Under the Mistletoe

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Ah, the start of Christmas vacation! It’s a greatly anticipated, magical time of the year; a welcome respite for students and teachers all over Thatcher Blake and the surrounding towns. Corny holiday music dominated the airwaves of every major radio station, students of all ages resurrected the age-old tradition of discussing the latest toys and trinkets seen in every local dime store circular, and every square inch of public space in Thatcher Blake was festooned with baubles, garlands, and colorful lights. A whiff of the chilly outside air might herald the bracing aroma of pine and mulling spices, bringing a genuine feeling of joy and goodwill to everyone.

Of course, the best part of Christmas vacation is always the beginning. At North Haskell High School, the last day before vacation fell on a Friday. And nothing much was accomplished on that day except for a smattering of impromptu class parties while other teachers opted to wheel a projector in to show a film or two before the start of two whole weeks of freedom lasting until January 2nd. For Carol Jean Treadway, vacation couldn’t start fast enough!

Miss Carol Jean Treadway (known to her family and friends as CJ) is one of five PE teachers employed at North Haskell. She’d been teaching now for 24 years, the first 3 of those at F.W. Harmony, her alma mater. CJ might easily be mistaken by anyone for the PE department head, but that job belonged to Craig Stalcup, known by everyone simply as “Coach.”

Always the stoical, no-nonsense type, CJ could best be described by the casual observer as a very unpleasant, even predatory sort of woman. A few months ago she celebrated her 46th birthday, and by all accounts she still represented the apogee of athletic butch women with a figure that could accurately be described as slender and toned like a professional runner. As anyone would expect, CJ always dressed in the same short sleeved shirts and shorts or track pants depending on the weather. Her features are without a doubt quite masculine in spite of her lithe frame. Those features went remarkably well with her short, boyishly cropped dark hair and horn rimmed glasses. Her appearance and bedside manner never failed to put the fear of God himself in each of her students.

And speaking of God, CJ was really looking forward to the Christmas party her women’s bible study group was putting on tonight. The group was kind of secretive and small, frequented mainly by other teachers. Occasionally a few students from nearby Blake College would be persuaded to attend bible study, and this inevitably livened up the group of mostly middle-aged women one way or another.

Each year the Christmas party is held at a different member’s house. Normally the group met in the basement of a small church downtown, but more often than not, the party would eventually get a bit…rowdy for want of a better word. This year, the party would be at Jude Horst’s place. She has this lovely Queen Anne house on a double lot at the edge of town outside Harmony—perfect for a party! No, the church basement just wasn’t really equipped for the unique needs of the group.

Miss Treadway finished pulling on her windbreaker, zipping it up only part way. Although it was December, the weather this past week hovered well into the 40s with two days of steady rain. It was certainly dreary outside, and during her planning period she wondered if they’d have any snow at all this month. CJ gathered up her lesson planner and gradebook. She quickly stuffed these into a tote she had slung on one shoulder before flipping the light switch and pulling the door to the future leaders’ classroom closed behind her.

As she headed towards the nearest stairwell, CJ paused in front of an open classroom door. Mr. Beebe, the algebra teacher, was inside sitting at his desk. It looked like he was buried in a mound of papers, and he seemed preoccupied with something in one of his textbooks. The gym teacher stuck her head inside the doorway now and wished the man a Merry Christmas, but the man for all intents looked like he was trying to ignore her.

Mr. Beebe didn’t care too much for Miss Treadway. Actually, he didn’t care too much for any of the PE teachers. In his younger days, he taught PE at Kent Junior High, even coached the intramural football team. It wasn’t personal. It’s just that he thought gym class was a colossal waste of time and being a PE teacher didn’t take much skill. He preferred to put his mind to better use teaching algebra and geometry, even if he thought his time was wasted by students who could care less. He glanced up from his textbook now.

“Hm—yeah, Merry Christmas.” He said. Then he sort of waved the back of his hand at Miss Treadway like he was shooing a fly away from a picnic lunch.

Once she was outside, CJ quickly dashed across the faculty parking lot in search of her car. She reached her modest Ford Fairlaine and tossed her bag into the back seat before shutting herself in. She had Betturkey a few hours before the party was due to start. It wouldn’t take her long to get ready. As she started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, she knew where she was headed.

The Blake Plaza Shopping Center was just a few blocks away from North Haskell. CJ began to whistle softly to herself as she drove. She figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stop at the A&P and pick up something for the party. Of course the party was sure to be well stocked. Jude was a stickler for details and she was known for being a very gracious hostess. Just the same, CJ felt like no Christmas party worth its salt was complete without a fruitcake.

Once inside the A she was startled into nearly jumping out of her skin when Stooge Thompson sprung out in front of her clutching a large deck broom in his hands.

“Hey there, Miss Treadway, what’s up?” Stooge said. “Out of coffee again?”

By now CJ recovered from her initial fright. She heaved a rather gusty sigh as she tried her best to glare at the six foot tall sophomore.

Stooge Thompson is one of Coach Stalcup’s boys. Nice kid too. He’s on the football team, and he’s been working at the A&P since the start of the school year. There was even talk of Coach recommending Stooge for future leaders’ class next year. Future leaders’ class is for all the juniors and seniors chosen to become assistants to the PE teachers who have freshmen and sophomore classes. Coach Stalcup teaches the boys class and Miss Treadway teaches the girls. Sure, Stooge would probably make a great future leader, but CJ wondered why he had to go around scaring people like that. She forced a smile, her gaze briefly meeting the kid’s.

“Fruitcake.” She said rather sheepishly. “I’m attending a party at a friend’s house tonight, and I wanted to bring a dish along.”

The kid’s freckled face split into a big goofy grin.

“Sure thing, Miss Treadway!” He said. He led the gym teacher over to a display loaded with fruitcakes and Christmas cookies. “There’s some right over here. Lila’s on break right now. If you want, I’ll just grab one for you and ring it up myself.”

Stooge’s goofy grin never failed to disarm even the grumpiest of customers, and Miss Treadway was no different. Instantly she relaxed her stance. She reached one hand up and used her index finger to push the bridge of her glasses back in place. A faint smile crossed her thin lips.

“Thank you, Jeffery, I appreciate that.” She replied in her trademark clipped voice.

Several minutes later, CJ left the A&P with her purchase and was on her way home. As she drove, her mind began to wander. She had a few students of her own to recommend to Coach Stalcup for future leaders’ class. There was one girl in her 2nd hour class who stood out in particular. CJ liked the girl very much. She was sort of shy but eager to please and got along very well with her peers. She is a remarkably beautiful girl with sweet, childlike features and thick long auburn hair which tumbled past her shoulders. Her name is Ciara Ackerman.

The more CJ thought about it, she realized she felt positively drawn to this little beauty—enamored even. If someone else were to ask CJ’s honest opinion, she’d say that Ciara was easily the prettiest girl at North Haskell, the prettiest girl she’d ever seen! And as a seasoned PE teacher, she’d seen hundreds of girls come and go.

She remembered one day when Ciara really stood out for her. A couple of months ago, CJ was down in the girls’ locker room. Class was over, and as usual, the space was pure smelly chaos. Mrs. McBride was stationed by the hall exit to prevent anyone attempting to escape before the bell while CJ stood at the entrance to the showers. She didn’t see who all was in there. It was hard to tell anyway with the thick, rising steam and cacophony of chattering squealing girls.

Miss Treadway glanced down at her wristwatch, taking note of the time. She took a few steps into the shower area, putting her whistle to her lips and slicing the humid air with an earsplitting ‘thweeeet!’

“Okay, ladies, you are all beautiful enough!” She shouted in her usual gruff voice. “Let’s get dressed and move on to your next class…NOW!”

Through the ensuing stampede of girls, Miss Treadway caught sight of Ciara. As she tried to wrap herself up in the flimsy school-issued towel, the poor girl slipped on the wet tile floor and completely let go of the towel. For several agonizing seconds, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Ciara somehow recovered from her fall, but the towel was now hopelessly bunched up on the floor near her feet! When she looked up and her eyes met Miss Treadway’s, her cheeks turned bright red and a low mournful wail escaped her slender throat. Poor thing, CJ thought. Ciara was mortified! The girl struggled to cross her arms over her breasts in a futile attempt at covering her nudity.

CJ Betturkey Giriş closed her eyes for a split second, easing her foot off the accelerator. A shrill, tingling electric feeling warmed the space between her legs, and in mere seconds, her body began to hum. This isn’t right, she thought to herself. Ciara is her student! She wasn’t one to take advantage of a shy young thing like Ciara. She’s much too young, and besides, she didn’t want to scare her. But goodness, Ciara Ackerman was absolutely gorgeous!

She thought about consoling Ciara, telling her that it was just an accident. But it was obvious that her student was beside herself with fright. CJ said nothing. She reached over to the pile of towels stacked behind her and handed the girl two clean ones. It was the least she could do considering what the poor girl had just been through. From that day forward, Miss Treadway knew she had to have this girl. But not for a while, she was still too young. It was best to start things slowly anyway; build a nice rapport over time and turn it into a genuine friendship. Future leaders’ class could provide such an opportunity…

At last she was home. CJ pulled her car into the garage and let herself in the back, through the mudroom, kitchen, and dining room and up the stairs to her bedroom. Once upstairs, she shed her clothes and took a quick shower. Next she went to her closet and selected a crisp short sleeved button down shirt and dark slacks. CJ liked to look her best, but she also liked to keep things simple. She swapped her wristwatch for a dainty gold bracelet with a delicate little cross dangling from the clasp. It was a gift given nearly three decades ago by her dear departed mother. Other than the obvious sentimental attachment, CJ knew it did little to soften her appearance. Just the same, it was nice to wear something pretty once in a while even if she really had no use for such nonsense.

CJ went downstairs and glanced at the wall clock in the kitchen. It was time to get going. She drove through the inky night in silence. She thought about switching on the radio, but she remembered that the last time she did, that annoying Chipmunks song was playing. What was the name of that song? Oh yeah, “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” Earlier in the day CJ heard some kid outside the girls’ PE office signing it at the top of her voice. Now that stupid line about wanting a hula hoop ran through her mind, refusing to leave. Great, she hadn’t even touched the dial on the radio and already that song was stuck in her head!

She reached the heart of downtown now, passing through the well-lit main streets. There was the bowling alley, the Comet. A lot of the kids at school liked hanging out there. When she passed by the Woolworth’s, she made a mental note to pick up that catchers’ mitt and bat that her niece, Bobby, had been pestering her about for the last month. Almost ten minutes later, CJ finally reached her destination. She pulled into the long driveway and parked next to a couple other cars outside the garage.

CJ walked part of the perimeter of the large house to the front door where she stood there for a second or two clutching her fruitcake tin and staring. Several lights were on behind the drawn curtains. The house retained a dignified peacefulness in the increasingly chilly night.

Miss Treadway stepped up to the large porch and shifted the fruitcake tin under her arm before letting herself in. The party was in full swing by now. The record player was going too. The twang of Tex Ritter singing “Christmas Carols by the Old Corral” filled the large living room which was quickly filling up with party guests.

She recognized Velma Blount, one of the PE teachers at Talcott. It looked like she even brought a date with her. The woman on her arm looked young; early to mid-30s, respectable, and rather nervous judging by the way her eyes seemed to dart back and forth. Well, that wasn’t unusual, CJ thought. Once Velma’s date got to know some of the others, she might relax a bit and have fun. Or she just might run away. Lord knows she’s witnessed that once or twice. Not everyone was cut out to join their merry little band of Christian schoolteachers.

“CJ, what have you got there…fruitcake? I told you not to bring anything!”

The voice was similar to Miss Treadway’s, deep, and brusque, with an air of faux outrage.

“Good to see you, dear! Bring it over here.”

It was Jude Horst. She is one of the PE teachers over at Kent Junior High, and she and CJ have known each other for years—practically forever. Jude gave CJ a quick peck on the cheek and led her over to a refreshment table in the dining room. She’d passed a couple other tables loaded with snacks on her way in. There was one in the living room by the record player and the kitchen counter was pretty full too. CJ cleared an empty space on the table and set her fruitcake down.

“Why don’t you have a drink? Unwind a little. You look a bit stressed.” Jude said.

“I could use one, thanks.” CJ replied.

Miss Treadway surveyed the goodies laid out on the table while she waited for her drink. There were three kinds of finger sandwiches, chips, and Christmas cookies on pretty porcelain dishes festooned with sprigs of holly. Egg Nog and hard cider was being passed out in neat little cups. Cheese, sausage, and crackers occupied most of the table in the living room.

But the one thing that caught CJ’s eye instantly was the enormous dish of nuts near the sandwiches. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, Brazil nuts, and filberts silently called to her. She reached in and took a few, preferring to crack each one open in her fist instead of using the nutcracker. Jude returned, drink in hand. She passed CJ a glass of punch. Even before she lifted the glass to her lips she knew that the drinks all had one common ingredient. Alcohol. In this case, the punch was spiked with a healthy dose of champagne.

Miss Treadway liked to think of herself as a consummate professional; a good, God fearing woman. She disliked alcohol and had a strong opinion of those who were drinkers. But whenever she attended one of the bible study group’s parties, there was always alcohol in the drinks. CJ guessed that more than one member was responsible for lacing the drinks. Velma Blount almost always did it because she didn’t want to take the chance on somebody else not doing it. There was one time in particular when CJ remembered seeing Velma pouring an entire bottle of top-shelf vodka into the punch bowl. She also remembered that was the night a couple of pretty young ladies from Blake College ended up getting sick and puked all over the church basement.

“Birgitta is here. She’s in the living room. Enjoy the party!” Jude said before walking off to greet some of the other party guests.

For a minute or so, CJ stood there watching the party. For a bible study group, not much actual bible study was taking place. There was a group of women seated nearby. It was Theodosia Scandroli and Karen Swick. Both taught English and World Cultures over at Talcott. The third woman, she’d never seen before. Karen had the bible perched on her lap; the familiar words from the book of Titus rose up through the din:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

This was followed by a few hushed “Amens.” CJ knew that as the party wore on, the three of them would eventually leave to fellowship. Fellowshipping was a common practice amongst their group. Its purpose was to ensure a strong bond between the church and dedicated members. Most of them kept to their own little couples or chosen cliques, and no one interfered with each other’s pairings. Still, that didn’t mean that from time to time members would attempt to “recruit” from outside the group. Goodness knows Velma had been barking up that tree now for months. Perhaps tonight would be different and Velma would get lucky.

For now, CJ gulped the rest of her punch down and helped herself to another drink. She silently cursed her lack of propriety as she finished the second and poured herself a third. It’s Christmas, she thought. What’s the harm anyway? It’s not like any of her students would catch her hypocrisy. Besides, Jesus drank.

By now, Miss Treadway was feeling pretty chipper, even a little light-headed. She made her way through the crowd into the living room. Somebody swapped the record on the turntable out. Dean Martin was dreaming of a white Christmas when CJ caught sight of Birgitta sitting alone on the sofa.

Miss Birgitta Larsson is CJ’s closest friend and fellow colleague. She is the same age as CJ, and she is every bit as tomboyish and striking in appearance. She has a sort of fay look about her with distinctly Nordic looking facial features. Her light, nearly white blond hair was cropped in a boyish bob that barely covers the bottoms of her ears. At first glance, most people who see her mistake her for an albino. She isn’t albino. Her eyes are this very clear, very icy sort of blue. They seemed to stare into a person’s soul if she looked at them directly. Her eyes looked almost inhuman.

Birgitta has been a PE teacher at North Haskell almost as long as CJ. They first met each other as classmates at Blake College. During their sophomore year, they ended up sharing a dorm room together. CJ fondly remembered all the things they used to get up to back then. Some nice, some quite naughty, but that’s a story for another time.

Jude passed by again. When she saw CJ’s empty glass, she took it, replacing it with a full one. CJ noticed that the woman now had something in her other hand, like a small bunch of leaves and berries. It was probably some mistletoe she was planning on hanging up in one of the doorways. There was really no telling with Jude though. CJ went over to the sofa occupied by her colleague and took a seat.

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