Back to School

Back to School

I’m told there’s a way on the FPMP-issued smartphone to tailor my alerts so that I know who’s dinging me. That level of customization is way beyond my ability. Plus, if it were up to me, I’d set the thing so it didn’t make any sounds at all…and then I’d lock it in my trunk for good measure. Unfortunately, my job requires me to be reachable by a select few people. That meant I had to deal with the occasional ding.

The cannery stays pretty cool in the summer, at least downstairs, but it was a humid Chicago August where you'd be lucky not to melt your shoes walking across the blacktop. I was struggling fruitlessly with a particularly stubborn ice cube tray when the ding came.

My phone was face-down on the counter. I grabbed it, fumbled it with frozen fingers, and barely caught myself from dropping it to the floor.

Back to School extravaganza—50% off select backpacks and lunchboxes!

Already, I was regretting not assigning my work contacts their own ding. I’d get right on that. Just as soon as I pried a cube of ice out of the world's grabbiest tray. I banged it on the counter, cursed it out, and banged it some more. And as I was wondering exactly how much pummeling our 1980s Formica countertop could withstand, Jacob strolled into the kitchen, thumbing through a fat stack of junk mail. "Run it under the faucet," he said without bothering to look up.

I could, but then my cubes would be all watery. I slammed the tray a few more times, then said, "I don't know where half the junk on my phone is coming from. I never sign up for anything.”

“How did we end up with the coaster of the month subscription?”

“Well, aside from that. I mean, Back to School—it's freaking everywhere. Billboards and TV commercials and radio. I can't turn around without someone reminding me—”

“That summer's over?" Jacob glanced up from the junk mail and gave me a sultry, knowing smile. He's a knockout when he smiles, and he never fails to use it to his advantage. His dark eyes glittered and the corner of his lips curved suggestively. "Since when do you like summer?”

Damn it. “I don't, and you know it. It's just ridiculous to get pestered about Back to School at the height of August—”

“Actually, it's September.”

“—but here I am, minding my own business, in my own home, bombarded with this crap that has nothing at all to do with me."

Jacob lowered the mail and scrutinized me more closely. There’s nothing he likes more than digging down to the heart of the matter. Especially when it involves analysis that leaves him looking particularly clever.

“You want to go back to school?” he suggested.

Good God, no. “What I want….” I glared at the phone. It helpfully opened the App Market. I sighed and turned it face-down again. “What I want is to get away from the constant reminder that I’m completely out of sync with the rest of the world. Ads, day in, day out, and none of them have even the slightest bit of relevance. I don’t want to create my own website—the FPMP says I can’t be online. It’s Miller Time? Not when it ramps up the ghosts. And Back to School….”

I hadn’t even finished high school, thanks to the overeager psychiatrists who made me trade my Sunny D for thorazine.

“Listen.” Jacob set the mail on the counter beside my phone. He took the ice cube tray from me, tossed it into the sink, then snugged up against my back and covered my hands with his. When he threaded our fingers together, his hands felt comfortingly big and warm. “It’s not just you. On my way home, I was pestered to change my car insurance when I’m perfectly happy with the one I have, switch to a natural diet for my nonexistent dog, and get my associate’s degree in medical transcription for a job I don’t want. I’m not trying to minimize your experience.” He stroked his fingers up the backs of my hands, then down again. “Just pointing out that advertisers are taking random aim, and anyone can feel like a square peg.”

My phone dinged—again—and it was tempting to start giving it the same counter-slam treatment I’d been using on the ice cube tray. But it turned out to be a text from Director Kim asking me to call at my earliest convenience. And since I wanted to stay in her good graces, I responded.

“I know it’s your day off,” she began, “and this is by no means mandatory. But there’s a symposium on extrasensory shielding that had an unexpected cancellation, and the first person I thought of was you.”

Jacob had his forehead pressed into my hair, eavesdropping shamelessly, and I swore I could feel him smile against the back of my head. Not that he enjoys proving me wrong—not as much as he does with most people. But he doesn’t mind it when fate conspires to hold up a mirror and prove I’ve been torturing myself with the retelling of a stale, shitty story for no good reason.

Back to School might not evoke sentimental memories of sharpening new pencils and choosing the right Trapper-Keeper, but I still had plenty to learn.

“It’s fine,” I told Laura. There was really nothing on the docket but picking out new ice cube trays. “I’ll go.”

“That’s a relief,” she said brightly. “I thought you might have a thing about public speaking.”

I craned my neck to shoot a “what the hell?” look at Jacob, and he answered with a baffled shrug.

I said, “I wasn’t aware there was speaking involved.”

Laura gave a tight laugh as if she seriously thought I was kidding, but felt obligated to acknowledge my bad joke anyhow. “If you need a PowerPoint, find Jose in Marketing and he’ll set you up—although I don’t think anyone expects A/V on such short notice. A twenty-minute talk with time for Q&A should be fine. And, face it, most people are so excited to see a real live Medium, everything else is icing on top. Just be yourself.”

I would’ve had a big chuckle over that…if I wasn’t utterly horrified.

Laura signed off, and less than a second later, my phone dinged with a helpful map to the lecture hall. Great. Now I couldn’t even claim I was lost.

Jacob said, “There’s time to go pick out a new briefcase, if that’ll make you feel better. Never underestimate the power of a briefcase to make you feel official. Plus…I’m sure they’re on sale.”

“No thanks. I think I’ll just stand here and quietly freak out.”

He turned me around to face him and nuzzled my neck. I considered informing him that no amount of fondling would get a rise out of me, not while I was processing the thought of standing up in front of a crowd of psych enthusiasts and acting like I knew what I was talking about. But then his tongue danced across the skin just below my ear, and a promising tingle eked its way through the panic.

I’m such a sucker for the neck.

“So…” Jacob said playfully against the wetness. “You’re not gonna ride me for putting the moves on you at a time like this?”

I gave his upper thigh a companionable bump with my crotch. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t. Remember—I know all about your fetish for teachers.”

 

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Back to School © 2018 by Jordan Castillo Price. 
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