The alarm jarred Song Jackson out of a deep sleep. She hit her alarm clock with force, knocking a stack of bills to the unfinished hardwood floor. She swung her legs from her bed, her feet sliding into the awaiting slippers before she stretched her long lean muscles. She reached for her square-framed glasses, bent to her knees to reorder the bills by the due date, wrapped them in a rubber band and laid them on her nightstand.

She pulled her white cotton sheets tightly around the bed, tucking and folding them as her mother had taught her. Hospital corners. Pulling the worn gray comforter up, she fluffed her pillows.

Inelegantly, she stumbled to the bathroom to relieve herself. She stomped on a bug while seated, and started to gather her thoughts for the day. Two of her favorite students, Paris and London Crawford, had been absent from school for several weeks. She’d been sending their assignments home and they were completing them, but she missed seeing their smiling faces.

She thought back to the last time she’d seen them. They were called into the principal’s office and taken home immediately. She’d discovered later that the twin’s mother had committed suicide.

As Song moved stepped into her shower, she eyed the permanently stained tub in distaste. Despite using the strongest of cleaning solvents, she could not get the tub white. It was a constant source of anxiety for her. Maybe I should move.

Brushing that thought away with a fully loaded toothbrush, Song’s thoughts went back to the twins. She couldn’t imagine being motherless at eight. Here she was thirty-four and having a hard time without her mother. Who would nurture them?

She moved quickly to the bedroom’s closet to retrieve the clothes she’d ironed the night before. After donning boxers, a sports bra, and an A-shirt, she slid on her uniform. She taught at a private school. The kids, as well as the staff, wore a uniform. The uniform of a teacher was a bit more lenient, but Song followed it strictly. Besides, the navy polo and cargos weren’t a far stretch from her everyday look. Sliding her feet into a pair of second hand, brilliantly white slip-on Vans, Song wiped away nonexistent dirt from the sole.

She appraised her reflection in the full-length mirror as she straightened her glasses. She took in her smooth brown skin, and waist-length locs. Surely she was someone’s ideal, but who’s? She laughed at herself as she headed to the kitchen. Who was she kidding, she was not financially or emotionally prepared for a relationship. She was better off waiting until she had more to offer a potential partner. She would live her life solo until then. The refrigerator groaned when she opened it. Pulling out her lunch bag, she unzipped it, checking to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything when she prepared the lunch the night before.

Grabbing her backpack from its hook next to the front door, she added her lunch to the pre-packed backpack that contained the papers she’d graded the night before. Positioning the pack on her back, she grabbed her keys and a bright red helmet before opening her front door.

Locking the door securely, she took three steps towards the parking lot before turning back around. She unlocked her door and checked the thermostat to make sure that it was still set to its usual 84 degrees. Locking the door behind her again, she strolled to the red Honda Rebel parked just outside her bedroom window. Slipping the helmet over her waist-length locs, she started the engine. The purring sound immediately gave her a rush of excitement.

Ruby, as she liked to call her bike, was her only lover. She’d bought her brand new a few years ago, back when her life was in order. She’d loved how economical it was considering how gas prices seemed to keep rising. She’d paid off the note quickly. Immediately after feeling a sense of financial freedom, her life went off course.

Thoughts about what could’ve been haunted her even as she smiled in the faces of her students. This is not how she pictured her life going. Now she was plagued with how to put the pieces back together again.

When Song decided to teach, she always thought she’d be teaching inner-city kids. She imagined herself teaching students living in the roughest of neighborhoods, on government assistance in single-family households. She imagined herself teaching in schools like the ones she went to as a child.

Landing the job at the private school was a blessing financially, however, it was her dream to give back. She volunteered at a grant-funded after school program a few times a week. At the end of her workday, she waved at the security guard as she left as she made her way to the community center. The inner-city schools were overcrowded, the teachers underpaid and often under-qualified. While she knew she couldn’t fix those issues by herself, she hoped her small contribution would change the life of the children.

The came in through the back door. The first person she saw was Josephine Brown. She was a round, grandmotherly type that knew everyone’s business.

“Song, baby, I think you’re getting thinner every time I see you. Come over to my house and let me feed you. I can introduce you to my niece too. Pretty little thang too. Tall and skinny just like you. Looks just like a model, ya know.”

Song laughed softly. “Ms. Josephine, I like my women with a little meat on them.” She winked before walking past her. If she’d looked back, she would have seen Josephine blushing and fanning herself. “Song, when are you going to let me ride Ruby?” Martin Carver, a young high school student asked.

“Nobody rides Ruby, but me, kiddo!” She grinned as she stepped into a room marked Volunteers Only. She placed her backpack and her helmet into a locker, after securing it, she closed the door behind her. She took three steps from the door and went back to check the lock. Shaking her head at herself, she went to find the elementary school kids. Four kids sat around a circular table with their books scattered around them. She paused in the doorway to observe them studying on their own. These kids were eager to learn. This was why she was here. The rich kids she taught didn’t have this desire. They treated her like their servant. All of them, but London and Paris. They seemed to genuinely love her, like these kids.

“Ms. Jackson! Look what I did at school today!”

“Guess what I learned!”

“Come look at what I can do!”

“Can you help me with this?”

All of the students spoke at once as soon as they realized Song was there. With a smile on her face, she strolled over to their table and greeted each one individually. She folded her long body into a small chair at a separate table and called the first child over.

It was dark when she finished with her last child. Some parents used the after school program as daycare. There were days she felt compelled to sit with the last child until they were picked up, even though the center manager stayed late every single day. It wasn’t as if someone was waiting for her at home.

She hopped on her bike navigating the familiar route home easily when a red Corvette sped past her. The driver honked their horn. After a moment of appreciation for the shiny red sportscar, she smiled and turned right into her complex.