When a flash flood strikes, Steven stays behind at school to find a little girl who hid from the storm. His lover, Derrick, comes to rescue them both but can only get Josie out. Will Derrick be able to get back to the elementary school in time to get Steven or will he lose him to the raging flood waters?
It was a normal start to a normal day at Copper Creek Elementary. Steven Hayes always arrived at seven fifteen and the first thing he did was put the date on the blackboard for his third grade class. Today he wrote March 23, 2015 with yellow chalk. He took off his raincoat and hung it up in the corner. He looked out the window. Since yesterday a light rain had been falling. There were black storm clouds gathering in the sky indicating more to come. For some reason, he shivered.
Mrs. Maddy Conway from the classroom next door popped her head in the door. "It looks like we're going to get some thunderstorms." Mrs. Conway was past retirement age but she was still a fantastic teacher and controlled her fifth graders with an iron hand in a velvet glove.
"Derrick and I watched the ten o'clock news from Waco last night and the forecast called for light rain to continue through the night with thunderstorms for today. I brought my raincoat." It wasn't until after the news that Steven started to grade compositions and Friday's math test.
Mrs. Conway looked out the window then down at his shoes. "It's been over a year son, time to be a Texan and get some boots."
"Derrick took me out over the weekend to buy a pair. I wore them all weekend and wound up with blisters, so since I was going to be on my feet all day today, I decided to take a day off from breaking them in." Steven's face flushed.
"You've got to wear thicker socks. You look kind of tired this morning," Maddy said sympathetically.
"I was up grading papers last night." Steven blushed again.
"Put it off until the last minute, did you?" Maddy asked. "Too bad you got blisters from the boots-- you're going to need them today." Maddy Conway's curly grey head turned to look back out the window, frowned at the clouds again and went back through the door to her classroom, leaving Steven with his face hot and his ears red. Any time Steven was embarrassed his whole body got hot and his face turned a bright red from the tips of his ears down his neck. He was aware that he had a problem with oversharing. He never knew when to shut up. He almost told Maddy about his argument with Derrick. Immediately his mind turned to his soon-to-be husband. His eyes gazed into the distance, remembering.
* * *
Truthfully, Steven wasn't a boots kind of guy. He'd come out to Texas to teach elementary school from New York City sixteen months ago and originally planned to settle in Austin--which was billed as a gay friendly town-- but by the end of his first week in Texas, he was unemployed. In a panic, he papered the â€˜net with resumes, from Austin to Waco to Dallas-Fort Worth and down to Houston, and spent most of his days on follow-up phone calls.
He had been lucky that the school year hadn't begun yet. He couldn't go back to New York. He had come blazing out of the closet after getting his Masters in Education and his religious parents and siblings thought he was the spawn of Satan. It still hurt.
It was a week after the job debacle that Steven met Derrick Trent in a small gay bar near the Residence Inn. Derrick wasn't the type to get embarrassed. He walked right up to Steven that night and introduced himself. "Derrick Trent...I haven't seen you in here before. It isn't often we get new blood at Harry's, especially someone as gorgeous as you with that fair skin, black hair and blue eyes."
"It's fairly common in New York, Black Irish they call us." Steven laughed.
"You must be new to Austin." Derrick leaned casually back on the edge of the bar, dressed in a cowboy hat, boots, a western shirt and a pair of Levi 501s that left little to the imagination in contrast to Steven's dress pants, oxford shirt and cotton sweater.
Steven could tell that Derrick was a native. His voice held the Texas twang that Steven found so charming. "Can I buy you a drink?" Derrick asked.
Steven looked up and down the bar and saw that his usual lemon martini wouldn't be appropriate so he ordered a Corona with lime. "Thanks, I'm Steven Hayes."
"What's a tenderfoot like you doing in Texas?"
"Up until a month ago. I was recruited to work in the Austin school district. However due to budget cuts they decided to close down the school I was supposed to teach in a month before school started. Teachers who already taught in the district were given preference by the Board of Education for any teaching jobs opening up in other schools and I was shut out. I have nowhere to go until I get another job. I'm lucky they decided to give me my whole contracted salary in severance pay in case I brought suit for wrongful termination but staying at the Residence Inn will eat up that money if I don't get a job soon. Besides the hotel, I have bills to pay."
"Would you have...brought the suit against the board of education, I mean." Derrick examined him so closely that Steve felt like a bug under a microscope.
"Of course not." Steven bristled. "There were other teachers in that school who were supporting families. I was the last hire. It was only fair that it was me who went."
"Yeah, but you moved out here for that job." Derrick persisted.
"There is that, I suppose. That's probably why I got the severance."
Steven had verbal diarrhea again--it was a defect in his personality, spilling his guts to strangers--but Steven figured he would never see Derrick again and he needed someone to talk to. He'd been alone since long before he left New York, being ostracized by his wealthy family and having his boyfriend leave him because he was cut out of the will.
"So you're a teacher, what do you teach?" Derrick took a long swallow of his beer and Steven watched his sexy throat, spellbound. His family wasn't around anymore--he could look all he liked.
Derrick waited for him to say something. He was eating Steven up with his eyes.
Steven answered, stammering, "I teach elementary school, I'm qualified to teach Pre-K through middle school, but I prefer teaching first, second or third grade. They are so curious and anxious to please at that age. Their minds absorb information like a mop absorbs water. The kids repeat everything they hear so God forbid you say anything you don't want everyone to know." Derrick laughed.
"I love little kids. They haven't, as yet, divided the world into tribes. Most of them don't see or care about race or religion, ethnicity or sexuality until their parents teach them their family's own particular brand of prejudice. All they care about is who broke their crayon and what's in their lunchbox. The job I was supposed to have in Austin was teaching first grade."
"Do you have to stay in Austin?" Derrick asked.
"No, I'm pretty mobile. I sold everything before I left New York figuring I'd get some new things out here." Steven ducked his head behind his chin length hair then absentmindedly tucked it behind his ear. "I'm staying at the Residence Inn down the block."
He was only a few inches shorter than Derrick and his black hair and blue eyes were a contrast to Derrick's light blond hair and pansy brown eyes. They'd look good together. Steven thought this was someone he'd like to know a lot better and fate made it possible. So, to his own chagrin, Steven continued to babble.
"I've thought about becoming a tutor, but there doesn't seem to be much need for that here with all the homeschooling and Christian Academies. Yesterday, I picked up an application for a manager's position in an independent bookstore. It doesn't pay much, but I can't live off the severance forever, I need medical insurance and I'm still paying off my college loans." Derrick nodded his head in what appeared to be sympathy.
"How old are you?" Derrick asked him.
"I'm twenty-six. I spent an extra two years in school to get my Masters in Education." Steven lifted his eyebrows in suspicion. Why was he asking Steven's age?
"I'm thirty-two, not as much of an age difference as I thought." Steven looked at Derrick quizzically. "I know of a job opening." Derrick's eyes sparkled.
Steven stood straighter and the flush left his face. This was more important than flirting with a good-looking man.
"It's for third grade, but it's in Copper Creek." Derrick leaned forward and began to peel the label off the bottle of beer, giving sidelong looks to Steven.
"Where is Copper Creek?" Steven asked offhandedly, trying to pretend disinterest.
"Copper Creek is between Waco and Austin. The town hosts a magnet school for the kids for five other smaller towns and all the surrounding ranches and farms. All the kids are bussed into town from the outlying areas. Some kids come from as far as an hour away. There is a large student population and three classrooms for each grade.
"The elementary, middle school and high school are all on the same campus. Copper Creek is a tiny speck on the map but we do need a teacher. Mrs. Colson retired last year and we can't seem to recruit someone who wouldn't mind teaching and living in such a small town." Steven received another side-long look.
"I'm gay and out. The reason I came out here from New York was that I came out of the closet and my family wasn't supportive, so I left the area. I didn't want the constant harassment from them that staying in the city would bring." Steven looked away from Derrick. He blushed; he was afraid that he said too much again.
"I already figured out you were gay, we're sitting here at a gay bar." Derrick chuckled.
"Can I be out in Copper Creek?" Steven looked into Derrick's eyes questioning.
"I don't see why not, I am and so are several others in town."
"What do you do?" Steven asked him.
"I own the local bakery and breakfast cafe, Copper Creek Sweet and Eat. I also serve as the fire chief for the volunteer fire department."
"You can be the fire chief and be gay? If that's the case, Copper Creek is a rare find in Texas. I was told that Austin was the only really safe place for people like us." Steven looked intently at Derrick trying to gauge whether or not Derrick was telling the truth.
"Come out and stay with me for a few days. Interview for the job and see if you like the place. If you don't trust me, there's a bed and breakfast in town." Derrick's mobile eyebrow went up, obviously waiting for Steven to make a decision. "Come on, live a little." Derrick laughed, showing straight white teeth.
What the hell... "Set up the interview," Steven answered.
He got the job and a small apartment over the hardware store. Steven and Derrick started dating right away and he had been with Derrick ever since.