The winter dance came and went and it was a success. Alex felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, something she hadn’t felt in a long time, and it was the perfect distraction from her lonely existence. She stayed behind when class was over the next Monday.
“Mr. Hunter, do you have a minute?” She walked to the front and shifted her books from her left arm to the right.
“Of course, what’s up?” He stopped moving things around on the desk and faced her, focusing his attention on her.
Alex hesitated for a moment and looked out the window of the classroom, watching the students mill about, on their way to their next class. She could hear muffled laughter and loud talking in the distance and then looked at him and spoke with a bit of hesitance.
“I just wanted to thank you, for letting me help with the dance. I had a lot of fun.”
Mr. Hunter sat back in his chair and looked out the window himself. Alex felt as if she should break the silence by adding, “It helped me. A lot. Things at home have been tough…”
He continued to look out the window, as if he was thinking about something else, and Alex took that as her cue to leave so she said, “well, have a nice day.”
As she walked out, Mr. Hunter called to her, “Alex, wait.”
She turned around and she watched him scribble something on a Post-It note, peeled it off, folded it neatly and handed it to her.
He spoke with such gentleness and sincerity that Alex locked this moment into her memory bank, “I want you to know that I understand you’re going through difficult times, and that I’m always here for you.”
She took the note, looked at him with dewy-eyes and said softly, “Thank you. For everything.”
It was the last day of school before winter break started. The school was abuzz with anticipation and while most kids were planning vacations and family reunions, Alex was thrilled just to have all the members of her family back at home at the same time.
As English class was wrapping up, Melissa prodded Mr. Hunter, “what are your plans for winter break?”
He responded, “I’ll be spending time with my family, the usual.”
Melissa couldn’t help herself from asking, “so you’ll be with your wife and children?” As Alex heard that question, she looked up from her paper at Melissa and then at Mr. Hunter, wondering the same thing herself, noticing earlier on that he didn’t wear any rings.
Before he could answer, the bell rang as if on cue, and as the students rushed out he hollered above the commotion, “don’t forget to read chapters 6 – 14 and make sure you complete the handouts!”
Norah was the first to arrive home, their mother was on her way from her business trip in Germany while her father had plans of returning a little before Christmas time from Japan. Her parents were workaholics; they lived for their careers because living for each other was not enough.
Norah arrived in a taxi from the airport on a blustery December day. When she stepped out of the car, Alex opened the front door and ran out to hug her. Norah embraced her warmly and as Alex let go, she saw somebody stepping out of the opposite side. It was a guy that seemed too old to be in college and he had piercings on his face and tattoos up and down his arms.
Alex’s smile slightly lessened when she asked, “who is that?”
The strange guy walked around the car and wrapped his arm sluggishly around Norah as she replied, “Oh! This is my boyfriend, Derrek. Derrek, this is my sister, Alex.”
“Hey,” was the only word he spoke to Alex during the entire visit.
It was a few days before Christmas and Norah was in their bedroom with her boyfriend, she had convinced Alex to let Derrek stay with her in the bedroom while Alex slept on the pull out sofa bed. Her mother was in the kitchen, cooking dinner when Alex’s father walked in and yelled out, “Norah! Alex! Where are you girls!” Alex was watching TV on the couch when she heard him and bolted up and ran towards the front door. “Dad!” Alex exclaimed and hugged him tightly, feeling the chill of New England weather on his overcoat and taking in the familiar scent of his cologne.
“How are you, sweetie, you are looking radiant!” He said, grabbing her chin, kissing her on the forehead and looking at her face.
“Things in school are going well for me, I’m getting really good grades this semester.”
“That’s my girl! Santa’s gonna bring you something special for that.” He kissed her again on the cheek and walked further into the house as he was taking off his coat and scarf.
“She’s in the bedroom with her boyfriend.”
“What are you talking about? Karen, what is she talking about?”
Alex’s mother heard him and walked out to greet him by giving him a peck on the lips. They acted as if they hadn’t been apart from each other for months. Karen explained a bit nervously, “She has a new boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to have a place to go so I–”
“You are letting a complete stranger live in our home and sleep with our daughter? Are you fucking insane?!”
Before Karen could respond, he angrily made his way upstairs. Karen and Alex followed him, preparing themselves for a blow out.
Her father banged on Norah’s locked bedroom door. “Norah, it’s dad. Who’s in there with you?”
He went silent and all three of them could hear loud rock music and some sort of disturbance in the room, and then sounds of them shuffling things around.
“Open the door, Norah, or I’m busting it down!”
“Frank, please calm down, your blood pressure…”
Norah yelled through the door, “Dad, leave me alone!”
That response put her dad over the edge and his voice was much louder this time, “If you don’t open this door in 3 seconds I am breaking it, do you hear me?!” Everyone knew he was serious, so Norah opened the door slightly and he pushed his way in.
Alex didn’t have to walk all the way in to smell the stench of marijuana and she felt a rush of cold air hit her because they had opened the window in an attempt to air out the room. The bedroom was messy even on Alex’s side of the room. Alex would have said something but her father did all the talking for her.
“If he’s not out of here in 5 minutes I am calling the police and having him arrested for trespassing and drug possession, do you understand me?”
Derrek just looked at him with a dumb expression on his face and Frank started picking up his clothes and throwing it at him.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me! Mom, make him stop!” Norah shrieked as she stood there, powerless to her father’s rage.
Within a few minutes, Derrek was out the door and Frank slammed it shut, turned around and gave Norah a furious look as she stood there, sobbing and making a lot of noise while doing so.
“You know better than to bring a boy into this house, and to top it off, MARIJUANA?!”
“Yeah? Well it doesn’t seem to be helping ’cause you look like a drug addicted prostitute!”
“Frank, please don’t say that about our daughter!”
“Shut up, Karen, YOU let that shit into my home.”
“I can’t take this anymore, I need a drink,” and with that, her mother left for the den while Norah was already running up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door shut.
Frank looked at Alex and she could tell he was still angry, he gruffly said, “I’m leaving, tell your mother I went to Marty’s.”
Before Alex knew it, she was the only one left downstairs standing in the dimly lit foyer.
Alex gently rapped on her bedroom door. “Norah, are you okay?”
There was no response.
She stood there, wondering what she should say next, when the door opened slowly to let her in.
Alex looked at Norah’s face and she had puffy, red eyes but was not crying anymore. Norah flopped onto her bed, her rock music was still playing at a very low volume.
“I didn’t know you smoked pot.”
“Well, you don’t know a lot of things.”
Alex didn’t know how to respond to that, but she was starting to feel upset about the whole situation, for different reasons than Norah’s.
“What do you see in that guy?”
“He’s fun, he’s exciting, he’s everything I need in my life right now. You wouldn’t understand.”
They didn’t speak for a while and Norah ended up falling asleep on her bed. Alex turned off the music and light, closed the door behind her and went downstairs to the den. No one was there and she opened her binder that was sitting on the coffee table when she noticed the Post-It note tucked into the folder of her binder. She held it and looked at the e-mail address Mr. Hunter wrote neatly across the paper.
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