It was when the principal of Cedarview High School referred to Beck as Mr. Bennett that Beck was, at long last, able to call himself a teacher. Officially. He left the principal’s office with a sense of accomplishment and a smile, walking tall with his briefcase in his hand. Today was his first day teaching.
However, there were a few things he had to work out before he tackled the school day. For starters, Beck didn't know where his classroom was.
Briefly, Beck surveyed the hallway. Numbered doors lined the walls, some decorated with signs or posters, others bare. For the most part, the doors were identical. That wasn’t helpful.
He started walking again, trying to look as though he knew where he was going. The hallway was congested with busy students, intent on getting to where they needed to go, like ants in a line. Some were less concerned with being on time and simply loitered, too immersed in conversations to notice that they were human roadblocks, clogging the hallway even more.
Back in the day, Beck was like them. A jock shoving his way through crowds, still hungover from last night’s house party. Now he was an English teacher, stuck in the middle of an impossibly crowded hallway, trying his hardest not to knock anyone over with his oversized briefcase. His old self would snicker at him, probably, but his old self was also a closeted football jock whose only useful skills included beer pong and beer chugging.
Beck pulled himself out of his head. Now was not the time for a heart-to-heart with his past self, now was the time to find a map. But there weren’t any teachers around to ask. In fact, Beck was almost sure he was the only teacher in this hallway.
His mind not-so helpfully provided him with a thousand different scenarios, all potentially life-threatening. What if he had accidentally wandered into a juvenile detention facility? What if he was unknowingly entered into a Hunger Games-like tournament in which teachers were hunted for sport? What if today was Saturday ?
Well, that one was a little out there.
What his mind didn’t do was warn him of the man standing in front of him, holding a cardboard box of easily breakable glass beakers. Beck inadvertently collided with him, and three of the beakers landed on the floor with a clink . Immediately Beck kneeled down to collect the beakers, apologizing profusely as he did so.
“I’m so, so sorry—”
“It’s OK,” said the man, taking the beakers from Beck and putting them back in the box.
Beck noticed that they were all perfectly intact. (Thank God.) Then he noticed that ‘beaker man’ was a teacher. ( Double thank God.) He was wearing a spotless white lab coat, and a pair of goggles were strapped to his forehead.
There was a brief pause, and then ‘beaker man’ came to his senses.
“Oh, hey, you’re the new guy!” He was about to stick out his hand for a shake, but then stopped to shuffle around the box so that it was pressed against his right side. Beck shook it firmly. “I’m the local science geek. I teach, too! You can call me Kyle— or Kyle-Tron 9000, if you live on the edge.”
“Kyle works,” Beck said, chuckling. Kyle-Tron 9000 was much friendlier than the principal, whose perpetually disapproving glare had made Beck more than a little afraid that all of his co-workers would be scowly old men. “I’m Beck. I’m an English teacher. I mean, I will be— once I find the right classroom.”
“Oh, you’re lost?”
“A little,” Beck admitted.
“If you couldn’t already tell, the secretaries aren’t much help. They’re always blabbing,” started Kyle, walking down the hallway. Beck followed closely behind. The clink of the beakers in the box fell into time with their footsteps as they walked past the crowds, staying in the less crowded lane. “If you need a navigational expert, I know just the person.”
“Uh, who, exactly?” Beck asked, amused by the sheer absurdity of his first Cedarview encounter. Kyle was acting sneaky, as though they were consulting a criminal, holding up a finger to his lips— Shh! They slipped into a nearby classroom, numbered 217. (Beck, whose only vice was Stephen King, recognized 217 from the haunted hotel room in The Shining . That couldn’t be a good sign.)
“Hello, Mr. Mooney,” said the man who Beck supposed was the navigational expert. He was thin and had neat black hair, and was wearing a formal suit. Beck thought that was odd. They were in a school , not a funeral parlour.
“Mr. Mulaney,” Kyle said with a nod. “This is Beck, he’s new around here.”
Beck’s mind conjured up yet another terrifying scenario, in which he was murdered by a thin man in a spiffy suit. It wasn’t that he looked dangerous, exactly— if anything, he looked to be a lawyer of some kind —but this whole exchange was just too absurd for Beck’s liking.
“Hi there,” said the man, promptly offering his hand. Beck shook it. “I’ve been eagerly awaiting your arrival. I’m John. John Mulaney. I’m the vice principal of this lovely school.”
“ Oh ,” Beck said, sighing with relief. He’s a vice principal, not the leader of a vampire coven. The perplexed look on Mr. Mulaney’s face prompted Beck to explain just why he was so relieved. On second thought, that probably wouldn’t end well: Hey, boss! For a minute there, I thought you were Patrick Bateman from American Psycho because I drank a lot of coffee this morning. Like, a literal fuck-ton.
Beck cleared his throat and forced out an appropriate, generic answer. “Uh, just thought— nothing. Glad to finally meet you.”
“Here’s your classroom number. I trust the principal forgot to give it to you? Yes, well, he’s certainly too old to be a duckling!” Mr. Mulaney chuckled at what Beck assumed was some kind of inside joke, and then passed him a number written neatly on his own stationary paper.
“Thank you,” said Beck, reading the paper before putting it in his pocket.
“No, thank you . Have a good day! And, Mr. Mooney, if you’ll show him to his classroom...?”
Kyle put up his finger-guns. “Gotcha!”
The two stepped out of the classroom. “What number?” asked Kyle, peering over his shoulder at the slip of paper. Beck turned the paper over so that Kyle could see, carefully watching Kyle take it in, gauging his reaction. ( Please don’t let it be near the gym, Beck thought. He could not, for the life of him, take the smell.)
Kyle’s face lit up. “Oh, man! You’re right next door!”
“That’s great,” Beck said, a genuine smile on his face. And it was. After having to spend all of his time with pretentious English majors who truly (and wrongly) believed they were the next Shakespeare, Kyle was a breath of fresh air. He hadn’t had a conversation that wasn’t about somebody’s “life-changing novel” in months .
But there was something else. Something about Kyle that made Beck brighten, made him want to smile.
But it was his very first day at work, and asking a co-worker out right away probably wasn’t a good idea. Besides , he didn’t even know if Kyle was gay. It wasn’t a good idea in the slightest.
It was just a harmless crush, that’s all.
Six months have passed since Beck’s first day at work. It didn’t take long for him to become friends with his fellow teachers. Most of them were friendly and personable, and the ones that weren’t made up for it with their interesting, offbeat personalities. Out of the people in his social circle, however, Beck has grown closest to Kyle. He couldn’t say what it was, exactly, but the two of them fell into place like puzzle pieces.
Kyle, a science nerd and sci-fi geek who teaches Biology and Chemistry with unparalleled enthusiasm. He wears science pun shirts, has watched every reboot of Star Trek known to man, and has a great (if eccentric) sense of humor.
At some point, Beck fell in love with him. Maybe it was when they fell asleep watching Back to the Future together, and Kyle rested his head on Beck’s shoulder.
Or, maybe it was the time Kyle made a card that said ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY BECK’ with cut-out letters from the periodic table. (Leslie said it looked like a ransom note, but Beck didn’t mind.)
Maybe it was when Kyle and Beck pooled money to buy a ‘Moon Deed’, so they could share an apartment on the Moon.
Either way, it happened.
It’s lunch, and Beck and Kyle are sitting at their spot. The two chairs closest to the window, but not directly facing the window— they chose this spot together, after working out all of the potential variables with a detailed pros/cons list. Beside them are the other teachers. Namely, Kate, Aidy, Leslie, Mikey, Kenan, Melissa and Pete. They were in the middle of a conversation about something inane.
“I’m telling you,” Kate said, slamming her fist on the table to punctuate her point. “There is no way in hell Tom Cruise could win a match of dodgeball against me.”
Aidy shook her head. “You’re good, but Tom Cruise is better.”
“How does everybody know that Tom Cruise is a skilled dodgeball player?” Mikey asked. “When were we informed of this?”
“Everybody shut up,” Leslie demanded. “Which of y’all got dates to that teachers’ picnic?”
“Going with the wife,” said Kenan.
Pete was at the end of the table, hunched over his phone. Without looking up, he said, “Sounds lame.” Beck wasn’t sure how old Pete was, but he knew he was definitely the youngest. He was known to the group as the teacher most likely to be a student pretending to be a teacher. Nobody really knew what class he taught, but they didn’t bother asking. He probably taught something.
“I’m bringing my boyfriend,” Melissa said, stirring her coffee. “I met him on Tinder, and I think he might be a werewolf.”
“You go, girl,” said Aidy.
Beck wasn’t really listening.
He and Kyle were sharing a bag of chips, passing it to each other without really thinking. They had their lunch routine down pat: every second day, they split a snack-size bag of chips, and on every other day, they split a bag of two-bite brownies. Beck held out the bag so that Kyle could take a chip. Normally, they bought original, but the vending machine was out, so they settled for salt and vinegar.
“I’m going with Beck. We’ve been practicing for the big tug of war, and we’re totally gonna win,” Kyle said.
“Totally,” Beck agreed.
“Well, duh,” Leslie said. “Haven’t seen you two in different rooms since Kyle got the flu.”
“And then Beck got the flu two days later,” Kenan said, chuckling into his coffee cup. “I wonder why.”
“Because we were watching Paul at my house around the time I contracted the illness,” explained Kyle, his inner scientist coming out.
“I ate some of his popcorn,” Beck added.
Leslie snorted. “Uh-huh.”
Beck could tell that there was a joke there somewhere, probably at his expense, but he didn’t think too hard about it. After lunch, he had to teach a class that almost always ended with at least three students in the principal’s office. It was bound to be an ordeal. He was preserving his energy.
Kyle didn’t press Leslie for an explanation either.
Ten minutes (and one long, heated argument about Tom Cruise’s athletic ability) later, the bell rang. The teachers parted ways: Katie jogged to the gymnasium, Mikey and Kenan walked to their respective mathematics classes, Aidy and Leslie to the library, and Pete wandered off to whatever class he taught.
Beck and Kyle started the walk to their own classrooms, which were next door to each other, talking about something mildly interesting. When they reached the corner that led straight to their classrooms, Kyle stopped walking.
“—that means dogs can look up, which I already knew, and… What’s wrong?”
“You have that class you don’t like, right? They’re in there right now?” asked Kyle. There was an expression on his face that was vaguely familiar. Beck remembered it from the time they duped Mikey into thinking that Han Solo was a real astronaut. Mischievous was the word, Beck thought, tapping into his English teacher knowledge.
“...Yes,” Beck answered dubiously.
“Hear me out here,” Kyle said, putting a hand on his shoulder. He lowered his voice. “What if we call substitutes to take the class? Say we accidentally scheduled our dentist appointments at the same time. Or maybe just that we got sick, and we’ll be back in an hour?”
“Sure,” said Beck. He smiled at the fact that Kyle honestly thought he had to lower his voice and duck under the security cameras to skip out on one class. It was…
Cute , supplied the portion of his brain that stored all the English knowledge. Cute? Did Beck think Kyle was cute? Well, yes, of course. He had deduced that much on day one, but those feelings were supposed to go away. They were friends. Close friends, but friends all the same. A purely platonic relationship.
“Cool, cool. I’ve gotta show you something,” said Kyle, giving his shoulder a quick squeeze.
Beck followed him to the laboratory; a wide open room stocked with all sorts of chemicals, test tubes and microscopes. On the surface, it was a regular high-school chemistry lab. But underneath that surface, it was Kyle’s own ‘mad scientist’ laboratory. Potentially illegal chemicals, equipment that came straight from the dark depths of eBay, and all of Kyle’s personal ongoing experiments.
“You’re not going to wheel out Frankenstein on a cot, are you?” asked Beck, sliding into one of the stools at a long, metal table. “Because that would mean we would have to raise a reanimated man together, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of commitment.”
“Good guess, but no,” said Kyle. He was searching through his cabinets, shoving aside textbooks and labeled bottles. His workplace was noticeably disorganized, so it took him a few minutes to find what he was looking for. Under a white cloth, Kyle pulled out a box of coloured glass tubes.
He carefully set the box on the table. From the top drawer of his desk he took out two pairs of white gloves and goggles. Beck watched intently.
“These are very rare, very expensive chemicals that do cool things,” explained Kyle. “Two weeks ago, I got really drunk and ordered them online. Couldn’t get a refund, so— want to blow things up with me?”
“How could I say no?” said Beck.
It’s when Kyle takes out the cesium that things shift. He motioned for Beck to lean in, and he did, slowly and carefully and incredibly close to Kyle’s face. There was a brief pause in which Beck started to think he might have accidentally leaned in too close.
He pulled back a little and a look flashed across Kyle’s face, a look that Beck didn’t recognize. With his other hand, Kyle pulled him in again, not forcefully— just enough so that Beck got the idea. The cesium sat there, untouched, waiting to blow their minds, but Kyle was distracted. His hand was still resting on Beck’s forearm.
Beck could feel the warmth of his hand through the glove.
Up close, Beck could see all the angles and edges of Kyle’s face, his eyes, his lips. He couldn’t help but notice how much he liked Kyle’s face, to the color of his eyes and the slant of his nose.
“Beck,” said Kyle, not blinking.
“Kyle,” said Beck.
“I kind of want to kiss you,” said Kyle, clearly nervous.
Beck smiled. “I’d like that.”
Once the cesium was a safe distance away, Kyle leaned in to kiss Beck, tentative at first but then not at all , and Beck felt the heat of his hands pressing on his waist. All at once, the tension and uncertainty became a mere afterthought. Beck put every ounce of himself into this one kiss. Kyle returned the favour.
It was then that they heard a knock at the door and quickly pulled back. Beck combed a hand through his hair and smoothed down his shirt, but he was still slightly disheveled. Kyle angled himself so that he could see who was at the door.
“It’s a student, I think,” Kyle said.
Beck ran his tongue over his teeth. “Do you know what they want?”
“I think they’re just here to borrow my stapler.”
“Follow-up question: do you have a closet?”
“Right over there,” answered Kyle, pointing to the open closet door just behind Beck, conveniently positioned so that nobody could see it from outside the lab. “It locks.”
“That works,” said Beck, and they rushed to the closet, ducking under the glass panel in the classroom door. In the storage closet— ironically enough —they had their second kiss, longer and more heated than the first.
It was in that storage closet that Beck came to the conclusion that he was helplessly in love with Kyle.