Instructor: Maysan Haydar
"I don't understand why you keep getting into these fights," sighed David Logans as he placed another bandage on his student's bruised cheek. He grabbed an alcohol pad from the first aid kit and began tending to the next wound. "What happened this time?"
"The guy was asking for it," Tommy mumbled angrily. "Should've stopped bothering me the first time I said it," he winced as David wiped at the cut on his forehead.
"Who threw the first punch?" asked David.
Tommy looked down and hid his hand in his right pocket, a telltale sign he was lying.
David sighed. The two were in David's office at school after he'd caught Tommy and some other delinquent in a fight behind the Brooksburg Middle School. Most teachers ignored the brawls, especially when Tommy was involved - and most of the time he was - but David felt an obligation to take care of all his students, even the ones who always got in trouble. Tommy wasn't a bad kid, his parents just weren't the best people. In fact, he was quick to learn and a very creative student.
"Tommy, you have so much talent. I've seen you in my class. If you really want to become a writer, I believe in you, just don't waste your potential beating up other people."
Tommy's eyes softened. "Sure, sure, Teach," he smirked.
"...it's Mr. Logans."
"So what was it you wanted to ask me?" Samantha asked.
David looked across the table, into her eyes, then back down at his knees. He'd waited weeks for this moment, from choosing out the perfect ring, to setting up reservations at the diner where they had their first date. He'd made sure everything was perfect for the proposal. All he had to do was say four words - but it was so hard.
"Um-" Now or never, get it done! He eluded himself. "Samantha-"
David's face flushed and his mouth felt dry. Head pounding, he stood up quickly, avoiding Samantha's questioning gaze.
All of the sudden, Samantha's phone began to ring. She checked the caller I.D. "Oh, David, it's my boss! Can I answer this really quick?"
"Yeah, sure, take your time."
While Samantha was talking to her boss, David started questioning himself again. Would Samantha think he was getting ahead of himself? They'd been together for a while now, but what if she didn't feel ready to get married? Who would even want to get married to him? She was way out of his league! His thoughts were interrupted suddenly by Samantha.
"Ack! My boss needs me to cover for a coworker! I'm so sorry, I know you spent so much time preparing for our day off, but I gotta go soon. What was it that you wanted to talk about?" David's heart sank. He'd lost his chance.
"Nothing - I'll see you later."
"Alright, bye!" she exclaimed, oblivious to David's dejection. As he watched her run off in desperate hopelessness, David yearned to call after her.
Not even processing what he was doing, he rapidly walked out of the restaurant. He could hear one of the waiters calling after him as he walked even faster, past bustling crowds and other shops and restaurants, until there were less people and the voices had died down. He slumped down against a building to catch his breath, heart still racing.
"What're you doin' on the ground?"
David looked up to see a tall man looming over him. He looked familiar, almost like someone David knew . . . a previous student?
"Tommy?" David couldn't believe his eyes. Tommy had changed a lot; David wouldn't have even known that the person standing before him was his former student had it not been for that mischievous smirk on Tommy's face that, through all the years, had stayed the same. Tommy's appearance was a stark contrast to how he looked back in junior high. His previously messy black hair was neatly trimmed and slicked back, his old, rumpled clothes replaced by a clean button-down and shiney leather shoes.
"Hey, Teach, how's it going?" Tommy grinned as David huffed.
"It's Mr. Logans."
"Aw, c'mon, we're both adults now - it's fine!"
"You need to call me that for the rest of your life to make up for every time you were in detention, young man," David teasingly said. "So what brings you here? I thought you were in New York, working for that press company."
"Well actually…" Pulling out a green covered book from behind his back, Tommy handed the volume to David. He eyed it questioningly, looking at Tommy for an explanation. "I'm back here to attend a publishing event," he explained, pointing at the bottom of the cover, where his name was embossed. "Pretty sweet, huh?"
"Wow! Tommy!" David exclaimed excitedly. "That's wonderful! I can't believe one of my very own students has become a writer. When's it coming out?"
"Tomorrow actually - I wanted you to be the first to read it, since, y'know, you're the one that helped me start writing, and it'd mean a lot."
David smiled. "I'd be honored."
"...and that's the new English room," David gestured toward the room as Tommy peered inside. For an hour now, he'd been giving Tommy a tour of all the renovations in the middle school since his graduation. There had been a lot of changes in the years Tommy had been gone.
"Where did the chalkboard go?"
"They replaced it with a digital board - see, over there." He pointed at a large touchscreen on the wall. "It's like a chalkboard, tape
player, and a computer all in one," he chuckled.
Tommy looked wistfully at the halls. "So much has changed," he muttered.
The two spent the rest of the day touring their town, reminiscing over the past. Eventually, they stopped by the park.
"So what've you been up to lately?' Tommy asked David. "Are there any interesting students? Any projects you've been working on? Have you gotten married yet?"
David groaned at the last question, slumping over a swing.
"What's wrong?" asked Tommy.
David blushed in embarrassment. "Well, there is this woman."
"We've been together for a couple years now, and I was actually going to propose today." David covered his face with his hands. "But I completely blew it."
"Aw, I'm sure it's fine."
"I hope so." The two sat on the swings in silence for a while.
"Hey, Teach," Tommy said suddenly, looking down and avoiding David's eyes. "Can I ask you something?"
"Go for it."
"It's just - I'm not sure about my book."
"What if people don't like it?" his eyes met David's, the anxiousness etched into his face. "What if you don't like it?"
David looked at his student. Although time had passed and the two were both much older, he could still see the resemblance between the unsure child he'd taught and the grown man that he'd become. "Tommy, I believe in you," he started, "but what's more important is that you believe in yourself."
Tommy smiled a genuine smile, just for a second. Then his smile morphed into the mischievous smirk. "I could say the same for you," he jokingly retorted back. David rolled his eyes.
"Oh, I should get going!" Checking his watch, Tommy slipped out of the swings and started out of the park. "Bye, Teach!"
"And make sure you visit me sometime!" David called back.
Tommy put his hand in his right pocket and turned back to face him. "I will!"
David had no plans to return to his shared apartment with Samantha after what had happened earlier that day, so instead he started reading Tommy's book. When he opened the first page, he saw the acknowledgement page directed toward him.
Thanks for always believing in me, Teach.
"It's Mr. Logans," David laughed, feeling a bittersweet sense of nostalgia.
David tried reading to keep his mind off how badly he messed up that morning, but he couldn't stop thinking about what Tommy had said to him. "I could say the same for you." Maybe Tommy had been joking, but he wasn't completely wrong either. Believe in yourself, David thought to himself. He stood up.
I'm going to do it.
"David?" Samantha looked at him curiously. He'd ran as fast as he could to their apartment. He was panting, face flushed, not just from the running but also the nervousness of what he was about to do.
"Samantha!" he shouted, flinching as the sound came out louder than he'd intended. His eyes gazed into hers. "I-I messed this up this morning, but let me start over! I love you! I want to spend the rest of my life with you! You're the most amazing woman in the world, and it'd make me the happiest man in the world if you married me! Will you marry me, Samantha?"
Samantha's eyes filled with tears.
It was the happiest night of David's life. He was so glad he'd proposed to Samantha, and even more glad that she said yes. He wanted to thank Tommy, to let him know about the news, and to wish him good luck on his event tomorrow.
Opening up his laptop, David typed Tommy's name into the search bar. Tommy Serrano - 346,000 results. David scrolled through the web page, looking for his email in the articles. He'd scrolled past one article, "Two Men and Woman Killed in Car Accident'' before noticing the title. David's eyes widened. He quickly clicked on the link, taking him to a news page dated to yesterday's newspaper.
In the pictures there displayed a large picture of a red car that had suffered a huge blow. With it, there were three other pictures - two people David didn't recognize, and one of - no. No no no no no. It didn't make sense! He'd been with Tommy just hours ago. There was no way he'd passed away yesterday! He skimmed the article quickly. It was said to be a road rage accident. Serrano had swerved suddenly and was smashed to the side of a highway. He and Smith were killed on impact, and Bethany Houser was sent to the ICU. Unfortunately they all passed away. The picture of Tommy illuminated his computer screen and David's eyes welled up at the sight of his smiling student - still with the mischievous smirk.
He grabbed Tommy's book, flipping to the page with Tommy's message.
There was a line below that he missed:
"Thanks for always believing in me, Teach.
Sorry I never had the guts to publish it."
David choked out a sob.
"...it's Mr. Logans."