The next Wednesday, JD didn't come to school and there had been no phone call from Sam, or his grandparents. Grace looked up Sam's number in the school records but the phone just rang and rang, without even going to voicemail. By the end of the day, she had decided that if she couldn't get Sam on the phone she would have to talk to him face-to-face. JD was a vulnerable kid and she was worried. She went back to the school records and looked up his address this time, but then realised it was working hours and he'd probably be at the surf shop.
She drove over to the beach straight after her last lesson. It was a ridiculously hot day, one of those late summer days that seem to be refusing to give way to fall. The pavement was shimmering in the heat and the few trees that lined Cowell's Beach were wilting. There was one surf shop on this particular stretch. It was a one storey wooden building painted a jaunty blue, well kept and well stocked by the look of it. 'Anderson Surf' the sign said in confident yellow letters. Clearly its owner wasn't as much of a slacker as he liked people to think.
The door set off ringing chimes as she opened it but the place was completely empty. She could just hear the whining noise of a power tool, above the Kings of Leon growling at full volume. The noise was coming from behind a door at the back of the shop. She knocked but there was no answer, hardly surprisingly. The music was so loud whoever was in there wouldn't be able to hear a thing. She opened it and almost stopped breathing.
Sam was naked from the waist up, face covered in a mask and goggles, caressing an electric sander over the planes of a surfboard. Through the dusty haze, she could see the muscles of his golden back and arms glistening with sweat as he moved gracefully like a dancer. Didn't he ever wear clothes? She could have stayed watching him for a long time, but she noticed the MP3 player was near the door. She pressed pause. The sudden silence made him switch off the sander and look up. He pulled his goggles and mask off.
"You shouldn't be in here without a mask," he said.
She backed out of the room and he followed her. "How did you get in?"
"Just walked in. No one's here."
He looked around the shop. "Hell, you're right!"
He put the goggles and mask down on the counter and leaned back against it in his usual nonchalant style, crossing his arms across his bare chest, muscles bunching. "So what brings you here, Ms Gilbert?"
Whenever he said her name like that he made her feel foolish. "It's Grace, remember? I'm worried about JD and I couldn't get you on the phone."
"Couldn't hear it," he said. "Why are you worried about JD?"
"He's not at school today."
"I know. He went surfing at dawn. I was with him. By the time we'd done it was too late to bother with school."
Grace looked at him, speechless. Was he deliberately goading her? Where was the serious, responsible Sam from Friday night? "Too late to bother with school," she repeated.
"Do you always repeat everything like that?" he asked. "Is it some kind of mind trick?"
She almost repeated the words 'mind trick' but stopped herself. He was too damned clever.
Without warning. he launched himself away from the counter and she ended up backed against a wall, his hands either side of her head.
"What the hell?" she blurted.
"Oh that's cursing Grace Gilbert. That's a verbal warning for you."
His bare chest was far too close and his long lashed eyes were aimed straight at her cleavage, which heaved slightly at the attention. His pupils dilated. "I love these little outfits you wear," he said still staring at the open collar of her shirt. "I can't stop thinking about that buttoned up thing you were wearing on Friday night."
She knew she ought to push him away and get the hell out of here but she couldn't seem to move. What had gotten into him?
"I've been having fantasies about undressing sexy teachers." His hand came up and touched the top button of her shirt. He moved his gaze up to her face and looked directly into her eyes, brown meeting blue, while he slowly undid the button. She couldn't move now even if she tried, her legs had gone to jelly.
He looked back down at the lacy bra and expanse of creamy flesh he'd exposed and licked his lips.
Suddenly the door chimed and he froze.
"Hey Sam," a lazy voice said from around the corner, "You want a doughnut?"
Sam slid behind the counter, clearly to cover up the considerable bulge in his shorts as he calmly said, "hey bro', Ms Gilbert's here."
She took a deep breath and buttoning up her shirt, stepped round the corner.
"Am I in trouble?" JD asked.
No, thought Grace, I am.