She paused in the echoing hallway to smooth her hands along her knee-length corduroy skirt, blotting her damp palms and attempting to compose herself. As she worked up her nerve, two matronly teachers passed without so much as a nod or a sideward glance, intent on their lukewarm conversation and steaming coffee mugs. She tried to tell herself that she hadn’t been snubbed – surely the women were simply too morning-bleary to have noticed her – but a tiny ache in the pit of her stomach refused to let the lie settle comfortably. No one at Howard Davis Middle School, not even her college-appointed supervising teacher, had spared a kind word since her arrival two weeks before. No one but Andrew Barnes.
Andrew Barnes, the cause of her current bout of sweaty palms and shaky legs. Decent, welcoming Andrew Barnes, who had so warmly invited her to drop by his classroom at any time.
So why did she feel like a silly intern about to make an oh-so-transparent pass at her sexy, much-older mentor?
“Because I would make a pass at him if I had the balls,” she mentally answered herself.
That bit of honesty made her feel a bit cheap, but it didn’t keep her from straightening her shoulders and completing the walk to the classroom at the end of the hall. As she hesitantly peeked around the doorframe, not wanting to barge into the room in case Andrew already had company, the French teacher’s jovial “Hey, Gillian!” brought a ready smile to her lips. Her nervousness melted as she stepped into the brightly decorated classroom and immersed herself in the phenomenon that was Andrew.
The tall, slender man detached himself from last-minute paper grading and rose with a fluid motion, stepping around the corner of his desk with a dancer’s grace. Gillian hardly had time to admire Andrew’s elegance before he struck a flamboyant pose, thrusting out a hip and tossing his head. The illustrious Mr. Barnes practiced Yoga, Zen Buddhism, environmental conservation, and the fine art of making himself look ridiculously effeminate for the sake of a good laugh.
“So, do you think this sweater is ME?” he asked, flashing an absurd grin.
“Very nice,” Gillian said with a mock-solemn nod, pressing Ankara travesti her lips together to stifle a giggle. “The, uh… olive green cable-knit does so much for your… complexion! Wherever did you get it, daaaah-link?”
“From my friend, Jessica,” he replied, wiggling his salt-and-pepper brows mischievously and dropping the gay model act. “I ended up crashing at her place after counseling her through her boyfriend problems for half the night. Seriously, does it look okay? I didn’t have a change of clothes.”
“You look fine!” Gillian heartily assured him. Great. Fabulous. You’d make burlap look hot. Really.
“Are you sure? It has slits on the side. For hips.” Andrew lifted the hem of the sweater to illustrate his point, and the ridiculousness of the situation had Gillian giggling again.
“I don’t think anyone is going to notice – except me, now that you’ve pointed it out,” she grinned. Gillian took the liberty of scanning his figure one more time – after all, he’d invited her to look – and her gaze froze just over his left shoulder. “Andrew? Your… hair.” Her hands gestured vaguely beside her cheek, fingers shaping a squiggly ball.
Andrew’s slim fingers tugged furiously at the girl’s scrunchie that held his long hair in an unkempt, lopsided bundle, yanking out the bit of cloth and elastic and tossing it onto his desk. With the matted locks hanging over his shoulder, he bent to his nylon duffel bag and rummaged frantically for a brush. Gillian forcibly tore her gaze from his tight, upturned ass – she could feel the slow, familiar coil of desire stirring deep in her belly – and eyed the clock above the door. The first students would be streaming into the school in less than five minutes. When she glanced back, Andrew had straightened and was dragging a brush through his hair with ripping sounds that made her wince. Her fingers literally itched to assist him.
“Do you need me to help?”
Oh, God, the words were out of her mouth before she could call them back. Gillian tried not to look horrified.
“Aw, would you? That would be great!” Andrew cheerfully relinquished the hair brush and turned around, Konya travesti completely missing Gillian’s look of total panic.
She was actually going to touch his hair. Touch him. His hair. God.
Clenching and unclenching her free hand, she willed herself to reach upward and grasp a handful of snarled mane. Lifting the surprising weight of the hair, savoring its slightly rough texture as she twined her fingers through to his nape and gripped tightly, she began to loosen the tangles by brushing rapidly from the bottom up.
Gillian was almost painfully aware of her own breathing, whereas Andrew seemed perfectly at ease. To break the silence, she inquired, “I’m not being too rough, am I?”
“Not at all,” he replied, a hint of amusement in his tone.
As his hair turned to spun silk under her ministrations, she ran her fingers through the brown shot through with glimmering silver – there was more silver than brown, truth be told. She pretended to find and conquer another snarl to justify the action.
“Your hair is beautiful, ” she said softly, honestly. “You should braid it.”
“I’d love to, but I can’t,” Andrew replied with a chuckle.
Gillian’s brows furrowed, wondering if this related to a Howard Davis dress code policy she had yet to discover. “Why not?”
“I’ve never been able to braid behind my back,” he replied, and she could hear the self-deprecating laughter in his words. Andrew paused, then; and when he continued speaking, he seemed to pick his words carefully. “I can’t braid my hair – but you can.”
Gillian sucked in a breath, tried to release it silently. There was a subtle dominance in Andrew’s voice, and she instinctively read his tone as that of a male whose statement was more expectation than suggestion.
She was unable to speak. “Okay,” seemed an inadequate indication of her capitulation. She had the absurd desire to say, “Yes, Sir.”
Saving herself the dilemma of conjuring a suitable response by placing the handle of the brush between her teeth, she lifted onto her tiptoes and reached high to separate the mass of salt-and-pepper into three even hanks. At five-foot-six, she felt diminutive İzmir travesti next to his six-foot-two, and the height differential somehow made her feel small and submissive. Her belly quivered as she plaited the waves of sable and platinum.
Had she ever experienced anything so subservient, so erotic, as braiding this man’s hair?
Pinching the end of the braid between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand, she leaned sideward to snag the red scrunchie from his desktop. The mismatched woman’s hair tie would have to do. Finally, she stepped back and playfully swatted the end of the braid, setting it to swinging at his shoulder blades.
“Ta-daa!” Gillian declared with a forced lightness, praying that her voice didn’t sound as tremulous as she felt.
Andrew turned to face her, and the intensity in his blue gaze would have kept her rooted to the spot even if she had desired to leave. He then reached back and ran a hand down the length of his braid, obviously pleased with its smoothness – with her?
He seemed about to speak when an incoming flood of babbling eighth graders surprised them both. Gillian whirled to face the clock, then turned back to Andrew.
“Time to start the day, it seems,” she said with a wistful sigh. “And I didn’t even get coffee from the teacher’s lounge.”
“It’s bad for you anyway,” Andrew said, purposely lifting his own mug to his lips with a teasing grin.
“Guilty as charged,” he replied with a devious eyebrow wiggle. “You’d best be going before the august educators of Howard Davis Middle School declare that you have been corrupted by that radical-thinking teacher in room 109.”
“Andrew, they already do think I have been corrupted by that radical-thinking teacher in room 109,” Gillian laughed. “Better corrupted by you than assimilated by them.”
Surprised pleasure flickered over Andrew’s fine features. “Well that’s a very kind thing for you to say. And thank-you – for the hair.” He tugged his braid with a boyish smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes and took fifteen years from his face, then leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “You’re going to be late.”
As if on cue, the morning bell jangled, and Gillian fled with a dismayed cry.
It was only later, while she was conducting a reading exercise under the gimlet stare of her supervising teacher, that Gillian noticed the dampness at the crotch of her sensible cotton underwear.