**Author's Note: If you are looking for a story where Nathan Gardner falls for a student, I'm sorry, but this isn't the story for you. For any stragglers that might still be willing to give this fic a chance, thank you and I hope you enjoy! Criticism is fine if it's constructive, flaming just for the sake of doing so isn't nice and makes me a sad panda. Yes, Nathan will have some of Mr. Downey's personality/interests, I know they are there. And sure, call out the word Mary-Sue if you wish, I'm doing this for fun! Also, I wanted to give Susan more time with her father, so I made she and Charlie juniors…**
Nathan Gardner, former principal of Western Summit High School, sat behind the desk in his study. He took a deep breath as he watched the clock change from eleven fifty-nine P.M. to twelve o'clock A.M. Normally such a change in time didn't matter, but this was a special night. This was…a rebirth of sorts. Right now he was making a promise to both himself and his daughter, Susan, that things would change for the better and remain that way. He had made the promise before, but knew there was no going back to habits of the past. He had been given a second chance at Western Summit, regaining his position as a history teacher only weeks after he was fired.
Changes in the staff at the high school were nothing unusual; with the sort of student body that roamed the halls, keeping one's sanity proved a challenge to most. Though Nathan may have "failed" as their principal, he never felt that way as their teacher. Luckily for him, Kenneth Shumaker did. Mister Shumaker didn't even give notice before the weekend. Instead, he walked into Joe Hawkins', Nathan's replacement, office and threw his room keys onto the principal's desk. It has been rumored that he fled to his sister's place in Oregon. Regardless of where he wound up, this left a vacancy in the history department, thus granting Nathan a second chance at what he truly wanted to do.
Joe called Nathan that very afternoon, explaining the situation. If all went well for the remainder of the school year, his position would be permanent. Nathan thanked his old friend and began to get his life back into order. He forced himself to go back for help with his drinking problem and properly disposed of his firearm…as well as all of his boating memorabilia. He even showed good faith by inviting his daughter's boyfriend, the infamous Charlie Bartlett, and his mother to spend a few evenings with them. Yes, things in the Gardner house were changing for the better.
Nathan rubbed at his temples. "No going back now," he said to himself. He took a deep breath and looked out of the window behind him. Susan was at a party and would not be back until one – still her standard curfew. He watched a light rain fall for a few minutes before turning off the light and making his way to his bedroom. "Strength," he whispered.
That Monday, the history teacher was back on campus. Nathan pulled into the school parking lot and stared at the brick building. He shook his head. "Not one of them is going to take me seriously." He was, of course, referring to his soon to be students. True, they didn't care for him as principal at all, but now Joe Hawkins had inherited that disdain. When Nathan was a teacher, he had respect and was even well liked. In fact, a lot of his students turned on him simply from feeling abandoned. He took a deep breath, opened his car door, and stepped out into the chilled air. He was no more than three steps from his car when he heard the unmistakable sound of wheels on concrete and felt someone push roughly into him, causing him to drop his briefcase.
"Seriously?" he said, assuming it was a student. "I haven't even made it inside yet…"
"Oh, God," a female voice said. "I'm so sorry. Kid, skateboard, chain reaction…" she stammered.
Nathan turned to see a brunette woman with panic in her eyes and freshly spilled coffee dripping down her coat. "Are you alright? I didn't mean to yell, I just assumed…"
"I'm good," she said quickly. "Late though, I think…and now sort of…stained. Sorry again, really!" She jogged ahead of him a little, scanning for any other "wheeled students."
Nathan looked at his travel mug, coffee still contained inside. "Well, that could have been worse for me, I guess." He continued on his way inside the building.
Once inside, Nathan was met with some questioning glances from the student body, but nothing too overall unwelcoming. It had been a couple of weeks since everything occurred and Joe Hawkins proved to be a less lenient principal. Nathan signed in at the office, received a few pleasantries from the staff, then made his way to his classroom. When he opened the door he immediately saw a box on his desk, a bright yellow ribbon wrapped around it. There was also a small envelope, which he opened. He smiled a little as he read the words, "Welcome back, Mr. Gardner. Sincerely, Charlie." He opened the box to find a new nameplate that read: "Mr. Gardner - History" in bold block lettering.
"Welcome back, Dad." Susan stood in the doorway, a smile on her always crimson lips.
"Let's hope everyone feels that way," Nathan replied.
"You'll be fine," she said surely. "See you seventh period." She waved and disappeared into the rough sea of teenagers.
Nathan looked around the room, instantly feeling more like a previous, happier version of himself. "Yeah…I will."
As the woman from the parking lot had passed through the front doors of the school, her mind flashed to the cliques and hormones she would be immersed in, the situations she would have to deal with, and the mountains of work that would quickly pile up. She had skillfully avoided being pushed into a door, wall, or locker by the bustling student body and made her way to the main office. She passed some of the popular pretty girls she had always envied, a few jocks who she never thought much of, and a group of the average kids – her group. Her heart rate increased as she opened the door and went inside, so much so that she actually felt a little faint.
"Can I help you?" a plump secretary asked, looking up from her desk, but not yet thinking about getting up.
"I'm here for Mrs. Leving's classes," she said, smiling nervously. "It's my first day. I'm supposed to see Mr. Hawkins."
Deciding that getting up wasn't necessary, the secretary replied, "Go on back, hun. First door on your right."
"Just…go back?" she asked, unsure it was the best idea.
She smiled, very obviously not moving from her place. "Sure, he's in there."
"Thank you," she said, feeling a bit strange about walking into someone's office unannounced. She made her way back to the proper place and found the door to be slightly closed over. She knocked, wincing.
"Yes?" a tired voice answered.
"Mr. Hawkins?" She felt a little embarrassed.
The door opened fully and a tall, tired looking man came into view. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"Hi," she said smiling. It was then obvious that he hadn't a clue as to who she was. "I'm here for Mrs. Leving's classes." He looked at her, waiting for her to say more. "Sydney Turner. We met a couple of weeks ago." The man looked stumped. "Long term English sub…for the remainder of the year."
Alarm was evident in the man's eyes, but he played it off. "Oh, of course," he thought for a moment. "I'm sorry, bit of a hectic morning." He looked at her coat. "You as well it would seem."
"Oh, uh, yeah."
He shuffled through a few papers on his desk. "Right then. I have a mentor for you, he'll help to get you through all of the 'technical' things and he's just across the hall from your room. Nathan Gardner. Go ahead and see him as soon as you leave here. Good friend of mine, excellent teacher. He'll be more than happy to answer any questions you might have and my door is usually open…except for when it closed. Physically I mean, but I do put a sign up then…" He realized how foolish he sounded. He exhaled rather loudly. "Sorry, like I said, rough morning."
"It's alright. So, I just go up to the room then?"
"Yes. Mrs. Stahl will give you your room keys on your way out. Have a good first day."
"Thank you, sir," Sydney replied; she had the feeling that something wasn't right. As soon as she turned the corner, Joe picked up his phone. He frantically dialed Nathan's extension.
"Yes, Boss?" Nathan answered a little sarcastically, seeing Joe's extension come up on the phone base's small screen.
"Nathan, I need a favor," Joe said, urgency in his voice.
"I've been here ten minutes, isn't it a bit soon for that?"
"Nathan, I completely forgot to get things in order for Fran's sub. You're right across the hall from her room and…"
"You can't be serious," Nathan replied, almost laughing. "You forgot?" Had he not known Joe for the better part of his career, his tone would have been drastically different. "What good am I gonna do someone? I'm on probation myself."
"Bullshit, Nathan," Joe said. "You taught here for ten years before becoming principal, and two before that at…"
"Okay, so I know what I'm doing but…"
"Come on, Nathan, I'd have done it for you." Joe was all but begging. "I told her I had things set up for her and that you're a good guy to learn from. Plus, it'll get you some points with the Super – and let's face it, you need them to stay in this district."
Nathan sighed. "Fine, I'll do it…damn, I can't even say that you owe me considering you lobbied for me to be back here."
Joe sounded relieved. "Thank you, Nathan. I already sent her up to your room."
"I can see that," Nathan said, looking up from his desk. The woman he'd glanced at in the parking lot was in the doorway, her face reddened with humiliation. "Talk to you later." Nathan hung up the phone wondering just how much she had heard.
"You weren't supposed to be my mentor, were you?" she asked, knowing the answer.
"Guess you heard all that?"
Sydney nodded. "Mr. Hawkins sent me straight here. I'm sorry." She felt like she was going to cry. She'd already been doused in coffee, which was still quite the sight on her coat, and the principal had completely forgotten about her.
Nathan got up from his desk and made his way to her, extending his hand. "Nathan," he said. "No need to be sorry, it's not your fault, Ms…"
"Miss," she interrupted. "Ms. makes me feel a bit dowdy, but, um, Sydney's fine, really."
Nathan smiled. "You're upfront. That's a good thing here – make sure you're the same way with the kids. Anyway, please don't think I'm being rude, but I can't do much to help you this morning."
"Oh, right," she said, nausea welling up inside her. "You weren't exactly expecting anyone and…"
"I just have to get a few things together for you, that's all. You need access to the school's network to do attendance and grades and um…" He rummaged around the desk. "…ah, here's a bell schedule. Did you meet with Fran before?"
"Yes, a couple of weeks ago. I have lesson plans for this and next week to get me started."
"Good, okay." He stood next to her, schedule in front of them both. "So, these first four periods are forty-two minutes a piece, then lunch. Uh, after that, I'm pretty sure you have a class, a planning period, then…oh."
Nathan remembered what Fran's seventh period was like, as some of them wound up in his office at one point or another. "Well, I should warn you about seventh period…"
"Crap," Sydney said, bluntly. Any time a teacher ever warned her about a class, there was good reason for it.
"Not all of them, just a couple, but…well, I'm sure you know where I'm headed."
She sighed. "I'll be happy when seventh period ends?"
"Pretty much." Nathan looked at Sydney, her warm, brown eyes worried. "You'll be fine and if anyone gives you a problem, I'll be right across the hall."
Sydney smiled. "You put that offer out there, remember that."
"I will." Nathan could tell that Sydney thought she was a burden. "We have planning periods at the same time, I'll have more of what you need then, okay?"
"Sure. Thank you, Mr…"
"Nathan," he said, cutting her off. "We're equals here."
"Thank you, Nathan."
"You're welcome, Sydney." She left the room and Nathan couldn't help but feel sorry for her. She'd clearly had a rough morning and with some of the students being how they were, things weren't bound to get easier…he hoped he was wrong. She looked old enough to have some experience behind her, but clearly never had a permanent position to call her own. He remembered when someone was assigned to mentor him in what felt like a lifetime ago…and he knew he had to do a better job than that.