Orientation (Benchmarks #2) - Kate Canterbary



Late, late, late, late, late. How the hell am I this late?

If you asked my mother, she'd tell you I did this in varying degrees every year. She'd say it started in preschool, right around the time I was able to fully comprehend the notion of a new school year. I'd stalk the mailbox for my teacher assignment. I'd stay awake for days at a time, agonizing over which friends might be in my class. Lists upon lists of school supplies. An entire week was earmarked for breaking in shoes, trying on outfits, loading and unloading my backpack, timing my morning get-ready routine.

She'd say my fits of new school year fastidiousness were the product of my perfectionism, my Type A personality, my anxious disposition. Even at four years old, I'd possessed all three the way I'd possessed my skin and bones and blood.

If you asked me, I'd say the first days of school neuroses were passed down to me like a vintage pair of penny loafers. My mother was a teacher. She'd spent thirty years—and counting—in the company of Portsmouth, New Hampshire's fourth graders and no one was more high-strung come the end of summer than her. And that was a noteworthy feat considering my divorce attorney sister was a lifelong insomniac who survived on little more than iced coffee, Twizzlers, and the souls of those fools who dared to cross her.

Regardless of the origin of my issues, they were mine and they visited every August, but they didn't look the same these days. At twenty-nine years old, I still obsessed over class rosters and supply lists and morning routines. The hunt for the perfect pair of school shoes never ended. Now, my obsessions included taking apart my curriculum and putting it back together in an order that pleased me, organizing and reorganizing my classroom, and running an entire quarter's worth of copies before the first day of school.

And, apparently, showing up late for the start of teacher in-service at my new school.

"Seriously. How the hell did I manage this?" I mumbled as I slammed the car door shut and sprinted toward the building. In Boston's soupy August heat, I knew running in my trousers, green gingham shirt, and funky tie meant I'd be sweaty and wrinkled before reaching the door. But then again—"Where the hell is the door?"

I skittered to a stop where I'd expected to find the main entrance. Instead of a handful of stairs and gleaming double doors, I found a pile of jackhammered rubble, plywood, and caution tape. No detour sign in sight.

I couldn't stomach another look at the time, instead swiveling my head from side to side in search of an alternative entry point. For lack of a better option, I headed toward the bus lane. I didn't remember enough of the building floor plan from my interview back in April to know where I was going, but after teaching in five different buildings over the past seven years, I knew there was always a door near the bus lane.

With every step, my jittery mind created increasingly ridiculous horror stories. Cutting through the in-progress meeting while my new colleagues watched me search for an empty seat like the sad fool who couldn't keep it professional for a single day. Finding my way into the building only to discover I had the date wrong, much to the annoyance of the school secretary. Having to climb in through a window and managing to come crashing down on the principal's desk. Sitting through a perfectly lovely professional development session only to get fired at the end of the day because I was incapable of arriving at work on time.

"Hey there."

"H-Hey," I stammered. I closed my fingers around the strap of my messenger bag as I glanced up at the wide slab of man in front of me. In the back of my mind—the section not consumed with keeping my job—I knew this man was all of my favorite things. Tall and broad, bronzed like a statue, and a smile so bright it rivaled the sun.

I was none of those things. I refused to speculate whether that made them my favorites.

"Need some help?" he asked.

My gaze landed on his polo shirt. Specifically, the way it hugged his shoulders as if testing the fabric's limits. The school crest was embroidered over his heart and that was a wonderful invitation to eye-fondle his chest. A ball cap shadowed his eyes, but I was certain he was blond underneath it. The golden fuzz