Nothing Ordinary: Chapter Three
Updated: Oct 12
By E.M. Lindsey
All Rights Reserved
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Please note that this text is unedited, and EM Lindsey reserves the rights to make any plot or editing changes throughout the posting process.
From the nervous way he sipped his drink and laughed at any joke—no matter how terrible it was—people might have assumed Ezra had grown up a total teenage loser with no friends. He was jumpy, like he’d been the guy everyone threw into a locker instead of the prom king runner up, or the guy who starred in every school musical, and had to get extra blank pages in his yearbook to fit all the signatures.
And granted, he hadn’t been that guy for all of high school. People just quickly figured out that no matter what you asked him to do, he’d do it—and hell, teenagers liked that kind of thing. From writing term papers to breaking up with girlfriends to lying right to a teacher’s face to cover someone’s ditching, Ezra was their guy. And he smiled all the time, and he laughed all the time.
And they had no idea he went home and sobbed quietly into his pillow because it was so fucking much but he didn’t know how to make it stop.
In college, therapy helped a little, but not enough. He always felt on the verge of being utterly abandoned the moment he stood up for himself, so he kept his mouth shut and somehow those bad habits followed him into his adulthood.
And that was exactly why he found himself at a disgusting sports bar on a weeknight with a group of teachers he just met his first day on the job. He ordered a beer and sipped it and tried to ignore the low hum of anxiety sitting at the base of his spine because he was uncomfortable.
One of the teachers—the tall, dark-haired guy with the loudest laugh—looked a little too much like his college ex. Ezra had dated Graham for his junior and senior year, and for a short period of time, he had actually wondered if his lack of courage to end things would leave him stuck with the guy forever.
Graham was one of those pretentious assholes who thought contentment was a sign of weakness, though he had no trouble pushing Ezra into doing risky shit for him because it made him “happy”.
Or, so he always said.
Ezra’s one and only STI had been from that fucker because he hated condoms, and Ezra just could not say no. Of course, after a burning dick and a chalky antibiotic drink that tasted like poisoned Kool-Aid, Ezra decided it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to tell the guy to fuck off. Years too late, sure, but it was his one triumph before he graduated.
He hadn’t seen Graham in years, but staring across the table at Brandon was making him nervous.
Luckily, no one so far had noticed.
“…what your students did today.”
Ezra blinked, then realized Kaila was talking to him. She was nursing a Shirley Temple with extra cherries and grinning at him like she thought he’d enjoy recounting his mortification.
He stirred his two tiny black straws through what was left of his gin and ice, then cleared his throat. “Ah, uh. So, apparently, I look young enough to be a student, and they invited me to sit with them,” he mumbled. He didn’t speak quiet enough, because the table erupted into laughter, which he found a little…odd. He didn’t think it was that funny.
Brandon slapped his hand down near his beer, making Ezra jump, and he shook his head. “Fucking amazing. Who were they?”
Ezra blinked at him. “Um?”
“He’s only been here a day, Bran,” Kaila scolded. “Give him at least a week to learn their names.”
Brandon shrugged and grinned, and Ezra released a small breath. “Fair enough. You’ll learn who the real pains in the ass are soon though. I passed out a couple of Cs last year just to make sure a couple of those fuckers graduated. If I had to deal with them one more semester…”
“Oh God, Spencer,” the woman to his left said—he couldn’t remember her name—and the whole table nodded. “What a total shithead.”
Ezra felt his stomach sink a little. He knew there was going to be gossip, but he hadn’t realized they were just going to drag these teenagers who were—okay, maybe a huge pain in the ass, but trying to figure out how to balance their impending adulthood with the fact that they all really just didn’t want to leave childhood behind.
“I don’t mind the kids,” Ezra eventually said, speaking a little louder this time. “But when that guy tried to kick me out of the break room…”
The entire table went quiet, then Kaila cleared her throat and offered a tense smile. “Gabriel,” she said.
There was a small, collective sigh, then the woman on Brandon’s right shook her head. “Did he yell at you?”
Ezra blinked at her for a long second. “Um. No? Does he do that to the people he thinks are students?”
Kaila giggled, pressing her fingers to her mouth for a second like she was trying to hold the noise back. “No. Well…” She looked slightly guilty. “It depends on his mood.”
Ezra bristled a little because, okay, he understood that some teachers probably struggled under the weight of this job. Hell, he’d only been at it a day and he was already starting to feel cracks form. But to be that dickhead who always shouted at his kids…
“He thought Ezra was a student breaking into the coffee room,” Kaila explained when everyone kept staring, and Ezra felt his cheeks pink. “It was fine though. He won’t do it again.”
“He won’t what, be an asshole?” Ezra blurted, and everyone laughed again.
“Impossible,” Brandon said, waving his hand dismissively. “That’s what Gabe does.”
“Also, don’t let him hear you call him Gabe. Like…ever,” the other woman said. “Unless you really do want to get murdered.”
“Or at the very least publicly humiliated in front of the students,” Brandon offered in a somber tone. “And if you’re already on his bad side, just…I don’t know. Avoid him, I guess.”
Ezra felt his stomach sink. He waited for someone to offer him a placation, reminding him that Gabriel wasn’t a bad guy who would hold some grudge for a single moment of mistaken identity, but the table was suspiciously quiet. Which…great.
That was just fucking great.
“I’ll stay out of his way,” he muttered. He offered a tense smile to Kaila when she gave his arm a pat, but he couldn’t seem to dig himself out of his mood.
One single day on the job and he’d already made an enemy.
Not exactly what he needed to survive in his new career.
In spite of knowing where the good coffee and snacks were kept at the school now, Ezra stopped by a drive-thru kiosk for his caffeine and muffin fix. He told himself it was absolutely not because Gabriel got his morning coffee from the art hall break room, but he didn’t know who he was trying to kid. He was still a little shaken from the day before, and he wasn’t quite sure how to move past it.
He’d gone out with his co-workers in hopes of forming some kind of bond so he wouldn’t constantly be left out. But he hadn’t expected them to make him feel like he was now some sort of target for Gabriel Bassani’s rage.
He felt like he had ants crawling under his skin as he pulled into the parking lot, and as he bent over to grab his breakfast, he heard someone call his name. He only just managed to avoid spilling his coffee all down his front, and he turned to see the dark-haired woman from the bar waving at him.
He felt like an epic ass for not remembering her name, and he offered her a smile. “Hey. Uh…”
“Charlotte,” she said with a wink, waiting for him to elbow his car door shut. “I didn’t expect you to remember everyone.”
Ezra flushed a little and shrugged as he tried to hike his bag up his shoulder. Charlotte took pity on him and helped him readjust the strap, and he let out a sigh. “Thanks, and sorry. I should have remembered your name better than Brandon’s.”
She let out a small peal of laughter as she led the way to the side door. “Everyone remembers that asshole. He makes an impression.”
Ezra grimaced. “He reminds me of my ex.” When Charlotte offered him a grimace, he nodded. “Yeah, pretty much. We dated the last two years of my undergrads and I think I spent more time writing his research papers and giving him sloppy blow-jobs than focusing on graduation.”
“Men are the worst,” she commiserated, reaching for the door and holding it for him. “Are you dating anyone right now?”
Ezra shook his head, but that old familiar pang of loneliness and regret wasn’t as prominent as it was before he started this job. His mom had told him he’d start feeling better once he had something to do with his time, and he was only slightly annoyed that she was right. “I’m in that awkward single stage of I’m not really looking, but if Idris Elba showed up and asked me on a date, I wouldn’t say no.”
Charlotte laughed so hard, she grabbed the wall. “Oh fuck. I’m, like, really far lesbian on the Kinsey scale, but same. Anyway, want morning fuel?”
When she jerked her head toward the hall that would lead to the art corridor, he hesitated. “I was um…I have to…get some stuff prepped in my classroom for first period.”
She lifted a brow at him. “Is it because of Gabriel?”
Ezra wasn’t sure if it was because he was so obvious, or if it was because Gabriel was such an asshole, people generally avoided where he was going to be, but either of those choices kind of sucked. “I don’t want a repeat,” he admitted.
Charlotte sighed quietly. “You know he’s not really a bad guy. He’s just complicated. He’s not normally such an ass. I mean, we can get through faculty meetings without him making anyone cry.”
“That’s not a screaming endorsement,” Ezra complained, and Charlotte’s lip twitched into a half smile. “Anyway, I’m not scared of him. It’s just my second day, you know? And I’d rather get my bearings before I take on some teacher who has decided to hate me.”
She shrugged, but there was something in her eyes that told Ezra there was more to Gabriel’s story than he knew. “How about we do lunch, then? Kaila and I usually sneak up to the roof where the kids can’t find us.”
That he could do. “Sure. But you’ll have to come find me so I don’t spend the hour wandering around the halls.”
She gave him a salute, then went to the right as he took the left turn toward the stairs. He was calmer as he began the short climb, but as he reached the top and grabbed the door handle, it was yanked out of his hand and he stumbled forward, crashing into a solid body.
An apology died on his lips as Ezra gripped the person by the ribs, his heart in his throat when he looked up into familiar dark, furious eyes.
“Is this going to be a thing?” Gabriel sneered.
Snatching his hands back, Ezra ran one through his hair and cleared his throat. “It was an accident, obviously.” His entire life he’d been a people-pleaser. Just thought of having to tell someone no gave him heart palpitations, but he couldn’t seem to stop angry snark from tripping off his tongue. “What the fuck are you doing up here anyway? Aren’t you a coach? The gym is on the other side of the school.”
Gabriel lifted a brow at him and crossed his arms over his chest so tight, it made his biceps flex. And fuck…he wasn’t bodybuilder ripped, but goddamn he had definition. Ezra’s poor little gay mouth went dry. “I’m also a history teacher, which I’m pretty sure you knew.”
He said nothing, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
“And it’s not your job to keep tabs on me, Mr. Mandel.” Gabriel stepped far to the side to avoid the chance of brushing against him. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
Ezra swore he caught, ‘unfortunately,’ under Gabriel’s breath, but the ringing in his ears made him doubt himself, and frankly that was enough back-talk for one day. He didn’t want to get murdered his second day on the job.
He was trembling a little as he made his way into his classroom, but just as he was shutting the door, a hand snaked out and smacked it. He jumped, turning and pressing a hand to his heart when he saw it was Kaila.
“Do you have food in here?” she demanded, breezing past him.
Ezra scrubbed a hand down his face, praying he didn’t look like an anxious mess. “Uh…this is the culinary classroom, so yes.”
“Thank god. I went to get my morning tea, and they were out of the bagels I like.”
“I doubt I have those,” he told her, slinging his bag on the counter. It was heavy with the bags of fruit he’d purchased for the danishes he was going to have the kids make, and the relief once it was off his shoulder was almost overwhelming. “There’s challah though, if you want some toast.”
Kaila wrinkled her nose, but she walked over to the dry storage and began to rummage around, coming out with the loaf of challah he had ordered for the kids to make bread pudding. “You sure?”
He couldn’t tell her no, so he didn’t, instead motioning to the counter where the toaster sat unplugged. “I uh…ran into Gabriel just now, by the way,” he muttered as he began to unpack the peaches.
Kaila let out a small sigh, but she said nothing while she cut a couple of pieces off the loaf. After the soft click of the toaster, she turned and folded her arms over the top of her belly. “Yeah, he and I were on the roof a bit ago. Was he being a dick again?”
Ezra bit the inside of his cheek. “Slightly less rude than yesterday, I guess. I just don’t get why he hates me. I’ve spoken like five sentences to him.”
Kaila’s eyes darted off to the side, then she turned her back as she pulled out a tub of whipped butter from the small counter fridge. “It’s…complicated.”
Ezra snorted. “We’re all complicated. Is he homophobic or something? I know I can be kind of obvious, and…”
“He’s not, trust me,” she said, but Ezra couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d gone to school and worked alongside bullies just like Gabriel. People who claimed that everyone deserved equal rights, then spent their days ensuring that everyone who made them uncomfortable quietly suffered.
And Ezra wasn’t going to take that.
“Do you watch sports?” Kaila asked, her words muffled by the massive bite of challah toast she’d stuffed between her teeth.
Ezra dumped the peaches into the sink, then turned to her with a frown at the odd change in subject. “No, not really. My dad is super into golfing, so I had to watch hours of it was a kid. Kind of burned me out on competitive shit.”
She choked a little on her laugh, then wiped her mouth. “Oh my God, golf? That’s child abuse.”
Ezra grinned and rolled his eyes. “My dad calls it building character. But um…why do you ask? Because if you’re going to try and sell me on some, go easy on the football players bullshit…”
Kaila’s smile went a little soft, and maybe a little sad. “No, nothing like that. Those little assholes deserve whatever grade you give them.” She set her plate down, then groaned as she eased onto the stool. “We’re kind of a baseball town here, anyway.” She licked her lips like she was trying to gear up for something important. “Two of the kids I went to high school with ended up in the MLB.”
Ezra’s brows shot up. “Seriously?” He leaned on the counter, then realized what she was getting at. “You mean Gabriel?”
Kaila nodded. “He and his brother were drafted in high school. I was in the same graduating class with them. Gabriel was quiet about it, but Pietro was such an arrogant dick.” She wrinkled her nose. “They finished college, then Gabriel went off to play for Salem, and Pietro stayed here. Well, Denver,” she said, waving her hand.
Ezra frowned. “I’m assuming this story doesn’t have a happy ending.”
Kaila pursed her lips, her eyes darting toward the door like she was worried someone was listening in. “Gabriel was in an accident—a car hit him when he was walking down the street.”
Of all the things he thought she was going to say, it wasn’t that, and he felt his breath stick in his chest on the edge of a gasp. He would have assumed someone like Gabriel had been drinking and driving, or maybe just being reckless on the road. But that…
“Obviously it ended his career—which is why he’s teaching,” she finished.
Ezra cleared his throat. “Why is he coaching volleyball and not baseball?”
Kaila’s eyes went wide. “I don’t know. No one’s brave enough to ask him that question.”
Ezra felt ridiculous, and a blush climbed up his throat. “I…right. Sorry. I guess that’s obvious. And, like, that really sucks for him. I can’t even imagine what he’s gone through, but it doesn’t give him the right to be an ass to me for literally no reason.”
“You’re not wrong,” Kaila said quietly. Her fingers toyed with the leftover challah crust, then she swiped them on her jeans and stood up. “Pietro comes around a lot, and I think it’s hard for Gabriel, especially because his brother deserves all the awards and recognition he’s gotten. They were both really good, and Pietro never stopped being good. So, when Gabriel’s wrong about something—or when he gets embarrassed…”
Ezra deflated a bit. He did get it, even if it wasn’t fair, but he also wasn’t going to sit back and let Gabriel take his issues out on him. “Maybe when you talk to him tell him that he can chill the fuck out. I know I look young. I don’t even care that he thought I was a student, so he doesn’t have to be embarrassed.”
Kaila bit her lower lip, then she nodded and started toward the door. “I will. Just…don’t expect much from him, okay?”
Ezra snorted and waved her off. “Yeah, trust me, I’m not looking to try and make that man my best friend.” He felt a weird little zing, because even six months ago, he wouldn’t have been able to say those words. Hell, he wouldn’t have been able to think them.
But he felt brave, stepping into this new life, and he wasn’t about to let some asshole with a chip on his shoulder ruin that.
Lunch came and went, making the hour feel like seconds, but Ezra was happy for the reprieve. He’d gotten through his first three periods without any major disasters, and even had some extra danishes to take up to the roof when Charlotte came to fetch him. It was a nice day, and the warm sun helped ease some of the tension off his shoulders.
He’d mostly stopped thinking about Gabriel by the time class was getting going, and he appreciated that Kaila didn’t bother to bring him up while they were eating. He was worried the man was everyone’s favorite topic, but instead Kaila talked about weird discharge and pregnancy sleep-farts.
He wasn’t entirely sure that was better.
When his phone buzzed with his alarm, he ignored their mocking at how quickly he moved to get back to work, but Ezra had never been the sort of guy who was willing to risk being late for things. The anxiety of being noticed for doing something bad was too much.
Slipping into the hallway, Ezra immediately found himself in a crush of students who were all heading off to their next class. It wasn’t hard to see why people assumed he was one of them. He was shorter than most of the juniors and seniors, he couldn’t grow facial hair to save his life, he had rips in his jeans.
If it wasn’t for the badge around his neck and the laptop bag on his shoulder, he’d have fit right in.
He really didn’t blame Gabriel for his assumption, and he would have brushed it off as literally nothing if the man hadn’t been such a raging dick. In fact, he…
Ezra’s thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Connor—one of his fourth period students. The kid was on the smaller side—still right in the middle of his sophomore awkward phase with his acne and greasy hairline. And it was obvious from the polo and the khakis, fashion was the last thing on his mind. Ezra could see past that, of course, to a person who would grow up strong and good looking, and hopefully able to twist the bitterness of adolescent cruelty into something soft and sweet for whoever he chose to date.
But Ezra also knew it could go the opposite direction, which was why he hurried over when he saw a group of boys wearing football jerseys start shouldering him into the lockers.
“Gentlemen,” Ezra said, raising his voice.
The taller kid turned, his light blonde hair falling over his forehead, and he lifted a brow, smirking. “Seriously. Who the fuck is this?”
The kid next to him was Andrew—the senior from his first period—who looked torn between his friend and the no-nonsense expression on Ezra’s face. “Uh, hey Mr. Mandel. Chad, stop being a douche please.”
Chad, the bigger bully, gave Ezra a long slow up and down before he took a step back and lifted his hands. “Hey, sorry. We were just fucking around.”
Connor snorted. “Right.”
Ezra glanced at him before turning his attention back to Chad. “I’m thinking maybe you should have an hour of detention tomorrow during lunch to reconsider what you call just fucking around.”
“Awe, come on, Ez,” Andrew wheedled. “He wasn’t going to hurt him.”
Ezra bristled. “My name is Mr. Mandel. And I could make it two days, if you really want to push the issue.”
Chad scoffed and folded his arms over his chest. “Awe, fuck this. I’m going to Mr. Hayes. I don’t have to take this shit from you.”
Before Ezra could say anything else, Chad and Andrew disappeared into the crowd, and he deflated. “Should I even ask who Mr. Hayes is?” he chanced when Connor started to straighten his shirt.
The kid shrugged. “He’s the football coach. He also teaches world history.”
Ezra couldn’t help his laugh. “Of course he does. They had all the coaches teach history in my high school too.” Running his fingers through his hair, he turned back to the kid. “If you need a minute, feel free to be a little late. I’ll keep an eye out for you. And um…if you want to talk…”
“No thanks,” Connor muttered. “It’s bad enough they’re going to bring this up to Coach Hayes.”
“Well, man to man,” Ezra told him in a quieter voice, “sometimes it’s nice to have someone just listen.” He didn’t fight Connor as the kid walked off, and Ezra turned, almost smacking into the large, deliciously fit body for the second time that day. “Fuck’s sake,” he groaned, this time not catching himself on Gabriel’s thick waist. “Were you watching that?”
“Was I watching two teenagers walk all over you like you have no authority?” Gabriel asked.
Ezra’s cheeks flared. “That’s not what happened. They were bullying that kid.”
“They were doing what teenagers do,” Gabriel snapped. “And it’s your job to put them in their place, not coddle them. Not let them run to mommy to tell on the mean teacher. They are not your peers, even if you do look like one.”
Ezra felt a flush of shame crawl up his neck because Gabriel was right—sort of. Ezra was still desperately trying to figure out how to insert his authority over kids who didn’t give a single fuck about consequences. Especially looking the way he did. He didn’t know how the hell to make himself seem intimidating or authoritative when he couldn’t even grow a damn beard.
He stared at Gabriel blankly, and after a beat, the man turned on his heel and stormed off, leaving Ezra standing in the thinning crowd.
Heading back to class, Ezra tried not to let himself fall into distraction as he marched in front of the room and waited for the rest of the students to fill their seats. Connor came in late, but not last, and he deliberately avoided eye-contact with Ezra, which was just as well. He was a little subdued during the lesson though, and ended up burning his danishes which Ezra felt was partially his fault.
Luckily, he wasn’t the only one who fucked up the recipe, and Ezra took the moment to try and regain some of his position as an adult who did—for the most part—know better than these kids. “Perfection isn’t the point,” Ezra told them as they were cleaning up their stations. “There’s no way to learn how to make good food until you know what bad food tastes like. And some of the ugliest dishes I have ever seen have been the most amazing.”
“Is that, like, a metaphor for life?” came the question from the back station.
Ezra glanced up and laughed. “Maybe? I mean, I don’t really buy into the whole ugly duckling syndrome because I think calling teenagers ugly is fucking ridiculous.” He froze and sighed. “Sorry for swearing.”
“We fucking love it!” someone chimed in.
He started to smile, then he heard Gabriel’s voice berating him for letting the kids treat him like a peer instead of a teacher, and his gut twisted. “What I’m trying to say is, it’s been two days in my class. And some of you might have a natural ability, but everyone is capable of finding their thing. And I mean, it’s food. This isn’t going to make or break your career unless you plan to take on whoever the hell is the current Iron Chef.”
None of the kids laughed—but he supposed it was too niche for a bunch of sixteen-year-olds, so he let it slide and dismissed them five minutes early. He went back to wiping his station, then looked up when someone cleared their throat.
He wasn’t sure if he was thrilled or terrified to see Connor standing there.
“Mr. Matthews,” Ezra said carefully.
Connor took a couple steps forward. “Sorry for um…being rude before. It just really sucks to get picked on, and then have a teacher jump in to defend me. It really doesn’t make it better.”
“Yeah, I know,” Ezra said and when Conner scoffed, Ezra waved a hand up and down his body. “Do you see this? Imagine all this twenty pounds lighter with a humidity fro and acne that has acne. Believe me, I do get it.”
Conner’s shoulders sagged a bit. “It’s not just the kids though. Half the teachers only give a shit about the popular kids. They like being the favorite, so they never do anything about it. Especially when one of those kids is the quarterback on Varsity. Chad is not going to get a detention.”
Ezra’s jaw set and he crossed his arms. “We’ll see about that.”
Connor scoffed. “Just…trust me, okay? I mean, Mr. Bassani…”
“Let me guess, he’s one of those sports assholes who thinks what Chad did today is funny,” Ezra bit out.
Connor stared, then took a step back. “Mr. Bassani is the only one with the balls to stand up for me, but he’s also smart enough to do it in private. He—” Connor stopped abruptly, and his cheeks went faintly pink. “I was having a rough time last year and I just…I wanted it all to stop. But he helped me. He saw what was happening and he helped. He was the only one who did.”
Ezra was stunned into silence, and it felt like his world was rearranging. “I’m glad someone did. And I understand what you’re saying. I won’t promise you that I’m not going to make kids like Chad face consequences, but…” He took a breath, then shrugged. “I’ll do what I can to leave you out of it.”
“You should ask Mr. Bassani to help. He’s the only one who can get Coach Hayes to back down.”
And well, that was the last goddamn thing in the world Ezra wanted to do, but if it was going to help Connor—if it meant kids like Chad had a little less room to terrorize people—he supposed he could suck it up and take one for the team.
So to speak.