“You sure you're in the right place?” asked a tall well-built man with more stubble than a typical five-o-clock shadow allowed for. Jack took in the poster covered walls, the smell of sand, glue, and industrial cleaning fluid permeating the air and concluded that yes, this was, in fact, an elementary school.
“It's meet the teacher night? I'm looking for Mr.-” Jack squinted down at the letter in his hand, “Punxsutawney?”
What the hell kind of name was that anyway? Couldn't he go by Mr. P. or something?
“It's just,” the darker skinned man waved a hand at him, the smooth lines of his tattoos showing through the fabric of the white shirt he wore, “you hardly look old enough to be having a sprog, let alone a sixth grader.”
“I'm twenty-three!” Jack was fuming internally but he still winced when the exclamation came out louder than he'd intended. Yeah, he was young and kind of baby-faced, but he wasn't taking any shit from older know-it-all parents.
“Easy on, mate,” the man said as Jack moved to push past him. “No need to throw a wobbly.”
“What language are you speaking anyway, because it sure as hell doesn't sound like English,” Jack tried not to stare at the man's arms. Why did the judgy jerk have to be hot?
“You must mean American because my English is just fine, thank you,” Gorgeous Asshole grinned, lips quirking up reveal dimples. God, even the way his skin creased around his vivid green eyes was…
Annoying. It was annoying, and definitely not hot. At all.
Jack scowled and stalked into the classroom. What did it matter? The guy probably had a gorgeous wife and cute kids and a life completely free of the angst and bullshit Jack got to deal with every day. G.A. followed Jack inside and sat just behind him near the back corner. Guess neither of them wanted to be front and centre.
The room itself was painted an odd light brown colour and the desks were as dented and scratched up as could be expected, though they'd all been shoved to the side to line up the kid-sized plastic chairs they sat on. Aside from that, the room was zealously organized. Squares of paper were carefully pinned to the walls in a symmetrical fashion, rules clearly posted in large block letters. Everything was perfectly aligned. Cupcake's very particular list of “Classroom Necessities”, with paragraphs detailing what was and wasn’t unacceptable, fit the rigid theme perfectly.
Jack had been hoping that the new school year would give Cupcake some structure and friends. Make things easier for her. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be working out. He'd gotten a passive-aggressive note about her social skills already, even though Jack knew the teacher had been informed about their situation and should be cutting her some slack. Cupcake had missed the last month of fifth grade after her parents had been killed in a car crash. Jack, her equally orphaned cousin, had been the only family around willing and able to step up, and boy had he needed to do a hell of a lot of fast talking to manage it. Nick and his wife Ana had been supportive, renting him a basement apartment in a better neighbourhood than he could've afforded on his own. They'd even offered to take Cupcake themselves, but his cousin had been grieving and angry and had only wanted Jack. Jack had been equally determined.
It was only sinking in now, standing inside the school and being expected to competently parent, just how completely and utterly out of his depth he was. Fuck.
Other parents filtered in and filled up the seats, nearly all in coupled pairs. They all looked the same, well dressed and professional, typical for the area which was mostly middle to upper-middle class. Jack stuck out not only for his youth but his more casual dress too. G.A. didn't exactly fit the theme either if he had as many tattoos as Jack suspected, though the white button-down masked a lot and he was wearing pants like every other man in the room. Jack wore his usual hoodie and slightly frayed jeans. It hadn't occurred to him to wear anything else and now he looked like a kid who'd snuck over to sit at the adult table. Jack cursed himself for screwing up his first impression.
Someone cleared their throat loudly, cutting through the low murmur of conversation.
The teacher who stepped up to shush the parents had wiry slicked back hair and held his nose high, tapping his pen against a clipboard. He looked like someone who had stepped in dog shit and was pretending not to notice the smell. Not exactly the warmly supportive model Jack had been hoping Cupcake would get as a teacher.
Mr. Puxa-whatsit explained his outline and goals for the year in a monotone voice that did nothing to help Jack stay focused for the forty minutes that he droned on. And on. Everything had been in the information packet sent home the first week - did the guy just like hearing his own voice?
“So with all that in mind, I'll be holding regular evenings for parents. I like to be very involved in tracking the development of my students over the year.” A few of the front row parents nodded in agreement while others sighed, likely cursing the promise of more time spent in uncomfortable chairs at boring meetings.
“Once a month at least. Though some students,” the teacher's eyes panned over towards where Jack sat, “may require more time than others.”
“Fuck,” Jack cursed under his breath.
“Too right, mate,” G.A. chimed in behind him.
“I do hope you will all make time for these crucial information exchanges. I would hate to see your children disadvantaged by their parent's lack of priorities.” And at that, Mr. Pain-in-the-ass began handing out copies of a meeting schedule.
Well, now he had a better idea of why Cupcake disliked her teacher so much. Jack slumped as parents rose and began chatting. No one spoke to him, though they did eye him curiously. The letter in his pocket had asked him to stay and chat about Cupcake's “problem areas”. Mourning her parents was her fucking “problem area”, along with having to switch schools while puberty decided to explode all over her life because, hey, why not get all the pre-adolescent trauma out in one go, right? Buying pads for a crying, angry-at-the-world eleven-year-old had been the most terrifying experience of his life. Why did they need a whole aisle of options? And what the hell were wings for? Jack had thrown himself on Ana's mercy and begged for help.
What a mess. He'd allowed himself a single good cry over it one night when Cupcake had been soundly asleep. Jack knew first hand how she felt, his empathy vicious in its intensity. He'd been seventeen when he'd lost his parents and little sister on the same stretch of bad highway that had claimed his aunt and uncle. It was almost enough to make Jack think their family was cursed, but that area was known for its high accident rates. They'd promised construction on it for years. The work had finally begun this summer, two weeks too late for Cupcake's parents.
“Waiting on the stuffed shirt?” Jack opened his eyes to see G.A. leaning forward on the chair next to him. He nodded. “Jamie doesn't like him much. Can't say as I disagree.”
Cupcake hated the man and Jack was about to say so when the fucker silently materialized a foot away like a goddamned vampire.
“Mr. Frost. Shall we talk?” The teacher looked at him pointedly and Jack scrambled to his feet. Condescending prick.
The conversation that followed was only a success in that Jack managed to keep himself from a) swearing and b) assaulting the man with his own clipboard. He'd had to walk around the block three times and curse out a mailbox before he was calm enough to go in and get Cupcake from Nick and Ana.
This year was going to suck.