Fall from India Place Page 16

Scott walked me home and I managed some one-word answers. At my door, I gave him a distracted kiss on the cheek and disappeared inside, feeling confused, guilty, and more than a little bit tired of the whole thing.



“Miss Nichols?”


I jerked my head up, my unfocused gaze refocusing on the class in front of me. They all stared at me in question.

Shit. I’d completely zoned out. Unfortunately, that had been happening more and more lately. Ever since I’d found that bloody photograph of Marco and me, I kept being assaulted by memories of my time with him. It was beyond distracting and annoying.

I blinked a few times, trying to shake the specter of Marco as I searched my desk and attempted to remember what the hell I was talking about.

Right. Of Mice and Men and symbolism.

Pretending I hadn’t just taken a nap in the Halls of Forgotten Youth, I pushed on like I was perfectly aware of my surroundings and what we were doing. “So?” I sat down on the edge of my desk. “To end our discussion on symbolism in the book, why do you think Steinbeck titled it Of Mice and Men?”

Looking around the room at my third-year class, I saw a lot of brows furrowed in thought. The one brow that was usually furrowed in thought, however, today wasn’t. Tabitha Bell was one of my students who continually answered questions. She was bubbly and clever and I could usually count on her to fill any awkward silence. During the parts of the class when I had been fully present that day, I’d noticed that she was just looking down at the table and I didn’t hear a peep coming from her. I’d decided not to force her to participate. Something was clearly up.

“Come on, guys, think about it?” I urged.

The bell rang.

“Okay,” I said over the sound of their packing up and rising chatter. “Listen,” I called out, drawing their attention back to me. “I want you to come in tomorrow with an answer to my question. Why do you think Steinbeck titled it Of Mice and Men?” I was more than a bit annoyed with myself. We hadn’t been able to discuss it in class because of me, and I knew at least ninety percent of them would Google it and seize on a multitude of right answers they hadn’t come up with themselves.

Watching them hurry from my class to get to lunch, my eyes fell on Tabby. “Tabitha.”

She looked up at me as she was passing, her eyes rounded in surprise.

I gestured to her and she made her way over to my desk, silently waiting as the room emptied.

“Are you okay?” I asked, concerned. “You were awfully quiet in class today. It’s not like you.”

Tears suddenly shimmered in her young eyes. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem fine. If you’re having any issues with the work, I’d like to know so I can help.”

“Class is fine,” she sniffed. “It’s just…” Her lips trembled. “I saw Jack Ryan kissing Natasha Dingwall this morning.”

I stopped myself just in time from curling my lip in annoyance. Jack Ryan was in my fourth-year English class along with Jarrod. Whereas Jarrod was merely cheeky, Jack Ryan was a mouthy, disrespectful, women-hating little shit. “Is Jack your boyfriend?”

Tabby shook her head and I almost sagged in relief. “No… but I thought…” She wiped at the tears that had spilled onto her cheeks and I had to stop myself from rounding the desk to give her a hug.

“Tabby” – I ducked my head to look solemnly into her eyes – “today this feels like the end of the world. Tomorrow? Not so much. You’ll be fine. I promise.”

Looking anything but convinced, Tabby mumbled her thanks and quietly departed the room.

I stared after her, feeling bad but knowing she’d be okay. I knew because I’d been there. It felt like hell in the moment, but I was pretty sure time healed all.

Sometimes when you came across stupid photographs, however, it nicked the scar a little.

“There you are!” Anisha Patel, a fellow English teacher at the school, rushed toward me as I walked into the department staff room. She was grinning, her dark eyes glittering with excitement. “Please tell me you don’t have a date to my wedding because I want to set you up with someone.”

I stared at her in confusion. “I’m invited?”

Nish was lovely. In fact, I got on really well with the English department. They didn’t act superior to me because I was a probationer; they just welcomed me aboard. Still, Nish and I had known each other only a couple of months so I wasn’t expecting an invitation to her wedding. She talked about it every day, just as much as she talked about her gorgeous construction worker fiancé, Andrew, a guy whose boss often worked on projects for Braden and Adam.

Nish looked mortified. “I didn’t invite you? Of course I did. Didn’t I?” She waved it off. “Well, you’re invited to the reception. Of course you are. Here.” She strutted back over to her purse, dug around a bit, and pulled out an envelope. “An invitation.” She held it out to me.

I smiled as I took it. “That’s really nice of you, Nish, but I wasn’t expecting an invite.”

“Hush. Of course you’ll be there. And can I set you up?” She clapped her hands together excitedly. “I know this guy and I’ve told him all about how gorgeous and smart and funny you are, and after the bad luck he’s had in the past he really needs to date someone like you.”

Although flattered… “Thank you, Nish, but I’m not really —”

“When was the last time you went on a date? I never hear you talking about men. Oh.” Her eyes widened and she leaned in to whisper, “Do you like women?”

“No, I’m not a lesbian,” I replied, not annoyed that she would think I was g*y but annoyed that my perpetual singledom caused people to assume I was g*y, rather than that maybe I was just happy being alone until I found a guy I could stand to be around long enough to commit to. “I’ll bring Cole to the wedding.”

“Ah, so something is going on there with that boy. Knew it!”

I looked over at my colleague Barbara, who seemed amused by the whole thing, and said, “Why is everyone man crazy at the moment? There is more to life.”

Barbara grunted. “Preaching to the converted.”

I sighed and looked back at Nish. “Cole and I are just friends, but I’m bringing him to the wedding. No setups.”

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