The handsome guy on stage with his jaw hanging wide open, shock and awe in his eyes?
That’d be me. Austin Bailey. Eldest brother of the Bailey clan, guardian to my younger siblings, biology teacher extraordinaire, baseball coach, good neighbor, and all-round pretty great guy.
Before we dive into the fact that karma just raised its middle finger at me, you should hear how my day began.
Today started like every other day. I woke up, got ready, prepared breakfast for my ungrateful twin sisters, Phoenix and Sedona, then we all hopped into my Jeep to head to school.
Of course, Phoenix didn’t eat the pancakes. Her exact words, if I remember correctly were, “They taste like cardboard. Can’t you just follow the recipe?”
Sedona ate the pancakes, but as soon as we pulled into the parking lot of Lake Starlight High School, where they’re seniors, her appreciation for me ended. “Park in the back, I don’t want to be seen stepping out of this monstrosity.”
I’ve learned that there’s no pleasing a teenager, especially a female one—no offense, ladies, but her comment still irks me. How is my Jeep embarrassing? It has a snorkel so when I off-road, I don’t have to spend my money on a new engine and can instead afford to buy her whatever new outfit she wants. She should be grateful, thanking me. But she’s seventeen. Pleasing her is impossible.
I purposely park in the first row and honk my horn to announce our arrival, because pissing off Sedona is one of my top five favorite things to do. I’ll miss that come next year.
Phoenix’s stomach rumbles as she exits the car. Sedona has already raced off to the nearest entrance as if that creepy IT clown is following her.
I stroll toward the door, reloading my emails on my phone, hoping I received the response I’ve been waiting for and that it contains good news. Elijah, my star pitcher, cuts me off.
“Coach, I need some advice.” He runs his fingers through his long hair.
“How to cut your hair? Come see me. I’ve got clippers in my office.”
It’s like a contest these days for the kids to see who can grow their hair and look the most unkempt. I don’t get the appeal, and Elijah is the worst of them all.
“No, Coach, Becca broke up with me.” There’s a hitch in his voice. His eyes scour the courtyard, where most of the kids hang out until the first bell rings.
I stuff my phone into the pocket of my jacket. “Why?”
“Well…” He runs his fingers through his hair again.
For the love of God. Next season if I’m still here, I’m making a new rule—if your hair covers your eyes, I’m your barber.
Of course, then JP’s mom will call to complain. She always calls. I think if we changed the flavor of the performance drink we give them from strawberry to lime, she’d call. You know the type. She probably still wipes his ass to make sure he did it right. And though I understand that the Andrews family has had its share of heartbreak, she was like that before and after.
I push JP’s mom out of my head because just the thought of dealing with her will give me a headache. “What’d you do?”
I open the door to the hallway. With it being Monday morning, my fellow teachers nod, gripping their coffee mugs like life vests.
A group of three girls lingering around one locker follow Elijah as we head down the hall. I’m not blind. He’s kind of a big deal around here, and I can guess what path his teenage hormones led him down. They’re tricky fuckers to manage.
“You know Sara Pylar?” Elijah asks in a tentative voice.
See? Too bad I can’t bet on my players’ screw-ups. I wouldn’t be working here, that’s for sure. I’d be a rich man.
I open up the door to my classroom, and Elijah heads in first.
Do I know Sara Pylar? Of course, I do. She’s usually the one in the short skirt with her finger twirling a strand of her hair. The worse her grades are, the more bubble gum she chews while she asks to move to the front row so she can see the smart board better. Sara would eat up and spit out a kid like Elijah if he ever tried to tangle with her.
“Yeah, I know Sara.”
He sits in the chair next to my desk. “There was this dare…”
“Nothing good comes from those.” I cross my arms.
“JP was razzing me about how I’ve only ever kissed Becca and that when I go to college, we’ll break up and how the girls at college are on another level.” His eyes widen, silently asking me.
I went to college. I played in college, and at one time, I thought maybe I’d hit the majors. Then family responsibilities brought me back to Lake Starlight. Now I teach and try to advise kids like Elijah not to make the mistakes I did. Then again, youth is your free pass to do stupid shit.
“Girls in college are the girls you went to high school with but a little older.” I sit in my chair, grabbing a pen.
“He said I’d regret not having experience.”
My gaze lands on the clock. Elijah has about five minutes before first class bell. I hold up my hand to stop him from rambling. “Listen.”
Elijah is good enough to be drafted first round, and this town can’t wait to see him succeed. He’ll have plenty of temptation come his way over the years, and he needs to decide now how he’s going to handle it.
“Did you kiss Sara?” I ask.
“I’m gonna guess here and tell me if I’m wrong.” He closes his mouth, so I continue. “You let your friends get to you. JP, whose mom probably follows him on his dates you do realize, tells you that you don’t have enough experience and should kiss another girl.”
He’s nodding and smirking because everyone knows JP’s mom will probably put up spy cameras in his dorm room next year.
“You thought, ‘Hey, what if Becca does break my heart and fall for someone next fall? Where does that leave me?’ So, you went into a bedroom or somewhere private with a very willing Sara. Then Becca somehow walked in on you right before you finished debating in your head if you were going to kiss her?”
You see me trying to make it seem like he would never cheat on Becca? Probably bullshit. He’s seventeen. He would’ve kissed Sara and blown his relationship with Becca into smithereens and only realized what a mistake that was down the road.
“Now you have to grovel.” I check the clock one more time. Three minutes until first bell.
“I did. I went to her house. I texted her.”
I stand to let Elijah know he’s leaving before my class arrives. “Sorry,” I smack him on the back. “You need to pull out the big guns.”
His shoulders slump.
“Just think of what makes Becca happy, why she fell in love with you, and you’ll figure it out.”
“How do you know, Coach?”
I open the door and wait for him to walk through. “Because I was you at one time. And another piece of advice?”
He waits for me on the other side of the door.
“Don’t go listening to your friends. They usually give shit advice, and honestly, you usually get a lot more experience with a girlfriend than by flipping around with multiple girls. Teenage boys have shit for brains. Don’t listen to them.”
I really don’t want to know how far he’s gotten with Becca. Especially with Phoenix and Sedona being the same age as Elijah.
He looks at me sheepishly. “Well, we have—”
“That’s a conversation I don’t want to hear and no one else should either. Don’t be a dick and kiss and tell.” The bell rings. “Go to class.”
He turns around. “You mean assembly.”
We walk out into the hallway where everyone is filing toward the auditorium.
“Yeah, remember Principal Miller had the baby?”
Shit. Now I’m running my fingers through my hair. All the teenage angst had me forgetting that we have to meet the new principal of Lake Starlight High School this morning. The last principal I’ll ever be under because next year I’m heading to the college level—I hope.
“Yeah. Go. You don’t want to be late.”
“Thanks, Coach… for everything.” He jogs down the hall, catching up to his friends.
I turn to go through the back entrance since I’ll have to sit in a chair in front of all the students so that we can appear as a united front for the new principal. A symbol that says we have their back.
I run smack-dab into Fay Murphy, the office assistant. “Hey, Fay.”
“I’m so happy I found you.” She seems a tad flustered, and her face has that beet-red overlay she used to get when Principal Miller reprimanded her for not refilling her stapler.
Working without that dictator will be a nice change. Let me tell you, pregnant women do not like it when they have to give up coffee—something we all paid the price for.
“What’s up?” I keep walking because we’re going to be late if we don’t hurry.
“We need you to introduce Principal Radcliffe.” She peers behind me then pushes up on her tiptoes to whisper in my ear, “Malcolm, I mean Vice Principal Ealey, called in this morning. I think he was still…”
Fay doesn’t have to finish the sentence. Malcolm Ealey went through a public divorce last year and has been spending a lot of his time at the Lucky Tavern, drowning in a helluva lot more than his sorrows. That’s why, even though he should have become our temporary principal, the school board decided to hire someone new.
She hands me a piece of paper. “The kids look up to you, and everyone thinks that the kids will welcome Principal Radcliffe if you introduce her.”
Her. Another woman. Hopefully this one is well-caffeinated and not pregnant. We’ll all stand a better chance that way.
I accept the piece of paper, looking over what I need to say. “Fine.”
I’m not scared of public speaking. I’ve got two teenage girls at home. You don’t know a hostile environment until you’re trying to break up a fight between those two.
“You’re the best, Austin.” Fay squeezes my forearm then walks down the hall.
My footsteps slow as I read over the new principal’s bio. What the hell is a Yale graduate doing in Alaska at Lake Starlight High School? After skimming over her education, I fold up the paper. I can wing it from there. Besides the kids couldn’t care less about what’s printed on that sheet.
Heading into the auditorium, I search out the face of our new principal, but I know everyone here.
“Her meeting with the superintendent is running a tad late, so if you could stall, I’ll tap you on the shoulder when it’s safe to announce her,” Fay informs me.
“I’m not a zoo keeper.”
I will not miss this part of my job next year.
Before I realize it, I’m in front of the podium, clearing my throat and introducing myself, as if everyone here doesn’t already know who I am. Sedona rolls her eyes and looks away. I have no fucking clue why she’s so embarrassed of me. I mean, look at me. Six foot two, two-ten, short, neat haircut. I work out four times a week, hike, bike, ski. My muscles aren’t from just the gym…
Okay, before I keep sounding like a male-seeking-female want ad, let’s get on with how my day went into the shitter in a matter of twenty minutes.
I tell a few jokes, and the kids loosen up a bit. Maybe I should rethink the whole college baseball coach thing and go for stand-up comedy. I’m pretty good at this.
Fay taps my shoulder, and thank God, because I’m running out of material.
I pull the paper out of my back pocket and clear my throat one more time. “All right, everyone. We all know that Principal Miller has left us to enjoy her new baby, so we’re welcoming a new principal into our school. Our new principal for the remainder of the year is Dr. Radcliffe. She graduated from Yale with her doctorate in education. She comes here from the lower forty-eight, so make sure you give a big Alaskan welcome!”
About half the kids in the auditorium clap while the rest of them stare at the stage with an expression that only a bunch of unimpressed and uninterested teenagers can manage.
Time to grab their interest and get them to buy in. “Principal Radcliffe’s hobbies include streaking during football games, ferret racing, and taking surveys for money.”
The kids roar with laughter, finally looking as if they’re interested and want to be here. Fay steps up and nudges me.
“Sorry,” I mumble. “We’ll bring Dr. Radcliffe out to explain her hobbies in more depth.” I turn from the podium at the sound of heels clicking across the stage.
This is the part where my mouth drops open and my testicles jerk up, seeking protection.
See the auburn-haired woman walking right toward me? The one who looks as pissed off as Sedona did when I honked my horn in the parking lot this morning?
Yeah, that’s my new boss.
The new principal of Lake Starlight High School.
I don’t believe in kissing and telling, but I’ll tell you—this is the first and only principal I’ve ever given an orgasm to in the backseat of my Jeep.
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