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We bounced between booths until the classes began. Mr. Whitaker and Jasper had already planned out which ones we would go to, so Juno and I were yet again strung along for the ride. Freedom came in our favor when they started the first workshop session before lunch. The four of us each got separate agents to read over a chapter of our manuscripts in a private room.

"Don't go anywhere else with anyone," Mr. Whitaker warned me and Juno. "If you finish before us, wait in the hall outside the rooms. We'll gather there after."

I wanted to leave just to spite him but knew better. It would give him a heart attack, and he would lose all trust in me.

My agent, Marcus Lemley, happened to be a handsome thirty-something with a rack of straight, white chompers. He looked like he should have been an advertising consultant or something. I followed Marcus to our private room and sat down in the plastic chair across from his. The room was simple, nothing more than a painting on the wall and a loveseat aside from our table.

We went over my synopsis together, both agreeing it was weak and vague. It was my first time attempting to write one, so he cut me some slack. After reviewing my chapter, we went over sentence structure and syllable cadence. Our hour session flew by.

As we were leaving the room, exchanging last minute details, he offered his card out to me.

"In case you want to further your work with me," he said. Then, winking, he leaned in closer to whisper, "Or if you're ever in Jacksonville again. My cell is on the back."

Blushing, I uttered a meek thanks and watched him amble off. Did I just get hit on? He was totally a player, so I knew I shouldn't take it to heart. But still. Men never noticed me!

"Hazel, over here," called a familiar voice.

Mr. Whitaker was leaning against the hall wall, alone and looking rather mad. I crossed the hall to him and leaned against the space of wall beside him.

"Didn't like your agent?" I inquired, figuring his mood probably had good reason.

"No, I liked her fine."

"Oh." I got the impression I shouldn't ask anymore questions.

"You?"

"Marcus was great. He thinks I might have some real potential."

His jaw tightened a little as he replied, "I could have told you that."

Although part of me wanted to believe it was envy in his voice, the sensible part of me denied it. My teacher didn't like me. He wasn't interested in me anymore than he was Juno. Considering he invited her on this trip before me, I almost wanted to think he liked her more.

That was okay by me.

"Well," I continued awkwardly, "he offered me some good tips, too. I didn't know how to write a synopsis until now."

"I can show you how to write one."

I just nodded and stared down at my feet. This conversation was only getting weirder. Thankfully, Jasper emerged from his room next. I would rather be trapped talking to that weirdo than trapped here with Mr. Whitaker.

"How'd it go?" I asked, hopeful.

"Really well," Jasper admitted. "I've worked with this publishing company before, and the agent I was with wants to take me on. She was really enthused about my alien idea."

"That's terrific." I flashed him a smile.

"Good job, man," Mr. Whitaker remarked with a nod, not bothering to smile.

"How about you two?" his friend questioned. "Enjoy your sessions?"

"Definitely," I said. "My agent was really helpful."

"Mine, too," grumbled the grump.

Jasper quirked an eyebrow at me. "What crawled in his pants?"

Chuckling, I shook my head as I smiled at my scowling teacher. "He won't tell me."

"You don't want to know," he muttered petulantly.

After a moment of estranged quiet, I piped, "Where's Juno? Shouldn't she be out by now?"

The men didn't seem overly concerned, but Mr. Whitaker pulled his phone out to call her. It rang and rang and rang. The frustrated draw of his brows and lips told me it wasn't looking good.

"Let me go talk to her agent," he told us while marching off to the room our fourth had been in.

"So," Jasper drawled, turning to face me. "How do you like Boston?"

The color drained from my face. He knew I liked Mr. Whitaker? How did he know? I'd tried so hard all morning to conceal my emotions.

"As a teacher, I mean," he specified. "Is he a good teacher? Strict? Cool?"

"He's not strict but not totally laid-back either. We haven't had a slow day even once in his class," I said. "He makes sure we cover what we need to, and all his students respect him."

"Interesting..."

Mr. Whitaker emerged from the room with panic blazing in his eyes. "She apparently beat us all out of the session. The agent hasn't seen her in several minutes."

"We should split up," I suggested, "and check the lobby. In case she decided to wander around."

"We're not splitting up," he growled.

"I'll go alone and you two pair up." Jasper shrugged. "We'll cover more ground that way."

Finally, Mr. Whitaker complied. I could tell he was stressed. If I were in his shoes, I probably would be, too. I had a feeling, though, that Juno was fine. She probably got bored and went to find some action. It seemed like the typical teenage thing to do.

Jasper started around the booths while Mr. Whitaker and I went the opposite direction. A minute into our search, I thought of something.

"What if she went to the bathroom?" I asked. "I should go check."

He reluctantly agreed. While I went into the restroom, he stood outside the door like a guard. I called Juno's name twice before she responded from the handicap stall at the end.

"Mr. Whitaker is worried sick about you," I told her, leaning against her door. "Are you feeling sick?"

"No." She sniffled.

Oh, shoot. I took a deep breath. "Are you okay? Why are you crying?"

"Just leave me alone, okay?"

"Juno," I pressed, "please."

The lock clicked open and she pushed past me to access the sink. Her face was blotchy and red, her eyes bloodshot.

"What happened?" Genuine concern lined my voice.

"Nothing."

I stared at her, wishing she would open up for once. We weren't exactly fond of each other, but we were all we had right then.

"My writing is crap," she finally confessed. "It's unoriginal. It's chunky. I feel like an imposter here just pretending to be a writer."

"What? Your writing isn't crap. You're quite good, Juno."

"You don't know."

"Of course I know. There are so many professionals here, like Jasper, that I feel inferior too. We shouldn't let their experience deter us." Pressing a smile to my lips, I added, "They want to help us grow and become better. We should take advantage of their advice and use their seniority to our advantage."

Her harsh chuckle only stung me half as bad as her glare. The girl had eyes like a monster. "Whatever you say, blondie."

I watched her storm out of bathroom, leaving me to wonder why that felt so offensive.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now