Leaning against the side of the car, Penelope waits for her brother. Glancing at her watch, she sees twenty minutes have passed since the final bell.
“Where the hell are you, Ash?” She mutters, grabbing her phone and punching the speed dial for Ash.
“Speak.” Ash’s voice comes over the line, clear and distracted.
“What the hell is taking you so long? I want to go home.” She knows she sounds petulant but doesn’t care.
“What happens every Tuesday, P?” He sighs, annoyed.
“Bingo. Rachel, that article needs to be cut down by 150 words. Stop bitching or we’ll drop the whole thing.” He calls away from the phone. “You can wait or you can leave. It’ll be at least another hour.”
“I’ll see you at home.” She ends the call without waiting for a reply. The clouds building in the sky look ominously like rain, and her school loafers aren’t made for running. Throwing her backpack over her shoulders, she pulls her jacket closed and trudges down the sidewalk. About a block from the school, the rain starts, a slow sprinkle turning to a steady stream of water within minutes. Not a downpour yet, but it will be before she makes it home. Glancing over her shoulder, she considers going back to wait for Ash and sees a black car keeping pace with her. She quickens her step. Not enough to draw attention to the change, but enough to make her feel safe. Her muscles tighten. Preparing to run.
The passenger window of the car glides open. Penelope continues to look forward. Not giving the creep the satisfaction of knowing that she’s even remotely aware of him.
“Penelope.” The voice calls. She pauses momentarily, then keeps going. “Penelope… Ms. Chisholm.” She stumbles to a halt. Turning to her left, she leans forward to see inside the car.
“Mr. Staal?” She smiles, seeing his brown eyes peering out at her.
“Get in, I’ll drive you home.”
Without hesitation, Penelope steps towards the car. Pulling the door open, she slides her backpack off and settles into the seat in one smooth motion.
“Thank you! I am soaked.” She wraps her wet hair up in a clip to keep it from dripping on her clothes. Pulling up the edge of her skirt, she wipes the moisture from her bare legs.
“I was surprised to see you in my classroom this morning.” Gilbert’s eyes only partially on the road. “I thought you were… older, when we met this morning.”
“You’re surprised!? I meet a total hottie while out on a run only to find out he’s my teacher?” Penelope replies, oblivious to her driver’s gaze as she concentrates on drying herself off. “And I thought you were younger.”
“A hottie ‘eh?” He chuckles.
“What?” Penelope looks up, “God. Did I say that out loud?” Embarrassment colours her face the shade of cherries.
“Hey, it’s always flattering to have a pretty girl calls you a hottie.” Gilbert smirks.
“You think I’m pretty, Mr. Staal?” She bats her eyelashes comically.
“Call me Gil.” He smiles “At least when we’re out of school. Mr. Staal makes me feel like an old man.”
“Okay… Gil.” She smiles, sinking back into her chair.
“Would you like some coffee or something before I take you home?” He reaches forward to adjust the heat. His eyes settle on the edge of her skirt fluttering in the warm air. “You look like you’re freezing.”
“Do you think it’s wise for the two of us to be seen together outside of school?” Penelope teases, poking him in the arm. Their eyes lock for a brief moment.
“You’re right. I should probably just take you home.” His gaze shifts back to the road.
“I am actually kind of cold.” Her hands settle into her lap. “I’d love a tea latte.”
“A tea latte?” He signals to turn left. “What’s that?”
“A latte made with tea instead of disgusting coffee.”
“You don’t like coffee?” He raises an eyebrow. “But coffee’s delicious.”
“Tea is better.” She smiles. “You should get one. Maybe I’ll teach you something, Mr. Teacher Man.”
“Uh huh.” He rolls his eyes. “Wait here.” Pulling the car up behind a brick building, Gilbert jumps out, leaving the younger girl sitting in his car.
Alone behind the tinted windows, Penelope takes the opportunity to snoop. Opening the glove compartment, she finds documentation on the car, a stack of napkins, and a refill for the air freshner. Glancing out the window to make sure the coast is still clear, she pulls open the top of the compartment in the armrest. An ipod. Several ties striped ties of different colours. A compartment full of change. A couple condoms. Grabbing the ipod, she activates the screen. The low battery light comes on and immediately powers off the device. Slumping back into her seat, she huffs in annoyance.
Restlessly, she plays with the dials on the radio. Finding a station playing electronica, she stops. Turning up the volume, she sinks further into the seat, her knees pressing into the dash. The pleats on her skirt folding in on themselves. Closing her eyes, she relaxes into the music, her shoulders bouncing to the beat. Waiting.
Cold air blows across her as the door opens. Her skin instantly goose bumps against her wet clothing. Gilbert slips inside, handing her a hot paper cup. Their fingers brush against each other. Penelope’s gaze flicks towards her teacher, but he’s distracted. Glancing out the window, he puts the car into drive and pulls out into the afternoon traffic.
“Thanks.” Penelope wraps her fingers around the cup, absorbing the warmth into her cool skin.
“You’re welcome.” Gilbert relaxes once they’ve pulled back into traffic. His arm rests on the cushion Penelope has finished searching.
“I decided to try your drink.” He glances at her out of the corner of his eye.
“You’re not entirely wrong.” He takes a sip. “Tasty, but more like something I would want when I’m sick.”
“It’s comforting.” She agrees.
They drive in silence for a few minutes, Gilbert heading in the general direction of Penelope’s house. “I assume you live over here, since it’s where you were running.”
“Close.” She nods
“Would you mind if we talk for a while before I take you home, Penelope?”
She savours the sound of her name rolling off his tongue within the confined space of the car. “Whatever you want, Gil.” She concentrates on making the fluttering in her chest stop.
Gilbert turns the car onto the road leading to the ravine. Pulling past the main parking lot, he drives through the park until they reach the back lot. Rarely used during the day, at night it becomes a party spot for kids from the school. Pulling the car into the furthest stall, Gilbert turns off the ignition, lowers the radio volume, and picks up his drink.
“I like it down here during the day. It’s so peaceful.” Penelope sighs, looking out the window into the deep woods in front of them. The rain is still coming down heavy.
“Me, too. I used to come here when I was in school.”
“So you know what this place is used for?” She raises a playful eyebrow.
“I’ve heard rumours.” He chuckles, “But that’s not why I came here. I’d actually come down here to study.”
“Oooo, studious.” Penelope giggles, sliding her shoes off, tucking her legs up under her. “You’re from around here?” She wants to learn all the things she may not get another chance to hear.
“My whole life, but I lived on the other side of the city.” His eyes gaze out towards the dense row of trees obscured by the heavy rain beating against the window. “I started coming here when I was in university.”
“Which school? When did you graduate?”
“Simon Frasier. Not this April, but the one before.”
“You’ve been subbing ever since?” She reaches forward, toying with the texture in the armrest. Gil’s face is partially blocked by his coffee cup. She wishes she could see his lips. Watch them as he speaks. Wishes she was kissing them. The pause before his answer is slightly longer than necessary. He slides his seat back from the wheel, turning to face her.
“Since last September, yup. I’ve worked at a bunch different schools.” He shrugs. “That’s the life of a sub. I get to meet great students and then I have to pack up and leave them after a few days, maybe a week. I can’t wait to get a permanent position.”
“So, if you just graduated, how old are you?” Reaching back, Penelope releases her hair from its clip. Her long black curls bounce around her shoulders before falling down her back, still damp from the rain.
“25.” He places his cup in the holder. Leaning forward until his fingers settle on the armrest.
“Huh, so you’re only like 8 years older than me.” She slides her hand along her thigh, inching slowly towards the armrest.
“That’s a big difference.”
“Not really. It’s the same age gap as my parents.” She slides her cup into the empty holder.
“It doesn’t matter when you’re older.” He watches her fingers inching towards his. “If you were my age, and I was 33, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.”
“But?” She waits for him to finish. Her fingers are on the edge of the armrest now.
“But it matters when I’m the teacher and you’re the student.” His voice is low, throaty. He leans forward reflexively.
“Then why are we here?” Penelope’s voice lowers to match his. She leans forward quickly. One arm bracing against the armrest, the other reaching for his shirt. Her fingers wrap around his tie, pulling him towards her. Her lips press against his before he has a chance to react. Gilbert responds to the fruity taste of her lip gloss. His fingers wrapping into her mane of hair. Pulling her towards him.
Grabbing the headrest and the wheel, Penelope pulls herself onto his lap. Straddling him. His hands find their way to the bare skin of her legs, squeezing them. She pulls closer to him. Pushing into his lap. Her fingers working the buttons of his shirt open. Without warning, he picks her up, tossing her back into the passenger seat. Her head bounces off the window
“Ouch!” She rubs the back of her head. “What the fuck, Gilbert?”
“Sorry.” He leans forward, touching her arm gingerly. “Are you alright?”
“Whatever.” She pulls away from him, sulking.
“Penelope. I’m sorry. I did not mean to hurt you.” He quickly begins to close his shirt. “You’re my student. I freaked out when I realized what was happening. This isn’t something I’ve done before.”
“I wasn’t your student when we met this morning. And you wanted me then.” She insists. “I wanted you. If you hadn’t walked into my class you, we would have had a chance.”
“That was different. If I hadn’t walked into your class, I probably never would have seen you again. You just would have been the cute girl I met that one time. I’m not allowed to feel this way about a student, Penelope.”
“To feel what way?” Penelope stares at him.
He reaches over, taking her and in his. “There’s something about you, young lady. Something special. Maybe we can hang out together. But this…” He waves his hand between them, “this can’t happen again. At least not until I’m done at your school.”
“And when is that going to be?”
“I don’t know. At least a month, maybe longer. It’s a long placement. It’s the thing I’ve been longing for. And now it turns into this.”
“That’s too long.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “I like you, Gil. I want to hang out with you.”
“Then we’ll hang out, but like I said. None of the kissing or touching or whatnot.”
“And how would we hang out together and make sure none of the whatnot happens?” Penelope rolls her shoulders, trying to release some of the pent up energy. The torn skin from where she hit the tree that morning stings as it pulls with each movement.
“Morning runs? We both like running. And we’d be too busy to get distracted.” He suggests.
“Then maybe after…, after we do that for a while, and we realize we can do it, we can maybe hang out doing other stuff?”
“Maybe.” He nods, putting the car into gear and pulling out of the parking lot. “I think you should probably go home now.”
“Turn right at the entrance to the park.” Penelope gazes out the window, unsettled. A few minutes later, she adds “Stop up there. It’s probably best if you aren’t seen in front of my house.” The empty street stretches in front of the windshield. “Will I see you in the morning?”
“At the two mile marker, where the trail leads in behind the ravine.”
“I’ll see you then.”
“Bye.” Penelope quickly kisses him on the cheek before grabbing her bag and bolting from the car. She runs down the sidewalk, not looking back.