Teach Me

Teach Me by R. A. Nelson Read Free Book Online

Book: Teach Me by R. A. Nelson Read Free Book Online
Authors: R. A. Nelson
elementary school, Schuyler’s work-a-thon.
    Sigh.
    The sign-in man is boldly asexual, thick around the middle and balding to boot. I bet his tan Dockers won’t see a single smudge all day. He glances at his watch when I come up, makes a brisk architectural notation.
    “Name?”
    “Carolina Livingston.”
    “Work partner?”
    “Pinky Lee.”
    “What?”
    “I’m sorry. Schuyler Green. But he had to go to Nashville for a chess tournament. Allegedly. So I guess I don’t have anybody.”
    Dockers lines through Schuyler’s name with a ruler and looks around. A pudgy boy jumps up from a box, citrus cleaner in one hand, booping Game Boy in the other.
    “Well, Robbie, looks like we found you a—”
    Please, no.
    “I’m her partner,” a voice says behind me.
    Degreaser Boy sags. My mouth hangs open; I force myself to clop it shut.
    Mr. Mann.
    He’s coming up the walk behind me wearing jeans and a UMass T-shirt. Scruffy white sneaks. His hair is tangling and untangling in the wind.
    He extends his hand to shake with Dockers, bare arm almost touching mine.
    “Richard Mann at your service. Of the Boothbay Harbor Manns.”
    “Says here your name is Green,” Dockers says.
    “That was before the operation.”
    “Huh?”
    “Just kidding. It’s Mann; it’ll be on the next page.”
    Dockers finds his name, makes another time notation. “All right, let’s see what we’ve got for you here.”
    A rush of cold horror floods my chest.
    Shorts!
    I’m wearing shorts.
    My legs are so winter pale, you could use them to signal the cavalry. What does he think of me? My blow-away hair? And who showers when they know crushed milk cartons are on their horizon?
    A quick, terrifying Systems Check: Tic Tacs, no; blackheads, yes; bra that fits like a busted slingshot. Stunning.
    Mr. Mann doesn’t seem to notice my wobbling knees. Dockers consults his paperwork, makes a couple of neat engineering marks on his list. “All right. Let’s see what we’ve got left here—baseboards or trees?”
    “Huh?”
    “Which do you want? Scrubbing baseboards or planting trees?”
    Mr. Mann and I glance at each other sideways, partners in crime. Dockers taps his pen impatiently. “Hmmm,” Mr. Mann says. “There’s dirt and then there ’s . . . dirt. What do you think, Carolina? Knees or trees?”
    “I—um—I’m—”
    “No doubt struck dumb to be teamed with such an experienced work-a-thon . . . er. All right, trees,” he says to Dockers. “I spend too much goddamn time in places like this as it is.”
    Dockers touches a pen to his flabby lips and nods at the Booper. “Big pitchers have little ears.”
    Huh?
    Two minutes later we’re escaping down the hillside with a shovel, a posthole digger, and a croker sack full of pine saplings. The school grounds loom before us, empty of people, not even a car in sight.
    Is this possible?
    A whole day alone with Mr. Mann.
    I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten how to walk.
    As we descend the gentle slope, each step becomes a conscious act, a series of jerky mechanical movements preceded by careful thought. I’m a stumbling idiot, a giraffe. Is he watching my legs? My butt? Say something, anything!
    “My prince.”
    Except that.
    Mr. Mann grins. “Glad to oblige, my queen.”
    I somehow manage to feign a pout. “So you’re my son?”
    “No, milady . Knight at arms. Together we have just vanquished the Tan Lord and the bleeping Duke of Orange.”
    I giggle like an idiot, clap my hand to my mouth to stifle it.
    Thirty seconds down.
    Only 28,770 to go.
    What’s wrong? Why am I so nervous? I’ve talked to this man practically every weekday for months. What’s so different about this place? Being alone together for the first time? Am I afraid something’s going to happen?
    Or terrified something isn’t.
    We’re there.
    “Along here?” I say.
    “That’s what the man said. You want me to do that?” Mr. Mann touches the wooden handles.
    “We can take turns. I kind of like it.” It’s

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