A gifted young writer changes the lives of two of high school teachers.
Jim Hensley stood at his desk stuffing homework assignments into his briefcase when he remembered the envelope in his coat pocket. This morning after first period a sprouting lank of boy had secured the envelope in Jim’s hand like a relay runner handing off a baton. “From Ms. Krumm,” he said before disappearing into the bustling mishmash of students filling the hallway. The boy was a former student, Jim thought, he wasn’t sure for he wasn’t paying close attention and many of these tweeners—past puberty but far from manhood—looked the same to him.
He reached into the pocket of his sport coat that hung behind him on his chair. He opened it and found the note signed in sweeping cursive, Hedda Krumm. He sat down in his chair and squinted from the afternoon sunlight slanting through the partially closed blinds at the three-tiered windowpanes. He read the words aloud as if saying them would somehow make sense of what he was reading. “Meet me in the teacher’s lounge at 4:00.” He stopped and grimaced. Was this was some sort of schoolboy prank? But the sharply distinctive handwriting sure looked like that of an adult. And he remembered a typed memo from Ms. Krumm for a charity event posted the other day on the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge with that same distinctive signature. He read on. “Have wanted to get together for some time now.” He pictured Hedda Krumm in his mind: late thirties, dark hair with tumbling curls, haunting brown eyes with a gaze of intellect, full sensuous lip, and a body that underneath her loose knit sweaters or blouses he imagined taut.
He felt an uplift of aroused consciousness stirring his dormant libido. His wife, Brandy, would be surprised. She considered him an old fuddy-duddy, a tired man in his early forties, tired not just with his job but with life. Their once thriving sex life was on life support, once a month, if lucky, and compounded by his problem of late to rise to the occasion. And more compounded by his suspicions about other men—sometimes she would come home with her normally well-coiffed hair slightly askew, her scent hinting at something vaguely sexual, and the busyness in her eyes couldn’t hide the glimmer that something naughty had occurred—but he didn’t rock the boat. No, he didn’t feel up to taking her on and maybe even hearing, that yes she was having an affair right now and planned on more in the future, she had her needs after all. Better to hide behind an illusion than face raw reality.
He read on. Printed in capital letters above her signature was, “DON’T BE LATE.”
Hedda Krumm had a pile of stories to read for her creative writing class that were due back tomorrow. She looked at the clock over the blackboard—4:05—she was running late. It seemed lately she was always late. Alex had little time to help out with the kids, Arianna, age twelve, and Michael, nine. She was constantly driving to piano lessons and various sport team practices depending on the time of year. Alex made a big deal out of attending Arianna’s recitals and Michael’s games. But he had no time in his demanding world as the eponymous owner of Costas Architectural Design for anything else concerning his family.
She pushed out her classroom door, hurrying to the teacher’s lounge and her quotidian get-away cup of coffee. She thought of that word, quotidian, often at this time. It reminded her of the Quotidian Theatre Group she belonged to as an undergraduate. Meeting after classes with an assistant prof and fellow students, they broke down and rehearsed such plays as Death of a Salesman and Streetcar Named Desire. She loved the theatre and was a fine actress and got to play Blanche her junior year. She continued on with the theatre while earning an MFA and completing the first draft of a novel titled A Fork in the Road, sort of a girl’s version of Catcher in the Rye. All things seemed possible to her: actress, author, maybe both.
Then Alex came into her life. His features were finely cut and dark, and his eyes burned with a smoldering intensity that swept her away. She fell in love, head-over-heels in love for the first time. His parents were Greek immigrants, and Alex had some of the old world charm about him but with that raw naked ambition of an American youth who saw all things possible. And in that blush of romance, she took his proprietary nature toward her as something charming, something that she would harness when things settled down. But she had miscalculated his iron will that had bent her into a life of playing second fiddle to her family, her dreams and aspiration now a distant memory, her passion and anticipation of something new and exciting around the corner gone.
Inside the teacher’s lounge, she found Mr. Hensley sitting at the group table idling staring into a cup of coffee. She had always thought him a sad man, but in a way it made him more appealing. Not that she had any inclinations, but she did find him handsome like a poor man’s Robert Redford. There were still chiseled remnants of a handsome youth in the fleshy face and a thrash of hair that was never quite in place.
“I was wondering if you’d show,” he said looking up with a faint smile.
Hedda started to speak, but he went on. “At first I wasn’t sure if I’d come or not but I figured what the hell.” He rubbed the back of his neck and took a breath. “I think you’re just what I need at this stage of my life.”
She hadn’t a clue what he was referring to—but. She nodded ever so coyly at him and went to the coffee machine stationed behind him and poured a cup.
As she opened a packet of Sweet’N Low he said, “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Well....” she turned and faced his fair-haired locks fringing the back of his shirt collar. It was marvelous hair. She imagined it soft to the touch, her hands running through it. She had never had an affair in her fourteen years of marriage, save a one-night stand five years ago on an ocean cruise that her husband backed out of at the last minute. She had an exhilarating romp in the sack with a tall, well-endowed Jamaican named Dexter who played bongos in the Reggae band. That was out of revenge, this was something entirely different, what she wasn’t quite sure of, yet. She sat across from Mr. Jim Hensley. “I wanted to see what you were feeling about it first...before I say too much.”
Jim raised his eyebrows with a sweep of interest. “I’m up for whatever you have in mind.”
Hedda felt a flush of arousal swish through her. “All right then.” She tapped her bottom lip with her index finger and said, “There’s a motel over on Rower Blvd. off the interstate not far from here but far enough—”
He cut in. “I know where it is. What’s a good time for you?”
“I have a free period after lunch.”
Jim Hensley bared his bottom row of crowded teeth as if the answer didn’t please him. “Mine is before lunch.”
“Ah, well, how about after school on Tuesdays.”
“That’d work. Best we go in separate cars.”
“Also, I want to split the room fee.”
“I’ll pay the first one and you the next and so on. Cash only.”
Bobby Harris was stationed outside, under the opened window to the teacher’s lounge, and had heard the entire conversation. Oh boy, his intervention was working better than he had ever imagined. This was his third year of creative writing classes with Ms. Krumm, and she had encouraged him to consider writing as a career. “You have a wonderful, vivid imagination, Bobby, and a God-given talent for putting words down on paper and an eye for detail. You see things that others miss.” He wrote his stories in long hand and even took a calligraphy course online. For his last writing assignment, Ms. Krumm had said, “Observe real life people and write a 2,000 word story about a person’s intervention changing the course of two peoples lives.” Something had clicked in Bobby’s brain to make it real.
After chess club, he had often seen Ms. Krumm hurrying out of the teacher’s lounge with a Styrofoam cup of coffee, lips pursed and those wide, probing eyes diminished to slits so that worry lines slanted out from the corners. She was leaving the cocoon of teaching and reentering another world. He wondered about that world. She went by Ms. but wore a wedding band. Hmm.
He began his intervention early this morning when he had snuck into the teacher’s lounge and cracked open the back window. On the way out, he spotted Ms. Krumm’s memo on the bulletin board. He noted the swashes and flourishes in her signature and put it to memory. He had his last short story in his notebook that she had written comments in the margin and copying her style was no problem, easy really, as was slipping the note to Mr. Hensley in the crowded hallway between classes. So, he would intervene into the real world and see where it led, much more interesting than the two-page essay he hammered out on his computer in half-an-hour about two Goth high school student’s drug problem and the prep who intervened.
Bobby had been in Mr. Hensley’s American History class last year and determined that the man was going through life stuck on automatic pilot. And he concluded via a leap of intuitiveness that Ms. Krumm once had a wonderful life that had now turned routine and ordinary, not so obviously disappointing as Mr. Hensley’s, but something was missing. He thought it was in the way she sometimes looked off wistfully when discussing her college theatre group to the class or when talking one-on-one with him about his writing, a sudden expression would come over her face that said, if only. So they seemed right for each other and he would intervene and see what they did with the opportunity.
Brandy Hensley was running late to meet clients at a brick colonial in Chevy Chase. She had just closed a sale for a six-bedroom Tudor in Northern Potomac and was feeling on top of the world. She always did after a sale or a good screw. With the recession and all, sales had slowed, but she had still maintained her standing as number one salesperson for her realty company and was still bringing in well over six figures a year. The commission on this sale was over half of what her dead-beat husband made in a year. Jim Hensley had been a disappointment: first the low sperm count, then the charm and sparkle fading away from his face that she once considered so very fine, but now looked tired and used up.
When she had first met him at a party in her apartment building she had recently moved into, he was a handsome chunk of sun-bleached youthful manhood with light eyes and an insouciant air. From across the room, she had flashed her brilliant smile at him, and he acknowledged her with a little nod of the head before turning his attention to the keg of beer and a refill. Undeterred she went up to him and started a conversation. He had a certain easy going style that she thought charming and a refreshing change of pace from the aggressive types that normally asked her out. He had graduated college and was lolly-gagging his way through a Masters program in education—all he needed was a little push, a jumps start on career goals. He would do just fine, and Brandy determined within fifteen minutes that he was the one.
But, she had miscalculated. He never finished grad school, quitting half way through right around the time they found out about him lacking in the manhood department.He wanted to adopt but she was adamant: “I’m not taking something other than my own blood. Lord knows what we could end up with.” She had felt cheated and as the years went on she considered divorcing him. But a private meeting with a divorce attorney steered her away. She didn’t want him getting half of everything she had worked so hard for: the Cape Cod in Bethany Beach two blocks from the ocean, their recently remodeled Victorian house in Bethesda, her Mercedes, and so on. It was simpler to live with him and give up the occasional conjugal sex and have her flings on the side. She loved the excitement and risk of meeting a man in the middle of the day at a motel across the Potomac in Virginia or at realtor convention in far away cities. There had been a dozen, maybe more over the last fifteen years. They ranged from mortgage brokers, real estate agents at other firms, to a businessman that she met at the hotel bar at a convention in Tahoe. Her only rule was they had to be married. That kept him with as much to lose.
Later today she would go to the gym and her trainer, Teddy. He was a young married guy with just the finest ass and cutest dimples. She was making her feelings toward him a little clearer each session: a hand on his while talking between sets, her eyes lingering over him as their gazes met; and he had started to reciprocate with putting his hands on her shoulders when she did her pull-downs, and the general sense between them that something was looming.Unlike her husband, she had worked hard over the years in keeping her figure trim. She liked to think that she wasn’t much different from the curvy cheerleader twenty years ago at college. Her breasts weren’t quite as firm, but could still catch a man’s eye when she wore a low-cut gown. The face was starting to show some lines around the eyes and temple and she was considering Botox, but her teeth were still as sparking white and straight as ever, and she liked to think her smile still devastating.
Jim Hensley turned off the interstate onto the exit ramp and saw the no-tell motel below with a smattering of vehicles mostly utility trucks and pickups of out-of-state workmen. Along the perimeter of the motel parking lot, parallel to the highway, was a line of tall hedges and at each end a patch of grass, weeds, and dirt behind which a row of scrubby trees. The place had the feel of a little fortress nestled away from public view with the interstate and foliage acting as shields. As he entered the parking lot, he saw Hedda Krumm to his right parked in a corner facing the motel. Her shadowy figure hunched behind the wheel sent a jolt of energy surging through his loins. He hadn’t felt like this in years. He backed into a spot at the hedges, scanned the parking lot, and then went into the office and checked in.
He stopped at room 121 and looked over to Hedda’s car before he entered, leaving the door ajar. A queen bed with a nightstand filled most of the space with a small TV on a wall mount the only adornment. He turned to the creak of the door opening and Hedda slid inside. Jim felt his heart race as she looked at him with scared anticipation. “It’s not much,” he said. He sat on the end of the bed and she came over next to him. He reached for her hand and she turned to him. Her lips opened to a beckoning crease and he leaned over and kissed her.
Hedda left the motel room first and made a beeline to her car. She didn’t see a soul around and ducked down into her seat and zipped out the back exit.
She had given Jim the cash for next week, and they agreed to go through the same drill with him getting the room and her waiting in the car. It hadn’t been the wild sex with the Jamaican on the cruise ship, but a more compassionate, composed affair. Their lovemaking was tender and sweet and he lingered over her after both sessions stroking her hair. It touched her that he was so gentle and giving.
Once on the freeway, her mind turned to the remains of the day: picking the kids up at after-school day care, preparing dinner and then listening to Alex go on and on about his day and maybe even once again trying to talk her out of working: “We don’t need the money, Hedda, why not stay home.” But teaching was the only place where she felt worthwhile. Not that raising children wasn’t challenging and rewarding, but for her, teaching gave a sense of worth that being a parent couldn’t.
For the last month Alex Costas had noticed something different about his wife. She was still always behind the eight-ball in her role as teacher and mother, but it seemed that she wasn’t as downtrodden as before: Cooking and serving dinner while smiling a secret smile as if her mind were elsewhere; more engaged in conversation with the children and attentive while helping with their homework assignments. But, with him there was more distance. Polite in conversation, but short, and he had an inchoate suspicion that there was something going on that he wasn’t aware of. Something at work? Something going on inside that complicated female mind of hers. Or more likely just some phase she was going through, he thought as he turned his black Lexus SUV out of the office parking lot.
He enjoyed driving this marvelous vehicle that he had purchased through his company, which was doing reasonably well in today’s economy. He had a three-month backlog of clients, not like in the past when it was a year, but he was better off than some of his competitors who had gone belly-up. He attributed his staying power to his attention to detail from the moment he and his staff met potential clients until the blueprints were transformed into a finished structure. He had always left himself and his staff available 24 hours, 365 days a year. There was a Christmas day a few years back when he met with the builder of a parking garage his company had designed to iron out a few concerns on the client’s part. Hedda was not happy, but that meeting led to other jobs. Why Hedda had to keep teaching was beyond him. It made everything harder on her: picking up and shuffling the kids to practices, rushing home to prepare dinner, and often working at night grading papers. He was the breadwinner and didn’t have time for anything other than attending Arianna’s recitals and Michael’s soccer or basketball games.
When they first met in college, Hedda was a live wire brimming with great intellect. She would gaze up at him, those astonishing heavy-lidded eyes full of a mysterious ken that seemed to speak to him back then. They spent many an evening together, just the two of them, sharing a bottle of cabernet discussing their goals and dreams: He was to have his own architectural firm, and she to teach and finish her novel. He had talked her out of acting, such a frivolous existence. When he proposed, much to his chagrin, she insisted on keeping her own name. And she wanted to hold off on children and finish her manuscript, but he got his way and Arianna was born eleven months after marriage. The manuscript hasn’t been touched since. Just as well,he thought. He didn’t need a novelist for a wife, especially something as risqué as A Fork in the Road. When he read her first draft, he had mixed feelings. He admired her keen eye for observation and talent, but he found the subject matter outside what he considered the boundaries of good taste. He could only imagine what his parents would have thought. It was for the best that the manuscript collected dust in the attic. Anyway, tomorrow was a big day, he was settling on a warehouse that he was going to convert into an office building for his company and rent out the remaining units.
Brandy had figured something was up. Jim hadn’t had that lost puppy dog look of could we have sex in over a month. And he seemed to have more of a bounce to his step and the woe is me had left his expression. Yes indeed, something was up.
When the private eye came back with the information, she was surprised that he had the gumption to have an affair and shocked at his stupidity in having it with another teacher at his school. The man didn’t even have the sense not to dip his pen in the company inkwell. Brandy had a full report and pictures to boot of both arriving and leaving the motel room. She had the private dick investigate Hedda Krumm’s husband, Alex Costas: self-made architect who ran his own shop. She had pictures of him and found him rather attractive in that dark Mediterranean sort of way. He didn’t appear tall like her husband or her lovers, but had a handsome smarminess. There was no indication of other women in his life, he seemed absorbed full-bore in his work. This made the challenge even more interesting. After more digging, it was uncovered that he was considering buying commercial property to build or rehab an office building for his growing architectural firm.
She had called his office to request a meeting and used all her female charm to lure him to lunch to discuss being his realty agent. The man was all business, but polite in an old world way: insisting on driving, pulling her chair back to be seated, and attentive when she spoke. After a couple of weeks of searching for the right property, they had developed a more personal relationship, but she needed to break through the barrier of self-restraint that he wore like a shield. She intentionally steered any conversation away from their families and stumbling onto the fact that their spouses worked together. It was easy with Alex for he focused on work.
Finally, they inspected an old warehouse in Rockville that Alex found perfect. After two weeks of paperwork and haggling, he knew the property had been on the market for almost two years, he got a real deal on the purchase. Brandy asked him to clear an afternoon for a celebratory lunch after settlement. She wore a tight skirt that accentuated her Nautilus honed gluts and thighs, and a low-cut blouse revealing her plentiful cleavage.At first their was hesitation in his eyes at the sight of her, curves and bulges in all the right places, but in that moment of uncertainty there was a glint of pure, raw lust. She had won him over.
It was no coincidence that the lunch was on a Tuesday or the motel they went to later was the same place that her husband and Alex’s wife were having their weekly tryst. And it also was no coincidence that they ran right into Brandy’s husband in the parking lot after both parties had consummated their liaisons. “Why hello, Jim, darling.” Brandy stood over the passenger’s door to Alex’s Lexus as her husband fumbled for his keys to his Honda Accord parked next to them. “Alex, my husband, Jim Hensley. Jim, meet Alex Costas a client of mine and Hedda Krumm’s husband.”Alex was stunned silent, his confident expression replaced by a glazed look of sinking uncertainty. But to Brandy’s surprise Jim leveled a sharp gaze at her, not the milquetoast eyes of acquiescence, but a bold determined look as if he had crossed some barrier.
Then the door to room 121 opened and Hedda strode over and stood next to Jim. Alex regained enough of his composure to blurt out with half-hearted indignation. “Hedda, why?”
Hedda studied Alex for a moment, her eyes seeming to catch a glimmer of guilt in his manner and expression. “I could,” she said pausing. “Ask you the same thing.” She turned to Brandy. “You must be Jim’s two-timing wife. So nice to meet you.” She wagged a finger at her husband.“And, I’m going to finish my manuscript.”
Alex started to say something, but Hedda cut him off with a raised palm that she thrust toward him like a traffic cop. “Later, we talk, not now.” She turned for her car to leave.
“Wait, Hedda,” Jim said. “Let’s clear the air. Brandy, I’m going back to school to get my Masters and have found a place to live. You and I are finished.” He shifted his gaze on Alex who had a look of someone whose world was coming unraveled: the face pale, the thin lips almost a tremble.“You two seem a perfect pair.”
“No.” Alex blurted. “NO.”
“No?” Jim said. He put his arm on Hedda’s shoulder. “Well I believe we’re perfect together.” He looked down at Hedda who had wrapped her arm around his waist. “I hope you feel the same way.”
Brandy blasted at her husband. “I’ll fight you in court for everything I’ve worked for.”
“Don’t want any of it,” Jim said. “Come on Hedda, I’ll walk you to your car.”
Later when the last car had driven off, Bobby Harris emerged from behind the hedgerow no more than ten feet from the scene that had just occurred. He had heard every word and seen the characters playing out their roles that he’d created with real life people. Damn, if what he’d witnessed didn’t have all the makings for his first novel with the appropriate title, Intervention.