"I'm coming!" I shouted in frustration, willing the horn of the car to just stop honking. But of course, Cathy was just as headstrong as me, and wouldn't stop until I got bloody out.
In a hurry, I grabbed my backpack, and got out the front door.
Ugh. I hated waking up early. I thought having my big sister Cathy drive me to school would make my life easier, not harder! Instead, today I found myself leaving an hour earlier than usual.
In fairness, that wasn't her fault. I reminded myself not to be a pain to her on her first day on the new job. She may vouch for me to get the same profession one day, so I better stay on her good side, even if I wanted to slap her right now.
I made my way to the glimmering red BMW parked by the sidewalk - her fianceé's gift, that. Say what you will about Cathy, but she's always known how to wrap men around her little finger. To hear her talk, Richard barely got any sex with her, and always on her terms anyway.
He wasn't entirely toothless. He'd forced Cathy to quit her profitable modelling career, which was the whole reason why she was now a teacher. But in my view, if he found himself getting her a brand new car, Cathy was clearly still coming out ahead.
I had personally found out that girls were just as easily manipulated, though. So maybe this just ran in the family. Cathy and Cindy, the master manipulators!
I chuckled to myself, and ducked to get into the car.
"Hey sis!" I said, tittering. "Or should I call you... teacher?"
Cathy turned to look at me, and I have to say, she played the part of the stunningly beautiful young teacher to a T. She managed to pull off an attractive, and yet completely professional look. I always felt a little like I was in her shadow - but it wasn't that big of a deal to be honest. She drew attention from the boys, and my focus was very much on the girls - unbeknownst to her.
She considered me with her clever green eyes, her blond hair tucked nicely into a bun that sharpened her facial features. I could see the smoldering ambition in those eyes. In that we were much alike, Cathy and I. The world was our oyster, and we took no prisoners.
At 25, Cathy was seven years older than me, and a newly recruited teacher at Crawford High, teaching English Literature. All the guys in my class were falling all over themselves for Cathy already, which annoyed me to no end, since I had to listen to the lewdest, most sexist comments imaginable about my own sister.
Anyone in my social circle quickly learned that such behavior would not be tolerated. I was a bossy bitch, and I knew it, but so what? It worked for me. Everyone else would either fall in line, or find someone else to hang out. And that was that.
"Are you all ready to go?" Cathy asked, snapping me from my reverie.
"Yeah," I said. Her first class was in an hour - I knew very well, since I was in it! But apparently the principal, Mr Burns, wanted to have a chat with Cathy first thing in the morning.
I pitied her. Burns was a creep, a serial ogler of cheerleaders and female teachers alike, a person so slimy that even the jocks found him repulsive. As it was, he'd ruined two people's morning, rather than just one. I'd had to get out of bed early because of him.
As the car followed the winding road towards Crawford High, I wondered how Cathy would fare, working with him. She was as convinced a feminist as they come, hard but fair with her pupils, and used to being taken seriously at all times... the exact opposite of what Burns expected from his female employees.
But I knew she would be fine. Cathy and I, we're cut from the same cloth. No matter what social circle we're in, we're the bosses. I chuckled to myself, thinking about last week - I'd stolen Irene's homework, claimed the credit, and watched the simmering rage in her eyes. I was more popular than her, so the bitch couldn't touch me, no matter how many daggers she stared at me. I loved that.
Cathy was just as tough as me. That reassured me greatly. No matter what he threw at her, she would handle Burns just fine.
John Burns was a methodical man.
He'd spent the last five minutes working over the stack of papers on his desk, making sure they were perfectly aligned and symmetrical. It was fussy, of course, but in a way, that kind of low-level activity allowed his mind to wander on his plans.
And besides, he liked to keep the office tidy. Orderly. Well-functioning.
Yes, he wasn't a perfectionist. His once-formidable body had begun to sag with age, and his beer belly pressed annoyingly against the edge of the desk. His hair had receded, his sight had slightly worsened, and his palms and forehead started sweating with irritating ease.
He was no fool, and he knew what he must look like. The very image of a petty male pencil-pusher with his best years behind him, on the downward glide path towards retirement.
But his mind... Burns had kept that one sharp. People forgot that to their peril. To underestimate him was to expose a deadly flank he would exploit. Countless teachers and would-be challengers had learned that to their sorrow, over the fifteen years of his tenure as principal of Crawford High.
In fact, his political control over the school had never been greater than this. He manipulated tenders and secured bids for his friends and associates. He limited the teachers' autonomy as much as he could, and dished out suspensions and punishments to students as he saw fit.
Yes, he was a petty tyrant. But Crawford High was his petty kingdom.
Even still, after fifteen years, the challengers lined up.
Cathy Cooper was the latest. In a way, she was nothing he hadn't faced before. She married her serious feminist credentials with the upper-class resources and background that enabled her to be formidable. Like many of her predecessors, surely she'd try to, if not get him removed, at least limit his authority over the school, and most certainly enforce propriety in the workplace.
All those predecessors had failed. Burns was no mysogynist, truly, but a sadistic part of him had enjoyed the defeated look in their eyes, when they realised they would have to spend their lives in the workplace taking orders from a man they despised.
He also knew he was lecherous, no doubt about that. Hell, the very first time he became aware of Cathy Cooper, during her final year, his first thought was that she was extremely fuckable.
Now she was here, no longer a model, and a teacher under his employ. So of course he'd made sure to arrange an appointment with her right before her first day in class. She probably expected him to want to set some ground rules, right from the start.
In a way, that was true, of course. But this time, he had something special planned. He licked his lips in anticipation.
Again, he had to remind himself. He was no mysogynist.
No matter how much resentment he felt towards his ex-wife, or how much frustration he harboured towards the increasingly emboldened female teachers who treated him like he was a social disease to be eradicated from the school.
But he was sexually frustrated. He was a sadist. And the delicious contrapasso of breaking a feminist in his own office was too much for him to resist. And he had just the tool to do it.
For the tenth time since sitting at his desk, his fingers felt for his pocket, found the familiar, reassuring bulge of the object he'd carried with him from his latest trip. Yes, it was there. That was what he needed to get started.
Of course, the stone by itself couldn't do miracles, or enslave Cathy for him. It would put the target in the right frame of mind, but then Burns would have to do the hard work himself in the old-fashioned way, gradually, and over a prolonged period of time.
But that was only a trifling concern. After all...
He'd always been a methodical man.
I sat impatiently in the stuffy old chair, waiting for Burns to look up from his meticulously piled stack of papers and give me the light of day.
It was rude, but entirely expected of him to call me in his office, and then keep me waiting. Such a predictable powerplay. Well, it wasn't going to work on me. I had a lecture to give, and I would be getting out of this chair at the prescribed time, whether he was done with me or not.
I breathed in, and wrinkled my nose in disgust. God, this office reeked of smoke - seriously, who smoked indoors anymore these days? Wasn't that illegal? There was a hint of man-sweat too, and a stuffiness typical of an office whose windows have clearly not been opened in months.
I was just about to get out of the chair and go open the window myself when Burns finally looked up.
Actually, that's not the right expression. That would imply he looked at me straight in the eye. But no, the creep virtually undressed me with his male gaze, as he always did. I'd chosen very conservative professional clothing for precisely this reason, but apparently that wasn't enough to stop him from ogling.
I wanted to get this meeting done in a hurry, so I wasn't going to harangue him about it now... but his time would come.
There was no more place for old pigs like him in positions of power in this country, certainly not if he behaved like this. It wouldn't go unchallenged anymore. He would be held accountable. I would make sure of it.
"Miss Cooper," he said, his voice raspy from the smoke. "Thanks for coming in. I wanted to personally welcome you to Crawford High as a teacher!"
"Thanks. Are we done?" I snapped, rolling my eyes. Men in positions of power, or men who are behaving inappropriately, often hide behind a façade of politeness and formality. That way, if you call them out on their predatory behaviour, you're the crazy, hysterical girl who's making a big deal out of nothing.
It was a well-known tactic. He probably thought of himself as a master manipulator for using it, but clearly he underestimated my generation and how done we were with sexual harassment of this kind. I'd burst his bubble at every turn. I wouldn't give him the time of day.
"Just about," he said, unfazed by the rudeness of my response. I frowned, frustrated that I didn't destabilise him more. Was he without shame? Or maybe he was such a professional ogler that he was used to female staff lashing out at him?
"There's one more thing, just to ensure we're on the same page. We want to start this boss-employee relationship on the right foot."
I theatrically arched an eyebrow. I didn't like the emphasis he put on the words boss and employee. Yes, he may be the Principal, but that didn't authorise him to do anything illegal, or place me in any personal obligation towards him. I wasn't in awe of him. The sooner he understood it, the better for everybody.
If he was bothered by my stonewalling silence, he didn't show it. Instead, he fumbled into a pocket of his shirt, droning on.
"I was in Mexico during the summer break," he said, his eyes studying me. "Cheaper whores, if you know where to look."
I leaned back, in spite of myself. What? How had this man survived in this position all these years, while being this brazen? Did he want me to slap his ass with a sexual harassment lawsuit on my first day? Because I totally would, if he carried on like this.
"I think I'm going to go," I said, gathering my purse and preparing to rise - but Burns kept talking, ignoring me.
"I found a trinket," he said, pulling something out of his pocket. It was circular, like a coin, but way too irregular to be an actual coin - probably a small stone, covered in deep, green moss.
"The guy selling it was full of big words about what it could do," he said, "and I bought it on a whim. I never thought it would actually..." he shook his head, as if in disbelief.
By that point, I was standing. I gave Burns one long look of contempt.
"You had me come in here to talk about your exploitation of foreign sex workers, and superstitious stones you bought from the locals? I'm sorry to say this working relationship isn't off to a good start, Mr Burns."
Burns looked at me with a feral smirk, holding the stone in his fingers. Then, without looking away from me, he sent it spinning into the air.
Instantly, I couldn't look away - the way you can't look away from a car crash taking place right before your eyes. It's not that you feel coerced, or anything, the spectacle just happens to... draw your full focus.
The stone flipped and turned in the air, reflecting the sunlight, sending it in different directions. That was odd. With moss covering the surface, the rock shouldn't be reflective.
Suddenly, anxiety spiked in my chest, as my heart started beating faster. Was I getting some fundamental fact about physics and light wrong? If anyone discovered I was that ignorant, I would surely be removed from my teaching position!
I wanted to shoot a suspicious look at Burns. That was his plan, wasn't it? To make me look dumb and foolish so he could fire me? But of course, my eyes were still fixed on the stone.
It rotated again, sending the light in a different direction. Oh God. What if I lost my job? I couldn't get back into modelling, Richard wouldn't allow it, I'd be stuck at home... he's learning to live with my feminism but he's an old-fashioned guy, if I don't work he's going to start seeing me as housewife material...
Again, the stone spun, with an elegance I marvelled at. Unfortunately, Burns had pulled one over me. The knot of dread in my stomach, the fear making my face flush, they meant I wouldn't go ahead and openly challenge him like I was planning to.
I couldn't let him fire me. I couldn't lose this job!
The stone landed back on the desk with a heavy thud, an ominous sound whose finality sent a shiver of fear trickling down my spine, like insects running across my back.
Burns looked at me intensely for a long time, without speaking. Then, he spoke slowly and clearly.
"That's Sir to you, Cathy."
I noticed he'd dropped the Miss Cooper, which made me flush with humiliation and rage, but this wasn't the time to defy him. So - hating every second of it - I respectfully nodded, and in a demure voice, I said, "Yes, Sir."
I will never forget the triumphant smile he radiated in my direction when I said that.
"Go to your lecture," he told me, dismissing me with a wave of his hand like I was a gopher, which made me ball my hands into fists. "You'll be back at the end of the work day. We'll make this a regular appointment. We have a lot to discuss, if we want this working relationship to proceed smoothly."
There was no mistaking the sadistic glint in his eyes as he said that. I tried to tell him no, directly or indirectly, but every time I pictured the rest of the conversation in my head, images flashed before my eyes, unbidden.
Me, fired. Me, publicly shamed over my failure at being a teacher, after holding so much promise. Richard, shaking his head, deciding to never take me seriously again.
I was too afraid to protest. And so, for now, I swallowed my pride, and gave Mr Burns what he wanted.
"Of course," I said, my nails digging into my palms in rage. "... Sir."