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Things Like Chemistry

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It’s the first day of term, and Bobby’s so nervous he might throw up.

He’d slept through his first two alarms because he’d stayed up too late worrying about any and everything that could go wrong. What if his students hated him? What if the rest of the faculty hated him? He’s dealt with aggy students before — he’s not sure he’d be able to cope if his coworkers didn’t like him, either. What if he set his classroom on fire and had to deal with the crippling embarrassment of being the teacher who burnt the whole school down so now everyone had nowhere to go? What if he got lost and was late to his own class and all the kids thought he was a total knob?

After finally dragging himself out of bed, he spent a few minutes ironing his infamous First Day of Term shirt: a long-sleeved black button-up with multicolored cupcakes all over it. His mum had gotten it for him ages ago, right after he left the hospital and got his teaching license. Over time it became His Shirt — the one that said ‘I’m a cool teacher, not one of them stuffy ones. You can swear in my classroom and I won’t give you detention.’ The kids always loved it.

Bobby continued going over possible outcomes for every one of his potential disaster scenarios as he got the kettle started and took a quick shower. He’d been entirely too naked and soaped up to care when his building’s fire alarm went off, so he rinsed off and poured himself a thermos of coffee and began the drive to school, ears ringing the entire way.

Now, as he’s three turns away from the faculty parking lot, thinking the morning could’ve gone better but it was nowhere near the worst start to a day he’s ever had, he hits a bump in the road and spills scalding hot coffee all over his trousers. He swears loudly and prays to whoever’s listening for his dick to be all right, grabbing for a wad of napkins as soon as he’s safely in a parking spot.

It’s the first day of term, and Bobby’s first day at his new school altogether, and he’d really been hoping to nail it. Instead, he reeks of coffee and might’ve burnt his dick off.

Since students aren’t set to arrive for another hour, Bobby ducks into a restroom to try and salvage whatever he can of his trousers. The stain is large and covers his entire groin and thighs, and the napkins had done close to nothing to sop up the mess. He can feel his upper thighs getting sticky. All he can do is throw his head back against the wall and pray his students, whoever they may be, aren’t brazen enough to point out his giant wet spot.

“Oh, sorry mate, didn’t know anyone was in here.”

Bobby’s eyes snap open and to his right, where a large man is taking up the entire doorway. He decides today — right now, more specifically — wouldn’t be the worst time to drop off the face of the earth. It’s the first day of term, and a fellow teacher has walked in on him with his groin stuck under the automatic hand dryer in the loo.

“All good,” Bobby replies, as nonchalant as possible, “just my yearly First Day of Term nerves. Made me piss my trousers and everything.”

The other guy snorts in laughter. “Yeah, I get those too, though I’ve never pissed myself. I’m Noah, by the way.” He extends his hand to Bobby, which he shakes. “You new?”

“Aye, first year here.”

Noah nods. “Ah, you must be the new Home Economics teacher. I’m in the English department myself.”

“That’d be me. Thought I’d start off my lessons this year with laundry.”

Noah chuckles again, and even though Bobby’s in a predicament, at least he ran into a cool coworker and not, like, some stuffy librarian or something. “I always keep a change of clothes in my car. I’m a little taller than you but if you cuff the trousers they should work.”

A fellow teacher had given him the same advice about a spare change of clothes during his first year teaching. Clearly he’s learned nothing, he thinks, as he hopelessly dabs what remains of his wet spot with another paper towel.

He doesn’t need to think twice about it. “I can rock the cuffed look.”

Noah was right: his trousers were a few sizes too big for Bobby, but it was better than coffee stains and sticky thighs. Surprisingly, they fit nice otherwise — fitted but not tight, and black to match Bobby’s cupcake shirt. He looks more put together than he did when he left his flat this morning.

The first few days go by smoothly. The kids had gotten a kick out of The Shirt and they all seem to like him. They laugh at his jokes and listen when he’s teaching and don’t text on their phones too much. They seem excited to show up everyday, which makes Bobby’s chest a little tight when he thinks about it once he’s home. He brings Noah a large coffee on the second day alongside his freshly washed and ironed trousers. They eat lunch together when they can and get on well. Bobby does a few terrible Othello impersonations over a turkey sandwich and Noah threatens to make him do them in front of the English students.

Things are good. Bobby thinks this might be his year after all.

It’s only when he finally assigns his students their first big project that things start to go sour. Being the Home Economics teacher had its perks, and the biggest of all was no homework or essays. The downside, however, was having to supervise a dozen-ish teenagers using large kitchen appliances for the first time. Counting his own, it was way too many lives to be responsible for at once.

Scrambled eggs had been their first assignment. Bobby warned them of the dangers of salmonella and whatever else you got from eating raw eggs and handed out a sheet of paper with instructions. Keep the heat as low as possible and stir constantly, preferably with chopsticks. Just a little tip he’d picked up from culinary school.

The kids had all managed to fully cook their eggs and keep their eyebrows from singeing off, so he moved on to a dessert.

“You lot remember what I told you the first day?” Bobby asks, and he and the students all chorus together, “Baking is chemistry!”

He’d been surprisingly open with them, telling them about his time in culinary school and working in the hospital. He hadn’t gone into detail about all the bad parts and why he decided to become a teacher, but at least they knew they were in good hands when it came to the cooking lessons. He’d had to teach himself how to keep a clean home, since he’d been a bit of slob himself, but now that he was on his third year of teaching, he was finally starting to feel confident in his abilities.

“That’s right: baking is chemistry. Just a wee bit of the wrong ingredient and you might wind up with something you really, really don’t want to eat. For example, does anyone know what happens if you use too much baking soda?” He calls on a girl in one of the back workstations. “Amy?”

“Tastes like soap,” she responds.

“Bang on, Amy! That’s right, it will. It can also muck up the texture. Now, onto today’s lesson: chocolate chip cookies!”

He hands out another instruction sheet and gives them time to gather their ingredients, all the while fielding questions about using things other than chocolate chips or what would happen if they ate the raw dough.

Bobby mimes being stabbed with a sword as he laments, “Does no one remember my monologue about salmonella?!”

Once everyone has all their ingredients measured out (Bobby had also stressed the importance of mise en place on Day Two), he goes over the differences between baking soda and baking powder once more before they sift together all their dry ingredients.

“And which one are we using for this recipe?” he asks, hands folded behind his back as he strolls around the classroom.

The responses sound like “sour” or “poda” and, okay, maybe this year is going to be longer than Bobby originally thought.

Somehow, everything goes wrong. Some of the cookies are flat, round discs. Others have quadrupled in size and are raw in the middle. A few had been forgotten in the oven and are burnt to a black crisp, cemented to the baking sheet, and some students had set their ovens to the wrong temperature altogether. Only a handful of students have an edible finished product, and it’s at this moment Bobby wonders if his obviously subpar teaching is the reason funding for home economics programs are getting cut all across the world.

Most of his lunch hour is spent whining to Noah, who he figures owes him a favor since Bobby had listened to him whine over last week’s essay marks. He’d been in a right state over them being so poor, and Bobby had to remind him that no one actually likes Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales, let alone can understand it. Noah is just as unsympathetic about Bobby’s cookie nightmare.

He’s never been one to take his work home with him, so he does his best not to think about it there. He spends his Saturday in a corner booth at the pub down the street with his mates, the conversation void of work talk. Sunday is spent baking his own chocolate chip cookies, just to make sure he still has it, and he tries not to gloat out loud to no one when they come out perfect (of course). He texts a photo to his mum just because she’s always proud of him.

Monday brings about a new week and a new curriculum. He dedicates one day to budgeting, one to health education, and spends Wednesday and Thursday teaching them simple recipes he thinks they might actually eat in between cheese toasties and cereal. He teaches them how to tell if produce is fresh and has them juice some oranges so they know what proper orange juice tastes like. They all squeal and pretend to gag at the pulp, and even if they can’t bake, Bobby really likes these kids. On Friday, he doesn’t send them home with any homework, but asks them to spare an hour or two of their weekends to watch The Great British Bake-Off: Masterclass. The following week they’d be baking again, and he wanted them to feel more confident this time ‘round.

“Hey, hey, hey,” he says, noticing a few panicked expressions, “it’s okay if baking’s not your thing. You’ve all done great work so far, there’s lots more to be proud of!"

“Says the pastry chef,” another of his students, David, says. His classmates either groan in agreement or chuckle.

Bobby sits on his desk. “David, you’re on the footy team, yeah?” David nods. “And were you good at that right away?”

David shifts in his seat. “No, not really.”

“It’s the same with baking. Or learning any new skill, really. It takes time and practice, and luckily we’ve got a whole school year to do that.”

“Why can’t we just use box mix?!” someone shouts out.

It’s Bobby’s turn to chuckle. “Because box mix is for cowards, and we’re not a bunch of cowards, are we?”

“Yes,” the class says nearly in unison.

Bobby laughs harder this time. “Trust me, I’ll turn you lot into bakers yet. I’ve decided Monday will be Muffin Monday. I’ll be bringing in some fresh fruit to toss in, so please let me know before you leave if you’ve got any allergies!”

Truth be told, Bobby had been excited at the prospect of Muffin Monday. It rolled off the tongue and sounded like an actual thing, like Taco Tuesday. Of course, there hadn’t been an episode of Masterclass on muffins, since they were fairly novice, but he’d really just wanted the kids to know it was okay to make mistakes and to just have fun learning. He wanted his classroom to be a safe space — one where they didn’t need to feel the pressure of having perfect marks, one where they could accidentally turn their stand mixers on too high of a speed and cover themselves in flour or powdered sugar and laugh about it. Really, just the kind of class he’d needed as a teenager, before he used singing in a punk band in dingy clubs as an outlet. God forbid his students ever found out about that.

Noah texts him late Sunday evening, asking for Bobby’s opinion on his lesson plans for the upcoming week. He’d started doing that ever since Bobby voiced his opinion on Chaucer and now the Bronte sisters, who bored Bobby just as much.

Wuthering Heights, mate? Gonna toss myself off a Heathcliff just thinking about it

Fuck off, Noah wrote back. What do you even know about gothic feminist literature anyway?

About as much as you if you think a bunch of teenagers are actually gonna read that shite book

What’s the last book you even read?

Bobby can picture Noah’s shocked yet furious expression as he writes back The power of now by Eckhart Tolle

Noah doesn’t text him for the rest of the evening.

“Hope you lot saved room for breakfast because it’s officially Muffin Monday!” Bobby shouts excitedly as he strolls into his classroom on Monday morning. He has two tote bags filled to the brim with all sorts of fresh produce, muffin liners, and a few boxes of gluten-free flour in case anyone needed it.

There’s a chorus of groans but they seem to be in decent spirits despite it being way too early on a Monday. They take turns coming to the front of the classroom to grab cartons of fruit and their instruction sheets, of which Bobby made one for regular muffins and a separate sheet for those using the gluten-free flour.

“Now, what’s one thing we have to be careful of when cooking with fruit?” Bobby asks, perched atop his desk once again. No one answers. “No one? Okay, well, excess moisture for one. Fruit has a lot of water in it, especially things like strawberries. The second thing you want to be careful of is sinking. Large pieces of fruit especially are going to weigh a lot more than your batter, so they have a tendency to sink to the bottom and you’ll have a poor distribution of fruit. Does anyone know how to counter that?”

Much to his surprise, a hand quickly juts into the air and starts wiggling frantically. He nods. “Cover them in flour!”

“Get in! Yes, tossing them in a tablespoon or two of flour will help keep them from sinking.” Against his better judgment, he also adds, “No soggy bottoms for you lot!”

They try to hide their laughter.

“Alright, you should all have your ingredients at your stations. Remember to measure out all your ingredients beforehand to save yourself some time. Prep and cook time are both roughly 20 minutes each, so you should all have plenty of time. Feel free to get started and come find me if you have any questions!”

The hour Bobby gives them goes by in a flash. Only a handful of students had asked questions (“Mr. McKenzie, does this look right?” or “Mr. McKenzie, what do I do if I set my liners on fire?”) The classroom smells like freshly baked muffins this time instead of the charred remains of what once were cookies, so his hopes are a bit higher once he calls time. He’d started doing Bake-Off style gradings, where he has the pairs of students bring their finished products to his personal workstation at the front of the class. Really, they only got graded on whether or not they completed the assignment, but the kids get a kick out of his Paul Hollywood impersonation so he keeps it up. Sometimes he can hear them whispering about being the first ones to get a handshake.

“Claire and Dev, please bring me your showstopper muffins.”

The pair giggle as they carry their cooling rack to the front of the classroom. They’d gone with a classic blueberry muffin, and much to Bobby’s pleasure, they’d listened to his suggestion about tossing the fruit in some flour to keep from sinking.

“Perfect distribution of fruit, you two,” he says in his Paul Hollywood voice. It’s a comical departure from his normal Scottish lilt. “A little over-mixed, but that’s quite a nice muffin you’ve got there. Great work.”

They high-five their classmates as they walk back to their workstations, and Bobby calls the next pair of students up for judging. Both of the boys were the typical class clown types, but they did surprisingly good work. They reminded Bobby a lot of himself. Except now, when they’re presenting under-baked, sticky rhubarb muffins.

“What do we have here?” Bobby asks, turning a muffin over and running a plastic knife alongside the bottom of the muffin liner. “Oh no, the dreaded soggy bottom!”

“Noooo!” the boys cry out in unison.

“Not bad otherwise, lads, just a wee bit too wet.”

The next two pairs of students present muffins as dry as the desert, and Bobby has to choke down both offerings and sneak sips of tea in between. Pair number five has nearly flawless banana chocolate chip muffins, but they’d been overachieving since the first day of term. Pair number six has nothing but inedible raw goop in sopping wet muffin liners. The last pair forgot the baking soda.

Over his lunch break, he mopes into his salad and goes over in his head all the ways his life has gone wrong. Noah’s either forgotten about or has forgiven Bobby’s comments on Wuthering Heights and at least pretends to listen as Bobby tells him all the ways Muffin Monday went wrong.

“So your students aren’t great bakers?”

“I mean,” Bobby starts, swallowing a forkful of lettuce and cucumber, “they’re not bad, yeah? Most of them are decent. But—“

“The bad ones are really bad,” Noah finishes. Bobby has always felt guilty speaking poorly of his kids, especially during the first month of the term when almost all of them are new to cooking and baking and doing adult-like things, but Noah has marked enough god-awful essays to no longer care about tact.

“I just… Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?”

“Why don’t you talk to one of the chemistry teachers?” Noah offers around a large bite of his sandwich.

“What? Why would I do that?”

“Well, it’s like you said.” Noah pauses to swallow. “Baking is chemistry! Or whatever bullshit you told them, right? So if it’s going wrong, why don’t you just ask one of the chemistry teachers?”

Bobby thinks this isn’t a half-bad idea. “I don’t know any of them, though. You’re my only mate here.”

“Neither do I,” Noah shrugs. “Some of my students talk about this one science teacher, though. Apparently she’s, uh… nice.”

One of Bobby’s eyebrows raises involuntarily. “Nice how?”

“Like, you know.

“Oh, like, they think she’s hot?” Noah nods. “Well, is she for sure the chemistry teacher? I can just look her up in the faculty directory.”

“Don’t know what she teaches, mate, just that it’s science.”

Bobby rolls his eyes. “Do you at least know her name, then?”

“Nah. It’s something really long, though. The kids just call her by her initials.”

Bobby checks his watch. His lunch hour is almost over, but he has a free period next that he typically uses to prepare ingredients for the rest of his classes. “Fat lot of good you are. I’ll just check the science department for a lass with a really long name, then.”

Noah gathers his trash and messenger bag. “Good luck with that, Bobs. See you tomorrow.”

As quickly as he can, Bobby jogs back to his classroom and gets to work divvying up ingredients and the necessary bakeware. It takes up the bulk of his free period, but he finishes with enough time to park at his desk and go through the faculty directory like he’d told Noah he would.

The science department is small — only about ten teachers across multiple disciplines: earth science, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy. Only four of the ten were women, and only one had such a long name he wouldn’t dare try to pronounce it. Her classroom is just down the hall from his (another perk of being the Home Ec teacher: being in the science wing thanks to all the ovens and large appliances) so he makes a mental note to try and find her toward the end of the day.

Bobby does three more classes worth of Muffin Monday before the end of the day. He usually spends an hour or two at his desk catching up on paperwork or lesson plans or marking, sometimes answering emails from students or parents, but today he packs up his laptop and sets off in the direction of the mystery science teacher’s classroom.

He rounds the corner to the east wing of the floor and stops outside the office the internet told him belonged to her. A nameplate next to the door says M. Chrzanowski — Bobby wouldn’t dare attempt it so he figures he has to have the right room. The door is open and it definitely looks like a science classroom inside, so he wanders in, knuckles tapping lightly on the wall as he enters.

A woman appears from a separate door at the back of the room and, yeah, he gets it now.

“Oh, hello. Can I help you?”

Bobby just blinks. Instantly, he’s a teenager again, all heart palpitations and bumbling words and shaky hands. Noah’s students were right — she’s gorgeous, and Bobby immediately feels like a complete nonce for being in her classroom.

“Uh, hi,” he manages to choke out. “I’m, uh, the — the new Home Ec teacher?”

She cracks a smile. “Was that a question?”

“No! No, I’m definitely the new Home Ec teacher.” He hears his mum scolding him in his head and he’s quickly across the classroom offering her his hand to shake. “My name’s Bobby.”

“Ah, yes, I think I’ve heard my students talking about you.”

“Good things, I hope?” he asks, his hands shoved into his pockets. Mostly to hide the sweat.

“Let’s just say I’ve heard you’ve got one hell of a Paul Hollywood impression.” Bobby turns a shade of crimson yet to be discovered. She laughs at his embarrassment and all Bobby can think is that it sounds like a song. “So, what brings you to my classroom, Mr. Bobby?”

“McKenzie,” he says out of instinct. “And, uh, well…”

Before he can help himself, he’s launching into a recap of the last three weeks. He tells her all about his students — the ones that are doing well and those that could use some work and how he plans to turn them all into expert bakers. He tells her about meeting Noah on his first day and how he’d had to borrow his trousers, which was not his typical method of meeting new people, but at least he’d been able to make a friend out of it. He tells her about Baking Fail Number One: Cookie Edition and the sequel, Baking Fail Number Two: Muffin Monday.

“Basically, Noah said I should ask the chemistry teacher what I’m doing wrong. You know, since baking is chemistry and all.”

She’s quiet for a moment, taking in all the word vomit Bobby had just spewed at her. Then, finally, she says, “You know I’m not a chemistry teacher, right?”

“Oh,” is all Bobby manages to say. He should’ve known better than to listen to Noah about anything. The bloke irons his socks, for fuck’s sake.

“I teach biology. And sometimes anatomy and physiology to the kids who sign up for it as an elective course.”

“Bi…ology,” Bobby repeats, as if the word is foreign and he’s never heard it before. “Right, of course. Biology.”

She looks at him with an amused expression. “I can point you in the direction of the chemistry teacher if you’d like.”

“I… No, that’s all right. I don’t… I should probably go. I’m sure I’ve wasted enough of your time.”

He turns on his heel to leave, already feeling dumber than dumb. Of course Noah would point him in the complete wrong direction and he’d make a fool out of himself in front of the hottest teacher in the whole school. Why couldn’t the teacher with the impossible name be a middle-aged man who was extremely kind and not at all intimidating and knew a lot about baking? And was actually a chemistry teacher.

“Mr. Bobby?”

“McKenzie,” he says instinctually again.

She cocks a smile that reaches all the way to her eyes. Which Bobby has already noticed are a striking shade of blue. Which contrast beautifully against her dark, wavy hair, he has also noticed. “All I said was that I’m a biology teacher, not that I don’t know anything about baking.”

He pauses in the doorway. “Oh.”

“I mean, all I do know is what I’ve seen on Bake-Off, but I have made some pretty good cakes from box mix.”

“Which is for cowards,” he replies before he can stop himself.

She laughs out loud — really barks one out — and Bobby finds himself chuckling, too. “Those are some pretty strong words from someone whose students can’t even bake cookies.”

Bobby feigns being shot in the chest and stumbles a few steps backwards. “Ouch…”

“MC,” she answers. “My first name’s Magdalena, and I’m sure you’ve seen my nightmare of a last name. The kids just call me MC so they don’t have to even try it.”

“It’s certainly a mouthful.”

“Would sure be funny to hear you try it with that accent of yours,” she replies, finally moving from her spot outside the closet toward her desk. She gathers up her things, grabbing a stack of papers Bobby assumes are exams she has to mark, and they make their way toward the car park together.

MC makes small talk the entire way, telling Bobby funny stories from her first year teaching. She’d actually gone by Ms. Chrzanowski then, she told him, and it’d taken the students until December before they’d finally started pronouncing it correctly. Most had given up by October and shorted it to Ms. C on their own, and from there it was shortened again to MC.

“Probably not the most professional, but I kind of like feeling equal with the kids, you know?”

“Totally agree,” Bobby responds. “Most of them call me Mr. Bobby, and I correct them sometimes, but I don’t want to be crotchety, either.”

She leans into him slightly, bumping him with her shoulder. “Don’t think you could be crotchety if you tried. You should’ve seen the last Home Ec teacher. What a dreadful old bat she was.”

“Yeah?” Bobby asks, trying to hide his excitement that he wasn’t one of those teachers. “She was bad, then?”

“Aye,” MC responds. “Probably older than the bloody dinosaurs, which was ironic considering she didn’t believe in them—“

“What?” Bobby shrieks.

“Oi, she drove the science teachers absolutely nuts. Used to teach the kids out of this textbook from the ‘50s, too. Made them cook things out of Jello molds. The science wing used to reek for days.”

They’re in the car park now, standing by a green Prius Bobby assumes is MC’s. She can see the joke on his tongue and glares at him playfully. “One of us has to save the dinosaurs, you know.”

“Mm,” Bobby hums. “If only you and your green Prius had been around a few million years ago. They could’ve used you then.”

MC unlocks the doors from her keyring. “Better late than never.” She pauses to give him a curious smile. “Well, this is me, obviously. I’m off to the coffee shop for a thrilling hour of exam marking and an extremely strong espresso.”

“Marking? Oh, yeah, same with me. So much marking,” he lies. He’s never assigned anything he’s had to mark outside of class.

“The worst, isn’t it? Want to join me, then? Might not be so dull if we struggle though it together.”

Bobby chews the thought over in his mind, trying to figure out what he’s going to do when he shows up empty-handed. He could fudge the truth a little, say he forgot it in his classroom or that it’s all online, but he hates lying and isn’t particularly good at it anyway. Coffee sounds almost too good to pass up, however, so he writes it off as being a problem for Future Bobby to solve.

He wants to text Noah and ask for advice. They don’t even know each other all that well, but he’s the closest thing he’s got to a best mate and Bobby’s insides feel like they’re upside-down and inside-out when he thinks about spending more one-on-one time with MC. It’s been ages since he’s had a girlfriend or even just a crush so yeah, he’s bricking it. He’s not even sure if this is allowed, popping off to coffee shops together. He knows it’s got to be against the rules to date a coworker, but this isn’t a date, right? They’re just two colleagues commiserating over marking at the same time at the same place.

Except Bobby doesn’t have any marking to do and he’s lying. But no one really needs to know that apart from him.

Regardless of his nerves, he agrees to meet her at a small coffee shop on the other side of town. MC goes there quite often, he learns, and she assures him they won’t bump into any students there. He spends the drive fumbling with the radio to give his hands something to do to expend their nervous energy.

He knows this is a bad idea. He really, truly knows it, but he doesn’t care.

MC gets to the shop first and tucks away in a back corner. She’s already got a cup of espresso and her stack of papers piled high on the wood table, and Bobby notices she’d popped on a pair of square-framed glasses before he arrived. His knees go weak a little at the sight of her. Professional and very, very dangerous. She looks like she could ruin his life, and she damn well might.

He orders himself a latte and joins her at the table, embarrassed by his lack of giant paper stack.

She raises an eyebrow at him that he barely sees over her large frames. “No marking after all?”

His cheeks grow warm. “I lied,” he admits. “I don’t really, uh… assign things that require marking. Most of my grades are in-class projects.”

Her gaze returns to the exam she’s marking as she smirks. “The joys of being the Home Ec teacher, eh?”

“Something like that,” he says. “If you have an extra answer key I could, um, help you? With your marking?”

“You know anything about cell structure?”

“About as much as you know about baking,” he quips. “I also happen to know the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”

MC laughs and hands him an answer key. “At least mark it in red pen so they look consistent. And don’t you dare tell anyone you marked my exams.”

“Yes ma’am,” Bobby says, fingers to his forehead in a mock-salute.

They sit at the table for hours, drinking too much caffeine and talking animatedly. The stack of exams gets smaller and smaller, and Bobby almost feels like a proper teacher for the first time in his life. Truth be told, he’d always felt a bit left out of the “true” teacher experience because his was so different from his colleagues’. He didn’t have exams or essays to mark, he couldn’t really assign homework. Sometimes he’d give his students a final project at the end of the year that combined all the elements he’d spent the year teaching, but that was the closest he got to struggling through midterms and finals like the rest of his coworkers.

“So what made you get into teaching?” MC asks, finishing up one more exam. Bobby feels a sense of pride as another student gets a passing grade. He hadn’t marked a bad exam yet.

Bobby feels his expression falter just a bit. “I, uh… I used to be a hospital caterer back in Glasgow.”

“Yeah? Did you like doing that?”

“Working in a kitchen is nice,” Bobby answers. “I mean, it’s what you want to do after you finish culinary school, right? And maybe working in an actual restaurant would’ve been brilliant and I would’ve stuck with it, but I just…”

MC finally looks up at him, her expression pillow-soft. “All right?”

“Yeah,” he says, “it’s just… I never really got used to the bad parts of working in a hospital, you know? I spent a lot of time there and I met a lot of people. And that part was great — I loved the other lads in the kitchen and the rest of the staff was great, no two days were ever really the same, but…” He takes a moment to catch his breath. “Sometimes if the orderlies were busy I’d run the meals up to the floors or to certain patients who had special diets. A lot of them latched onto me because I’m this proper bubbly, funny bloke, right? Which was fine. If I could make them smile when they were feeling so low I felt like a king. But I always had to remind myself not to get too attached, because sometimes you’d call the charge nurse and ask if so-and-so needed their breakfast and they’d tell you that patient passed away. It started really taking a toll on me mentally, so I eventually had a breakdown and told my mum I needed to do something else.

“And, like I said,” he continues, trying to release the tightness in his chest, “maybe if I would’ve opened a bakery or worked in a restaurant kitchen it would’ve worked out fine, but I was just…”

“Burnt out?” MC offers.

“Yeah,” Bobby agrees. “Burnt out.”

MC returns her attention back to her marking, which Bobby is thankful for. He’s on the verge of tears and feeling silly for being so emotional. He’d been spending all of his lunch breaks with Noah for almost a month and he’d never even gotten close to telling him about his time at the hospital.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, the kids love you.”

Bobby’s chest tightens all over again. “What?”

“They do,” she says, offering a small smile. “A few of them have class with me right after you and they’re always raving about you and your lessons. I don’t know how you stumbled into teaching but you’ve got a gift, Mr. Bobby.”

“McKenzie,” he retorts. “And I’d say you do as well, judging by these exam marks. Not a failing one yet.”

MC locks eyes with him and raises her third cup of coffee into the air, waiting for him to do the same. “Well, then! To us being great teachers and shaping our country’s youth into perfect bakers who are also good at science.”