Visiting for the first time? You can read day one here.
My stomach is still moving topsy turvy when we get to the restaurant so I opt for grape leaves and pita chips instead of the falafel I was initially craving. We find a booth and I collapse against the leather backing. I don’t even know if I will be able to finish this food. I’m not even hungry anymore.
I am just so. unbelievably. tired.
I finger a pita chip and dip it into the hummus, tasting the salt against my lips when I take a bite. Something ignites inside and I remember the hunger, my insides slowly settling from being spooked at the school. What remains is the constant nagging in the back of my brain.
Who was it? Who was following us?
The more I eat, the stronger I feel. The more present I feel. I begin to notice the heaviness of my limbs and how much it takes to simply exist in the moment. I need a break, but there is no such thing. Not now. The emotional weight I’ve been carrying since Juniper disappearing is finally taking its toll. The only thing I want to do is crawl into bed and fall asleep forever. Instead, I blink against the heaviness of my eyelids and try to focus on Jasper. I begin to notice him for the first time. The way his hair curls into a Q on the right side of his forehead, the muscles in his shoulders flexing and contracting when he rearranges himself in the booth, the way his tongue reaches for his food before his mouth does.
I choke on some rice and take a swig of ice water.
He looks up, startled. He moves to reach for me then decides not to, his hand hanging in mid air before dropping by his plate.
Not here. Not now. Focus, Lavender.
I nod and hold up a finger, motioning for him to wait while I chug down my distraction.
“Wrong pipe,” I sputter before I take another sip. He nods, satisfied.
The last thing I need is to feel any sort of curiosity or attraction toward Jasper. I sigh, content that I’m not going to cough any more, and place my hands in my lap, tangling my fingers together in an attempt to make them behave because what I really want to do is reach for that curl against his forehead.
“So how close are you and Juniper?”
There. A safe topic. Remembering Juniper.
He takes a bite of his tabouleh. “We’ve definitely gotten closer since the beginning of this year. With her teaching Pre-Cal and Statistics, we see each other more. We didn’t see each other nearly as much last year when she was working with the sophomores.”
“What do you teach?”
I blink. He laughs.
“I know. I don’t look like your standard English teacher.”
He doesn’t. Although, I don’t have much to measure against. I look at what he’s wearing: skinny grey jeans, a black fitted turtleneck, and a jean jacket rolled with precision.
“I admit. When I think of English teachers I think of cardigans and loafers. Maybe, if they’re forward-thinking, an occasional tattoo based on literature.”
Jasper laughs, and I notice the way his face wrinkles around his eyes, framing the sea of green. I feel a jolt of electricity — a reminder — you are sitting with this man because your sister is gone. And yet, I feel pulled to know more.
He twists his arm to show me the skin under his elbow. Written in type-like font is the word timschel.
“Thou mayest,” I whisper.
He nods. “One of my favorite books. I guess I fit your forward thinking stereotype.”
I manage a smile.
“At least it’s not Vonnegut. Then you’d just be cliché.”
He spreads his hands wide in surrender. “So it goes.”
Seems a little too close to home, given the circumstances. Plus I can’t really remember if he ended up being a good guy or not. His name was interesting, though — I remember that.
I don’t mention the only reference I have of male English teachers comes from a TV show where the character is brooding, handsome, suspicious, and very much involved with one of his students.
“What made you decide to teach English?” I ask.
“What made your sister decide on math?”
I hate when people answer a question with a question, but I give him this one. I breathe for a moment before answering.
“Curiosity,” I manage. “Curiosity and an insatiable desire to help.”
He wipes his mouth with a napkin. “I can see that. She’s always finding ways to get the students move involved with the content. Senior year is hard — especially spring semester. All signs point to graduation and the malaise sets in deep.” He tilts his head dismissively. “But we were the same, right? At least I was — I couldn’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of town.”
“Did you study English in college?”
“Literature and Creative Writing,” he answers. “If I could do anything, I would be writing screenplays. And I dabble in it a little on the side. My grading stacks multiply like bunnies though so I don’t get as much time as I would hope.”
“And there’s chess,” I point out.
He works his tongue around an incisor, rolling his eyes.
“Prime example of the newbie being dropped into clubs no one wants to take responsibility over — your sister found herself a sponsor for Pokemon loyalists last fall. Did she tell you that? It nearly drove her insane. I thought for sure she would take Steve or Scott or whatever his name was up on his offer to join his company.”
I laugh and then pause.
“Simon asked her to join his company?”
He stops mid chew. “She didn’t tell you? I think it’s why they ended up breaking it off initially. He never got over her unwillingness to leave the school.”
I look out the window. Juniper had mentioned nothing about Simon offering her a role at his company, but she had said plenty about how proud he was of the capital gained for his tiny start up — within six months he would be the CEO of a company that went from ten employees to over 200.
“She’s one of those people who wouldn’t be able to take what she’s good at and make a fortune, like working in finance or something for a massive corporate company. Even a smaller company, like Simon’s, would be like pushing an ice pick into her brain. She wouldn’t last.” I take a strand of my hair and wrap it around my finger, remembering conversations I had with Juniper about her decision to go into teaching.
“Her teaching math was more about the students than it was about the subject matter, really. She could have taught anything. She chose this because she’s one of the few people who find it intriguing.” My lips turn upward and a small laugh escapes me and I think about her sitting on the couch, watching Stand and Deliver wrapped in a blanket with tears running down her cheeks.
“She wanted to be her very own version of Jaime Escalante.”
“Wanted?” Jasper asks, tentatively.
My heart stops.
“Wants,” I whisper. “She wants to be her own version of Jaime Escalante.” My fingers hover above my lips, afraid of what might come out if i’m not careful.
“I need sleep.”
Jasper turns around and grabs a to-go box from the table of supplies behind our booth. Grabbing my unused fork, he begins taking my food and packing it up.
“What are you doing?” I look at him in shock.
He points at me with the fork. “You’re done. You’re going back to Juniper’s place. You’re going to walk through the door, put this in the fridge, and collapse into bed.” He focuses again on packing the food before taking another look at me. “I’ve known you for like two hours and I can see it plain as day.”
I gape. Literally. Gape. My mouth flies open and I have no words. I watch as he pulls a pin out of his pocket and writes something on the box before handing it to me.
When I look down, I see his number and a note.
“In case you need anything,” he mumbles, his ears turning red around the edges.
“Thanks,” I croak. I’m blushing now. I feel the heat creep its way across my cheeks and temples and I make a quick escape, not even saying goodbye. I feel like a middle schooler, and I’m suddenly angry at how adorable Jasper acted when he gave me his phone number. I throw my bag and the box of food in the passenger seat, nearly knocking both over into the floorboard. I don’t even care. By that point the anger has dissipated into exhaustion and I’m fighting to stay awake as I drive the route back to Juniper’s cottage by the sea, hoping against all logic that she’ll be waiting for me when I get there.