by Brad Shurmantine
Rosie, the Spanish teacher who kept selling snacks to her students out of her desk even though Gary had repeatedly told her to stop, came up to him with a look of amused horror on her face.
“They’re having sex in the girl’s restroom!” she shouted and waited for the assistant principal’s reply.
“What?” he replied. The music was so loud he wasn’t sure he heard her correctly. He leaned in.
She lifted her voice above the hurricane of sound. “Two students. Are having sex. In a stall. In the girl’s restroom. What should we do?”
The waves of techno music rolling into his ear ports scrambled his brain, but he pulled his thoughts together. “I guess we should stop them,” he shouted, and followed Rosie as she led him to the scene of the crime.
The restrooms were down a long hallway and the music was muffled sufficiently so he could hear himself think. Rosie was a young teacher, eager to help her kids and make things happen. Gary liked her; she was a hard worker. She only sold nutritious snacks, she told him. Granola bars and such. And she was only selling them to make a little money so she could do something special at Cinque de Mayo for her students. It’s all good, she told him. But not really. Gary had gently reminded her that there were rules about this sort of thing. What if every teacher sold snacks? he asked her. She said OK, but she kept selling them. And Gary let it slide.
He told Rosie, “Go in there and clear any girls out.” He didn’t want to just barge into the girl’s restroom. Gary Daniels was a considerate person. Plus, he was careful about things that might get him fired.
She came out immediately. “It’s clear.”
It’s clear, he thought. We can set off the explosives. He entered the den of illicit love.
They were in the handicapped stall. That’s smart. Plenty of room for all kinds of positions. He could hear grunting and little cries of pleasure. He pounded on the door of the stall.
“Come out of there. Right now.”
The sex sounds slowed immediately and tapered off.
He waited while they smoothed their hair and tucked in their clothes and body parts.
Soon the stall door opened and two grinning kids slunk out, their eyes on the ground. Gary followed them out the door.
Now what? he thought. They all stood together in the empty hallway. Rosie stared at him, smirking, awaiting the word of authority.
He didn’t recognize either student. They were young and beautiful, a perfect couple. She had on a tight green strapless prom dress, and he was wearing a sleek black suit and a matching green tie. They stared at the ground, smiling, holding hands.
“Go dance,” he told them. “Stay out of the restroom.”
They almost ran down the hallway, giggling, and disappeared into the sea of twerking kids swallowed up in roaring winds of hip hop out on the dance floor.
“That’s it?” Rosie asked.
That’s it? he thought. Are you not going to punish or shame them?
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. What if she gets pregnant? I thought you guys would have a response ready when something like this happens.” Gary realized that he had disappointed Rosie with his gentle treatment of those kids. He hadn’t displayed the same authority with them that he had exercised with her, the right kind of authority, the kind of authority Rosie herself ignored.
“That was my response,” Gary said, and he turned and went back to the dance floor. Lucky kids, to have each other, he thought as he walked into the wall of music. He wished he’d been so lucky when he was a kid.
But he started worrying immediately that he had not been equal to the situation. What if she got pregnant? Should he have done something else? His administrative team was prepared for many contingencies—fights, drugs, alcohol, shooters—but they had never said one word to each other about kids screwing in the restroom. He made his way out to the entrance hall, where one of his fellow administrators sat guard.
“I just chased two kids out of the restroom. They were having sex in a stall.” He grinned as he told Kathleen this, because he knew she’d get a kick out of it.
Her face blossomed in a smile which quickly disappeared. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know. Out there somewhere. I told them to stay out of the restroom.”
“Ooh,” she said. “You should have brought them up here.”
“What would we do with them up here?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should have sent them home?”
“For having sex? Shit. Don’t tell Andrew.” Gary didn’t want the principal to know he had swung and whiffed.
“I won’t. It’s OK. Did you recognize them? Should we go look for them?”
“I don’t know who they were, but they were happy kids.” He thought for a minute. “We’ll never find them on that floor. They’re probably in the middle of the crowd, finishing up.”
“Oh god, yes. Who knows what’s happening in the middle of that floor.” Kathleen laughed, and the crisis was over.
Gary stood and wandered back out to the dance floor. He raided the dessert table and grabbed a cookie. He leaned against the wall and munched on the cookie and watched the kids dance.
When they arrived in their party buses the teachers had done a good job patting them down, checking their pockets and purses. They even confiscated their gum and breath mints. He doubted anyone was drunk out there. But plenty of them were loaded anyway. Pop a pill before you come in. If he was a kid, he’d hide the Ecstasy in a baggie in his underwear. The girls had plenty of places to hide things. If you wanted to get high, you’d get high. If you wanted to have sex, you’d have sex. Maybe not in the restroom. Later, in your car, or in one of the rooms in this hotel. But sex in a restroom stall? That was hot.
He remembered how dorky and innocent he had been when he was a kid. His girlfriend broke up with him on prom night. He had never even had his hand up her blouse. Maybe that’s why she broke up with him. Oh god: if he could do it again.
He spotted his principal patrolling the edge of the ecstatic sea of teenagers and watched as Andrew angled over. Speaking was an effort in all this noise, so they just stood together for a few moments and gazed at the bouncing crowd.
Andrew was a good principal, the best Gary had ever worked with. He was much younger than Gary, and ambitious. Another year or two and he’d move on, up and up, further and further away from actual encounters with teachers and students. No more prom duty. Andrew was tall, good looking, with a head of thick, black hair. The kids liked him and the teachers respected him. He had come a few years ago with a thick portfolio of school improvement ideas and had quietly trashed one after the other as he learned the score, what the teachers were willing to do. Now the burner was on low but at least he kept the heat on; the water was not quite simmering but he made it uncomfortable for the laziest and most complaisant teachers, who still had their union to protect them.
He leaned over and shouted in Gary’s ear. “It looks calm.” Calm. That was a funny thing to say. It looked anything but calm, all these berserk children surfing a tsunami of sound. But he was right: it was calm; things were going exactly as planned.
He leaned over again. “Keep circulating.” Gary nodded and Andrew wandered off. That was irritating. Gary knew what he was supposed to do, except for the sex-in-stall stuff. Andrew didn’t need to wave his little scepter of authority. But that was what separated APs from principals. Although he had disappointed folks in the head shed (what those in the trenches called the district office), he had resisted the pressure to become a principal himself. He was happy right where he was and would climb no further. He didn’t want to be the one the janitor called at 3am regarding broken pipes, or the one who had to smile and glad-hand at fundraisers. Gary required some margin in his life, some buffer, some time to sit and listen to the lights buzzing.
He gazed at the mass of teenagers writhing together, blissful. This was their night, and they were milking every ounce of joy from it. They were mussed and sweaty and excited and alive, even out here on the edges. Where had his joy gone? It was here. His joy was their joy.
He considered Andrew’s instructions. Circulate. Wander through the crowd. Don’t let them get too carried away. So Gary headed out, weaving through the kids, and let himself be pulled into the eye of the storm.
Bio: Brad Shurmantine lives in Napa, Ca., where he writes, reads, and tends three gardens (sand, water, vegetable), five chickens, two cats, and two bee hives. His fiction and essays have appeared in Monday Night, Flint Hills Review, and Catamaran; his poetry in Third Wednesday, Cacti Fur, and Blue Lake Review. He backpacks in the Sierras, travels when he can, and prefers George Eliot to Charles Dickens, or almost anyone. Website: bradshurmantine.com