Man-Shaped Mirror

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A special thanks to en_extase, who graciously and generously gave his time to edit this story.

All persons and characters featured in this story are 18 years or older. Please do not copy, reuse, or reproduce without explicit written permission of the author.


A suburb outside of San Francisco

Mon Sept 4, 2006 11:53 PM

I’m naked.

Joe’s broad hand is buried in my hair, running his fingers through it as he cradles my head in his lap. His other hand caresses my face, a coarse thumb doting on the tiny mole above my lips. He croons at me.


He takes a long, leisurely hit, then sets the bong down. He bends over me to kiss me. He teases my mouth open with his and exhales in one even, practiced stroke. A thick cloud spills into my throat and into my lungs like a warm, dry river.

“Sah-bee-een…” Joe says again, his voice slowing to a raspy drone.

I see my name as an arrangement of dust particles. The “e” dissolves, then the “n,” then all the other letters. “S” dissipates into a blurry cloud. The name evaporates within moments. It’s not mine. It can be anyone’s. I remember: it is someone else’s. My dad pined after a Sabine in college, then named me after her when I was born.

A tremor swims up my spine and splits into a million directions as it passes into my nerve endings. He smiles. Two rows of pearl and porcelain gleam in the dim light, bright against his silhouette. He lifts my head out of his lap, tenderly letting it down on the carpet as he gets up from under me. The impact with the floor trembles though me. I imagine my skull fracturing into a hundred fragments. Thick magma oozes out of my head, crushed under the weight of my face.

I take a deep breath and find every part of my body still intact. Joe is undoing his belt. His fingers are deft tarantula legs, picking at the loops, pulling leather from leather. These simple, athletic gestures repeat themselves in my mind endlessly, tirelessly. I notice one lone tarantula peeking over my knee. It dances its way along my thigh on eight downy fingers, then comes to rest just below my navel. The tarantula stands poised and alert, its head drawn towards my pussy.

“Oh, god, Sabine… you’re so wet,” he rasps.

My eyes flutter open at the sound of Joe’s voice. His fingers are teasing my pussy lips apart. He runs a thumb over my clit.

“Uunh…” The sound of a moan slips out between my lips. I watch it fizzle quickly into air, joining the name that had dissolved not so long ago. A numbing, viscous sea envelopes me, sucks me down into its undertow.

I can hear Joe calling out to me from above the surface.

“Hey, Sabine!”

God. I’m so high.

Tues Sept 5, 2006 7:40 AM

The initial minutes of my last year in high school slow to a crawl as we watch our teacher finish writing on the board.

His name is Hamilton Paulhan, all caps in thick white letters. A generous space stands square and erect between the names, which are underlined with one straight, firm stroke of chalk. HAMILTON. PAULHAN. He wears his slim chinos with a black leather belt, and just ever so slightly below the waist. Tucked neatly into it is a crisp white shirt. Only one button undone. Blond hair, gray eyes, broad shoulders, clean shaven. Tight, tense lips. He looks like a prick.

Dusting his hands, he turns around and looks over us. “Welcome to Lit Honors, people. Let’s go around the class and introduce ourselves. Pick any book from the summer reading list and tell us what you liked about it.”

Shit. I am fucked.

“Let’s start with you. You sir, right here. We’ll move down the back row first.”

Paulhan points across the room at Bernard, the hapless geek who just happens to be sitting right next to me. What kind of a dick starts class introductions at the last row?

“I’m Bernard,” he croaks. “I thoroughly enjoyed The Great Gatsby. I thought it was an enlightening look into the Jazz Age…”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. There is no time to get out of this. I’m freaking out. My mind swirls, my palms grow damp. I glance at Bernard, then at Paulhan. His arms are folded, watching me intently. He knows. He can see it on my face. One corner of his lips curls in a cruel smile, rich with malice.

Bernard finished drawling.

“Awesome, Bernard,” Paulhan nods at me. “You, miss?” His mouth is slightly agape and frozen in a half-smile, anticipating my spectacular fumble.

“I liked The Great Gatsby, too. I listened to it on ‘Books on Tape’ early in the summer though, so the details are a tad blurry.” Soft chuckles rise from the class. That works.

“Okay, fair enough. What about the others? Did you like Moby Dick?”

Isn’t Moby Dick like two thousand pages long?

“Uuhh, I didn’t get through Moby Dick, unfortunately. It was just so lengthy, you know?”

The entire class turns to gape at me. Paulhan’s latched onto me, and my lie is wiggling out of my control.

“Sorry, miss, what is your name again?” Paulhan’s half-smile is now a smirk.

“I’m Sabine.”

“How about Lord Jim, Sabine? Did you get through that?”

No. I shake my head.

“The Old Man and the Sea?”

No again.



I can feel my cheeks and my ears flush. The pulse of my panicked hear—

“Well, Sabine, you have a lot of catching up to do.”

“I know, I’m going to finish all of that.”

“Good, I’ll let the class quiz you at the end of the week then. A special quiz just for you. So who’s next?”

I shrivel in my seat. My hatred for him curdles and churns. It eats away at my insides while I seethe with mounting humiliation. Yet, making eye contact with him again just seems oddly terrifying at this point in time.

Finally, class introductions are over. I had zoned it all out in a fitful longing to curl into a ball and implode.

I look up and meet Paulhan’s steely gaze as he drops a crate of paperbacks onto the round table at the center of the room. His voice really projects. It booms and bounces against the walls of the classroom, against me, as he exclaims:

“Alright, guys. First book we’re gonna read is The Scarlet Letter. This is an awesome book. Let’s read through chapter six before tomorrow’s class. Write down any questions you have. And remember to write down some quiz problems for our Sabine.”

He winks at me. In my peripheral vision I can see the ass-kissers in the class turn to smirk and rub it in my face.

Within minutes of our first class I decide that I would hate him.


“Joe said you totally passed out on him last night.”

Kate and I are sitting on the lawn in the quad, drinking cokes and taking in the noonday sun. She is Joe’s fraternal twin sister, my closest friend, and my confidant.

“Did he say what we were doing?” I fish for the registration sheet and pull it out of my bag.

“No, but I know you fooled around with him,” Kate rolls her eyes and sighs loudly. “Why do you go for him? I totally know he’s going to get kicked off the football team this year. He smokes way too much pot. He’s such a giant loser.”

I scan the sheet. I can’t believe it. Teacher’s Aide. Room 54.

“Oh fuck. Son of a bitch.”

Kate looks at me, then at the sheet in my hands.

“What’s up?”

“I just found out they put me in Paulhan’s room as a teacher’s aide. Can you believe this? God, I should never have let them pick for me.”

Her eyes grow big and round.

“Hamilton Paulhan? The new English teacher? You’re going to be Hamilton Paulhan’s teacher’s aide?”

“This is so fucked up. I’m going to go to the office right now and get a drop slip.”

Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I get up to make my way across the quad towards the office. Kate snatches the registration sheet out of my hands and gapes at it in disbelief.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Sabine, have you seen him? He’s, like, the hottest man alive! I would totally trade places with you if I didn’t need to make up PE credits!”

“Well, I’ll just drop it then, I don’t even need those credits.”

“Are you crazy?” Kate gasps, ” Don’t be stupid. They’re not going to let you drop it. They need teacher’s aides and they’re not going to give you a free period between classes.”

“Katie, that asshole humiliated me in front of the whole class for not reading over the summer!” I’m livid. Confusion dances over her face.

“You had to read over the summer? Why didn’t you? That’s so unlike you to miss assignments!”

“Ugh.” It’s all I can muster. The guilt makes me cringe.

“Sabine, oh my god, you just have to do it. Please! You have no idea how lucky you are!”

The sixth period bell goes off. Crowds in the quad slowly start to pull apart. I feel numb.

“There goes the bell,” Kate says, stating the obvious. “I gotta get to the gym, so I’ll catch you later!”

She bounds away, her eyes two twinkling, lovelorn little stars.

“Tell me how it goes!” she chirps.


He’s bent over his desk, a thick pile of index cards and loose grade book pages splayed out in front of him. He doesn’t hear me when I step silently over the threshold.

Just being in the classroom again makes the hairs on my arms and my neck bristle in alarm.

A few birds land upon the branches of the tree outside, whistling little bird songs. I consider bolting. The thought weighs deliciously in my mind.

I’m just about to turn and hurry out the door when Paulhan’s voice stops me in my tracks.

“Hi, Sabine.”

I look back at him. That same shit-eating smile. I’m in for it.

“You’re right on time. I heard you were going to be my assistant.”

He’s sitting upright in his chair now, a glimmer of unspoken mischief in his face.

“Yeah…” I reply weakly. I hesitate, then add: “It’s gonna be marvelous.”

A slight smile lights up on his lips. He cocks his head as if he were sampling my acrid sarcasm like a sweet wine. Then he pulls his head back and laughs.

“Don’t be so sore about this morning,” he says, reclining in his seat, clasping his hands over his stomach. “It’s nothing personal. I’m not a meanie.”

His condescending tone is infuriating, and being alone with him gives me a little more courage than before. I look into his gleeful, hateful face and muster up as much scorn as I can offer.

“I’m sure. If you don’t mind, I’d rather change out of this period.” I slump into an empty desk and throw my bag down next to me.

This seems to amuse him. He doubles over as if in sudden pain, but his laughter is deep and throaty. This just isn’t going well.

“You don’t have papers to grade yet so I can probably jet, right?”

“Oh don’t worry, Sabine,” he says, wiping his eyes. “I’m afraid changing out of this period isn’t really an option for you. See those boxes of text books over there? I need them stamped and numbered.”


My misery is intensifying.

Twenty minutes have passed, with thirty minutes to go.

I’ve plowed through only a third of Paulhan’s mountain of books. Crisp, aromatic copies of Huckleberry Finn are open to the first page, where newly inked numbers are laid out to dry. I open stacks and stacks of poetry textbooks to repeat the motions. A task so simple and mundane is now my slow punishment.

I look up from the work to glance at him. I can’t help it, it’s out of apprehension. He’s thoroughly involved in whatever teacher shit he’s doing. His eyebrows would furrow when he drew close to the desk, as if teasing apart some problem he was desperate to solve. Kate’s words sneak back into my stream of thought.

Is he cute? Well, he’s not bad-looking. The ridge of his brow is slightly pronounced, affecting a subtle pensiveness. His hair is a dirty, muddy blond. Tall, a bit built. How old is he? Twenty-five? Perhaps thirty? Anyway, in terms of dress, he might as well have walked out of a Banana Republic ad. Bland. I smugly conclude that he’s very nondescript.

Paulhan’s head snaps up, almost instinctively. He catches me staring.

“What’s up?” he says, completely nonchalant.

“Oh, can I go to the bathroom?” I kick myself inside. Idiot!

“Yes you may,” he replies curtly, turning back to his desk. “I can come help you with those text books when I’m done with these course lists.”

Yes you may? Total dick. I trot out of the room without saying a word. Turning the corner, I notice the double doors to the office.

Now’s my chance! I’ll go back to Paulhan with the drop slip and he can take it and shove it up his ass.


“What do you mean?”

I almost choke on the words. And my desperation. Misses Strand adjusts her red-rimmed glasses as she leans in for a good, final look.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, honey. There’s a ceramics class and PE class that are available as electives. But there’s nothing else in sixth period that you can take.”

“I can take ceramics!”

“That class is full. There’s a waiting list with eleven people on it. And you can’t take PE again, you already have all the credits.” She sits back and takes off her glasses. Her apology is genuine and sweet, but her pity can’t help me. My fingers curl in frustration.

“Isn’t there any other teacher that needs a teacher’s aide? What about Miss Reilly?”

“Sabine, they all have students already.” Suspicion creeps into Misses Strand’s voice, subduing her brassy twang. “Honey, why do you want to switch out of Mister Paulhan’s class so badly?”

What do I tell her? That he’s a fuckhead who I can barely stand? That he humiliated me for not doing my prep reading, because I spent all summer swimming in Kate’s pool and smoking weed?

“Never mind, Misses Strand, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I was just hoping I could take ceramics before I graduate.” She beams at me, her face sunny with optimism.

“Don’t worry, sweetie! Plenty of time for that in the future. You just worry about getting those honors courses out of the way first.”


I pace back into the classroom. I can barely cloak my dejection.

Paulhan is standing at the round table in the center of the room, poetry textbooks strewn all over it. He’s patiently and methodically stamping each title page. He looks up at me and smiles—a clean, genuine smile.

“Hey Sabine,” he nods. “Let’s get these Twain books out of the way.”

I hesitate for a brief moment before going to his side and start stacking up the books. I can feel him watching me test the ink with my fingers. The pages are dry.

We continue like this for a several minutes: him stamping, me piling and opening books. We work quietly, steadily. I look up to tell the time. Twelve minutes left on the clock. The second hand is easing downward past two. The hour and minute hands are sad and still.

“So what kept you from doing your reading, Sabine?” The sobering words pierces my reverie. He was still stamping, holding pages open with long, arching fingers. His voice betrays a hint of amusement.

“Well, I was really involved in work all summer. I worked at the Great American Music Hall as an intern. I guess I just totally blanked out about the reading list.” Total lie. That was Kate’s job.

“Ah, I see,” he says. He inks the stamp, pressing firmly onto the pad. For the first time I notice his arms in detail. Paulhan had rolled his sleeves up just past the elbows. His arms are tan and covered in fine hairs, flecked with small freckles. Their shape is beautiful. Muscles near the crook of his elbow gently flex as he works. His hands and fingers are large but appear dextrous. The details of a striking male hand are there: defined knuckles, veins that tangle and weave around the distinct, structured framework of bone.

“In San Francisco?” he asks.


“I played there once.”

“What do you mean?”

“My band opened for Mogwai there a couple years ago. I played drums after I got out of Berkeley.”

“Oh, that’s cool. Do you still play now?” Unbelievable. I’m participating in a casual conversation with this creep.

No, I’m just humoring him.

“Once in a while. The band broke up when the singer went to England.”

“So now you’re an English teacher. Are you new?”

He looks at me and grins.

“Do I look like I’m new?”

What do I say? I realize that I shouldn’t have said what I said. It was dumb.

“I guess not.”

He laughs. “I taught in San Francisco for a couple years. This is my first gig outside the city.”


“So yeah, I guess I’m new in this school.”

I’m not sure what to say next, so I keep quiet. We work in silence for a few minutes.

“Anyway, I’m surprised that you missed all the readings. Your record tells me that you’re an exceptional student. Aren’t you?”

I didn’t even know teachers looked at our old grades. The conversation is making me a little uneasy. Being around him made me uneasy, I guess.

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“The kids I taught in San Francisco are a whole other story. Out of everyone I’ve ever taught, you hold the highest GPA right now.”

Is this even something he should be telling me? Anyway, I think I see where this is going. He’s trying to get me to like him, for whatever reason he might have. Probably feels guilty for ridiculing me.

“Well, I guess there’s a first for everything.” I reply with the most careless, cliched remark I can think of. I glance at him. Paulhan’s studying me intently, wordless. His expression is unreadable.

The bell goes off.

Fri Sept 8, 2006 3:24 PM

The days and nights came and went until Friday morning. They blended together into one gray, infinite string of hours. I sauntered blankly to school and then spent the nights and early mornings desperately sifting through Cliff Notes and cheat sheets, napping for no more than a hour at a time.

The “special quiz,” which Paulhan gave to me in the form of ten question-and-answer problems, went by even faster. Stories, characters, symbols, overarching themes—all of it is now a dim, fuzzy patch in my fading short term memory. The guilt of missing my summer reading is put out, and my hatred for Paulhan has grown worn and dull.

Our swim team is mulling around the pool waiting for Misses Hoffman, our coach of many loyal years. I’m standing in my swimsuit, my hair tucked inside my rubber cap. Headache. I’m so tired.

Paulhan trots out of the men’s locker room. His khakis are rolled up to his calves, and he’s in sandals. A pair of aviator sunglasses, a black polo shirt, clipboard in hand. He looks cockier than ever.

A hushed murmur of excitement sweeps through the team like a feverish wind. My jaws slip open in disbelief. There’s just no way…

“Okay guys, Misses Hoffman is rather busy with some personal stuff this semester, so I’ll be taking over as your coach.” My hand shoots up. Adrenaline is suddenly coursing through me.

“Yeah, Sabine?”

“What happened to Misses Hoffman? Isn’t she still teaching Pre-Calc this semester?”

“Well, actually…” I can’t see past his ridiculous shades, which irritates me. “Misses Hoffman wanted to spend more time with her son this semester. She had to take time off of after school activities.”

Another murmur from the swim team. Not that they really care—almost every girl in the school is in over her head for him.

Ah, right, but not me.

“… Let’s get started. Each of you will swim one lap. I’ll be timing you. But don’t sweat it, this is just so I know approximately how fast you are.”

He pulls a stop watch out of his pocket and motions us to form a line for the center lane. Annie dives into the pool from the front of our line. Everyone watches in silent anticipation. Her strokes are broad and graceful, and in no time she reaches the other end. She ducks under water and bounds back. Perfectly composed, she comes to Paulhan’s feet in just over one minute.

Annie is not the fastest girl on the team. I’m not either, but I don’t want to look slow and sloppy. It’d be too embarrassing. Having Paulhan as a teacher and a coach is going to put pressure on me.

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