Disclaimer: I own none of the original Signs characters. Those that you are unfamiliar with, however, are mine.
Merrill Hess hadn't gone to work with a smile on his face in a very long time. Working at the gas station everyday had made him thoroughly miserable for almost a year. But now, as he clambered down the steps of his room above his brother's garage, he felt a rush enthusiasm he hadn't come close to in a long time.
He was about to start his first day at his new job. It certainly wasn't anything like playing in the minor leagues, but hey, what could he do? At least it was better than pumping gas.
Merrill climbed into his old red Ford pickup and put the key in the ignition, but didn't start it up right away. He sat, thinking about just what starting this new job meant for him. He had wanted a fresh start since ending his baseball career, and unlike the gas station, maybe this job could provide it. He'd always been known for being a little bit wild, little bit rebellious, much the opposite of his brother, the reverend. Since his sister-in-law, Colleen had died and he'd moved in with Graham to help raise his niece and nephew, things had obviously changed. He hadn't been on a date in months, let alone gone out with any of his friends. A death in the family and an alien invasion didn't exactly make for a party atmosphere anyway. He shook his head quickly to clear it and started up the engine.
Merrill pulled into one of the faculty parking spaces at L.E. Hunt High School, but didn't get out right away. He unrolled the window and looked up at the massive brick building before him. He hadn't been back here since the day he graduated. As he lit a cigarette, he deeply inhaled the smoke and with that came a rush of memories.
One by one, they came at him, all the baseball games, the cheering crowds, cracking jokes in the backs of classrooms with his teammates, the loud, wild parties, the girls… he felt certain painful memories trying to push through, and stopped them just in time. But now wasn't the time for him to reminisce. The last thing he needed was to be late on the first day of his new job. Merrill tossed his cigarette out the window, rolled it up, and opened the door.
Though he hadn't been inside in nearly ten years, the main hallway still smelled and looked as it had then. Merrill sidled his way over to the main office, where he had been instructed to report.
"Merrill! Or should I say Coach Hess?" A large man in his sixties with thinning gray hair waddled over and slapped Merrill on the back. "It's good to see you son. The second I heard you were looking for a coaching position, I said to myself, now that is just damned perfect! Because I was looking for a coach." Principal Mel Winters chortled and slapped Merrill on the back again.
Merrill smiled back. "It's good to see you too, sir. I was very happy to have gotten the position. I think I'm going to be very happy here."
"Oh, I'm absolutely certain that you will. Now, let me just get your classroom assignment…" Mr. Winters rifled through the filing cabinet behind the counter. "Ah. Here we go. That'll room 117. Right down there near the gym. But, I'm sure you remember, eh? Well, here's all of the paperwork you'll need, the keys… and if you need anything, just ring the office!" The older man slapped Merrill on the back a third time, gestured toward the door.
As Merrill walked down the hall, he laughed to himself. Principal Winters had always been likeable, but he was well known for being just a little bit crazy. It was as though time had frozen this place, not changing a thing, though very few things ever did in Bucks County.
He reached 117 and went through the key ring he had been given. "Of, course, there's about fifteen keys and not one damn label." He began trying one after the other in the lock.
"Need some help there?" Merrill dropped the key ring, startled. Bending over to pick it up, he said, "That'd be great, tha-." He froze and he was positive his heart stopped beating. He straightened up and cast an unwavering gaze on the hallway's other occupant. Swallowing deeply, he said, "Shit." Nothing could have described the situation better.
Merrill's eyed the young woman in front of him, wishing he had taken the time to look better, instead of just throwing on an old polo and jeans. "Oh, well," he thought. "Nothing I can do about it now." Finally, not knowing what else to do, he shifted paperwork to the other arm and extended his right hand. "Hey there, Evelyn. How are you doing?"
Evelyn O'Hara looked Merrill right in the eyes, as though trying to read his thoughts. Opting for civility, she returned the gesture. As her soft, manicured hand met his large, rough one, all the feelings she had felt ten years ago came flooding back. "I'm doing just fine Merrill. And yourself? I hadn't heard you were a teacher."
Merrill admired the fact that she didn't rub it in his face that he'd failed in the minors, a fact she had to know. Then again, Evie had always had that kind of class. He should have known she would be above something so cruel and heartless. "Well, I was actually just hired. Today's my first day."
"Mine too. I just moved back to town last week. I'm assuming you'll be one of the new coaches then?"
"Well, I think you'll do a wonderful job. You're still the best athlete I've ever met."
Merrill blushed slightly, surprised by the compliment. "Thanks a lot. I- well, just thanks."
Her expression softened slightly. "You're welcome. I'd better be going now. I have a lot to do before school starts."
"Okay. I'll see you later, then." Merrill turned and continued to try the keys in the lock.
Evelyn stood in her classroom doorway for a moment, watching Merrill struggle with the lock. She bit back her lip, trying not to smile. She mentally scolded herself and walked into her room.
Merrill finally got the door to his classroom open and walked in. He dropped his work on his new desk, sat down, and buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God, what am I going to do?" He asked himself aloud. Evie O'Hara had been the love of his life, for a short time. He had only been sixteen when he met her; she had been fifteen. He leaned back in his chair and allowed memory of their first meeting to come back to him.
L.E. Hunt High School, 1994
"Hey, Jones, we have practice tomorrow, don't forget," Merrill Hess called to one of his baseball teammates as he walked toward his locker. As he approached, he saw a very pretty girl opening the locker next to his. Merrill hadn't seen her before. He admired her long, dark hair that spilled down the back, the pale blue sweater that clung to her chest, and the way her skirt hugged her hips.
"Hi, there. I haven't seen you around before," Merrill said, opening his locker.
She looked up at him and smiled. He saw that her eyes were the exact same blue as her sweater. "That might be because I haven't been around."
"Well, where have you been then?"
"I just moved here." She turned back to her locker and tried to wedge a book into the mess of locker.
He looked her up and down again, noting her tan. "From where?"
"Garden Palms Beach." She laughed, noting his puzzled look. "It's pretty small town. It's in Florida. I'm actually originally from upstate New York, but my father was transferred two years ago, so we spent those in Florida, but then, he decided to open his own business and we picked to live here, because my mother grew up here…" she trailed off, her cheeks flushing and looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I- I have a tendency to ramble."
He stared at her, completely amazed, never having met anyone who had given him this feeling right away. "No, no, I don't mind at all. I like hearing what you have to say." He glanced down at his watch. "I have to go right now, but…" he paused, never having had trouble with this before. "Do you think you'd like to get something to eat tomorrow? You know I could just, uh, show you around town, or, you know whatever."
She grinned broadly. "I think I'd really like that. But you know what I'd like even more?"
"What?" he asked genuinely puzzled.
She leaned forward and whispered softly into his ear. "To find out what your name is."
He laughed and held out his hand. "I'm Merrill Hess. It's very nice to meet you. Is it okay if I meet you out front after school tomorrow for our, ah, tour?"
She met his hand with hers and shook it. "I'm Evelyn O'Hara. And yes, that's fine." She shut her locker, smiling over her shoulder at him as she walked away.
He watched her, not even caring that he was about to be late for the third time in a week.
Merrill shook his head in an attempt to clear it. "This is insane," he said aloud. "That was ten damn years ago. This is ridiculous. I'm not a kid anymore; I'm twenty-eight years old. I can handle teaching right next door to my old girlfriend. It's no big deal." But in the back of his mind, he couldn't' help thinking that something more than chance had brought them both back to the place they met at the exact same time.