Sitting on the stairs, I looked around the neighbourhood as l take a sip from my coffee mug. The sight before me puts a smile on my face, kids riding their bicycles in the middle of the road chasing after the ice cream truck without a care in the world. I never pictured myself living in the Big Apple with a roommate much less living in a neighbourhood like Elmhurst in Queens. Let alone being a teacher at a high ranked private school like Berkshire Grammar.
I look down at my phone to see I have a message from my co-worker Mia asking if she could come over. I let her know that I would be happy to have her over. After only two weeks of getting to know her, I already know what the main topic will be tonight "Tiger King".
"Mia's obsession with big cats." I chuckle to myself, shaking my head.
"Whose Mia?" Questions a voice from a distance.
I look up to see a caramel skin and dark-haired man leaning up against the staircase. By the smile on his face, I can tell he is a confident person who has no problem approaching a stranger. If l didn’t know any better, I would assume he is in the military by the tattoo on his wrist. The tattoo is of a chain going around his wrist, with the name Ryan West, an edification number and blood type inscribed on it.
"A friend." I answer.
"Mia must be a good friend. I am Ryan Bella’s boyfriend. You must be Bella's new roommate." Ryan introduces himself as he extends his hand out.
"Katherine." I shake his hand.
"Well, Katherine, what brings you to New York? " Ryan asked.
"My jo--" l answer but soon trail off as a black Range Rover passes by causing the kids to get out of the way. The car stops in front of a townhouse for a few minutes before the car door opens and out climbs a girl with a black bob cut with short bangs.
The front door of the house the car is parked in front of opens, revealing a man wearing track pants, standing at the door. The man starts a conversation with the girl. The driver door opens to reveal a middle-aged man in a black suit, black hair with a slight tinge of grey hair. The man joins in the convention giving a wave. Soon all three were laughing. The girl jogs up the stairs and goes into the house, with the guy following behind. The driver takes in his surroundings as if familiarising himself with the area slightly in our direction. After a full scan with that, he gets into the car.
"His type would never be dead caught within a mile of here" Ryan mutters under his breath. I turned to him with a confused expression.
"Don't you watch the news?" Ryan snorts in disbelief that I didn't know who the man was. "Walter Reed ring a bell?" Ryan raises his eyebrows "Real Estate mogul and New York's elite charity fundraiser he is practically royalty". Ryan half yells I shake my head.
Sighing Ryan doesn't press further on the subject. Ryan's reaction to my lack of knowledge who Walter Reed is. Tells me I need to educate myself on New York Culture and the people who call it home. Which is a million years from where l came from Brooklyn Illinois, a rural town made up of a small dwindling population of 708 people. The same small rural town where you are lucky to meet someone the same age as you.
Ryan and l continue to talk we soon find out that we share common interests like theatre and murder mysteries books. To my roommate Bella’s bemusement, she is glad that she has one less task on her list to do like taking me to all the best book shops in New York. For that is now her boyfriend Ryan’s job to do that.
Mia joins us as expected we watch Tiger king over a glass of wine and chips. Tonight l am surprised that we are discussing a different subject other than the show. Like the sudden departure of a staff member, I wonder why someone would quit without notice? Considering that Berkshire Grammar has a low turnover rate and you would be lucky to get a position at the school.
Mia gives me an outline of what to expect on my first day. She lets me know most of my students will be well behaved and only a hand few, will be a nightmare. When I meet the rest of the staff, I should expect a lot of welcome to the team. Mia warns me that in taking a position at Berkshire Grammar, I have a duty of care to not just to my students, but their parents.
I smile at myself as I look at myself in the mirror. My mother has always stressed the importance of one’s appearance. 'Your appearance helps you get your foot through the door'. However, not even a minute after uttering those words she was quick to remind me 'just because you got your foot through the door, it doesn't make you part of the family'. I get a message from the Uber driver, letting me know he is waiting for me. I quickly take one last look at myself before grabbing my stuff & going outside.
I have always thought it was pointless having a car, in a place like New York. Where people who own cars seem to spend most of their time stuck in traffic than with their families. Stepping into the uber, l exchange greetings with the Uber driver. Disgruntled, by the lack of movement of traffic the Uber driver advises me that I am better off taking public transport next time, though it means him losing a paying customer. After 30 minutes of being stuck in peak hour traffic, I cut my uber journey short and decide walk to Berkshire Grammar which is only ten minutes away.
As soon as I reach my destination, I find myself staring at an imposing two-story red brick building with two giant wooden doors wide open. The first thing you see beyond the doors is a dark tunnel, where at the end the sunlight is shining on a patch of green grass in the courtyard. The scene before me feels like l am about to enter another world that is beyond mine. Even though it's my fifth time being here, it still takes my breath away. It’s funny looking at the building’s exterior, you would think its been here for a 100years, but once you enter the building the modern interior betrays it.
I make my way into the building. I enter the staff room Mia walks over to me and greets me when she sees me. She assumes her duty of introducing the staff members. First off, my faculty English members, George, Mathew, Abby and Michelle. Secondly, the rest of the Admiration team, which consist of Deputy principal Jacob Mecer, Charlie the technician, Emma and Charlene who handle the front desk. Mia makes a special note to introduce me to a Mathematics faculty member, Jeremy, who happens to be her crush.
We all gather around for our staff meeting, which is led by Principal Kieran Hunt, the man who gave me my job. He starts by welcoming us back to another school term and updates on things that have happened during the holidays. He then turns his attention to the latest addition to the staff, me. I try not to make a fool of myself by keeping my introduction short and waving to everyone. After everything is said and done, the meeting wraps up everyone is dismissed.
“Katherine, how are you? You must be nervous.” Kiran walks over to Mia and I.
“Yes I am but thanks to Mia I at least know what to expect.”
“Well, that's good to know. If you need any help just let me or Mia know.” Kiran pauses “I should you let you go, good luck.”
Mia takes to my class and shows me where everything is including how the interactive whiteboard works. Since it is everyone's first day back from the school holidays, she suggests it's best l don't go overboard with the workload for the students. Out of excitement to see who I will be teaching, I log into my teacher’s portal. As soon as l login, Mia takes over, eager as l am to see who is in my classroom.
“This is great, you have two eleventh and two tenth grade clas--” Mia stops talking in the middle of her sentence. As she reads the list of names, for the class l have this morning. “Oh.”
“What?” I ask, raising my eyebrow.
“You have the Spencer twins, Gabriel and Louise.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“Not necessarily speaking.” Mia pauses “It's just they are the talk of the city at the moment.”
“Their parents were in the process of a bitter & public divorce. The twins' mother had a problem with the bottle.” Mia sighs “During the divorce proceeding she disappeared, a week later her body was found in their Hamptons home. The circumstances surrounding her death are unknown. It's been a month since she died. So expect to meet two grieving twins caught up in a media storm.”
To say that I am nervous is an understatement. I sit in anticipation, fully aware that in a matter of minutes that the bell will ring and 25 students who have never laid their eyes on me will be sitting in front of me. I have taught a class before, but that time was completely different, I had a teacher who had ten years of experience behind her to fall back on for support. I take a few deep breaths and mutter a few words of motivation to myself. Today is going to be a great day & I am not going to let anything get me down.
The bell rings and students start entering the classroom. Upon first glance, the student's facial expressions change to one of confusion. Chatter erupts among the students as they take their seats, and it's safe to assume I am the subject of the conversation. After waiting a few more moments for everyone to come in, I decided to start the lesson by introducing myself.
“Welcome back to another school term. I am Miss Katherine Maxwell.”
“As in the distant relative of Ghislaine Maxwell?” Questions a blonde boy, who is slouching in his chair with an arrogant smirk on his face. His statement earns him a few laughs among his peers. By the state of his appearance, it looks like he just got out of bed and his hair is a dead giveaway of that. The blonde boy shoots the brunette boy a mischievous smirk, to which the brunette responds: “I am pretty sure they are related”.
“You must be the troublemaker of the class. What is your name?” I ask sighing this is the last thing l needed on my first day of work.
“Conner Summer” the blond boy answers. I turn my attention to the brunette beside him.
"Charles Yosef Brandon."
Putting that little event behind, I start going through the slideshow outlining the syllabus we are going to learn this term. I ask if anyone looked at the script Collateral Beauty, by Allan Loeb during the holidays that we will be reading for the first three weeks of term. As expected, only a handful of students have looked at the script & even bothered to read it. I instruct the students, to read the manuscript, while l take attendance. Everyone is here except for the twins.
“Gabriel and Louise Spencer?”
I look around the class waiting for a response but nothing. I close the teacher portal and prepare to read the first act of the script. As if right on cue a girl and boy make a rushed entrance into the room while uttering quick apologises for being late without even turning my way. Presuming the girl and the boy are the spencer twins, I make a mental note to mark the twins as late.
Not even ten minutes into the lesson, Gabriel announces he has to go to the toilet, he leaves the classroom before l can even get a word in. He is soon followed by Conner and Charles who both excuse themselves to check up on Gabriel. I let Conner go but stop Charles from going too as l am sure Conner will be able to handle this by himself.
Letting the incident go l continue with the lesson. Time goes by quickly, and the school bell rings for the break time everyone exists. Gabriel once again graces me with his presence. However, instead of joining others outside, he takes his laptop types out before asking me to check if I have received his email. I check and see that he has completed the first assignment, an analysis of the symbolic meaning of the dominos in Collateral Beauty. I knew some students would complete their assessment early, but I never anticipated someone handing it in on the first day.
“You know the assignment is due in four weeks, right?” I say as l turn my attention away from the monitor.
“I know but after a month of being constantly reminded that your mother is dead. Completing an assignment a month early, suddenly sounds like the best idea in the world.” Gabriel speaks in a monotone voice as he taps his hand on the table.
“That is understandable I am sorry for-”
“Please don’t say that.” Gabriel interrupts, there is an awkward silence before Gabriel speaks. “Do you mind if l have my break here? I am sick of hearing I am sorry for your loss.”
I can’t imagine what the twins are going through publicly and privately. They both had very little time to process their parents divorcing, much less their mother’s passing. The fifteen minutes break goes by fast for my second class l am less anxious and kind of know what I am doing. The day goes by quickly, after all the students leave, l stay behind to prepare for the next day.