Staring at her grade book and the official grading form, Rachel was stuck. If she marked the correct grade for Derrick James, she would be jeopardizing her career, but if she made the wrong decision, it would hold him back. Either way, she was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.
Looking at the time, she saw it was just after four and she was supposed to help with last minute decorations of the gym. Taking a break from her grading, she went to the office to speak to the principal. The threat to her career really bothered her and she felt Austin would understand enough to do something about it. She would tell him Dwayne had threatened to hurt her career if she didn’t fail Derrick and that was a serious thing because she felt Derrick wouldn’t take failure lying down.
This had been on her mind a lot, especially since she was constantly thinking about the conversation she had with Tonya a few weeks ago.
“He’s not here,” Laura said. “He’s coming back to help monitor and host the fest, but he had some meetings to attend to.”
Dwayne just happened to come into the office. “Ah, Mrs. Herlong, I just noticed that you haven’t turned in your grading sheets yet. Is there a problem?”
“No, Mr. Davish,” she said, rubbing her neck, trying to keep the contempt out of her voice. “I’m just running a little behind, but the deadline time is five, isn’t it?” Derrick’s grades were the only ones left to do.
“Yes, that’s correct. I expect to have them in my hand whether they are complete or not.”
“Yes, sir.” She started to leave the office, but Laura called out to her.
“You didn’t check your box today.”
Rachel frowned because she always checked her box on her break and Laura knew this. Looking towards her mailbox she was surprised to see a folder lying in there that hadn’t been in there at her break hour. She thanked Laura and picked up the folder before hurrying out the office and going back to her classroom. Pulling the shade down and locking the door for privacy, she faced the desk and was startled by who was sitting in her chair.
For the past few weeks, she had been avoiding Derrick and using Tonya as a buffer. Tonya had been assigned to the English Department as a student assistant for the past couple of weeks with Rachel’s recommendation to Austin. Derrick had been keeping his distance from her even during rehearsals.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded to know. “My door was locked.”
“That’s a funny thing, Rachel,” he said, getting up from the desk. His movements were relaxed, but she could hear the tension and anger in his voice.
As he stepped towards her, she backed up against the wall. He didn’t stop walking until he was mere inches from her, and placed his hands on either side of her body on the wall holding her in place. Her breathing increased and she could feel the blood racing to her head and felt a little dizzy.
“These cheap ass doors can’t keep anyone out if they want to get in.” He sucked his teeth and narrowed his eyes. “Are you going to tell me what Tonya put in your head?”
Bravely, she asked, “What makes you think Tonya put something in my head?” Raising a hand slowly and pushing the hair out of her eyes, he said, “She’s just a little bit too happy and thinks she knows what’s really going on, but I assure you that she doesn’t because if she did. .. You wouldn’t be working here anymore.” His fingers lightly caressed her check.
She turned her face to the side as if his touch disgusted her. “You shouldn’t be here, Derrick.”
“Don’t tell me where I should be.”
Looking back at him, she replied, “She made me realize that I have a career to think about, and not just some fly by night romance, that you think you can put in my heart.” Gathering herself, she pushed against his chest and was surprised to see how easily he moved away.
Using her desk as a barrier, she continued, “Derrick, you don’t understand how hard it was to get where I am. How I’ve worked and toiled to achieve the success I have. I’m not going to let some little boy with a high school crush mess it all up. You’re thinking only of yourself. You’re just living in the moment. I have a responsibility to my children to make sure that they have a place to stay and food to eat. A relationship with you could ruin everything, including my reputation in this city.” Calming down, she knew that getting upset wit him wouldn’t make a difference. When she spoke again, her tone was reasonable with a touch of pleading, hoping he would understand. “I’m not asking you to deny what you’re feeling, I’m only asking you to consider my needs in this game you’re playing. I already have too many cards in my hand and if I take one more, I might lose everything.”
Derrick felt torn between what he wanted to do, and what he knew was right. She had reached him, but he didn’t want to accept what she was saying. Leaning across the desk, he replied, “The cards you hold are not the cards you need we both know that.”