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“May I ask what you’re doing, Miss Morgan?” I asked in a sugar sweet voice, leaning over Abigail Morgan’s chair. The class tittered with muffled laughter.
“Making a bracelet,” Abigail replied, smooth and composed. She didn’t even look up from the cluster of colored threads she had taped to her desk. A few giggles escaped from the students. I frowned.
“Abigail, I appreciate that you’re, ah, letting your artistic talents roam free, but this is math class. I can’t have you making bracelets while all of your classmates are working on their equations.”
Some of the more obnoxious boys loudly stated their agreement-- not that they were actually working on their classwork. They thought I couldn’t see, but they had their cellphones hidden underneath their desks.
“I know that,” Abigail said, quite calmly, with a display of infinite patience. “Mr. D, I’m doing this for you.”
The class grew silent with confusion. A few girls murmured questions to each other.
“And how is you being distracted during my class supposed to help me?” I said, amused.
Abigail sighed heavily, as if I was a stupid child, and she was supposed to teach me how 1 + 1 = 2. She turned her head, leaned against the back of her chair, and spoke to me face to face.
“Mr. Duncan, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but you’re in your thirties and still a bachelor. Sooner or later you’re going to have to find a girlfriend, and when the time comes, you’ll want to get hitched. Given your pathetically small brain capacity, I’m dreadfully afraid that at the right moment, you’ll have forgotten your ring-- hence, the substitute bracelet.”
The class roared with laughter. Abigail looked up at me innocently, while my cheeks grew red.
“I’ll see you in detention, Miss Morgan.”
For the rest of the period, no one could keep a straight face.
At approximately 12:25, the door opened, and Abigail walked into my classroom. I was sitting at the teacher’s desk in the back of the room, grading papers. She didn’t seem upset to be in detention. That didn’t strike me as odd; it wasn’t as if she’d made an effort to defend her actions during the confrontation in class. No one else was in the room, other than her and me. She sat down at her usual desk, folded her hands in her lap, and stared straight ahead, at the whiteboard.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The sounds of the clock and my pen against paper began to mingle together. The room grew uncomfortably hot and stuffy, but I somehow felt that by standing up and shattering the monotony, I would be throwing the balance of the universe out the window. Don’t ask me why I felt that; I had no idea, and to this day, I still get that feeling every once in a while.
Tick tick tick tick.
Twenty minutes left.
Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. Abigail hadn’t even budged for the last ten minutes, not even to scratch her nose or yawn.
Ten minutes left.
Tick tick tick.
At 12:55 sharp, Abigail stood up, stretched her legs, and walked out of the room. I was so relieved. I felt like a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders, and I could finally walk and talk as I liked. I continued grading papers until I noticed something on Abigail’s desk. Something thin, long, and neatly coiled into a loop.
I got up and approached the desk. I recognized the mysterious object.
The bracelet. The intricately knotted mass of red, white and purple that had gotten Abigail in trouble earlier. Abigail had somehow finished making it during detention, and now she had left it as a last note, a playful reminder of the last class.
As the bell rang and students began to return from recess, I snatched the thing off of the tabletop and shoved it in my jacket pocket.
The next day, Abigail’s class walked into the classroom. They filed in noisily, walking in predetermined gaggles and cliques. Elizabeth, Carrie, Jeffrey, Paul, John, Jane, Vanessa... no Abigail. I didn’t ask any of the students where she was, thinking it would disrupt the class. Instead, I visited the school secretary’s office during the break.
“Excuse me, did Abigail Morgan attend school today?”
The secretary looked up with disinterested eyes almost drooping with mascara.
“Didn’t you know? She just transferred. She’s not coming back.”
Three years passed. I never switched jobs; I renewed contract after contract, mainly because I was comfortable with my life as a middle school math teacher. I remained single as well. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good with the ladies; I just wasn’t interested in a relationship.
Until I entered Sammy’s Bar.
It was a Saturday. I was just looking to get drunk with my friends and have a good time. Unfortunately, when I phoned my colleagues at the school, everyone was too busy for a night out. I ended up going to the bar alone.
I suppose it was a stroke of luck, a free favor from Destiny to me. If I had been with my friends that night, I might not have noticed her-- Cora, my future wife and soulmate.
She was depressed and lonely that night. She sat alone on a high stool at the bar counter. Her raven black hair hung over her face, covering her blank, slate grey eyes. Some sleaze sitting next to her noticed the four empty glasses in front of her and decided to take advantage of that.
“Hey pretty baby. You come here often?”
She didn’t respond. She was too drunk. Grinning, he reached towards her face...
Just as I strode forward, slapped his hand away, and put my hands protectively on her shoulders.
“Back off. I’m her husband.”
Of course, I had no idea of who she was, but the Superman in me just couldn’t resist doing this. Part of me was afraid that the scoundrel would see through my bluff and beat me up.
He believed me. Scowling, he got off his stool and stomped away, scouring the room for another target.
As soon as I took my hands off of her shoulders, she seemed to fully come to life. Her eyes widened in alarm as she brushed her hair away from her face and looked after the man.
“What... what did he want with me?” she said in a soft, frightened voice. When I heard her voice... I almost fainted right there and then.
“Sshh, ssshhhh, it’s okay. He was trying to hit on you,” I replied, trying to comfort her. Her eyes widened even more.
“Oh my God, I didn’t even see him. I was half asleep... thank you so much. I really appreciate it. You don’t even know me... what should I call you?”
We introduced ourselves. Her full name was Cora Pickett. I told her my name was Scott Duncan. She confessed that her mother had just died of cancer, which was why she had gotten drunk in the first place. One thing led to another, and we exchanged phone numbers before I walked her home.
Another two years flew by, the most beautiful time of my life. We hadn’t realized it before, but Cora was an elementary teacher at my school, so we saw each other daily. On weekends, we ate out together, went to movies, and generally did what couples tend to do.
Finally, I couldn’t wait. At the age of 37, I was more than ready to jump the broom. On Friday evening, I went to Tiffany’s and bought a beautiful diamond ring. It was perfect. Everything was perfect. My future was set.
The next day, I took Cora to the amusement park. She enjoyed every moment. I sweated like a pig. During the entire date, I kept my hand in my jacket pocket, afraid that the ring box would fall out and ruin the evening.
The box stayed. My nervousness did too, trapped inside the box’s velvet confines, waiting to be released when I presented the ring.
The sun was setting. We sat on a bench, watching the Ferris Wheel turn, Cora leaned her head on my shoulder, smiling that beautiful, wonderful, magical smile. My mind screamed, Now! Now’s the perfect time!
“Cora... close your eyes. I have a surprise.”
She was surprised, but she did as she was told.
I got off the bench and stood in front of her. An elderly couple nearby noticed what was going on and began shushing the people in the vicinity. I got down on one knee, pulled out the ring box, opened the lid...
It wasn’t there. The. Ring. Wasn’t. There.
Panic filled my head and crowded out all my other thoughts. Where was it?! There was no way the ring could’ve slipped out without the box. Did I leave it somewhere?
The coffee table. Oh no. I took the ring out and left it on my coffee table! I left the ring at home! I didn’t forget to bring the box, but I left the ring at home!
Cora still sat patiently, never even opening her eyes to take a peek at what I was doing. The people around me realized my trouble, and they began exchanging awkward glances. I fished through my pocket hoping that I was wrong, hoping to find smooth edges of the diamond cutting into my skin.
Instead, I felt something soft and stringy. I pulled it out, expecting a piece of lint or fluff from the laundry machine.
The bracelet. It was a bit fuzzy and tangled from being repeatedly placed in the washing machine for five years, but it was still recognizable. I had never noticed before, but it was purple, with a pattern of alternating red and white hearts.
“Sooner or later you’re going to have to find a girlfriend, and when the time comes, you’ll want to get hitched. Given your pathetically small brain capacity, I’m dreadfully afraid that at the right moment, you’ll have forgotten your ring-- hence, the substitute bracelet.”
Abigail’s words echoed clearly in my head. She had been so right.
“Open your eyes, Cora.”
Cora did... and found me kneeling in front of her, holding out a homemade, purple, red and white bracelet.
“Despite the lack of a proper ring... will you marry me?”
For a moment, Cora stared, and I was afraid she wasn’t taking me seriously. Then, she laughed and threw her arms around my neck.
The crowd of relieved onlookers laughed. But unlike that day in the classroom, five years ago, they were laughing with me, not at me.
And just for a split second-- just a second, nothing more-- I swear I saw Abigail, standing at the front of the crowd, grinning as if to say, I told you so.
Cora and I are now happily married, with one child and another on the way. She keeps her bracelet on her wrist all the time, even though I found the real ring and gave it to her after the proposal. She values it more than any other piece of jewelry she has. Almost every night, she tells our daughter the story of that fateful day at the amusement park. I haven’t told anyone about Abigail Morgan, and I don’t intend to any time soon.
I don’t know exactly who or what Abigail was, but every time I see my child smile, I thank my former student for what she’s done for me.
My child, whose birth certificate reads, “Abigail Duncan.”