Matthew, grimacing against the tightly buttoned shirt and tie wrapped around his neck, thought flat-out rejection, or even death, would probably be the better option compared to this.
The principal considered his resume for the tenth time, at least. His brass nameplate, reading "Mr. Timothy Hanford," glared in the afternoon sunlight.
Rubbing his thumbs together, his hands clasped in his lap, Matthew watched, his eyes following the older man's every movement. The silence was agonizing. He swallowed, teeth clenched. 'This is ridiculous,' he mused, tugging at his unbuttoned blazer which wouldn't close, stained from his 12th-grade graduation no matter how many times it was washed.
The principal glanced at him through his thin-rimmed glasses.
He met the older man's eyes for a moment. Matthew shifted in the seat, the leather of the chair squeaking, and, swallowing back his agitated nerves, turned his eyes away.
"Your...resume is...quite interesting," he noted for the third time.
"Thank you, sir," Matthew replied for the third time. He swallowed again and straightened up a little, which did little to quell the uneasy stirring in his stomach. Matthew clenched his teeth again and took a slow inhale through his nose.
It hadn't been the first time he had attempted to sit in this principal's office. The first position he applied for – a language arts teacher – had gotten him one interview, but no farther than the front office receptionist. They spluttered thoughtless answers and promised too quickly they'd get back to him, which they never did.
Several months and job applications later, by some luck, they had forgotten who Matthew was entirely. He got as far as the receptionist again, who insisted the position was filled despite other applicants coming in; he demanded an interview. Ten minutes later, Matthew departed the small, windowless room dripping in awkward tension, "escorted" off the premises by a security guard.
The third time had been some kind of miracle, though was probably more oversight on the Academy's part. Promptly called in for a support teacher position, Matthew proceeded into the building, checked in with the receptionist, and was swiftly called into the principal's office before someone had the chance to say anything.
Mr. Hanford placed Matthew's resume gingerly on the table. His round fingers scraped against the desk's edge before he asked, "Tell me, is Mr. Lewis still teaching?"
Matthew took in another steady breath, his lips curling into a hesitant smile. "Y-yes, sir. He – actually, he was my advisor."
"He taught here for several years. Did you know that?"
He nodded. "He actually recommended I look into applying here," Matthew replied, sitting forward. "I have his letter of recommendation if you'd like to see it." He turned, withdrawing the cheap plastic folder from his side.
Mr. Hanford interlaced his fingers. "Mr. Robinson, may I be frank with you?"
Matthew placed the folder in his lap; the smile wavered for a moment. "Of, of course." On cue, his mind listed off the easy targets of scrutiny; his appearance, resume, education. Grunting, he stopped the train of thought in its tracks. 'He could jump onto the desk and belt Taylor Swift while stripping if it meant I could get the job,' he mused.
The older man retrieved his resume and looked it over again, held gingerly between his fingertips. "I, have to admit, your resume is...astounding. Graduated with several awards, summa cum laude, from a prestigious teaching program. A Masters in Psychology and a Bachelor's in art history, on top of that. Your professors must think highly of you."
Nodding, Matthew tried his best to maintain his smile, fighting the urge to wrestle against his collar's tightening grip around his neck. The smile began slipping from his lips.
"Your extracurriculars are...remarkable, as well. I've never seen someone wholeheartedly take learning education as strictly as you have."
He scooted back an inch. Matthew clenched his jaw.
Mr. Hanford sighed. "However...I find it...a little, uncomfortable, shall we say, concerning your lack of experience in the field. You –"
"I've interned and worked at several daycares and schools, sir," Matthew started, his breath steady despite the unease still pitted in his stomach. "I have a log of all my completed hours, if that's your concern. Both unpaid, for school, and for work. I-I have letters of recommendation from those establishments, as well, in case you're uncertain of my work ethic." He opened the plastic folder and withdrew a bundle of stapled papers.
"I don't doubt you can," Mr. Hanford interrupted, "and I don't doubt your work ethic. Your studies clearly prove you're driven and passionate concerning the field." He paused, licking his lips. "However, it wouldn't help your case at the present time." Gently, he slid the resume to the edge of the desk for Matthew to take.
"...I don't understand."
Licking his lips, his eyes never leaving Matthew's, Mr. Hanford explained, "I...admire your devotion to the education field, as well as your variety of application in it, as well. Your extracurriculars and work history support that you'd be a great teacher."
His eyes staring hard, Matthew frowned. "There's a 'but'." Not a question, but a soft accusation.
Mr. Hanford rolled his head in exasperation, hands outreached. "Brookfell Academy prides itself on, on its principles. For without principles, what is society?"
Matthew nodded. His stare had turned from hesitation to glaring disappointment.
"We want to ensure that the children attending here are provided a safe and friendly environment to explore different...cultures. The children's parents put their trust in us to ensure a specific level of, of decorum and professionalism."
"That being said, if we hired you," Mr. Hanford continued, "we might have parents concerned about your...extracurricular activities, shall we say."
Matthew turned his eyes away for a moment, sighing; he clicked his teeth together. "Sir, I feel this shouldn't be said, but, but even if what you've heard about me was true, I keep my...extracurriculars, to myself, as I don't doubt you do, as well. I think broadcasting them in that regard, especially to the students, is highly unprofessional and a personal violation of morals and conduct."
The principal clasped his hands together again, leaning back into his chair. "I...glad you recognize that, but we also have an obligation to provide our services to the children's education, which is, in no small part, funded by the incredibly generous donations from, shall we say, upstanding citizens of society." He stared down his nose at Matthew, a glare the younger man interpreted as self-aggrandized condescension. "If we did hire you, and our benefactors discovered your...pension for extracurriculars, should they be true, the school would risk losing a substantial portion of its funding." Mr. Hanford rolled his hands in small circles, his head nodding back and forth in a pseudo-indecisive gesture. "You understand the dilemma."
"...upstanding citizens...?" Matthew asked, voice flat.
He nodded, a relieved smile on his face. "Yes, exactly."
"I assume you're talking about Mr. Herbert Culpepper?" The surname alone forced up an angry, sickly lump into his throat. His hands shook.
Mr. Hanford blinked. "Yes," he replied, inching Matthew's resume across the desk towards him. He coughed into his hand, turning away.
His fingernails digging into his skin, Matthew tried his best to suppress his glare at the man across from him. "But..." He licked his lips, desperate to pop some of the nicotine gum sitting in his pocket. "Sir...Mr. Hanford, I'm qualified for this position, you said so yourself. I have recommendations from professors, teachers, employers, and parents alike." Swallowing again, Matthew took in another deep breath, trying to settle the spinning in his head. "I am a teacher through and through, and I'd really appreciate the opportunity to show you."
"I appreciate the enthusiasm, Mr. Robinson," Mr. Hanford began, shaking his head, "However, we cannot hire you at this time." He stood, hands clasped together in front of him. "I'm sure whatever school you end up working in, they'll be quite lucky."
Matthew stared, unsure if his words were genuine. Taking the resume and slipping it back into his folder, he rose from the chair. "Thank you for your time," he whispered, holding out his hand. Matthew's eyes stayed down.
"I don't doubt your skills would be needed in a...public school setting," he added, hands remaining together. It was clear, from his tone, that saying the last three words had been done with smug piety.
He opened his mouth to retort but snapped it shut. Dropping his hand to his side, he closed his eyes and sighed, swallowing back his frustration. "Thank you for your time," Matthew muttered again, turning towards the office door.
Mr. Hanford sat back in his chair, it groaning underneath him. "Better luck in your job search," he called out casually.
Matthew breathlessly chuckled. He turned to glance over his shoulder and smiled. "Thank you very much," he replied, opening the office door. His pace was slow and deliberate, the smile unwavering. Nodding his thanks to the receptionists, Matthew crossed through the school's front doors and into the entry court. Every step he took into the sunshine meant his smile shrank more and more until Matthew glared ahead, his stare piercing. "Stupid, fucking, prick."
Upon unlocking and plopping himself down in the driver's seat of his car, he sighed again, resting his forehead against the thing plastic wheel of his car. He slapped the plastic folder into the passenger seat. Breath slow and warm through his teeth, he stomped hard against the carpeted floor, the blue Beetle shaking on its springs. A saddened lump formed in his throat. "Sorry," Matthew whispered, fingertips running over the grooves in the wheel. Finally collecting himself, he straightened up and shoved a piece of gum in his mouth despite the horrible taste it carried. "It has to get better," he whispered, turning the key and the engine chirping into life. "It's not, but it has to."