Fate intervened to offer her, if not a reprieve, then at least a stay of execution. Mr Chambers was off sick, or, more likely, in bed with a nasty hangover. Since substitute teachers cost money, they were given a free period.
People laughed and joked and wandered off. Susan placed her face on the desk and her arms over her head.
She came to with a jerk and found herself in an empty classroom. She checked her watch.
"You've been asleep for about half an hour."
She looked over her shoulder. Neil was sitting in the desk behind her.
"I wasn't sleeping, I was just resting."
"You were sleeping. And you were snoring."
"I definitely wasn't snoring." She turned to face front again. He seemed back to normal, for want of a better word. "I'm sorry."
"That's okay. It was quite cute really."
She turned to face him again. "I'm not sorry about the snoring, because I wasn't snoring. I'm sorry about yesterday."
"Oh that. Well, maybe I overreacted."
"You think?" She felt a little lighter. "You know, I wasn't trying to trick you. I just found myself in a situation I never imagined I'd be in, and didn't want to make a complete fool of myself. Didn't quite work out as I'd hoped. I still want you to teach me trig."
"In my experience, second chances just mean I'm going to get screwed over twice. However..."
"I don't suppose you'll be helping me as an act of friendship?"
"No. We aren't friends, Susan. We're two people exchanging goods and services."
"And what will you be expecting in return for your goods and services?"
"That you wear nothing but a pair of knickers. Nothing else, not even socks."
She sighed. "You really enjoy punishing me, don't you?"
"Maybe. Or maybe I just like big boobs. Oh, and not big granny pants. Something—"
"I know," said Susan. "Something soft and pretty."
Her parents went out shopping Saturday afternoon, as usual. Neil sat in Susan's chair looking at her laptop.
"What's this?" His finger pointed at the red dot moving around a street map.
"The GPS in Mum's phone," said Susan from behind him. "So they don't surprise us by coming home early. Clever, huh?"
"Wow," said Neil. "This is like some crazy CIA shit."
"Okay, you might as well have a good look at them."
Neil swivelled round and nearly fell off the chair. Susan had stripped off her jogging bottoms and t-shirt, and stood there in lemon-coloured panties with horizontal blue and purple stripes.
Her backside felt super-wide and she wasn't very keen on how her stomach bulged out in various places, and the less said about her thighs the better, but she refused to suck anything in or cover anything up. She stood with hands on hips, letting him look wherever he chose to. If he wanted to see her like this then that was his problem.
Despite Susan's determination, her body reacted of its own accord. Heat rose in her cheeks and moisture formed along the bridge of her nose and at her temples. No doubt her face reddened the moment he turned around. She took it. Eventually, she would acclimatise to the situation and these sensations would calm down. She hoped.
After his initial reaction, Neil's expression settled into one of quiet observation, like someone staring out a window at the view. It was hard to tell if he was deliberately underplaying or if he had expected something more. Either way, he also seemed to not want to make too big a fuss.
"Right, that's enough of that. Move." She shoved him off her chair and sat down. Taking her hair in both hands, she pulled it back, twisted it up into a bun and pinned it in place with a clip. She put on her glasses—they stressed her eyes a lot less than contacts—and stopped worrying about trivial things like leering boys. She was in work mode.
"I like the glasses. They suit you," said Neil.
Susan bowed her head forward and the glasses slid halfway down her nose. "Shut up."
"So, here we are then." Neil waggled his eyebrows. "Alone in your bedroom. Parents out for the day. You with no clothes on. You must have a lot of faith in me."
She said, "I have no faith in you whatsoever," which was a lie, "I just think I could take you in a fight," which was true.
They started from the beginning. Neil went over the basics of trigonometry. Susan found his explanations straightforward and easy to understand.
Neil had prepared lists of basic problems. They solved the first one together, step by step. Triangles were drawn, erased, and redrawn. Susan quickly picked up the methodology and answered all the question with no mistakes.
Then, Neil presented her with a question from the previous year's GCSE papers, and Susan stared at it until Neil snapped his fingers in front of her face.
He went over the solution. Then he went over it again. And then once more. After ten minutes, Susan began to think maybe, even with Neil's help, trig would remain forever out of reach. But they kept at it, first from one direction, then another.
Calculating answers proved to be the easy part. Once you knew the equation to use, you punched in the numbers and the calculator spat out the answer. Exam questions turned out to be more like a puzzle where you had to work out what you needed to work out. You had a shape, you knew this angle and the length of this side, now, who killed Miss Scarlet in the library with the lead pipe?
Neil's focus, when he explained how to take a question apart and identify what the question setter wanted, remained on the page and not on her large pink nipples. He would sit back and stare while she answered a question on her own, but click back into teaching mode the second she finished.
When she said she understood something she didn't, he called her on it immediately. When she almost had it, he would say one small thing to tip her into the answer. When she got it, he would make her do the same question again, but with different angles and sides.
It didn't feel normal doing maths in her knickers, but it didn't feel that big of a deal, either.
After an hour, Susan put down her mechanical pencil, raised her hands above her head and stretched, arching her back and inhaling deeply.
"Ahhhhhhh." She let her hands fall down. "That's better."
"That was—" Neil's eyes were wide open and unblinking, "—that was... amazing."
Susan almost smiled but she fought it down. It irritated her that his compliment got a reaction out of her.
"Where is this headed, Neil?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, do you think you're going to put me in more and more vulnerable positions until I finally crack? Is it all part of some elaborate plan? Show the lonely fat girl a little attention and eventually she'll do whatever you say without hesitation."
Neil raised a shoeless foot so the heel rested on the seat and wrapped his arms around his leg. He rested his chin on his knee. "Is that really how you see yourself?"
"That's how everyone sees me."
"It's not how I see you."
"How do you see me?" she said, wishing she hadn't. It sounded so needy.
Neil shrugged. "Sexy chick with big jugs."
"There you go again." She turned her attention back to the textbook.
Neil picked up the phone from the desk and held it out in front of him. The sound of the camera going off startled her.
"What did you do?" she said in a panicked voice.
"Relax, it's your phone. You can delete the picture. I just wanted you to see what I see." He handed her the phone.
Her hair piled on top of her head looked a bit of a mess, although backlit by the window it had a soft glow to it. Her expression was one of mild surprise, the glasses giving her a slightly studious look. Her breasts jutted out and then curved back, the straight part of her arm framing them, making them seem much more pert than they were in real life. Sexy chick with big jugs? A case could be made—in the photo at least.
Susan smiled. "This is probably the best picture I've ever taken, and no one will ever see it."
"I've seen it," said Neil. "And I can confirm that's what you look like."
Her thumb tapped the screen. "And now it's gone."
Neil picked up the questions she had completed. "You can always take another one."
They continued working, chatting easily and without nerves. When she got up to get something, she knew he was looking at her backside. When she leaned forward, she felt his eyes sliding along her spine. When she brushed eraser rubbings off her breasts, she heard the breath catch in his throat.
She wasn't just getting used to it, she was starting to like it. But indulging that feeling would come back to bite her somewhere down the line. She pulled the textbook closer and forced all maths-unrelated thoughts from her head. Trigonometry would save her.
After three hours, they had caught up to where they were supposed to be in class. Susan didn't have a complete grasp of the subject, but she had a light grip. They both heard the click of the front door at the same time. The laptop was in sleep mode. Susan hit the spacebar, and the screen clearly showed the red dot inside the house.
Susan scrambled to get her clothes back. Neil stood guard, his ear pressed to the door. She wondered what he planned to do if it opened.
Once dressed, they both sat down again, intensely focused on the books they held in their hands. Somewhere downstairs her parents ignored them and put away the shopping. Neil and Susan looked at each other's fake scholarly faces and burst out laughing.
Mr Chambers returned on Monday, looking alert and refreshed after his long weekend. He didn't come armed with test papers, so there'd probably be an extra long one on Friday. Now she was back up to speed, Susan concentrated extra hard so she wouldn't fall behind again, but by the end of Monday's lesson she could tell she was going to need more help.
There was a fundamental difference between the way Chambers explained things and how Neil did it. Neil broke things down into tiny steps, sometimes stating the obvious numerous times.
Chambers, on the other hand, had a tendency to skip some steps altogether. It was only now that she understood the basics that Susan could see the steps Chambers missed out. For him, they were small jumps in logic so obvious they weren't worth mentioning. But just because he could see them in his head didn't mean the rest of the class could.
Basically, she struggled with maths because Mr Chambers was a shitty teacher.
After double maths on Wednesday, Neil and Susan negotiated terms.
"What do you mean you want me to play with them?"
"You know," said Neil, as though his request was no big deal, "touch them and stuff."
"While you watch me?"
She had refused point-blank to remove any more clothing, which he had accepted without complaint. What he now wanted from her, apparently, was to put on a show.
"I'm not comfortable doing that at my house." There was a sentence that should have ended three words earlier. "What about your place? Will your parents be home?"
"We haven't decided on a time yet."
"Doesn't matter what time, they won't be home."
She had no idea about his family situation. She'd never stopped to think about it. Going to his place and seeing how he lived had quite an appeal. She was curious.
"Well, no time like the present," said Susan. "Let's go."
They took the same bus she usually did, but got off one stop before. She recognised his road. If you knew the shortcuts, it took less than ten minutes to walk from hers. It was a small terraced house, with a paved-over driveway. He unlocked the front door and let her in. The gloomy hallway led into an uncluttered galley kitchen. Stairs on the right side and a doorless doorway on the left.
"This is the lounge."
She followed him into the lounge which was front and back rooms knocked together. There was a sofa with a duvet piled on top, a wooden coffee table, a rickety looking desk against one wall with a beat up laptop on it and one dining room chair beside it. And an electric bar heater.
There was nothing else in the room. No furniture, no pictures on the wall, no rugs on the wooden floorboards.
Neil drew the curtains and turned on the electric heater. "Should warm up in a bit."
"Are your Mum and Dad at work?"
"Mum's dead, but I guess Dad's at work. He lives in Dubai."
"So you're on your own here?"
"Yep. Living the dream."
She had assumed he'd have an unusual home life, but she hadn't been prepared for this. She didn't know what to say, so, instead, she stripped.
Today, she'd selected pink cotton panties with a small lace pocket on the front. She had no idea what you were meant to keep in the pocket. She had taken to being quite particular about her undergarments, even when not doing maths. Plain and functional no longer held the appeal they once did.
They sat on the sofa, books spread out on the coffee table, using the sole dining chair as a makeshift desk for her to write on. As they discussed matters trigonometric, explaining and questioning back and forth, the perverse nature of the situation didn't seem to register for either of them. At one point she drew his attention to how pointy her nipples had become, as though she were showing off a piece of jewellry. Only when she saw the look on his face did she realise what she was doing, and buried her face in her hands.
But then he laughed, which made her laugh, and her mortification evaporated.
The maths part of their relationship remained as straightforward as ever. She still found it difficult, but she had become accustomed to his way of explaining things and had no problem stopping him to ask for clarification on things that didn't make sense. They soon passed where they were in class.
They took a break after an hour. The room was warm and the orange glow from the fire gave it a cosy feel.
"I suppose you want me to do that stuff now."
"Okay," said Neil, looking slightly amused.
"You're not going to take out your cock are you?"
"No," said Neil. "Not until after you leave."
"Ugh. Was it necessary to tell me that?"
She lay down on the sofa and stretched her legs out behind him. She placed a hand over each breast and started to stroke herself.
Neil moved himself down towards her feet, probably to get a better view.
"I can't do this if you keep looking at me like that."
"Close your eyes, then," said Neil. "I won't do anything."
She closed her eyes. He wouldn't do anything. She didn't know how she knew, she just knew. It was the thing she found most perplexing. She trusted him. She had no reason to do so, no evidence or guarantees. It wasn't something that had grown between them over time, either. From the first time, she never doubted him. Never felt at risk. Was she dumb?
She stopped moving. The fingers of her left hand were gently brushing the nipple on her left breast. The fingers on her right hand had somehow snaked their way down her body and into her underpants where they were entwined in soft hair. She opened her eyes and looked at Neil. His mouth was hanging open.
"Thank you so much."
Susan leapt to her feet. "Need to go to bathroom," she yelled, and ran out of the room.
"First door at the top of the stairs," Neil called after her.
Susan sat on the toilet, knickers around her knees and face in her hands. It was freezing. She should have brought her coat.
The bathroom was plain and simple. White and blue tiles. A bath with shower attachment. One toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste on the sink. She finished and flushed, but before she went back down she couldn't resist taking a peek into the other rooms. There were three other doors. Each room was completely empty. No bed, no wardrobes, nothing.
"Why don't you have any furniture?" She plonked herself down on the sofa and pulled the duvet up around her shoulders.
"Oh, well, Dad sends money every month, but sometimes I end up a bit short, so I sold all the stuff I don't really need."
"When was the last time you saw your dad?"
"Couple of years ago. I think we should do some of these harder questions. It's usually okay once you know what they want you to do, but with these more complicated questions it can be really tough figuring out what that is exactly."
He obviously didn't want to talk about it, and she had no business prying, so she changed the subject.
"If you could have chosen any girl from maths to be here like this, who would you have picked?"
He stopped flicking through the old exam papers in his hands. "Are you fishing for a compliment?"
"No! How is that fishing?"
"You want me to say, You, Susan, I'd always choose you."
"I'm the last person I'd expect you to pick. Literally, the last person."
"Who do you think I'd pick?"
She thought about it. "Tina."
Tina was on the school swim team and had a fit, lean body.
"With those shoulders? You must be joking."
"She's well put together, though."
"Yeah, Mary Shelley's Front Crawl Champion. No thanks."
Of course Neil's taste ran more towards soft and pretty. "Rachel, then. She's more your type."
Rachel was petite and cute. Her long hair was always beautifully styled, and she knew how to apply makeup to emphasise her giant green eyes. She also had a slim body with a big rack—every guy's ideal.
"Padded bra," said Neil.
"What? How do you know?"
"I make it my business to know."
Never underestimate the power of a perv.
They carried on working for another hour and a half until Susan's phone rang. It was her mother wanting to know where she'd disappeared to. She'd forgotten to tell her, and it was already past seven.
"Don't worry, Mrs Campbell," Neil shouted into the phone. "She's perfectly safe. I'll walk her home."
Perfectly safe and only partially naked.
Susan got dressed. "You don't have to walk me home, I know the way."
"That's alright, I fancy some fresh air. Plus, I think your mother likes me." He grinned at her.
Friday's test was a doozy. Two weeks worth of trig stuffed into sixteen questions and forty-five minutes—completely unreasonable. She didn't even get to the last question, but those she did answer left her pleased with herself.
After the class, people began complaining about the test being too hard. Susan remained at her desk, sorting out her bag for her next lesson. Three desks ahead of her, Rachel stood with her bag on top of her desk doing likewise, her hair curled into long black tresses, a large clip on one side with an orchid-type flower attached to it. She looked like she'd stepped out of some tropical shampoo commercial.
Susan's gaze flitted down to the girl's not insubstantial chest.
"Why are you staring at me like that?"
It took a moment for Susan to realise Rachel was talking to her.
"Jealousy. You have the perfect figure plus nice-sized boobs. It's not fair."
Rachel smiled, clearly pleased with the description. She came closer, struggling with the over-sized bag. She leaned in close and whispered, "The right bra makes all the difference."
She smiled again, showing off big, white teeth perfectly aligned, and sat down at the desk next to Susan's. "Hey, you're doing well in maths, aren't you? This tutor of yours must be really good. Any chance I can have his number? I'm really struggling."
"You don't need his number," said Susan, "just ask him. He's sitting over there."
She pointed towards Neil, scrunched up at his desk, reading his book. For the first time Susan realised it was always the same book at the same page. Did he obsessively read the same bit over and over? Probably the part where a dragon did unspeakable things to a busty maiden.
"Cutlass? Oh. Makes sense, I guess. He always comes top, doesn't he? He gives off a pretty intense leave-me-alone vibe, though. How did you get him to help you?"
"I sucked his dick," said Susan with no trace of emotion.
Rachel laughed so hard, she snorted. She covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh God, I think you just made me throw up in my mouth."
Girls like Rachel used to make Susan uncomfortable. She would find it hard to hold a conversation with them, let alone joke around. You couldn't blame Rachel for her pretty face and undeniable sex appeal, but would you really want to stand next to her and invite comparison? But, for some reason, such things no longer worried Susan. And not just with girls. She found herself chatting with whoever was around, moving on to the next thing without being too concerned over the impression she might have left.
People had even started coming up to her to initiate conversation. Was it all because they could sense she was a little more comfortable in her own skin?
On Saturday, she went round Neil's again. During their breaks she would sometimes fondle her breasts, sometimes not. He seemed to have left it up to her to decide. Either way, she kept it above the waist.
It would soon be time for the mock exams, and Susan considered it possible to get an A grade in maths. With Neil's help, it might even be likely.
On Sunday, she worked on her other subjects. Wanting to match her achievements in maths gave her the motivation to power through. That and the bottle of 7Up she always kept within easy reach.
Monday morning, first period, maths. She got seventy-two percent. Not great considering how hard she had worked, but judging by the scores of the people around her, way, way above average. Mr Chambers spent the first ten minutes of class dealing with more complaints about the test.
On Friday there was another test, this one a little less ambitious in its scope. She crushed it. She finished with twenty minutes to spare and felt like standing up, dropping her mechanical pencil on the floor, and walking out of the room.
Saturday, she turned up with two bags of snacks and drinks. He never had any food in the house. His fridge wasn't just empty, it was switched off at the wall. When she got crumbs on herself and brushed them off, he hid everything except for the crumbliest foods and pretended he had no idea where everything else had gone.
She found herself smiling on the way to his place and grinning on the way home. Deep down, though, she knew it couldn't go on like that forever. And it didn't. Although never in a million years could Susan have predicted the reason.
Wednesday, third period, geography, a boy asked her out.
Stuart wasn't in the gets-picked-last category. He had an earring in his left ear, spiky hair dyed blond, was at least six inches taller than her and played basketball for the school, although not the first team. He wasn't the best looking boy in school, or the most popular, but he hung with that crowd and didn't look out of place.
Mrs Maxwell, the geography teacher, had rushed off in the middle of class for two minutes that turned into twenty. Popular opinion put the blame on a dodgy curry. When Stuart perched himself on the desk next to Susan's, she assumed he was bored and doing the rounds. When he said, "Hey, Susan, you have a beautiful smile, you know?", she thought he was using her for practice, like an actor running his lines. It didn't bother her.
"Thanks very much. Nice of you to say so." She carried on reviewing her notes from the last lesson.
"Doing anything fun this weekend?" he asked.
She lifted up her notebook, looking for the pen she'd put down a second ago. "Nothing exciting. Just studying, probably."
"I was thinking of going to the movies. Wanna come with me?"
"The movies. Will you come?"
Some kind of prank? Possible, although Stuart didn't seem the type. "Who else is going?"
"Just you and me. You know, like a date."
"You know, a date. Me, you, popcorn. What do you say?"
What could she say? She said, "Mm, okay."
After double maths, Susan told Neil she couldn't come round on Saturday because she had a date.
Neil jerked his head back like she'd thrown water in his face. "What?!"
He didn't have to act so surprised, but she couldn't be offended as her reaction had been much the same.
"That's great," he said, once she'd finished telling him about Stuart. "I mean, you like him, right?"
"I don't know. He's got a cool haircut."
"Well," said Neil, "what more could you ask for?"
The rest of the week flew by. She spent Saturday morning choosing her outfit—nothing too fancy, nothing too tight—and took the bus into town. As the bus pulled in at the depot, the anxiety of being stood up chipped away at her confidence. She almost expected it and wondered how long to hang around if he failed to appear. Half an hour? An hour? She imagined herself standing outside the cinema in a deluge of rain, a forlorn, lonely figure.
She needn't have worried. The skies remained cloudless, and Stuart stood waiting for her as she approached the multiplex. They started chatting immediately. It felt comfortable and fun. The movie was a big, noisy blockbuster she had no real interest in seeing, but that didn't matter. She spent the two hours wondering if he would try to kiss her. How should she react? Would she like it?
Afterwards, they went to a coffee shop with large sofas and baristas covered in piercings and tattoos. If you asked her later what they talked about, she wouldn't have been able to tell you, but she remembered laughing a lot and having a good time.
Eventually, he walked her back to the bus depot and, as her bus pulled up, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. And then he waved her off. It was perfect. Even if he never asked her out again, she would always have this memory.
He called her the following day, and they talked for nearly an hour. He invited her to come bowling the following Saturday with his mates. She recognised a few of the names, one was Rachel from her maths class, so she accepted without hesitation. By the time she ended the call, she was already thinking about what to wear.
Monday morning, first period, maths. She got a solid eighty-six on Friday's test. Then she heard Mr Chambers say loudly, "Cutlass, only eighty-eight! Come on, boy, you're slipping."
It wasn't unusual for Mr Chambers to say something like that. He often jokingly had a go at one of them. What surprised Susan was that Neil answered him.
"Can't get a perfect score if the questions aren't clear," he said in a monotonous, matter of fact way.
"Now, now," said Chambers, "don't go blaming the questions."
"I'm not. I'm blaming the person who chose the questions." The atmosphere in the class thinned. All chattering ceased. "If you spent a little more time preparing and a little less time down the pub, people might not consider you such a hopeless maths teacher."
Mr Chambers had a temper. Susan had seen it. If someone refused to be quiet in class or got caught using their phone, he could really let rip. Occasionally a pen would go flying across the room. But today he remained calm.
"Neil, I may not be the greatest teacher in the world, but I don't think that gives you the right to speak to me like that."
All eyes shifted to Neil, hunched over his desk, hair flopped over his face. In Susan's mind, he had a dark aura curled around him. He rose from his seat. "I apologise. I don't know why I feel so tilted today. It certainly isn't your fault, so I don't know why I'm having a go at you. Sorry for being a dick." He sat back down. The aura remained.
"No problem," said Mr Chambers with a grin. "We're none of us perfect. I'll try to be a little more careful with my question selection in future."
The class proceeded as normal. Susan meant to speak with Neil, to check he was okay. She'd never seen him like that. She could tell he'd been restraining himself so as not to make the situation worse. What could have happened to affect him so badly? But, by the time she had packed up her books and turned around, his desk was empty. It was the first time he'd left class so quickly.
She planned to find time to speak to him later, but time was the one thing she had less and less of. Breaktimes, lunchtimes, before and after classes, Stuart would find her and they'd suddenly be in a crowd of people, involved in conversations about nothing in particular.
Her game plan had been built on the fact she had no social life. This left her with more time to study than everyone else, giving her the edge over them. But now that her social calendar had miraculously filled up, she would have to work extra hard and with greater intensity to stay ahead of the pack. Most likely this sudden rise in popularity would disappear at some point, and she didn't want to be left with a few fond memories and a B grade average.
Before she knew it, Saturday arrived and all thoughts of studying retreated to the back of her mind. She met up with Stuart and his friends. Together they spent the afternoon being a rowdy group of teenagers. She was, of course, terrible at bowling, but she did manage to fluke a strike, which brought everyone to their feet cheering.
At the end of a glorious afternoon, Stuart walked her to the bus stop, where he put his arms around her waist, pulled her in tight, and kissed her. On the mouth. With tongue. Lots of tongue.
It was a little overwhelming. She struggled to keep breathing, but damned if she was going to be the first one to pull away. Fortunately, the bus arrived and he disengaged, although her mouth continued to feel his presence until well down the road.
She stared out the bus window and replayed the kiss in her mind. She wasn't sure she'd enjoyed it. Perhaps, she told herself, it took a couple of goes to get the hang of it. Maybe the male tongue was an acquired taste. It did make her heart race, though, and her head spin. So much so that she got off at the wrong bus stop. As she cut through a side street to get home quicker, she realised Neil's place was nearby and, on a whim, decided to drop in. She hadn't spoken to him in forever, and it would be nice to see what the perv had been up to.