“Don't forget to put your paints and brushes away,” Neal Caffrey called out as his fourth period art class nearly dissolved into the chaos of pre-lunch insanity. The bell had just rung, and all the sixteen year olds were anxious to get out of the stuffy second floor classroom.
Neal waited until most of the students had left to start straightening up the chairs that were left in disarray. He wasn't really OCD, despite what his friend Mozzie said, but he liked his classroom to look nice when the students in the next period arrived. He tried to create a warm, open environment for the creative processes that should take place in an art class.
“Peter,” Neal said, noticing that one of his students was lingering near the door. Peter Burke was an exceptional ball player – Neal was also the assistant coach to the baseball team – but his stick figures were less than breathtaking. Neal gave him credit for trying though, so his art grade wasn't suffering.
“Mr. Caffrey, can I ask you a question?” Peter was nervous, which made Neal nervous. One of the great things about working with teenagers was that you never knew what they were gong to say. This also happened to be one of the drawbacks.
“Go ahead, Peter.”
“It's almost Valentine's Day, and I wanted to make something for Elizabeth, and I was wondering if you could help.” Peter blurted it all out in one breath, but Neal was used to deciphering such rapid-fire talk from the girls in his classes.
Neal smiled; he knew from the talk around school that Peter and Elizabeth Mitchell had been dating for a few months and were the front runners for the Homecoming Court in a couple of weeks. He was also aware that Peter's father was a mason and that the Burke family wasn't the richest in Monroe County, so it was nice that Peter wanted to make something for his girlfriend. “I would be happy to. What did you have in mind?”
Peter shrugged and kicked at the leg of the table in front of him. “I dunno. Do you have any suggestions?”
Neal looked toward the projects lined up against the back wall. Elizabeth was in his first period class, but he couldn't remember the subject of her latest project. “What kind of things does she like?”
“Italian food. Candles. Nancy Drew mysteries. Some weird music. Umm... Azaleas.” Peter crossed his arms over his chest and looked beseechingly at Neal with big, brown eyes.
Damn. Neal was going to wind up way over his head on this one. “Okay, first thing's first. Can you cook?”
The sullen scowl Peter gave him wasn't going to help matters.
“Lucky for you, I make a mean homemade spaghetti sauce, and the recipe is very easy.” Neal clapped his hands together and headed toward the supply closet. “Here's what we're going to do. I just got in a shipment of modeling clay. We'll sculpt a small bouquet of azaleas, and you can paint it once it's been fired. Then, on Valentine's, you can make her dinner and give her the sculpture. What do you think?”
Peter mulled it over for a brief moment, and then smiled. “That sounds great.”
“Good. Valentine's Day is in a week, so we'll need to get started soon.”
“Yeah.” Peter nodded. “I can meet you here after school, if you have time.”
“That's not a problem. I'm letting Stephen and Julie take a make-up test then too, but you can work on the sculpture in the back corner. If they ask, we'll say it's extra credit, so it doesn't get out to Elizabeth that you're making her something.” Neal was well-versed in high school politics. It really wasn't that long ago that he'd been in the middle of it himself.
“Thanks, Mr. Caffrey. I don't know what I'd do-”
Neal put up a hand and waved it at Peter. “Don't thank me yet. This is going to be mostly your project.”
Peter grinned, grabbed his backpack and headed out the door. Neal shook his head and laughed to himself once he was alone. He couldn't believe he'd been so easily talked into helping Peter, but young love and creative expression were definitely things that Neal wanted to encourage in his students. He wished he had more like Peter Burke.
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