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Today was perhaps more frustrating than the day before. I left Mr. Whitaker's classroom still feeling confused on where we stood. All I knew was that he wanted to protect me from screwing my life up, which mostly revolved around avoiding Mateo. I also knew that he wasn't completely alone in our relationship...whatever it was.

Mr. Whitaker was so intelligent. During our club meeting, he could read a paragraph from any of our works and understand what we were trying to say. Then he would recommend an even better, smoother way to write it. He corrected our bad habits, the grammatical flaws we were so quick to fall back on. His advice was priceless for a young aspiring writer.

Most importantly, his passion spurred my own. I had only given my writing some thought prior to this club, but he was helping me see the potential of my words and the flow of my mind. He was the first person to make me yearn for something better in my stories. There was always a new challenge with him.

Maybe that was why I also could get annoyed with him. Over the last few weeks, most of the tension in my life had come from trying to uphold our deal—the deal that he used to challenge my heart and desires. I didn't like being told what to do. I never would. Yet Mr. Whitaker was showing me what it would feel like to be dared for more.

I was almost to my car in the senior parking lot, thinking about how Mateo never really challenged me to be a better person, when the devil himself called my name. Responding seemed like a bad idea. My footsteps quickened as I zeroed in on the minivan.

"Hazel, wait!" Mateo yelled. He finally caught up with me, panting breathlessly.

"Hi, Mateo." I threw my backpack into the passenger seat and turned around to face him.

"Hey. So, uh, how are you doing?"

This wasn't a conversation I wanted to be having after just spending time with Mr. Whitaker. "I'm doing fine. I really need to get home, though. My mom needs the van."

"Well, do you want me to pick you up after? We can go somewhere. Maybe the park or something."

Why was he trying so hard? It killed me to be mean to him. I hated this for both of us.

"Mat, please. I'm not your girlfriend. We aren't dating, and—"

"I know," he stopped me. "I know we aren't dating, and I'm not going to press that on you anymore. We can just hang out as friends now?"

"That's not a good idea."

"Why not?"

"Because you still have feelings for me. If we hang out, it's just going to confuse you even more," I said, trying so hard to be firm yet not harsh. "I'm trying to make this a clean break for us. We're graduating in two weeks, and I want nothing more than for us to be in a good place."

"Me, too. That's why I think we should hang out."

Rolling my eyes, I let out a tortured sigh. "I need to go study for my finals. So do you."

When I started to slide into the car, Mateo pressed himself between the door and me. I gave him a disapproving glare. He chuckled and lifted his hands in surrender.

"Okay, fine. Just consider what I said about us being friends," he told me.

"Likewise," I muttered before shutting the door.

Once I got home, my mom pestered me to do the dishes. I noticed that she'd been upping my chores lately, making me vacuum or unload the dishwasher or run errands for her. Maybe it wouldn't have bothered me so much if she'd always been so bossy, but she hadn't. So it did bother me. I was getting more ready to leave for college with each coming day.

I hid in my bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. Finals were on the near horizon, and I didn't feel nearly as prepared as I needed to. So, after pulling out my binders and textbooks, I attempted to cram old information back into my brain.

Eventually that grew boring, so I decided to pull out my laptop. An idea came to mind. Probably not a totally terrific one either. I decided to look Mr. Whitaker up on Facebook. How stalkerish of me. It wasn't like no one else had done it, anyway. Grace had likely already friended him on every social media account she could find.

It didn't take long to find him. I was partly ashamed of even having the desire to look him up, but my curiosity got the best of me. In all the time we had spent together, whether in coffee shops or a classroom, he'd never mentioned a family. Or a girlfriend.

His profile picture was a photo of him standing on the edge of a cliff, possibly the Grand Canyon, with his back to the photographer. The sun was setting in the background and cast a charming glow across his lean figure. I scrolled down to check out his latest feed, but it was blocked. Of course he had a private account; he was aware had creepy students like me.

Furious with myself, I was about to slam my laptop shut when I caught a glimpse of an old profile picture. The picture had been taken in front of a waterfall. A tall, thin brunette was nestled under one of his arms while they smiled at the camera. She was pretty with enormous blue eyes and long, thick waves of chocolate hair. For some reason, she gave off a nerdy look, yet made it still seem cute.

This time I did slam my laptop shut. I had no business sneaking around my teacher's personal life. Even if he had invited himself into my own. It didn't matter if he had a girlfriend or a fiancé or anything, because I was just his student.

We would never be anything more. We couldn't be. Besides, there was no way he would ever be attracted to me. If he liked tall, skinny girls, I wouldn't be anywhere near his interest. I shouldn't have been thinking about my teacher's girlfriend preferences. What was wrong with me?

Groaning, I fell back onto my bed. I couldn't wait to graduate. Then I could put all of this behind me, including a silly crush on an impossible catch.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now