December 13, 1896
The floorboards creaked as someone behind me shifted their weight in their desk. Next to me, a young man bristled with such obvious annoyance, I found it difficult not giggle. I forced my attention back to the task before me. My steady hand returned to the half written page and with a quick dip in the ink well, my pen was writing again.
Words flowed like wine on a tap and all the while I could feel Mr. Stark’s eyes upon me. I struggled to lay the words down on the page at the same speed they flowed through my thoughts. My hand cramped, but I did not pause for fear of losing clarity. Concentration was the key.
On Mr. Stark’s desk an hourglass rested. As the sands of time poured through it, I poured my soul onto parchment in black blood called ink. Like a taut piano wire, poised to snap, tension filled the room. Minutes passed like seconds and if you listened carefully you could hear the sand falling through the glass. It was as loud and as eerie as hail falling in a windstorm in the pitch black of night.
I was penning my final words when Mr. Stark placed the book he had been pretending to read down on his desktop. His nimble fingers silently lifted the bell on his desk. In unison with the final drop of sand, he rang the bell. Time was up and pens were laid to rest.
Mr. Stark moved up and down the aisles of desks, taking each student’s pages. One by one he collected them all, dismissing each student in turn until he and I were alone. I sat nervous in my seat as he read the words I had written. I never doubted he would read them, but I had hope to be far from his classroom when the time came.
As he hummed through my work, I fidgeted in my seat. The rawness of truth I had laid upon the pages left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. I might well have been less frightened to dance a cancan on a bar room stage, completely naked. Mr. Stark seemed to sense my discomfort and rested a supportive hand on my shoulder. I tried to smile.
“I am surprised.” He said.
I turned my head to face him and blushed under his knowing gaze.
“I do believe there is more to you than I first realized.” He continued.
“Are you angry?” I asked.
“No, far from it.” He replied.
“Then I can go?” I asked.
Mr. Stark donned a crooked smile and sat down in the desk next to mine.
“Where would you go?” He asked.
I almost said the obvious. Then, I understood the question he was asking was more meaningful than the obvious. Our eyes met briefly, but my embarrassment was still too great to allow me to return his gaze. I stared at the floor instead, thinking.
“Come home with me.” He said.
I looked up at him, blinking in surprise.
“Now?” I asked.
“For Christmas. I know you have no family to spend it with and I would like you to spend it with mine.”
“You are married?” I asked.
His finger was devoid of a ring.
“Not for a long time. My children are young though and I think they will like you.”
“W-why me?” I asked.
“You do not even like me.” I said.
He chuckled again.
“Come spend Christmas with me and my family.” He said.
“Is that an order?” I asked.
He stood up and offered me his hand. I took it and stood up next to him. He raised his index finger under my chin and lifted my head so I had to look him in the eye.
“Does it need to be?” He asked.
“Do you really want me to be there?” I asked.
“Then I will think about it.”
Without warning, he leaned forward as if to kiss me, but he stopped when his lips seemed too close not to touch. His breath was warm on my face and it was all I could do not to lean that extra bit forward. I held my breath, waiting, wondering what he would do next. In the closeness, my heart melted and all the embarrassment and uncertainty faded back into the nothingness from whence it came. I gazed unashamed into his eyes.
“Okay.” I said.
“Is that a yes?”
“Are you excited?” He asked.
Let me count the ways, but I only smiled in response.