Carol’s track shoes were dirty again, covered with clumps of freshly cut grass. She felt like the sight should be refreshing, after the long summer away from school.
But it was hard to feel anything other than awkward, sitting in the passenger seat of her coach’s car after no one came to pick her up after practice. It was weird enough being one of the only seniors without a car; getting a ride home from Mr. Rogg was a new low.
Not that she disliked him. Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, she felt like she had to stare at her feet, or straight ahead, to avoid accidentally staring at him. He wasn’t just her track coach; he was also her French teacher. And he was from England, which meant he had that perfectly sexy accent and all the charm to go along with it. And she was in his car.
Part of her wanted to be excited for this extra time with him. But instead, her stomach was in knots. Because there was no telling what he’d see when he dropped her off.
Please act normal, she telepathically begged her parents, just this once.
Mr. Rogg waited in the driveway after she got out, of course. He was considerate like that. Damn it.
When Carol went to open the front screen door, she found she couldn’t. She tried again, jiggling the handle, but a familiar frustration had already crept up her neck, burning to the tips of her ears. She rang the doorbell. Waited. Rang the doorbell again. This couldn’t be happening, not in the first week back to school and especially not when Mr. Rogg was here.
Then her dad answered the door with a stern expression, and her heart sank.
“You were supposed to take the bus straight home after school, you know the rules about curfew,” her dad said from behind the locked screen door.
“I didn’t miss curfew,” Carol pleaded. “You were supposed to pick me up from track.”
“I had no idea you had track tonight,” her dad scowled.
She rolled her eyes. “I told you, track is every Thursday!”
“Don’t take that tone with me!”
“Just let me in!” She uselessly pulled at the handle again, but her dad wasn’t unlocking it.
“No, you broke the rules and you know the consequences.”
“But I didn’t break the rules.” She stomped her foot, pulling at the handle once more. “I told you I had track!”
He shook his head, raising his eyebrows at her as if she were just a toddler throwing a tantrum. “I don’t trust you, Carol.”
“We’re done here,” he said, shutting the door. “Be home on time tomorrow!”
The porch light shut off and she heard her father’s footsteps moving away from the door. Carol gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to punch something.
“Is everything okay?” Mr. Rogg’s voice came from the driveway. He had rolled down his window, arm resting outside the car. She picked up her backpack and her gym bag and walked towards him.
“How much did you hear?” she asked.
“I could only pick up bits and pieces,” he said. “I’m not sure I heard everything correctly. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just…” She stared down at her feet, too embarrassed to think of a lie to cover this up. “I have to find somewhere to stay tonight.”
“Carol, I…” He was quiet for a second, and she looked up to see him staring at her, brow furrowed. “I don’t understand, are you saying you can’t go inside your house?”
“Yeah, I missed curfew,” she mumbled.
“What? Your curfew is this early?”
“It’s this early every day? Even with track?”
“But you’re back home now. Why is no one letting you in?”
“It’s fine, it happens all the time.”
“All the time?” He sounded genuinely upset. “Carol, that isn’t okay.”
“You don’t have a key you can let yourself in with?”
“…No.” This was fucking humiliating.
He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He just shook his head, looking at her house, as if someone from inside was going to come out and explain all this to him.
Finally, he asked, “Do you want me to talk to your parents?”
“No!” her knee jerk response clearly startled Mr. Rogg and she felt her face burning.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I can explain the track schedule to him.”
“No, no, if someone else steps in, that’s just going to make it worse.” Carol could already hear the chewing out she’d get from her dad over that. She’d be lucky if she was allowed to stay on the track team if Mr. Rogg tried getting involved in their “family matters,” or so her dad would call it.
“Okay, if you’re sure, then I won’t interfere.” The way Mr. Rogg looked her over made her feel like a character in a depressing movie, and she looked down at her feet, ignoring how uncomfortable that made her. After a moment, he asked, “Where are you going to go?”
“I mean, I usually find someone.”
“Well, call someone and I’ll take you there.”
Carol pursed her lips together, shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and looked down at her feet again.
“Carol, do you actually have someone to call?”
What Carol normally did in this situation was head straight to Attlass, the only person she considered a real friend. She had spent countless nights at his house, and she was arguably more comfortable at his place than she was at her own. But after an odd argument earlier that week, there was no way she could reach out to him now. She reluctantly expressed that to Mr. Rogg.
“Is there someone besides Attlass you can call?” he asked. “A relative maybe?”
She just shook her head. She was glad it was getting dark so he couldn’t see how red she was turning.
“Where are you going to sleep tonight?”
“I… don’t know…”
He sighed, and ran a hand over his face, then put his hands on the steering wheel, fingers tapping. He looked at her, considering something.
“Come on,” he said, motioning his head towards the passenger seat of the car. “You can stay with me tonight. You’ll have to sleep on the couch but it’s better than nothing.”
“What?” She must have misheard him.
“I can’t let you have nowhere to go, Carol. I just can’t. So if you’re not uncomfortable with it, you can stay with me.”
It had taken Carol a moment to process that Mr. Rogg was asking her to come stay with him. Despite being embarrassed about the situation, her heart fluttered and her stomach did an excited flip. She hated having a crush.
Pushing aside the inconvenient butterflies, she asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” the word sounded so absolute and firm coming from him, and Carol had to fight an involuntary smile because of it. She ducked her head and walked to the passenger side of his car.
Whatever Carol had imagined her first week of senior year looking like, this definitely wasn’t it.
As they drove to his place and she sat looking out the car window, her head was spinning from everything that had just happened. She was so caught up in her own discombobulated thoughts, she had barely registered that Mr. Rogg was talking to her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away from the window to him, bringing herself back into the moment. “What did you say?”
“I asked if you need to stop for anything before we get to my place,” he said, glancing at her from the corner of his eye.
“I don’t think so,” she said, quickly looking down at her feet, feeling herself blushing. She was on her way to Mr. Rogg’s house and he was offering to make a stop for her. This was insane.
“Do you have clothes for tomorrow?” he asked.
“Yeah, I keep extra clothes with me just in case. They’re in my gym bag.”
“In your gym bag?” He furrowed his brow. “Are they clean?”
“I… think so?”
“Well, we can wash your clothes when we get back to my place.”
“That’s okay, they’re probably fine.”
“It’s probably a good idea,” he pressed. “Especially if they’ve been sitting in your gym bag.”
“I guess.” The idea of using Mr. Rogg’s washing machine felt bizarre, like that would be asking too much of him somehow, even though he had offered. But she didn’t want to be rude.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. “I don’t normally eat out, but we can pick something up for dinner if you’d like.”
“We don’t have to stop anywhere, it’s fine.” Why was he so fucking nice? She was blushing like a lunatic right now.
“Well, you have to eat. I can put something together at home.” His fingers were lightly tapping the steering wheel. “Do you have any food allergies?”
She snorted. “You sound like a waiter.”
“Is that a bad thing?” He smiled. “I’m trying to be accomodating.”
“Well, consider me accomodated.”
“I can’t accommodate you if you don’t answer the question.”
“Uhh… I don’t think I have any food allergies. I haven’t had anything that’s killed me yet, at least.”
“That’s good to know.”
“I mean, I could end up being allergic to whatever you make, though.”
“Yes, you could.”
“So be careful.”
“I’ll do my best not to harm you.”
“Your place is so… clean,” was all Carol could say as she was lead into Mr. Rogg’s house.
“…Thank you?” Mr. Rogg looked over his shoulder at her, puzzled yet amused. She followed him from the entryway to the kitchen. Being in a teacher’s house was such an odd experience, it at once overwhelmed and thrilled her. She felt almost like a tourist.
“I mean, it’s cleaner than my place. And so minimalistic. Do you even own anything?”
“I own things. Clearly.” He opened his fridge, glancing over it, and took out a couple containers.
“Fine, yes, you own things. I see that. But everything’s so… I don’t know, I feel like I’m in a museum. How often do you dust? Two, three, five times a day? Do you have clutter anywhere?”
“Why are you interrogating me for keeping my home clean?” He gave her a funny look, but he was smiling.
“Well, my house only gets clean clean if we’re having company over. Or if my dad is upset. Then I have to break out my toothbrush and start scrubbing. But even then… you weren’t expecting me to come over and your house is this clean.”
He was taking some dishes out of a cabinet, setting them on the counter. His brow was furrowed and he looked at her. “Your dad really makes you clean with a toothbrush?”
“Not just any toothbrush, my toothbrush.”
“Carol…” He leaned against the counter, crossing his arms as he stared at her.
“But not recently,” she said. Being in his house was so weird, it made her embarrassingly giddy and she couldn’t shut up. “He’s more into curfew these days, and it’s kinda hard to clean the house if I’m not allowed in the house.”
There was a heavy silence. Carol had hoped her sarcasm would have eased the truth in her statements, but it was much too close to the incident for Mr. Rogg to let it slide, apparently.
“I’m really sorry that you have to go through that, Carol,” he said, giving her a calm, steady look, making her cheeks burn.
“It’s fine,” she mumbled, looking at her feet.
“No, it’s really not fine. Your parents have a responsibility to keep you safe and instead they’re turning you out with nowhere to go. You’re dependent on them and it’s wrong to do that to you.”
The way he had spoken was so heartfelt and honest, and it bothered her a little, because she hadn’t ever wanted him to feel this bad for her.
“Well…” she said, chewing on her bottom lip as she thought of what to say. All she came up with was, “I’m used to it.”
“You shouldn’t be used to it. How often do they do this?”
“I don’t know, I stayed with Attlass like once a week this summer. At least.”
“They’re kicking you out at least once a week?”
“I mean, they didn’t always do that.” She shrugged. “I think when my brother went to college, they kinda focused in on me more than usual.”
“I remember your brother, I had him in French, too. He graduated a couple years ago, right?”
“Yeah, two years ago.” The thought of her brother always made her feel a little lonely, even now. “He has a couple jobs at school now, so he just stays there all the time. I don’t really see him much anymore.”
“So it’s just you and your parents right now?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“But you said you usually stay with Attlass, right?”
“Mmhmm, yeah… except…”
He was still leaning against the counter, arms crossed, observing her. “Except?”
Carol sighed, finding the words. “He’s getting in trouble for having me over so much. His parents think it’s inappropriate for him to have a girl over all the time, but we’re just friends, so I don’t get it. And now we’re not really talking and he’s basically my only friend, so I’m just screwed.”
“I did notice you weren’t sitting by each other in class. I thought that was odd, considering you’re normally inseparable.”
Carol felt her face flushing. “You noticed that?”
“Of course I noticed. I’ve been coaching you for almost four years.” He smiled at her, that warm, charming, swoon-worthy smile of his. “I know a little more about you than I do your other classmates.”
“Yeah, I guess you would.” Her legs were actually getting weak right now. Get it fucking together, Carol.
“But I need you to know,” he said, stepping a little closer to her, “that even if you can’t go to Attlass, you’re not… screwed. If this happens again and you still have no one to turn to, I’m here. You shouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep, so please do not think twice about calling me if you need to.”
She didn’t know how to handle this form of kindness from him—from anyone, really. She couldn’t even think of anything sarcastic to say. Heat rose from her neck to her ears and she mumbled a small, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Perhaps sensing how uncomfortable she was, Mr. Rogg then changed the subject, “So I’ll start dinner, and if you want to work on your homework in the meantime, you can set up at the kitchen table, or you can use the coffee table in the living room. Whatever works for you.”
Yon didn’t mind that Carol was one of those girls who blushed if he smiled at her. Her crush on him was clear as day—it was easy to tell with girls her age. He was well aware that students sometimes had crushes on him; it was natural and unavoidable. He didn’t think it was perverse or in any way self gratifying of him to recognize that—it just was. To pretend he didn’t notice would be naive.
Of course it wasn’t as if he did anything with that knowledge, either. He never so much as fantasized what doing anything with that knowledge would look like. He was a rational adult, healthy in body and mind, and with that came the ability to quell his base desires, which made those desires virtually harmless.
If he had those desires in the first place, that was.
If he were a different sort of man, he might have found her eagerness and her susceptibility to him almost enticing. He might also have admired her stubborn streak and her snarky sense of humor.
But he didn’t dwell on what a different type of man might be thinking about. He certainly wasn’t dwelling on it when he had offered to help her tonight.
He was glad that he had been there to help her. It was unsettling to think that her parents could just throw her out without knowing where she would end up. A girl her age could so easily find herself with an ill-intentioned person. But he had been there for her, and for that, she was lucky.
In the moment, helping her really felt like the right thing to do. He genuinely believed he had a moral obligation to help her and he was glad that he had stuck around after track to give her a ride. It bothered him that one of his favorite students was being subjected to a homelife like that for years and he had known nothing about it until now.
He just hoped that there would be no repercussions from her parents for this—for Carol’s sake and for his. If the situation was spun the wrong way, he knew he would face some kind of trouble at work. But his conscience was clear, so he decided not to worry about something that might never happen. Anyway, he couldn’t leave a student with nowhere to go, no matter what the consequences were.
For the time being, he focused on making the evening as comfortable, straightforward, and uncomplicated as he could. He gave her space and quiet to do her homework while he put together a simple dinner of mixed salad with grilled chicken. He didn’t know what she was used to eating at home, but at least he knew everything he kept in the house was healthy—it had to be better than what she was used to.
She had set her school books out on the kitchen table and she appeared surprisingly focused. If he hadn’t actually witnessed her being locked out of her house, he wouldn’t have guessed anything had gone wrong in her evening. Then again, she said she was used to it... This may very well have been a normal evening for her.
There must have been other signs he had missed or just misinterpreted during the years he had known her. She hid well behind her focus and determination—these traits made her one of his favorite athletes on his track team. And while he hadn’t had her in a class until this year, he was certain she’d bring the same level of commitment to her studies. She was a highly praised student from the other faculty members, so he expected above average performances from her across the board. Given what he had just discovered about her homelife, her ability to succeed became even more impressive to him.
But still, there must have been signs that he had missed. He felt like he could pick up on many things with his students, so he didn’t understand how he had missed something like this. He wasn’t a teacher because he had accidentally fallen into that career path, he chose to do this because he thought he could understand and guide his students better than anyone else.
Yon always felt that guiding his students was the closest thing he had to a calling—and he was good at it. He liked having an arguably respected position, even if the age group he worked with wasn’t always prone to respect. Whether or not all his students respected him, he still had the most authority in the room, and that meant something to most of them.
As a teacher, he was strict but patient, demanding excellence but understanding that it took time and effort to get there. His students responded well to that balance in him. They tried their best for him because they knew he expected it and they knew he would work with them to achieve it. He enjoyed working with the students who wanted to improve, or who needed the right push. He felt both of those things in Carol—she strove to be the best, and she was talented in whatever she put her mind to. And she was remarkable when challenged.
Carol was his best athlete because she was always responding to the ways he pushed her, always trying to prove herself to him. If she ran a sprint in record time, he knew with the right words he could get her to run it even faster next time. And over the years he knew her, he found out she was too stubborn to not prove herself. All he had to do was hint that she might not be able to do something, and he’d see her eyes instantly light up with a determination to prove that no, she could do it.
And he knew part of her willingness to push herself for him was because she was, to some degree, infatuated with him. Her crush on him motivated her to push herself even harder for him and he didn’t see the harm in using that to push her.
He just wished that, out of all the other things he had observed about her over the years, that he had picked up on her home life. But now that he knew, he would do what he could to help, to keep giving her the push she needed to overcome and succeed. He doubted anyone else was going to do that for her.