Next Time I Fall by Ella Spade
I’m walking around the town square window shopping and enjoying the warm weather. I don’t really need anything, but it’s nice to be out and about on the weekend. The fresh spring air makes me breathe deeper and it clears my head from the busy week of work and school.
“Hi, Amanda. Such a nice day, isn’t it?”
I turn when I hear my name, a little surprised that anyone is speaking to me as I wander around the quaint town. I turn to see Beth, the high school admin assistant. She’s the one who keeps everything in order—from the students to the teachers. Nothing ever gets by Beth and we appreciate all she does to keep everything running smoothly.
“Oh, hi there, Beth. It’s good to see you.” I smile at her, happy to see someone I know.
“And you, too! What are you up to today?” Beth has an arm full of shopping bags and it’s clear she’s been supporting the local economy.
“Oh, just some window shopping. Enjoying the warm weather, really. Looks like you’ve done some damage to your pocketbook.” I chuckle and gesture to the armful of bags she’s carrying.
“Well, yes. Seems those kids of mine grow out of their clothes about every other week. They cost us a damn fortune. But what are you gonna do?”
I nod in agreement. “I hear kids are expensive, but mostly worth it.”
She laughs out loud. “Mostly. That’s a good way to put it.” She shakes her head and takes a step away from me. “Hope you have a good afternoon, Amanda.”
“You, too! See you Monday.”
I take a deep breath of the clean air and glance after Beth as she walks away. She’s a nice woman, we just don’t really have anything in common except that we work at the same place.
I suddenly wish I’d worked harder at making friends. I see people walking around and most everyone has a companion. They’re all talking and laughing in the picturesque town tucked quietly into the lush landscape. I’ve only been in Oak Valley for a few months, but if I’d bothered to come out of my shell a little bit I probably wouldn’t feel lonely.
But I do.
Maybe that’s why I don’t exactly love living here. Despite being at Oak Valley High since the start of the school year as the new physical education teacher, I haven’t made any friends. Sure, the other teachers are polite, but there aren’t that many of us, and most have been here for years if not decades. The weird tall chick who towers over a lot of the male staff—including the principal—scares people off.
It’s always been this way for me. I hit five-foot-nine at twelve and was six feet by fourteen. Talk about awkward. I was bullied mercilessly all through middle school until I tried out for the girls’ basketball team. That was what finally changed my fortune. I’d always been athletic, and dribbling down a court and making layups came naturally to me. For the first time since elementary school, I was accepted and had people who understood me.
Who liked my company.
I existed to play, to fight the other team tooth and nail, to win. It felt awesome on every level to no longer have my height be my weakness. I went from hearing, “Hey, how’s the weather up there?” and “Pick up my pencil for me, giraffe girl,” to “Hey, want to play HORSE in my driveway?” And even, “Amanda, will you go out with me?”
Yes, I did, and yes, I would.
When I went to the University of Connecticut on a sports scholarship, I thought I had it made. I ate, drank, and breathed basketball all day, every day. I even had my eyes firmly centered on a career in the WNBA. The world was my oyster.
But it isn’t anymore.
Not at all.
Internally sighing, I continue my meandering journey down Main Street. The square is exactly that. Four streets making the sides with a tiny park in the middle with trees and benches. Across from me is the courthouse with its neo-classical atrium. It’s an impressive building that takes up almost the whole block.
I keep walking and finally stop at Statements. They always have an irresistible display of handcrafted jewelry in the window and I always have to stop and look. A few weeks ago I bought a pair of sea glass and silver earrings that I absolutely love. I might be a bit of a tomboy with a sports background, but I do love pretty things like jewelry. I almost go in, but I’m not really in the mood to shop for real today. Window shopping is just fine for now and I keep strolling.
Crossing the street at the corner, The Creative Gallery is my next distraction opportunity. As I’m loitering outside this gallery on the sidewalk, I notice the landscapes in the window. They’re vibrant and interesting, and since I’ve never actually come in here before, I change my mind about shopping. The glass door opens silently as I step inside.
The inside smells strongly of acrylics, which is logical, but what draws my attention is the truly boring collection of abstract canvases in one corner. Standing next to them is a man with coal-black hair. I pay him no mind as I focus elsewhere.
What’s the purpose of abstract art, anyway? I’ve never been able to wrap my head around it. Brushstrokes and splatters just spit out on the surface. Why? If a painting isn’t of anything, then why create it?
My soft-soled kicks make no sound as I tip my head sideways to study wall upon wall of regular artwork. These other canvases make much more sense to me. Flowers and portraits. Countrysides and seascapes. A dog and a large-mouth bass. A mallard in flight. A cat snoozing on a stump.
And then come the charcoal nudes. They’re downright sexy. The curve of a hip or the roundness of a breast. The ripples and veins of a flexed bicep. The flawless set of muscular pecks over the ladder of a six-pack of abs. The V that leads down to the fine curly hairs that float above a shadowy groin. Still, there’s the faintest outline of the shape of his manhood.
Is it too hot in here? Because… damn.
A woman enters with the click-clack of sharp high heels and, a little embarrassed, I scoot away from the nudes section, pronto.
Only after I’ve done it do I think about how silly I’m being. There’s nothing whatsoever shameful about the human body. But Connecticut is a place where sex and especially bawdiness isn’t openly discussed. Not that I consider myself repressed; I’m a grown woman who isn’t a virgin and hasn’t been for a decade. But having sex and being okay with staring at it in public are two very different sets of parameters.
This is no doubt why my complexion feels hot. So, I stray to the far side, near those bland abstracts. Maybe if I gawk at them long enough, I’ll start to see the appeal. Eh, probably not, but I shuffle over there anyway. I’m peering more at my feet as I attempt to cool off my face, and I don’t notice that I’m knocking into someone until I make contact and hear a tight, “Humph…”
An apology is already on my lips—I swear, I’m not normally clumsy—when a pair of sultry onyx eyes slide up my torso, slither past my not-that-impressive chest, skitter along the column of my throat, and eventually meet my gaze. He’s forced to tip his chin upward to do this because I’m taller than he is.
Of course I am.
This happens to me a lot. Still, this man isn’t someone I’d ever call petite. He’s only about an inch or so shorter than I am, with all that black, wavy hair and a covering of light beard scruff, the kind that happens when a guy skips a day of shaving. He has a lean build, but he’s fit; I can tell that he has defined muscles even through the short-sleeved Henley he’s wearing.
The paint on his paintbrush is somewhere between beige and yellow—still boring—and he braces himself on a section of wall between canvases to regain his balance. Nonetheless, he’s hardly moved. I like a man who’s sturdy and not easily toppled. But then he opens his mouth.
“Whoa there, tall girl…”