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A few days passed. Friday had arrived and prom was already tomorrow. Rachel was forcing me to join she and Grace at the nail salon after my work shift was over. As far as I knew, Mateo was still in our prom group. He hadn't spoken to me directly since that odd moment we shared outside the women's bathroom in the restaurant downtown on Tuesday.

Likewise, Mr. Whitaker hadn't called me out since Monday. It seemed like the weirdness for the week had finally passed until Mr. Whitaker told me I needed to stay after class again today. I just nodded glumly. Arguing was pointless. Rachel didn't bother interrogating me, but she did say she'd kick my butt if I was late to our nail appointment. I finally assured her I would be on time as the final bell rang.

Unlike usual, Mr. Whitaker came straight to my desk once everyone had evacuated his classroom. He folded his arms across his chest and drew his brows together over his slightly crooked nose. I braced myself for another reprimanding for whatever reason he had this time.

"How're things going for you, Hazel?" he asked in utter seriousness.

The simplicity of the inquiry pleasantly surprised me. "Oh. Um, they're going well."

"Really? Because you've been down all week, especially these last few days."

I stared blankly at him. How had he noticed? He was like a freaking hawk. It was annoying, really. I was still partly mad at him for using Mateo's secret against me. At this point, I was beginning to wish I had just let Mr. Whitaker have his way with the situation. But that would've been the selfish thing to do.

"Do you want me to email your mother?"

That had my attention. "What? Why would you email my mom?"

"To tell her you haven't been focusing or participating in class."

"Mr. Whitaker, please—"

"Just tell me what the matter is, Hazel, so I won't have to notify your mother."

This may have been the hardest I've ever tried to not my roll my eyes. He was being so unfair! If he emailed my mom, she would totally interrogate me. I couldn't handle that. Keeping secrets was difficult for me if people already suspected something. I would crack under the pressure, spill Mateo's secret and our creepy encounter, and then this whole situation would be blown way out of proportion.

"I'm just stressed about prom," I lied, hoping he couldn't see it on my face.


"It's really stressful for girls, you know. I don't really like all the hype. I don't really understand why everyone turns into such a pansy about it."

"Who are you going with?"

My mouth remained open for a few seconds. Did he seriously just ask me that? Is that any of business? No. I had a feeling he would threaten blackmail if I pulled out that card again, though.

"Friends," I answered confidently. It was the truth, after all.

"And who is in this friend group?"

"That is on a need-to-know basis."

"Don't get smart with me."

Balling my hands into fists, I fought to suppress my temper. "Why does it matter?"

"Because we have a deal. If you're breaking it—"

"Mateo is in the group, okay? But he's not going with me. We aren't talking. I haven't broken my side of the deal."

"Except you can't possibly avoid him the whole night if he's in your group."

The last straw in my patience snapped. "I can promise you I will not be talking to Mateo. Our last conversation—" I stopped myself short, sucking in a quiet gasp. The guilt was all over my face. Although my actual words didn't rat me out, my reaction to my idiocy certainly did.

"Your last conversation was what?"


"Hazel," he pressed in annoyance.

I took a deep breath. "It really wasn't anything. Mateo is just being weird. And, for the record, he started talking to me. I tried to walk away, but he wouldn't let me."

"He wouldn't let you? When did this happen?"

"Look, Mr. Whitaker, I am going to hold up my end of the bargain. This is—"

"Answer me, Hazel. What happened between you and Mateo?"

This was not a conversation he was going to let me glaze over. I had just dug my own grave. Way to go. A deep sigh helped me gather my thoughts.

"We got into a minor argument," I finally said. "I told him we were over, but he is apparently hung up on that."

"He's more than hung up on it. You're scared of him, aren't you?"

"No. I'm not scared of him." My voice wobbled uncertainly, betraying me. I wasn't scared of Mateo. Was I?

"Why are you scared of him? Has he hurt you?"

My eyes widened. "No! He wouldn't hurt me."

"Has he threatened to hurt you?"

"No," I replied with less confidence, unable to force the lie.

When he leaned in to study my face, my gaze darted down to the white tile floor under my feet. "Please, don't lie to me," he whispered. "I told you before that I don't appreciate it."

"Who said I was lying?"

"Your body language."

Before I could somehow find a way to refute that with yet another lie, I caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall. It was ten till three. I had to be at work in ten minutes and it took almost that long just to get there from the school. Shoot. I jumped out of my chair, grabbing my backpack on the way, and pushed past Mr. Whitaker.

"I have to get to work!" I yelled over my shoulder. "Have a good weekend!"

"Hazel!" he called after me.

But I was already gone.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now