“But Fernando,” Lynn protested as she grabbed an armful of marking off of her desk. “I supervise three clubs already at the school.” She walked across the classroom to the door. “Besides,” Lynn added over her shoulder, “I know nothing about Latin dancing.”
“Miss,” Joanna said, jumping in front of her, “You no need to know. We need teacher. In classroom. That’s all. We teach ourselves.”
“You working,” Joanna added. “At desk,” pointing to Lynn’s heavy oak desk in the corner. “We won’t notice you. Just five times. That’s all. For ready for assembly.”
Lynn looked at their expectant faces. Joanna was so nice, handing things out in Lynn’s English as a Second Language class, shushing the other students so the lesson could begin. And Fernando, so industrious, coming for extra help in between juggling two part-time jobs.
And so here she was, two days later, at the first Salsa Club practice. She stood in the doorway for a second, watching the students as they chatted with each other, not yet noticing her. Not that she looked that much older than some of her students. It was only her third year of teaching high school, after all.
Lynn said hello and entered the classroom. She knew most of the students, either having taught them English or because they attended some of the clubs she supervised. She counted ten students, five dancing pairs. She helped them push the desks to the sides of the class, leaving a rectangle of tile in the middle for dancing.
She sat down and immersed herself in her marking. She could hear the students talking in Spanish, organizing the steps, arguing and then laughing. When she looked up again, they were dancing. She watched Fernando twirl Angelica beside him, moving quickly to the Latin tempo.
Lynn resolutely returned her gaze to her papers for the next twenty minutes, trying to block out the driving beat of the congo drums.
“Miss, Miss.” It was Joanna. “Come look.”
Lynn glanced at her watch. Practice time was up. Obediently Lynn stood up and positioned herself in front of the group. Douglas started the music and the students began dancing, spreading out over the length of the classroom.
Lynn smiled. They were pretty good. The girls swayed their hips to the beat, shoulders back, profiles elegant, while their partners led them around the room, deftly changing positions with the touch of fingertips.
They looked sexy, Lynn had to admit. Their torsos weren’t touching at all—the girl’s left hand was placed on the boy’s shoulder while their right hands clasped in the air. It was all the whirling below the waist, the quick, smooth swishing to the beat. Alessandro grinned at her, catching her looking at his hips. Lynn quickly looked away. He was a mischievous one. He wasn’t in any of her classes, but she had seen him around the halls. He was nicknamed the Americano—not only because he was a blonde-haired, green-eyed Latino, but because of the clothes he wore, the iPod ear phones hanging around his neck, his Canadian-born friends.
Lynn would watch for the last five minutes of each practice, loudly clapping at the end. She was quite impressed by the group; they almost seemed professional. And they were dedicated. Not one student missed a practice.
Before she knew it, it was the day of the performance. She was going to introduce the Salsa Club to the assembly audience. Or should she say dance over to the microphone. God, how did she get conned into this one? One minute, she’s marking papers at her desk while the Salsa Club practiced, and then Fernando pulled her out of her chair and danced her around the room while the other students clapped their encouragement.
Lynn had shuffled around with Fernando, an embarrassed smile on her face as the students watched her in a semi circle. True, she was getting the beat, but she felt stilted, her hand sweaty in Fernando’s clasp. Alessandro said something to Fernando in Spanish. Fernando let go of her hand and Alessandro stepped in as her partner.
“No, no, that’s enough,” Lynn protested.
“Meringue, Miss,” Alessandro said. “Is easy.”
Maybe Meringue was easier than Salsa, but it was taking all her concentration to stay on beat, to rock her hips back and forth to the rhythm.
Lynn said, “OK, that’s enough.”
“One more minute, Miss. We make a spin. Very easy,” said Alessandro. He turned her one way and then another, guiding her with gentle fingertips, stopping her rotation with his hand lightly on her rib cage.
“Hey, looking good, Ms Armstrong,” came a female voice, over the din of the music.
Lynn turned and saw Helena, the head of the ESL department, leaning against the door frame. She was clapping with the rest of the students.
Lynn immediately removed her left arm from Alessandro’s shoulder. She tugged her right hand from Alessandro’s grasp, not before he gave it a squeeze.
“Ola,” Helena said. “What a great way to introduce the Salsa Club. The students will love it.”
So now she was going to be danced across the stage to the microphone by Alessandro, where she would introduce the Salsa Club to the assembly audience.
So here she was, the assembly in full swing, inhaling Alessandro’s cologne as they waited off stage for the first notes of “Mas Que Nada.”
As the Chinese fan dance members exited the stage, Alessandro grabbed her hand and Lynn got into position, hand up high on his right shoulder, other hand clasped in his. He looked down at her; even in the dimness she could see the flutter of his dark eyelashes. God, he was too good looking for his own good.
The tap of the timbulane bell began; Alessandro moved them out onto the stage. The lights were blinding; Lynn couldn’t see anyone through the white haze. Probably a good thing, since she didn’t want to see the other teachers’ faces when they recognized her. She clutched Alessandro’s shoulder as he danced them around the room, whirling her around once or twice with showy bravado. The students in the audience whistled and hollered while Lynn smiled thought clenched teeth, praying she would get to the mike without falling on her face.
Alessandro milked it. Instead of going directly across the stage, he whirled her around in a circle. With a few more extra turns, Alessandro delivered her to the mike stand. He bowed low, kissing the top of her hand and then clapped his hands in applause for her performance. The students went wild. She could hardly deliver her introduction of the Salsa Club over the noise.
She got a lot of good-natured ribbing from the other teachers that afternoon, a few “Ola senorita!” and dance requests. It was a relief to be over. Yet another obligation completed. Now she needed to turn her mind to the ESL picnic that she was coordinating.
The annual fall picnic in Sunnybrook Park was always fun. Helena came, and Ted and Nancy and Lee…almost all the ESL teachers. Staff left at lunch in their cars to prepare while the students took public transit and met them at the park. Turnout was strong—almost one hundred people showed up for the potluck meal.
A couple of the older students would fire up the park’s rusty barbeque grills and the smell of roasted meat wafted in the air. They usually had one halal, one vegetarian and one regular grill going. There were sweet Indian deserts, hot oily roti, couscous, fried rice, chicken balls, sushi and lots more.
This year, Lynn made salad and hauled the sports equipment from the school’s gym: Frisbees, volleyball and badminton sets. The boys would bring soccer balls, she knew, since they were all soccer crazy.
Lynn and the other teachers organized the food, making sure there were enough plastic cutlery, plates, cups and serviettes for everyone. Lynn played volleyball for a while, hollering good naturedly at the other team. She noticed Alessandro on the other side, joking with Amelia, a sweet girl from Lynn’s beginner ESL class. Her tight top revealed full breasts and a delicate waist. She was laughing at Alessandro, play fighting with him. A full two years younger than Alessandro, Lynn thought to herself.
By five o’clock Lynn was ready to leave. Most of the larger items and food had been packed in the teachers’ vans. Lynn picked up the sports equipment and grabbed the school’s CD player. She made a final check for garbage. She waved at the remaining students still playing soccer and hauled the gear to her car.
She was leaning into her trunk, trying to get the volleyball poles to fit diagonally across.
“Miss,” said a voice.
Lynn stood up abruptly, banging her head on the metal trunk lid. She staggered a few steps backward, trying to see through the spots dancing in front of her eyes. She turned and saw Alessandro
“Miss, are you OK?”
Lynn blinked away the tears that had sprung to her eyes. She gingerly touched her head with her fingers.
“Hey,” she tried to laugh. “What are you trying to do, knock me out?”
“Just come to see if you need help, Miss,” Alessandro said.
“Where’s Amelia?” Lynn asked, as she scanned the parking lot.
Alessandro looked at her. “She go home.”
“Miss, you OK, you hurt?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” Lynn lied. It hurt like hell. She must have hit one of the pointed metal edges of the trunk.
“Let me see,” he said. He moved closer to her, the top of her head just reaching his shoulder. She could smell him, not just his trademark cologne, but that man smell, of exertion, of sweat. She stared into his chest as she felt him touch her head.
“Ow,” Lynn said, flinching away.
“Hold still. The hair is sticking,” Alessandro said. She could feel him very lightly touch her scalp, gently easing the hair away.
“Is bleeding. Just a little,” he said.
She felt warm breath on her scalp and then pressure.
“What are you doing?” Lynn said, jumping away.
“Looking at cut,” Alessandro added. “That’s all.”
She scanned the parking lot to see if anyone else was around.
“My boyfriend can look at it,” Lynn said. “He’s a doctor.”
Alessandro lifted his hands in the air and backed away. “No problem, Miss. Hoping head is OK.” He waved, turned and walked down the parking lot.
Lynn crammed the picnic stuff into the trunk, and dumped whatever else couldn’t fit into her back seat. Shit, what was she doing. Talking with this guy. And why the hell did she say she had a boyfriend. She had one last year. Tony. They had been broken up for over ten months now. And a doctor? What’s with that?
But he had kissed her head. Lynn knew he had. She had felt him move closer, bend down, and the moist wetness of his lips.
She drove out of the parking lot and headed up the ramp to the main street. She looked around for Alessandro, at the bus stop and at the intersection, but didn’t see him, thank God. Lynn decided to head over to her mom’s. Maybe grab a free dinner, and get her mom to check her head, see if she needed stitches.
Lynn walked into her class the next morning and saw the flower right away. A bandage was looped around the carnation stem. She smiled. This morning, her altercation with Alessandro seemed silly. She was more embarrassed about it than anything else. She would thank him for the flower and say sorry for the misunderstanding.
Teachers nowadays were very careful around students, how they spoke to them in class, where they met them for additional help. Not just because students had cell phones and video recorders hidden in their jackets. Just so there wouldn’t be any misinterpretations.
The guy teachers had it the worst. They were advised never to be alone with a student, to always have the door open during tutorial. Some of the male teachers complained during pub nights that it made them paranoid. If one student blogged a lie about you or posted something scandalous in a chat room, your career was over.
So for that week, and the rest of the fall, Lynn greeted Alessandro with a friendly Hi when she met him in the halls. Soon she stopped worrying about the incident, too busy with marking and finishing her report cards. Before she knew it, it was the end of Term One and time for parent-teacher interviews.
Lynn’s student Mei-Ling helped with the afternoon interviews. Mei-Ling would knock on Lynn’s classroom door when the five-minute interview time was up, and let in the next set of parents. At five o’clock, Lynn grabbed a bite at a nearby diner with three of the ESL teachers. Lynn yawned as she walked back into the school with them. Two more hours of interviews to go. She searched the hallway beside her classroom, looking for Fernando. He was supposed to help her with the evening interviews. Lynn fervently hoped he hadn’t been called into work.
Lynn shuffled the parents in and out of her interviews by herself for the first half hour. Keeping the interviews to five minutes was impossible. She already had a lineup of parents outside her door.
Lynn stuck her head down the hall. Maybe Mei-Ling was around.
“Hello, Miss.” Lynn turned around. It was Alessandro.
“Have you seen Fernando?”
Alessandro shook his head.
“Can you help me?” Lynn asked. “I just need someone to watch the clock, knock every five minutes to let me know that my time is up. Let the next parents in.”
“That would be great,” Lynn said.
The next two hours were a blur. Parents who were proud of their children. Those upset with low grades. Lynn walked her last set of parents out at 9:00 p.m. God—she was supposed to have finished an hour ago.
As she packed up her school bag, Alessandro stuck his head in the classroom.
“Are you still here?” Lynn asked. She had told him to go home a half an hour ago.
“Listen, thanks so much for helping me out. You’re a saviour.”
“No problem Miss. Can I help carry bag to the car?”
Lynn stiffened. God, why not. He had really gone beyond the call of duty. She had a bag full of marking to haul to the car, and she was wearing high heels and a skirt.
“Sure, thanks Alessandro,” She handed him her bag and turned to lock the class room door. They didn’t see anybody on the way out except the caretakers—she must be one of the last teachers to leave the building. A group of teachers were already at the pub for drinks. Lynn didn’t know how they did it. She was too exhausted. All she wanted to do right now was crawl into bed.
The parking lot was almost empty, just a few scattered cars left. Alessandro asked if he could use his cell phone to call his mother. Lynn nodded and drifted ahead of him as he spoke in Spanish into the phone. Students were banned from using their cell phones in school. But she had kept him late so Lynn felt it was excusable. When Lynn got to her car, she told Alessandro to dump the bag onto the passenger seat. She opened her driver’s door.
“Well goodnight. Thanks again.” She hopped in the car.
Her passenger door remained open. Lynn paused.
“Do you need a ride anywhere?”
Alessandro climbed into the car, lifting her bag into the back seat, his long legs accordioned in front of him.
“Thanks, Miss,” he responded with a smile.
“You can push the seat back,” Lynn said. “There’s a catch at the side. Just pull it back.”
With a few tugs he pushed the seat back. Lynn started the car. There was silence.
“So where do you live?” Lynn said.
“I’m going to Main and Danforth,” Alessandro responded.
Lynn relaxed. That was close by. He’d be out of the car in five minutes. It’s not really a good idea to drive students. She heard that there were accidents and law suits. Some of the coaches still did it, with their teams. And other teachers did it once in a while. But Helena said the board’s insurance didn’t cover you if anything happened.
They were quiet as they drove along. After five hours of interviews, Lynn was too tired for small talk.
“Whereabouts?” Lynn asked as they got to the intersection.
Alessandro pointed to a low rise apartment building at the end of a cul-du-sac. Lynn pulled into the visitors parking.
“Here we are then. Thanks again. You were a great help.”
“No problem,” said Alessandro.
He was tugging on the edge of his jacket.
“The seat belt.”
Lynn undid her seat belt and leaned across, tugging on the shoulder belt of Alessandro’s seat belt.
“It sometimes gets stuck”
Alessandro kissed her, holding her arms tightly against her sides. With a jerk, he levered his seat back and pulled her on top of him. Never letting go of her mouth, never pausing. He kissed her deeply, his elbows pressing in on her ribs, keeping her splayed against him.
When his hand tugged at her underwear, she stopped him.
At first Lynn thought the picture was a photograph. When she examined it more closely, she realized it was a still frame from a video clip from the Internet. Lynn’s back was to the camera, but her skirt pattern and her long brown hair were recognizable, even if the car was not easily identifiable as hers. And of course, Alessandro’s face, eyes half-opened as he kissed her, looking out the car window at his friend holding the phone camera.
Dianne Scott’s writing has been published in a variety of literary journals including The New Quarterly, Taddle Creek and the Windsor Review. Her non fiction has been featured on CBC radio, canadianliving.com and the Toronto Star. She was the 2007 winner of the Writers’ Union of Canada Postcard Competition and a finalist for the K.M. Hunter Artist Award.