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The Rain Girl
The Senior class of Wynona High only had a month left of school when Mrs. McCarthy’s heart quit. They figured it must have been the stress of educating 18 year olds for the past 20 years combined with the announcement that her retirement was officially another twenty years off. Lucky for her, her heart restarted after about five minutes. Unlucky for her, she still had to have a triple bypass.
Mrs. McCarthy hadn’t been a hardass, but she did know when to lay down the law. For Rylee and Deb, this was not a problem. They were good girls, they did their homework on time, they were both going to college. So sometimes they got a little too silly in the back of the class - sometimes life was just funny.
At the moment Rylee was shuffling her way down the hall, nearly running over a freshman who dodged in front of her. She irritably tweeted how glad she would be when high school was over, then swung the corner into English in Media. She had her mouth open, ready to tell Deb, her best friend, all about the new most-talked-about couple, when she saw him.
At first she thought he might be an exchange student, or even a student teacher. He was leaning against McCarthy’s desk, his arms crossed in a white checkered button up. The sleeves were rolled to his forearms, and his skin was a deep tan. His legs, clad in black khaki pants, crossed at the ankle. Even with him half-sitting she had to look up to see his face. He was young, she was right about that. His hair was dark and tousled, like he’d been resting his head on his hand. His mouth was set in a firm line, as if he was afraid anyone would say anything to doubt him. His light green eyes, almost silver, swept the classroom, taking everything in. Including her.
Rylee hurried over to Deb, carefully giving her stride extra swing. Okay, so she knew how bad it was to flirt with teachers, even substitutes. She’d been right there teasing girls who did. But today she felt good. She felt powerful. She felt - just a little bit - naughty.
Throwing her own dark locks over her shoulder, she settled back into her chair. She surreptitiously tugged on the hem of her soft light blue tanktop, pulling the neckline down another inch. She was 18, it was her last month of high school, and she deserved some fun.
Deb was already full steam into what she’d heard about Matthew and Allison - how they’d met, what she’d been wearing, how long they’d been friends, how long it would last. Rylee listened with half an ear and listened to the substitute with the other. He was introducing himself - writing it on the white board, not the smartboard - Mr. Walker. Rylee smiled. If his first name is James, I’m sold.
“Ladies in the back,” Walker called out. “If you don’t mind, I do have a lesson today.” Most of the class turned to look at them. Normally, Rylee would have given a weak smile and nodded, just like Deb was doing now. But today Rylee felt different. Today Rylee was different.
“Sure thing,” she gave a wink and wiggled her fingers at her friend Jasmine up in the first row. Jasmine shot her a questioning look and turned around.
For the next two weeks, life went on just like this. Rylee was her normal good girl self everywhere else, but once she entered that classroom she was a goner. She was coy, she talked back, she teased. She was basically every young male substitute teacher’s nightmare, and she knew it.
She’d known she was playing a game, or at least believed it, until the day Ms. Peterson from next door came in. “James, can I borrow the CD player?”
It was like the world slowed down and sped up at the same time. Rylee had the suspicious feeling she really, really had a crush, and now she knew that the game she was playing would have to end before someone - probably both of them - got hurt. Or fired. But even as half her brain was screeching warning signs, the other half was repeating his name over and over. James Walker.
As much as she resolved to stop messing around, she continued to act out. It was like she was possessed. Eventually Mr. James Walker got fed up with scolding her and moved her to the front row, sending Jasmine to the back. It didn’t help. Even she was appalled by the things that came out of her mouth - she was pretty sure at one point she called him hunky boy.
It was the day before graduation, and she was working the school festival that night. She had been working the Band booth, which had stick-on tattoos of the school motto, with Andrew St. James. His girlfriend Jean had come over, however, and Rylee figured they could handle everything long enough for her to eat something. She’d just managed to push through most of the crowd around the dance floor the Show Choirs had erected when the flashlight they were using as a spotlight hit her.
“Hey, Rylee!” Amanda yelled from up stairs. “Come on up, we need another volunteer!” Rylee cringed as the crowd around her looked at her. A group of football players in the corner began to chant her name. Sighing, she put on her best Show Choir face and joined Amanda on stage to cheers.
“What am I doing?” she whispered.
“It’s a partner contest. Just let the gentleman lead,” Amanda whispered back. “You’re going to be with Mr. Walker. He’s one of the substitutes.”
Rylee’s head snapped around. She imagined her face showed the same horror she saw on his. “Amanda, maybe it’s not appro-”.
“Don’t be afraid! Come on, we have to get started.” Amanda dumped her next to Mr. James Walker.
They stood awkwardly as Amanda told the audience what was happening. “So, why’d you enter?” Rylee asked.
“Ms. Sullivan tricked me into it.” Mr. Walker seemed to spit the name.
“She was sick today, huh?” Rylee smiled. “So can you dance?”
“Can you?” He retorted.
“You’ll have to see,” She taunted back. Amanda gave the call to start the dance. In seconds Mr. Walker had swept her in to a fast swing to match the music. As Rylee twisted and flew, she began to laugh. She felt cheesy, like something out of an 80s movie, but she was having the time of her life. The red gypsy skirt she’d worn flew out around her as he spun her, and when he pulled her back in to do a quick step Rylee suspected belonged to a salsa she gave him her best grin. “You are a good dancer,” she murmured, raising her leg up in a kick he quickly shifted into an arabesque by turning her.
“Same for yourself,” he replied, giving her a returning grin. Rylee was impressed by the fact he hadn’t broken a sweat. “My brother teaches dance,” he explained, catching her train of thought.
“He does it well,” she replied, and it was then that they noticed the music had stopped. Rylee had her leg up on his hip, her skirt draped over her thigh, and he had their arms locked above their heads. Rylee had seen it a million times in movies, a common dance move they used on Dancing With The Stars. Quickly they seperated. However common it was, it was somehow wrong when a teacher and student did it, even two four years apart in age.
Amanda broke the silence by announcing their win. The crowd gave a cheer as they were presented with crowns by the Prom Queen. She gave Rylee a smile, and Mr. Walker a wink. Rylee looked up and was surprised to see him tint red in a blush.
Rylee hid out by her booth the rest of the night. Lots of people stopped by to comment on her win, and more then a few boys offered to help her relive the last pose. Rylee didn’t see Mr. Walker the rest of the evening.
She was the last person left when she folded up the last booth, cursing herself for signing up for tear down. She was just getting ready to kick open the door to the gym when it was pulled from the inside. Rylee stumbled for a second, trying to keep the table balanced, when a familiar hand reached out to grab it. Mr. Walker silently helped her carry it to lean against the others.
It wasn’t till they were back outside and started off in the same direction that he broke the silence. “You didn’t drive?”
“Didn’t you?” She replied, crossing her arms.
“I actually live near here.” He stuck his hands in his pockets.
“Me too,” Rylee glanced up at the nearest streetlamp. They were widely spaced, and it was dark in between them. She shivered.
“Are you cold?” He asked, looking over at her.
She shook her head. “Just one of those full body things.”
“You have goosebumps,” he protested.
“So do you,” she pointed out. He mumbled something in response, but Rylee didn’t hear. “What?”
“Nothing,” he sighed. “Where are you walking to?”
“I live just over on Meadow.” He gave her a look of surprise. “Nuh-uh,” she smiled. “You too?” At his nod she let out a long laugh. “All these years,” she shook her head sadly.
“No kidding,” he said in the same tone. This time it was her turn to look surprised. “Oh, come off it. You’ve been baiting me all month.”
“Not like that,” Rylee protested.
“Exactly like that,” he mimicked. “And that dance tonight?”
“You can not blame that on me. I’m actually a horrible dancer.”
“No, you’re not. I was there, and I definitely did not teach you any of that.”
“Maybe I just needed the right partner,” Rylee said innocently. Their eyes met, and Rylee gave another shiver.
He stopped walking in front of a white and red brick two-story. “Your house?” Rylee asked, thinking how many times she’d ridden her bike past.
“My parents,” he corrected. Then he grinned. “I seem real mature now, huh? Living with my parents and little brother.”
“I can’t not say the same thing,” Rylee gave a small smile. “I’m just a few houses up. The ranch.”
James - when had she started to think of him as James? - looked past her towards her house. “You’re the rain girl,” he said quietly.
“What?” Rylee asked, looking where he was, then back at his face.
“You dance in the rain during thunderstorms.” James turned to look at her, and Rylee’s arms rose in goosebumps at how close they were. “I used to watch you. We all did. You used the thunder as your drums and the lightning as your spotlight. It was amazing.” His eyes met hers in an unflinching gaze. “Do you still?”
“Still what?” She asked. She was embarrassed by how breathy her voice sounded, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Are you still the rain girl?”
The distance seemed to shrink even more. “I haven’t danced that free till tonight,” she whispered honestly.
“That’s too bad. I always wanted to try it.” Was it just her, or was he getting closer?
“Try what?” She asked, failing to keep her mind on the conversation as she realized he was only a few inches away.
“This,” he answered, and then he used the same move he had earlier to start the dance, only this time he kept her against him as he brought his lips down.
Whatever Rylee had expected, this wasn’t it. It was so much more. She’d never felt so right, so fast. She felt his hand press against her back, felt the same urgency as she leaned into him. Her arms went up and around his neck, pulling his head down closer. “God, you’re the best kisser,” he whispered against her lips. “You’re amazing.”
“This is the part you shut up,” she laughed, then took over the kiss. He gave a grunt of surprise, but let her. It was only when the streetlamp flickered that she pulled away. They stared at each other, their breath shallow in the night. “I graduate tomorrow,” she whispered. “and I’m going to the University this fall.”
He leaned his forehead down against hers, and she welcomed the contact. “I want to make this work,” he whispered back. “Rylee, we can do this. Somehow. You never know, they might need teacher’s up there too,” he joked.
She laughed and slipped away. “I don’t know, James, but thanks for the practice.” She grinned and waved as she started walking backwards up the sidewalk.
“Don’t you dare do that with anyone else,” he called after her.
“Or what? You’ll give me detention?”
“Don’t worry, after that I don’t think anybody could live up to it.” She turned, but not before she saw the grin split his face.
“All these years,” James said to himself as he watched her go. “And I finally meet the rain girl.”