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Jasper picked the place for dinner after the conference was over. It was nearly five-thirty by then, so I was ready to cram some food into myself. Juno had mostly gotten over her hissy fit, though she still wasn't happy. Personally, I think she disliked me even more because I tried to help her.

"Good choice," I told Jasper as the hostess seated us the in the back of an enchanting little Irish pub.

"It had good reviews," he said with a shrug.

The place was already filling up with the Saturday night crowd. Most of the stools at the bar were taken and not many tables were still available. My eyes flickered away from the chaos and up to Mr. Whitaker's face. He was mulling over the menu. I should have been doing the same, but I was trying to figure out what was wrong with him.

He'd never gotten over that weird funk he'd been in after the first workshop sessions. We had hardly exchanged a single word since then, and it didn't get much better for the other two. His normal friendly persona had been consumed by a cold isolationist.

Then Mr. Whitaker looked up. I smiled a little to hide my embarrassment at being caught staring before glancing down at the menu in my lap. Awkward. I really was worried about him, though. Something told me this was my fault, though I had no idea what I could've done to him.

The waitress came to take our orders. Jasper and I made small talk after that. He wanted to know about the high school and how well it prepared students for college or life, whichever path they chose. I could tell he was smart. His eyes always paid close attention to whomever he was speaking with, and he knew when to voice his opinion and when not to. Watching him fascinated me, truly. Even if I still thought he could be a annoyingly blunt sometimes.

Dinner passed quietly. Juno hardly spoke two words, and Mr. Whitaker only did a little better. I tried to engage them both, but they just answered in one word or with physical cues. Eventually, I just gave up. They were sucking the life out of me.

"I'm going to get some air," I said. "I'm feeling slightly nauseous."

They all looked up at me, but only Jasper actually responded.

"Okay." Then he went back to his baked chips.

I slipped through the crowd and out the door, giving the hostess a smile on my way. The sidewalk was mostly clear except for the occasional pedestrian. Leaning against the building, I pulled my phone out of my pocket. My mom had called me an hour ago and Mateo left me several texts. Curious, I opened the messages.

The texts started off normal enough. Mateo was nice at first, asking me how my day was going and what I was doing. Until he started getting antsy. Then the texts became more demanding. Where are you? and Are you ignoring me? If I wasn't worried about what he might do, I could've laughed at one of the messages. If you don't answer me in the next ten minutes, I'm coming over. That was eight minutes ago.

When the pub door creaked open, I lifted my head. Mr. Whitaker was stepping outside, too. His face relaxed as our gazes locked. I smiled.

"Just came to make sure you hadn't run off," he said.

"Because I would definitely do that." My own sarcasm surprised me. "I know how anxious you were when Juno wandered off earlier. I would never like to see that look on your face again."

"What look?"

"One of pure panic."

Shrugging, he replied, "I'll try not to lose any students again."

"It wasn't your fault."

"I'm still responsible for her. And you."

"Well, you don't have to worry about me. I'm a rule follower."

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now