Nothing Ordinary: Chapter One
By E.M. Lindsey
All Rights Reserved
This text is not to be duplicated, distributed, or shared without the author's permission. Violators will be prosecuted the fullest extent of the law.
Content Warning: This chapter contains descriptions of a mild panic attack and anxiety disorder. Please use caution if these things are triggering for you.
Taking a deep breath, Ezra stared at the stone-grey building looming ahead of him. The parking lot was almost completely empty because he was the only one ridiculous enough to show up just as the doors were being unlocked. Of course, he had to believe he wasn’t the only new guy who would show up for class two and a half hours before the first bell.
Other people had to be that way.
He couldn’t be alone in this.
An obnoxious, rumbling, popping muffler sounded off in the distance, and Ezra hugged his bag tighter to his body, hoping that car was heading for the other parking lot. He licked his lips and told himself he could do this.
“Don’t be a fucking coward,” he whispered. “You’re the boss. They can’t tell you what to do. You’ve trained for this.”
Oh, if his sister could see him now, practically pissing his pants in the staff parking lot over his fussy private school job teaching culinary classes to teenagers. Of course, he could get a class full of sociopaths who raided the knife drawer and chopped him up to feed their parents at the charity spaghetti dinner.
But this also wasn’t some episode of Hannibal Chef Jr.
He laughed quietly to himself, knowing he looked out of his mind.
Pulling the strap over his head, his bag slapped against his ass as he took long strides toward the back door which would lead him to the first floor hallway in the language wing. He’d been given a tour by the assistant principal three days earlier. The man was kind, but a little harried with last-minute, first week of school panic. Ezra didn’t envy his job, nor did he want anything like it. He decided to go into teaching culinary because his anxiety made it impossible for him to function in a professional kitchen, and he didn’t exactly have celebrity hook-ups so he wasn’t going to make it big, let alone pay bills, as a private chef.
Teaching was his only other option if he wanted to stay in his field, and the private school hadn’t required him to take all those certification classes that the public high schools had demanded of him.
Ezra also hoped that because it was smaller and more…pretentious, which was the kindest word he could come up with, they might go easier on him. But he didn’t have a lot of faith. He was cursed with terrible nerves, a baby face that made him look ten years too young to be doing any job, and the inability to raise his voice the moment he was confronted by anyone or anything.
He’d struggled all through his years in college, people accusing him of not being old enough to be on campus, people finding out that a slightly aggressive tone turned him into a fucking fainting goat. They all thought it was hilarious to torture him, and he spent six long years trying to go unnoticed so people would just let him be.
Fuck, it was a disaster in the making. Fuck, he was going to make a goddamn mess of this.
But it was what it was.
His hand was a little sweaty as he reached for the door handle, and for a second, it didn’t give. He thought he was going to have to endure the humiliation of calling someone to let him in, but then he felt the latch click, and it swung back so fast, it almost sent him flying into the bushes. His only saving grace was that there was no one there to watch his almost-humiliation.
“If a teacher falls into the bushes and there’s no one around to see,” he muttered to himself. “Did it really happen at all?”
“Do you do that a lot?”
Ezra only just managed to keep from shrieking as he spun to his left and saw a woman there with a massively pregnant stomach, blonde waves, and a smirk on her face. She had her arms crossed over her mound, and he had a feeling she could probably wield the thing as some kind of weapon if she really wanted to.
“Do I,” he said, his tongue threatening to stutter. He swallowed and tried again. “Do I do what?”
“Talk to yourself?” She narrowed her eyes, then cocked her head to the side. “The longer I teach here, the worse I get at being able to assess how old everyone is. You all look like infants, but I’m going to say…” She tapped her chin. “Student-teacher?”
He’d gotten that twice on the tour, and he tried not to bristle as he shook his head, attempted to dry his palm, then offered his hand for her to shake. “Ezra Mandel. I’m taking over for…” He struggled to remember the man’s name. “Mr… uh, Suarez?”
“Raul, right. He moved back to New York to help out his mom. You’re the new foods guy,” she said with some surprise, and he tried not to feel insulted as he pulled his hand away.
“It’s culinary,” he corrected, straightening his bag.
She snorted. “Yeah, no one’s ever going to call it that, so you might want to give that up now. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you, Ezra Mandel. I’m Kaila Smith. I normally teach biology and health, but thanks to this parasite,” she rubbed her hand over the side of her stomach, “I’m down to one class and praying that I don’t give birth on the classroom floor before I go on maternity leave.”
He tried not to grimace, but by the sound of her laughter, he’d failed. “I uh…hope that goes well for you.”
She shrugged. “Part of me hopes I go into labor at school. I can blame it on the stress of my job and make them pick up the bill.” She beckoned him along as she started down the hallway. “My husband’s insurance is a fucking joke, and the coverage here isn’t much better.”
Ezra let out a nervous laugh as he followed her down the winding corridor and came to a stop at the elevator doors. He liked her, he decided, but he also had a bad habit of liking anyone who was even vaguely nice to him. He had a long string of terrible exes and bad friends in his past, and it was all thanks to that goddamn inability to say no to people, and to set boundaries.
But Ezra was also an expert at reading red flags—just like he was an expert at ignoring them. Kaila seemed a little more extroverted than he would ever be, but she smiled at him with kind eyes and winked a little as she reached past him to push the button.
He was pretty sure she was good people.
“Am I freaking you out? Talking to much? I know I can be a bit…overwhelming.”
He shook his head quickly. “It’s not you. I’m just dealing with the abject fear of being devoured alive by my students. You know. Hannibal style.” He offered an Anthony Hopkins lip-suck and she doubled over laughing.
“Oh my god, honey, where do you think you are?” She gripped the edge of the elevator when the doors opened, and he followed her in with flaming hot cheeks.
“A private school where really rich white kids get away with whatever they want?” he offered.
Her grin was wide and toothy as she jabbed the third-floor button. “Look, we’ve had some real winners here, but it’s not like we’re living in DC where you have a bunch of Senators’ kids who have never been told no before. There are a bunch of students on scholarships and it’s actually fairly diverse. I mean, admin can be awful because they keep their heads pretty well lodged up the parents’ asses, but it’s not a nightmare.” She turned serious as the doors opened and laid a hand on his arm as they stepped out into the third-floor hall. “I promise, it’s going to be fine.”
Ezra didn’t know how to explain to her that kind, reassuring words did absolutely nothing to help his anxiety. Hell, his Lexapro and emergency Xanax barely took the edge off some days. But he appreciated that she was trying—and genuinely at that.
“This is just technically my first teaching job ever,” he confessed as he started toward the room that would become his own personal space for the next two years of his contract. He fumbled in his pocket for the classroom door key which he had to keep on him at all times, and he got the thing unlocked without making too big an ass of himself.
“Can I ask you something?” Kaila said as he flicked on the lights.
The room was exactly the same as he remembered—though maybe a bit more familiar now. There were six rows of cooking tables on either side, which would allow twenty four students total, though the AP assured him none of the classes were ever at capacity. That was somewhat of a relief. He could probably take on twenty-four high schoolers if he had to.
Ezra realized he hadn’t answered Kaila, and he flushed as he turned toward her, dropping his bag on the table to the side of the main cooking station. “Sorry, uh, yeah. Of course. Ask me whatever you want.”
She laughed softly and shook her head. “First of all, you’ll find your chill eventually, I promise. Second, not to be rude, but is this, like, your first job ever?”
He burst out laughing, dropping his face into his hands. “No, and it’s mortifying that you think that.”
“You just look young,” she stressed. “Which hey, I mean, you’ll appreciate that later when we’re all aging like raw milk, right?”
He grinned at her as he dropped his hands. “I’m twenty-six. This is my first teaching job because I just got done with my Master’s. I had big plans to be a chef—like the Jewish Gordon Ramsay or something.”
She barked out a laugh, then rubbed her belly like it hurt. “I would pay to see that. Like…no joke.”
He waved her off. “It turns out that I’m a pile of over-cooked spaghetti in the kitchen. My anxiety was so awful, I got fired from my first two restaurant jobs on my first day.”
She let out a low whistle, then grabbed one of the student stools and perched on the edge of it. “Okay, that’s bad. Though to be fair, my first job was at this fried chicken place, and I quit during my lunch break because it was that shitty.”
Ezra walked behind his cooking station and stared down at the long fridge built into the cabinet, and the dishwasher on the end, and all the high-tech equipment he would have never gotten if he was working in a public school. Drumming his fingers on the counter, he straightened up and looked at her.
“How bad is this really going to be?”
She waved him off, then hopped down and jerked her head toward the door. “Come with me. I’ll show you where to get the good coffee and the best place to sit where we can watch people come in. I can give you all the hot goss.”
His smile was crooked as he palmed his pocket for his keys, then remembered to snag his phone from his bag before following her out.
The one thing Ezra liked about Kaila the most was that she didn’t mind doing all the talking. He had a feeling she probably liked the sound of her voice, and while most people would fling that around as an insult, it genuinely put him at ease. He was terrible at small-talk and when he wasn’t being expected to perform, he could relax.
She had a very slight accent, though he couldn’t place it, and the cadence of her speech was soothing. She talked mostly about herself as she led the way to the arts hall—about her four-year-old, and her husband, and her pregnancy which had been hard on her.
“I’m ready to shit this thing out,” she said, then grimaced. “Sorry, I get kind of gross about this whole biology thing, but pushing out a baby really is like taking a massive shit.”
Ezra laughed. “I think I’m glad I won’t ever have to know that.”
“You don’t want kids?” she asked.
He blinked at her. “Well, not necessarily. But I don’t have a uterus.”
She waved her hand dismissively at him again—a habit he wondered if she picked up from teaching. “Trust me, honey, medical science is making advancements. There might just be a day you can…” she trailed off, giving her belly a pat.
“I’ll uh…consider that in the future.”
She laughed and reached over to squeeze his arm. “Anyway, I’m taking maternity leave before the semester is up, but I’ll be back after my eight weeks. Malik is doing the stay-at-home dad thing this time.”
Ezra didn’t know what to say. He liked that their roles were non-traditional, but he couldn’t relate. He’d never dated anyone longer than a few months, and he’d never really considered being serious with another person. “I dated this guy my freshman year of college,” he said absently as she turned the corner and led them down a dim hallway. “He came from one of those massive Catholic families with like sixteen kids, and the idea of having so many scared the shit out of me.”
Kaila came to a stop. “You’re…gay, or…?”
Ezra felt a surge of panic ripple up his spine. He hadn’t meant to just blurt it out, but he also hadn’t been in the closet in a long time. The school wasn’t religious, but it was still private, and god, he might have just outed himself and thrown his whole career in the toilet, and…
Ezra realized his ears were ringing and he was breathing a little too fast. “I…sorry, I…”
“My fault,” Kaila said very softly. She was standing close, but not touching him. “I didn’t mean to sound like it was a problem. We’re completely cool here. I just wanted to make sure I got your orientation right. I’m bisexual and I fucking hate when people assume I’m straight just because I’m married to a man.”
He laughed, the sound shaky, and he dragged a hand down his face. “I’m gay. I also have severe anxiety.”
“I picked up on that,” she told him with a softer grin. “Maybe we should skip the coffee?”
He groaned and leaned in toward her, bumping her shoulder with his own. “I’ve been up since two am running first-day scenarios in my head. If I don’t get coffee, I will literally die.”
She let out a peal of laughter, then nudged him back before she started walking again. “Duly noted. And I’m sorry. I’ll be careful how I say shit next time.”
He wanted to assure her it wasn’t her fault, but he was still feeling a little floaty, so he let the moment pass as she opened the door to a staff room the AP hadn’t shown him during the tour. It was bigger than the one near the office, brighter with paintings on the walls, and two enormous sofas put together to shape an L. There was also a long coffee bar with an espresso machine, and several mugs hanging from hooks on the walls.
“Normally we make you work at least a year before we introduce you to this place, but I meant what I said when I told you I liked you.” She winked at him before waving her hand at the hanging cabinet, and he opened it to find a vast array of coffee pods. “The teachers here aren’t rich, but we are spoiled by the lifestyle.”
He chuckled and grabbed a vanilla one, shoving it into the Nespresso. “And the mugs?”
“Communal property. A lot of people bring their own, so these are mostly decorative.” She pulled one off the wall that had a cat holding a knife painted on the front. “This one is my favorite.”
He took it from her with a grateful smile, then shoved it under the spout and pushed the button. It only took seconds for the scent of coffee to fill the room, and he let out a small, happy groan. “I could get used to this.”
“And you will,” she told him. She grimaced after that and rubbed a hand over her belly. “Be right back. I have to go pee for the nine-hundredth time. You alright here?”
He smiled at her and shook her head. “I think I can figure the rest out. Thanks.”
She winked at him as she hurried out of the room, and he went about searching the cupboards for sugar and creamer. Turning up nothing, Ezra ran fingers into his hair and scanned the room, then jumped a little as the door opened. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe as one of the hottest men he had ever seen walked in.
He was tall, thick, his polo shirt straining against his pecs. He wasn’t overly muscular, but his arms were defined, covered in black and grey tattoos on his biceps which strangely complimented the expression on his face that was somewhere between a sneer and surprise. His dark hair was combed back, but a lock fell over his forehead in a gentle curl, and it matched the exact shade of short beard which covered his cheeks, above his lip, and down his chin.
For a moment, they just stared at each other, and Ezra wondered if he’d ever find the ability to speak again. He cleared his throat. “Hi. Hey. Do you, ah…happen to know where the sugar and creamer are?”
The man blinked then crossed his arms which made the ID on his lanyard tug down along his sternum, further defining his pecs. It was obscene. “You’re not supposed to be in here.”
“No, I uh…I mean, yeah I know,” Ezra stammered. “But I was told it was okay, and I…”
“You’re new?” he barked.
Ezra took a step back. “First day. I just needed some coffee.”
The man scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Has anyone ever told you coffee will stunt your growth?”
“What?” Ezra challenged, feeling a curl of confidence along his spine because he was really fucking sick of people talking to him like he was twelve. “Fake science will stunt my growth?”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “This is a teacher’s lounge. The sign and the lock on the door should have been your first indication that this isn’t a place for students to hang out. No matter how much you think you need coffee.”
Ezra spluttered and took a step back out of shock. “I’m not a student.”
“I’ve heard that one before,” the man said.
“I’m the new,” Ezra began, but his words were cut off when the door opened, and Kaila walked back in. She was humming to herself, but she came to an abrupt halt and her eyes darted between Ezra and the taller man.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, G. Please don’t scare off the new guy.”
He did not look like the kind of man who would have the nickname G. He let out a soft grunt and didn’t appear apologetic at all as he dropped his hands, revealing his badge. Ezra wasn’t wearing his glasses, but his vision was still decent enough to read the name Gabriel Bassani in bold, black letters.
“This is Ezra Mandel. Foods,” Kaila said.
Ezra cleared his throat. “Culinary,” he attempted to correct, but his voice came out small and timid like it always did.
Gabriel’s lip curled up, making him look meaner. “Student teachers…”
“Full time teacher,” Kaila said with a wave of her hand. She turned back to Ezra. “Did you get your coffee?”
He cleared his throat again, but it didn’t help. “I was looking for creamer and sugar.”
Kaila walked over to a tall cabinet and pulled, revealing a fridge where she pulled out a small plastic container of white sugar, and then a bottle of creamer. “We have an honor system,” she said, pointedly ignoring Gabriel who was still staring at them. “Whoever finishes the last replaces it. There’s only one person who doesn’t follow that rule.”
Ezra’s eyes cut to Gabriel. He couldn’t help it. He seemed like the kind of guy who would use everyone’s shit, and no one was brave enough to make him follow the rules. He was surprised, though, when the man’s cheeks pinked.
“I do my part, and I also don’t drink the coffee here,” he said, his voice icy-cold. “And I’ll thank you to stay out of my way for the rest of term.” At that, he turned on his heel, slamming the door behind him.
Ezra swallowed thickly, but Kaila walked over and laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t let him get to you. He’s an ass at the best of times, but he’s all bark. No bite.”
Ezra wasn’t sure he wanted to trust her judgement on that one, but he supposed he’d met worse people. And, if he was being honest, the ones with the smallest, most disarming bark, really did have the worst bite.
Ezra realized the caffeine was a mistake just as the students began to file in minutes before the first bell rang. His anxiety was making him jittery, and the caffeine was only adding to it. He clasped his hands behind his back, taking slow, shallow breaths as he felt every single one of their eyes on him.
This was going to be a fucking disaster if he couldn’t get control.
And he reminded himself that was prepared. He’d spent the last two weeks perfecting his lesson plans, working on his opening lecture, and practicing his voice of authority. He just hadn’t expected to feel like someone had pulled a stopper out of his gut and drained every bit of his confidence.
He leaned against the wall though, trying to appear casual, and he startled when a couple of girls walked up to him. “You’re like, new, right?” the taller, blonde one said.
He blinked, then nodded. “I am, yes.”
She smiled. “Nice. You can sit at our table if you want. No one else in here knows what the fuck they’re doing.”
“Or you can shut the fuck up, Allison,” a guy behind her called. He was taller than Ezra, and maybe fifty pounds heavier of pure muscle. He had the look of those football players who used to torture Ezra during his own four, eternal years of high school. He was smiling though, a lot more kindly than the jocks had ever looked at him. “None of us knows what the fuck we’re doing, but you don’t need to sit with the Mean Girls.”
She flipped him off and Ezra knew he should probably confess that he wasn’t a student, and do something about their blatant disrespect. He just…didn’t know what. He didn’t want to be the uptight asshole. He had big dreams of being everyone’s favorite, chill professor.
“I, uh…well. It’s nice to meet you both. I’m…”
The bell rang, cutting off his words, and he straightened up as the last few students came in—most of them on their phones, bashing into tables and chairs as they didn’t look up.
Fuck’s sake, he’d have to make another rule before someone got burned.
“We’re waiting for the new teacher,” Allison said, leaning in toward him. “Mr. Suarez had some family emergency and he had to quit.”
“I heard he had a mental breakdown because his fourth period kept getting into fights and he got punched in the face,” one of the jock’s friends said.
Allison’s friend laughed. “I heard he was fucking Mr. Ellis,” she added, referring to the assistant principal, and Ezra blinked, still not quite how to slide in the fact that he was their teacher. “And they broke up, so he left the country because he couldn’t take it.”
Ezra cleared his throat, trying to regain control. “I’m sure Mr. Suarez and Mr. Ellis would appreciate you not spreading rumors about them.”
“Oh my god, you fucking nerd,” the jock said.
Ezra reached for his badge, then realized he wasn’t wearing it. Not…a good look. Turning on his heel, he walked to the front counter and grabbed it from the front pocket, sliding it around his neck. When he turned, he saw surprise settle onto their features, then Allison grinned, and the jock shrugged.
They didn’t care.
“Everyone, please get into your seats,” Ezra said, his voice not loud enough, but most people heard him and complied. He wished he had something—like maybe one solid shot of vodka. He’d danced on a bar after half a bottle of Grey Goose his sophomore year of college and made out with his first stranger. One shot might actually help him grow a spine with these kids. It was too bad he had morals. “My name is Mr. Mandel, and I’m your new culinary professor.”
Silence greeted him, and he wished he had a chalkboard or something, just to give his hands something to do. Instead, he had a smartboard with a stylus he didn’t know how to use yet.
Yeah. He was fucked.
“I’m taking over for Mr. Suarez who most definitely didn’t flee the country with a broken heart, nor did he have a break-down because his fourth period students beat him in the face.”
There was a small titter of laughter.
“But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to teach you how to cook so someday, in the far future, you can fool your dates into thinking you have your shit together and can keep house.” Silence met him for a second, but just before he could panic, the room erupted into a laugh. He breathed deeper, told himself not to swear again, and he leaned against the counter. “Anyway, sorry for swearing. Now, who wants to start with telling me where Mr. Suarez—who is alive and well—left off.”
To Be Continued...
Chapter Two Coming: Sept 29th...