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Calmer Than Cream

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You've never been particularly good at thinking ahead. Sometimes you fool yourself into believing you are, that you can anticipate consequences and weigh cost versus benefit like real adults are supposed to do. You make what you're pretty sure is a healthy life decision and you congratulate yourself and go to bed on time and wake up early the next morning ready for a productive day of teaching and interaction with other responsible, functional adults.

And by the end of the day, somehow, you're always left wondering where all your resolve went as you run your hand over the curve at the waist of your colleague's sixteen-year-old daughter.

So yes, maybe you still have something to learn about really thinking your decisions through before you make them. But if you had known -- if you had known she was your student, if you'd known you'd be fired, if you'd known -- would you have done anything different?

Some things can't be predicted, you muse as your key slides into the lock of your apartment door. And as your door swings open and you're treated to a flurry of movement -- blonde hair whipping around shoulders and away from your bed, a glint of light off a laptop as it's slammed shut on the coffee table, tanned and lean limbs unfolding themselves as their owner rises from the couch in guilty surprise -- you start to think that nothing can be predicted. The uncertainty in the eyes of your teenaged girlfriend and her best friends, caught in the act of using your apartment as some sort of makeshift clubhouse in your absence, supports your conclusion.

Aria's eyes are even wider and more childlike than usual as she stammers your name. Her gaze follows you as you slowly, silently, deposit your laptop bag on the couch next to Spencer, who flinches but stares at you bravely. Emily can't look you in the eye. Hanna can't seem to stop looking you in the eye.

"Hello," you say finally, and begin walking towards Aria, then past her, and her shoulders deflate a little when you don't kiss her in greeting. Instead you turn on the burner underneath the ever-present kettle sitting on your stove and open the cabinet door immediately above, pulling out first two, then four, then five mugs and your cedar tea chest. When everything is neatly arranged and waiting on the counter, you turn and give all of the girls a tight smile. "I have regular and decaf."

"Regular's fine," says Hanna, sliding onto the couch next to Spencer, who's already slowly and warily reopening the laptop in front of her as she nods her agreement.

You open the tea chest and sift through the varieties as you call, "Emily?"

"Decaf," she mutters.

You pull four teabags from one section of the chest and a fifth for Emily, sorting them into the mugs. The tapping sound of Spencer's fingers on the laptop keys begins slowly, uncertainly, then speeds to a feverish pace.

Aria smiles at you.

The kettle whistles.