Response to RLobinske's "I Challenge You!" to write a first-person DeFoe fic. Inspired by The Angst Guy's "Darkness".

Dedicated to Swift. I may have failed you in real life but in my heart you will always be safe and loved.

Still Life

These staff meetings are so pointless. I sat and tried to feign an interested look as Li droned on and on. Just tell us you're cutting more 'extraneous' items from the budget again so you can buy more security cameras and new uniforms for the football team. After all, who needs up to date textbooks when you have foo-ball?

It was then I realized Li was looking at me. I pasted on my serene smile and said, "Yes?"

Li narrowed her eyes. "So you agree random drug testing should include faculty and staff?"

You've got to be kidding me. Well, that's what I got for not paying attention. I didn't let the disgust show. At least, I hoped I didn't. "I can't see why you would require it, but if you think it's for the best..."

Li didn't comment but I sure caught the sideways looks of the rest of the faculty. Sure, everyone blamed the hippie art teacher. Dammit, I don't do that anymore. Well, not regularly, anyway. You'd be better off checking out Anthony on a Saturday night. Don't you wonder why he keeps coming back every Monday morning? Hell, if I was that PTSD I'd be stoned 24/7. I think a few teachers here could use a way to unwind.

I caught sight of Barch's hand on O'Neill's leg under the table. Or maybe not. Ew.

Li moved on to some other topic I didn't care about and I let my mind wander. If they thought I was out of it anyway, I might as well take advantage, right? Hippie art teacher. When had this happened? I even had a bunch of cats at home. All strays, too. Shadowgate, the skinny black one who never gained weight no matter how much I fed him, Dustmop, the long-haired grey tabby who never moved, and Swift, the newest black and white kitten I rescued from under a car. Damn, he was fast, but I snagged him. Could I have caught him if I were high all the time like you all seem to think? I think not. It's just so much easier to get through the day when you all ignore me. I sighed heavily and then looked around quickly, hoping no one else had heard. Glazed expressions all around. I was safe.

Hippie art teacher cat lady. Good God. How did it come to this? I have a Master's in Art History, dammit. I should be running the Louvre. Okay, I'd settle for MoMA. Restoring art at MoMA. At least giving tours at MoMA.

But no, I taught art to a bunch of snotty self-obsessed teens who couldn't tell Monet from Manet if you beat them over the head with the gilt-edged frame. Of course, I had to admit some of the students had potential. Jane Lane had passion if nothing else. She still had to find her vision, but if she worked at it and got lucky, she might sell something some day. That Morgendorffer girl had potential too, if she would just work at it. Though, I didn't hold out hope for that one. She had an eye for color and composition but was still far too immature to care about anything but what her friends thought. Maybe she'd pick it up in college.

I should talk to her after class someday. Encourage her to go into design or something. She's got the drive but no direction.

And some of the students were okay, even if they had no talent. Maybe it wasn't so bad.

"I trust you are all prepared for parent-teacher conferences this afternoon. I expect the reports to be on my desk by tomorrow morning." Li dismissed us.

Okay maybe it was.

Why can't I win the lottery?

I let my thoughts drift to what I would do if I won the lottery as I walked back to my classroom to wait for the parade of parents to come through. I'd quit teaching that was for sure. Okay, not quit, but I'd do it down at the Community College. I really liked teaching my Life Drawing class on Thursday nights. What a difference to teach people who actually wanted to be there and learn about art.

I played the part of non-threatening art teacher as parent after parent rushed through my classroom, wanting to get me over with so they could talk to the real teachers about their kid's grades. I bet Anthony's gonna be starting the unwinding early this week. Well, whatever got me home quicker. At least the cats would be happy to see me.

I need a life.

"Mr. Morgendorffer, hello. Sit down, won't you?" I greeted him and waved to a seat. "Your wife wasn't able to make it?"

"Another important meeting at the firm. Trying to make partner, you know. So Jakey gets to see how the girls are doing at school." I noticed he flashed a nervous smile at the end to cover up the fact his voice had become a bit high pitched with bitterness. I smiled serenely.

"Both your daughters are doing well in my class." I paused, this was usually when the parent jumped up with a 'Great!' and took off to go bully O'Neil into not failing their kid in English.

He smiled back. "Great!"

I sighed, but then he continued. "Daria's not...uh...doing anything to get her in trouble, right?"

That was random. "Daria? What do you mean?"

He laughed nervously. "I was just wondering, you know, after that art contest poster. Helen had to step in, it was all a bit of a mess..."

"Oh, that." Damn Li and O'Neil for that one. That poster was fabulous. The message was so important. They could have used it to...I stopped myself. No point in getting worked up over it now. "No, she's been a wonderful student. She has a lot of creativity. It should definitely be encouraged."

"I thought she liked writing and it was Jane who liked art..." Jake pondered to himself.

"Yes, I've heard she prefers writing, but she seems to enjoy this class as well." He looked confused. I wondered if his cluelessness was as much a defense mechanism as my hippie serenity.

"What about Quinn?" Jake seemed to focus.

I saw my chance. "Quinn has a wonderful eye for color and composition. I think with the right encouragement she could have a lot of success in any art-related field. You should see if she'd like to take some other art classes, maybe encourage her to consider an art-related field in college. Design or architecture, perhaps."

There, mission accomplished.

Jake's eyes lit up. "Really? So she's got talent, huh? You know, back in military school I liked to draw. Still have my old sketchbooks somewhere. Liked watercolors, too." Jake suddenly glowered at no one in particular. "Well, until the other boys found out and-"

"Mr. Morgendorffer," I interrupted, sensing I should head it off while I could, "There are several art classes offered at the Community College. Perhaps you or your daughter might be interested in taking one. Maybe together?"

Jake seemed enthusiastic so I gave him a copy of the Community College course schedule I had in my desk.

"Hey! You teach there too?" he exclaimed.

"Just the one class, Life Drawing." I wished I had more time and energy to do more. Maybe I'd ask to do a Saturday class. Sculpture. Or still life.

"That's with the naked people right?" Jake's face flamed red when he realized he'd said it out loud.

That serene smile was so useful. "We do have nude models, but we often also used clothed models to learn how to draw folds and drapes."

He laughed nervously again, obviously still embarrassed. "Well, I'll see if Quinn is interested. Thanks."

We shook hands and stood. "Well, thank you for coming by, Mr. Morgendorffer. I'm sure the other teachers will agree that you have two wonderful students here at Lawndale High."

I wished Li didn't make us say that.

No other parent stayed past the 'your kid is passing' part, but that was fine. I wanted to go home anyway. I had to draft a letter of intent to teach a Saturday class at the Community College.