Chapter Nine: Playing the Part

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Ben

      I contemplated calling in sick for work but knew that wouldn't get me anywhere. It would only give me more time to sit around the house and twiddle my thumbs. I needed the interaction or I'd lose my mind.

      I was beginning to feel lost, and I hadn't felt that way in a long time. It wasn't that I disliked my job, I loved what I did, I just didn't...I couldn't handle Ms. Vega's secret. Not having anyone to tell about that one night, with the woman who had made me feel...alive again was going to drive me insane. It also didn't help that Katerina was being extremely rude.

      It was hard for her; I understood that. Life had been hard on her giving her a crappy mother and a father who abandoned them for whatever reason, leaving her the only provider of the house. But she didn't need to do the things she was doing. There had to be another way for her to support herself. To support her sister.

      It was hard for me to stand in front of the class and watch her try to prevent herself from nodding off every few minutes. She was tired, probably had worked another long shift the night before, and her eyes showed it. Her lids kept nearly closing completely and her body would jolt a little when she'd unintentionally nod off. When she'd catch me watching, she'd straighten in her seat but would only remain for a moment. She was running her body into the ground and I wasn't sure if she cared.

      She sure as hell didn't want me to care. She'd made herself clear last night, but why couldn't I stop? Why couldn't I stop thinking about her? It wasn't for lack of trying. I was purposely trying not to think about her and it seemed, at the end of the day, she was all I could think about.

      It had been all I could do to leave her last night and not push her against the wall and take her then and there. The fact she'd insulted my relationship with my wife only gave me a reason to leave and not press our bodies together, resulting in another steamy night. But I was trying to help her, despite her constantly pushing me away. I wasn't sure what I could do exactly but if she told me what was going on with her, then maybe, just maybe I might be able to help.

      She had been trying her best to ignore my gaze for the duration of class and I didn't blame her. If I was her, I'd probably be avoiding the man who'd gotten me beaten, too. I hadn't known but now that I did know, what was I to do? I could tell Liz about the situation and ask her to help but there was no doubt in my mind that would only bring up the issue of the night Katerina and I had spent together. And I didn't care if Liz found out I'd slept with someone else. She'd been stepping out for nearly two years. What I cared about was the fact the woman-girl I'd slept with was a seventeen-no sixteen, I'd noticed she and her sister recently shared a birthday before school started when I checked their records- year old student. It was a crime. Illegal. And I could go to jail, despite the fact I hadn't known.

      So whom did I tell? Certainly not Ron. Yes, he had as much to do with this as I did but I couldn't tell him. He had a big mouth; he wouldn't be able to get this secret. Definitely not my wife. She wasn't too pleased with me right now and I didn't think she'd keep this secret just to protect me. She'd probably shout it from the roof tops.

      And I couldn't let that happen. I was concerned with myself but I was also concerned with Kat. She was right. If this got out, she could be in jeopardy, too. She'd been lying about her age, smoking under the legal limit and possibly drinking, though I didn't have proof of the last. She could be separated from her sister and I didn't want that. I didn't know exactly what was going on with them but I didn't want to be the reason they were separated.

      After class ended, I had planned on going home and grading the test the students had just completed but after the second bell rang, not five minutes later Katerina was entering my class. I tried not to seem as shocked as I was though knew the cameras wouldn't catch the emotion as well as Katerina would. Even if they were active. Collette had told me today at lunch, after I casually mentioned them, that the cameras in the classrooms hadn't been active since '09 for monetary issues. They were only there for show. While this did make me a bit more comfortable alone in a room with Katerina, that didn't mean I'd act on my indiscretion.

      "Yes?" I asked once she came to stand in front of my desk. She stood, thumb in the pockets of her black skirt. The stockings she wore were ripped purposely and her top hung from her shoulder revealing her slender shoulder and the thin pink scratches from her mother. I could tell she covered them with makeup but they were still a little visible. She looked as if she had just been run over by a car but I knew that was the style now, though I couldn't figure out why. It made them look homeless. "Can I help you, Ms. Vega?"

      She thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. "No, you can't help me, Mr. Collins."

      I knitted my brows to show my confusion. If she didn't want me help, why was she here?

      "I wanted to...apologize. What I said about your wife Friday night was...it was said in the heat of the moment and I know you were just trying to help but I don't need help with my problems. So...I'm sorry."

      I could tell she actually meant the words and they were hard for her to say. She didn't like admitting she was wrong and she had been wrong about her comments on my marital status. No, it wasn't the best. Yes, my wife was a whore, but she had no business speaking of it.

      "Apology accepted. And I meant what I said, Kat." When I saw her flinch, I knew she was probably thinking about the cruel words I'd left her with. But she deserved much more credit than I gave her. She had taken charge when her mother wouldn't or couldn't and now...what? I was constantly looking down on her, judging her because of what she needed to do to survive. "I meant what I said about wanting to help you. Even if you don't think you need it."

      "Because I don't." She shook her head and tried not to look over at the camera in the corner of the room. "I've seen the way you stare at me, whatever you think...whatever you're thinking...it has to stop. The sooner you realize that the better. It is not going to work."

      "Because you're a hooker."

      "No, you genus. Because I'm your freaking student." She pinched the bridge of her nose and again shook her head. "You cannot feel anything for me other than accomplishment for seeing me graduate in May. I don't need your help and I certainly do not want it."

      "So, is that what you came here to tell me? That you don't want-no I'm sorry-don't need my help? Because from where I'm standing it seems the other way around. Have you looked in a mirror lately? You look on the verge of collapsing."

      She straightened. "I'm fine."

      "Is it a money thing? Because I could help with that. If you need-"

      "We're fine. All I need from you is..."

      "What? What do you need?" I noticed I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for her answer. She was finally giving in a little and I didn't want to miss any cues she was going to give.

      She pulled on her black backpack to adjust it better on her shoulder. "I just need you to forget about that night. Stop showing up at my job, stop acting as if you care-"

      "I'm not the one acting, Kat." I stood abruptly, causing her to glance over her shoulder at the black orb. I smiled a little, knowing the reality of the situation. I went to sit on the edge of my desk and crossed my arms. "I really want to help you, Kat, but...you need to tell me how."

      Her smile was small and at that moment, I wanted to read her mind. To see what had caused her to smile, what was running behind those gorgeous eyes of hers.

      "I just came to apologize for my words. I hadn't meant them." She turned and walked to the back of the room until I called her name and made her stop.

      "My offer still stands. Whenever you're ready to talk..."

      Before she turned and walked out the room I saw her eye twitch slightly as she tried to keep the smile from spreading across her face.

      But I was glad she apologized. It made me think she wasn't the emotionless bully most students made her out to be. She was actually capable of an emotion other than hate. And I wanted to see more of that emotion.

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