Lilith had left the mall planning and plotting the whole way back to her car. She thought about public humiliation, exposure, even murder. By the time she had pulled into her assigned parking spot and was upstairs unlocking her apartment door she had replaced her rageful fantasies with a tub of cookie dough, a bottle of wine, and a box of tissues. Tomorrow would be a better day. It was a half day and a Friday. She would do a creative writing exercise or throw on a movie for her classes. The end of the year was a few weeks away. Who really cared?
Throwing on her own favorite movie and powering through her Pinot Grigio, Lilith slurred her way into acceptance. Two of their friends had secretly run off and gotten married. They had only told Lilith and the attorney mediating their divorce. Stephie had fucked Peter’s boss after he had gotten her the job. She had only told Lilith when she had a pregnancy scare. Even Peter’s best friend had a secret that only Lilith knew. In Jake’s defense, it was because Lilith had been there when she and Jake had hooked up. It was months before Lilith and Peter had begun dating.
Naturally it made sense for the keeper of all the secrets in their group to keep one for her boyfriend as well. Dragging herself off her couch, a showering of tissues scattering onto the floor, Lilith downed the last of her wine. With a gentle plunk she left her wine glass on top of her dresser.
Her tank top clung to her body as she threw her sweater on top of her wooden chest. Static electricity. Or tears. Or sweat. Or condensation from her glass. Some contributing factor made her tank top and bra require extra effort to remove. Her skirt had been easy to step out of. Her shoes had been kicked off for hours. Resting her head on her pillow, hair still balled up in a sloppy bun, Lilith fell asleep.
A scream pierced through her ears. The angry “beep. Beep. Beep,” blared from her alarm clock. In a panic Lilith hit snooze and sat up in her bed. Clutching her chest she groped around for nightshirt. The one she had been too tired and drunk to put on last night. Washing over her, Lilith’s oversized t-shirt fell into place. The shirt had been Jake’s. Lilith scoffed at her teacher’s mind. Today class, she mimicked herself, we will be learning about irony.
With her breath caught Lilith got out of her bed and shuffled to her bathroom. As she made herself comfortable on the cold porcelain seat she thought of her dream. Of Peter and Jake. Mostly of a scared little girl confessing her sins. Holding her ever-growing belly. Asking for advice. Horns piercing her skull, poking up through her blonde hair. Lifting her darker roots up for the world to see. A film of red washing over her. That bitch, Samantha, pregnant with Peter’s child. Knowing all along she was fucking her teacher’s boyfriend.
Lilith had finished peeing. Silence mingled with her anger that filled the bathroom. The smell of dried wine and sweat permeated the air. She had to get ready for work. It had only been a nightmare. Only a nightmare, unlike reality, that would go away as soon as she let it.
By seventh period Lilith had truly begun to believe that everything would be alright. So her boyfriend had a secret. A secret that could be dealt with. All she had to do was confront him. Then it would be like all the other secrets she kept for her friends. The way it was now, was that Samantha was his secret. In confronting him Lilith could make a decision. She just had to confront him in a non-confrontational, safe space setting. It was what she did with her students. Safe spaces, mutual respect. She had been one of the most respected and adored teachers throughout her tenure.
All of her students from the ones with gang affiliations to the high honors kids she taught. She was a confidant, a mentor, a teacher, and a real person. A person they connected with. A person her friends connected with. Which was why after seventh period she wasn’t surprised to hear footsteps entering her classroom early.
“Ms. Hase,” a familiar voice spoke up.
Nearly jumping out of her skin, Lilith turned around. She had been setting up the television to start a movie with her eighth period class. It would have been the best way to deal with seeing Samantha. If she hadn’t been the student seeking her out before class.
“Samantha,” Lilith said, “sorry, you frightened me.”
“I’m sorry Ms. Hase,” Samantha said, “I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s okay,” Lilith said forcing a smile to her face.
“Do um, do you have a minute,” Samantha asked, “please?”
Lilith looked at the fear crawling across Samantha’s face. The smooth lines, and blended foundations beginning to crack. Something was upsetting her. Lilith turned around as her eyes rolled. There were probably lots of things Samantha had done that could be biting her in the perky ass. But Lilith’s heart took over. Regardless, she was a scared little girl. Holding herself in a hug, Samantha looked every bit of the part.
“Of course,” Lilith said. Turning back around to face Samantha, leaning against her desk. “Everything okay?”
Samantha looked down at her feet, at her arms, and finally back up at Lilith. Taking a deep breath in, her face contorted as tears filled her eyes.
“I don’t think so,” she said as she began to gasp for air.
“Samantha,” Lilith said calmly, “take a deep breath in, good girl. Hold it. Exhale.” Lilith nodding her head with the rhythm of the breathing.
The door to Lilith’s classroom creaked as it opened further. Students had begun to arrive. Lilith looked at Samantha. Her face had transformed back to her usual carefree, glowing, and properly set face. Shaking her hair out and over her shoulder, Samantha turned and headed to her seat. A trace of emotion stuck to the crease of her eye. Lilith was impressed. And a little frightened.
Rolling the ancient television cart to the side of the room Lilith mentally prepped for her class. By the time all of her students had come in and taken their seats. Lilith quietly cleared her throat. Standing in front of her students, most of them looking at her waiting. Some of them still on their phones, the bright white light betraying their own senses of stealth. Lilith screamed. Head back, arms out. Shoulders tensed yet open.
Two of her students dropped their phones. One student got up and walked halfway down the aisle of desks as she abruptly stopped. Twenty-five faces all looked at her in a mix of panic and awe.
“Today,” Lilith said righting herself, “we are going to write about what frightens you the most. Me included.”
Half of her students remained motionless. The other half looked somewhat intrigued. It’s going to be a creative writing blitz. Thirty minutes, no talking, no thinking, no futzing around. At the end of the thirty minutes you’re all going to turn in your stories to me. Then, if anyone is feeling brave the last ten minutes of class, you’ll have the opportunity to get up and tell a story. Doesn’t have to be the one your wrote, but it has to be about fear.”
Some of her students started getting their laptops out. While others began rolling their eyes, looking for a plug.
“No laptops,” Lilith said, “handwritten or you get a failure on the assignment.”
“Ms. Hase,” Brad said raising his hand.
“Can you tell your story when we’re done?”
“Maybe,” Lilith said ignoring the empty gesturings of a high school jock “as long as everyone turns in a full and wholehearted assignment.”
Brad grunted. “Guess there goes that.”
“Thirty minutes starts in one minute class,” Lilith said, “if you don’t have paper come see me now.”
There were a handful of students who came up for paper. Most of them had notebooks. The outdated “psst, I need a pen,” echoed throughout the classroom. For a moment Lilith smiled.
“Go time,” she said. The joy of teaching draining from her as fear coursed through her streamlining for the tip of her pen.
The timer Lilith had set pierced throughout the silence. Reaching over she killed the sound. Lilith stood, stretched, and made her way around her desk.
Samantha raised her hand.
“Can we have five more minutes?”
“If we do that we probably won’t have time to present any.”
“What if we write until the end of the day, hand them in, and then people can practice their story over the weekend to present Monday?”
Lilith felt her jaw drop a little.
“Samanda,” Brad said, “you’re giving us weekend homework. You know that right?”
“It’s not like you’ll have anything better to do, Brad,” Samantha snapped. “We broke up, remember?”
“Alright,” Lilith said clapping her hands, “settle down.” Thinking for a moment how she can make this work, Lilith had an idea. “All presentations will only be thirty seconds to a minute long. Including mine. Will get everyone’s in on Monday. If you want more time to write, take it. If you feel done, take a picture of your story and then hand it in.”
Shuffling started amongst most of her students.
“Even if you are done, begin thinking about how you would want to present your story. Remember, other people are still working so please remain in your seats quietly.”
The bell rang, and everyone rushed to the front of the room to drop off their assignments. Everyone except Samantha.
Her blonde hair falling over her shoulder, spilling onto her desk. Her darker roots exposed. Lilith cleared her throat.
“Oh, sorry,” she said.
“Time to hand in your story,” Lilith said.
“Okay, Ms. Hase,” she said. “Gimme one more second.”
Without waiting for a response her head bent down. Her hair once more swooping down, covering her face. Lilith almost laughed to herself. Before today the girl showed little interest in her studies. Not that she didn’t turn in decent assignments. Her passion had been making her high school experience live up to the tv-version. Her academics had always seemed to be less of a priority. Until today.
“Samantha,” Lilith said again, “while I appreciate your enthusiasm. Is everything okay?”
Samantha put her pen down and looked up at her teacher. The tears that had begun welling up before were now resurfacing.
“I have no idea,” Samantha said. Rising from her desk she grabbed her stuff, jamming it into her arms. “Here,” she said, “I think I need help, Ms. Hase.” Lilith took her students assignment.
“Do you want to talk,” she asked?
“I just, I -”
Lilith watched as Samantha broke into tears. Looking down, the word Pierre jumped out from Samantha’s story.
““Why don’t you sit and take a minute. If you want to talk when I’ll be right here. In the meantime, I’m going to start reading some of these assignments,” Lilith said.
Samantha sat back down at her desk, pulling out a pack of tissues from her bag. Lilith began to read her assignment. The mistakes went uncorrected as Lilith’s eyes flew across the pages. In the past 40 minutes, Samantha had poured her greatest fear onto paper. Unfortunately for Lilith, her story and Samantha’s fears weren’t that different.
As Lilith looked up from the pages, gently tossing the stack down onto her desk, she caught Samantha’s eye. Her student had composed herself. Watching her teacher as she read her deepest secret and darkest fear. An idea crept into Lilith’s mind. A dramatized, crazy idea. One that she was sure could be found in a suspense thriller somewhere. Or maybe in an original documentary about teachers or women who snapped.
“Ms. Hase,” Samantha whispered, “what do I do?”
“Oh honey,” she said. “For starters, you lift that chin up and dry your eyes. While it’s not quite in line with the rules, I can help you. Just not on school grounds okay?”