There are moments of your life when you are completely aware that your whole world is about to fall apart or fall together. Then there are those moments of lesser clarity, when a seemingly small insignificant event alters the course of your life without you noticing. Maybe it’s associated with your career or your evolution as a person but most likely it’s due to another person. Humans have a funny way of affecting each other in irreversible ways; their hearts don’t always differentiate between the right person and the wrong one. Their heroes can become their torturers and their worst enemies can prove to be the greatest of friends. What am I trying to establish? Only that life is full of surprises and that in those surprises people find the greatest, sweetest pleasure and the most intense, scarring pain. Maybe you walk out your door today and smile at a stranger as they pass you by and maybe that doesn’t have any significance or maybe that stranger is the start of something that will revolutionise your life. You probably won’t be able to tell. I’m not saying choice doesn’t exist nor am I saying that fate is always at play. I’m saying that the course of people’s lives is not always determined by what they believe will happen but by what they never expected to happen. When something changes you, there’s no going back. Your existence is altered. I alter your existence frequently but we will get to that later. For now, I must make a journey into a woman’s past, a woman whose existence was altered. She learned one lesson that is not so much a rule that governs humans as it is a fact of life and a truth of humanity; when someone changes you from the inside out, there is no going back. In plain language, there are no U-turns.
I scribbled the words in my notebook, my mouth whispering them passionately as I wrote them;
“Falling in love is like finding yourself tossed into the amazon alone without having even so much as spent a night in a tent. There's no quick escape route, no real way to save yourself. You enjoy the vivid colours, the incredible sights and smells but eventually the night descends and you're really tested. You pray to god that some deadly animal doesn't find you. The truth is that being in love is very much like being eating alive. You don't really know what's happened until your guts get splattered all over the canvas of a lion’s stomach...or in this case, the walls you had in place to protect yourself. Of course I am only talking about the type of love that breaks your heart. And I haven't ventured in to the other territory yet. Love is more complex than misery. It evokes both sadness and joy. It is the best of life and the worst of it. I know this, I sense this and yet I still know nothing of what it is to be in love, to feel yourself falling and not be able to stop it. I don’t know what it is to feel every nerve in your bond stand on end in another person’s presence. I don’t know what it is to be captured by a wave of inescapable emotion…”
I didn't notice his approach until he was but a few feet away and his shadow fell over my page. He eclipsed the sun and his face filled my vision. Looking up into sharp blue eyes, I saw traces of amusement in the set of his mouth as the wind blew his short black hair sideways. He was an attractive man that much I knew. He wore a long sleeved, firmly pressed white shirt with a blue tie and long grey trouser. He was smartly dressed. The most significant detail by far was the midnight blue key chain that hung around his neck. It read; Walden High: English Department.
His observant eyes scared the little girl in me. He saw everything without much investigation; that I was sure of. I looked back at my page and continued writing the start of my epic romance, feigning ignorance.
"Writing the next great Australian novel?" His deep, musical voice, asked.
There was no doubt he was amused.
"Perhaps," I said, refusing to look at him.
"Well," he said jovially, "can I help?"
The shadow on my page grew larger as he knelt down in front of me. He was so close, barely an inch from me. I could smell the sweet, intoxicating scent of his cologne and feel his eyes watching me. I wanted to look up into them as I wondered whether the sunlight would reflect in them but my fear won out and I kept my eyes downcast as I spoke.
"You're new," I stated bluntly, refusing to answer, "You’re the new English teacher."
I looked up then, my fingers trembling a little as his nearness evoked my fear. The corners of his mouth twitched as he attempted a serious expression. The smile won out. I looked down again, afraid of my own curiosity and of the feeling he inspired in me. I knew I wanted to unravel his smile and yet that wasn’t a common train of thought for me. I did not care to take part in people’s mysteries for I knew that knowing a person only lead to heartbreak. My mother and my father had taught me that very early on in my life.
"And you're the disobedient senior student who writes stories at the end of the street without anyone knowing," he replied, eyes alight.
"How do you figure that?" I challenged, looking up from my page once more.
"Well, for starters, you're not in school, thus you have to be a little disobedient. Your eyes are too mature for a child's so I suspect you're in your last year. I know you're writing a story as you have confirmed it and as for no one knowing, you're a smart girl, you wouldn't risk punishment. Plus, I offered to do yard duty out here, the principal said I was the first to ever make that offer," he said this all very quickly, his eyes scanning my face.
"Smart?" I questioned, eyebrows raised.
"Those eyes give you away."
That was all he said but I thrilled to the words.
I felt my curly brown hair whip out behind me as the wind hit me in the face. His eyes followed its movement. He smiled a small smile that awakened my curiosity again. I quickly assessed him as he rose to stand again. The muscles in his chest and arms were clearly outlined by his shirt and he had a strong jaw line that made his face appear even more startling handsome. He had a little stubble around his chin which I would have hated on any other guy but it only made him look more masculine. He was a man in every sense of the word and a tall one at that. He towered over me.
"Take my hand. Come back with me," he said, extending a hand out to me.
I looked at the hand, considering and then abruptly jumped up on my own. He shook his head, a look of complete puzzlement on his face. I shrugged, trying to appear unaffected by him and strode past him in the direction of school. In reality, my heart was beating wildly in my chest and I had no idea why. My body seemed to react to him in ways that my mind did not approve of. I’d read of the struggle between the passions of the heart and the cool reasoning of the mind but my reading had not prepared me for this tug of war that waged inside me. How could I feel so passionate towards a man I’d just met? I dismissed it as misplaced anger. He’d tried to deduce who I was and assumed my character far too quickly. I told myself I was merely angry at his presumption.
It was a few minutes before I heard his footsteps behind me and felt his hand grab my arm.
"Wait," he said angrily, turning me around to face him, "I have to walk you back."
I glanced at his hand on my arm and tried to ignore the tingly feeling coursing through my body.
I looked back up into his eyes and noted that they were filled with both confusion and another emotion that I couldn't quite decipher. As we stood there, his hand on my arm and my whole body locked in a state of confusion, I realised that the look in his eyes reminded me of amazement. I felt something similar myself.
I then realised that I was being overly rude. I wasn't a rude person. In fact, I could be extremely timid, especially at school but that man, that teacher, he was different. There was something about him that bothered me and I couldn't quite put my finger on it in that moment. Maybe it was a defence mechanism but I felt I had to better him.
"Let's walk then," I said perfectly polite.
He let go of my arm but his eyebrows drew together to create an even further confused look.
I started walking again and he followed.
"Sorry" I sighed.
"For what?" He said.
"Being rude. I'm not like that, honest. I'm just not good with strangers."
"It's okay. I understand what it's like. I had a bit of an attitude a couple of years ago too," he admitted.
I looked up at the sun, casting its rays over the dull grey pavement which ran alongside a narrow road. On one side, there were small, cottage-like houses that had been there for hundreds of years. On the other, stood my run down, olive coloured school. A prison like chain link fence ran around the outside and the people behind it looked far from happy.
Focusing again on the conversation, I was intrigued. A few years? That meant he was only a bit older than me...not that it mattered, I attempted to tell myself. "Can't believe he thinks I have an attitude," I thought to myself, cursing my poor choice of behaviour.
"I don't have an attitude," I argued, straightening down my blue, striped school dress with my hands.
He looked down at me for a second and then smiled. He didn't say a word.
"I don't," I insisted angrily.
"I didn't say anything."
"You were thinking it,"
He threw back his head and laughed. It was annoyingly attractive.
"You can read my thoughts?" He asked, grinning.
I glared at him.
"So are you going to tell me why you were out here all alone when you should have been at school?" He questioned.
I looked off into the distance as I answered.
"I like being alone," I lied, "and I never get to be alone when I'm at school. I only leave at lunchtimes, I come back before the bell goes."
"You don't have to plead your case, you're not in trouble," he promised, "but don't be dishonest."
I didn't reply. My eyes flicked back to him involuntarily and I started as I found him already watching me. There was something so very unsettling about the expression on his face or maybe it was simply the knowledge behind his eyes. Weirdly, I felt like he already knew too much about me. I didn’t want anyone to disassemble me only to find the mess inside my heart. I was not a closed book but I didn’t want people reading my secrets in my eyes either.
We walked in silence for the last few minutes and as we walked inside the gate, the bell for the end of lunch rang. I turned to him, abruptly curious.
"What's your name?"
"Mr West," he answered, looking down at me.
My head barely cleared his shoulders. I had to move my head to properly look at him.
"What's your first name?" I said without meaning to.
I regretted it immediately but his eyes sparkled fantastically in the sunlight. He did not appear bothered.
"Christopher," he said, "I get Chris a lot though."
I smiled at him, and curtsied.
"My Lord West," I said with mock solemnity.
He snorted but then his face broke into that winning smile again.
I turned to leave but before I took another step I whispered quietly;
As I walked down the long path into school, I did not hear his footsteps behind me. When I turned to go into my locker bay at the end of the path, I found him in the same spot, his eyes on me. He was watching me walk away. I curtsied, eyes cast down and then disappeared into the locker bay.