Cheryl gave me directions to the faculty’s live-in building, and Lorelei asked if she should show me the way, but I gently refused. I didn’t want her to see me being a nosy busybody.
It was a five minute walk between the dorm and the live-in building, which didn’t give me enough time to look through Ericka’s phone. I found a bench in a corner of the campus, took a seat and began thumbing through the phone’s menus. To any passerby, I would look like a girl sending taking a break to send some texts.
This phone kept its messages organized in threads. Most of them were boring stuff, a few back and forth with friends and family. The most recently updated thread contained messages exchanged with a contact named JD, whoever that was. I looked in that thread, and scrolled up a few messages so I wouldn’t have to read backwards.
“Let’s see,” I muttered to myself. “The call ended just after lunch, so....”
And there it was. A message from JD to Ericka at 1:10 PM.
I don’t want things to be ‘over’.
You didn’t have to hang up like that.
This was it. I kept reading.
Please don’t bother me right now.
I’m in the middle of class.
All I said was, I didn’t want to
get married if we couldn’t have
kids. That doesn’t mean I don’t
Why didn’t you think about that
when you proposed to me!?
Things were more optimistic
back then. Everyone thought
home wreckers was gonna be
cured soon, but it wasn’t.
You wanted to marry me on
the CHANCE that we’d be able
to have kids?! You’re such an
ass! Don’t talk to me anymore.
I noticed the next message in the thread was several minutes later, as if they both needed a moment to recover.
I’m sorry Ericka.
I still love you.
I love you too, despite
my better judgment.
So what do we do?
You leave me alone for now
so I can stop texting
in front of my students.
That was the end of the thread. The last message, the one from JD at 2 PM, had been marked as unread until I looked at it.
I closed the phone, and my head hung down. My body felt heavy. It was all I could do to keep my butt on the bench and not hit the ground with my face. I sat there, thinking about what I had just read.
It was a beautiful afternoon. The sun was shining, but a soft breeze blew so it was neither too hot nor too cold. A few puffy clouds dotted the sky, slowly changing shape as they floated by. Wind tugged at the flowers and trees planted around the campus. A few groups of girls walked around, some heading between class and the dorms, while others sat in the central pavilion to study.
I noticed none of this. The lovely day was lost on me, my head churning with the upset lovers.
That’s going to be me. In a decade, I’ll be texting someone I care about, angry because of Homewrecker’s. All while the world withers around me.
It made me want to cry. I looked up, took in a deep breath. I had been sitting on this bench too long. If I were gone much longer, my friends might come looking for me. They would ask questions, and I didn’t want to lie to them. More than that, I didn’t want to have Ericka’s cell phone anymore. I should return it to her so I could forget about those text messages. Maybe I could cry on Lorelei’s shoulder for an hour, and that would make me feel better.
I stood up and started walking, heading for the faculty live-in building. It wasn’t hard to find, since it was the only building on campus that was surrounded by a picket fence. That fence was only waist-high, so it wouldn’t keep anyone out. I guessed it was meant to send a message to the students. The teachers come here to get away from you, so keep out.
Completely ignoring that, I walked through the fence’s opening. The live-in building looked like an apartment block, complete with doors that had fancy metal numbers on them. Cheryl had told me that Ericka was staying in unit 4, but I didn’t have to worry about bothering the wrong teacher. Ericka was the only teacher living on campus this year.
I walked up to the door with a brass number 4 on it, then poked the doorbell. A bing-bong sound rang out.
“Just a second!” came Ericka’s voice from inside. A moment later, the door opened and there was my teacher. She was still wearing the business skirt and vest from earlier, and I again thought how pretty she was. That JD loser didn’t deserve a woman like this. There were millions of men who would throw themselves at Ericka, and she could have her pick of them. If I were ten years older, I wouldn’t hesitate asking her out, kids or no kids.
“Ah.” Ericka smiled, greeting me. “Maggie, it’s you. You brought my phone?”
“Yeah.” I held it up, offered it to her. “Here you go.”
“Thank you. Wait a minute, before you go.” She took the phone, flipped it open and thumbed through the menus. Her expression turned to one of smug satisfaction, and she looked at me like mongoose ready to kill a cobra.
“Busted,” she said.
My insides froze. “What?”
“You read my text messages. Look.” She held her phone to my face, showing me the same message thread. “The last message here? Where JD just says ‘okay?’ I marked that message as unread before I left my phone behind.”
“You... what?” My mouth hung open, and I started shaking.
“Now, don’t worry. I’m not angry. But!” Ericka snapped her phone shut. “You did violate my privacy, and for that you must be punished. Get in here.”
She grabbed me by the shoulder and yanked me inside.
Some primitive part of my brain encouraged me to panic, engage the fight-or-flight response and struggle for dear life. What was she going to do, bend me over her knee and spank me? Whack my hand with a yardstick? Stand me against a wall and chuck erasers at my head for target practice? All the old styles of teacher discipline sounded like imminent possibilities.
The live-in building looked as much like an apartment from the inside as it did from the outside. There was a small living room, dining area and kitchen. A door off to the left led to a bedroom and bathroom. It wasn’t luxurious living by any means, but a small and cozy space for a teacher to call her own after a hard day’s work.
Ericka showed me in, then shut the door and locked it behind me. She gestured toward the loveseat.
“Make yourself comfortable. You want something to drink? I have soda and juice, though I’m going to have a sip of something hard myself.” Ericka walked into the kitchen, rummaging with glasses and bottles.
“N-no,” I said, trying not to fall apart at the joints. “I’m good.”
Ericka came back a minute later, holding a stubby glass that contained an inch of dark liquid, clinking with ice cubes.
“Suit yourself,” she said, taking a seat in an arm chair. “Wow. You look like a battered housewife. Will you relax? I’m not going to hurt you. Sit down.”
Making no sudden movements, I sat on the loveseat. “What did you mean... punished?”
“Hm?” She took a sip from her drink. “Well, you read the messages in my phone. To make amends, you’re going to sit here and talk with me.”
“Talk with you? That’s it?”
“Yep.” Ericka took another sip. “You just forfeited your afternoon. Now spend your precious free time with your boring old teacher, rather than playing with your friends or whatever.”
My free time wasn’t all that precious, considering I spent a mere six hours per day on school. But if she wanted to let me off that easily, I wouldn’t complain.
“What did you want to talk about?” I said.
“What else?” Ericka held her cell phone up. “Why do you think I left this behind?”
“You....” My mind went through the motions, and came to a sad conclusion. “You wanted to talk to someone. About JD.”
“All the other teachers are busy, and rush off campus when their work is done.” Ericka looked away, swirled her drink and let the ice cubes rattle. “And it’s pathetic for a teacher to come crawling to her students for a sympathetic ear. I gambled that one of you would pick up my phone, and I’m surprised. I thought it would be Cheryl. But, who cares? So long as I caught one of you.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I said. “This JD guy is a jerk who doesn’t appreciate you. You should dump him.”
Ericka hmphed, took a sip. “I’ve wanted to. But it’s not that simple. Have you ever been in love, Maggie?”
I didn’t know how to answer. I wanted to say yes, but my feelings might just be a puppy-dog crush. Ericka had so much more life experience. She probably knew more mature forms of love that I had never felt.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Why do you say that? Is there someone...?”
I nodded, but couldn’t look her in the eye.
“And you care about this person,” she said. “Can you say why?”
“Because,” I said. “She’s tall and pretty and smart and she smells good and when she hugs me I go all melty—”
Ericka cut me off by laughing. Her eyes glistened and her bosom bounced.
“She? You’re talking about Lorelei, aren’t you?”
“Ugh.” I fell back onto the loveseat, feeling defeated. “Why am I even here if you know everything already?”
She laughed again. “I can figure you out, Maggie. That’s just because I’ve been there before. I was your age once, and I’ve gone though the stuff you’re going through. But you answered my question. When you love someone, you don’t love them for what they do. You love them for what they are. You care about Lorelei because she’s herself. I love JD because he is what he is.”
“Even if he treats you like crap?” I said.
She nodded, taking another sip. “Even then. That’s why so many girls love the bad boy. They see a young man full of energy and adventurous spirit, and they fall in love with that. It doesn’t matter if the boy does dumb things that hurt them both.”
“Is JD a boy?”
Ericka smiled, watching the ice spin in her glass. “He used to be. We were lucky though. As we grew out of being stupid kids, we realized that we still loved each other.”
“And you wanted to have a family together,” I said. “But Homewrecker’s kind of shot that down.”
“Little did I know that’s the only thing he wanted. Now he says, if we can’t have kids, why go through the effort of getting married? We could just be a monogamous couple, even if there’s no certificate tucked away in the state records office.”
“But you wanted to get married anyway.”
“Not just that.” Ericka rolled her shoulders. “I mean, yes. I want to get married. That’s every little girl’s dream, right? But there’s something more.”
She paused, letting a quiet moment rest on us. She took another sip, and she grimaced at the burn of alcohol. I suspected the look on her face meant more than a stiff drink. Her face spoke of a deeper pain, a pain shared by every person in the world.
“It’s like....” She sighed. “If we don’t get married, it’s like we’re letting Homewrecker’s win.”
I remembered something Ericka had said on the phone.
By that logic, every person on the planet should just become a hermit until humanity dies out.
That was the problem, wasn’t it?
Some said humanity would die in just over a century. Others said the global economy would collapse in a few decades, letting small communities live for only a couple decades more.
I knew the truth, that both of those ideas were far off and unimportant. Homewrecker’s posed a threat right now. Forget about growing old as the race failed. Forget about running out of food and medicine. The worst problem of all stood right in front of us, standing on our toes, this very moment.
The real danger of Homewrecker’s was despair.
I saw it affecting the personal lives of my teacher and the man she wanted for a husband. I would see cases like this for the rest of my life. People knew that their daily work would help no one, that they would never watch the younger generation grow up to take over the world. People would lose hope.
Homewrecker’s would kill humanity much sooner than anyone expected. It would take our passions, our creative drive, our love of work and each other. The spirit of humankind would die long before its flesh did.
The worst part of all was knowing the inevitability of despair. When the world truly and finally comes to an end, what else can a person do?
I left the live-in building late that afternoon, leaving my teacher behind. She told me that she planned on doing paperwork after she relaxed for a bit, but I didn’t believe her. I could only picture her sipping that drink, staring at the wall, trying not to give up as night came on.
I walked back to the dorm, but I felt like my feet were floating over the sidewalk. My head was in a fog, my mind and heart churning.
I opened the door to my dorm room, and found Lorelei sitting in my bed. She was reading a book, that same French one from before. She looked up, smiled at me in greeting. I couldn’t return the smile. It was all I could do to stumble across the room, land half on the bed, and start crying on Lorelei.
It was the end of the world. What else could I do?
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