Blush sensuality level: This is a sensual romance (may have explicit love scenes, but not erotic in frequency or type).
Tired of having been constantly on the move, Drew is determined to make Cardiff his home. When Drew starts his new job as teacher in Cardiff, he strikes up an immediate friendship with Nathan Morgan, a young History teacher.
Nathan is instantly attracted to Drew, but doesn't want to risk their fledgling friendship by declaring the extent of his desire. Completely oblivious to Nathan's quandary, Drew doesn't realize the true nature of his own feelings for Nathan until accusations from a student force both men's hands.
But Drew has spent his life running away. Running away from his mistakes, his desires and a secret-filled past. Drew is forced to choose between running away once more and a possible future with Nathan.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Lesson Learned by Lillian Francis
Yet another long corridor punctuated by wooden doors. The smell of paint still lingered, indicating the pale-green walls had been recently spruced up for the start of a new school year. The color also told Drew Jackman, as he glared at the floor plan in his hand, that this should be the humanities department and consequently not only was he in the wrong corridor, but almost certainly the wrong block.
Damn his male pride, if he had accepted the assistance the principal had offered, he would be safely ensconced in his new teaching domain by now. Instead he was wandering the corridors, lost. Yep, there was no other word for it, he was well and truly lost and this floor plan of the school made no sense whatsoever.
And, of course, there wasn't a student or teacher around anywhere to point him in the right direction.
The slap of rubber-soled shoes on the staircase to his right caught his attention and Drew moved through the double doors toward the sound. Maybe he wasn't completely out of luck. There was a brief flash of denim as the sneakers carried on up the stairs and then Drew could hear the unmistakable sound of the doors above as they swung back on themselves.
It was the only movement in an otherwise silent building, so he followed it, but even as he did, Drew frowned, wondering who was prowling the corridors. The principal had stated that all the students in school today, which was only the new intake of year sevens and the senior years, would be in orientation for the first two lessons, meeting tutors and student advisors.
Coming out into another green corridor at the top of the stairs, Drew spied his intruder at one of the notice boards that graced the walls in this particular part of the building.
Maybe he could get directions and exert a sense of authority at the same time. It wouldn't hurt for the student body to get the impression that whilst he was a new teacher at the school, he was not going to be a pushover. And who better to start with than one of the senior students who, from the way he carried himself, looked like he would command respect and possible adoration from his peers.
"Shouldn't you be in lessons?" Drew spoke clearly as he strode toward the young man.
Dark wavy hair flicked out as the young man's head whipped round. Drew got the impression of amusement in gray eyes and a raised eyebrow in the blur of movement, but his face had been schooled into a deferential expression by the time his gaze settled on Drew.
"Actually, I've got a free period--" the young man started. A local boy, Drew realized. That was definitely a Welsh accent, and after four years in South London, it was a like a gentle caress to his eardrums.
"Still, library or sixth form center," Drew interrupted the young man and saw that brief flash of amusement once more. "No hanging around the corridors."
This time a grin split the young man's face and he appeared to be struggling to get it back under control. "You must be Andrew Jackman."
"That's Mr. Jackman to you," Drew reprimanded, although he was curious as to how he was already known when so far he had only met Shirley Hartley, the principal. "What's your--"
"I'm Nathan Morgan." The pause was barely a heartbeat. "History teacher."
He rarely got embarrassed, but Drew could feel his cheeks start to heat under the amused gaze of the other teacher. "Ah. Oops?"
In a desperate bid to bring this uncharacteristic blush under control, he glanced over the other man's broad shoulders at the poster he had been pinning to the board. "Join the History Detectives", it proclaimed, the remainder of the text disappearing behind a solid biceps that flexed as Drew focused on it, if the shift of material was anything to go by. This movement dragged his attention back to the unwavering gaze of the young history teacher.
Turning on the charm to save face--it had been his way of avoiding trouble and awkward situations since he'd been a boy--Drew grinned. "Aren't you a little young to be a teacher?"
"I'm twenty-four. I've been told I have a baby face," Nathan confirmed with a shrug.
The gray irises were flecked with blue, and despite the nonchalant roll of his shoulders, Nathan had yet to look away. A sloping snub nose led down to full, but masculine lips and a strong chin, the skin smooth now, but Drew could imagine it would already be darkening with stubble before the school day was over.
He wondered how he could ever have mistaken this man for an adolescent. The baby face was an illusion, Drew decided. He glanced at the low-slung jeans, the wide belt barely holding them up over narrow hips. A casual shirt, sleeves rolled up to expose the pale flesh of muscular forearms, was unbuttoned far enough to reveal an obscure band t-shirt.
"The clothes don't help," Drew teased, feeling almost instantly at ease in the other man's company. Nathan, Drew reminded himself. His name is Nathan.
"What should I wear? Corduroy and tweed?" Gray eyes twinkled mischievously, the azure flecks multiplying until Drew would swear Nathan's eyes were blue now if anyone had asked.
"You did say you were a history teacher." Drew grinned, relishing the easy banter that they had slipped into. Relaxing against the wall, Drew crossed his feet at the ankles, the leather of his new boots creaking as they rubbed against themselves. He rolled his shoulders experimentally. The knot of tension that he had been carrying in his neck since he'd woken up that morning had disappeared at some point in the last ten minutes.
"And you teach science, but I don't see a lab coat or test tube in your pocket," Nathan jibed.
"How do you--?" Drew asked, his confusion at being recognized once more reasserting itself. He pushed himself off the wall and thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers, the paper map of the school crushed in his fingers.
"The American accent," Nathan confirmed. His eyes narrowed and it appeared he had picked up on Drew's discomfort. "Shall we start again? Hi, I'm Nathan Morgan, a history teacher here at Everwood Community College." Nathan thrust out his hand.
Slowly, Drew tugged his hands from his pockets, the paper map catching on the thin lining.
"Andrew Jackman. But everyone calls me Drew. I'm new here, in case it isn't obvious. In fact, I'm new to Cardiff, just moved here from London." Drew grasped the offered hand, noting the firm grip, and shook it vigorously. "Do I call you Nate?"
"Hell no. Nathan's short enough, but Nathaniel's a bit of a mouthful."
The intensity of Nathan's grin was blinding, but Drew suspected it matched his own. Warm skin pressed against his palm. Drew felt the apprehension that always accompanied yet another fresh start slip away.
Nathan indicated the crumpled plan of the school Drew was still holding in his free hand. "You'll get lost using that. I'm doing nothing first period. Want me to show you around?"
Nathan's gaze flicked down to their hands. "You might want to let go of my hand first. The kids do like to tease."
* * * * *
Just like every other new post he'd taken in the ten years since completing his teacher training in the UK, Drew's first week at Everwood had been eventful to say the least. Much like the Inner City comprehensive he taught at in London, this school was a maze of corridors. More than once in his first week, Drew found himself face-to-face with a group of students as he tried to go up a staircase designated as a down route only.
Separate blocks housed the humanities department, science labs and the ICT suite, each block having been built at different times during the school's life to accommodate the increase in student demand as families left Cardiff City center for outlying areas. At least that was what Nathan had told him on his second day when the younger man had found him wandering vaguely near the playing fields, mumbling curses under his breath. With a reassuring "You'll get used to it" and a heartening smile, Nathan had guided him back to the science block where he could safely negotiate his way to his next classroom.
He met all the teachers over the first couple of days, in a variety of meetings or the staffroom. They seemed friendly enough, but they all appeared to have their cliques and friendships, as indicated by the groups huddled in the staffroom.
Drew had been in this position before on both sides of the fence and he knew from experience that no one really wanted to take a new teacher into their group until they knew a bit more about them. So once the other teachers realized that Nathan had taken the new guy under his wing, they seemed relieved to relinquish that responsibility to the young history teacher and, no longer a burden to any of the other staff members, Drew happily slipped into the background.
Luckily the only students in for the first two days were the year sevens, who were as new as Drew and twice as petrified, and the years twelve and thirteen, collectively known as the sixth form, who, at sixteen and seventeen, were trying to be cool young adults. It allowed him to ease into lessons with a minimum number of children to get used to and gave Drew enough time to acclimatize himself.
By the time the student body came back in force, the panic that Drew carried as a niggling tension headache had all but faded to little more than a vague tightness in his shoulders that could easily be hammered out by a fierce shower.
Every day was a whirl of names and faces and new information and Drew would have felt like he was drowning in it all if it hadn't been for Nathan Morgan. It was Nathan who popped up outside his classroom at break time to drag him to the staffroom, Nathan who told him what were the best things to eat from the canteen and what should be avoided at all costs, Nathan who advised him which staff to accept coffee from and which should be politely declined.
Nathan had quickly become Drew's constant in an ever-moving sea of change, so much so that on Friday, after the principal's first staff meeting, when Nathan didn't move from his seat despite the rest of the teachers filing from the staffroom, Drew stayed put as well. After Principal Hartley had drawn the meeting to a close, Nathan had rested his head on the back of his lumpy padded chair and closed his eyes. Now, as if suddenly aware he wasn't alone, Nathan cranked one eye open and looked at Drew curiously.
"That's it, Drew. School's finished for the week. You can go home now and relax 'til Monday terror strikes."
Nathan lifted his head and regarded Drew with amusement. A lick of wavy dark hair fell forward onto his forehead, a stark contrast to his pale Welsh skin, and Nathan shook his head to stop it from settling into his eyes. "I'm not what?"
"Ah. The car park gets packed with everyone trying to get out. Normally it's not an issue with teachers wandering off at all sorts of times after school, but after one of these, everyone is leaving together. I'd rather wait in here than sit in my car attempting to force my way out ahead of more senior teachers."
"There's a hierarchy among the teachers? I figured the obvious like heads of departments and stuff, but seniority?"
"Yep." Nathan shook his head as he leaned in to Drew and lowered his voice. The conspiratorial whisper accentuated his accent and sent an unexpected shiver down Drew's spine.
"The two spaces in the far corner of the car park, near the old block...physics teachers. They are rumored to have been here as long as the school has. Some say they came with the building. No one can remember them being employed and the staff records don't go back that far. You'll never see them, not unless you search them out. They don't use the staffroom or the dinner hall, you don't even see them arrive, their cars just seem to appear and disappear. And they don't turn up to staff meetings. Very strange, it's like they live in a different dimension."
Compelled to move closer as Nathan's words weaved an almost magical tale, Drew could feel Nathan's breath on his face. It swept in peaks and troughs over the smooth skin of his cheeks, the occasional puff tickling his eyelashes. Warm and intimate, it carried the aroma of coffee and caused the hair on Drew's forearms to quiver to attention.
Focusing on anything but this reaction, Drew wondered if this was how Nathan conducted his history classes, stories full of mystery and intrigue imparted in the manner of an old-fashioned sage. He would happily have listened to Nathan tell stories forever, but not today, for it appeared this story was over.
Nathan straightened and quirked an animated eyebrow, which seemed to speak volumes, elation and delight tempered by the teasing smile that played around his lips. "Anyway, my car's not that reliable, it doesn't like idling."
"Like its owner," Drew stated with a grin. He really didn't know if that was true about the younger man, but in the five days he'd know Nathan Morgan, he'd never seen him just sitting, completely unoccupied, until this precise moment.
"I can do nothing with the best of them. Take tonight, for example, beer, pizza, telly, bed. Not necessarily in that order." Nathan glanced at his phone. He thumbed a message and sent it without really watching what he was doing. "It's probably safe to go now."
"So you're not going out tonight?" Drew ventured, pushing himself up from the easy chair.
"No plans, nope. Why?"
"Oh, well, y-you know I'm, er kinda new to Cardiff," Drew rubbed his hand over the back of his neck and shrugged uncertainly. He wondered briefly where the uncharacteristic nerves came from; if he was chatting up some blonde in a bar, he would be cool and unruffled. "And I was, um, curious about the nightlife around here. I know it's an imposition, but I wondered if maybe you could show me around. I don't know anyone else in the area." Did that make him sound lonely and pathetic? He hadn't intended it to come out that way. But Nathan was smiling, so...
They left the staffroom, Nathan switching the light off as they went. "Clubbing? I suppose--"
"Nathan. Thank God. I thought I'd missed you." The click clack of rapidly moving high heels accompanied that statement. Drew turned to see a petite Japanese woman in the tightest pencil skirt he'd ever seen scurrying down the corridor after them. Nathan didn't slow or turn to face the woman, but he lifted his arm as she approached and she slid under it so he could settle it in around her shoulders.
"I sent you a message," Nathan muttered conversationally.
She pulled her BlackBerry from her bag and pressed a few buttons. "Oops."
Nathan dropped a kiss on her dark hair. "And you missed the principal's beginning of term pep rally."
"I had a note." She laughed lightly. "I was working on something. Anyway, I've heard it all before."
"Aren't you always?"
Wrapped in their easy camaraderie, the couple didn't notice Drew drop back a pace so he could watch their interactions. He wondered who this person was who had so quickly succeeded in pushing him out of the conversation, and out of Nathan's orbit, where he had comfortably spent the last five days.
They pushed through the main doors and out into the car park, Drew staying behind the other two. As Nathan had promised, most of the bays were now empty and the driveway leaving the school was clear of cars. Whether by accident or design, their cars were parked quite close together. Glancing around suddenly, Nathan noticed Drew behind them and shortened his stride, leaving Drew no choice but to walk with the couple.
"Where are my manners?" Nathan rolled his eyes as he admonished himself. "Kimiko Sasaki, Kimi to her friends. Drew Jackman."
"Of course," Kimi nodded to herself, "the handsome American."
"Well, I don't know about that," Drew muttered modestly, although he had been told on more than one occasion that he had movie star good looks. Since he had never seen Kimi before, he wondered who had been talking about him. He certainly hadn't heard any of the other teachers refer to him in that fashion. "Do you teach here? I thought I'd met most of the teachers."
"Kimi teaches advanced ICT. Sixth form students mainly. She'll tell you she isn't, but she is actually as elusive as Smithers and Smythe."
Drew frowned in confusion.
"The physics teachers I was telling you about," Nathan clarified.
Memories of Welsh vowels wrapped around a silly school legend washed over Drew, bringing with it warmth and familiarity. The feeling distracted Drew sufficiently that he missed Nathan's next words completely.
As a group, they stopped at Nathan's car, and when Nathan had unlocked it, Kimi moved round to the passenger side and placed her bags in the foot well.
"Nice to meet you, Kimi."
"You too, Drew. It's good to finally be able to put a face to the name."
Drew flashed them both a quick smile, ensuring he displayed all his perfect white teeth. "Night then," he said, slightly subdued, unable to disguise the disappointment he was feeling. He had been looking forward to going out tonight. Trying not to let it show in his body language, Drew straightened his shoulders and headed toward his own car.
"Drew." The authority in Nathan's tone stopped Drew in his tracks. He turned back to see Nathan leaning against the wing of his car, his arms folded across his chest and an amused expression on his face.
"If we're going to go clubbing tonight, I'm going to need your address and mobile number."
Drew waved him off. "Don't be silly. I'm sure the two of you want to have a quiet night."
"The two of us?" Nathan echoed and Drew was close enough to see the two small lines form between his eyebrows and the flutter of eyelids as Nathan blinked rapidly.
A laugh burst from Kimi, dragging the attention of both men to where she stood cradling her chin on her arms, which rested on the roof of the car. "You thought we were together." She seemed to find the concept highly amusing and giggled uncontrollably for several minutes.
"Well, there was the hugging and the kissing," Drew muttered, the confusion he had sensed from Nathan suddenly lifting and settling like a fog around his own shoulders. "And you're so comfortable with each other."
"Kimi is like my little, older sister," Nathan explained, while Kimi just continued giggling.
Finally she got control of herself enough to speak. "Believe me when I say I'm really not his type." A look passed between them that Drew had no hope of reading. "I'm just not tall enough."
Searching in his document bag, Nathan pulled out a pad and pen and held it out to Drew, who took it and scribbled down his details.
"I'll pick you up about nine? No jeans or sneakers," Nathan confirmed.
"Sure." Drew couldn't help but flick his gaze over the younger man's attire. He had yet to see him in anything but jeans and sneakers. "Thanks, Nathan."
That was the second time he'd done that, Drew thought as he wandered over to his car. He should stop making assumptions about Nathan Morgan. It appeared they were never correct.