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"We should have gotten a limo," Grace huffed.

I studied the swarm of students crowding into the formal hall where prom was being held. Everyone was in dazzling dresses and crisp suits. The front of the hall was decorated with romantic string lights and a red carpet was rolled out. All in all, I was quite impressed.

"Not everyone wanted a limo," Rachel reminded her. "Besides, it was expensive."

Ignoring their bickering, my eyes flickered to the rest of our group. There was six of us in total: Grace, Rachel, Mateo, two of Mateo's friends, and me. Three boys and three girls. It should have been perfect. It would have been perfect if Mateo hadn't been so creepy lately. He flashed me a smile when he caught me staring. I quickly looked away.

Our group joined the mass, bumping into other couples, groups, and singles we knew. I chatted with two girls I met in Precalculus last semester until we entered the building and split up. Rachel grabbed my hand so we wouldn't lose each other. Music blared from the ballroom, but there were so many students clustered around the hall that we couldn't reach the ballroom.

"Let's get some punch!" she hollered over the talking and music.

I nodded in agreement. We snuck between the people until we reached the far wall where a refreshments table had been set up. Rachel and I collected a plastic champagne flute full of sparkling grape juice before turning back to examine the crowd.

"Crazy, huh?" Rachel elbowed me to make sure I could hear her.

"Yeah," I agreed. "At least we look amazing."

"This is true." She chuckled.

We carried our flutes into the ballroom, which was easier to reach from where we were now. The music burrowed itself into my bones. I caught my hips swinging to the beat without intention; it was like they had a mind of their own. My eyes noticed a cluster of teachers standing on either side of the ballroom, talking amongst themselves while they kept watch. I tried not to freeze up when I saw Mr. Whitaker amidst one of the cluster.

He had just as much of a right to be here as me. In fact, teachers were all required to take a shift at prom. It was his job. Shrugging it off, I followed Rachel onto the dance floor. Grace pulled us into the center of the chaos with a grin on her face. The rest of our group was there as well, including Mateo. I attempted to put as many bodies between us as I possibly could.

I didn't forget to have fun, though. For once, I let go of the world and of myself. I stopped trying to live up to everyone's standards, including my own. The music picked my soul up and carried it high into the air. My body grooved to each song until my back and face were damp with sweat and I was panting for breath.

Things were going so blissfully that I failed to see Mateo make his way over to me. I was still dancing with Rachel when an arm wrapped around my waist. Gasping, I stumbled back against a warm body. His lips brushed across my ear lobe.

"You are remarkable," Mateo whispered. His words send a rod of ice down my spine. "We never got the chance to finish our last discussion."

I attempted to free myself of his hold but was unsuccessful. There was no wiggle room in his iron grip. When had he gotten that strong? My hands clasped his where they overlapped across my stomach. Every nerve in my body was jittery, both in fear and nervousness. I wasn't used to being held so intimately.

"Now is not the time," I told him, turning my head to the side so our face were only centimeters apart.

"I think now is the perfect time," he countered coldly.

"It's too loud to talk in here. Later. We can talk later, Mateo."

More like, I was going to run to my car as soon as prom ended. There wasn't any chance Mateo was going to catch me alone again. No way.


"Yes," I reluctantly acquiesced. "I promise we'll talk later."

"Good. Now dance with me."

Without my permission, he loosened his grip to turn me around. We were facing each other now. I had nowhere to look but at him. My fingers curled into the sides of my dress while I scrambled my mind for an excuse.

"Will you let me dance with Rachel?" I asked, knowing it wouldn't be good enough to deter him.

"You've been dancing with Rachel. It's my turn," he purred, chocolate eyes melting.

Panic got lodged into the back of my throat. Mateo took me by the waist again and pulled me closer to his body. I couldn't think straight enough to fight back, so I let him have his way. We mostly just swayed back and forth, which seemed harmless enough. Until his hands started to wander.

"Hey, hey, hey," I protested, grabbing his wandering fingers to relocate them back up to my waist.

"Oh, come on." He flashed me a smirk. "Let's have a little fun, Haze."

Fun? Who was this person? This wasn't the Mateo I knew—the respectful, gentlemanly boy who would never try groping me against my will.

"That isn't fun for me," I told him. "I just want to dance alone."

"Well, I don't. You're my girlfriend and I reserve the right to dance with you. Whatever way I want and how ever long I want."

I wanted to remind him that I was not, in fact, his girlfriend. But he was scaring me. This demanding jerk was not anyone I was familiar with; it was essentially like dancing with a stranger. That terrified me. I turned my back to him to find Rachel in the hopes that she would be able to save me, but she was dancing with one of Mateo's friends. Had his friends noticed the change in him? Did they even care?

"Hazel, please," Mateo pleaded as he turned me back to face him. "I'll be nice, I swear. Just dance with me."

"I think I need some air." I darted off into the crowd before he could catch me.

Not sure where else to go, I beelined for the restroom. I was only a few yards away when a familiar voice called out to me.

"Hazel, wait," Mr. Whitaker ordered.

I almost just ignored him and charged straight into the restroom, but I didn't. He had so much to blackmail me with that I felt compelled to obey him. His face was tightened with concern when I turned to face him.

"Our deal," he reminded me. "You're breaking our deal."

"I can't escape him here, Mr. Whitaker. Just like I can't escape you."

My remark seemed to sting him. His eyebrows rose as if he couldn't believe I'd just said that. Clenching my fists, I held my ground. I was tired of being pushed around.

"I'm only trying to protect you, Hazel," he said. "There's no need to escape me. I'm not holding you captive."

It sure feels like it, I thought angrily.

"How about you just stay off the dance floor for the rest of the night? It'll be easier for you to steer clear of him that way."

"I'm not not dancing at my own prom," I hissed. "I'm going to enjoy this freaking prom if it's the last thing I do. Please, Mr. Whitaker, let me have fun."

This clearly wasn't going to the way he wanted it to. His face was scrunched in confusion and disappointment. Disappointment in me. I hated disappointing people, not reaching up to everyone's standards. What made it worse was my respect for Mr. Whitaker. He was so intelligent and had such faith in me that the thought of letting him down was crushing.

But I had to do this. For me. I couldn't let Mateo deter me from enjoying myself. This would be the last chance I would ever have to participate in prom, so I needed to make the opportunity worth it. Giving anyone the power to take that simple pleasure from me was just idiotic.

"I'm going to try to stay away from him," I promised.

    Sighing, he scratched the back of his head and nodded. "Alright. I won't stop you. Just be careful."

    "Thank you." With that, I marched back into the ballroom.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now