By Marita A. Hansen
Copyright 2016 © Marita A. Hansen
UK English is used due to the New Zealand setting.
All other variations are also due to where the book is set, as well as the characters’ cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. This is why some characters use different speech patterns from others.
This book is set in the year 2002.
Temptation is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart.
I turned into Wera High and parked in the teachers’ car park, so excited I was literally shaking in my seat. It was my first day as a permanent English teacher, something I’d been dreaming of since I was a kid. Prior to today, I’d only worked as a substitute, filling in when other teachers were away, which wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was to have my own class, one where I could foster a connection with the kids, and help them fall in love with literature like I had. Then a colleague had mentioned that Wera High was looking for an English teacher. I’d jumped at the opportunity, even more eager since the high school was in South Auckland, a lower socio-economic area in New Zealand, where I felt I could really make a difference.
I flipped the vanity mirror down and checked my appearance, making sure my lipstick hadn’t bled out like a vampire’s victim. I smiled at the metaphor. I was a huge Buffy fan. I not only watched the programme, but read all the books. My husband thought it was hilarious that a Lit Major loved ‘teenage, trash fantasy’, his description, not mine. He’d told me that I should be reading the likes of The Great Gatsby, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all books he knew nothing about, since his idea of good literature was Sports Illustrated.
My reflection in the vanity mirror wiped the smile off my face. My rose-coloured lippie had indeed attempted to escape my lips, making a beeline for my chin. I licked a finger and ran it under my mouth. One would have thought that by the year 2002 they’d have invented a lipstick that would stay put, but no, it was a constant battle keeping it confined to one area. Or maybe I was just useless at putting it on. Regardless, I applied a fresh layer and smacked my lips together, fixing the problem—for the time being. Happy with the result, I slipped my lipstick away in my tan-coloured satchel and smoothed down my long blonde hair, which I’d freshly dyed to get rid of my naturally mousy-brown colour.
Eager to get the day started, I got out of my yellow Volkswagen, taking in the vibrant surroundings. Wera High was so much livelier than the middle-class and posh schools I’d substituted at in London. The South Auckland kids were louder, bigger, scruffier, and more disorderly. They were streaming onto school grounds, cutting across the road, car park, and grass, one even kicking down a ‘No Walking On Grass’ sign as he headed for a two-storey, cream-coloured building with a green roof.
I slung my satchel over my head, resting the strap across my soft pink blouse and the leather bag on the hip of my darker pink skirt. I went to head for the same building, which held the principal’s office and the staffroom, but quickly flattened my back against my car as three boys bowled past me, almost taking me out. They sprinted across the grass, with a monster of a boy leading the way, his wide shoulders deserving their own postcode.
I shook my head and turned to go, spinning around as a yell rented the air. On the far side of the lawn, the three boys were pushing and shoving another boy, as well as throwing punches at him. Their victim looked like he was struggling to fend them off, his arms and feet moving fast in self-defence. Then the big boy hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground.
I ran for the fight, yelling at them to stop. My right heel clipped a raised patch of grass, almost sending me falling onto my face. I briefly flailed, but righted my footing in time and continued on, closing in on the fight. Two of the attacking party took off as I neared them, while the bigger one remained. He started kicking the fallen boy, one boot connecting with his crotch. The boy cried out and curled up into a foetal position, clutching himself below.
I shot in front of the thug as he raised his boot again. “Stop!” I shouted, holding out my hands.
He lowered his foot, his expression an angry mask of brutality. He had a crooked nose, square jaw, and a prominent brow, his number one haircut finishing off his tough-as-nails look. He was also very tall, well over six-foot, dwarfing my five-foot-three frame. I swallowed and took a step back, realising the danger I’d unwittingly put myself in. I’d read about teachers getting hurt in South Auckland schools. Only the other day, one was knocked unconscious at a school that was barely five minutes from Wera High, and here I was on my first day, jumping into a situation where I couldn’t possibly defend myself.
“Go to the principal’s office,” I said, trying to sound assertive, although I felt anything but, especially with this colossus sneering down at me.
His angry gaze shifted to the fallen boy. “You’re so pathetic you need chicks to save you now. Just stay away from mine—”
“I don’t want your sloppy seconds!” the boy yelled on the ground, the kid obviously having a death wish.
Fury flashed across the other one’s face. The headline FEMALE TEACHER HOSPITALISED DEFENDING STUDENT jumped into my mind. Desperate to diffuse the situation, I whipped out my mobile phone. “I’ll call the cops if you don’t leave now.”
The thug tensed. “You should stay outta other people’s business, lady.”
“It is my business when you fight on school grounds,” I said, trying to sound authoritative. “What is your name?”
“None of your biz, bitch.” A second later he was gone, disappearing inside the school building. I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding in, relieved that I hadn’t gotten killed before the bell had even rung. Behind me the injured boy moaned, pulling my attention back to him. He was still curled up and clutching his crotch, using curse words that would make a sailor blush.
I squatted down and placed a hand on his arm. “Are you all right?”
He mumbled something I couldn’t discern. He had his face turned towards the ground, his black crop of hair speckled with flecks of grass, mud, and a small twig.
I pulled out the twig. “Do you need help to get up?”
“I said, fuck off!”
I whipped my hand back, shocked by his vicious response. “There’s no need to swear at me, I’m just trying to help.”
“I don’t need your help.” He turned around and sat up, his angry gaze going to mine.
I froze, taken aback by his appearance. He was...
Dark eyes stared back at me, framed by even darker lashes, which matched his wavy black hair. He looked Italian or possibly Brazilian, his olive-skin and sculpted face reminding me of a famous male model I couldn’t remember the name of.
The boy’s glare dropped. For a moment he appeared as struck as I was, then he brought a hand to his brow, breaking the connection. He wiped some blood off it, drawing my attention to a small gash above his left eye. I quickly pulled open my satchel and searched for a tissue amongst the mass of receipts, finding an unopened packet. I removed a tissue and applied it to his wound.
The boy grabbed my wrist, freezing me in place. “I’ll do it,” he muttered, taking the tissue out of my hand. Letting go of my wrist, he placed the tissue to his brow and pushed to his feet, grimacing as he straightened. His other hand went to his crotch, reminding me he’d been kicked there.
I rose up too, feeling small in comparison. Even though he wasn’t as big as the monster that had attacked him, he was still close to six foot. His arms were also defined, the material of his grey short-sleeved, button-down shirt straining against his biceps.
I cleared my throat. “I’ll take you to the sickbay,” I said, feeling ashamed for ogling a schoolboy. Though, he looked like a senior, which meant he was either seventeen or eighteen, which wasn’t that much younger than my twenty-four years.
He shook his head. “I’ll be fine.” He swiped up his bag, which was covered in writing reminiscent of graffiti. There was also a gang patch sewn into the black canvas. My husband had been concerned when I’d told him the position was in South Auckland. After watching the film Once Were Warriors, he seemed to think he was an expert on the area, calling it gangland territory. I’d teased him mercilessly over it, since he’d never even been to Auckland, let alone New Zealand. He was from London. I’d met him while on my OE—an overseas working holiday. We’d been together for a good four years, married for one of those. He was due to follow me in a few weeks, his documentation taking longer than we’d anticipated.
Brushing himself off, the wavy-haired boy headed for the main building, discarding me like the tissue I’d given him. I ran after him, holding down my knee-length skirt so it didn’t fly up.
“I think I should take you to the sickbay,” I said, speaking to his back.
He kept on walking. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not; you should get a bandage for that cut and check your—”
He came to a sudden stop, almost causing me to crash into him. I took a step back as he turned to face me, his glare making me take another one. “You better not say balls,” he said.
I snorted out a nervous laugh and waved a hand at him. “Don’t be ridiculous, I was referring to your other injuries.”
“The only thing injured is my pride, so just leave me the hell alone. I don’t need chicks fighting my battles for me,” he said, his accent sounding Maori, not Italian or Brazilian—like he looked.
He turned back around and awkwardly ascended the stairs to the main building, the kick below obviously still hurting, which was no doubt why he was being so grumpy with me. I followed him into the corridor, where other students were milling about, talking, stuffing their belongings into lockers, and generally being noisy, the bustle reminding me of the London Underground, just more suffocating. The smell of teenage sweat, cologne, perfume, and even mud permeated the air, along with the heat their bodies were generating, making the corridor a rather unpleasant place to be on a hot summer’s day.
I pushed past some students, not willing to let the boy get away from me. My husband described me as a pit bull when I was determined to do something, biting in and not letting go until I got my way. “You could at least tell me your attacker’s name,” I said, doing my best to keep up with him, the crush of students impeding me. “I have to report this.”
He shook his head. “Not happening.”
“It is, so I need his name.”
He stopped in the middle of the corridor and turned to face me, giving me another annoyed look. “Cut me some slack, lady. I don’t wanna start off the year in the principal’s office, defending myself, when this isn’t even my fault.”
“You won’t need to, you’re the victim.”
He grimaced. “Don’t call me a victim, I don’t appreciate it.” He turned to go.
I shot in front of him. “I still need to know the boy’s name.”
“You don’t give up, do ya?”
I shook my head, just as determined to get it as before, if not more.
He exhaled loudly. “It’s Ronald McDonald, but if I get called into the principal’s office I’ll deny it. I’m not a nark.”
I scowled at him. “Do I look like an idiot to you?”
His annoyed expression dropped, the first sign of a smile pulling at his lips. “Do ya really want me to answer that?”
My scowl grew. “Don’t be cheeky. And you can’t seriously expect me to believe that boy’s name is Ronald McDonald.”
He blinked, then let out a burst of laugher. “That is his name. His father’s a big fat cunt who loves McDonald’s. Though, we usually call the prick Ron, Ronnie, or Happy Meal. We also call him Burger King or Wendy’s when we really wanna piss him off.”
“Are you playing with me?” I asked, not sure whether to believe him or not. Although he sounded genuine, I couldn’t fathom someone naming their own child after a clown.
He shook his head, his smile drawing my attention to his mouth. He had the most perfectly shaped lips, with a full bottom lip just made for nibbling on. His smile grew into a cocky smirk, alerting me to the fact I was staring.
I ripped my eyes away from his mouth. “What about you, then?” I asked, again feeling embarrassed.
“If you wanna know more ’bout me, I’ll meet up with you after school,” he said, appearing highly amused. “My number is—”
“I don’t want your number, just your name?”
“It’s Dante Rata.” He blew me a kiss, then spun around and disappeared into the mass of students.
I glanced back at the teacher, thinking she was hot as fuck. Just a pity it hurt to look at her, my balls whining like a bitch. It felt like Happy Meal had left his boot-print on my gonads and all because I’d been nice to his girlfriend ... by letting her suck my dick. I’d gate-crashed a party with two of my mates. She’d been there, minus Happy Meal’s ugly mug. Before I knew what was happening, I had a stomach full of vodka and my pants around my ankles, with my dick down her throat. I hadn’t even remembered going into the bedroom with her. If anything, I swear I’d gone in there alone to sleep. But since she’d already gotten me hard, it was a no-brainer to let her finish the job, plus she was hot.
Just not as much as that M.I.L.F. of a teacher, that was, if she was even a mother, because that tight little bod didn’t look like it had shot out any bambinas. I grinned, finding it amusing she’d gotten all hot and flustered over me. I wondered how old she was. Early twenties at a guess. I’d cream my pants if she ended up being one of my teachers, because it would be so much fun to wind her up. But I didn’t get that kind of luck. I either got old hags, fags, or guys with Hitler complexes, like my drama teacher.
I pushed through the sickbay door, aware I could’ve let her bring me here. I just didn’t want to. It was humiliating enough that she had to save my sorry arse from Happy Meal and his halfwit friends; I didn’t need anything else from her. I could get to the sickbay all on my lonesome without some M.I.L.F. holding my hand like I was a primary school kid.
The nurse looked up from her desk as I entered the room, disappointment thinning out her lips. She was a large fifty-something Tongan woman, with a thick head of hair and čokolada skin.
“Already, Dante?” she said, slipping out from behind her desk. “The bell hasn’t even rung.”
I shrugged and lay down on the single bed. My torso felt like Mike Tyson had used it as a punching bag—with knuckle dusters on. “Can I have an icepack?”
“Pretty please with whipped cream and a cherry on top.”
Smiling, she grabbed one along with the first aid box. She passed it over and sat down next to me as the bell rang. “Why can’t you keep out of fights, Dante?”
“If I did that I wouldn’t get to see your beautiful face.”
“Shush, Romeo.” She was used to my sweet-talking, but she still smiled as she cleaned the cut above my eye. I lifted up my shirt and placed the icepack against my ribs, although I wanted to stuff it down my pants to take away the ache from Happy Meal’s kick.
The nurse’s eyes widened. “Dante! What on earth!”
I looked down at my ribs. My torso was covered with blotchy red marks from Happy Meal’s and his mates’ boots and fists.
“I’ve had worse,” I muttered, laying my head back down. “And at least my stomach will look pretty in a day or too. I like purple and yellow.”
Her face hardened. “This isn’t a joking matter. Who did this to you?”
I shrugged, not interested in dobbing in Happy Meal again. I shouldn’t have even opened my mouth to the blonde teacher, but she wouldn’t shut the hell up. She was like a rabid little dog that wouldn’t stop yapping until I gave her what she wanted. I just hoped she didn’t blab to the principal, because I didn’t need that do-gooder interfering in my business. I could deal with Happy Meal all on my own.
“I really wish you would stop fighting,” the nurse said, cutting through my thoughts. Since I’d started Wera High two years ago, I’d been in and out of her office more times than I could remember.
She pushed to her feet with the first aid kit. “Will you be all right to go to class or do you need me to phone your father?”
“I’ll be fine after a few minutes,” I said, definitely not wanting the second option. My dad would bitch and whine if the nurse pulled him out of work, even more so since it was my first day back at school. Or worse, he’d probably beat the shit out of Happy Meal, which wouldn’t end well, since the prick’s father was the president of the Devil’s Crew, a bikers’ club that constantly clashed with my father’s gang.
The bell for the end of tutor class rang, signalling that I needed to get to my first lesson of the day: Drama. I thanked the nurse and left the sickbay, doing my best not to walk like I’d just had my balls crushed. I lifted my chin in friendly hellos at people I knew, giving a couple from my gang handshakes, all the while pretending that I wasn’t hurting like a eunuch who’d just had his nuts waved in his face. I wondered whether word had spread about me losing the fight. It didn’t matter to people that I’d been up against three good fighters or that I’d been sucker-punched from behind. All that mattered was that I’d lost. I just wasn’t willing to act like I had. Get your balls handed to you and you still had to walk like you could crush someone else’s. Appearance was everything where I lived. It wasn’t about fancy labels, it was about putting on a tough front, proving you were worthy of wearing the patch. That was what counted, no matter how much it hurt.
I stopped outside my drama class and opened the door, just enough to stick my face through. It looked like I was the last one to class. My classmates were sitting in the centre of the floor in front of our drama teacher. We didn’t have desks for drama, only a small stage and props.
I shouted, “Here’s Johnny!” doing my best Jack Nicholson impersonation.
Mr. Aston jumped a mile. He spun around, giving me a hundred-watt glare. He had reddish-brown hair and was built like a brick shithouse, with a chimney stack that constantly blew. Though, despite his solid build, he obviously couldn’t fight for shit, since his busted up nose had more curves than Happy Meal’s girlfriend.
Mr. Aston shouted at me, “Get in class!”
I didn’t know why he was so angry, considering I was only acting, and it did say ‘Drama’ on the door. I kicked the door open the rest of the way and sauntered in, lifting my chin up at him. “G’day, Mr. Aston, miss me?”
He continued to glare, looking like he’d pulled the short straw with getting me in his class again. “Cross me and I’ll slap ye with detention for the rest of the week,” he snapped. He sounded like a Scotsman who’d lost his balls to New Zealand, his accent a watered-down version of Billy Connolly’s, minus the sense of humour.
I resisted the urge to imitate his accent, wondering whether I could get through his class without receiving detention. He probably had a whole bunch of blue slips already printed out with my name on. The guy couldn’t stand me; thought I was an arrogant prick. He was right, but I thought the same of him, just didn’t get all red-faced over it. He really needed to chill the fuck out, because he had some serious anger management issues. If he hated teenagers so much why did he become a teacher? It was like working at a brothel and being allergic to condoms. Or being a nymphomaniac and signing up to a nunnery. Why would you put yourself through that?
He continued jabbering on about what he expected from me and how important Year Eleven was. I had to bite my tongue to keep a straight face, especially since I could hear my best friend sniggering on the floor behind me.
Mr. Aston finally finished his lecture. “Now, remove yer shoes and sit down.”
I kicked off my boots, sending them flying to where everyone else’s was. The array of black shoes and sandals were spread out next to the door, the drama teacher preferring the rank smell of foot odour to a little dirt on the carpet.
I sat down on the carpet by my best friend. Jasper was as tall as Happy Meal, just fat, the dude always smelling of meat pies and Coke.
Jasper held out his hand. I grabbed it and did a fancy two-tiered handshake, pumping our fists together at the end, our gang’s full greeting. We’d been best mates since we were little kids, going to the same kindergarten, primary, intermediate, and now high school, minus the short period of time when I got expelled and was forced to go to Claydon High. After that dive expelled me too, I headed right back here, the principal making an exception for me. I knew why he let me back in. It was because he felt like he owed my family since he’d done fuck all for my oldest brother, who’d almost killed himself in a suicide pact while he’d been going here.
Mr. Aston’s voice cut through my thoughts about my brother. He’d started calling the roll. When he got to my name, I held back from being a smart cunt and just answered with a “Here.” In return, I got surprised looks from half the class. They’d probably expected me to say something stupid, but I didn’t feel like it right now, my aching balls still distracting me.
I gently adjusted my crotch, noticing Phelia Lamar, a.k.a. Happy Meal’s girlfriend, ogling what I was doing. She was a Māori chick with the coolest afro hair, which was all fuzzed out in the old seventies style. She also had big tits and the shiniest, juiciest mouth that was made for sucking cock. Just a pity she didn’t know how to use it well, because she sucked in more ways than one.
She sidled up next to me. “Hi, Dante, you wanna come over to my house after school?”
I gave her an Are you fucking kidding me? look, definitely not interested. I didn’t care how hot she was. There were plenty of other good-looking chicks I could get without having to deal with jealous boyfriends.
She screwed up her nose, probably realising why. “What Ronnie did to you wuzn’t my fault.” Her gaze moved to my brow. “And you only got a scratch,” she said, reaching out to touch the bandage.
I jerked my head away. “Don’t touch me.”
“Oh, c’mon, babe, don’t be angry with me. We had fun, didn’t we?”
“We had fun. Past tense.”
She pouted at me. “It doesn’t hafta end. I’ve broken up with Ronnie.”
“He doesn’t seem to think so.”
“Well, I have. I wanna be with you.”
I went to tell her that I didn’t feel the same way, but got cut off by Mr. Aston.
“One more peep oot of you, Dante, and I’ll slap ye with detention so fast ye won’t know what hit ye,” he said.
I shot Phelia a glare, annoyed that she’d caused me more trouble. She gave me an apologetic look.
Mr. Aston resumed what he’d been talking about before Phelia had interrupted him. “We’re going to start off doing Space Jump,” he announced, which was an improv game. “Ye’re going to act oot a scene from something ye did during yer holiday break. Ye’ll get a minute each. So, everyone up.”
All the students pushed to their feet. Half the class who knew the game froze into a pose. I was tempted to face Phelia and freeze doing a cock-sucking action, but decided not to antagonise Mr. Aston further, because I kind of liked this game.
“Phelia,” Mr. Aston called out, “go first.”
Within seconds, she was dancing around me, which was what she’d been doing at the party before she’d sucked me off.
Mr. Aston finally called out another name, stopping Phelia in her tracks. She froze in a dance pose, allowing Mr. Aston’s niece to take over. The red-headed girl started pretending to swim. She had so many freckles on her face I had the urge to get a pen and play dot-to-dot. I smiled, wondering whether her body was covered with them too. I could spend a whole afternoon joining them together, then have a different kind of fun afterwards. Her eyes flicked over to me, giving me the same look the hot blonde teacher had. I winked at her, causing her face to go bright red. She quickly looked away and continued with her act until her annoyed-looking uncle called out my name, probably noticing his niece was eyeing me up.
Jasper started sniggering, fully aware of what I’d done over the summer holidays: selling drugs for my cousin and getting laid continuously. Though, I did visit my grandparents for Christmas, where I went surfing with my oldest brother and uncle. But pretending to surf for the drama class was lame in comparison to imitating sex, which... Fuck it, it was worth getting detention just to see the look on Mr. Aston’s face.
I cupped my hands in front of me, pretending to hold someone’s head and started moving my crotch back and forth, going, “Yeah, baby, take that cock. You know you want it. Yeah, yeah, ye—”
Before I could get the last yeah out, Mr. Aston grabbed me by the neck and hauled me to the door. He yanked it open and shoved me into the corridor, yelling, “Detention for the rest of the week!”
The door slammed in my face. I stood in my socks, listening to the class erupt into a fit of laughter on the other side of the door, Jasper’s laugh the loudest. Next thing, the door burst open and Mr. Aston threw my boots and bag at me, thankfully not hitting me in the balls in the process. Everything landed at my feet with a resounding thud.
“Principal’s office. Now!” he roared, slamming the door in my face once again. On the other side he boomed at the class, “Be quiet!”
I smiled and shoved my feet into my boots, not needing to fix the shoelaces since I never undid them. Instead of heading for the principal’s office, I aimed for the exit, intending on sitting out the back of the gym until the bell went. Mr. Aston never checked to see if I’d gone to the office, something I’d discovered last year. He probably didn’t care if I went or not, just that I was out of his class.
As I passed another classroom, a loud wolf whistle pierced my ear. I backed up and looked through the small square window in the door, instantly recognising the hot blonde teacher. She was standing in front of a class of Year Tens. One of the boys was whistling at her while his mates sniggered next to him. She fired back a retort I couldn’t hear, but whatever it was, it shut the boy up faster than my cock in Phelia’s mouth. A second later, I realised she’d be taking my English class.
A big smile spread across my face, the day suddenly getting a whole lot more interesting. I resumed walking down the corridor, looking forward to English for the first time ever.
After the bell had rung, I headed to my maths class, one of my least favourite subjects. As soon as I entered the room, the teacher told me that the principal wanted to see me. I trudged to Principal Sao’s office, annoyed that Mr. Aston had finally checked up on me. I wondered whether it was one of his New Year’s resolutions to make my life miserable.
At the end of the corridor, I turned right and entered the reception area, taking a seat on the navy-blue vinyl couch. The secretary looked over her desk at me with a slight shake of her head. She was an old bird in her sixties, with dyed blonde hair and a lady-boner for pearls. She gave me one of her disappointed looks, like she’d expected better of me, which always floored me, since I spent half my time here.
She indicated for me to go into the office. “He’s expecting you.”
I pushed up from the couch. “I bet he is,” I mumbled under my breath, again cursing Mr. Aston for finally doing his job.
I opened the door and entered the bland room, ignoring the painting on the wall, knowing it off by heart. It depicted two boys walking into the sea, one of them my brother—who’d painted it. It always reminded me of that fucked up year Ash had tried to kill himself, a year I wished I could wipe from my memory.
“Please take a seat, Dante,” Principal Sao said, indicating to the chair in front of his desk.
He was sitting in a swivel chair, looking at me with a serious expression, probably wondering how he could save me from myself. I slumped down into the cushioned seat and looked out his window, wishing I’d stayed in bed.
Principal Sao pushed out of his chair and walked around to me, seating himself on the edge of his desk, blocking my view of the window. He was a big Samoan man who had a penchant for smart suits. Right now he was wearing a navy-blue one, with a purple and white striped tie over a white button-down shirt.
He started talking, making me think of the actor who did Darth Vader’s voice, just without the breathing problem. “I was very disappointed to find out you were fighting with Ronald again,” he said.
Surprised by his words, I didn’t reply, all thoughts about Mr. Aston ratting me out gone. How’d he know? It hit me a second later. The blonde teacher had dobbed me in. I grimaced, now annoyed with myself for giving her my name, not to mention Happy Meal’s.
The principal continued, “It’s the first day of school and you two are already at it. I told you last year I won’t stand for this nonsense anymore. If I have to, I will suspend you, Dante, regardless of the connection I have with your family.”
Pissed off he was blaming me, I sneered at him, wanting to tell him he had no connection to my whānau. He wasn’t family, he wasn’t even Māori. He probably thought that since he was Polynesian he could identify with me. He couldn’t identify shit, because he hadn’t pissed blood from being beaten so hard, hadn’t had to deal drugs just to pay the bills, or gone hungry because his father took too many sick days due to being mentally ill. Instead, he was what my Tongan mate called a Pālangi Poly—a white Polynesian, who’d probably grown up in East Auckland instead of Wera’s streets.
He shook his head at me. “I wish you would stop fighting everyone, Dante. You need to learn to walk away.”
I remained silent, wondering how the hell he expected me to walk away from being jumped from behind. Then again, he was probably trying to get me to blurt out it wasn’t my fault, twisting things to get me to talk.
He narrowed his eyes at me, giving me one of his this-is-serious faces. But it wasn’t a serious matter to me. The beating Happy Meal and his mates had handed out was nothing in comparison to what my stepfather had done to me. This was no more than a paper cut, something I’d forget about once the bruises disappeared. But what my stepfather had done ... I could never forget that. I just wished I could.
Principal Sao sighed. “I can’t help you, Dante, if you don’t talk to me.”
“I don’t need your help,” I finally said. “I need to be in class,” because it’s better than being here.
He indicated to the door. “Okay. Go.”
I pushed up and headed for the door.
“Dante,” he said.
I placed a hand on the door handle and looked back at him, waiting for him to get whatever he wanted to say off his chest.
He pushed up from the desk, giving me one of his soulful stares, something that I felt he’d copyrighted just for me. He knew too much about my family, things I didn’t want anyone to know. It just made me feel even more uncomfortable around him.
“I know you believe that everyone thinks you’re a bad kid, someone who’ll end up in jail,” he said, “but you’re not. Deep down inside you’re a good kid, who would do really well if you just applied yourself instead of creating your own personal warzone.”
I snorted out a laugh.
“This isn’t a joking matter, Dante. This year is important and I want you to treat it as such. Stop looking for fights and concentrate on your school work, because if you applied yourself you’d pass.”
I snorted out another laugh. “I’m gonna flunk. All my teachers know it.”
“It’s only you who thinks that.”
“Tell Mr. Aston that.”
“Okay, he’s the exception. But if you just concentrated you’d do well, especially in English and Music. You have a stunning voice and are great on the guitar and drums. You’re also a wonderful poet. You could get into university if—”
“I’m not goin’ to university,” I cut him off, not interested in his fantasies.
His shoulders slumped, the man appearing to deflate at my words. I didn’t know what he expected from me, especially since he knew no one in my family had ever amounted to anything, other than ending up in the newspapers for committing some sort of crime. Or worse, being a statistic like my mother, my stepfather having murdered her.
Wishing I wasn’t his pet project, I disappeared out his door and headed back to my maths class. As I walked down the corridor, my mind shifted to the English teacher, angry with her for ratting me out. I’d planned on going light on her, just a bit of teasing and flirting, nothing serious, since I liked the idea of having something pretty to look at during class. But now there was no way I was going to play nice. And like with any other rat, she was going to get what was coming to her.
The staffroom at lunchtime was considerably quieter than the outside mayhem of the school grounds, a caffeinated oasis devoid of teenagers. Although I’d managed to get through my first classes without too much trouble, it had been hard work. Some of the students had taken it upon themselves to see how far they could push me. I had to tell off quite a few, mostly boys, whose wolf whistles and comments about my looks weren’t appreciated.
I glanced to my right as I poured a cup of coffee, noticing two male teachers eyeing me up, their gazes not that dissimilar to the male students. I knew what they saw: a good-looking woman in her early twenties, with defined cheekbones and full lips. The only thing I lacked was height, which they didn’t appear to care about. The shorter of the two dropped his gaze as soon as he noticed me looking, while the other one continued to stare, seemingly unconcerned he’d been caught out.
Feeling uncomfortable, I finished filling my cup and headed for a table the furthest away from him, smiling at the thirty-something woman sitting behind it. She was slightly overweight, frumpy closer to the mark, and colourfully dressed, her thick-rimmed glasses matching her red cardigan. She also had a head full of soft black ringlets, which looked like her pride and joy.
I placed a hand on the chair across from her. “Can I sit here?”
Nodding, she swallowed what she’d been chewing on and put the rest of the sandwich down on her plate. Rising to her feet, she held out a hand for me to shake. “You must be the new English teacher,” she said, smiling at me.
“Yes,” I replied, noticing mayonnaise smeared across her thumb.
She glanced down at it. “Oops, sorry, I’m such a messy eater.” She quickly wiped her hand on a tissue and extended it again.
“No worries,” I said, shaking it. “I’m Clara Hatton.”
“Nice to meet you, Clara. I’m Beverly Torino.” She let go of my hand and spread her arms out wide. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
I smiled, finding her quirky. “What do you teach?” I asked, guessing her to be an art or drama teacher.
She tucked a ringlet behind her ear. “Drama.”
I mentally patted myself on the back at my correct guess.
She indicated to the far corner of the staffroom. “Tall, red, and handsome over there is another drama teacher. He’s the head of my department.”
I glanced over my shoulder, spotting the man she was talking about. He was the one who’d been staring at me. He looked a lot like Liam Neeson, just thirty-something and with a reddish-brown buzz cut. He smiled at me, prompting me to look away instantly.
Beverly sat back down. “Looks like you’ve attracted Britain’s attention.”
“Britain?” I asked, taking her lead and sitting down too.
“Paul is Scottish while the teacher standing next to him is English. We call them Britain, because they usually hang out together. Though, I really don’t understand why, since they’re always arguing. Anyway, forget about them, I’m more interested in you. How has your first day been so far?”
“Good.” I took a sip of my coffee, grimacing at the awful taste. It felt like an atom bomb had gone off inside my mouth, the nuclear sludge contaminating my taste buds.
Beverly laughed. “Yeah, the coffee here is godawful.” She patted the top of a striped flask sitting on the table. “That’s why I bring my own. Would you like some?”
“No, thanks.” I pushed my cup away and grabbed a bottle of water out of my satchel, more interested in decontaminating my mouth.
She grinned, looking like I was entertaining her greatly. “No worries. So, what do you think of Wera High?”
I took a gulp of water, swishing it around my mouth and swallowing it down before answering her. “It’s nice.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Nice is not a word I’d use for this place. Rowdy, rude, loud, I could go on forever.”
I smiled. “It is loud, and I must admit the kids are slightly ruder than what I’m used to.”
“Slightly? Well, you mustn’t have had the juvie class yet.”
“What’s the juvie class?”
“It’s a nickname we call the class that has all the bad kids. Your opinion will not be the same after teaching that one.”
“Maybe I won’t get them.”
“What years do you teach?”
“Ten and Eleven.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’m sorry to say, but they’re Year Elevens. If you’re unlucky and do get them, don’t react to their baiting. If they ask you any inappropriate questions, ignore them, like they haven’t even spoken. They’re also very liberal with their use of swearwords. Unless you want to constantly tell them off, translate the f word to fabulous, the c one to cute, s to super, and the m word to magnificent.”
“What’s the m word?”
Beverly lowered her voice. “Motherfucker. They love that word.”
My eyebrows shot up. “You seriously expect me to let them get away with saying that?”
“If you don’t want to send half the class to the principal’s office every lesson, yes. My suggestion is to only kick a juvie kid out if they take things too far. As it is, you usually have to send at least a couple of them to the principal’s office every lesson.”
My mind went to the tall bully who’d beaten up Dante, praying he wasn’t in the class. I shook the thought out of my head. He was too big not to be a senior. Still...
“Do you know of a boy called Ronald McDonald?” I asked, expecting her to laugh at me.
“Unfortunately, everyone who works here does.”
I blinked in surprise, taken aback that Dante hadn’t lied about the thug’s name. “That’s really his name?”
She nodded. “How do you know him? He’s in Year Thirteen, so he shouldn’t be in any of your classes.”
“I caught him and two of his friends beating up another boy. I had to step in to stop him.”
Beverly’s dark eyebrows shot up. “Wow! You’re brave, because Ronnie’s one scary kid. I always get the male teachers to deal with him. Is the other boy all right?”
“He said he was.”
“Did you report the fight to the principal?”
“I told his secretary since he was busy at the time, but she said he already knew about it.”
“Well, don’t approach Ronnie again. He’s one of the gang kids. You have to think about your own safety first. It’s best to inform the principal or Paul Aston,” she said, referring to the other drama teacher. “They know how to deal with those kids.”
I nodded, again realising how lucky I was not to have gotten hurt. “By the way, what kind of parent names their own child after a clown?”
Beverly rubbed her thumb and fingers together, flicking some crumbs off her fingertips. “I’ve heard worse. A couple of years back I had twins in my class called DB and Lion Red.”
My eyes widened. “Their parents named them after beer?”
She nodded. “I even taught one kid called Painkiller.”
“Are you serious?” I gasped.
She nodded again, her brown eyes sparkling with amusement. “Welcome to South Auckland, where you might run into Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rocky Balboa, though, those will be their first and middle names, and they won’t look anything like their namesakes.”
“You must be having me on,” I said.
She shook her head. “I’ll bet you a fifty that you’ll get at least one kid in your class with a whacky name.”
“Looks like I should turn that bet down after meeting Ronald McDonald.”
She chuckled. “A wise decision. Just one word of advice. When you get a whacky named kid, don’t stumble over their name. They’re usually oversensitive.”
“I don’t blame them, but I’m not sure I could say a name like Painkiller without feeling as though someone was playing a joke on me.”
“I know. At first, I had a hard time saying his name, but I eventually got used to it. Though, I ended up calling him Killer, which he liked.”
“So, you’ve been working here for a while, then?” I asked, wondering whether she knew the boy who’d been attacked.
“Yes siree, ten years.”
“Have you heard of Dante Rata?”
Her smile instantly dropped. “W-h-y?” she said, drawing out the word, suspicion prickling her expression. “What has he done now?”
“Nothing. He was the one being attacked by the McDonald boy.”
“Probably for a good reason. Dante’s pure mischief. The best way to deal with that ratbag is to ignore him. If you don’t, he’ll commandeer your whole lesson. Also, don’t take what he says personally; he’s just an arrogant so-and-so, who needs a swift kick up the backside.”
I smirked at the last comment. “He didn’t seem that bad and it really wasn’t his fault.”
Beverly pulled a cookie out of her lunchbox. “Mark my words, he is. I pity you if you get him. Fingers crossed the other English teacher is lumped with that troublemaker.”
I nodded, wondering why I would even get him since I didn’t teach the seniors. I opened my mouth to say just that, but Beverly cut me off before I could get a word out. She moved onto another topic: Me. A barrage of questions came my way, asking how old I was. Twenty-four. Whether I was married. Yes. And where I’d previously taught. England. And so on. Before I knew it, the bell had rung and I was on my way to my next class.
I entered my classroom, the place I was making my own—a small pocket in the school, where I wanted to foster literature. I also wanted to help the students pass the year with flying colours, like no other teacher could achieve in such a challenging environment. My smile dropped and shattered against the floor at the chaos before me. Half the students were sitting on their desks, looking like they were at a party, not school. They were too busy talking to notice me standing in the doorway, staring at them in shock. In the far corner, a group of boys had gone a step further and pushed their desks together, forming a makeshift stage. They were staring up at a Maori girl, or more accurately up her short skirt. She was dancing on the desktops, shaking her arse to a rap song, which was coming from a giant boom-box—a metallic remnant of the eighties. She had dusky skin and a sultry face, with a halo of afro hair framing it. One of the boys, a fat kid who was probably twice my size and weight—if not more, ran his large hand up her leg. She kicked his palm and continued dancing, looking like she was enjoying the attention. The handsy boy stood up and yanked her off the desk. The girl squealed, while the other boys laughed.
“What are you doing?” I shouted, making them all jolt. “Put her down, now!”
Young faces all turned my way, noticing me for the first time. They were a group of Year Elevens, mostly made up of fifteen-year-olds. There was a mixture of ethnicities, a real melting pot of diversity.
“I said, put her down!” I repeated, knowing this had to be the juvie class. My previous classes weren’t exactly angels, but they were cherubs in comparison to this motley crew. “And turn off that music.”
The mountainous boy let go of the girl and held up his hands as though I was pointing a gun at him. “We were just having fun, miss.”
“Yeah, miss,” the girl said snidely, looking annoyed I’d interrupted her Stripping 101 class. “It wuz just fun.” She switched off the music and leaned in to give the large boy a hug, the top of her head level with his chest. “He’s my friend.”
“Just get back to your seat,” I said, pumping up my voice, knowing I needed to sound authoritative, especially with my youthful appearance. Since I looked more like an older sister than a teacher, the kids in my other classes had assumed they could push me around, but I’d put them all in their place, quickly mapping out who was boss. And I had to admit, it felt good, like an initiation I had to pass to get their respect.
My attention moved to the other boys in the group. “And put those desks back where they belong.”
“They belong right where they are,” a male voice answered from behind the large boy.
“No, they don’t,” I said, angling my head to see who’d spoken, the fat boy blocking my view. “So put them back.”
“Since you’re new here, I’ll give you a word of advice.” The owner of the voice rose up.
My eyes widened. It was Dante—the student I’d helped.
He grimaced at me, not appearing surprised to see me. “Don’t rat people out if you want them to play nice,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You dobbed me in to the principal.”
I glanced at the messed-up desks, wondering whether this was some sort of misplaced revenge. “I never spoke to him. The secretary said he already knew what had happened.”
Dante narrowed his eyes. “Which means, you were gonna rat me out, just someone else beat you to it.”
“I had no intention of getting you into trouble, if that’s what you’re inferring,” I replied, the fact he wasn’t a senior finally dawning on me.
I’d been attracted to a fifteen-year-old!
No, he couldn’t possibly be that young. With the way he looked and talked, he must have been held back by at least a year.
Dante tilted his chin up, a slight sneer pulling at his lips. “I’ll let you off this time, just don’t interfere in my business again. I won’t be so nice next time.”
My eyebrows shot up at his audacity. “Is that right?” I said, thinking Beverly’s observation was spot on. He was an arrogant so-and-so.
He nodded. “And just so you know, English is our free period, where we do what we want.”
“Not in my class,” I said, heading for my desk, knowing he was testing me. “So, how about you and your friends straighten the desks so we can get started.”
“English, of course.”
“Why? It’s a pointless subject, especially since we already speaka de Engleesh.”
“It’s not pointless,” I replied, not letting him provoke me. “It’ll help you develop your understanding of the language so you can articulate yourself better.”
“Did you just trash how I talk?” he snapped, his dark eyes flaring at me.
I shook my head. “No, I was being general. English is also important for a number of professions.”
A smirk wiped away his annoyed expression. “As long as I can spell marijuana, coke, and heroin, I’m sure my future,” he made quote marks with his fingers, “profession is safe. It’s the only reason I pay attention in Science. Now, that’s a subject worth doin’.”
His mates laughed, a few of them pumping fists as though they thought Dante had one-upped me. He sat down on his desk, looking like he thought so too.
Keeping my cool, I pulled off my satchel. “Get off the desk.”
Dante’s butt remained where it was. “Why?”
“You have a chair for a reason.”
“I’m comfortable right ’ere.”
“Well, I’m not comfortable with you there, so how about you do me a favour since I did you one.”
He smirked. “Did’ja say you did me once? Cos I must’ve been really drunk since I don’t remember it. Or maybe you weren’t that memorable.”
More laughter followed, this time from the whole class.
Not rising to his bait, I crossed my arms over my chest. “You know what I said, so get off your desk.”
“No, my Engleesh isn’t very good. You Pākehā chicks are real hard to understand,” he said, calling me white, which I thought was hypocritical. Despite his Maori accent, he still looked like a Pākehā himself, just with an olive tint.
“I don’t like having to repeat myself,” I said, “so get off your desk or sit on the principal’s.”
“Don’t think he’ll be keen on that, miss,” he said with a grin.
“That’s not my problem.”
He winked at me. “’Kay, babe. I’ll let ya win this round.”
He slid down into his chair, ordering the other boys to fix their desks. He was obviously the motley crew’s leader, a dictator in scruffy, grass-stained clothes.
Once the desks were fixed, he winked at me again. “I expect special brownie points for this, babe.”
“It’s Mrs. Hatton to you,” I said, heading for the whiteboard. I picked up the marker and spelled out my name in large black letters.
After I’d finished, I turned to face the class, feeling nervous for the first time as all eyes zeroed in on me. The adrenalin that had been pumping through my veins only seconds ago dissipated at a rapid rate. I cleared my throat, assuring myself that I was going to get through this lesson like I had with all my other ones.
“As you can see, I’m Mrs. Hatton,” I said, sweeping my gaze over the class. “I will be your...” I stopped talking, noticing the wicked smirk on Dante’s face. He looked like he was up to something. Or maybe he was waiting for me to make a fool of myself, which I wasn’t going to do.
I went to continue with my introduction, but faltered as his dark gaze started travelling down the length of my body, lazily taking in every curve. His gaze swept back up quicker, pausing on my chest for a brief moment, before settling on my face again.
“I-I’m obviously your English teacher,” I stuttered out, “so...”
The words left my mouth again as he licked his upper lip, giving me a blatantly sexual look. He wasn’t the first kid to check me out, but he was the first to make my mouth run dry, the boy far too sensual-looking for my own good. His friends started sniggering, no doubt realising he was distracting me. I quickly looked away, ignoring the boys elbowing each other in amusement.
I cleared my throat once more, determined to get through the class. “So, I’m going to call attendance now,” I said, picking up the roll call folder. I started reading their names out. To my relief they replied without giving me trouble, only a few sniggers stopping it from being perfect.
Everything was going fine until I came to Dante’s name. Without thinking I called it out, stupidly asking whether he was here, something I should’ve known not to do, since it was an invitation for trouble.
He closed his eyes. “Oh ... yes, yes, YES!” he shouted, sounding like he was coming. He expelled a huge sigh, drawing it out. “I’m here.” He opened his eyes, his smirk growing as the other students burst out laughing, some of them hooting, “Yeah, boy!” like they were giving him some sort of verbal high five.
“A simple here, miss would’ve been sufficient,” I replied. “And the rest of you, stop laughing,” I added, controlling my voice, not letting on that they were annoying me.
I resumed taking the roll, now even more determined to get through the lesson without losing my temper. Luckily, the rest of the kids answered their names without issue, Dante obviously the class clown. After I’d called out the last name, Dante piped up again.
“Do you give private lessons?” he asked, his leer telling me he wasn’t referring to English ones.
The tenuous thread, that had been barely holding the class in check, snapped. Hoots and childish remarks bounced off the walls like cannon fire, ripping holes through my eardrums. I was sure the far end of the school could hear them, the noise they were making ridiculous.
“Be quiet!” I hollered, having to shout it more than once before they settled down. I levelled a glare at Dante, who looked like he was having fun, his eyes shining so brightly they could have had their own solar system.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying my class so much,” I said dryly. “But please keep your comments class related or I will send you to the principal.”
He smirked. “Aye, aye, darling, I promise I’ll keep my mouth shut.” He pretended to zip his lips.
Shaking my head at him, I went to start the lesson, hoping I could get through it all with the amount of time he’d wasted. But before I could get a word out, rap music started up, the sounds of California Love making me jolt. My eyes snapped back to Dante, who’d shifted the boom-box to his desk, the tin can blasting loud.
“Turn that off,” I yelled.
Smiling, he leaned his arms on the boom-box, resting his chin on top.
“Turn it off!”
He turned it up.
Finally losing my temper, I stalked over to his desk and leaned across the boy sitting next to him, reaching for the boom-box’s switch. Dante clamped a hand over it.
“Move your hand,” I ordered.
He turned the music even higher.
“That’s my name, what’s yours?” he asked, finally speaking.
“It’s on the whiteboard, so turn it off!”
“No, I wanna know your first name. Gimme it and I’ll do whatever you desire.”
Smiling wickedly, he switched the music off. “Cool, now I have sumpthin’ to call out when I come.”
The class burst out laughing yet again.
“You just earned yourself a detention,” I snapped.
He snorted. “You’re really threatening me with detention?”
I nodded, thinking one wasn’t enough for him. “For today and tomorrow.”
“What’s so funny?!”
He stopped laughing, although a few sniggers escaped as he answered me. “Another teacher has already given me detention for the week, so you’ve gotta give me more incentive to shut my mouth.”
He snorted out another laugh. “You don’t needa educate me.”
“Yes, I do, it’s what I get paid for.”
“Nah, you’re gettin’ paid to babysit us, cos once this year’s up, you and every other adult can’t make us do jack shit.”
“Why are you being so rude to me?”
“I’m just stating how it is, sweetheart.”
“I’m not your sweetheart and you can go to the principal’s. I’ve had enough of you.”
“Mmmh, I’ll never get enough of you.” Keeping his eyes on me, he placed his hands on his desk and pushed back, scraping his chair across the lino flooring, probably damaging it in the process. He rose to his feet and hooked his bag over a shoulder. His friend moved his chair forward, letting Dante squeeze past him. He grabbed the boom-box and pursed his lips, giving me an air kiss. “See ya later, sweetheart.” He strutted towards the door, leaving it banging in his wake, making me shake with fury.
“Ignore him, miss,” a soft voice said. “Dante’s rude to everyone.”
I turned to search for the owner of the voice. A girl raised her hand in a friendly hello. She was sitting in the front row, smiling at me with sympathy. She had a mouth full of braces and soft grey eyes. Her hair was dyed-black, which made her fair skin appear even paler. She looked like an emo, the black tie around her neck not part of the uniform. She also had dark eye makeup and a lip ring, which definitely went against regulations. But I wasn’t about to mention it, especially since she was the only kid being nice to me.
“I wouldn’t take what he said personally,” she continued, “if anything, you got off lighter than the last teacher he ran out of here.”
“What did he do to them?”
“He constantly called her a racist bitch and mooned her, telling her to kiss his hori arse if she didn’t like how he spoke. That’s a racial slur referring to Maoris. It’s like how the Americans use the N word.”
“I know what hori means.”
“Sorry, miss, you have a posh accent like a Pom.”
“I spent some time in England, but I’m still from Auckland. And I hope Dante was suspended for what he did,” I said, not believing my ears.
“Yup. Dante collects suspensions like Jasper collects boogers.”
A yell came from beside me, the boy who’d been sitting next to Dante obviously Jasper, the nose-picking offender. The rest of the class started laughing, this lesson turning into a comedy-fest. I quietened them down, along with the boy who was spluttering that he didn’t pick his nose.
The girl grinned sheepishly at me. “Sorry, miss, couldn’t resist that. Anyways, no matter how many times Dante’s been suspended he always comes back like a bad smell. He’s even been to youth prison. One time the cops came into class and arrested him. He’s evil to the bone.”
Jasper yelled at the girl to shut her “dyke face” about Dante. She flicked him the finger, not looking worried that she’d angered a boy three times her weight, another thing that shocked me. I didn’t expect a fifteen-year-old to be so big or look so old. Not only did he have stubble, he could have easily passed off as a twenty-something. Though, he didn’t act like an adult, the words coming out of his mouth extremely childish.
My eyes zeroed in on the loud-mouthed oaf, already forgetting his name. Jester? Casper? No, it was...
“Jasper,” I said, his name finally coming back to me, “you can leave too if you’re going to speak that way in my class.”
He pushed up, his glare making me take a step back, the boy a lot scarier than Dante. He grabbed his bag and lumbered towards the door, disappearing out it. I shook my head, thinking Beverly was right about how many kids I would send out.
Gathering my composure, I headed for the front of the class, hoping this was just a rough start to an otherwise brilliant year.
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