Tiffany wasn't sure what she was doing on Dega Street in the first place. Well, they did have really good coffees at Begin the Bean, and Sandi and Quinn were both anti-coffee, so if she wanted a cappuccino, coming here, where Sandi and Quinn wouldn't be caught dead, was a good idea.
The problem, Tiffany reflected as she sipped, was that everyone around her was a freakshow—like the cashier. Tiffany wasn't always that observant, so if she noticed that the "woman" who took her change was a man, a man in way too much makeup with the worst wig she'd ever seen, well, maybe the guy needed to give up on the whole drag queen scene.
And the customers were little better. She'd seen one of the goth girls from school—the redhead with that funny necklace that Sandi called an Ank, whatever that was—and she was one of the normal ones. It seemed like everyone was wearing black eyeliner and fishnets, if they weren't wearing ripped tie-dye or paisley, and that was just the guys. And everyone seemed to have piercings: nose, eyes, cheeks. Some of them even had chains running from the rings in their ears to the other ring. One guy had chains from rings in both ears to a single ring in the middle of his nose. What happens if he sneezes. Ewww.... But the coffee was really good.
It was probably because he looked so much more normal than the rest of the crowd that she noticed the guy. His black hair was just beginning to recede up a high forehead, and his long face had a big frown. His tweed jacket was threadbare, and he looked totally miserable. He also looked familiar, and Tiffany wondered why she couldn't place him. Something tickled at the back of her mind, but she tried to ignore it.
She looked away and sipped her cappuccino again, trying to put him out of her mind. She felt like she was finally forgetting when a familiar voice asked, "Excuse me, miss, but did you go to Lawndale High School?" The voice was deep with the trace of an upper crust accent, which was probably fake. Tiffany looked up to see the man in the tweed jacket. "Uh... yes," she said, startled.
"I thought so," he said. "Your name is Tiffany, right?"
Her weird meter started to go off, at the same time her memory came back. "I know you! You were the substitute, the weird one who touched my hair. And then you got fired and Quinn's sister took over the class and made us write an essay."
"Ken Edwards, at your service," he said. "It's nice to see you again, Tiffany."
"You were hitting on me," Tiffany said. She wasn't exactly afraid of him, but he did bother her and she felt like she should be mad at him. "You were my teacher, and you shouldn't have done that."
"You're right," he said, sounding miserable again. "I didn't behave properly at all. I was just so excited to find you."
"To find me? Why were you looking for me?" She was getting confused, and just a little worried. "And were you still looking for me? It's been almost a year. you know. If you'e still looking for me, that's pretty creepy."
"I suppose," he said with a sigh. "I wasn't looking for you particularly, Tiffany. I was looking for someone like you. You see, I'm an author, or I would be if I could finish my damn book."
"That's right. You were writing a book, about budding a flowering womanchild or something icky like that."
"Something like that," he said. Then he titled his head and raised his eyebrows. It made him look funny and less creepy to Tiffany. "The idea for the book is pretty icky, I suppose. It's about an older man seducing a teenager and the problems that causes for both of them. I've had the whole story plotted out for years, but it lacks fire and passion. Every draft is flat. No one would believe that my characters would share a cup of coffee, much less a love affair. So I thought I needed to find a model for the girl."
The word model rang bells in Tiffany's mind, but her weird meter redlined almost immediately. "You don't look like someone who works for a fashion magazine," she said. "You'd probably want me to pose naked and then sell the pictures to some creepy porn guy."
He laughed. It sounded surprisingly normal. "Not that kind of model, Tiffany. I mean someone that reminds me of the character I was trying to come up with; someone beautiful and innocent, but sneaky and self-absorbed. I figured subbing in high school was a good way to meet people like that. I had a minor in education anyway, and being an unpublished novelist doesn't pay well."
Tiffany wasn't sure but thought she might have been insulted. She decided to be offended and didn't say anything.
Ken didn't notice. He brushed his hair back and continued. "You seemed perfect, and whole scenes started popping up in my head. I got so excited that I went overboard, and next thing I got fired. I still got work for awhile because that awful Principal Li hushed things up, but some lawyer lady, Morgandoctor or something, found out, and suddenly I couldn't work anywhere around here. I bummed around from friend to friend for awhile and now I'm back in Lawndale."
"Uh, what does this have to do with me?" Tiffany said. Any fear she felt was gone, but she was annoyed that she had to listen to this guy's life story. It wasn't very interesting.
"Well, I"m still looking for a model," he said. "And as far as I can tell, you're still perfect."
"So you want me to come back to your apartment with you? I don't think so!"
"No," he laughed again. "Nothing like that. Just meet me here for coffee once a week."
"Just an hour of your time, every week until I finish the book or you finish High School, whichever comes first."
"Why should I?" Tiffany asked. That was one of the first rules of the Fashion Club. You didn't do anything for, with, or to a boy without getting something out of it.
"To help a struggling artist make his name in the world," he said. Her eyes went cold, and he shook his head. "I didn't think that would work. If the book's a bestseller, I'll make sure that everyone knows you were the inspiration for the character. You'll be famous. Might even lead to some more modeling jobs. Real modeling, not spending an hour a week talking to a balding geek."
"And what are the chances the book will be a bestseller?" she asked.
"Not very high," he admitted, "but I'm not asking very much. An hour a week in a public place, against the chance that you might be famous. I'll even pay for the coffee."
She looked down at her cappuccino and then back at Ken. He hadn't been that bad when he'd been a substitute, just a little weird. And it was nice to be noticed for herself, which wasn't always easy with Sandi and Quinn around. I could be famous and I never have to be alone with him. And I could have something to hold over Sandi and Quinn.
"Okay," she said. Her voice suddenly went hard, harder than she'd ever remembered. "But I'm bringing mace."
"Agreed," he said with a smile. "I'll make sure you never have a reason to use it."
* * *
For the next few weeks, Tiffany faithfully met Ken every Sunday afternoon for coffee. He always had regular, light, no sugar, and she had her cappuccino. Sometimes she made him splurge and get extra cinnamon. She supposed she should feel bad about that, but she was doing him a favor. And besides, she spent the rest of the week carefully watching every morsel she ate, so she should be allowed to have some fun.
The conversations usually went the same, too. He'd ask how her week was, how school went, what her friends were up to, things like that. She found herself talking about Quinn and Sandi, and how they were still competing for control of the Fashion Club. Well, not the Fashion Club—the four girls had all quit together last summer. But they still spent most of their time together, and Quinn and Sandi still fought like cats and dogs. He seemed to find it all fascinating, when her mother and father hadn't even bothered faking interest in forever.
"So Sandi got a guy to stand Quinn up for her?" he said one Sunday afternoon.
She nodded and sipped her cappuccino.
"How did you react?"
Her lips parted in a thin smile, and her eyes glittered with spite. "I had a laugh at both of them. I got him to stand them both up two weeks in a row to hang out with me."
He laughed. "So you got outside their little game."
"Yeah," she said, and looked at her reflection in the shiny metal of the napkin holder. "I used to try to play them off against each other, but that never seemed to get anywhere. They weren't really fighting over anything. They were just fighting to fight. So I keep track of how many times I score off them."
"Sounds like you don't have much use for them," he said. "Why do you bother?"
"Oh, they're not that bad," she said. "I've known Sandi forever. She moved here in elementary school. Second grade. Or maybe third, or fourth." She shook her head. "Doesn't matter. And Quinn's nice enough underneath it all. She just doesn't show it enough. Stace is really nice, but she's weak and clingy. It's hard not to take advantage of her."
A sudden picture from last year popped into her mind—Stacy screaming at her in the girls room that time after Sandi broke her leg. She'd felt bad about it later, but at the time it was all she could do to keep from laughing until Stacy was out if sight. Not that she was going to tell Ken. She hadn't told anyone that was a put-on and wasn't going to.
Looking down, she noticed her cappuccino was gone. "We done?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "See you next week."
The routine continued over the next couple of months, but things began to get a little harder. For one thing, dating time was at a premium now that the school year was in full swing, so boys were interested in where she was on Sunday afternoons. And not just boys.
"Why," Sandi asked in her most stuck-up, nose-in-the-air voice, "would you pass up dates three Sundays in a row? You're not holding up Fashion Club standards."
"Uh, Sandi," Stacy blurted, "there is no more Fashion Club. Remember?"
"She's right," Quinn added before Sandi could turn on Stacy.
Sandi was undeterred. "Well it is still very strange behavior for an eligible senior in prime dating season. And I, for one, would like to know the cause."
Tiffany shrugged. "My mom has me helping her every Sunday at her church. We sell stuff." At the other girls' curious looks, she added, "It's that or go to the youth group. And there's no way I'm doing that." She realized it was probably extra bad to lie about church, but it was all in a good cause. The other girls wouldn't try to find her or ask any questions.
"Fine," Sandi said at last. "But I think you need to tell your mother to get her priorities straight." And then, with a sniff, she was gone, Stacy in her wake. Quinn stuck around long enough to give Tiffany a sympathetic look before heading off to class.
She replayed the conversation word-for-word to Ken that weekend. He was suitably impressed. She could tell because he got that faraway look he sometimes got that meant the words were coming. Sometimes it was so bad, he'd just toss a bill on the table and run out. She'd gotten stuck with a single once when that happened, but she'd also gotten a couple of twenties out of it, so she wasn't going to complain too much.
Sandi continued to pester her over the next few weeks, but she always misdirected her. She knew Sandi was much more intelligent than she was, but she also knew the difference between intelligence and smarts, and in smarts, she beat Sandi hands down. She figured once she got to winter break, things would cool down. Dating schedules tightened up in January while everyone crammed for midterms at the end of the month. So her mistake came as a big surprise.
The week after winter break, Ken was asking her about the boys she dated. She was willing to talk about it, bu only up to a point.
"I'm not your peepshow," she said, when he pressed her for a little too much detail. "What we said is OK. What we did is not your business."
"You're right," he said with a sigh. "It's just that it's been a long time for me. I'll just have to remember my college days for that stuff." He tried a gentle smile, but it came off as disturbing. That might have been why she missed the flash of red hair coming through the door.
He continued to apologize for a couple more minutes as her eyes settled on the back of a head that looked familiar. She saw auburn hair spilling out from under a wool cap in no particular style, and what were certainly a woman's legs under a shapeless green jacket. It make her think of someone, but she didn't remember who. Ken's words faded as she watched the girl, who took two cups and moved to a booth across the room, where she sat down opposite the redhead Tiffany hadn't noticed before.
Suddenly, it all clicked. Shit! Quinn's sister. With Quinn! I have to get out of here. "That's nice, Ken, but I have to go."
"What?" he asked, shocked.
"I have to go. No time to explain, but I have to be somewhere else, right now! I'll see you next week." Heart pounding, she tore out of Begin the Bean, hoping against hope that Quinn hadn't seen her.
* * *
Tiffany expected Quinn to say something the next day and was surprised when she didn't. By the end of the week, she was starting to feel like she might have gotten lucky. Quinn hadn't said a word, and neither had anyone else. By the time school ended on Friday, she was pretty sure it was safe to meet Ken again on Sunday.
She told herself she was calm as she walked into the coffee shop on Sunday, but her eyes scanned for familiar faces as she sat in her usual place. Jet-black hair cut short caught her eye, but when she turned to get a closer look, the hairstyle and its owner were gone. She shook her head as Ken slid into the seat after her.
"Something the matter?" he asked.
"Why do you ask?" She sounded suspicious even to herself.
"Oh, no reason," he said, with an airy wave. "You ran out of here last week like all the demons of Hell were on your tail, and now you're watching the crowd like someone out of a spy movie."
She made a face. "I thought Quinn saw me last week. But she hasn't said anything, so she might have missed me."
"So I'm your secret shame," he said, with a half-smile.
Sudden irritation filled her. "Let me put it this way. You wanted to talk to a popular girl about her high school life. If someone catches us here and decides I'm dating a balding substitute teacher in his thirties, I won't be a popular girl."
His smiled faded. "I know. I'm sorry. I was hoping to calm you down, but it didn't help. If you want, we can just cut it short today, and pick up next week."
She shrugged, feeling calmer. "I'm already here, so we may as well talk. Besides," she added with a smile, "you still owe me cappuccino."
He chuckled. "True."
"So how's the book going?" she asked, suddenly curious. She'd never really asked before, even though they'd been doing this for months.
His eyes lit. "It's going great! I think I'm about two-thirds of the way though this draft. If I keep it up, I'll definitely be done before the end of the school year!"
She smiled politely, and started talking about her week. Time flew and before she knew it, they were done. "See you next week," Ken said.
"See you next week," she returned and headed out. As she walked out the door, she put him out of her mind. As she always did.
That night, something dragged him back. She was in her room, idly thumbing through Waif with FashionVision on in the background, when her mother called up. "It's Quinn!"
"Got it, Mom," said Tiffany as she picked up the phone. She blinked stupidly for a second as the dial tone sounded in her ear. After a moment, she realized that Quinn had to be at the door. Her stomach sank as she headed down the stairs, and the look in Quinn's eyes told her that her suspicions were right.
Fortunately, she was able to get Quinn upstairs before her mother caught on.
As soon the door to the bedroom closed behind them, Quinn spoke. "I hope you don't mind me coming by, but I figured it would be easier to talk to you without Stacy and Sandi around."
"Uh, sure," Tiffany said.
"What's going on?" Quinn asked, voice urgent. "The first time I see you on a Sunday in months and it's at Begin the Bean with that creepy pedophile substitute from last year. It was him, right? Daria thought it was, too. And now you're back there again today?"
"I didn't see you today," Tiffany said, not bothering to lie. "How'd you know I was there?"
"Daria's friend Jane," Quinn said. "I figured you wouldn't recognize her."
Tiffany remembered the black hair. "I thought she looked familiar. But why," she asked, her voice hardening, "were you spying on me? Looking for blackmail material?"
Quinn's eyes widened. "Tiffany, I'm worried about you. The last time we saw that guy, he was running his hands through your hair and all but begging you to have sex with him. Even Li realized he had to go. And now you're out with him every week. Is he... doing something to you?"
Tiffany couldn't help it. She burst out laughing. And Quinn's reaction just fed the fire; the redhead looked so ridiculous that Tiffany couldn't stop. Finally, she got control of herself. "I'm sorry, Quinn. It's just that..." Giggles threatened to overwhelm her again. "No, Ken's not doing anything horrible. Remember the book he was writing?"
"About the budding flower and the hand of experience?" Quinn shuddered.
"He wants to talk to someone about what it's like to be a teenager. I happened to run into him and with one thing and another, I volunteered."
Quinn shuddered again. "Isn't that still a bit creepy?"
"I suppose," TIffany said, "but we always meet in a public place at the same time, and he never follows me, so I'm not in any danger."
"But what if he's not writing a book?" Quinn asked.
This time it was Tiffany's turn to shudder. "That would be creepy. But we're only meeting until the end of the school year. After that, we're done forever."
"I suppose," Quinn said. "But I still think this is kinda... I don't know, Tiff. Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
She nodded. "I'll be fine, Quinn. Only," she pleaded, "you won't tell Stacy or Sandi, will you?"
"If you don't want me to," she said. "Do you mind if I talk to Daria about it? She's smart and she doesn't care about high school games. So if something bad happens, she'll know what to do."
"If you want," Tiffany said, "but nothing's going to happen." Thinking about it, she was sure it was true. Ken might be weird and more than a little creepy, but he was good-hearted and harmless. And if I'm wrong, I've still got my mace.
"Okay, Tiff," Quinn said, clearly not convinced.
"Thanks, Quinn. Do you want to stick around and watch FashionVision?"
"I would, but I should probably get going. Daria's running interference with the 'rents. I shouldn't leave her hanging." Quinn smiled. "She might get bored and flip on me."
As she walked Quinn to the door, Tiffany reflected on how lucky she was that it was Quinn who had seen her. Imagining how Sandi or Stacy would have reacted, she chuckled, and then went back to the TV.
* * *
Over the next weeks, Quinn was as good as her word. Tiffany didn't hear a word from her about Ken, nor did she set foot in Begin the Bean while Tiffany was there. And Sandi and Stacy had nothing new to say on the subject of Tiffany's Sunday plans, which meant that Quinn hadn't told them either. Oh, Sandi still gave Tiffany crap about not being around on Sundays, but she said nothing specific, which was all Tiffany needed to know.
Her weekend meetings with Ken were also going smoothly. He asked far fewer questions, mostly just sitting there with the smile she'd come to associate with new ideas for his book. Things continued smoothly until the weekend before Easter break.
"So, tell me about your date," Ken said.
"Run of the mill," Tiffany returned. "He took me to Chez Pierre, I faked interest in his football stories, and didn't eat the food. Then he took me home."
Ken chuckled, which offended her for some reason. "If you say 'your home or his,' I'm leaving right now," she snapped.
"Sorry." he said, but didn't sound it. "I just thought of something funny. It wouldn't translate."
Not at all mollified, Tiffany gave him a hard stare. "Are we done?"
"Almost," he said. "I just have one more question. We've been doing this for over six months, and you've never said anything about boyfriends. You date some of the same guys over again, but never twice in a row. Don't you want a boyfriend?"
She went cold all over. "I hope you're not applying for the job," she said, ready to walk out and never come back if his answer didn't satisfy her.
"Me? No." A trace of humor touched his voice. "You're a little young for me, don't you think?"
"And you're a little old for me," she said, relief filling her. "But why the sudden question about boyfriends?"
"Well, the ending doesn't work if the character doesn't show more commitment."
"Ending?" she said, coldness coming again for a different reason.
"Yes," he said, not noticing her change in tone. "She runs around with a bunch of guys during the book, but she has to be closer to the narrator, or it doesn't work. The breakup has to touch her or it won't touch the reader. So I was hoping you could tell me what it's like to break up with someone you care about. Hence the boyfriend question."
"I don't know," she shrugged. "I'm in high school. Boys are just boys. I don't really care about them. I just go out with them because it's fun." Something in his eyes changed, and he looked almost disapproving. "And they don't really care about me," she added hastily, not liking that look. "They just want to be seen with a member of the Fashion Club or a cheerleader or someone else pretty and popular."
"I suppose," Ken said. "High school's a long time ago for me. It's hard to remember what I was thinking back then." Whatever had shown in his eyes was gone, and he was all business again. "So you've never experienced a break-up?"
"No," she said. "I mean I can tell you some of the things I've said to boys, and some of the things Sandi and Quinn used."
"Not Stacy?" he asked, chuckling.
She chuckled back. "For some reason, it's the boys who forget to call Stacy. Quinn told me about her sister breaking up with a boy. Maybe I can tell you some of that."
"Okay," he nodded.
She took a sip of cappuccino and tried to think. "Well, Quinn's sister said something like 'I think we've come to the end of our relationship,' but that doesn't sound like something I'd say. I might say 'I care about you, too, but I don't think we're going to work.'"
She suddenly realized she would miss coming here on Sundays for an hour of coffee and honesty. "I know you think you know me, but I don't even know me, and you can't build a life with someone you don't know." It was nice to have someone think your words mattered. "The rest of my life, or even the next few years, is a long time, and I don't think you can keep me happy for all that time. I don't think I can keep you happy. We're just too different." She blinked, astonished to find her eyes burning, and came back to herself.
"How was that?" she asked.
"I can work with it," he said, and smiled. "Listen, I don't think I'm going to be here for the next two weeks. I've got family stuff for Easter and I think I might be able to finish. How about we meet again in three weeks?"
She shook her head, as if she didn't understand. "Okay," she finally said. "I'll see you in three weeks."
"Great," he said and dropped some bills on the table. "Have a happy Easter!"
She watched him go, horrified. I'm not actually going to miss him.... am I?
* * *
Whatever had gotten into Tiffany's head the last time she met Ken was gone. She viewed this week's visit not as a reunion, but as a duty—one she would be happy to be done with. It had been nice to have her Sunday afternoons back. Even though she hadn't been dating, she'd been taking it easy, thumbing through Waif, experimenting with make-up combinations, admiring her reflection—stuff she really enjoyed.
And now that's over and the stupid bastard isn't even here, she thought as she sat in her usually booth, sipping cappuccino and being annoyed. Once again, she wondered why she bothered. Maybe it's time to drop this. It's not like I care whether Ken finishes his book or not.
Just as she was about to do the unthinkable and ask for the bill, he slid into the seat next to her, looking disheveled. "Sorry I'm late," he panted. "I ran most of the way here."
"Oh?" she said, tilting her head.
"I lost track of time." He smiled. "But I've got good news. I'm done. You're free to go!"
"Done?" She blinked.
"The new draft is all done. It's gonna need tons of rewrites, but I can manage that on my own. So your part is over. And to celebrate, I'll even buy you two cappuccinos today."
Relief washed over Tiffany. "That's okay," she said, faking a smile. "I'm set. And congratulations!"
"Okay," he said. For a second, he looked disappointed, but he broke out in another smile. "Thanks. Hey, do you want to read it?"
"Uh, no," Tiffany said. Later on, she couldn't have explained why she did it, but for whatever reason, she whipped a pen out of her purse and scrawled an email address on a napkin. "But email me when it gets published."
"Sure thing," said Ken to Tiffany's retreating back.
That night, Tiffany did something she rarely did: she analyzed her feelings. Three weeks ago, she'd been worried that she would never see Ken again, while today she honestly didn't care. Clearly, something must have changed, but she wasn't sure what. Ken had been an appreciative audience, and she'd seen no reason why that would stop. Of course, it did, she thought, but that's beside the point.
She wasn't afraid of being found out. Quinn had known for months and hadn't said a word, and neither Sandi nor Stacy had ever set foot in Begin the Bean in their lives so far as Tiff knew. Nor had she expected Ken to get any creepier. He'd freaked her out and calmed her down moments before she decided she was going to miss him, but three weeks later she didn't care.
I guess I got what I wanted, she thought. But I'll probably never know what it is. She rolled over, went to sleep, and tried to forget about Ken Edwards.
In this she was largely successful. Telling Quinn that she was done with Ken was the only detail that tied her to him, so she did it right away. She was oddly touched by the profound relief on Quinn's face, but also somewhat annoyed. Does Quinn think I don't know how to take care of myself? As usual, she buried the irritation.
The last two months of high school didn't really stand out. There were dates and parties and the eventual graduation, and the competition over what college who would be attending. Tiffany knew she didn't have the grades (or the brains) to get into a good school, so was satisfied with the two-year program at the local community college.
And if I do well, I can go to Lawndale State in two years. Maybe I'll see Stacy. Stacy was going to Lawndale State and happy about the prospect of possibly seeing a familiar face, even if it took Tiffany two years to get there.
Quinn and Sandi on the other hand had an epic flare up over which one was more likely to get into Pepperhill. Of course, they both got in, though Quinn got scholarship money. Tiffany was happy for them, but in a way, she was also satisfied. It appealed to her sense of... something that Sandi and Quinn would be stuck together for four more years. Plus, she know they wouldn't be happy without each other to fight with.
It wasn't until the end of the summer that Tiffany's content little world was disturbed again. The imminent departure of Quinn, Sandi, and Stacy was part of it, but mostly it was the email that popped up in her inbox one morning in early August.
I hope you don't mind me asking, but I have some big news. Do you mind meeting me at Begin the Bean tomorrow at 12? If not, no worries.
Her first instinct was to delete the message and forget about it. But the more she thought about it, the more she knew she wanted to find out what his news was. And, much to her disgust, she found she wanted to see him again.
So the next day at about ten after twelve, she made her way nervously into Begin the Bean. Ken spotted her immediately and began waving. He looked exactly the same, the long face, thinning hair askew across his forehead, and tweed jacket in need of repair. But this time the face was lit up in a grin.
As soon as she reached him, he began a dance of joy. "Tiff!" he almost screamed. "I did it! I'm gonna be published!" He waved the letter in his hand, and she found herself caught up in his enthusiasm.
"That's great, Ken," she said, and meant it. "Really, it's just wonderful." For the first time, she smiled freely at him, without ulterior motive, irony, or cynicism.
"And I couldn't have done it without you!" He took her hands and began to spin her, attracting the eyes of the other patron. "This is the best day of my life!"
"I'm happy for you, Ken," she laughed, "but maybe you should calm down. Or we're going to get thrown out."
"You're right," he laughed. "Calm. It's just.. I just. I never expected this day to come. And I have you to thank for it." He grabbed her in a hug, and her heart gave a sudden thump. For just a second, a wave of longing washed over her. I want to be this happy. I want to kiss this man.
He must have sensed the change, as he eased her out of the hug. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he looked into her eyes. The strange desire faded, and her heart slowed. Kissing him made no sense. He's a geek. In tweed!
He smiled gently. "Thank you again, Tiffany. You've helped make my dream come true. I hope someone can make yours come true, too." He turned and left. She knew, without having to ask, that she had likely seen him for the last time. There would be no more emails, no more contact. A tiny part of her regretted the loss, but the rest was grateful. "He's a good guy, but he's not part of my world," she whispered.
And then, because she was there, she sat down and ordered a cappuccino.
* * *
"Hmm...," Tiffany said, looking at the printout in her hand. "Elementary English Composition, the Rigney Building." She turned to taller girl next to her. "Can you show me where that is, Stace?"
"Sure," Stacy Rowe, no longer pigtailed, but sporting a tomboyish pixie cut, smiled at Tiffany and pointed to a large brick building with a small cupola on top. "Cut across the green, and you'll end up right in front of it."
Tiffany smiled her thanks and headed in the direction Stacy indicated. Much had changed in the last three years, but much had remained the same. Stacy was less clingy, but was still the same essentially sweet girl she'd been at Lawndale. Tiffany herself had discarded some of her cynicism and committed herself to working harder, at school and at life. The result, though it took three years rather than two, was her admission to Lawndale State.
She entered the Rigney Building and quickly found her classroom and took a seat in the back. Surveying the room, she found herself surrounded by freshmen. One downside to transferring; they'll give you the credits, but you still have to make up core requirements.
The door opened, and the teacher entered. Tiffany's jaw dropped. "It can't be," she whispered. But, as he scrawled his name—"Prof. Edwards"—on the chalkboard, she conceded that it was, indeed, Ken Edwards in the flesh. He walked around the room, handing out syllabi, talking about what they were expected to do in the class, and just generally being chatty. When he came to her, she tried to look away, but their eyes met for a second, and he smiled and slipped a syllabus on her desk.
She looked down. Across the top of was written, "See me after class."
She didn't have long to wait, since he dismissed the class after about fifteen minutes, admonishing them to be on time for the next class.
"A strange surprise," he said with a smile, as he walked over to her desk. "How have you been, Tiff?"
"Uh, um, fine," she stammered. "What are you doing here?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Teaching English Comp. I thought that was obvious."
"I thought you were going to be this big novelist." Her tone was slightly accusatory. "You were going to make me famous, remember?"
"Yeah," he said. "I got published, and started working on another novel. But I got bogged down and the first one sank without a trace. I spent years being a teacher trying to be a novelist, and I was never really either. But the novel gave me some credibility, enough to get me into a doctoral program. So here I am being a teacher trying to be a teacher. In two or three years I'll have my Ph.D and hopefully a tenure track job."
"So, no more novels?"
"Besides the dissertation, you mean?" He shrugged. "Maybe someday. If I get the itch again. Right now, I'm happy where I am. This is my second year here, and I'm really enjoying it. How about you?"
"Well, I got my associates and made it into four-year college," she said. "I've done some local modeling gigs, but somehow I don't think FashionVision is in my future." She smiled. "And I'm okay with that. I found out I like to learn. So something good will come along."
"That's great," he said. "I'm glad to see you're doing well. All the best, Tiffany."
"Thanks, Ken, er, Professor Edwards," she said, and headed out, a smile on her face.
The class after that was perfectly normal. She never told anyone, not even Stacy, that she knew her Comp Professor, and he didn't treat her any differently than his other students. On the last day of the semester, he gave his class a big smile, said he'd enjoyed teaching them, and told them their grades would be posted in the department within the week.
When Tiffany went to check, she had to smile. There, next to her name, was one of only three As in the class. A last thank you, I guess. She chuckled to herself. I can take that. Even if I only deserved a B+.
Author's Note: There was a thread on PPMB about evil Daria characters and Ken's name came up frequently, along with all sorts of lurid accusaations about the awful things he would do. Only thing is, while he certainly deserved to be fired, he never had a chance to do anything really awful. So I thought I'd write a story where Ken didn't have sexual designs on Tiffany and wasn't a totally evil pedophile. This is the result.
Disclaimer: Ken Edwards first appeared in "Lucky Strike" by Peter Elwell, copyright 2001. Daria and all characters are copyright MTV 1997–2002. I own nothing and am merely along for the ride.