in dexterous, complicated patterns.
Mr. Mavis put the sign-in sheet down on Lauren’s desk, and she wrote her name neatly on the top before passing it to Jenn, who nudged her and then gestured with her head in Keith Wagner’s direction before rolling her eyes. Lauren nodded and rolled her eyes in agreement, and as Jenn looked down at the sign-in sheet, Lauren looked back to the boy across the room. She had no idea what it was about him that kept grabbing her attention; nothing in particular made him stand out. Broad-shouldered, dark-haired, and wearing some sort of nondescript gray T-shirt and a baseball hat turned backward, he looked just like any other boy.
He stared at the pen weaving in and out of his fingers, completely expressionless, and Lauren watched the movement of his hand for a moment before she raised her eyes back to his face. And in that instant, she suddenly realized what was so intriguing about him.
He wasn’t expressionless at all.
His face was placid, almost indifferent, but there was something just behind his eyes that betrayed that cool composure. She was suddenly reminded of a class trip she’d taken in fifth grade; her teacher had brought them to a pond that was completely serene, as smooth and still as a sheet of glass, but when they inserted a tiny camera just beneath the surface, it revealed this unrestrained, tumultuous world of fish and plants and organisms whirling and crashing and spinning out of control, totally hidden beneath the deceptively unruffled exterior.
It was fascinating.
And there he sat, looking outwardly composed, and all she could think of was that pond. Because something about him, something in his eyes, divulged the secret; there was a whole world in there somewhere, thriving just below the surface where no one could see it.
“Alright everyone, good afternoon,” Mr. Mavis finally said once the sign-in sheet was circulating. “As I said before, this is Basic Health, and in the next ten weeks we will be discussing both the positive and negative external influences that can affect the human body, from exercise to nutrition, from diseases to drugs and alcohol, to sexual intercourse and everything in between. This class is heavily rooted in discussion, but you will also be asked to take notes, so if you do not already have a notebook designated for this class, please get one by the end of the week.”
At that moment, the boy with the backward hat lifted his gaze, making eye contact with Lauren, and her stomach lurched as she ripped her eyes from his. She could feel the heat blooming on her cheeks, and she hoped he wasn’t still looking at her; getting caught staring was bad enough without her blush giving a voice to her humiliation.
As Mr. Mavis continued with his class overview, Lauren picked up her pen and began doodling on the page in front of her, determined not to look up at him again. She chewed on her lower lip, slowly etching the outline of a flower in the upper right-hand corner of the page, and after a minute she finally felt the warmth begin to leave her cheeks.
“Our first unit will be the alcohol unit, and later this week a few representatives from the SADD organization will be coming to give us a presentation on the dangers of driving while intoxicated.”
“Mr. Mavis?”
Lauren closed her eyes and exhaled a breathy laugh. Keith Wagner. That didn’t take long at all.
“Do we have to do this every year? I mean, we’ve been getting drilled on the dangers of alcohol since middle school.”
“While I appreciate the fact that your past educational experiences have resonated with you, I assure you that the information and stories you’ll hear in this class are not only new, but relevant,” Mr. Mavis responded. “Especially considering the fact that many of you are now of the age to be driving.”
“Yes, but still,” Keith went on, and Lauren occupied herself by imagining what Keith’s face would look like if a teacher finally told him to shut the hell up for once. “We get it. We all know a person would have to be a complete idiot to get behind the wheel of a car while drunk. I don’t think any of us are that stupid.”
The sudden sound of a chair screeching against the floor followed by a deafening bang caused Lauren to jump nearly out of her seat, and she lifted her eyes quickly, immediately freezing as she took in the scene.
The boy with the backward hat was standing, and the desk in front of Keith was gone, overturned somewhere on the other side of the room.
Keith sat completely immobilized, gripping the sides of his chair as he stared up at the boy, looking terrified and utterly exposed. The boy with the hat loomed above him, his jaw clenched and his eyes murderous.
What had she missed?
She was vaguely aware that Mr. Mavis was saying something to the boy with the hat, but she couldn’t make it out. Everything outside of the scene she was witnessing became fuzzy background noise; she was completely frozen, her eyes pinned on the boy, watching the way he trembled with his fists clenched at his sides. She couldn’t be sure if it was a sign of restraint or impending explosion.
Mr. Mavis flew to the phone mounted on the wall by the door, and Lauren thought she heard him asking for Mr. Banks, although she knew that couldn’t be right. Mr. Banks was the guidance counselor; it was Mr. DeCarlo, the assistant principal, who handled discipline. She remembered that from orientation.
Before she could even make sense of what was happening, the boy with the hat whirled around suddenly, and Lauren flinched as he stormed past her toward the door. In one fell swoop, he yanked it open and charged out, slamming it closed behind him so forcefully that she thought the glass would rattle out of its pane and crash to the floor.
And then the room was silent.
For a long moment no one moved, and Lauren exhaled a shaky breath as her shoulders slowly dropped away from her ears.
She looked across the room at Keith, who was trying to play it off like he was unfazed, but the faint traces of panic remained etched on his face. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Mavis hurry over to his desk and frantically scribble something on a sheet of paper.
He stood quickly, folding it as he walked over to Lauren’s desk, the closest one to the door. “Please take this to Mr. Banks’ office immediately,” he murmured as he placed the note in her hand, and Lauren nodded as she pushed her chair back and exited the room of students still stunned into silence.
She walked swiftly through the hall, her heart still pounding with leftover adrenalin, but when she glanced down at the paper in her hand, her pace instantly slowed. She licked her lips nervously as her eyes darted around the empty hallway, and then she looked back down at the note.
It would be wrong to do it. She knew that.
She pressed her lips together as she glanced around one more time, and then before she could talk herself out of it, she cut to the left and darted into the stairwell.
Lauren took a deep breath, internally scolding herself as she unfolded the note with shaking hands.
Michael Delaney was just triggered. He left class and is somewhere in the building.
“Triggered?” Lauren whispered, her brow pulled together.
She folded the note quickly, exiting the stairwell and continuing down the hall to Mr. Banks’ office. His secretary smiled up at her sweetly as she approached.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, this is a note from Mr. Mavis. It’s urgent.”
“Thank you. Mr. Banks is in a meeting right now, but I’ll see that he gets it immediately,” she said, taking the note and smiling up at her again.
“Oh, okay. Thanks,” Lauren said uneasily, and she took two steps backward before she turned and exited the office.
So his name was Michael Delaney. She’d never heard of him before. What had she missed back there? She was hoping Jenn had been paying enough attention to figure out what had set him off like that.
For some reason, she felt like she needed to know.
As she turned the corner and started back down the hallway toward her class, Lauren’s eyes landed on the glass doors at the end of the corridor that led out to the parking lot.
She could see someone out there, perched on the trunk of a car, and before her eyes could confirm it, her mind already knew who it was.
Lauren slowed, cautiously observing him as she neared the classroom. He was completely still, statuesque even, a far cry from what she had just witnessed moments ago. When she finally reached room 228, despite her better judgment, she continued on down the hall, slowly approaching the doors at the end of the corridor the way someone might approach an injured animal.
He was sitting on the trunk of a car, his feet propped up on the bumper and his hat dangling lifelessly from his fingers as he rested his elbows on his knees. His head was bowed so that all she could see was his hair, full and dark and slightly mussed from the hat.
Lauren watched him, the oddest feeling settling in her chest as he reached up and dragged his hand down his face before dropping his head back. His shoulders rose dramatically as he took a slow, deep breath, blinking up at the sky.
And for some unfathomable reason, in that moment, she felt like she should do something.
But what could she do? Go out there? That seemed like an incredibly foolish thing to do. He didn’t even know her. And besides, if she did go out there, what would she even say?
Mr. Mavis had said he’d been triggered, but what did that mean? That he was dangerous? He’d certainly looked it back in the classroom; in fact, dangerous was an understatement.
But right now? Right now, he just looked broken.
He brought his head back down and closed his eyes, and as soon as he opened them, they fell on Lauren watching him through the doors.
She gasped audibly as she whirled around; any fear she should have felt at that moment was completely overshadowed by the embarrassment at being caught staring at him for the second time. She darted back to the Health room without looking back, but she didn’t need to; she could still feel his eyes on her.
He never came back to class that day.
By the following period, it seemed everyone had heard about what happened. The story spread with alarming speed, along with a slew of other rumors about Michael Delaney.
Everyone seemed to know him as Del. He was a sophomore, one year older than her. He’d been suspended in his middle school more times than anyone could keep track of. The only reason he hadn’t been expelled was because he was smart enough to manage good grades, despite the classes he missed due to detentions and suspensions. He didn’t have a father. His mother hated him. His brother was dead.
And then came the ridiculous ones: “I heard he pulled a knife on a teacher once.” “I heard he’s been in prison.” “I heard he murdered his brother."
Lauren had no idea what was fact or fiction, what was true and what was exaggerated or embellished, but by the end of that day, she was pretty sure she had come to two accurate conclusions: Michael Delaney had a very troubled life, and the general population was smart enough to stay away from him.

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