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My first day of freedom. Yawning, I stretched and sat up far enough in the bed to reach my phone. The time was fifteen til ten. I smiled, unable to recall the last time I'd slept in so long.

Forcing myself out of the bed, I got ready for church. My parents were moving slowly this morning, so I had to exercise some cattle prodding to get them out the door before we were late. The drive to our church was only ten minutes or so. By the time we parked the minivan and piled out, we were joining the rest of the masse.

Rachel saved me a seat in the third row, so I abandoned my parents. They never minded anyway. She flashed me a smile as I slid into the padded chair next to hers.

"How was your party?" she asked.

"Uh, great," I fibbed, trying not to let Boston infiltrate my thoughts. "Yours?"

"Great! My family gave me so much money. Like five hundred bucks. I couldn't believe it."

I chuckled. "I forgot that people give money at these things, so it took me by surprise too."

"Right? I think I'm gonna go to the mall and blow it."

My brows rose in disapproval.

"Just kidding!" she cried. "Okay, save my seat. I have to run to the bathroom before the service starts."

"Sure thing," I replied.

She got up, smoothed her skirt down, and bolted to the back. I wasn't alone for even thirty seconds when Mateo appeared from nowhere and plopped into her seat. We stared at each other for a moment.

"Hi," I finally said when he continued to stare directly into my soul.

"Good morning." He smiled. "Mind if I sit here?"

"Rachel is sitting there, actually."

"I don't see Rachel here."

Rolling my eyes, I explained, "She's in the bathroom."

"Uh huh. What about the seat on the other side of you?"

It was empty, but I didn't want to admit it. I didn't want to shush him the whole service, knowing he would try to talk to me while the pastor preached. Thankfully, I was spared from making an excuse.

"It's taken as well," answered a calm, deep voice.

Mateo and I both lifted our heads. Boston stood at the end of the row on the other side of Mateo, Bible tucked under his arm with a mask of composure across his face. My heart picked up its tempo. Why did he want to sit next to me? After I told him to leave me alone last night, I thought I had hurt him enough to sever our ties. Apparently not.

"Oh," Mateo said before looking back at me. "I didn't realize you were still seeing teachers after graduation, Hazel."

The condescension in his voice stunned me. My mouth parted without words to fill it. Boston cleared his throat. Scowling, Mateo got out of Rachel's chair and stood in the aisle. I turned my body to the side to let my former teacher pass. His legs brushed mine, making me blush. The space between my body and the chair in front of me was so narrow that we hardly had any space as he squeezed by. Our eyes met for the briefest of seconds until I lost my nerve and looked back at Mateo.

"Maybe next time," I told him. "Sorry."

Boston collapsed into the chair beside me a little loudly, but I ignored him. Pulling at his collar, Mateo swallowed down his pride and walked away. I pressed a hand to my face and closed my eyes while trying to figure out how I would handle this situation.

"How are you this morning?" my grim neighbor questioned.

"Fine," I squeaked. "Yourself?"

"Just swell."

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now