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Saturday morning did not come gently. Mainly because of Rachel. She woke me up with a holler and three violent shoulder shakes.

"We're graduating today!" She was squealing like a little girl. "Rise and shine, sleeping beauty!"

"Go away," I grumbled.

"Absolutely not!"

"If you want to remain alive, I would highly recommend it."

She swatted the back of my head with her palm while scolding me with, "Oh, don't be such a priss. Come on, old woman."

Unfortunately, her efforts to oust me from my bed were successful. We weren't due at the auditorium until noon, so we had ample time to get ready. When we stumbled sleepily into the kitchen, my mom made a joyful noise somewhere between ecstasy and pride.

"I made breakfast for you two," she said. "Just take a seat at the table. Orange juice anyone?"

"Yes, please," my dad responded with a sweet grin.

"Sure thing, dear. Girls?"

I nodded and Rachel repeated my dad. We took our seats at the table. My dad's eyes were boring into me so hard that I could feel them. Nervous, I glanced up at him through my lashes.

"Excited?" he inquired.

"Tired." I rubbed my eyes for emphasis.

Rolling her eyes, Rachel quipped, "Don't let her fool you. She's been waiting for this day for four years."

"That," I agreed, "is absolutely true."

Everyone chuckled, but I was totally serious.

We finished eating before returning to my room to dress. Rachel slipped into her mid-thigh length halter dress while I eased into mine, a longer sheath-style garment. Music blared from her phone as we completed our outfits with jewelry and makeup. She curled my hair and braided her own, since I was entirely inadequate in all things hair.

Then it was time to leave.

>>>

Everyone was smiling. Even those kids who always seemed a little depressed were grinning from ear to ear. Why? We were finally free. Everyone was trying to hunt down their caps on their way to the lobby where we were to meet our families. Rachel was somewhere in the crowd, but I knew she was just as focused on finding her parents as I was.

My diploma felt moist in my palm, probably from the sweat dewing on my skin. I finally managed to pierce through the masse and emerge into the lobby. There were so many people and I was so short that finding anyone I recognized was difficult.

"Hazel!" someone called.

Thinking it was family, I spun around. I was instead met with Mr. Whitaker. A smile crested my lips without my full awareness.

"You made it," he continued when we were close enough to converse without yelling. "Congrats."

"Thank you," I answered.

"You deserve this. You're a bright girl, Hazel."

"That means a lot." My smile grew a little more. "Thanks."

"Hazel!" screeched my mom. "And Boston? How good to see you again!"

My cheeks warmed. Leaning in closer to him, I said, "Run while you have the chance."

"I happen to be quite fond of your parents," he informed me with an inconspicuous wink. Nodding at them, he greeted, "Mr. and Mrs. Barrett."

While my dad engulfed me in a bear hug, my mom invited Mr. Whitaker to my after party. I wanted to kick her. Why would she invite my teacher? I was finally getting away from his beautiful, friendly face. Jesus, take me now, I prayed grumpily.

"I wouldn't want to impose," he replied, sending a not-so-subtle look my way. "I'm sure Hazel is ready to be done with me."

Yes! I wanted to say. Politeness took over instead. "You're welcome to join us, Mr. Whitaker. Granted, you're subject to be harassed by my mother if you do."

"Oh, Hazel!" The said woman playfully swatted at me.

He chuckled. "I don't mind that so much. I don't have any plans, actually."

Of course he didn't.

"Perfect!" cried my mom. "You already have our address, right?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then we'll see you at four, handsome young man."

I blushed again and turned away.

"See you then," he told us, his hand brushing mine.

Our eyes met before he headed off into the crowd. My stomach was in a mess of butterflies. I couldn't believe I'd have to deal with him longer. Hopefully, this party would be the end of it. Hopefully, I would never see my charming albeit challenging teacher ever again.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now