Genre: Romantic Comedy
Character: a Preschool Teacher
Subject: Going Off the Grid
Challenge: 2,500 words in 7 days
Late afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows stained with finger paint. Alice carefully placed her supplies in one of the many boxes stacked around the room. She hadn’t ever been paid very well as a public high school art teacher. Most of the supplies her students used were paid for out of her pocket. She always told herself it was a labor of love. A heavy sigh escaped her lungs as she paused for a moment to survey the room. Years had been invested into this room; into these students.
Her phone buzzed in the pocket of her vintage, thrifted cardigan (which still smelled vaguely of some unknown grandma). Alice finished filling the box with markers, craft paper, colored pencils, and various other odds and ends she had collected over the years. The packing tape dispenser let out a harassed groan as she swiftly pulled the tape from one end of the box to the other. She checked her phone.
It was Nick.
A flush rushed to her cheeks and tiny little butterflies erupted in her stomach. Alice hadn’t felt this giddy about a man since long before her divorce. She covered her mouth with her left hand as she scrolled through her text message thread with her right, as if Nick could see her embarrassment through the keypad.
“Hey. Just checking in. How you holding up?” his text glowed.
With one thumb she tapped back “Almost done.”
“You sure you don’t want help? I can be there right after work.”
“There really isn’t that much. Nothing heavy enough to justify you taking the 101 at rush hour.”
“Ok. If you’re sure. Are we still on for tonight?”
“Great. See you then. <3”
She shook her head at how elated she was when he sent emojis. Alice was in her early 30’s with a master’s degree and one divorce under her upcycled belt. She felt silly at the bursts of what her students called “all the feels” that Nick pulled out of her.
“Hey, girl!” a cheery voice rang out.
Startled, Alice whirled around to face her classroom door. Sauntering in was her beautiful coworker, Anna. Anna was a counselor and had the word “COMPASSION” tattooed on her somewhere that couldn’t be shown in public, though Alice was the only one at the school who knew that.
“Hey!” Alice responded with a tired smile, sliding her phone back into her pocket.
“You about wrapped up in here? I’m here to help. Look: more tape!” Anna lifted a bag above her perfectly coiffed head.
“I’m actually done, I think.” Alice said, surveying the room once again. She had already taken down all the decorations that had wallpapered the bulletin boards and windows. All her drawers and bookshelves had been emptied and dusted. The desks had been wiped down of any residual paint, ink, paste, and “artistic expression” her students may have left behind.
“Were you able to get the tagging off that back one?” Anna walked to the previously heavily graffitied desk. “Teenagers express their art so aggressively these days.”
“Yeah, actually. I just re-primered it and painted faux wood grain to match the rest of them. The sealer coat is matte, too, so it should blend right in. If Admin doesn’t like it, they can spend the money to buy a new desk themselves.”
“Ha. You said ‘just.’ You just did all that. Like it was the normal thing to do,” Anna winked at Alice.
“Whaaat? It’s totally easy. You saw the tutorial on my blog. I know you did, because you ‘liked’ it. It comes in really handy if you live in an apartment or something,” Alice laughingly justified.
“Yes, yes. Miss Queen of the Life Hacks.”
“I do what I can,” Alice curtsied.
“Although, today you look like Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. Did you ever read those books?”
“I did! I do?” Alice looked down at her outfit.
Her fit-and-flare dress was navy blue with tiny orange foxes printed on it. Her grandma cardigan sparkled with an antique broach she had inherited from her Nana. She wore wine colored tights and a pair of cream and chocolate oxfords that she bought because they reminded her of cookies. Alice had attempted to tame her naturally wild, curly, red hair into an up-do she hoped looked romantic yet effortless. Curls sprayed out from the back of her head and framed her face in a way that made her look at least 10 years younger than she really was. Her earrings were studs that were also owls carved out of rose quartz.
“Miss Frizzle? Really?” Alice laughed.
“If you drove away in a school bus that farted rainbows, I would only be a little bit surprised,” Anna teased.
“Well sucks to your assmar, I only have my jeep.”
The ease of their friendship had always come naturally. There was a hint of sadness behind their laughter today, though. Alice and Anna had been sorority sisters in college and had worked together ever since they graduated. This would be their first time not seeing each other practically every day in almost 10 years.
“Are you seeing Nick tonight?” Anna knew all of Alice’s secrets. She also knew how to lighten a mood when sadness or darkness threatened – one of the many reasons she was good at her job.
“Yeah,” Alice flushed again and attempted to suddenly be extremely interested in a drawer in the desk behind her.
“Are you blushing?!” Anna caught her.
“Come on! Don’t tease! It’s embarrassing,” Alice laughed.
“No way! Don’t be embarrassed! You’re adorable!”
Anna pulled Alice back around to face her. “So this is a thing, now?”
“We’re just friends!” Alice insisted.
Anna’s chin tucked back into her neck, her head tilted to the side, and she looked at Alice over the top of her glasses.
“PUH-LEASE,” Anna stated.
“We are. He was a huge support for me through the divorce.”
“Weren’t you two friends in high school?”
“Yeah. We’ve known each other since we were kids. We’ve watched each other grow up and make lots and loooots of mistakes.”
“He’s divorced too, yeah?”
“Well that’s perfect. After all these years of knowing each other, you’re finally in the right place at the right time together.”
Alice thought about it. She knew she had always harbored a school girl crush on Nick. There was something about his energy that resonated with her. He made her feel calm and on fire simultaneously. But one or both of them always had a significant other. They were never single at the same time, so they had both accepted the idea that they were supposed to be “just friends.”
The idea of their friendship growing into something romantic made her skin tingle. Of course she was nervous. What if things didn’t work out? Would she lose her friend forever? Was it worth the risk? What if they got married and then got divorced? Then they would have two divorces each.
“WHOOOA. Earth to Miss Frizzle. Drive that rainbow fart bus back to reality.”
Alice cleared her throat nervously.
“Do we need to meditate tonight?” Anna asked.
“No. No, I’m ok. Really. There’s just a lot on my plate right now. This is all such a huge step.” Alice gestured to her empty classroom and all her boxes.
“I know. But it’s the right choice. You were suffocating here. You need to spread your wings, girl. Spread your antique lace, vintage, hand-crocheted wings and fly!”
“I feel like you should be the one teaching baby yoga!” Alice laughed.
“No way. I only want responsibility for other peoples’ children when they’re surly teenagers. I have a way with them. I speak their language. Tiny kiddos make me nervous. That’s your niche.”
“I do love the little ‘uns.”
“What is this class again? Officially?” Anna asked.
“It’s called ‘Art, Movement, and Yoga’ at the new preschool across town. It’s a private school, and it has a brand new board of directors who loved the curriculum I wrote. They’re going to let me have my freedom with how I teach art. I don’t have to grade art work anymore. That made me feel like such a fraud of an artist. I hate it. Grading art means I’m teaching these kids that the way they see the world, the way they express themselves, is somehow incorrect. That’s not what art is about and it made me hate this job. This job that was supposed to be my life-long career.”
“You look like a preschool teacher, anyway,” Anna said, scanning Alice’s shabby-chiq outfit.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Alice laughed with feigned indignance.
“Girl, it means you’re 30 and you own and wear overalls.”
“I love my overalls,” Alice pouted.
“Get out,” Anna stated with a vehement point at the door.
They fell into that comfortable whirl of laughter again. When the room fell silent, Alice let out a deep sigh that threatened to bring tears with it.
“Come on.” Anna said. “I’ll help you load your car. You have a hot date and you don’t need to have that sad, dreamy face on all night.”
Alice crossed her eyes and screwed her face up in Anna’s direction.
“Ah. Yes. Lovely. Much better.”
Alice parked in her usual spot by the Roasted Bean. She and Nick had found this place while he was helping her move out of the house she had shared with her, now ex, husband. He was already inside and she watched him quietly through the window for a moment.
He had an unassuming handsomeness about him. He was confident but not rude, slender and gentle but not weak. His glasses made him look like a book worm, but they framed his turquoise blue eyes in a way that made her stomach butterflies flap a little faster.
She checked her eyeliner in the mirror. She never even wore makeup but it felt appropriate for the occasion. New job. New life. Maybe a new relationship.
She slapped the mirror shut and flipped the visor back up. She took a deep breath and exhaled an effortless “ommmm” to bring her back to center.
The evening was chilly. It had rained on her drive over, so the black asphalt parking lot reflected the street lights and everything looked like it was covered in fairy lights. Her oxfords clacked as she walked up to the quaint, little coffee shop.
Nick was engrossed in a magazine about local and upcoming musicians. He didn’t seem to hear her walk up until she was close enough to touch him.
Before she could say hi, he spoke.
“Were you aware that the predominant influences for these kids today are all from the 90’s? Seriously, the 90’s music scene is considered ‘old school’ now. If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will.”
“Well buy me a chai, grandpa and we can discuss these whipper snappers with further disgruntled old person-ness.”
They stood in line together. She leaned on him, slightly, but they didn’t embrace or hold hands. The timbre of his voice always sounded excited but still grounded – he was eager to discuss things he found interesting, but never preached or tried talking about things he didn’t know. He listened, too. Nick could talk for hours, but he always wanted feedback or other viewpoints that maybe he hadn’t considered yet. As a teacher, his openness to asking questions and learning new things satisfied her on a level that few others had reached.
While they waited for their drink orders to slide across the counter, they quietly made fun of the various teenagers lounging about, draped over most of the seating.
“They’re like a plague,” she whispered.
“Do not allow yourself to come into contact with that chaise, my dear, should that young man vacate it, for you will most certainly contract his osteo-gelatino-sis,” he spoke in a fake, posh, English accent.
They were able to tuck themselves onto a small couch that might have actually been an oversized chair.
“Are we a safe distance from the melty-bones people?” Alice asked him.
“Quite so, indubitably.”
She smiled over her tea cup, then sipped gingerly.
“So! Today was it! You’re done. You’re going off the grid,” he said, encouragingly.
“I’m going off the grid!” she validated.
“I’m proud of you. That school didn’t let you work your magic.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m scared. I’m terrified actually. That was the big, grown-up girl job that you’re supposed to get after you finish graduate school, you know?”
“For sure. My grown-up girl job defines me as a person!” he teased.
“You have a very hairy face for a girl!” She reached over and gently scratched at his scruffy beard.
“Seriously, Alice. I’m proud of you. This is a huge step and only the bravest people let themselves take these kinds of risks. What’s that quote about bravery?” He disappeared into his phone for a moment.
“Ah-hah!” he announced after a few tip-tap-tip-taps. “The quote is ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ Nelson Mandela,” Nick read proudly.
“So you’re a grown-up girl, and I’m a brave man?” Alice asked.
“It would appear so,” he shrugged dramatically.
“Well, then we’re perfect together,” she said, without thinking before she spoke. She realized the depth of her words as they tumbled out over the mouth of her tea cup. She gulped at her too-hot tea. Her eyes watered a little at the sting of the spices in her drink.
“It would appear so,” he said.
He could only see her giant green eyes as she tried to hide behind her cup.
His voice was softer. His eyes were brighter. He leaned in a little closer.
She put her tea cup down. She waited. She had no idea what to say.
“I’ve been thinking a lot, Alice. We’ve been through so much together. You’re going on this new adventure, you inspire me every day, and you have been the embodiment of my dream woman since high school.”
She gulped at the air as if she was swallowing his statement whole. Maybe if she could swallow it; digest it; let it creep into her blood stream, then it would feel real. But she couldn’t, so it didn’t. It felt like a dream.
“Let’s be together, Alice. I want you to move in with me. You know it will work. I know this is a ton to throw on your plate right now, you have so much going on—“
She cut him off with the kiss she had been waiting to give him since she was seventeen years old. She poured all her love and feelings into that one kiss. She pulled away and their eyes locked.
“We’re going off the grid,” Nick said happily.
The Inspirational Couple
Alice was inspired by my amazing friend, Alicia, whose work and art and all-around creative amazingness can be followed @pigpigmentation or via her own website:
www.pigpigmentation.com, “Affirm Your Colorful Life.”
Nick was inspired by Alicia’s real-life husband, Art, whose real-life musical genius can be followed @arthurwebb.
I will never not find it hilarious that an art teacher married a man named Art. ❤️