Chapter One

I walk into the classroom, Styrofoam cup of faculty lounge coffee in one hand, class list in the other, fake Prada sunglasses slipping down my sweaty nose. Before I battle it out with the giant windows, sealed shut with a summer’s worth of Manhattan grime, I perch on a table, shove the glasses on my forehead, and study the column of names.

My new assistant is still not here and it’s almost 8:40. That’s what I get for staying here for six years. They always give me the first-years because it doesn’t matter anymore. I could teach first grade with an assistant hamster.

Between checking the clock, cringing at the windows, and swilling weak faculty lounge coffee, I see a name on the list that sends my heart skidding. Seabolt. I count the names on the list. Nineteen. I swear there were eighteen a week ago when I got my information packet in the mail.

At the wall phone I dial the Headmaster’s extension.

“Arthur Wilcox’s office,” says his very young receptionist, the senior he hand picked from last year’s graduating class. The school year has barely begun and already scandal is in the air at City Select Academy. Score one for the Head Molester.

“China, hi. It’s Maddy. Is Arthur around?”

“Nope, sorry,” she sighs, bored already with her first real job in the real world.

“Then maybe you can help me. I have a new kid in my class? Do you know anything about this?”

“Oh, didn’t you get the letter?” she says. I take a deep Buddhist breath, connect with my anger and frustration, and smile.

“No, China. I didn’t get it. Could you tell me what it said please?” I say, hoping she grows out of her surly teenager phase before Halloween.

“Um, Lola Seabolt just moved here from L.A. And she’s in your class.”

“And her parents are—”

“Yes they are,” she sing-songs.

I almost blurt, Oof!

“Okay, China. Thank you. No message for Arthur.”

I hang up the phone and pee a little in my overalls—the ones that seemed so vintage, cute and quirky a second ago. I can’t count how many times I’ve fantasized about Nic Seabolt, his nose a little too big, his lips a little too thin, his eyes a little too sad, but when you put them all together your crotch ignites. Nic and Shelby are one of those Hollywood enigmas, like loyal, cunnilingus-loving boyfriends—they’ve been together forever and are somehow always in Vanity Fair gushing that they’re more in love than ever, which makes everyone think that Nic and Shelby are either A) hiding their homosexuality behind the flimsy scrim of an oxymoronic “perfect Hollywood marriage,” B) sleeping with everyone but each other and don’t give two fat shits about the sanctity of marriage, or C) so out of touch with reality—like only the mega-famous can be—and therefore certifiably insane and a danger to society.

The class list in my hand is vibrating in time with my heart. I take a gulp of tepid coffee and wonder how I’ll ever be able to concentrate this year with Hollywood royalty in my class. I felt gypped all these years when the most famous kid I ever got was the son of a weekly columnist for the Daily News.

 

City Select Academy in Greenwich Village is a different kind of school, even for New York City. It’s what some people call “a progressive, nurturing oasis,” and others, an “incestuous elitist worm’s anus,” depending on your vantage point. Either way, it’s a magnet for the rich and famous, although ShelNic are crazy famous, even for CSA.

As I tack the class list to my bulletin board, I force myself to remember how experienced I am, how easily the kids warm to me, how the parents give me eighty-dollar votives and handwritten letters on thick linen stationary at the end of each year, praising me for working magic on their little Emmas and Eamons. I repeat these affirmations to myself, nodding my head with vigor for each one, because if I don’t I will have a nervous breakdown right here on the checkered linoleum floor.

After a couple more repetitions, nods and prayers, I am convinced that once we get into the swing, I’ll be too busy to obsess about Nic and Shelby. Showing the eager beavers how to carry tens will leave me no time to imagine kissing Nic’s lips or pressing my face to his well muscled chest. Teaching the secret mystery of the silent ‘e’ won’t spare me a minute to imagine Shelby’s inevitable disappearance/death/descent into madness.

The shrieking bell wakes me from my reverie. Five minutes to go before the kids arrive and my assistant is still not here. My eyelid starts to twitch. Usually it’s at least Yom Kippur by the time my eye goes.

I throw my sunglasses in my ink-stained tote and race around the room pulling chairs down from the tables. Voices and footsteps inch closer, echoing up the stairwell and through the hall. The clock says 8:42. My new assistant better have a damn good reason for being inexcusably, unforgivably, unacceptably late.

The first child to arrive is Kylie Passwaters, Martha Stewart in miniature, hopefully without the rap sheet. We shake hands and then she rolls up the sleeves of her linen smock-dress and gets right to work in the doll corner, setting the tiny kitchen table. Her parents look at me, their mouths pressed into tight, expectant smiles. I smile back and shake my head at Kylie’s enthusiasm.

“She’s wonderful,” I gush, wondering if her highlights are real or chemical.

More kids and parents trickle in, and I scan them all with my fame radar, waiting in barely contained agony for Lola to arrive, in suppressed rage for my assistant.

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Maddy Braverman. I’ll be Julia’s teacher this year…Yes, six years! I know, I just keep coming back! I love that skirt, Eden… Sure, Max, you can go in the block corner. Make yourself at home… No he’s not here yet, subway delay,” I lie, grinning, shrugging, trying to look inconspicuous every time I glance at the door or the clock.

It goes on like this, my face aching by nine from all the smiling, my mind reeling from practicing a favorite distraction: mentally adding up the prices of the parents’ and children’s clothes. When I get to a bazillion, I feel less like a teacher and more like a festering boil, dressed to the negative integers in my thrift store “treasures.” I adjust my ponytail, as if it’ll make a difference.

The headache I’ve been expecting arrives, slam-dancing behind my eyeballs, but my assistant is still in absentia. While the parents and children acclimate to the new environment, I make my move and sneak a phone call to the switchboard, but the operator has not heard anything.

At 9:05, little Zachary Van Buren, who has the unmistakable air of an internationally renowned interior designer, presses his face to the window and shouts, “Hey there’s two stretch limousines pulling up outside!” The rest of the class, shy one student and one assistant teacher, rushes to the window.

Besides the jumbo cluster of buildings that is CSA, Eleventh Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is lined with stately brick-faced four-story townhouses built in the 1840s that make the ones in my Brooklyn neighborhood look like dollhouse miniatures—they go for about seven million if you’re thinking of buying. The limos look right at home idling here.

Down on the street, Nic Seabolt emerges from the first car, dressed in “dirty” jeans and an untucked tan oxford, his famously floppy silver hair reflecting the September morning sun. Behind him, Shelby and Lola emerge from the second limo. Shelby is dressed down, in black jeans, t-shirt, and sandals. Amazingly, I can see how red her toenails are all the way from the sixth floor. If the kids weren’t here, I would say something about how ostentatious and vulgar such an overt display of wealth is. I would say it with hostility and venom and glee. If the parents weren’t here, I would say, “Oh my God Oh my God! Wait until my roommate hears about this!” Instead I remain silent and think of my roommate Kate, her total disdain for anything “celebrified,” and smile. She would puke from the vanity of it all. I can’t wait to tell her that they pulled up in two limos. As if a single shiny stretch limousine doesn’t throw the underclass into a frenzy of inadequacy.

“Who’re those people?” says Rafaela, who, if she isn’t already, should be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for modeling in overpriced kids’ clothing catalogs.

“That is Lola Magdalena Seabolt,” I say. “She’s in our class.” The hush that ensues is priceless. If I could quiet the kids this effectively all year, I might just enjoy waking up in the mornings. The silence though, like most things kids touch, breaks easily.

“Is she famous?” asks Mason, chewing his thumbnail casually.

“Her parents are actors,” I say, with caution.

“What’s their names?”

“Are they in the movies?”

“Did they win Oscars?”

“Is it the president?”

“Their names are Nic and Shelby Seabolt. And when Lola gets here, you can ask her all your questions yourselves.” I don’t want to place any more importance on these people than they deserve. They are human beings, just like me, I think. Just. Like. Me.

God I wish I’d gone to the bathroom when I had the chance.

The non-famous but very rich parents approach me, one by one, heads down, whispering like I am a priest whose sole purpose in life is to hear their confessions.

“Have you ever seen anyone age so well?”

“I heard Shelby was suffering from exhaustion. Did you hear about that?”

“Loved the last film Nic was in. Do you think I should tell him?”

But before I can answer any of their urgent questions, the Seabolts arrive, and suddenly all of us wilt with whatever top-secret power it is that the famous wield so mightily. All color seems to drain from the classroom while the Seabolts glow brighter and brighter. My hips widen by an inch. My posture crumbles. My armpits crackle. Even the kids seem lackluster.

While the students welcome a smiling and tangly-haired Lola to the class, Nic and Shelby make their way over to me. I wipe the sweat from my upper lip, urge myself to remember positive things, like the time my best friend Michelle told me I could totally be Sandra Bullock’s first or second cousin, the resemblance is so almost striking, and hold out my hand, praying I am emanating an unfazed, unintimidated attitude.

“Hi,” we all say at the same time. So many sensations. So many observations. My system is overloading with celebrity.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I croak.

“Same here,” says Nic. His hand is large and strong, the way it should be. Shelby’s is small and papery, immaculately manicured in sheer blood-red. She doesn’t look exhausted to me. She looks alert, her famously lusty eyes darting every which way, as if to make sure that this classroom will be acceptable for her heiress.

Nic says, “We’ve heard a lot of good things about you from Art.” He’s talking about the Head Master in a tone that sounds eerily intimate. I wonder what he would say if he knew we called him the Head Molester.

“Oh…great!” I chirp, and smile. My brain has crawled into a cave to download this behemoth of sensations, leaving behind a comatose husk.

“Your curriculum sounds fabulous,” coos Shelby, a faint twang giving away her Georgian roots. “The Gold Rush is such a creative idea. Lo’s going to love it.” She’s looking at me so intensely, I can’t help but feel there’s a subtext that I’m missing in her seemingly innocent words. I hope she thinks I’m good enough to teach her daughter.

“Thanks so much,” I say. It is a Herculean task for me to talk to these people like they’re not regular fixtures at the Golden Globes. I wish I could tell everyone else to go home and stay with Nic and Shel until midnight, studying them like lab specimens. When I glance at Nic, I notice that he’s wearing black rubber flip-flops and that his toes are tan and perfectly shaped, civilized piggies in a meticulously spaced row. I realize with a slight shiver that I could lick all ten of them. For hours. And I don’t even have a foot fetish.

“Well, it looks like you have everything under control,” Nic says, and I jerk my head up from his feet. His smile melts my insides and I am suddenly mortified. How dare I think of cozying up to his toes at a time like this? What kind of monster am I? To punish myself I look at Shelby, who at 40-something, is more beautiful and graceful than I could ever hope to be at thirty, with her compact figure and eight-hundred dollar lowlights that she probably didn’t pay a cent for. Here is a woman who’s never accidentally left a tampon inside herself for weeks to rot and stink, a woman who’s never queefed in yoga class while the instructor adjusted her shoulder-stand, a woman who’s never vomited on a subway platform at two A.M. in Brighton Beach. I am furious with myself for wishing Shelby dead. Nic and Shel are clearly are made for each other, and I am an evil, evil home wrecker.

Shelby looks at her whisper of a watch, and then she’s gone. Nic explains that she has a meeting uptown.

“That explains the two cars,” I say and Nic touches his nose, nodding.

“Yeah, I’m heading west,” he says in that fertile voice of his. I worry that I could sprout offspring if I listen too hard. I stand there like a goon and Nic smiles, reaching into his back pocket. “I know this is probably a little weird for you.” Weird for me? No. This is my life’s dream come true, which, now that I think about it, is a little weird, since I’m so used to being disappointed in my humdrum world of the non-famous.

Nic pulls a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and hands it to me. “It’s just something we have to do,” he says, as I unfold the piece of paper. “Confidentiality Agreement,” he says sheepishly.

I read it over and look around for a pen.

“Take some time with it,” he coos. “No need to sign it right now.”

“Of course,” I say, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks, all the while reveling in the fact that this piece of paper has been cradling Nic’s ass cheek all morning. I want to huff it like glue.

“Thanks, Maddy. I know it’s strange, but, well, you know how the papers are.” I nod understandingly as he shakes my hand one more time. Then he walks over to Lola, kisses her on the forehead and leaves.

 

Already the block corner is dominated by boys. Another group of kids lay spread-eagled on the rug surrounded by Uno, Connect Four, chess, Legos, and giant pop-up dinosaur books. A handful of artfully disheveled girls huddles at one of the tables, wielding Crayolas like magic wands, designing their own line of tattoos and mendhis. Lola Magdalena Seabolt is among them. I can tell she’s a leader, with her grubby chipped glitter-tipped fingernails, leopard print tank top and tangle of wavy brown hair that she keeps pushing out of her eyes.

“I’m putting a dot right in the middle. Like this,” she says and every girl at the table quickly copies her.

“Oh my God, you’re such a good drawer!” squeals Eden.

“Yeah,” says Lola, not looking up from her magic marker masterpiece, a true celeb. I make a mental note, and then chide myself for falling under the spell of a six-year old.

I walk around the room, observing, cradling my chin with a knuckle, grunting my approval, smiling when necessary, lifting my eyebrows at just the right time. This is my first day performance for the benefit of the few remaining clingy parents, the stragglers who refuse to let their children go. Starting tomorrow, it’ll be Portuguese and Trinidadian nannies dropping off the little angels.

 

The kids are hard at work making room for each other on the edge of the rug. Zachary raises his hand.

“Good hand-raising, Zachary. Yes?”

“Our circle is more like a ‘U’ than an ‘O’,” he says, smiling to reveal a gaping black hole where his first adult tooth will be by June.

“You know what? I think you’re right. I guess we’ll have to ‘U’ up in the mornings then,” I say and the class erupts into a fit of giggles. I hope I didn’t say anything obscene by accident. I repeat my sentence in my head to make sure.

“Hey I know!” says Stella, sitting up on her knees. “Let’s make an ‘S’!” Before I can gather my wits the scrambling begins and I’ve lost all control.

“Okay kids,” I say. “I’m extra-specially blessed and pleased that you know your alphabet, but I need a ‘U’ shape. Show me a perfect ‘U’ please.” Please please.

The kids crawl back to their spots obediently. Lord have mercy. I would cross myself if I wasn’t Jewish.

“You know guys, I think you may be onto something there. I’m going to think about a way we can use your ideas in here, would you like that?” Everything here at CSA is child-directed, after all.

“Yeah!” they say together, looking at each other like they’ve scored the deal of the century.

“Okay, I’d like that too. But in exchange, you need to follow some rules. That means, when it’s time for morning meeting, we have to sit where?” Almost all of the hands go up.

“Lola?”

“On the edge of the rug,” she says, coquettishly brushing her fingers back and forth on the navy blue carpet nap in front of her knees. I am enthralled, bewitched. I am hooked. That little minx is flirting with me. And I am eating it up.

“That’s right,” I say. “

“That is the most perfect ‘U’ shape I’ve ever seen,” says a voice from the doorway. We all turn and look. Standing in the doorway is a guy—a dude—with scraggly dirt-colored hair, saggy jeans, leather bracelets, leaning on a battered and sticker-covered guitar case.

“Are you…” I stammer, wondering how in the world I’m going to survive the school year with this…hippie. Arthur probably jizzed his Brooks Brothers boxers when James swaggered into his office.

“I am,” James says, not a trace of humility in his scratchy voice.

“Class, this is James. He’s going to be your other…teacher. Why don’t we all welcome James?”

“Hi James,” says the class, in sing-song unison with a touch of elite-class jadedness.

“Do you play that guitar?” asks Lola, twirling her hair, cheating on me already, the little slut.

“How did you know it’s a guitar?” he asks her. He squints at her hard. “Do you have X-Ray vision?” Lola erupts into peals of giggles and falls over.

“No, I can tell what it is by the shape of the case!”

“Oh…” he says, nodding, the light bulb over his head glowing in a contrived Eureka moment.

“Why are you late?” demands Raffey, snapping her fingers on every syllable. Most of us wait for his answer, while a few students attempt to snap their own uncooperative fingers.

“Well,” James says, taking off his jacket. “I was mugged.” The class and I are riveted. A real mugging. This’ll kill some time.

James slings his jacket over the guitar case and leaves the mass in the corner by the teacher’s desk. He walks over to us and sits on the edge of a nearby table. “I was on my way over here, crossing Washington Square Park—”

“I know where that is!” shouts Max.

“Me too!” says Eden, and then the class launches into the first irrelevant conversation of the year.

“My babysitter says Washington Square Park is dangerous.”

“My babysitter says there’s drugs there.”

“Drugs are so bad.”

“When you do drugs you need a rehab and rehab is serious. That’s what my babysitter says.”

“What’s a rehab?”

As enlightening and socially aware as this is, I feel the need to interrupt. “If you want to hear about James being mugged, I suggest you save the rehab discussion for recess.” James thanks me and continues.

“So I was crossing what park?” he asks his rapt audience.

“Washington Square!” the class shouts.

“And I was jumped. Two big guys. Broad daylight.”

“Were you scared?” asks Zachary.

“Yes I was,” admits James. “I gave them my money, thirty-seven dollars. I figured it was worth my life, right? They tried to take my guitar but I convinced them that the guitar was a piece of sh– that it wasn’t any good.”

“He almost said the ‘S’ curse!” pipes Raffey, throwing her shoulders back and pointing. She widens her already huge brown eyes at me. Maybe she wants me to send him to the Headmaster’s office. Oh how I wish I could. But how do I explain that the Head Molester is the one who hired James? That the Head Molester adores disheveled poet types like James, that Arthur Wilcox doesn’t care whether or not they can teach, that he just gets off on inspiration?

“I almost said the ‘S’ curse,” admits James, “but not quite. I won’t say it anymore. It’s..ah…inappropriate, right?”

“Right,” says everyone in unison. Moral little brown-nosers.

“My grandfather was mugged!” says Reis.

“My daddy says the ‘S’ curse all the time!” announces Lola, and the class veers off on another tangent like so many yentas sitting shiva, and I reel them back in, again. I am way too tired for this.

“Guys, there are nineteen of you, I’m sure that you all have amazing stories to tell, but there is a time and a place. When it’s your turn, you’ll get to tell your story. For now, let’s please listen to James and stop interrupting, or else he’ll never get to the end.” Beautiful, merciful silence. I’ve done it. I wipe my palms on my thighs. “James? Would you like to finish your story?”

“That’s pretty much it,” he says. “So onward with the meeting I suppose?” he adds, facing his palms to the ceiling and winking conspiratorially.

“Thank you,” I say, embarrassed that James has usurped my authority, and more furious than a sane person should be. I hate a guy who winks.

Coming Fall 2015 – Preorder Now

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