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Finals week flew by. I didn't do as much studying as I probably should have, but my exams seemed decent enough. Making the grades hardly even mattered to me anymore. I'd gotten accepted into the college I wanted, so I was anxious to be done with the high school chapter of my life.

Then came Friday, the day of graduation rehearsal. All of the seniors were bused to the city center where the ceremony would be held. Rachel was getting nervous about tomorrow, I could tell.

"We're officially done in less than twenty-four hours," she was telling me as the bus began unloading at our destination. "I can't even believe it. We're all grown up now."

"Nope," I protested, "I'm still a baby. A wee little baby."

"Oh, please. You've been an adult for like a hundred years now."

I chuckled while we filed off the bus. The swarm of students was corralled into the city center. There were about two hundred of us in total, but it didn't look like that many. The chairs for tomorrow were already spread around the auditorium, each labeled with the respective graduate's name. Rachel and I had to part ways, seeing as how our surnames were on opposite ends of the alphabet.

Just when I located the 'B' row, someone touched my shoulder. Lo and behold, Mateo was standing behind me. I managed to flash him a small smile.

"Fancy seeing you here," he said with a smirk.

"Yeah," I replied. We had hardly spoken the whole week, both absorbed in our own worlds. "Likewise, I guess."

Before he could even say another word, a familiar voice came to my rescue. "Isn't your seat a few more aisles down, Mr. Rodriguez?"

Mateo and I turned to face Mr. Whitaker. A smile so fake I could laugh was plastered across his face. He was pointing down the rows of chairs where students were searching for their seats.

"Yes," Mateo muttered, his mouth twisting in a scowl.

Without another glance at me, he marched away. My cheeks still felt warm as my eyes lifted to my teacher's. His piercing sapphire orbs cut right through my insecurities. I hated that I noticed the way his blue polo complemented his skin, giving him a slightly darker complexion.

"Hazel," he greeted with a softer smile this time. "It's good to see you. Seems like finals have made conversation a little difficult to find."

I nodded. We had only just seen each other an hour or so ago for my final in his class, but there had been too much going on to really see each other. Some part of me had assumed it would be the last time I would have to linger in Mr. Whitaker's presence, tormented by my crush and the appropriate but necessary boundaries between instructor and pupil.

Silly me. I still had to survive graduation.

"I know," I agreed with him. "It's been hectic. I'm glad it's all over now, though."

"Me, too." He chuckled and I joined in.

"Well, I should probably find my seat, too," I said.

"We still have a minute."

My gaze flickered around the auditorium. There were still students hunting for their seats, so the man wasn't wrong. Still, why did he want to talk to me? I was so confused on where we stood with each other.

"Have any plans for the summer?" he asked.

"Uh...my family's going to Florida in June. There're some cold water springs my mom grew up near that she wants to revisit."

"Sounds like fun."

"What about you?" I questioned, fidgeting nervously with my fingers. "Any fun adventures?"

"Ah, well, not really. I was supposed to go to a concert, but the friend going had to cancel."

"I hate when that happens."

Chuckling, he rubbed his neck. "Yeah, me too."

"What band?"

"You probably wouldn't know them. Hard rock. Electric guitars and steel drums."

"I probably don't know them," I acquiesced. "That's not exactly my type."

"I wouldn't think so," he admitted with a cheeky grin.

The principal called everyone to attention from her position on the stage, so I waved Mr. Whitaker farewell and snuck down the row to my seat. Although I could hear the principal giving instructions, my mind was still trying to fathom what a weird and random conversation I just shared with my teacher.

We ran through the rehearsal in about an hour and a half. I was exhausted by the end of it. So much waiting and walking around and sitting back down. When we were released back to the buses, Rachel found me and put her head on my shoulder. It proved harder than it looked since I was quite a few inches shorter.

"Awful," she grumbled. "This is all awful. We're growing up way too fast. I think I'm gonna have a break down."

Wrapping my arm around her waist, I lent her some of my strength. "Nonsense. You're going to do just fine, Rachel. Just think about all the good things that will come from moving away. You like being independent, and now you'll have your way."

"Gee, thanks." She snickered. "You're such a ray of sunshine."

"What?" I demanded, insulted. "It's the best I can do."

"Ugh. Just tell me you're not going to be moving away and that we'll always have each other."

"Always."

After snatching my head, she linked our pinkies together. "Promise?"

"I promise we'll always be friends, Rach. Distance doesn't have anything on us."

"You better be right," she said with a smile. Then she kissed my hand and swung our tangled fingers between us in exaggerated swoops, like we were children.

"Of course I'm right. I'm always right."

Giggling, we climbed the steps to the bus and collapsed into a seat.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now