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After the quiz, we reviewed for finals. Mr. Whitaker would only pick on me to answer a question when absolutely no one else had their hand raised. Even then, it seemed difficult for him to say my name. I wondered how he could hate me so intensely. It wasn't like I'd committed a crime or anything.

I felt bad about letting Mateo stay over yesterday, mainly because of my deal with Mr. Whitaker, but it wasn't entirely my fault. Mateo refused to leave. I would've had to call the police to make him leave, and that was certainly too extreme. It was what it was. I would just have to handle this situation however I had to.

While we packed up our bags at the end of class, Rachel leaned towards me in her seat with the intent to tell a secret. I placed my heavy backpack on top of the desk and leaned towards her.

"Is it just me or is Mr. Whitaker in a seriously bad mood?" she whispered.

"It's not just you," I replied. "Maybe he's having family issues or something."

"Maybe."

Speak of the devil, our teacher rounded his desk to approach us. I straightened in my seat and held his gaze as he neared, trying to gauge what kind of battle we were about to wage.

"Are you staying after today, Hazel?" Mr. Whitaker inquired. His face and voice were complete composed, every bit as professional as he should have been.

"I...wasn't planning on it," I admitted, uncertain.

"I thought you were coming to the club meeting after school today?"

Oh, crap. I'd completely forgotten about the meeting. My mouth hung open in shock of myself.

"Um," I finally said, "I forgot to ask my mom if I can stay after today."

"Well, you might want to call her. It's going to be a good lesson on critiques." He forced a smile. "If you can't stay, I understand that too."

I nodded weakly, wanting to melt away into the floor, while he walked back to his desk. Rachel tugged on my arm.

"What club?" she demanded.

"The creative writing club."

"Since when did you join that?"

"Since two weeks ago," I grumbled.

My mind was preoccupied with this decision. Should I stay or should I go? I glanced between Mr. Whitaker and my backpack. Leaving would be the cowardice thing to do. I was a coward, but I didn't want to be. The cowards never won in life.

The bell rang. Rachel rose from her desk, and I waved her farewell. Sighing, she shook her head and followed the class out into the hall. Soon it was just me and Mr. Whitaker. I sat in awkward silence, my heart racing. What was I supposed to say?

While I thought of every way this could go wrong, I forced my bottom out of my desk and over to his. He didn't bother looking away from his computer.

"I'm sorry," I told him in a shaky voice. "I know you think I broke the deal, but it's not what it sounds like."

"I heard enough to understand," he growled, still not looking at me.

"Understand what, exactly?"

"That you would willingly break the deal we made to spend time with a kid who is going to ruin his life and yours too."

Now we were staring at each other. I inhaled slowly, afraid the air would burst if I moved too quickly.

"I told him to leave me alone," I said, "but he's persistent. More persistent than anyone else I know. He doesn't want to hurt me, but he doesn't want to leave me alone either."

"Then you need to tell your parents or the police or someone who can stop this."

"But I don't want to get him in trouble."

"You need to get your priorities straight, Hazel." Each word was laced with anger and...hurt? "No one can help you until you do that."

I found myself nodding. He was right. Everything was a messy tangle of attachments in my head. I needed to get them straightened out.

"Okay," I whispered.

"Why did you miss class yesterday? You never answered my email."

"I was just...sick."

"What did we establish about lying?"

Biting my cheek, I fought off an annoyed groan. I wished I wasn't so easy to read. "I was avoiding you. I didn't want to face you after what happened at the coffee shop."

He sighed. "You ran away."

"Well, it didn't seem like staying was in either of our best interests."

"Maybe next time you should stay and find out."

Next time? I peered into his eyes to find the answers to my confusion. He was too hard to read, though. We were so different.

At that exact moment, Juno, president of the club, strolled into the room. I took a step back from his desk and smiled at her. She just looked me up and down through suspicious eyes on her way to Mr. Whitaker's desk. I went to my backpack and grabbed my car keys.

"You're going?" Mr. Whitaker asked.

I turned back to face him to make sure he was talking to me. He was. "Oh...uh, I forgot to bring in my work."

"You can print it out on my computer," he offered.

So we're back to this now.

"Okay," I obliged.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now