I work with college kids, and the other day one of them asked me if I had any “fun high school stories.”
“Yes, I do,” I replied. He looked at me expectantly, but I only smiled and went back to work.
But later I started thinking, what “fun” high school stories do I have? And then a story floated to me out of the fog of memory.
Senior year of high school, I told everyone I had a crush on a young substitute teacher who we’ll call Mr. Watson. Mr. Watson was tall, pale, and extremely thin. He had a gaunt face and a mop of dark hair, and his frail body always seemed to be trembling. Even his voice, which carried the hint of a British accent, was tremulous, as if he were always on the verge of tears. I told all my friends I thought he was dead sexy, and my friend Nikki agreed.
I’m not sure that I was actually attracted to Mr. Watson. I was certainly fascinated by him, and I was into the skinny, emo type, but it’s clear to me now that part of my crush had to do with the fact that Mr. Watson was safe. I could talk about him and fantasize about him without the fear of rejection or awkwardness…or so I thought.
He was the substitute for my health class several times, and I must have struck up conversations with him because I remember we talked about movies and he recommended I watch Harold & Maude and Educating Rita, both of which Nikki and I rented and watched so that we’d have something to talk to Mr. Watson about the next time we saw him.
One day, Nikki and I were at the public library when we saw a man who looked like Mr. Watson except a little healthier — a fuller face and rosier complexion. We went over to him and, as it turned out, he was Mr. Watson’s twin brother. Nikki and I could barely contain our glee. Now there was a Watson for both of us! We decided that Nikki could have the new Watson, “ Bryan”, and I would have the original, more frail Watson, “ John.”
Bryan said that John had actually mentioned us to him. “He said you’re both so poised and intelligent it’s hard to believe you’re still in high school.”
Nikki and I blushed but ate up the compliment.
Somehow, during our conversation at the library, we ended up exchanging phone numbers with Bryan Watson, and the next thing I knew, Nikki and I were going out to dinner with the Watson brothers.
This is the point in my memory where I go “whaaat? Did that really happen?” But yes, yes it did. Nikki and I were seventeen. We went to dinner at a Chinese buffet with John and Bryan Watson who were both twenty-six, and one of whom worked at our high school. It’s unclear to me now why any of us thought this was a good idea, but anyway, there we were, eating egg rolls and talking about god-knows-what.
We did find out more about the Watson brothers. They had lived in England as children, hence the accent, and now they both lived with their mother in a little ranch house near our school. Also, John had fallen out of a tree as a young boy, and ever since then he had suffered from tremors.
The dinner stretched on and on with no one wanting to be the one to end things. Finally the Watsons paid the bill, and we all walked to the parking lot to say our awkward goodbyes. John gave me a hug and Nikki hugged Bryan. It seemed they already understood how things had been divvied up.
On the drive home, I said, “you know, that was kind of insane. Do you think they thought that was a date?” I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole situation.
The next day, my phone rang, and it was Mr. Watson. I don’t know exactly how the conversation went, but I do know that at one point he asked me, in his stuttering voice, “Eva, d-d-do you fancy me?”
My heart plunged to my gut and my face flushed with embarrassment. Was I about to be rejected by Mr. Watson? Or was he about to suggest we go on another date? I wasn’t comfortable with either option.
“No,” I said. “I like you as a friend.”
“Because, y-you know, it’s not uncommon f-for professors t-to marry their students.”
What did he mean? That he wanted to marry me? It suddenly dawned on me that this was really happening. This wasn’t a fantasy or a joke between friends anymore. There was an actual twenty-six year old man on the phone who had possible romantic intentions towards me.
“Ummm, my mom’s calling me,” I said quickly. “I have to go.” I hung up the phone.
And that was it. We never heard from the Watsons again, and we never saw Mr. Watson at school either. We asked about him eventually and were told that he had quit because he was joining the Navy.
“He’s much too frail to join the Navy,” I told Nikki. I wondered if he had quit because of us.
We drove by the Watson’s house once, but we didn’t see any cars out front, and we weren’t sure we actually wanted to see the twins anyway. “They were weird,” Nikki said, and I agreed.
And to this day, I don’t really know what to think of the Watsons. Were they just socially-awkward dudes living with their mom who couldn’t get girls their own age? Or were they creepy predators who had bad intentions in store for us?
Looking back on it, two things dawn on me. The first is that Nikki and I were pretty stupid and naïve, and we’re lucky that nothing bad happened. The second is that this is the start of what could be a really awesome novel.
Because of course, in the novel version, things wouldn’t end where they did. They would only just be getting started. And bad things would happen. I’m salivating at the thought of all the crazy, dark, exciting places this story could go. Stalking, kidnapping, mental disorders, attempted murder… And it’s been enough time that I’m not attached to the actual facts — the facts are blurry to me now anyway. I’m ready to take the bones of this story and flesh it out into something truly fascinating (and probably frightening.)
All this because a student asked me if I had any fun high school stories. Makes me wonder why I don’t ask myself that question more often…