in its category…
with 4.5 stars out of 92 reviews!
Melissa Foster, NY Times bestselling authorFrom award-winning and bestselling author Kathleen Shoop comes this quirky, often hilarious story about an endearingly awkward twenty-something trying to find her way in work and love.Don’t miss it while it’s 75% off the regular price!
by Kathleen Shoop
Carolyn Jenkins strives for two things—to be the greatest teacher ever and to find true love. She’s as skilled at both as an infant trying to eat with a fork. Carolyn’s suburban upbringing and genuine compassion for people who don’t fit effortlessly into society are no match for weapon-wielding, struggling students, drug-using colleagues, and a wicked principal.
Meanwhile, her budding relationship with a mystery man is thwarted by his gaggle of eccentric sisters. Carolyn depends on her friends to get her through the hard times, but with poverty-stricken children at her feet and a wealthy man at her side, she must define who she is.
The reality of life after college can be daunting — the road to full-fledged adulthood long and unscripted. Can Carolyn craft the life she’s always wanted?
5-star praise from Amazon readers:
A+ for Love and Other Subjects!
“…The pages flew through my hands; it’s riveting from the start….”
Shoop’s best book yet
“I loved this book. Simply loved it…I found myself laughing out loud in some parts and tearing up in others…am really glad that I had a rainy Saturday to enjoy reading it.”
an excerpt from
Love and Other Subjects
by Kathleen Shoop
I stood at my blackboard, detailing the steps for adding fractions. It wasn’t exciting stuff. It was stab-yourself-in-the-eye boring, as a matter of fact, but it was part of the job—part of my brilliant plan to change the world. And I had constructed a downright solid lesson plan.
Said lesson was met with exquisite silence. I looked around. Thirty-six fifth and sixth graders. All seated, almost all of them paying attention. So what if six students had their heads on their desks.
I told myself my dazzling teaching skills must have finally had an impact on their behavior. The bile creeping up my esophagus said I was wrong. The truth was they had probably stayed up too late and now were sleeping with their eyes open. I ignored the heartburn. I willed myself to revel in the tiniest success.
“Tanesha, what’s the next step?” I asked brightly.
Tanesha sucked her teeth and threw herself back in her seat.
I opened my mouth to reprimand her but the sudden sound of chairs screeching across hardwood filled the room. The resulting flurry of movement shocked me. Some students bolted, scattering to the corners of the room. Others froze in place. My attention shot back to the middle of the classroom where two boys were preparing to dismantle one another.
Short, fire-pluggish LeAndre and monstrous Cedrick sandwiched their chests together, rage bubbling just below their skin. Different denominators, I almost told the class. Right there, everyday math in action.
“Wait a minute, guys.” I held up my hands as though I had a hope of stopping them with the gesture. These daily wrestling matches had definitely lost their cute factor. “How about we sit down and talk this—”
LeAndre growled, then pulled a gun-like object from his waistband and pressed it into Cedrick’s belly. I narrowed my eyes at the black object. It couldn’t be a gun. The sound of thirty-four kids hitting the floor in unison told me it was. No more shouting, crying, swearing—not even a whimper.
“It’s real.” Marvin, curled at my feet, whispered up at me.
I nodded. It couldn’t be real. My heart seized, then sent blood charging through my veins so hard my vision blurred.
“Okay, LeAndre. Let’s think this through,” I said.
“He. Lookin’. At. Me.” Spittle hitched a ride on each syllable LeAndre spoke.
“I’m walking over to you,” I said. “And you’re going to hand me the gun, LeAndre. Okay?” I can do this. “Please. Let’s do this.” I can do this. I can do this. There were no snarky words to go with this situation. There was no humor in it.
Cedrick stared at the ceiling, not showing he understood there was a gun pressed into him. I stepped closer. Sweat beaded on LeAndre’s face only to be obliterated by tears careening down his cheeks. He choked on sobs as though he wasn’t the one with the gun, as though he wasn’t aware he could stop this whole mess. The scent of unwashed hair and stale perspiration struck me. The boys’ chests heaved in unison.
I focused on LeAndre’s eyes. If he just looked back at me, he’d trust I could help him.
The whine of our classroom door and the appearance of Principal Klein interrupted my careful approach.
He startled everyone, including LeAndre and his little trigger finger.
In the milliseconds between Klein’s big voice bulleting off the rafters and the gun firing, I managed to throw myself in front of a few stray kids at my feet. I can’t take total credit for my actions because I don’t even remember moving. Suddenly, I was there on the floor, thanking God that Jesus or some such deity had been bored enough to notice what was going on in my little old Lincoln Elementary classroom. LeAndre fell into Cedrick’s arms, wailing about the gun being loaded with BBs—that it wasn’t real.
My foot hurt, but I ignored it and assessed the kids while Klein focused on LeAndre. Could everyone really be all right? I checked Cedrick, who appeared unfazed. He was injury-free, simply standing there, hovering, as though guarding everyone around him.
I moved to other students—no visible harm. I hauled several up by their armpits, reassuring them with pretend authority. A firearm-wielding child usurps all of a teacher’s mojo in a short, split second.
I made up comforting stuff—words of phony hopefulness that might convince them that nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. And with each lie came the odd feeling that I was actually telling the truth. A little gun in a classroom was nothing.
Klein stuffed the piece into his pants and carried the withering LeAndre out of the room in his arms as a man would carry a woman over the marital threshold. His voice was devoid of its usual venomous tone and soothed LeAndre’s gulping sobs. Perhaps he’d been shot with a dose of compassion during the melee.
Stepping back inside the room, still holding LeAndre, Klein shoved his thumb into the air, giving us the old Lincoln thumbs-up. No one returned the gesture, but I figured that was all right this once. The school counselor came into the room and announced she’d take everyone to the library while I met with the police. Leaving the room, I noticed Cedrick’s face appeared to have been drained of blood and finally revealed his true feelings about what had happened. The rest of the students—their faces expressing the same shock I felt inside—wrapped themselves in their own arms, shook their heads and trailed the counselor out of the room.
It was like watching a scene through a window that wasn’t mine, that I couldn’t remember stepping up to. I forced calm into my voice and actions as I funneled the kids still inside the room to the door and told myself I could let the impact of what just happened hit me later. To get through the day, to be the type of teacher who could handle a weapon in the classroom, I had to leave the assimilation of the events for later.
These poor freaking kids. Where the hell did they come from and how did they end up with this life? I thought I’d known the details of their lives. Apparently not.
“Ms. Jenkins,” Terri said. She stopped and pointed at my foot. “Your boot.”
I gasped at the sight of the leather. It gaped like a jagged mouth, tinged with blood. I wiggled my stinging toe making more blood seep through my trouser sock. Nausea slammed me. LeAndre’s shooting arm had obviously moved in my direction when he’d been startled by Klein. Had that really been just a BB-gun?
I straightened against my queasiness. “Terri, go on. I’ll meet you in the library in a minute.”
She left the room. I collapsed into my desk chair and removed my boot and the torn, bloody sock. “Jeez. That hurts like a mother,” I said. I turned the boot over and a teeny ball fell out of it and skittered across the floor. I swiveled my chair and took my Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel down from the wall. I dabbed my toe with it, staining the towel red.
I thought of the reason I’d become a teacher. That I’d searched for a way to make a difference in the world and thought, well, damn, yes, a teacher. I could save the urban youth of America. I just needed a little help and some time. I was only two months in to my teaching career, and I already knew chances were I wouldn’t be saving anybody.
The footfalls grew louder as they neared my room. I knew it was her. I turned my attention to the doorway. Our secretary, Bobby Jo, wheezed as she leaned against the doorjamb. With new energy, she pushed forward and barreled toward me. I set the Terrible Towel on the desk and stood to move out of her path, but she caught my wrist and swallowed me into the folds of her body with what she no doubt imagined was a helpful hug. She gripped the back of my head and plunged my face into her armpit. The spicy fusion of ineffective deodorant and body odor made me hold my breath.
Aside from being a secretary, Bobby Jo was an emotional extortionist. She pushed out of the hug, but, still gripping my shoulders, stared at me. Her labored breath scratched up through her respiratory system. I squeezed my eyes closed in anticipation of her “I’m Klein’s right-hand woman” crap. Not today, Bobby Jo. Not now.
She glanced around the room, and then dug her fingers nearly to my bones. “The boss is so upset.”
I gave her the single-nod/poker face combo, as disgust welled inside me. He’s upset? I weighed my inclination to tell her to leave me the hell alone with the ensuing sabotage that would follow if I didn’t kiss her ass hard and immediately. I wiggled out of her grip and leaned against my desk.
“The boss,” Bobby Jo said. “He’ll be in as soon as he’s off the phone with the superintendents from areas four, five, and six. They’re using your sit-u-a-tion as a teaching case.” Bobby Jo’s plump fingers with their fancy, long nails danced stiffly in front of her as if she could only form words if her hands were involved.
Man, this school year was not going as planned. I might have been delusional to think I’d alter the course of public education in just two months, but I hadn’t expected to be held up as a “what not to do in the classroom” example for one of the largest counties in the United States. Fame was one thing, scandal was another.
I looked back at my shoe, hoping Bobby Jo wouldn’t mistake my attempt to ignore her for the need for another hug. I was about to ask if I could see our nurse, Toots, about my wounded foot.
“It was only a BB-gun. You’ll be fine,” Bobby Jo said. “I don’t know why everyone’s so worked up. I heard the whole thing.” She ran one hand through the other, massaging her fingers.
“What do you mean, you heard?”
Bobby Jo looked around the room again. “Okay, okay, you got me. I’ll just spill.” Her eyes practically vibrated in their sockets. “I heard the entire thing because I was listening on the intercom.”
“What?” You can do that?
“The boss. He tells me to. Says your classroom techniques warrant that I get a handle on what’s happening.”
Chills paraded through my body as though they had feet and marching orders. No wonder he knew every move I made, was able to appear in my room at the worst time of the day—every day.
I readjusted my poker face.
The shuffle-clack-shuffle-clack of Klein’s clown feet stopped me from telling Bobby Jo what she could do with her intercom. She shambled back toward the door. “I’ll finish the report, Boss.” They gave each other the Lincoln thumbs-up—Klein’s way of encouraging school spirit while sucking it out of me.
I hobbled around my desk and picked up a paper that had flown off it. “I’m okay. Boy, that was something. I knew LeAndre had big problems.”
“Jenkins,” Klein said, “because of this incident, I have four meetings to attend before the day’s over, so we’ll have to meet about this on Monday.”
Guess that wasn’t newfound compassion I’d witnessed him offering LeAndre.
He crossed his arms across his chest and spread his legs, his pelvis jutting forward as though he needed the wide base to hold his slim upper body erect. “You’ll have to meet with some parents. Bobby Jo will bring the police in as soon as they get finished with her interview.”
He blew out a stout puff of air, the sound you heard when a bike pump was removed from the tire mid-pump. “I need you to think long and hard about how this transpired—about how I’ve gone twenty years with nary a gun incident and as soon as you show up, the kids start packing heat.”
Please, I’d been at Lincoln two months sans gun incident. “You can’t be serious. I’m not their mother. I only have the kids seven hours day. I didn’t—”
Klein held up his hand to shut me up. “I don’t have the whole story. LeAndre actually had two guns. The BB and another one that’s convertible from toy to real. That one was still in his pants. Doesn’t matter. What I need is for you to get your kids under control because there’s a reason this happened in your room and not in one of the other classrooms.”
“The reason is,” I said, “I’m the one with a child who is just this side of certifiable. I love LeAndre, I feel bad for him, but he’s not normal. I can’t get his mother to come in to see me or call me back. Maybe now he’ll be expelled and get help before he kills someone.”
“I wouldn’t count on that.”
“Which part of that?”
“LeAndre won’t be expelled. There are many reasons not to take that action. What good will it do him to sit at home all day, not learning anything? We can service him here.”
“He talks to clouds at recess,” I said. “He has conversations with himself all day. And not the kind you and I have when we’re trying to remember what we need at the grocery store. I swear there is something really wrong with him.”
Klein thrust his hand into the air again. “I’ll see you first thing Monday, Carolyn Jenkins,” he said. “And, for the last time, when I give the Lincoln thumbs-up—” he shoved his thumb nearly into my chest “—I don’t care if you’re in the grip of a stroke, I expect you to return the gesture.”
Oh, yeah. I’ve got the perfect gesture for you, buddy boy.
Two hours into my three-hour meeting with parents, police and suited men with thick, gold-plated pens, I realized Toots, the nurse, wasn’t going to swoop in and provide me with any sort of medical care. So while enjoying a lovely interrogation as to my role in the shooting, I rehung my Terrible Towel and fashioned a bandage from Kleenex and Scotch tape.
Once everyone had left, I was ready for a drink. Okay, ten drinks in a dank bar where I was a stranger, where I wouldn’t have to rehash the shooting. There was nothing like a good mulling over of Lincoln Elementary events in the company of my roommates. But as I limped to my car, a no longer frequent, but still familiar blue mood bloomed inside me.
It stopped me right there in the parking lot. I’d forgotten how the dread felt, that it actually came with warmth that almost made me welcome it. Driving down the boulevard, I decided not to go to the Green Turtle to meet Laura, Nina and my boyfriend, Alex. I wanted to be alone at The Tuna, the bar where nobody knew my name.
I drove my white Corolla to The Tuna and pondered my most recent teaching experience. Two months ago I’d been busy dreaming about saving the world and such. Man, those were the days. This afternoon’s event did not resemble my educational pipedreams in the least. I couldn’t stop replaying the shooting in my head.
Okay, so LeAndre hadn’t been aiming at me. And the bullet had only grazed my toe (but ruined one of my beautiful patent leather Nine West boots) and the bullet was actually a BB, but still, I’d been shot and frankly, it offended me. I loved those kids and apparently that meant shitola to them.
The further I drove from the school, the more I realized each and every county administrator and police official who’d interviewed me had implied I was somehow responsible for being shot by a disgruntled fifth grader. That left me feeling like I’d undergone a three-hour gynecological exam. The only logical next step was to get drunk.
Once in the parking lot of The Tuna, I shuffled across the pitted asphalt, squeezing in between a splotchy Chevy Nova and a glistening, black BMW. I paused and looked back at the vehicle. Who the hell came to The Tuna in a BMW? What did it matter?
Inside, I fussed with my purse while giving my eyes a chance to adjust to the murky atmosphere. The thick beer stench—the good kind—loosened the grasp of self-pity that had taken hold of me. I wove through mismatched tables and snaked a path to the roughhewn pine bar. The thunk of billiard balls punctuated quiet rhythms wafting from the jukebox. Several men cloistered at one end of the bar sent assorted, non-verbal hellos my way.
Before I reached my stool, the bartender I’d met the week before—the one with the sausage arms, overstuffed midsection and blazing red buzz cut—cracked a Coors Light and set it at my seat. I chugged the ice-glazed beer and swallowed the unladylike burp bubbling in my belly.
I blew out some air and thought about the day. Crap Quotient: 10/10. At least that bad. I’d coined the phrase Crap Quotient (C.Q.) after spending an entire day in grad school with a head cold, zero ability to smell and a hunk of dog crap on the bottom of my shoe. I’d traipsed around campus without any sweet soul letting me know I’d become the embodiment of the word stink.
I glanced at the hefty barkeep. He cracked a second beer before I had to ask. There was something precious about not knowing the person’s name that knew the beer you wanted at exactly the moment you needed it. I raised the bottle to salute him. He smiled while drying glasses and silverware. I wondered if that was part of the attraction promiscuous girls felt toward anonymous lovers. It was a near-miracle that a relative stranger could serve you in some perfect way even for a short time.
I plucked at the sweaty label on the bottle with my nail, thinking about Nina and Laura, my sisters in education. The greatest roommates a girl could have, except they were forever including my boyfriend, Alex, in everything we did. I’d have to get rid of Alex if I were to reap the full benefits of having such terrific friends. Alex and I were simply not a fit and me wishing exceptionally hard that I’d fall back in love with him wasn’t going to make it happen.
Because I’d missed lunch, the beer quickly did its job at anesthetizing me and eliminating the sensation that my skin had been removed and reattached with dental floss. A dark haired man slid onto the stool next to me. Great. Some slack-ass cozying up after the kind of day I had? I watched him in the blotchy, antique mirror across from us. He ordered a Corona then minded his own beeswax, thus, instantly becoming interesting. He was dressed in jeans and a blue, wide-ribbed turtleneck sweater, and his wavy hair whispered around his ears and neck. This was a guy with purpose, I could tell. I could feel it.
I admired someone who could communicate with nothing more than his appearance and manner—someone who had his shit together. That was exactly why we could never be a pair. I knew nothing about who I was. My shit was all over the place. Still, I was drawn to him as though we’d been destined to meet. I studied him. Maybe thirty-five years old. The cutest thirty-five-year-old ever.
This guy got points for reminding me of my eleventh grade creative writing teacher, Mr. Money. We girls had sat in class and fantasized that while reading our words, Mr. Money was falling in love with each of us.
The Mr. Money parked beside me in The Tuna made the air crackle and me want to grind my pelvis into his.
“All the parts there?” He swigged his beer.
“Hmm?” I swiveled to face him, studying his profile.
“I’d say take a picture, but that’d be wickedly clichéd.” He turned fully toward me. His knees touched mine, sending sizzling energy through my body. I shivered. I was in love. I clutched my chest where just hours before, searing, crisis-induced heartburn had made its mark. Now there was a good old-fashioned swell of infatuation.
“That’s a good one,” I said. We lingered, staring at each other, his direct gaze making me feel as though I’d come out of a coma to see the world in a new way. I turned back to the mirror and stared at him in the reflection again. He slumped a bit, and looked into his beer in that brooding way that made men attractive and women reek of need.
I searched for something interesting to say to a guy like this. I had nothing. If I couldn’t converse with a perfectly good stranger in a perfectly dingy bar, would I ever control my life? I didn’t have to marry the guy. Just have a freaking conversation about nothing. Not school, not my students, not my principal. Just brainless talk. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like tossing myself off the Key Bridge.
I swiveled toward him again. “Okay. I’ve had a hairy day and now I’m here and you’re here, too. Wearing those fantastic, understated cowboy boots. You don’t look like a cowboy. And your sweater and jeans—all blend to create a look of nonchalance.” I circled my finger through the air. “A man unconcerned, I might say.”
His profile, as he smiled, absorbed me. I could feel him watching me in the mirror.
“Hmm.” Mr. Money emptied his Corona.
“That’s all you have to say?” I said.
“That’s it.” He swung the bottle between thumb and forefinger in a silent signal to the bartender, who brought him another one.
“Humph.” I swiveled back toward the mirror and peeled the entire Coors Light label from the bottle in one piece. I must be losing my looks—the most important component of my Hot Factor. A person’s H-Factor (which was sometimes influenced by the level of her Crap Quotient, though not always) rated her appearance, potential for success, attitude toward life and sense of humor in one easy-to-digest number. One’s H-Factor was simply a person’s market potential.
I was never the girl who drew the most attention in the room with an effervescent personality or magnificent golden locks, but I was pretty. When attempting to discern her own H-Factor, a girl had to be brutal about her shortcomings, but glory in her strengths. And like my roommate, Laura, who had an irrefutable IQ of 140, I had indisputable good-lookingness.
“Your lips. They’re nice,” Money said. We made eye contact in the mirror. “Boldly red,” he said, “but not slathered with bullshit lip gloss. Perfect.” He sipped his beer.
“That’s better,” I said. “Mind if I call you Money?”
“What?” He gave me the side-eye.
“Nothing. An inside joke. So you’re okay with it, right?”
“Inside with whom?”
“With me,” I said.