4️⃣

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School the following day began the same as any other. As each class passed by, my apprehension about seeing Mr. Whitaker again escalated. I wasn't certain how to behave around him or even what to say. Should I thank him for paying for our dinner? Or pretend like I knew nothing of the sort? These were the kind of social situations that reminded me of the extent of my introversion.

Lunch came and Mateo seemed to have fully recovered from his bout of anger last night. He claimed to have gotten over the whole situation one-hundred percent. I was glad Mr. Whitaker didn't run into me again, and that I didn't see him at all during lunch.

Physics crawled by until I was finally heading to Literature. My heart stammered in my chest with each stride drawing me closer to my odd teacher. To my dismay, Mr. Whitaker was standing by the classroom door when I approached.

"Hazel," he greeted with a warm smile. "Good to see you again."

A half-smile crept passed my lips as I nodded and hurried to my desk. Rachel hadn't entered the room yet, so I busied myself by pulling out my homework and tidying up my binder. The tasks apparently didn't make me appear occupied. Mr. Whitaker eased over to my desk and tapped on the corner of it. I looked up at him, trying to conceal my terror.

"Did you and your boyfriend have fun last night?" he asked casually. "I felt terrible about sitting with you. I'm sure the last person you wanted to see was your teacher."

My chuckle sounded as forced as it felt. "Oh, it was no big deal. I'm sure you didn't want to see any students either."

Shrugging, he replied, "It's a little weird but doesn't bother me too much."

"Gotcha." I swallowed heavily. Just ask it. Don't play ignorant; he'll see straight through you. "So...were you the one who picked up our tab last night?"

"Oh." His confidence wavered under a sheepish smile. "Yes, that was me. I simply wanted to do something nice."

I knew it! Mateo had totally overreacted.

"That was really nice of you. Thank you."

He nodded modestly. "My pleasure."

When Rachel plopped into her desk, Mr. Whitaker walked back to the door. My best friend smirked impishly at me.

"Don't even start," I warned, smiling as I rolled my eyes.

"Are you at least gonna tell me what you two were talking about?"

"No."

"Why not?" She wiggled her brows. "Top secret, eh?"

"You're ridiculous!"

"Then tell me, you brat."

Sighing, I admitted, "Mateo and I saw him last night when we went out. We were just talking about it."

"What? Why didn't you tell me at lunch?"

"Because...it didn't seem relevant."

"Nah, you're just embarrassed about it. What happened?"

"Nothing."

Rachel folded her arms over her chest. "We've already established the fact that you're a terrible liar. Cough it up, Hazel."

"I promise—"

"Alright, class," Mr. Whitaker announced while shutting the door. "Shall we begin?"

My best friend shot me a pointed look. I knew what that look meant. She was going to get the information out of me, whether she had to torture me or not. Smiling, I faced the board and tuned into our teacher's instruction.

>>>

We finished reading Hamlet in Literature before the bell rung. Mr. Whitaker didn't speak personally to me again. I ambled out to the student parking lot with Rachel and bid her farewell when I reached my car. Mateo was waiting by my driver door, bearing a wide grin.

"Are we going to make a habit of this?" I asked him as I slipped into his arms.

"Maybe. Would you like that?"

Smiling, I met his eyes. "I think I would. Not if it'll make you late to practice, though."

"I'll be alright."

"If you say so. How was your day?" I queried, pulling away from his embrace to dispose of my backpack in the car.

"Long. Nothing atypical."

"Awesome."

"You?"

"Same."

He grabbed my hand and tugged me closer, saying, "Have fun working. We'll find some time to hang out again soon, I promise."

"Okay." I smiled at him again. "Go run yourself silly."

"I will."

Our gaze held a moment longer until Mateo turned away. I watched him walk back into the building before slipping into my car. As I pulled the gear shift back into reverse, prepared to zip out of the lot, Mr. Whitaker suddenly bursted from the nearest school door. The abrupt motion caught my attention. His eyes scanned the lot until he saw me, in which he started waving his arms in the air. I looked around, but no one else was near enough. He was gesturing to me?

Putting the car in park, I stepped back out and met my teacher halfway between my car and the school. He was smiling and out of breath.

"I think"—he took a ragged breath—"that this belongs to you!"

In his hand was a smartphone wrapped in a blue plastic case. My mouth fell open. How did I leave that in his room? I could've sworn I'd put in my backpack.

"That is mine! Thank you so much." I accepted it from him. "I can't believe I left it. Rachel must've distracted me."

He chuckled. "It happens."

"Indeed." I slipped the device into my back pocket. "Well, thanks again, Mr. Whitaker. I would've been devastated without it."

"Sure, no problem. Have a good afternoon."

"You, too," I replied and started back towards my car.

"Oh!" he gasped, causing me turn around again. "I read your character analysis during class. You're a very articulate writer."

Another annoying blush washed over me. "Oh, well, thank you."

"There's a creative writing club you could join, you know. I think you have great potential."

"That's nice of you, but I don't have the time to commit."

"We only meet once every two weeks," he said. Then he waved his hand dismissively. "Anyway, just consider it. If you decide you're interested, let me know."

"I will." I offered him a smile.

"See you tomorrow, Hazel."

"You, too."

This time I reached my car without further interruption. Mr. Whitaker strolled back to the school slowly, his lean frame swaying with confident swagger. He seemed like the typical twenty-something male.

Before anyone could delay me, I headed off to the grocery store, where I currently worked part-time as a cashier.

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