Friday, December 15, 2017

Casting Doubt: The Academy # 3 (Baxter Academy Series ~ The Academy) (Baxter Academy ~ The Academy)

Deirdre O’Brien had briefly met Jesse Tinley, an art instructor at the Baxter Academy of Arts, one Sunday afternoon in November. After returning to classes at Vassar, Deirdre could not stop thinking about him. When spring break arrives, she knows exactly who she wants to spend it with.

Jesse Tinley was immediately attracted to Deirdre O’Brien, but they only had an afternoon together. Even though he’d like for there to be more, he knows it’s not possible. Deidre’s still in college and he has two jobs and a son. When Deidre shows up in his studio the first day of Spring break, he begins to hope for more.

Unfortunately, any romance could be snuffed out before it has a chance to begin. All because of a babysitter named Larry.

This is an expanded version of the short story that appeared in the “Fifty Ways to Kill Your Larry” box set.

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Casting Doubt
 Copyright © 2015 by Jane Charles


      Taking a deep breath and wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans, I round the corner and step onto the square. I don’t want to seem obvious so I pretend I’m out for a stroll and doing a little window shopping, just in case I happen run into him. Not that I expect to, but I’m still nervous.
It’s crazy, I know. Nobody is paying attention to me. A few of the shops hold my interest and if I wasn’t intent on my main goal, I would have probably gone inside.  It’s a beautiful spring day and a number of people are out and about. Especially teenagers, enjoying their first day of Spring Break. It’s odd that the first day is a Wednesday, but from what I understand, the public schools in the district only used two snow days of the seven planned, plus they begin the school year two weeks earlier than everyone else because they’ve always gone over in snow days. Now they’re ahead of schedule. Since ending school early would mess with end of school year activities, like award banquets, prom, spring musical and graduation, they extended Spring Break by three days to give the kids, and teachers, a longer vacation before the final push.
My Spring Break began yesterday at exactly three o’clock when I learned that my Wednesday morning classes were cancelled because both professors were sick. There’s a nasty flu on campus and I was ready to get out of there before I got sick too. As for my Thursday classes, one professor has been sick, another offered up homework in exchange for not attending class, and a third had already cancelled because they had an early flight to Jamaica. It’s been a long, tough semester, with half of the student body and a good number of the professors coming down with the flu in the last few weeks, some developing pneumonia, that we all just need to go somewhere else not so germ-filled. And, since I don’t have any classes on Friday, I packed and came home last night.  
My friends are headed to the beach. I could go, but I’m really not in the mood for a week of partying. Okay, I could be in the mood, but I don’t exactly have the money. I’m probably the poorest student attending Vassar. Not that I care all that much, but a number of my friends and roommates just don’t get that I can’t just charge whatever I want, whenever I want, simply because it’s something I want.
Besides, since this past winter, I’ve been waiting for the moment when I can run into Jesse Tinley. I met him last November and we spent a pleasant afternoon before Thanksgiving at Sullivan’s Pub. Something clicked that day, and I’m not sure what it was or if I was the only one who felt an immediate connection between us. I did come by his studio during winter break, but by the time I got to town he’d already closed down and wouldn’t be opening back up until after the first of the year. I considered trying to find out his home address, but that seemed rather stalkerish. And, it isn’t like we made plans to see each other ever again.
I did try to find him on one of the many social media sites, but he isn’t anywhere to be found. I thought there would at least be a website or Facebook page for his studio, but nothing. If Alexia, the art teacher who works with Jesse and lives with my brother, Kian, hadn’t mentioned him in passing, I’d wonder if I imagined meeting Jesse. But, I had, and it’s an afternoon that has stayed with me. I can’t stop thinking about him and I need to know if there really was a connection, for lack of better description, or if I simply imagined it.
Not that I intend on getting involved with anyone at this point in my life. I’ve still got two years and six weeks of school left. That’s hard enough without being in a relationship. Yet, I can’t ignore what I feel and until I talk to Jesse again, it’s going to bug me and I’ll always wonder what if.
His gallery door is open and my heartbeat increases. I was only in here for a minute last time, when Jesse stopped in to let his employee know that the two of us would be at Sullivan’s.  The teenage girl had given me a nasty look. I remember working retail and wanting to get out of the store as soon as possible. Especially when there were no customers. She probably wasn’t happy about being stuck there while the owner went off for a beer.
Taking another deep breath, I step inside and glance around. Paintings cover the walls. Those had not been there before. It adds a cheeriness to the place. On different stands are various ceramic work and sculptures. These are Jesse’s. Or, at least I assume they are. He is a potter and sculptor and teaches ceramics at Baxter Academy of Art in the afternoon. Baxter is not a public school, but privately run. The school year runs from the first Monday after July 4th to May 31st, with a one week break in September, December and March or April, only because they try to have the same mid-year breaks as the public school. They will go through Friday though because Baxter doesn’t concern themselves with snow days since they easily meet the state requirement of school days.
“May I help you?”
The same girl who was here last November is standing by the counter. Her break from high school just started and already she’s working. That must suck.
At least I know Jesse isn’t around. He should be at school and as much as I’m hoping to run into him, I don’t expect to and consider this more of a practice of how I’m going to “bump” into him unexpectedly. “I’m just looking.”
“Well, let me know if you need anything.” She steps forward and frowns. “Do I know you?”
“I was in here last year, right before Thanksgiving.”
Her eyes harden. “With Jesse.”
“Well, I hope you don’t want to see him now because he’s too busy.”
I hadn’t even planned on asking. I was nervous enough coming in here. I’m certainly not bold enough to ask to about him. That is the whole point of hoping to run into him. Though not well planned, I was going to look over the displays and think about purchasing something then come back Friday when I assume Jesse will be around. Or, maybe later this afternoon, after school has been released.
“Larry?” Jesse’s voice calls from the back.
Shit! What’s he doing here now?
The young woman grits her teeth before answering. “Just a minute, Jesse.” Her tone is all sweetness and light despite the quick irritation that swept across her face.
“Do you know where we put the new glazes?” His voice is louder, like he’s coming nearer. My palms begin to sweat all over again.
“I’ll get them,” she calls back before turning an indulgent smile on me. “Jesse would be lost without me.”
“Oh, I didn’t know we had a customer.” His eyes meet mine as he steps from the back and a smile comes to his face. “Deirdre?”
He remembers me. Yes!
“What are you doing here?” He wipes his hands on a towel as he saunters forward.
Damn, he’s just as hot as he was back at Thanksgiving. Straight, light brown hair, longer than most guys wear it, with a smile full of promise and hypnotizing green eyes.
I shrug, trying to act nonchalant and praying he can’t read my mind. “Just out and about, shopping along the square.”
“I’m glad you stopped in.” He hitches his hip against a display counter, completely comfortable with himself. “How’s school going?”
“I couldn’t wait for Spring Break if that tells you anything.”
He laughs, revealing straight white teeth. Brown hair falls over his eyes and with a slight jerk of his head, it’s gone again. “Want a cup of coffee?”
“Oh, no. I’m sure you’re busy.” At least that’s what Larry had said. Really, her name is Larry?
“Not at all. Just organizing the back. Larry can keep an eye on the place.”
He turns toward the back and gestures.
“Laurentia,” she corrects him in a teasing tone then looks at me. “Larry was fine when I was little, but Laurentia, suits me much better now that I’m no longer a child.”
“Sorry. I keep forgetting.” Jesse rolls his eyes behind Larry’s back.
Laurentia simply giggles. “Just don’t forget again.” There is a teasing tone in her voice that is better suited for someone much older.
“Take care of the shop, will ya?”
“Of course.” She smiles lovingly at him “Just don’t be long.” The hair stands up on the back of my neck.
“Let me know when you want to go to lunch.” Jesse barely looks at her as he gestures to the back of his shop. “I need to be out of here by twelve-thirty.”
Does Jesse even realize Larry has a major crush on him?


I was wondering if I’d ever see Deirdre O’Brien again. I’ve wanted to, but she is way out of my league—a Vassar student working on her cognitive science degree. I’m not even sure what you do with a degree like that. She’s also only twenty. Not that that’s too young. But, I’ll be twenty-five in a few months. I’m done with school and have a nine-month-old son. She doesn’t know that and I was careful not to let it slip during our one conversation.  Nothing sends a pretty, single girl running quicker than a guy with a baby. At least that’s been my experience.
I grab two cups and pour the coffee. “Shopping for anything special?”
She shrugs. “Not really. Wandering around is more like it.”
“Staying with your brother?” Kian, her brother, is a deputy and liaison to the school I teach at. He lives with the other art teacher, Alexia.
“Yep.” She takes the cup of coffee. “Thanks.”
“Do you need cream, sugar?” Shit, I hope she doesn’t want cream. I only have milk and that’s upstairs.
“Just black.”
“I didn’t think you’d be here. Alexia already went to school.”
Damn. I hoped she’d stopped in to see me. Guess not. Still, I’m glad I was here. “I’m only part-time,” I explain. “Alexia has taken on more of the administrative duties for the department, which I’m glad, because I don’t need to close the gallery in the morning to take care of paperwork at Baxter.”
Her light-brown eyebrows draw together. “Part-time?”
Shit, now she’s going to think I’m a looser. An artist with a shop that does mediocre business with a part-time teaching position. “Academics are in the morning at Baxter. Art classes in the afternoon. I teach from one until school is out. Three classes each day.”
“So, you need to close shop every afternoon?”
“Usually,” I answer. “I don’t get much traffic in the hours between lunch and supper anyway, so it’s not that big of deal.”
Deirdre’s frowning now. I wish I knew what she was thinking.
“That’s a shame that you can’t be open all the time.”
I shrug. “Maybe someday I’ll hire someone older than Larry who can be here. Until then, I do what I can.” Besides, it’s not just the shop and teaching I need to worry about. Not that I tell Deirdre about my other obligations. Nor is it a hardship, but I kind of like how my schedule is because it does free me for the more important things in my life. “Besides, I can work back here when I don’t have customers, so it’s a win-win situation.” Between teaching, the gallery and everything else, I have little time for ceramics and sculpting these days. As much as I wish the gallery was bustling in the morning, the quietness gives me time to do what I really love. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting down with the clay until eight at night and by that time I just want to veg in front of the television until I haul my ass off to bed a ten.
Sometimes I feel more like I’m seventy than twenty-four, but since I get woken every morning around five, I need to get to bed early. At least, I’m back to sleeping through the night without interruption, so there is that. Thank goodness.
”So, is this your break week?”
“No.” Deirdre grins.
Is she skipping school in the middle of the week? Why else would she be in town? “It’s not until next week but the teachers are either sick or giving us a break, and I got out of there as soon as I could. I don’t have to be back until a week from Monday.”
I grin at her. If she’s going to be in town, my Spring Break may be better than I anticipated. Though I’d planned on spending it working to replace some of the pieces I’ve sold and to fill the empty spots on the shelves in the gallery, spending time with Deirdre would be a lot more fun.
What the hell am I thinking? She’s just out wandering around and wasn’t expecting to see me. She probably went into other shops on the square but I’m the only one who offered her coffee.
I open my mouth to see if she wants to get dinner tonight or maybe lunch tomorrow, since Larry is already working, when a cry comes from upstairs. I wince and all hope of seeing Deirdre again all but disappears. 

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