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Mateo's dark eyes met mine amidst the scramble of high school hallways. My gaze lowered as it always did, a result of the faint guilt I felt every time I saw him. We reached each other a moment later. He smiled at me as his arm slid around my waist.

"How was class?" he asked, perhaps the most commonly voiced question in our relationship.

"Uh, fine." I avoided the curious looks from fellow students. Everyone thought Mateo and I were a strange couple. Even the people who didn't know us.


"How about you?" I questioned with a tentative glance at his face.

He shrugged around me. "Lame. I'm still borderline in math, and Miss Saberstine still hates me."

"She doesn't hate you," I insisted. We'd gotten into this discussion many times. "She just pushes you to do better."

"And we both know I don't like being better." His retort was beyond sarcastic. He didn't like talking about this with me.

I racked my brain for a new topic to discuss. "Are you staying after school?"

"No. You need a ride home?"

Shaking my head, I answered, "I shouldn't. I drove the car to school today." My mom and I shared the family minivan, depending on whether or not she had work.

"Well, I've told you before I can pick you up and take you home," he reminded me.

"Except days you hang out with Craig."

"We don't hang out that much."

I pursed my lips. "Anyway, I don't want to have to rely on you for a ride. It's not fair to you."

"Oh, whatever. You know I wouldn't mind."

"But I would." It would feel like I was using him.

Our conversation ceased as we entered the cafeteria. Mateo's arm fell away from my side. Even though I knew it was just paranoia, I swore it always seemed like people were watching us. The greetings of our friends helped dampen my suspicion while I took a seat beside Rachel. Mateo sat on the other side of me.

"Hey, Hazel," Rachel said, her blue eyes raising to mine.

"Hey." I scanned the table. "What're they serving for lunch?"

"Some nasty spaghetti," crowed Shawn, my boyfriend's closest buddy. "Tastes like toilet water."

A grimace molded my lips. "Terrific." After standing back up, I started for the lunch line.

Mateo stopped me by grabbing my hand, asking, "Babe, can you get me a water?"

It took every ounce of control I had not to cringe at the nickname. Babe seemed too intimate. I hated when he said it, though I hadn't mustered the courage to tell him as much.

"Sure," I replied.

Right before I reached the line, someone darted out of the teacher's area and bumped into me. A stream of icy tea poured down the front of my blue blouse. I looked up at the mess maker while my mouth hung open, stunned.

"I'm so sorry," the man told me. His pale blue eyes held my gaze through dark-rimmed rectangular glasses until he checked my clothes. "Oh...I'm sorry. I should pay more attention—"

"It's okay," I assured him with a polite enough smile.

His lips were full and pink, yet somehow not feminine. The rest of his face made up the masculinity. A light trace of hair colored his jaw and upper lip, matching the light brown hair gelled neatly on his head. His eyebrows were thick and drawn over his rounded nose. Though he was far from being a model, the only noticeable blemish on his face was a minute crook in the middle of his nose.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now