It is a truth generally acknowledged that in every high school there are winners and losers. Another truth is that everyone knows who they are.
No one would dispute that at Woodstock Tudorsville Union High School, Noah Beemer was a winner.
He had the looks: Dark hair, dark eyebrows, dark eyes, and athletic build.
He co-captained the WTUHS ski team along with his girlfriend Eva Silver-Adams, also a winner in looks, smarts, and accomplishments.
He led the WTUHS debate team which made the finals at the Vermont State Forensics Tournament at the state house in Montpelier.
His parents, both lawyers, were local movers and shakers.
He lived in a handsome Victorian near Woodstock center.
After his older brother Josh left home, he received his parents’ undivided attention and generosity, most recently in the form of a gleaming new SUV when he turned seventeen.
Everyone liked him.
He never failed at anything major that he undertook to do.
Other than missing out on whatever people learn from failure, his shortcomings, if he had any, weren’t readily apparent.
Noah and his friend Morrie Klein were catching up before the start of their senior year at WTUHS when Morrie said, “What do you think of our new history teacher?”
“Who do you mean?” Noah said.
“Esme Linde. Didn’t you see her at the orientation?”
“No. Guess not.”
“You’d know if you had. She’s incredibly hot. You wouldn’t believe.”
“I’ll keep an eye out then.”
“Although for you it will be lookee-no-touchee since you already have Eva. But for the rest of us…”
“Dream on, Morrie.”
“When I dream about Ms. Linde, I need lots of Kleenex.”
Noah grinned. “Too much sharing.”
“Some of us have unmet needs.”
Morrie just assumed that unmet needs weren’t an issue for Noah given all that he had going for him, in particular his openly affectionate longtime girlfriend.
Noah never talked about such things on grounds that they were personal.
In fact, he’d made less progress on that front than generally assumed.
“When we’re engaged,” Eva said, placing her hand firmly on Noah’s, allowing their intimacies to go only so far.
The lure that Eva dangled, herself, was more than a little enticing. But for Noah, it was too soon to commit. He was only being realistic given all the choices that were coming their way, like the choice that Josh made to live in New York City while Maxie, his girlfriend at WTUHS, chose to work for the state in Montpelier.
Noah chose his words carefully and seldom raised his voice, except when he was performing on a debate stage, and usually he let Eva have her way, but he wasn’t a pushover. On the matter of getting engaged, he wasn’t ready, and for now that was that.
Nevertheless, Eva persisted. “We don’t have to get married right away.”
“But being officially engaged will help us resist temptations when we’re away at different colleges.”
Noah, his hand still locked in place under Eva’s, said, “Good thinking.”
Eva said, “I’ll show the football hero my engagement ring when he asks me out.”
“I’ll do the same at my college,” Noah said. “That’ll make him think twice.”
Eva laughed. “So? Are you ready to propose?”
“It’s certainly a possibility,” Noah said, pulling his hand free. “At some point.”
Noah’s class assignments included American History taught by Esme Linde so he found out soon enough what had gotten Morrie so excited.
As Morrie said, Ms. Linde was scorching hot, with bright brown eyes, a wicked smile, hands always in motion, and a body that was both fit and shapely in the right places.
But there was something more about Ms. Linde that resonated with Noah, beyond her attractive appearance. He couldn’t say just what exactly. Perhaps her voice, or her lively expressions, or how she kidded with her students. Or maybe, with her being from Boston, there was a hint of sophistication, of possibilities beyond Vermont. Whatever it was, Noah found Ms. Linde captivating and disorienting.
At the start of their first class, she called on students to introduce themselves. When his turn came, Noah stood to give his name. Esme Linde looked directly at him with a welcoming smile and he felt like they were the only two people in the room, or on planet Earth for that matter. His neurons overloaded, he lost his train of thought.
Eventually, after what seemed a very long time, he croaked “Noah Beemer” and abruptly sat down.
He didn’t watch the others introducing themselves, just stared at his hands on his desk. He sensed that he was getting curious glances, especially from Eva.
Being a practiced debater, he was known to be a self-assured public speaker, quick on his feet. When called upon at parties or events he had no problem rising to say a few well-chosen words off the cuff. So his lapse just now was unusual, to say the least.
Ms. Linde was their teacher. It would be disrespectful to objectify her like Morrie and other guys were doing. Noah would never do that.
And she was a great teacher. She brimmed with vigor and good cheer so that even chronic classroom nappers stayed engaged. She fired off questions, pop! pop! pop! keeping everyone on their toes.
“Hannah Green, what can you tell us about…”
“Richie, yes, you, Richie, your thoughts please.”
“Ethan, elaborate on what Richie just said.”
“Henry, is he right?”
“Morrie, why are you laughing?”
They called out their answers like game show contestants, and whether they were right or wrong, she pushed them to say more.
She threw nerf balls at students who were checking their phones or chatting, and she had a good arm. Getting ‘nerfed’ in her class was one of the highlights.
Her students were really into it and they and their parents judged themselves lucky that Esme Linde had been recruited to teach at their school in southeast Vermont.
Still, when Noah was alone at night, he couldn’t help recalling Ms. Linde’s sweater pulled against her chest when she stood in front of the class and pointed at someone, and her shapely back when she turned to the board, and her seductive voice when she called on him in class, “…Noah?”
After the bell, Ms. Linde stood at her desk as students filed out past her. Anyone who stopped to ask a question got a response from her right then or if it required more time, she scheduled an appointment for later. Noah kept his head down and eyes straight ahead as he went by, intensely aware as he left the classroom that for a few heated seconds he and Esme Linde were only a couple of feet apart.
Eva Silver-Adams caught up with him in the corridor.
“Great class,” she said.
“Ms. Linde is something else!”
“Are you okay, Noah?”
“I am,” he said. “I agree with you.”
She gave him an appraising look. “See you later?”
So Eva did notice, Noah thought. She’d definitely picked up his unsettled vibe around their teacher. Eva didn’t react well when his attentions wandered, and she didn’t miss much as far as he was concerned. He’d discovered long ago that life was better when Eva didn’t get riled up. No matter how he felt in Ms. Linde’s presence, to keep the peace with Eva he’d have to manage himself better.
“Sure, let’s,” he said