Tim made his way through the halls to his classroom. Starting over was always tough, but he was coming home. He’d paid his dues and was finally rewarded with the position he’d always dreamed of. It seemed silly that he wanted to be a third grade teacher his whole life, but ever since he was a third grade student, at the same school, he knew it was where he wanted to be.
Inside his classroom Tim observed the work he’d done. There was always a balance between making a room fun and making it functional. Every item in the room needed to serve at least two purposes, one of them being to show kids that learning was fun, not hard work.
Tim only had a few minutes before the parents and kids started arriving. He wiped his damp palms on his khakis and smoothed a hand over his teal blue shirt, hoping he’d be able to instill confidence in the parents. A male teacher was still an anomaly, and some parents were resistant to their child being taught by a man.
Of course, some encouraged it. Usually the single moms with their own agenda, but Tim wasn’t going to think about them.
The first families trickled in and Tim welcomed them, beaming his best smile, the one that usually made people feel relaxed, and introduced himself, “Welcome to third grade. I’m Mr. James. What’s your name?”
The little girl with a pixie cut ducked behind her mother and grabbed a hold of her leg. Tim expected that, but it still stung a bit. He checked the mom’s hand for a ring and saw none, which made him wonder how often dad was around and if the girl had been around men much.
“Tell Mr. James your name, Gracie,” Mom prompted. “I’m sure he’s very nice.” Mom beamed at Tim, one of those smiled that made him uneasy.
“Gracie, huh?” Tim said, focusing on the little girl. Little, she was eight, turning nine in a few months. He’d memorized the few facts he’d been given about each of his students, and he knew Gracie was very smart and one of the oldest in his class. He didn’t figure she would be so shy. “I think I saw your name over here. Why don’t you come with me to look?”
Gracie’s mother beamed at him again, but Gracie just stood there.
“Okay, you don’t have to. I think I’m going to go sit in your chair. Is that okay with you?”
Gracie almost smiled at him when she peeked out from behind her mother. Tim turned and walked away, perching himself on the small chair at the desk he’d taped her name to.
His 6’4” frame didn’t come anywhere close to fitting the small space meant for an eight year old. His knees hit the top of the desk, his arms dangled by his sides, almost reaching the floor, and his big feet hit both the edge of the chair and the legs of the desk.
Tim knew he looked ridiculous.
Gracie’s mother laughed, and after a minute Gracie did too. She eased her way over to him and looked at her name on the desk. “You’re too big to sit here.”
“Well,” Tim shrugged, “you didn’t want to sit here so I figured I’d try it out.”
“Can I sit?” she asked sweetly.
“Of course.” Tim carefully unfolded himself from the desk and allowed Gracie to claim her seat. She glanced at the other names close to her, her eyes lighting up when she saw a friend’s name. “Mommy, look! Megan is sitting right there!”
Tim smiled as the two huddled close and talked about how much fun Gracie and Megan were going to have in third grade together.
More parents and students came into the classroom, introducing themselves and meeting the teacher. Tim had a few more that were nervous about him, but none that reacted the way Gracie had. Most of the other students came in ready to find their desk and their friends, and see what the classroom looked like.
As the meet and greet died down, Tim breathed a sigh of relief. He’d met most the his future students, and they all seemed comfortable with him by the time they walked out the door. A few even commented on how cool it was to have a guy teacher.
When the last family left, Tim closed his door and turned off the lights. He dropped into his chair and rested his head back against the soft leather. He’d survived the first hour. It wasn’t much, but he survived it. Mr. Stevens wanted him to check in at the office before he left, but Tim knew the rest of the school was still crawling with families, so he was going to wait a few more minutes.
Bang, bang, bang! Someone pounded on his door. Tim bolted to his feet and looked through the glass panel. He saw a little hand resting against the glass.
“Duty calls,” he mumbled to himself.
He opened the door and found a young boy standing outside by himself. The boy looked up at Tim and grinned. He was missing a tooth, but was sliding his tongue through the space. Freckles covered his cheeks and nose and disappeared into the collar of his shirt, only to reappear on his arms and legs. Green eyes and red hair popped at Tim, making the kid look like a leprechaun, minus the pot of gold.
“Hi,” the boy said, “I’m Charlie. Are you Mr. James?”
“Yes, I am. Are you in my class?”
The boy nodded and pushed his way inside, looking around the classroom like he owned the place. “This is so cool. I love trucks. I’m going to be a truck driver when I grow up.”
Tim smiled at Charlie’s enthusiasm. Truck driver was definitely not a career most kids picked when they were eight, but Tim could see the appeal. What he couldn’t see was why the kid was there alone.
“I like trucks too. My favorite is this one,” Tim said, showing Charlie a picture of a blue monster truck with wheels that were taller than him. Tim had it taken when he was visiting a friend over the summer and decided it was a great idea for his classroom.
“Wow, is that you?” Charlie said in awe. “How big is that truck?”
“It was pretty huge. The tires were bigger than me. I’d never seen tires so big before, that’s why I wanted to get a picture.”
“That’s totally awesome. My dad would love that.”
“Where is your dad?” Tim asked, still wondering why the kid was alone.
“Oh, he’s not here. He’s working. My dad works a lot. But my mom’s here,” Charlie said nonchalantly.
“Thank God,” a woman’s voice said from the doorway.
Tim spun around and his eyes connected with Charlie’s mom’s. Bright blue met his brown. Relief on her face met a fading half grin on his. Lips that were as familiar to him as his own parted with surprise and Tim nearly fell over.
She was stunning. She was staring at him.
And she was someone else’s.