Liese turned to see a tall slip of a woman slide into the seat beside her. Her short blond hair was cut into a straight-edged bob, and thick-framed, funky glasses perched on her nose. “Don’t tell me he’s already trying to recruit you to help him with one of his plays. Don’t do it. Blake is a perfectionist pain in the ass. You’d think he was running Broadway or something with his diva attitude.” Authenticity was absent in her warning. She gave Liese a warm smile. “I’m Emily Captain. I teach art and art history.”
“Liese Harper, the new librarian.” She took Emily’s outstretched hand.
“Don’t listen to anything this one says.” Blake brushed off Emily’s comment. She retaliated by flicking a paperclip at him. Theirs seemed to be a long-standing friendship.
Conversation turned to summer holidays and start-up plans for the fall, with more teachers joining the table as it drew closer to nine o’clock.
Emily flipped through her package and turned it around to Blake. “Have you seen this? They haven’t tried to outlaw it, but they sure are making it a big deal.”
Highlighted by bright yellow paper was a photocopied article on workplace harassment issues, including a bolded section on inter-collegial dating.
Blake scoffed. “I bet this is because of that principal in Berks County.”
“What principal?” Liese asked.
“The one who got caught having an affair with a teacher,” Emily explained.
“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an affair. Neither one of them was married, from what I read, so that makes it a relationship.” Blake noted as he flipped through the pages of the orientation package.
He appeared uninterested in the topic, and Liese looked surreptitiously at Ryder. Her thoughts turned to the slew of images her best friend had been sending since Liese had accepted the position at FAHL. She’d gone on endlessly about Ryder’s attributes, both physical and intellectual, and in return, Marissa had indulged her with ridiculously porno-riffic pictures. Liese hadn’t thought it much of an issue until now. However, keeping a folder of doctored images featuring her principal might not be the most ethical practice.
“Whatever. Relationship, affair, it doesn’t matter either way.” Emily gave him a withering look and turned to Liese. “Can you even imagine?”
“Teachers date each other all time,” Blake replied, gesturing to the yellow sheet in front of him.
“That’s different,” Emily said.
Emily ignored him and turned her attention to Liese. “I heard the principal was transferred to an inner-city school, and the teacher has gone on the substitute list and can’t get a contract anywhere. It’s all political.”
“They’re consenting adults,” Blake countered. “Personally, I would never date a colleague because it’s a recipe for disaster. But I don’t care what anyone else does, just so long as I don’t find them doing it in the staff room.” He twirled a pen between his fingers. “I think the whole thing is ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous or not, two careers have been ruined because of it.” Emily lowered her voice further. “And I think you’re full of crap. You would’ve dated that history sub last year if she’d shown some interest.”
“Are you kidding me? Never. She wasn’t my type.” Blake wrinkled his nose. “Come on, Liese, you must have an opinion on this—”
Caught up in the sudden image of her and Ryder going at it on this very table, Liese sputtered. Before she’d recovered enough to comment, Ryder stepped to the front of the room.
His voice carried above the din, and conversation ceased as soon as he uttered a word. “Good morning and welcome.” All eyes moved to where he stood, posture relaxed. But for all his approachability, Liese could see and feel the way his presence commanded the staff’s attention.
He scanned the crowd while everyone waited silently for him to continue. When his eyes caught hers, she felt a flush of embarrassment reach her cheeks. The corner of his mouth lifted slightly before he cleared his throat and addressed the faculty. Liese leafed through her package as he spoke to avoid staring. Compelling and articulate, his charismatic presence made it nearly impossible to tear her eyes away from him. The smooth cadence of his voice made even the driest of school protocols seem riveting. She even stopped imagining him naked for a few minutes, she became so enraptured.
At the end of the meeting, the principal formally introduced both new staff members, which meant she had to stand up and address everyone. Though she spoke for just a moment, for Liese, wearing a wool thong to a marathon seemed comfortable in comparison. She was relieved when the staff began to disperse and chat amongst themselves, and the colleagues at her table invited her for a drink later in the afternoon. She readily accepted, eager for the security that came with a group of friendly peers.
Ryder approached her as she gathered her things. “Any questions?”
“Probably a million, but none I can think of right now.” She smiled.
“If you think of anything, you know how to get in touch with me. In the meantime, I’ll forward you the list of potential advisors, and we can discuss who would be an appropriate match.”
“Thanks. That would be wonderful.” Liese had no idea what he meant by potential advisors. She must have zoned out during that part. She made a mental note to review the package to ensure she hadn’t missed other crucial points.
Over the weeks that followed, Liese found she meshed well with the staff at FAHL, as Ryder had been confident she would. She had only two issues: first, even after Blake finally explained the role of a teacher advisor, Liese still hadn’t managed to settle on a candidate from the list the principal provided. There were plenty of seasoned colleagues to choose from, but her unique position made it difficult to find someone who fit her needs. By mid-October she still hadn’t made a decision.
Well, perhaps she had, but the one person she felt would be perfect for the role was the one she couldn’t ask. That person was also issue number two. Liese couldn’t contain her growing infatuation with Ryder Whitehall. The more she learned about him, the more alluring he became. And he made himself freely available to her as she settled into her new position; he was always there to answer questions and provide reassurance. Combine that with his admirable background in education and his authoritative, no-nonsense demeanor, and she practically melted whenever he came near her.