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Bad Desire

When the weather in Maine sucks, it sucks hard. Fat raindrops thud against my hood, I tug the drawstrings of my fleece hoodie, pulling them tighter while trying to ignore the dampness seeping through to my hair. I stuff my frozen fingers under my shirt and push them against my belly. It’s still two weeks too early for snow, which I would honestly prefer, so bad weather meant a downpour of bone-chilling rain. Thunder rumbles overhead and my rain-soaked jean-clad knees quake. The town bus is late.

I tuck myself in a ball and duck my face to try to keep it dry. I have long since lost all the feeling in my nose and toes. I wish I had checked the weather this morning; it had looked so sunny, I hadn’t thought to bring my umbrella or windbreaker. The honking of a horn causes me to look up. A gold Impala with a dented bumper covered in half-faded daycare stickers pulls up in front of me. It splashes muddy ice water over my feet, soaking through my tennis shoes. My heart skips a beat, Mr. Summerfield’s car. Mr. Summerfield leans his head out the window, “Hey there Mercy! Do you want a ride home?”

I stand but hesitate before answering. Do I need a ride? Do I want a ride? Is this a good idea? Do I want it to be? Thunder rolls again and water trickles through my hair. Raindrops drip down my cheeks. I shiver, his car looks warm and dry.

Not meeting his stare I say through my chattering teeth, “If you don’t mind.”
He grins and pops open the passenger side door. I get in, wincing at the pungent stench of cigarettes and set my bag on my lap. I don’t look at him, instead, I stare down at my aqua blue shoulder bag and run my thumb over the V for Vendetta button pinned to it.

“Poor girl, have you been sitting there since school end? You must be half frozen to death by now!” Mr. Summerfield says as he twists the heating gauge to high and switches on the heated seats. I nod in thanks and turn my gaze to look out the window. My shoulders are still shaking, but is it still because of the cold? My reflection stares back at me from the window, my rain- plastered short auburn hair and dark brown eyes distorted from the water droplets. I look away from my reflection and back down at my folded hands.

“Why were you stuck out in the rain, isn’t there someone who could pick you up and take you home?” he asks.

“I work after school Monday through Thursday, it’s close enough that I can walk. But I’m off on Fridays so I take the public bus home. It usually comes about thirty minutes after school ends so on days with bad weather I typically have someone pick me up. Today was just bad luck; Mom took Felicity and Alexander to visit an old friend of her’s in Bangor. I had a test in Mrs. Devin’s English class today, so I couldn’t go with them,” I mumble, still avoiding his penetrating eyes.

“What about your father?”

This isn’t a good idea. I try to keep my mouth shut but the answer still slips out, “He’s working a drywalling job at the movie theater, he won’t be home ‘till late.”

Mr. Summerfield always seems to be able to pull information out of me. He turns the car down a muddy dirt road that led through the forest towards the bay. It led to the outskirts of town, where the school buses don’t go. There is only one house on this street, mine. I never told him where I live.

“You know, you’ll warm up much faster if you take your jacket off, it’s sucking out all your body heat.”

It is only four in the afternoon, but the bad weather means that it’s dark in the car; Mr. Summerfield’s round glasses flash in the glow of the dashboard. He taps his fingers against the wheel to the beat of the lyrics on radio.

‘Her friends are so jealous
You know how bad girls get
Sometimes it’s not so easy
To be the teacher’s pet’

I can see him staring at me through the corner of my eye. His frigid stare flushes me with fear, heat, and sickening excitement. My hands clench and tremble –the cold, just the cold- as I unzip my jacket. I slide the wet cloth off of my shoulders, the damp fabric is cold and catches around my wrists; I yank it off and throw it into the backseat. My now exposed damp skin prickles and cross my arms over my chest. I can feel the icy heat of his stare as it trails my body, tracing the curves of my torso. My shirt, a long-sleeved Beatles one that Mom had given me, is wet and clings to my body.

“There you go, don’t you feel better?” He chuckles, and pats my knee only to then let his hand linger and trail higher up my leg. His hand stops at my mid-thigh and rubs circles over the denim covered tender skin of my inner leg with his thumb. I bite the tip of my tongue so hard that I can taste the salty tang of coppery blood. I didn’t want to let him hear my whimper.

His hand tightens, “Mercy? Did you hear me?”

I swallow, “Yes, I heard you.”

I didn’t really. The blood rushing in my ears made it hard to hear anything. Take your hand off of me, I want to say. Move it higher, I want to say. You’re driving me insane, I want to say. There are so many things I want to say, things that don’t make sense even to me. I am losing my mind. I had been for nearly three months.

It started when Mrs. Donner left for her maternity leave. I sat in my 3rd-period art class and tapped the end of my paintbrush tonelessly against my worn easel. My eyes flicked up to the clock, the new teacher wasn’t here yet. I sighed, this was the period before lunch and the class was getting rowdy. I caught the eye of another student whose name I couldn’t recall and he glared at me. It barely registered, it wasn’t the first time someone gave me a dirty look and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

The door opened with a creek, drawing everyone’s apathetic gaze. That changed when the new teacher stumbled in. Most of the girls and one or two of the guys perked up, their eyes suddenly sharp and interested.

“Sorry for the wait, guys. I’m Mr. Summerfield and I’m filling in for Mrs. Donner until the end of the semester. Now, seeing that I’m new here I want to get to know you all. So I want you guys to go nuts, you can paint, draw, sculpt, and if we have the materials, you can even paper-mache. But your work has to show me something about you. Tell me something about who you are. Maybe you can paint a picture of your childhood clubhouse, or draw a family portrait. Just be creative. We’ll be working on this for awhile, so there is no need to hurry. ”

He wrote his name on the board, his handwriting long and loopy; it was beautiful and almost feminine. Then he turned and smiled at us, his teeth bright white and almost unnaturally straight. Before he was even finished speaking stools squeaked and cabinets banged as everyone rushed to gather their materials. The school budget for art materials was minimal at best and nonexistent at worst. I stayed in my seat and put in my headphones to drown out the rest of the world and started to sketch an intricate pattern out on my canvas. Layers of vines intertwined with red roses, rhododendrons, orange blossoms, lavender, tulips, and striped carnations. A red robin fluttered through the vines and flowers alongside a blue jay and a jewel-colored hummingbird. Honey bees and a dragonfly fluttered next to a black widow hung by her web.

I finished the sketch and was beginning to paint it, thankful for the thousandth time that I brought my own materials to class. I was halfway through Nirvana’s Nevermind album when I felt the heat against my back and a dry, slightly callous hand fell on my shoulder. I jumped and looked up into Mr. Summerfield’s eyes.

This was the first time I really looked at him. His dark wheat blond hair curled at the nape of his neck. His tan khakis were pressed and his pale blue dress shirt had creases so sharp that I was sure I could cut my finger on them.

“Very good! Miss…”

“Mercy, Mercy Gallows.”

His eyebrows shot up and his lips twitched in a by now very familiar way. I nodded and rolled my eyes, “Yeah, my parents have a bit of an interesting sense of humor. ‘Lici and Alex had a bit more luck in the naming department, though.”

He chuckled softly and I could smell mint on his breath, “Well, Mercy is a lovely name, very unique.”

I blushed at his comment and he turned to my canvas, his hand still on my shoulder, “Tell me about these.”

“They’re my tattoos,” I said and tugged the collar of my shirt about an inch so he could see the beginning of my extensive tattoo that covered my left shoulder and upper-arm. I was proud of my ink and whenever possible I wore tank-tops or short-sleeves to show it off. But Mr. Summerfield’s stare made me tug my shirt up quickly; it felt like an actual touch.

“What do they mean?”

“Well, the flowers come from my grandmother, she worked at a flower nursery. I spent a lot of time there when I was younger, so I love flowers. She died last year and I guess I just wanted to make sure I always remembered her.” My voice shook, I didn’t know why. He didn’t scare me, but the way he looked down at me with his hand still gripping my shoulder tight made it hard to breathe.

“And the bird?” His breath blew across my face and I shuttered.

“There is this museum in DC that has a room filled with different live birds. I’ve gone there once a year since I was three. It’s a family tradition,” I answered. Why was I sharing all of this? I was typically a private person, and he was a complete stranger.

“The spider? Black widows are deadly you know.” He smelt like cigarettes, which I hated, but underneath that I could smell his cologne. It smelt like apples, crisp and refreshing but subtle enough so as not to be overpowering.

“I hate spiders. They scare me to death.”

“Then why get a tattoo of one?”

“Because my parents always told me to face what scares me. So I’ve always tried to get up close and personal with my fears and you can’t get much closer than having it permanently imprinted on your skin.”

“Very interesting,” he mused, “If you don’t mind me asking, how do you afford it? Tattoos are expensive.”

I shrugged, “You know the tattoo parlor on Main street? The guy who runs it, Harley, can’t tell a computer from a cantaloupe. So I work for him handling the technical side of things, balancing the books, taking reservations, and stuff like that. I even designed him a website. I got the job to save up for college, but mostly he pays me with tattoos. It works out well enough.”
He shuttered, “I could never get a tattoo, needles scare me far too much.”

I had heard this many times before so I just rolled my eyes with a coy smile and said, “Oh come on, you’re a grown man. If a little girl like me could handle it then I sure you could.”
He chuckled at my gentle ribbing and pointed at my half painted yellow tulips, “If you use more orange then it will emphasize the shadows of the petals.”

I tapped my right pointer and middle finger against my forehead in a two-fingered salute. He rubbed my shoulder before leaving me to go and check on Caroline Howard’s drawing of what looked like a gang of clowns. I was warm where his hand had been, all except the cold spot that had been left by his wedding ring. I watched him out of the corner of my eyes for the rest of class, though he never looked back at me. When the bell rang everyone stampeded out the door, but I slowly washed off and packed up my materials.

“You should hurry, otherwise the lunch line will wrap around the building,” Mr. Summerfield said, as he folded up and put away the easels.

I shook my head, “I bring my lunch and eat it in the library, Mr. Klaine doesn’t mind.”

Mr. Summerfield’s brow wrinkled, “Why? Don’t you have any friends to eat with?”
I smiled sadly and left the room.

After that day Mr. Summerfield and I talked more, he was friendly and liked to give me advice on my artwork. Two weeks after he started working at the school I met him in the parking lot before school started. I always got to school early and while I usually did homework in the library, that day I happened to see Mr. Summerfield getting out of his car with a mountain of books precariously balanced in his arms.

I rushed over to him, “Do you need some help?”

He seemed surprised to see me but smiled and nodded. I took half the books and we went inside to the art room. I set the books down on his desk and hopped up on a stool, enjoying the warmth and quiet of the empty school building. Mr. Summerfield took off his coat and hung it on the back of his desk chair.

“I notice to never really talk to anyone,” He said.“why is that?”

I winced slightly, “That is a bit of a long story.”

Mr. Summerfield raised an eyebrow, “We’ve got some time ‘till class starts? Are you in a rush?”
“Well, two years ago someone broke into the school office and stole all the fundraiser money the school had raised for some new gym equipment. No one knew who did it until someone reported that they heard Caroline and Billy Howard talking about what they would spend that money on. Police searched their homes and found the money.”

“I’m guessing the one who tipped off the police was you.”

I nodded, “I was back in the library archives, they were hanging out in the shelves and I overheard them.”

“But you did the right thing, why would anyone ostracize you for that?”

“I forgot, you’re not from around here. The Howards are an old family and were able to keep the twins from facing criminal charges or getting expelled. They just got a slap on the wrist, a three-day suspension. Anyway, the twins are popular; I’m just the snitch. You can guess the fallout.”

“That’s not fair.”

I shrugged, “What can you do?”

The bell rang, signaling the beginning of the school day. I started to leave when Mr. Summerfield grabbed my wrist.

“Mercy…” he said, but quickly shook his head and let my arm go. “Have a good day.”

As the days went by I started spending lunch breaks in the art room. I learned that he was born in Georgia but had worked hard to get rid of his accent because he didn’t think anyone would take him seriously with it. He played lacrosse in his spare time and enjoyed cooking. He loved art but had no artistic skill to speak of so he devoted himself to writing about art and only subbed for schools to pay the bills. It was so innocent at first and I enjoyed the attention; I rarely had anyone to talk to in school. But then the compliments began and he started to bring little gifts to me. Just small things, like bars of chocolate, or discounted art supplies. During class when I would work on my paintings he would sometimes stand behind me, occasionally putting his hands on my shoulders for a moment or two. Never anything overtly; nothing anyone could ever call him out on.

The thing is I knew it was wrong. I knew it was inappropriate for him to give so much attention to a student, even if I was an eighteen-year-old senior. I knew I should report him, and so many times I almost did. So many times I almost told my parents. But as loving as they were, I doubted they would understand. My parents were high school sweethearts who both a grew up in town and married after they both finished college and had three kids. They lived a Disney fairytale, a dream marriage. I hadn’t even told them about my problems with the Howards, how could I tell them about this?

I let my guard down and almost told my little siblings quite a few times. I almost told ‘Lici while we were having a spa day, but who could dump that on an eleven-year-old? Alex was a safer bet; at fifteen he at least mature enough to understand some of my situation. But as the only boy, he was protective of ‘Lici and me, and I really didn’t him to bash Mr. Summerfield’s skull in with his lacrosse stick. It would be messy.

I almost revealed everything to Harley while he was tattooing swirls of tuberose around my elbow, his large, tattooed hand holding my arm in place. A former boxer, he was a large man who wore his pale blond hair in a long braid and layers of tattoos up and down his arms, chest, and neck. He reminded me of a Viking, appearance wise, that is. But he was a kind man who looked after me. The needle ran over a sweet spot and I hissed but forced myself to say still. I always laughed when someone asked if getting a tattoo hurt. You literally get stabbed hundreds to thousands of times. A new tattoo is an open wound with ink forced into it. Yes, it hurt. But in a way, the pain relaxed me and gave me something to focus on, causing me to drop my guard.
I asked him, “Have you ever wanted something you knew wasn’t good for you, something that you knew would hurt you?”

“All the time,” he replied. “But you only live once, so I always try and go for it. Think about tattoos, they hurt to get but can also be beautiful.”

I almost told him right then. Harley was my friend, one of the few I had, and I trusted him. But every night I woke up with my sheets soaked in sweat and with what felt like a roaring train running through my head, I had my reasons to not tell. Every night I woke up flushed and feverish, with damp bangs stuck to my forehead, a pounding heart, and bright eyes. I had my own selfish reasons not to tell.

Weeks passed and a war raged in my head. It seemed like my brain and common sense wanted one thing while my body and emotions wanted the opposite. My body told me that I found him attractive. My emotions told me that I liked the attention and compliments that Mr. Summerfield gave me, they made me feel special and worthy of a handsome older man’s affection. Of course, every bit of my common sense told me that this was a classic grooming technique and my brain reminded me of every law it would break if we were to cross that line. I remembered all the news stories I had read about male teachers who were caught sleeping with female students and went to jail because of it. I imagined the titles we would both be branded with; ‘perv, ‘rapist’, and ‘child molester’ for him and ‘victim’, ‘slut’, and ‘whore’ for me. I thought about how my family would look at me if they found out.

That being said, in a different world maybe I wouldn’t have hesitated. Maybe in a different world, we could have just waited until I graduated and he was no longer my teacher. Yes, the age difference and circumstances would have raised a few eyebrows but technically speaking, we’d be doing nothing wrong because I would be a legal adult and he would have been a single man.

But this wasn’t a different world and he was a married man with children. That was something that I couldn’t get passed. At school, we were alone, I could ignore his family life but when I saw him out in the town it slapped me in the face. Last month I had seen him at the grocery store with his wife, young daughter, and infant son. I watched as jangled his keys in front his son’s face to stop him from fussing. I watched as adjusted his daughter’s pigtails. I watched as he kissed his wife on the lips. It was surreal and made me feel frightened and discussed. I tasted bile when I ducked between tomato display to avoid being seen.

However, what was even worse was when Mrs. Summerfield came into Harley’s tattoo parlor. It was a Thursday and Harley was out getting coffee while I was balancing the books. The door chimed and in walked Mrs. Summerfield. She was a pretty, if slightly plain, woman with a short blonde bob and green eyes. She had a shorter, slightly pudgy frame, probably due to having recently given birth, and overall just looked average. But I froze when I realized who she was, terrified for a moment that she was going to confront me about the tension between Mr. Summerfield and me.

“Hi, are you Mercy?”

I forced myself to nod and she continued, “Oh, good! My husband, Jeff, is one of your teachers and he told me you worked here. Anyway, his birthday is coming up and he’s been talking about getting a tattoo for a few months now. This is the only tattoo parlor in town, so I wanted to stop by and see if you had any gift certificates.”

I swallowed hard, “Yes, yes of course. We have $50, $100, and $200 gift certificates. The cost of a tattoo depends on the size and how long it takes to complete. There is a $40 down-payment which covers materials and then it another $10 for every hour of labor. You’ll have to make two appointments, one for consulting on the piece and the second for getting the actual tattoo. Do you want me to pencil that in now?”

“Yes, can you put the consulting appointment down for 1:00 p.m. this Saturday and I’ll take one of the $100 certificates.”

I made the appointment, took her information, and gave her the certificate while staring at her wedding ring the whole time. Once she left I lost my composure and slumped over the desk, face in my hands. I had broken out in a cold sweat and was fighting tears, “So he wants a tattoo now does he? The fucker.”

The door chimed again and I looked up, desperately trying to pull myself together. I half expected it to be Mrs. Summerfield again. Instead, it was Harley, Harley who had adopted me as a sort of surrogate little sister since I have started working for him.
“Hey, I swallowed my pride and got you your soy mocha whatsit-. Hey, what’s wrong?” He walked over to me with long, rapid, purposeful strides.

I tried to brush off his concerns and say I was fine but when I opened my mouth a dry sob escaped me. I slumped down on one of the tattoo benches and hung my head.

“Did someone come in and mess with you while I was gone? I’ve been worried about that. From now on I’m locking the door when I go out; I don’t want you working in here alone.” He sounded furious, mostly with himself.

I shook my head, “No, no. It was nothing that. It’s just-. Harley, can I have the rest of the day off? I need some personal time.”

Harley crouched down in front of me, his brow furrowed and his mouth in a tight line. “Mercy,” he asked softly, “are you in trouble?”

Yes. Yes, I was. Mr. Summerfield was either playing with me, his wife and kids or maybe us all. There way, he was being horrible to someone and I must be worse than him because I desperately hoped that it was his family that he was playing.

Mr. Summerfield’s voice cuts me out of my thoughts, “Mercy, we’re here.”
We were, my colonial style house looms over the car, dark and empty. The cobalt blue shingles are a dull dark gray in the rain and the sunny yellow panels look tainted. I get out of the car quickly and nearly fall to the ground. My legs feel like jelly. I rush to the front door, not bothering to thank Mr. Summerfield. The heavy oak door falls open easily and I slam it closed behind me, creating a barrier between the two of us. I feel safe in my own home.
But that safety is interrupted by a knock. Ignore it, I tell myself, he’ll go away. That wouldn’t happen, though. Somehow I know that he’ll stand there until my father gets home. I open the door a crack, just enough so I that could see him.

“What do you want?” I ask,

“You left this,” he holds out my jacket. I stare at his outstretched hand like he is holding a venomous snake. I open the door wider and take the jacket, it was a gift from my Grandfather and I wore it almost every day.

“Thank you, for everything,” I try to close the door.

“Mercy,” he says, “this can’t go on.”

My heart thuds in my ears and my blood boils. I know that he’s right, something needs to change. One of us has to make a choice, one of us has to make a move. For the first time today, for the first time in many days, I meet his eyes. It was time for me to take a chance.
I swallow my fear, “What happens if I let you in?”

Rain drips from his hair, splattering across the inside of his glasses, “I don’t know.”

I don’t either. “What happens if I close the door?”

“Then I leave. But everything starts over again on Monday,” he said, almost solemnly.

Two choices, a fork in the road. Left or right, up or down. One choice would take me back to the beginning and the other would take down a whole new road. I take a breath, time for a leap of faith. This is going to destroy me.

I open the door.

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