People at Night,
Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails
"People at Night..." by Juan Miro
The school year was over in a flash. Creating and grading final exams was always time consuming, as was packing up a classroom and saying goodbye to students. The next thing I knew, it was the twentieth of June, and I was walking along with the rest of the faculty in the graduation processional.
We were instructed to wear our own gowns and hoods from our respective colleges and graduate schools. My first year teaching, I thought it was hilarious. Here was a day that was supposed to be about our students, and the teaching staff was trying to one-up each other by showing off who had the more prestigious degrees. I borrowed a plain black robe from the choir room and got in the black of the line, joking that I wouldn’t dream of messing up my hair with academic head gear.
Once seated, I nearly dozed off. I hadn’t been teaching long enough to have had any of this year’s graduates in my classroom. Had my attendance not been required, I would have happily skipped the evening’s ceremony. I suppose I should have wanted to see Edward receive his diploma, but the reminder of his age made me more than a little uncomfortable. I day dreamed about summer until a very familiar voice jolted me back into the present.
Edward was speaking into the microphone. I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me that he would be giving a speech. After all, he was valedictorian.
His remarks were brief and modest. He expressed his gratitude to his teachers and his best wishes to his classmates. The whole thing lasted about two minutes, and I found myself wondering if his discomfort was as palpable to the rest of his audience as it was to me.
Soon the ceremony was over, and the rest of the faculty and I made our way to a reception for the graduates and their families. I helped the cafeteria staff with refreshments, killing time until the buses left for the school-sponsored graduation party. There would be swimming, food, dancing, and various other chaperoned activities ending at six o’clock the following morning. The assumption was that by that time, the Class of 2009 would be too exhausted to get into any trouble. I thought the party planning committee greatly underestimated the stamina of today’s youth, but I kept this opinion to myself.
I was replenishing the soda when I heard a voice behind me.
“No graduate school, Ms. Swan? Somehow, I would have expected more from you.”
At times like these, I hated teaching in such a wealthy school district. Some of these kids were such snobby little shits.
I responded without missing a beat. “I was paying homage to Virginia Woolf. Perhaps you should read Three Guineas over the summer. When classes resume, I would be happy to discuss it with you.”
His ensuing laughter gave me the overwhelming feeling that I’d just fucked up utterly. I slowly turned around to find a man who despite his exceptionally good looks, was obviously too old to be in high school.
“I’m so sorry. I thought–”
“Don’t worry about it, Ms. Swan.” He was still laughing. “Though now I can see why Edward likes you so much. I’m Carlisle Cullen, Edward’s father.”
I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Dr. Cullen didn’t know I’d had inappropriate thoughts about Edward. Hell, Edward didn’t know I’d had inappropriate thoughts about Edward. I could do this.
Dr. Cullen had addressed me by name, which implied that Edward told him about me. It made sense; Edward did say that his father was his best friend. Pretending I didn’t know him would seem shadier than admitting that I did, wouldn’t it?
“Dr. Cullen.” I held out my hand to him, and he shook it. “It’s nice to meet you; please call me Bella.”
“In that case, call me Carlisle. Besides, any friend of my son is a friend of mine.”
“You must be very proud.”
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
“We are. Today is his birthday which makes it all that much more special. Speaking of, I should find him. Good to meet you, Bella. I’m certain our paths will cross again.” He smiled before disappearing into the crowd.
I knew I’d spend hours analyzing our exchange when I got home, but for now I had a job to do. After I finished helping with the reception, I boarded one of the many school buses filled with students and chaperones headed for the graduation party at the Y.M.C.A.
Once we arrived, everyone changed into more casual attire. I was wearing a simple black sun dress under my borrowed choir robe and felt comfortable enough that I didn’t feel compelled to change, despite the fact it was going to be a very long night. There wasn’t all that much for us to do. I found a table in the gymnasium where the students were dancing and took a seat.
“How did they rope you into this?”
I looked up to see Joe, one of the biology teachers, sitting next to me.
I smiled at him and shrugged. “I’m not tenured. I had a choice between this, the senior trip to Florida, or the prom. Since the mere mention of Florida gives me sunburn and I didn’t even go to my own prom, this was the obvious choice. Next year will be more fun though. By then I will have at least taught some of the graduating class. Spending a night with them before they head out into the world will be kind of nice.”
He gave me a knowing nod.
“Is this it all night? We just sit here and make sure no sneaks in booze?” I asked.
“Or has sex on the dance floor. That’s also a no-no,” Joe informed me.
“Good to know.”
He glanced across the room and rolled his eyes.
“See, that’s something that just pisses me off about this graduation party thing. See that over there?” He gestured to the bleachers on the other side of the room where Edward sat alone in a corner.
“Edward Cullen?” I tried to sound blasé.
“Yes. Do you know him?”
Apparently, I was unsuccessful.
“A little. I’ve run into him around town a couple of times.”
“Then you know he’s a good kid. Very close with his parents. He had his pick of the Ivy League and would never jeopardize his future by doing something stupid the night he graduated high school. And here he is. Forced to spend the evening hanging around kids who treated him like a pariah the past three years because the school requires it. He’s on to better things next year, hopefully with people who will finally appreciate him. But before that, he has to sit through eight more hours of being snubbed. Ridiculous.”
I nodded my agreement, not sure what to say. Then the DJ played a slow song, and I knew what to do.
“Excuse me.” I rose from the table and walked to the bleachers where Edward sat by himself.
“Hey.” I hoped my voice didn’t convey my nervousness. “Would you like dance?”
“Yes.” He leapt to his feet and extended his arm.
I placed my hand in his, and he led me to the edge of the dance floor. Realizing I hadn’t thought this through, I took a step back from him and shook my head, smiling in mild embarrassment.
“I should have warned you. I don’t dance.”
“Not at all?”
“No. I mean, obviously I have danced before, I’m just not very good at it.”
“I am. I’ll lead; just move with me.” He placed my hand on his upper arm and held me at the small of my back.
Before I knew it, we were gliding in our own orbit as I counted beats in my head.
“Am I actually waltzing?” I asked in disbelief.
“You are indeed. Quite well, in fact.”
The song ended far too soon. When it did, I broke contact and took two steps back. There was so much I wanted to say to him, but none of it was appropriate in our current surroundings. After an awkward pause, I found my voice.
“How did you know?”
“Your father may have mentioned it.”
Edward blushed, clearly embarrassed and more than a little annoyed. “I should have known he’d seek you out. I’m sorry if he made you uncomfortable.”
“It’s okay; I didn’t mind. But I should be getting back to work now. Thank you for the dance.”
I walked back to the table and reclaimed my seat next to Joe, who had been been joined by three other chaperones in my absence.
“That was very nice of you,” he said. “For the record, I wasn’t trying to guilt trip you into flirting with the kid.”
“I know you weren’t. Besides, it was nice. I’d never waltzed before.”
Joe let out a small laugh. “I think you may have just made Edward’s high-school existence.”
“Oh, that was nothing. Now if I had given him my lecture on The Canterbury Tales, well, that is life-altering.”
One of the other teachers looked over at me. “Is The Canterbury Tales even part of ninth grade curriculum?”
“No, but I use excerpts from it to help illustrate the evolution of the English language,” I explained.
The small talk continued, and I was grateful it was no longer about Edward. After a suitable amount of time, I excused myself. The rest of the night passed with agonizing slowness. By the time I arrived home and crawled into bed, I was too exhausted to consider how much had changed in the past twenty-four hours. Immediately after closing my eyes, I drifted into a dreamless slumber.