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Mr. Whitaker was in a foul mood. A scowl was impressed into his cheeks and between his brows. I considered telling him it would stick forever if he didn't stop but thought better of it. Why was he so angry anyway?

"Everyone, take out your notebooks. We're having a notebook check."

A notebook check? Were we back in junior high? Everyone did as told, nonetheless. I retrieved mine and laid it open. Rachel did the same before sharing a confused looked with me. I shrugged.

Our beloved teacher told us to pull out a sheet of paper while he wrote the questions on the board. Of course, the questions were only things he'd covered in class, so the students who'd been absent were screwed. I was thankful for my tidiness.

After ten questions had been scrawled across the whiteboard, Mr. Whitaker told us we had twenty minutes to complete them. He took residence behind his desk, like usual, and began typing away on his computer. I really wanted to know what had irritated him so badly. This wasn't the joyful teacher I had come to enjoy.

The timer on his desk went off at twenty minutes. We set our pencils down and passed our papers to the right. Mr. Whitaker collected them, mute in his anger as ever. He straightened our papers, placed them on his desk, and then moved to the front of the classroom.

"Can anyone give me an example of Literature when love has gone wrong?" he asked. "Or perhaps a love that was crippled from the start?"

What an odd inquiry. I glanced around at my other classmates, but they were just as lost as me. He began tapping his foot impatiently on the tile. It was clear he wasn't going to speak until someone else volunteered an answer. I scavenged my memory for something that would suffice. Almost surprisingly, Rachel beat me to it.

"Romeo and Juliet," she said, shattering the awkward silence.

"How so?" Mr. Whitaker pressed.

"Well...they were from two warring families. It's difficult to make a relationship work if your families are totally against each other."

"And why is it difficult?"

I glared at him. Why was he pushing her so hard? Was he trying to embarrass her? Rachel's mouth opened, but she remained silent. Her cheeks flushed.

"Because," I replied, "life is too hard to live without support. Love is great, but we can't live off of that alone."

"That seems a little cynical, doesn't it?" His piercing eyes were burning into me now.

"Life isn't always happy. That's not cynical; that's realistic. Romeo and Juliet are great proof of that."

"Proof? They're only fictional characters, Hazel."

I raised an eyebrow, feeling especially testy. "Isn't Literature a reflection of culture and human nature?"

A tiny smirk lifted the right side of his mouth as he answered, "Why, yes. I suppose it is." He stood straighter and acknowledge the rest of the class. "Take out your textbooks. It's time for our next story."

____

We wrapped up class just before the bell rang. While everyone packed up their bookbags, Mr. Whitaker ambled over to my desk. I tried to ignore him until he rapped his knuckles on the wood top. Reluctantly, I looked up.

"Hazel," he told me, "I need you to stay after class."

Seriously? I tried to conceal my irritation. Why did I have to stay behind this time?

"Okay," I complied before turning my gaze away again.

"Thank you." He turned and walked back to his desk.

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