‘Lives Ruined’ from the new short story collection Whatever/Whenever by Robert Ragan


Andrea Lyle was in over her head before she ever got dressed that morning. A new substitute, she had to take any job she could get at Western Harnett Middle or High School.

Her husband tried to warn her there would be nothing but troublemakers as she watched over students in ISS, In-School Suspension. It wasn’t even teaching, but it was a job.

Her husband could never be happy for her anymore. There was always some impending doom awaiting her every move, either that or he just didn’t care anymore. If he did care, it was only enough to start an argument between them. He liked that because he never believed she could win against him in a war of words.

Andrea didn’t care. He could win every argument, but couldn’t he at least touch her. Sad how you can long for someone close enough to reach out and touch.

They were married, but he didn’t belong to her anymore. Her mind obsessed over him having some secret affair.

She thought about this a lot during the drive to school that morning. The love songs she played over and over didn’t help matters either.

When Andrea pulled into the teacher’s parking lot, she sat there in her car for a moment and dried her tears with a tissue.

Get a grip, Andrea, don’t come in here like a nervous wreck and make yourself look like a fool.

ISS was across the hall from the gymnasium. Each student sat in a cubicle facing the wall. They were supposed to be quiet and do their work. At lunchtime, she wouldn’t have to take them to the cafeteria. Instead, one of the lunchroom workers would bring paper bag lunches for each student in ISS.

Everything was laid out. There was no way Andrea could screw this up. But then, sure enough, she did.

Bradford Kent wasn’t like the other 9th graders. At 14, he was already making money, probably more money than the people who taught him all these bullshit subjects.

Of course, it was dirty money, potentially blood money. But either way, it made Bradford feel untouchable compared to other guys his age.

To keep it all up, he had to make rules telling everyone there was no need to ever approach him at school about anything. He would only talk or do business away from the premises.

School officers were subject to bring in K9s at any time and damned if they would catch Bradford with anything.

Being who he was, you already know he was popular with the ladies. The stoner hotties were all his, but even the well-off preppy do-gooders were impressed with his money.

Tommy Hilfiger this, Ralph Lauren that, Jordans, Air Max’s, Adidas. Bradford had the best of everything drug money could buy. So there wasn’t a girl in the whole school who he thought he couldn’t get.

Monday morning in ISS, Bradford saw the baddest woman that ever graced the halls of this high school. Dark hair put up in a bun. Her beautiful brown eyes were shining through her eyeglasses. Breasts poking out through her white button-up, tucked into her grey skirt. Legs that went on for eternity were covered in nylons.

On her feet were black peep toe high heels. Bradford walked in and saw her standing at the desk, and right away, he said, “Oh my God, I like you a lot better than Mr. Givens.”

Andrea couldn’t help but find him attractive. Young and well built, he still had a baby face without a single hair.

Regardless of this, she told him to watch his mouth. She might be prettier than Mr. Givens, but she wouldn’t be any less cruel if he caused trouble.

Bradford looked her over one more time then sat down at his cubicle.

Other students kept getting up out of their seats. Andrea ordered them to sit down. She threatened to call the principal and have him walk down.

A black girl with her hair braided said, “Call him bitch, you think we’re fucking scared of Principal Thomas or something?”

Andrea saw this flirty kid Bradford stand up and thought he was about to add to the drama.

Instead, he said, “Destiny, sit down. You don’t cause trouble when we’re in here with Givens; why do you have to start now?”

The school metalhead Joe Kendricks spoke up in his slow, stoner voice, “Dude, since when do you try to keep the peace. Any other time you’d be in here cracking up too.”

The last student in ISS, Carrie Spell, twirled her red hair around her finger. “What, you can’t tell Bradford is hot for teacher?” she looked at Andrea and said, “Well, the ISS instructor anyway.” All of them laughed except for Bradford.

For the first time, Andrea saw more than his good looks. He’d already shown interest in her, and now he was trying to help get control of things.

Damn, Andrea had to snap out of this. She couldn’t be the ISS instructor who slept with one of the troublemakers.

She wanted enough substitute teaching gigs until she felt comfortable being a full-time educator.

Letting this punk kid get to her, she’d be going to prison.

Thankfully things settled down. For the next couple of hours, Andrea sat at the desk and texted her husband. Nothing romantic or even nice. All he had to say was he was working the night shift.

Other than that, he made a list of demands, not thinking of how she had to work all day herself.

In his eyes, this teaching thing was a silly dream. He’d already asked about her working in the office at the trailer plant where he was a supervisor. Ever since she turned down that job, things were never the same.

Before lunchtime, Bradford asked Mrs. Johnson, “Could you help me with this math problem?” 

The opportunity made her feel good, as if she were a real teacher. If only long enough to show him how to do this one math problem.

Andrea leaned down over his shoulder and stared at the paper. Before she could say a word, she felt his hand start at her ankle and rub all the way up to her knee. 

Shocked, she didn’t want to cause a scene but did when she snatched Bradford up by his hoodie and dragged him out into the hallway. Two P.E. teachers were standing there talking but walked back inside the gym.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you!” she said, “But you can’t just touch me like that.”

Andrea said it was basically sexual assault and that he was lucky she didn’t report him.

Bradford stood there smiling, trying his best to stare holes through the lenses of her glasses before getting to her eyes themselves.

She already had this instant wild attraction to him. But now that she felt his hand slide up her leg, he was becoming a lot harder to resist.

Bradford, still not breaking eye contact, said, “I don’t think you would report me, Mrs. Johnson. As a matter of fact, I think you liked it.”

Those words alone brought the flood between her thighs. Andrea felt sweat drip off her forehead. Unable to say a word, she waited for slick, Mr. Smooth to make the next move.

He looked at her hand and the wedding ring around her finger. Shaking his head, he said, “That’s a shame, but it’s not going to keep us from being together, is it?”

Andrea tried her best, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Bradford, but there is no us, and we will never be together in any way.”

His eyes glanced down at her legs once again, then back to her face.

“So you’re telling me if we were outside of school right now, you wouldn’t let me fuck you?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” she said.

Bradford said, “I don’t believe you, Mrs. Johnson. I think you’d let me have you any way I wanted you. Come on. You can’t deny it.”

Andrea was about to break down, but then a group of students walked out of the gym and interrupted her. Down the hall, she saw the lunch lady coming with a tray of bag lunches.

She and Bradford walked back into the ISS classroom, and immediately Destiny and Carrie started cracking jokes. Joe Kendricks put his long oily hair into a ponytail. He asked Bradford if he got lucky. It filled Andrea with fear knowing the others suspected something.

Once she passed out the bag lunches, Andrea sat at the desk and wrote a letter to Bradford telling him they could meet somewhere after school. But for the rest of the day, please cool it because his friends were already on to them. She also wrote down her number.

Andrea threw the note down in front of him when she went to pick up his empty paper bag.

For the rest of the day, he was quiet and didn’t say a word.

Carrie and Destiny both went to sleep. She swore Joe Kendricks was doing something nasty with his hand in his pocket, but she let it go.

When the bell rang at 3 o’clock, they all got up and walked out in a hurry, even Bradford, who rushed past but looked up and made eye contact with her. In a couple of hours, he would call once they were both home.

If he didn’t drive, well, she would go pick him up. She couldn’t be at his place or hers, but she would find a nice place to park, somewhere secluded where no one would catch them having sex in her car.

Her husband owned the car, and it was in his name, so getting caught would destroy her life. Her husband had already destroyed her life by way of her emotions.

An affair with a 14-year-old troublemaking student would hammer the last nail in their coffin. Andrea, on the third and fourth thoughts, almost decided against doing it.

She’d vacuumed, did all the dishes, everything she was supposed to do, and Bradford still hadn’t texted her.

He was a fiend earlier. There had to be something wrong with him, or he would have definitely called by now.

Then a terrible thought crossed her mind. Bradford probably had his choice of girls. He wasn’t really into her. He was just playing a game to help him get through the day.

This thought brought tears to her eyes. It felt so good to be wanted and desired in a sexual way. Her husband hadn’t touched her like that in months.

It drove her crazy but made her feel good, but now it turns out it was all just a lie. Thrashing, throwing her head back, Andrea couldn’t take this not being true.

If she couldn’t have this one night with Bradford, well, then to hell with her husband. Not like he would really care anyway. When he found her dead body lying in the bed they shared in silence without passion.

Andrea had to get a grip, but she couldn’t for the feeling that she had been made a fool of. Just when she thought the anxiety would break her, she heard that she had a new text message.

She’d never rushed to her phone so fast in her life. Fuck, it was just her husband. 

He was asking how her day was. Like he really cared. It was a rare occasion for him to show any amount of kindness.

But right then, she couldn’t have cared less. Andrea nearly threw the phone into the wall across the room. Thinking better of it, she put it down on the table and went to sit down on the couch. On her way, she heard another in-coming text.

“Leave me the fuck alone!” she screamed, just knowing it had to be her husband again.

Only this time, her heart fluttered when she saw this text was from Bradford asking for her address.

She called immediately and asked what took him so long? She said she thought he was probably just playing games with her.

Bradford said, “Mrs. Johnson, I definitely want to play some games with you.”

For the first time, she told him to call her Andrea. She offered to go pick him up, but he told her he had his own wheels. Obviously, driving without a license or even a permit.

He asked if there was any chance her husband might come home early. He had a pistol and didn’t want to have to use it.

Andrea told him they weren’t doing anything at her house. She knew a place in the cut where they could park and make love in his car without being disturbed.

Bradford said, “It’s my older brother’s car, but I’m sure he won’t mind.”

He said, “First, I’ve got to go drop off a couple of bags.”

Andrea asked what kinda trouble he was trying to get himself into?

Bradford said, “I haven’t got caught yet, and I don’t ever plan to.”

Andrea tried to be funny. She asked if he was one of those whiny male students who would tell on her.

He said, “Baby, I don’t tell on anybody for anything. I’m especially not about to tell on a fine teacher for giving me some pussy.”

Hearing him talk this way about her gave Andrea a rush like she’d never felt before.

“Go ahead, baby. Be careful selling your bags, and text me when you’re on the way. I’ll be waiting out in the yard for you.”

Wait fuck. This also presented a problem. Their nosey neighbors couldn’t wait to tell her husband if they saw her get into a car and leave with another man.

Fuck, it didn’t matter; she still had to go for it. If she didn’t, she would undoubtedly regret it. Most times, her husband worked the day shift. This was one of those few times when she could actually pull off something like this.

It was almost an hour before Bradford pulled into her driveway, bumping rap music with heavy bass.

She glanced at her neighbors’ houses, relieved not to see any of them looking out their windows. She rushed and opened the passenger door. Inside she said, “Turn that down, please. I’m married, and the neighbors are already going to tell on me.”

The car reeked of marijuana. Feeling good and ready to do anything, Andrea asked Bradford if she could smoke.

Smiling, he reached down in the ashtray and pulled out half of a blunt he’d put out earlier.

He said, “If I had to put it out, you better not hit it but one time or else you’re gonna be way too high.”

Andrea hit it two or three times before she passed it back to Bradford. In seconds, she felt plastered to the passenger seat. This definitely wasn’t the pot she experimented with back in community college. Jesus Christ!

Despite being high, she told Bradford exactly where to go. A long dirt path off O’Quinn Rd. that led back into the woods where no one would see his car.

Parked, Andrea wasted no time. Grabbing Bradford’s hand, she placed it on her knee.

“Aren’t you glad I didn’t change clothes when I got home?” She said, “I kept this on just for you.”

Bradford was always confident, but for the first time, he doubted if even he could satisfy this freak.

In no time, there was a hole ripped in the middle of her hosiery for easy access. He was pounding it relentlessly.

After licking each other’s tongues, Andrea put his hand on her nylon thigh and said, “Pull them tight against my thighs, baby.”

Bradford found this so hot he came and never had a chance of pulling out.

Andrea completely lost it. “How the fuck are you gonna cum in me! My husband hardly ever fucks me, so how am I supposed to explain it if I get pregnant. What, you gonna quit school and support a child with your dope-dealing?”

“Damn Andrea, just chill, open your legs and let the cum drain out before you get me for 18 years of child support.”

This didn’t make her feel any better at all. Sure, Bradford was handsome, but now he was nothing more to her than a mistake. With this out of her system, she would never do a thing like this ever again.

Instead of having Bradford drive her all the way home, she had him drop her off down the road from her neighborhood. Walking home, she hoped she would be able to live this down someday.

She hoped it never came back to haunt her.

She only did it because she needed to be wanted. She needed affection. Not to mention she needed a good fuck.

It was good for a few minutes, but apparently, she felt better to him.

Thinking that Andrea hated, she rushed off and didn’t give Bradford a second chance. He came too soon the first time, but how could he help it, really? She was super tight. Bet the second time, he would have really tore it up.

When her place was in sight, Andrea panicked and nearly turned around and ran the other way. What was her husband doing home? He must have got off early and chose not to tell her.

Either way, how would she explain showing up on foot with her car parked in the driveway. It looked really suspicious, and her husband would demand answers.

She went ahead and hid her phone in the bushes, knowing that would probably be the first thing he’d want to see after hearing whatever lie she came up with to explain this.

Andrea took a deep breath, knowing she was about to go through hell at home. 

Questioned, told she was a liar. Told she was cheating on him, and he knew it.

Andrea said, “I’m not, but if I were, it would only be revenge because you’ve definitely been fucking around on me!”

Things got heated, and they also became violent.

Andrea’s phone, hidden in the bushes, was blowing up from text messages sent by Bradford.

“Baby, I can’t stop thinking about you. I think I’ve already fallen in love with you. I’m sorry I came so quickly. I just couldn’t help it the way you turned me on, baby.”

“Anyway, I won’t bother you at school because I don’t want to get you in trouble. 

“But anyway, when can we see each other again?”

“Don’t worry. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your husband, either. So I won’t ever just show up at your house unexpectedly.”

“Babe, did your husband come home or something?”

“Andrea, text me back as soon as you see this.”


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