Chapter no 7

The Teacher


AS ALWAYS, Nate stayed late at school today. He is one of the supervisors of the school newspaper, in addition to that poetry magazine they put out twice a year, so he’s always got something going on. I technically supervise the chess team, but I was informed that I am not required to stay for the meetings, so I generally don’t. The last thing I want to do when the school day is over and my head is throbbing is watch a bunch of teenagers push rooks and knights around a board.

Since we carpooled this morning, I ask Shelby to drive me home. When she drops me off at my front door, it’s only 3:30. Usually this would be the time when I would dig into a two-inch stack of homework papers, but since it’s the first day, I find myself at a loss for what to do. It’s too early in the day for my nightly overflowing glass of wine.

I climb into my Kia, not entirely sure where I’m going even as I am driving down Washington Street. Every town in Massachusetts has a Washington Street and a Liberty Street and often a Massachusetts Street. Whoever named the streets in the state was not very creative.

I keep driving until I reach the mall at the west border of Caseham, where the lot is overflowing with cars. There are a number of teenagers there, enjoying their last free afternoon before the piles of homework set in. Watching all the kids filtering in through the front doors gives me pause. Whenever I run into my students outside school, they seem absolutely mortified to see me. I should shrug it off, but something about their humiliation reflects back on me.

I sit for a moment in the car, my hands gripping the steering wheel. I wonder what Nate is doing right now—he wouldn’t be stressed by the idea of running into his students at the mall. He’s probably talking to the new editor in chief of the school newspaper, a bright young boy named Bryce Evans. I had Bryce in my class last year, and he was another A-plus student. Never missed a homework assignment. That kid has Ivy League written all over him.

I count to ten, then I count from ten backward. After I do this three times, my shoulders relax.

I climb out of my car, clutching my light blue purse, which is so large that Nate always teases me that it will make my spine crooked. However, my purse is mostly empty today, so I suppose my spine is safe.

As soon as I walk through the sliding doors for the entrance, the smell of cinnamon sugar from the pretzel stand smacks me in the face. I’d love to get a big cup of pretzel bites, and if I were a high school student, I would do just that. But my metabolism isn’t what it used to be, so I hold my breath as I walk by the pretzel stand and also by the Godiva chocolates. Yes, I’d love a chocolate-covered strawberry, but it isn’t in the stars for today.

I keep walking until I reach a store called Footsies.

For a moment, I simply linger outside. The store has a display of Christian Louboutin pumps and boots gracing the window, including a pair of black patent leather heels, although the heel itself is gold. I look down at my Jimmy Choos, which I purchased new two weeks ago despite what I told Nate. He’ll find out when he sees the credit card bill.

I love high heels. I’ve always been a bit on the short side at five two, and I hate being shorter than my students. A pair of three-inch heels gives me a boost that improves my confidence. I prefer when I don’t have to tilt my head quite so much to look up at my husband, who is five ten.

And for the most part, aside from these shoes, I’ve been well behaved. I’ve got shoes in shopping carts on practically every online site, but the point is I haven’t purchased any of those items. I put the shoes in the shopping cart, and I never check out. So why shouldn’t I treat myself every once in a while?

Footsies is an upscale store but relatively large, and there’s only one girl manning the shop, sitting at a counter in the back by the cash register, scrolling through her phone. Despite how many teenagers are crowding the mall, there are only a handful of customers here. This store doesn’t sell Doc Martens or sneakers most teenagers would buy. These are shoes for “old people,” like me.

The girl at the counter doesn’t make any attempt to help me, so I browse on my own. The Christian Louboutin pumps are set up in a display inside the store, and when I check inside the shoes, I discover they are in my size

—a seven.

I remove them from the display and find a bench on the side to try them on. I slip off the shoes I’ve been wearing all day, and I slide my stocking feet into the brand-new pumps. I feel very much like Cinderella when they

fit me perfectly. They don’t cut into my heel or pinch my toes. I could wear these shoes all day.

Actually, it would be quite a sensible purchase.

And why not? I worked all summer. I deserve a treat. I don’t know why, but I get a little rush every time I purchase a pair of shoes. I don’t even know what part is my favorite. I love the excitement as I’m bringing them to the counter and then as the clerk is ringing them up and the anticipation that they will soon belong to me. Or setting them up inside my closet, neatly lined up next to all my other shoes. And of course, the first time I get to wear them outside the house. I may be plain, especially compared to my husband, but shoes like this make me feel glamorous. Like I might actually be attractive enough to be married to the gorgeous Nathaniel Bennett.

Except then I turn over one of the pumps and see the price tag. Oh. Oh wow. Nate will not approve of this.

The dopamine rush vanishes. As much as I want them, these shoes will never be mine. Even if I didn’t have to face my husband when the credit card bill arrives, I could never justify spending this much on a pair of shoes. I stare down at my feet, a wave of sadness coming over me. I want these shoes.

So much.

I glance up at the clerk, still sitting at the counter. There’s an elderly woman who is purchasing some shoes, so her attention is occupied. The woman is shuffling around inside her purse, searching for her wallet. She’s probably going to try to pay with a check or something. They’re not going to be done anytime soon.

And my giant purse is gapingly empty.

Before I can stop myself, I slide the pair of Christian Louboutin pumps inside my sky-blue purse. They fit perfectly, like they were meant to be there. When I zip up my purse, you can’t tell they are even inside. And most shoes don’t have anything that will alarm when they are taken out of the store. They don’t have a security tag.

I start to stand up, but my legs wobble and I fall back down. Am I really going to do this? Am I really going to steal these shoes? I’ve never done anything like this before.

Well, not in a long time.

I won’t get caught. The clerk has barely glanced up at me while I’ve been here, and now that the elderly woman is done paying for her shoes,

she’s gone back to her phone. I can walk right out of here, and she’ll never know. I haven’t seen any cameras.

Am I really going to do this? I guess I am.

I stand up more successfully this time, my legs trembling but still maintaining me upright. With a shaking hand, I tuck a strand of my limp, muddy brown hair behind one ear. The elderly woman is shuffling in the direction of the door, clutching the plastic bag with her own shoebox in her gnarled right hand. I follow her, also heading toward the exit. When I glance behind me, the clerk is looking back down at her phone again. She’s never going to notice me leaving with these shoes. I’m going to get away with this, and Nate won’t be able to complain about the credit card bill.

And just as I am congratulating myself, the alarm blasts through the store.

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